By Ariel, Erin, Phyllis, Stefanie.
“There are things I feel shy and difficult to speak directly about with English … Video production allowed me to accompany my on-screen narration with my favourite music. This make me feel more comfortable about English speaking …” (a student’s reflection on a DMC programme)
Do you encounter similar problems to this student? As a teacher, do you find students too shy to speak in English classrooms? Do you want to know how DMC can facilitate English learning? Let’s have a look!
What is Digital Multimodal Composing (DMC)?
According to Jiang (2016), DMC means a textual practice which uses digital tools to produce texts by combining other modes such as image, word, and soundtrack. Recently, although DMC has been used in several contexts, there is a limitation on exploring its instructional potential for language learning. In order to investigate the affordances of DMC and how the affordances can facilitate EFL learning, Jiang (2016) conducted a DMC research project with 5 teachers and 22 students in mainland China. At the end of the project, all the participants were interviewed about their experiences and perceptions in this programme. Based on his findings, there are three major affordances of DMC for EFL learning: technological, educational, and social affordances.
1. Technological affordances:
While some English learners find it difficult or uncomfortable to articulate their thoughts in English, DMC programme offers students better ways to express ideas. By transforming students’ EFL performance into digital records, such as audio/video clips, this affordance allows students to experience a self-paced and self-controlled learning process, especially for those who have concerns about their speaking and writing abilities. In addition, DMC also provides students with opportunities to translate meanings by using different modes (e.g. combine speaking and writing with multiple resources into a digital video), which can facilitate their process of negotiation of meaning in language learning and build up students’ own identities with the media world.
2. Educational affordances:
Compared to the traditional EFL classroom in China, DMC programme offers students more opportunities to access new learning materials and enhance multiple literacy skills, and thereby encourages more active participation in the class. For instance, students who are introverted in a class tend to take greater initiative in commenting on others’ presentations or exploring their own potential interest areas, while other students found it exciting to use English in authentic situations. As for teachers, they are also thrilled to see students’ great progress in using creativity for personal expression, which is rare in the current exam-based education system in mainland China.
3. Social affordances:
“The DMC programme also enhanced peer interactions among students.” On a group project, students can “play the role of expert while also tapping the expertise of others” (Jiang, 2016). For example, when making a video, some students may have talent for writing a screenplay while some may be good at editing video, so they can cooperate with each other and learn from others. Furthermore, DMC helps students increase interest in English classes because of the changes of their roles. “When our videos were displayed in class, the teacher became our audience and I became someone who talked,” a student said in the interview. Additionally, students can engage in civic participation with the help of DMC. For instance, through making videos, they can express concerns over social issues and try to improve conditions for anyone they want to help. During these processes, students also enhance engagement with EFL learning.
1. From teachers’ perspective:
Not all teachers are equipped to carry out DMC. Admittedly, for some young teachers, they may have already equipped themselves with some basic knowledge of DMC through the training they receive in their higher education or through the exposure to a variety of social media, so they are more likely to guide their students to learn through DMC. However, some elderly teachers who are used to the traditional teaching style may not be willing to learn and apply DMC knowledge. As a result, it would be extremely difficult for those elder teachers to help their students achieve the expected outcomes of DMC.
2. From students’ perspective:
While students may benefit from the chances of interacting with others that are provided by DMC, it is possible for them to have disagreement when they cooperate with others. If the problems could not be solved appropriately, they may have negative feelings when learning English. Apart from the possible problems that may occur in the cooperation with others, another challenge faced by students is that they could get distracted during the process of learning through DMC. For example, if they are asked to make a film adaptation, they may only focus on the ups and downs of the plot rather than the language use in the film.
- Do you think students would be distracted by DMC from the real task of language learning?
- What is the most appropriate stage for students to learn through DMC? (e.g. primary school/secondary school/university)
- If you want to carry out a DMC programme, what kinds of activities would you design in your English classroom? (e.g. video composing/audio podcasting…)