Multimodal communication and creative writing

The sudden switch to online learning in the spring of 2020, and the continuation of asynchronous online learning since then, changed the mechanics of how I approach teaching. But what has remained constant is my dedication to student choice in the classroom. Not only do students often get a chance to decide what texts and artifacts they analyze for the major assignments, they also have the option to deliver their assignments in a different modality—as a video essay, as a podcast, or as some other multimedia project.

By doing this, I am able to introduce some more variation into the class as well as give the students an opportunity to learn skills they can use in their careers outside of the university. Demonstrating proficiency in multimodal communication so that they can convey their ideas in a clear, memorable way will help my students distinguish themselves from their peers. Since I have a background in digital communication, I can bring that expertise to the class to help students produce strong multimedia projects.

But student choice is not simply an attempt to make this English class even more relevant to their current major or future career plans. In giving my students the freedom to explore different topics and choose the modality for some assignments, I show them that their interests and passions are worthy of serious consideration and study. Particularly for teaching foundation communication courses, where students are often in their first or second year of college, establishing this precedent is an important part of helping them build confidence for the rest of their academic career and beyond.

Personally, the years I spent working in environmental nonprofit communications after I graduated from college were vital to my developing confidence as a scholar and instructor today. What made those years so beneficial for me was seeing my work have a direct impact on the world; the writing I crafted for my job was published, liked, and shared by the organization’s online audience. Giving my students the opportunity to explore their interests and create pieces that they can share with an audience outside of the classroom can emulate that “real world” experience I had. This is why I also require my students to show proof at the end of the semester that they at least attempted to share a piece they made in class with a wider audience. Doing so helps them make the connection between the material they learn in the classroom and their everyday practice.

In addition to all of these benefits, incorporating students’ choices, and therefore their voices, into the class helps me grow as an educator. It has always been true that every group of students faces unique challenges that they must overcome during the course of their education, but many of my students likely did not anticipate all of the challenges that come with extensive online learning. Giving them the freedom to explore new topics in a comprehensive, rigorous, and forgiving space will help them learn and adapt during this temporary online experience. It has also helped me develop flexibility and compassion as I learn alongside my students how best to teach them the skills and knowledge they need during, and after, this unusual time.  

Courses taught

Iowa State University

ENGL 150: Critical Thinking and Communication | Fall 2019

ENGL 207: Introduction to Creative Writing | Workshop Leader Spring 2019, Spring 2020; Teaching Assistant Spring 2021

ENGL 250: Written, Oral, Visual, and Electronic Communication | Spring 2020

ENGL 250H: Honors WOVE Communication | Fall 2020

University of Nebraska-Lincoln

ENGL 151: Writing and Argument | forthcoming Fall 2021

Individual instruction

Varsity Tutors | Contract Tutor | Summer 2020 to present

Honors and Awards

Iowa State University

Teaching Excellence Award, Fall 2020

COVID-19 Exceptional Effort Award in Graduate Student Teaching Impact

Published by Caroliena Cabada

Caroliena Cabada is a writer currently based in Lincoln, Nebraska. She earned her MFA in Creative Writing and Environment from Iowa State University, and is currently pursuing a PhD in Creative Writing, Fiction, from University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Her writing has been published in online and print journals and anthologies, and has been selected for Best Small Fictions 2021.