Edited by Winnie, Charlene, Pesy & Rachel
Have you ever tried to make a video or audio with your classmates in English classes? What impression did these experiences give you? This type of class participation activities in the field of digital multimodal composing (DMC) has drawn attention in language teaching and there has been a growing interest in applying DMC in EFL classrooms since it can make students more engaged and motivated in language learning.
What is digital multimodal composing (DMC)?
According to Jiang (2017), it is defined as “a textual practice which uses various digital tools to produce texts by combining multiple semiotic modes that include forms such as image, word and soundtrack.” Although DMC has been applied in several contexts, there are limited explorations in the affordances of DMC for EFL learning. In order to find out the affordances of applying DMC in EFL contexts especially in China, Jiang (2017) designed a study. Here are some basic information about it:
- Context: In a university-based EFL curriculum in China.
- Participants: 5 teachers and 22 students
- Duration: One year
- Research Content: Students were asked to make five videos by using the digital tools and multimodal resources introduced by teachers.
- Data collection: Collected written reflections, one from each student and each teacher, and conducted individual interviews among teachers and students.
Based on this research, there are three main affordances of using DMC in teaching: “technological affordances”, “educational affordances” and “social affordances” (Jiang, 2017,p.416).
1. Technological affordances
*Recording learners’ EFL performance for revision/ exhibition
By transforming their oral and written work into digital records, learners can replay and revise them repeatedly. They can also exhibit their target language to a massive audience, which motivates students to try harder with their videos.
* Transmediating meanings across different semiotic modes
DMC makes it easier for students to make meaning beyond the language level. They can produce videos with on-screen narration and background music, which makes shy speakers feel more comfortable. They can also use different forms to make an adaptation of literary texts.
2. Educational affordances
* Learners experience new classroom learning
Incorporating DMC into language learning classrooms would help students better understand the meanings that the others are trying to convey through the multimodal resources used. Hence, it will be easier for them to participate in the leaning activities.
* Learners learn English not only in the classrooms
Learners can search the Internet for more information, which is not included in the textbook content. DMC makes it possible for learning to take place in an authentic online context.
* Learners learn multiliteracies skills in DMC
By using DMC in language learning, learners can develop their language skills as well as other literacies skills. Their creative expression is valued in the DMC programme.
3. Social affordances
* Facilitating peer interaction and S-T interaction
In the DMC programme, every language learner can take the own role of an expert and make some contributions in peer interaction. Students also take the active role to present and talk when they share about the videos that they made, compared to a traditional S-T interaction where learners are always listeners and passive recipients in language classes.
* Facilitating civic participation
DMC makes it possible for students to participate in a socially authentic context. Students can make videos about current affairs and post them on the Internet to raise the public’s awareness. At this stage, language learner is also a civic participant.
The affordances enhance EFL learning at micro and macro levels
At the micro level, through real-time replay and self-paced revision, DMC offers opportunities for students to learn and use their English in a more authentic environment, which leads students to hold a more positive attitude toward English learning; they start to relate English to their interests and lives, become confident and enjoy the sense of being recognized.
At the macro level, a learning space is created by DMC for students to form other abilities. When students make their own decisions in the progress of textual production and learn literacy skills, a sense of autonomy and competence are developed. Through expressing their thoughts and participating in civic activities, students derive a sense of meaningful purpose. Due to their peer interaction, some even develop a strong sense of belonging to the community of EFL learners.
A girl creating her digital story as homework is a good example of DMC
Worries about DMC
It is undoubted that DMC itself benefits students a lot in terms of speaking and writing by offering various affordances. In Jiang’s paper, he created a relatively ideal situation for integrating DMC into the EFL curriculum. However, in reality, teachers may be reluctant to apply DMC to their teaching for the following reasons:
1.Teachers themselves need to have a thorough understanding of DMC otherwise they cannot explain the concept to the students and the students may struggle to follow the concept during their tasks. If teachers have not been trained beforehand or have been asked to conduct DMC without help from experts, it would be very difficult to achieve the expected affordances of DMC.
2.The assessment of DMC assignment may also be difficult. Due to the use of different digital or non-digital materials used in students’ tasks, teachers will receive various kinds of work. Therefore, setting a universal rubric for the assignment could be very challenging. What if some new elements are found in one assignment but not in the others? Will the assignment be awarded extra points? Also, how can we decide the portion of total score that each element should account for? Therefore, more efforts should be made in terms of this area.
3.In Jiang’s research (2017), the students he studied are of different ages but all have the same intermediate level of English language proficiency. However, in reality, teachers often have a class of students who are of the same age but with different levels of English. If the students are classified based on their English proficiency, the assignments completed by groups which consists of relatively low-level students may not perform as well as the others. When there is a contrast, the affective filter might actually increase for some students who feel inferior to others, so they might be less interested in the class.
1. Have you ever experienced any DMC activities in language learning? How do you feel about those DMC activities？
2. If you were a teacher, would you combine DMC with traditional teaching methods? How would you do？
3. In your opinion, what are the benefits of DMC, or what difficulties might teachers have when using DMC?