Digital Storytelling in the Composition Classroom:
Addressing the Challenges







Conclusion: The Need for More Scholarship and Practice

"You've no right to grow here," said the Dormouse. "Don't talk nonsense," said Alice more boldly, "you know you're growing too." (Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll)

In this essay, I have presented a brief overview of how digital storytelling has been used in higher education, showing that this type of composition has not yet been adopted as widely as it could be in college composition. Then, drawing on the scholarship of multimodal composition in general, I addressed two major challenges that seem to be part of why composition seems to be slow in adopting and adapting digital storytelling: we have not yet developed and defined digital storytelling to best fit our purposes, and our scholarship is also yet to specifically address the challenge of using digital storytelling, including the challenge of assessment of students' work. I presented a rubric that I use for assessing my students’ work in order to demonstrate the arguments in the preceding sections. I believe that besides tackling these challenges, we also need to start taking multimodal composition, including digital storytelling, more seriously than we have, which is something I would like to emphasize in concluding this essay.

There are two kinds of forces that are shaping the discourse and pedagogy of multimodal composition in our discipline: on the one hand, multimodality is inevitably becoming more prevalent and more widely accepted, but on the other print-based composition remains institutionally and otherwise favored over multimodal composition. In "The digital imperative: Making the case for a 21st-century pedagogy," Clark (2010) argues that the field of composition is still too dominated by the traditional essay:

In our nascent digital culture, the traditional essayistic literacy that still dominates composition classes is outmoded and needs to be replaced by an intentional pedagogy of digital rhetoric that emphasizes the civic importance of education, the cultural and social imperative of ‘the now,’ and the ‘cultural software’ that engages students in the interactivity, collaboration, ownership, authority, and malleability of texts. (28)

Highlighting the power of multimodal composition like digital storytelling, Clark says that "[w]hen [students] tell their multimodal stories and share them on the Internet, their education has an immediate impact on their lives and their interests, allowing them to put their new skills—like research and multi- modal composition—into play immediately for audiences that may include their family, their friends, and even wider publics" (32). However, new modes of composition like digital storytelling are often considered inferior to traditional composition because institutionalized education is generally based on the assumption that knowledge represented in the more "established" medium—namely, print—is intrinsically superior to knowledge represented in the less established and institutionalized ones. For example, "[o]ne hundred years after its invention, film art still occupies a marginal place in academic circles. . . . regardless of the content" (Murray, 1997: 273). New modes of composition like digital storytelling might not take another century to be accepted as legitimate academic practice, considering the pace of technological and educational developments in our time; but as Selfe (2007) says in "Technology and literacy: A story about the perils of not paying attention," in the minds of many scholars and teachers digital

technology is [still] either boring or frightening [especially] to most humanists; many teachers of English composition feel it antithetical to their primary concerns and many believe it should not be allowed to take up valuable scholarly time or the attention that could be best put to use in teaching or the study of literacy. (94)

In fact, even when new digital-multimodal technologies are somewhat accepted and used, they are quite often used for reinforcing the same old "traditional notions of education that permeate our culture at its most basic level: teachers talk, students listen; teachers’ contributions are privileged; students respond in predictable, teacher-pleasing ways" (Hawisher & Selfe, 2007: 35). Thus, it is necessary for scholars of multimodal composition to produce more theory and research on the use of new modes of composition like digital storytelling.

The other force that is influencing us as composition teachers is the undeniably increasing prevalence and importance of multimodality in academic, social, and professional spheres. We live in an age when information is disseminated in powerful ways through multimodal composition; this is not only the age of viral videos that are highly engaging to a global audience on the web, it is also an age where these new texts are able to perform serious educational and professional functions. If we consider, for instance, that even newspapers and books are becoming multimodal, as inevitably as Alice cannot help growing, we can expect that multimodal composition like digital storytelling will gradually gain the status that print-based storytelling did in the past.

With more theoretical and pedagogical resources for teaching multimodal composition that have become available in the last few years, I am already better able to teach and assess multimodal composition in my classroom than I was when my student challenged me on the validity of my assessment of his work. But we do need to adopt this powerful mode of composition more widely and also address the challenges that we face in the classroom more substantively.

Ghanashyam Sharma