The Media Scholarship Project: Strategic Thinking about Media and Multimodal Assignments in the Liberal Arts

min read

Key Takeaways

  • The future of media scholarship requires the creation of learning environments that meet specific criteria, including those identified during NITLE's Media Scholarship project.
  • Learning environments should increasingly lower the threshold for interdisciplinary collaboration and provide infrastructure for collaborative digital scholarship by faculty and students.
  • Learning environments should critically examine and elucidate relationships between content and form.
  • Finally, learning environments should provide students, faculty, and academic support with options to explore and manipulate multimodal information.

In his well-known 1985 jeremiad Amusing Ourselves to Death, Neil Postman tackled the issues surrounding the shift from a print-based culture to a visual culture. Twenty-five years later, most of what Postman wrote is still relevant and sometimes eerily prophetic:

Whether we are experiencing the world through the lens of speech or the printed word or the television camera, our media-metaphors classify the world for us, sequence it, frame it, enlarge it, reduce it, color it, argue a case for what the world is like… What is peculiar about such interpositions of media is that their role in directing what we will see or know is so rarely noticed.1

In other words, media mediates, and we would do well to pay attention. As the level of media saturation increases well beyond our ability to cope, it becomes even more urgent that we "notice" the role that media play "in directing what we will see or know." Our entire cohort of traditional students was born after Postman wrote these words, yet liberal arts institutions have not really figured out ways to address the ascendancy of image over text, or the technologies that enable this shift. Combat it? Co-opt it? Give up?

On one extreme, we hear the call for students to power off their electronic devices and sit quietly in lecture or with their noses in books. On the other, there is the call to meet students where they are, providing ever more ubiquitous and fragmented electronic services. Neither of these extremes addresses (nor explicitly recognizes) the fundamental problem that Postman framed and about which others (most famously Marshall MacLuhan) have also reminded us over the years: a medium is not simply a tool for communication — it is a way of knowing the world (see "Ways of Knowing"). Content cannot exist apart from form, and more attention must be paid to the relationship between the two.

It is critically important to find means for addressing this issue, for the world has a tremendous need for liberally educated persons in times of rapid change. Moreover, students must develop a level of proficiency with digital media technologies to become productive members of a global twenty-first century society. To address the natural tension between a focus on technical competence and a liberal arts approach to inquiry, students should work toward these goals in tandem. Doing so will probably require that faculty and students spend time together picking media apart and pulling media together. This work must spread across the curriculum in much the same way that "writing across the curriculum" continues to do. Happily, this work — which we term media scholarship — also offers the benefit of serving as a facile tool for interdisciplinary collaboration, since digital media tools can serve as a common ground for the coming together of multiple disciplines. We see great value in interdisciplinary collaboration for many reasons — deepening connections with content, widening perspectives, building communication skills — and media technologies can lower the threshold for creating these opportunities. The good news, of course, is that much of this is already happening in classrooms of various kinds. Further, our institutions now have library and IT academic support professionals who, as experts in information structure and media production, can collaborate with faculty and students in creating effective media communications. Successful collaborations among faculty and staff are often a critical component in creating and executing successful media-rich assignments.

In 2007, Hamilton College, Colgate University, and St. Lawrence University received a grant from the National Institute for Technology in Liberal Education (NITLE) Instructional Innovation Fund to take stock of the ways in which multimodal assignments2 were being used on our campuses and to look in particular at the ways in which such assignments foster interdisciplinary collaboration.3 After many wide-ranging conversations and 15 case studies, the group has assembled information that we will discuss in the following categories:

  • The collaborative process among faculty, staff, and students
  • Models for assignment structures of various types
  • Methods of evaluation for student work
  • Future directions for the work we call media scholarship


In the past, many institutions supported multimodal projects in an ad hoc way. Experience suggested that collaboration between the library, IT, and faculty enhanced the final product, but there was no widespread evidence for this across institutions or disciplines. We undertook the Media Scholarship project to gather the disparate activities at our three schools in an effort to analyze what worked best in a collaboration between faculty, staff, and librarians but also between institutions. Sharing information broadly was also a goal of the project from the onset; even on a small campus, amazing things are often going on that no one knows much about. We set forth to find out as much as we could about existing efforts and to develop strategies and mutually beneficial links wherever possible.

Multimodal assignments often require significantly more resources than the typical research paper. The collection of digital audio, images, and video may require learning new software packages, booking the appropriate resources (equipment and personnel), managing copyright, and more. Further, best practices suggest that student learning outcomes are maximized when the faculty member invests the time to model desired outcomes for the students by completing the assignment first. Doing so creates a genuine understanding of the time and effort demanded of the students and forces the faculty member to consider how well a particular assignment or medium achieves the desired learning goals.

Analysis of the case studies included in the "Media Scholarship Final Report" reveals that collaboration is an important component of successful media scholarship pedagogy. We also recognize the messy, iterative nature of the collaborative process, always allowing for the possibility the whole will be greater than the sum of its parts. Here, we focus on four collaborative relationships:

  • Faculty-Instructional Technologist-Librarian
  • Faculty-Student
  • Student-Student
  • Institution-Institution

Starting in the next sections and continuing throughout the rest of the article, project participants explain their experience in video and audio clips. These clips touch on many facets of the lessons learned by participants, who share their good advice.

Faculty-Instructional Technologist-Librarian

Plan Ahead and Start Early

These relationships, in most cases, form the foundation for success. If faculty, IT staff, and librarians partner in the design and execution of multimodal assignments, students benefit. We see the nature of these collaborations evolving over time. To begin, a faculty member who desires to incorporate media assignments into a course meets with IT and library staff to discuss issues such as what computing facilities and library collections are available, how instruction in research and software applications can be integrated into the course schedule, and more.

Foundation for Success

Soon, however, the discussion might turn to matching desired learning outcomes with specific assignment types and the benefits of modeling expected outcomes by completing a sample assignment in advance of the course. These benefits include library and IT staff prototyping the support structures for students so that deficiencies in resources and workflow can be identified while there is still time to make adjustments. Equally valuable is the insight gained by the faculty member into the potential of this assignment to both engage students and challenge them as they strive to express themselves in a new medium. Finally, an appreciation of the time necessary to complete the assignment will help shape how this assignment might fit within the context of the other course requirements. In the following two clips, faculty reflect on the nature of their collaborations with IT and library staff and how these evolve over time:

Levels of Collaboration

Collaboration Is Crucial

Faculty and staff involved in the two-year Media Scholarship project also observed the importance of communication between academic support staff and faculty throughout the student learning experience. When entire courses of students are working on multimodal projects, support is greatly facilitated by easily accessible documentation in the form of shared summary information about each course.4 Effective communication and project management tools make it possible to schedule maximum use of limited resources at any given time, leaving just enough wiggle room to adapt support efforts within a short time frame.5

If it is possible to create a tiered support structure consisting of professional staff and student peers versed in teaching technology to other students, professional staff can rely upon this trained cadre of students to handle most technical questions. This frees up professional staff time for more assignment design and, within resource limits, increases the number of multimodal courses/assignments they can support in a given semester.


Effective faculty-student collaborations in multimodal projects bear a striking resemblance to best practices established in traditional text-based writing assignments. Faculty report that a process involving a pre-proposal, first draft, peer review, and final draft is effective in helping a student gradually acquire the skills needed to communicate ideas effectively, as noted in this clip featuring Colgate University Associate Professor of Chinese John Crespi.

Drafts and Review

Of course, faculty are better equipped to guide students through the challenges faced if they have developed insights through experience. In this clip Hamilton College Vice President for Information Technology Dave Smallen describes the value of modeling an assignment before requiring it in a course.

Modeling the Assignment

As we discuss in the sections on assignment structure and evaluation, a multi-step, collaborative assignment structure provides not only several opportunities for consultation but also for incremental assessment of student effort to help determine a final grade. In this clip, St. Lawrence University Associate Professor of Fine Arts Amy Hauber describes the steps involved in assessing student learning and how the collaboration with students influences her grading.

Collaboration with Students

In this clip Hamilton College Professor of English Patricia O'Neill describes how to support students' intellectual growth and creativity.

Nurture Good Ideas


Three kinds of student-student collaborations bear mentioning here: the creation of the project, peer mentoring, and peer review. Several faculty with whom we have worked favor group projects for multimodal assignments because they give different students the opportunity to bring complementary skill sets to the table and, in many cases, a stronger product is the outcome. Colgate University's John Crespi elaborates in the clip "The Whole is Greater..."

The Whole Is Greater…

In the following clip St. Lawrence student John Cummin describes the value of matching individual interests and skills to critical project tasks.

Play to Your Strengths

Looking at the assignment from an institutional vantage point, we are not trying to graduate videographers or software experts; rather, we are trying to develop creative minds who work well in teams and who can use multiple forms of media to communicate effectively with a diverse audience. This is what differentiates the liberal arts approach to media technology from a technical or pre-professional approach.

In this clip, St. Lawrence student Nate Torres reflects on the value of group projects.

The Need to Lead

The peer review process reaps multiple rewards; specifically, the students whose work is being critiqued learn if the message they tried to convey is being received as they intended by their peers. At the same time, those students who are helping improve the product may realize where their own work lacks some important element to be most effective. This same idea works in only a slightly different way with expert peer tutors who may assist the students. Colgate University Assistant Professor of Writing and Rhetoric Suzanne Spring elaborates in the following clip.

The Value of Peer Review


In this clip, St. Lawrence Assistant Professor of Music Chris Watts describes the value of multiple perspectives and the iterative nature of the collaborative process at all levels.

Collaboration Is Messy

A principal goal of the Media Scholarship project from its inception was to bring together faculty, instructional technologists, librarians, and students from multiple institutions to compare what is happening on our different campuses. We want to know how faculty across the disciplines are incorporating multimodal assignments into their courses and what the key elements are for successful pedagogical innovation of this kind. Our work has shown that there are specific things the institution can provide to make this work possible, including facilities, professional development for faculty and staff, and mechanisms for supporting collaboration both within the institution and externally. In this clip, Hamilton College Instructional Technologist Krista Siniscarco describes sharing her expertise with colleagues at Colgate University throughout the project.

Sharing Expertise

Participating faculty have shared ideas ranging from assignment design to grading strategies, while students have reported consistently on the increased satisfaction they derive from tackling these kinds of projects, flexing their creative muscles and sharing their work with a broader audience. By fostering these kinds of connections between our institutions, we gain a broader view of where we may need to devote resources and develop expertise to better serve our faculty and students. Hamilton College's Dave Smallen describes a "higher quality of support" in this clip.

A New Model for Support

Assignment Structure

As Cathy Davidson noted in an interview with Randy Bass, academics are still "futzing around the edges" in our attempts to come to terms with the effects of new media on teaching, learning, and scholarship.6 We have not yet generally adopted a set of standards for multimodal communication or even developed a common language across disciplines to discuss teaching and learning that "...includes creative fluency as well as interpretive facility."7 In addition to the abilities to write, read, and speak, we have to describe and agree upon the literacies students need to analyze, interpret, evaluate, and create in multimodal forms. Considerations of how to integrate these literacies into our curricula need to address the dynamic character of combined text, image, sound, color, structure, and duration in the creation and analysis of meaning.

We are at the point where we can compare how we teach students to analyze the multimodal work of others and also choose the most appropriate modes for communicating their own ideas.

We began comparisons by holding monthly discussions among faculty, staff, and administrators from our three campuses. We then looked to individual courses at our institutions to understand approaches to connecting critical and creative learning through multimodal assignments. This led to the development of a standard list of questions that were answered by professors of these courses; we included their answers as individual case studies in the final report. In an attempt to verify what appeared to be recurring themes in our monthly discussions and also to gauge if any patterns emerged about multimodal assignments in courses, we developed an additional survey asking faculty to rank eight components of their media assignment to other types of assignments they have given. These emerging patterns in combination with the case studies analysis and interviews with faculty, academic support, and a few students culminated in the following recommendations:

  1. Expect that multimodal media assignments will require extensive time investment by all involved: students, faculty, and academic support. Subsequent iterations of the course may take less time in the planning phases, but faculty and academic support report that time investment during the course does not significantly vary across course iterations (resource scheduling, instruction time, and so on do not change).
  2. Find or create examples or models of expected outcomes.             
    • Preferably, the professor would create the model using course-based content and the technology workflows and resources recommended at that institution.
    • Academic support should assist with creation of a model and get feedback from the professor on what aspects of the learning experience to emphasize. This might be as simple as reducing the number of technology features/options available to the students, or it might involve further tailoring and restructuring of the assignment design.
    • Develop a rubric for evaluation of student outcomes based on the professor's own experience creating a model project. Although the model can illustrate expectations, Colgate's Suzanne Spring explains in this clip that clear criteria upon which any project outcome will be evaluated should also be communicated to the students and academic support.Working through the model assignment/evaluation phases, clarify the learning objectives, set expectations for content/technology integration, and help academic support more directly target the technological features that will enhance the learning goals.
  3. Develop course assignments with assistance from academic support: technologists, librarians, oral communication and writing center experts. Develop media literacy, information literacy, and digital literacy exercises/discussions using course content and examples. Although students are inundated with media messages and with technology, they are generally not savvy about using media and technology to express their knowledge. Hamilton's Patricia O'Neill elaborates on student comfort with and lack of mastery over media in this clip.
  4. Structure media assignments as a sequence of learning experiences building on each other over the course of the semester so that content can be assimilated simultaneously with development of critical literacy skills. Structure media assignments across the semester as a series of drafts/versions that students receive feedback on as they develop an understanding of the content and the skills to communicate in media formats. At a curricular level, attention should be paid to building critical literacies within programs over the course of a student's undergraduate career.
  5. Build into the assignment multiple methods and opportunities for evaluating student progress in the stages of a media project (for example, storyboard/script review, original footage or audio evaluation, edited version draft one, etc.). This enables the professor to gauge and guide student understanding and progress. This is particularly important if the emphasis in learning is more on the process than the outcomes.
  6. Consider public presentations of students' final projects, whether to the class or to the world. This tends to increase the quality of the student work and may also have additional benefits: students perceive their media messages as having greater impact/effect on a larger population. For example, Colgate's Marginalized Conflict podcasts empowered students' voices in social activism).

Next we discuss these recommendations in more detail. Early in the Media Scholarship project we spent significant time reviewing existing definitions of media literacy, visual literacy, and what is meant by "scholarship." We ultimately settled on a working definition of media literacy "as the ability to analyze, evaluate, and produce communication in a variety of forms." Faculty in the arts offered examples of skill sets and lists of criteria for teaching and evaluating student media projects. Our discussions broadened to include questions of how we might target cross-discipline criteria for media skills and projects. Given that students need basic literacies with multimodal forms but that all students and projects could not be expected to include the craft of Fine Arts, where and how would we target cross-discipline learning goals? As discussions of assignments and learning goals continued and rubrics were developed, we realized that there were distinct similarities in how we defined skills and evaluated learning. Examples include:

  • Deliberate, intentional, purposeful selection/creation of multimodal material appropriately used within the context of the project.
  • Evidence of a coherent concept, continuous elements, and progression in the project.
  • Evidence of understanding of the aesthetics of the project, the relationship between content and form for particular concepts.
  • Evidence of skill in and understanding of the techniques and mechanics of working with multimodal formats.
  • Evidence through citation, interpretation, and discussion of the relevance of a particular multimodal project to existing bodies of work.

Obviously, the learning goals go beyond technical proficiency and basic media analysis to include substantive concept development and evidence of understanding how meaning can be conveyed through deliberate structuring of relationships between text, image, duration, and sound. Which leads to the question, "What are the relationships among course content, knowledge assimilation/production, and media form?" Although we do not claim to have gone beyond mere grappling with this question, we have learned that multimodal assignments are more effective learning experiences when they tend toward the following learning cycle:

  • Multiple conceptual drafts
  • Feedback from faculty/peers/academic support on conceptual and production drafts
  • Reflection time during production
  • Adequate production time with the intended medium and technologies

Scaffolded assignment structures provide opportunities for students to learn how to externalize ideas while testing the potential and limits of chosen technologies. In this clip, Colgate's Suzanne Spring describes the scaffolded assignment structure in her Narrative and New Media course.

Assignment Structure

Ideally, the process of designing a multimodal assignment will result in learning environments that alternate assimilation of course information with production components and that include checkpoints for faculty and/or peer review. This cycle emphasizes conceptual development and understanding of form over the development of technology skills alone. Including crucial components of the learning process — multiple iterations/drafts of multimodal projects, along with reflection time and feedback — enables students to relate content and form in interesting ways.8 More time needs to be built into the assignment if students are integrating multiple media forms and learning the underlying language/grammar of form as they explore concepts (Recommendation 3). This cycle mitigates the trap of letting the technology drive the process. It also increases opportunities for faculty/peers/academic support to gauge the learning process separately from the final multimodal outcomes. In the following clip Colgate's Suzanne Spring describes the iterative nature of the interplay between the learning process and project outcomes:

Process and Product

Close reading of the learning process leads to the question, "Do students engage more deeply with course material through multimodal projects?" Constructivist-based assignments require students to become immersed in content and then to create/construct meaning from that experience.9 In multimodal constructivist assignments, learning is an active process of creating meaning from understanding how subject matter might relate to the options afforded by multimodal formats. Students have to think through their ideas using multiple media formats with which they are more or less literate, not text alone. This results in a tendency for students to experiment with constructing and expressing their ideas — which takes time. For example, interviews exploring the perspectives of multicultural students on campus might take the form of a podcast styled after an NPR news episode, or Terry Gross on Fresh Air, or the interpretive storytelling style of Garrison Keillor.

Further, as students construct meaning, they become invested in the process and develop a sense of ownership. Affective learning is often associated, intentionally or not, with multimodal projects as a result of ownership and the emotive nature of media information. Students tend to retain what they learn in constructing multimodal projects because they become cognitively and emotionally invested in the outcomes.10 Social learning plays a role in this investment because students tend to seek feedback and ask each other more questions while working on multimodal projects, and the projects themselves are often collaborations. Public presentation further raises the bar on investment in that students perceive their efforts as having greater impact (Recommendation 6).

What is it about the course learning goals and content that makes a multimodal assignment a better choice than a text-only assignment? As students attempt to convey course content and develop conceptual frameworks in multimodal forms, they may realize new meanings and multiple interpretations as a result of exploring the interplay between content and form. This learning process does not result from boundless options. In the following clips, Hamilton's Dave Smallen explains that experience has taught us to structure assignments with constraints and rules that help students take advantage of the media form, while Professor of English Vincent Odamtten emphasizes that as students work their ideas through the "rules of production" the process forces them to be aware of the critical effects of production choices.

Constraints and Rules

New meanings or interpretations also arise as affective learning outcomes when multimodal assignments and digital technology provide opportunities to connect the real world to the individual student's experience. SLU's Amy Hauber and Hamilton College Associate Professor of Africana Studies Angel Nieves describe a variety of ways in which real-world challenges might be tied to multimodal assignments in this clip.

Tying Real-World Challenges to Multimodal Assignments

From a practical perspective, we must also ask if the resources — time, expertise, and facilities — exist to implement courses with complex scaffolded assignment designs. In answering this question, we recommend that faculty design course assignments with assistance from academic support: technologists, librarians, oral communication specialists, and writing center experts (Recommendation 3). Access to multiple perspectives and expertise increases the feasibility of ambitious assignment designs and affords faculty and students greater options in teaching and learning environments. Academic support staff do not have to have all the resource and literacy answers a priori, and faculty do not have to be media experts themselves to include multimodal assignments in their courses. Assemble instead a team of experts, working with the professor (the subject matter expert) to cover all expertise areas as needed and to design and implement learning experiences that take full advantage of campus resources and the characteristics inherent in media forms to enhance understanding of course content. For these teams to be effective, participants must be willing to take risks and brainstorm and to not stay locked into perceived roles.

What happens during collaborative assignment design? Planning and development of a course integrating multimodal assignments usually begins at least a semester before it is offered. In addition to scaffolding the sequence of content assimilation and skill development that targets specific learning goals, the team of experts might also contextualize the assignment with examples of form and genre. Colgate's John Crespi describes several teaching strategies that target content and form in this clip.

Teaching Strategies

As Holly Willis wrote about video:

Students, faculty, and support staff need to grapple with the creative potential of the form — from framing, camera movement, and editing structures to the uses of sound, music, and text — and need to invent new and powerful modes suited to the particular requirements of scholarly endeavors.11

This requires that we critically examine and elucidate relationships between content and form. Generalized media literacy concepts and rules of specific media forms should be connected to and tailored by the course content. If students are asked to analyze films screened in class, for example, academic support might collaborate with the professor to deconstruct a film clip from one of the course films and create a storyboard for the class that ties together the subject of the film with the genre, culture, history, and language of film production concepts. Adding an additional level of construction, students in Hamilton College Professor Patricia O'Neill's Art of Cinema course shoot original footage assignments so that they, "know what it takes" to create specific genre of film, as explained in this clip.

Learning Goals

This combination of creativity and analysis contextualizes skill development because students must know the rules before breaking them. Students must justify the decisions they make in direct comparison to the original work of a great director. The assignments are structured to maximize deliberate, creative decisions over happy accidents. As Eric Faden explained:

Critical media encourages collaboration — a perfect opportunity to work with colleagues and students... [O]ur students are media producers, like it or not. ...[W]e need to teach students by becoming producers ourselves and inventing new forms, genres, and techniques. And we need to teach them how to invent so they use media technology's full potential rather than forever emulating what came before.12

An assignment that fits the mold described is similar to a traditional written assignment in some ways and dramatically different in others. This becomes especially evident when evaluating the students' work.

Evaluation Methods

Even among faculty members who regularly assign multimodal projects, the topic of evaluation methods remains a bit awkward. In discussion, our faculty noted an increased time commitment in assessing media projects as opposed to written work, but the same trend did not appear in their answers to survey questions. While faculty expressed uneasiness about grading these assignments, most have developed solid methods for doing so.13 Because multimodal assignments represent a departure from the training of most faculty members, we believe they might lack confidence about sharing evaluation methods with others. We hope that studies such as this one, by sharing such information broadly, will alleviate this reluctance. In the next clip, Hamilton's Dave Smallen talks briefly about the value of sharing this kind of information.

Information Sharing

One of the themes that has emerged from our discussions with faculty on this topic is that the evaluation process should be viewed as another opportunity for collaboration. Some faculty develop frameworks for evaluation in dialogue with students as the projects develop. Many also note the potential benefits of peer evaluation in this context, especially when the student, the peer reviewer, and the instructor are all working within a shared framework for evaluation. In the following clips, SLU's Amy Hauber describes her dialogic process for evaluating student work, and Colgate's Suzanne Spring explains the way that she uses peer critique in her classes.

Evaluating Student Work

Peer Critique

In comparing assignment designs, we note that some faculty included highly structured components for skills development, while others expected students to use available training resources on their own. Similarly, some faculty created stepwise, scaffolded assignments that built complexity over time, while others preferred a more "flat" structure.14 In this clip Colgate's John Crespi provides an example of a scaffolded series of assignments.

Scaffolded Assignments

We do not assume that one approach is superior to the other in all cases; however, providing multiple opportunities for feedback and revision over the semester, whether through feedback from the instructor, fellow students, or both, is reported to be highly effective. In our discussions, faculty in several disciplines described a process very much like the formal critique traditional in the visual arts. In general, faculty reported that assignments which are iterative in some way tend to be both more successful and easier to evaluate. In this clip, Hamilton's Angel Nieves describes the iterative processes that make for more successful assignments in his courses.

Iterative Processes

In our discussions, faculty devoted a good bit of time to the question of the relative weight of process and product in evaluating an assignment. After multiple iterations of a course, faculty tend to move toward a balance between process and product. Arguments for placing value on both are compelling: on one hand, it is not reasonable to expect "professional-quality" results15 as students stumble over technological barriers and struggle with making meaning in non-text forms. On the other hand, students must be responsible for the work that comes out of this process. In particular, a media-rich assignment provides an opportunity for students to understand the responsibility they bear to their audience. While faculty would like students to conceive of writing a research paper as an act of participation in an ongoing scholarly conversation, this concept is easier to fully grasp in the semipublic or public realm of a media project uploaded to the web.

Future of Media Scholarship

As we proceed with the task of putting multimodal assignments to good use, one of the questions has been, "Who is going to teach our students how to do this?" The answer must be that we all do it together. It cannot happen in every course, but one course will not suffice, either. We reject the notion that a general education requirement of some kind can get students where they will need to go. Like writing, media scholarship is something that institutions must intentionally reinforce across the curriculum.

Developing media scholarship in students requires modeling of media scholarship by faculty — a serious obstacle today. As digital tools and methods for publication and review become more mainstream, however, the options for multimodal scholarship and scholarly communities forming around it will slowly increase. Institutional support is also necessary in recognizing and rewarding teaching and scholarship that falls within this realm. For this to happen, tenure and promotion committees may need to include faculty versed in multimodal forms of communication to help explain the work to committee members not yet comfortable evaluating non-text-based scholarship. At the very least, institutions must wrestle with developing guidelines for evaluating such work (see "Tenure and Promotion 2.0").

Academic support staff roles in these scholarly efforts include providing the infrastructure and services that facilitate multimodal scholarship by faculty and students. Intra- and inter-institutional collaboration and consortium-level leverage in shaping the future of the academic publication process is necessary to develop infrastructure, methods, and policies that privilege academic perspective and democratize access to and review of scholarship. In a NITLE keynote address, Kathleen Fitzpatrick argued for a form of academic press that preserves and distributes scholarship in sustainable/scalable ways, beginning with the premise of building communities of scholars and including turnkey mechanisms for the review process.16 Major structural changes in any of these areas are not likely to occur quickly.

In the context of higher education, developing skill in multimodal communication has two intertwined branches: matters concerned with the disciplines, and matters concerned with participation in a global society. The liberal arts are, by nature, equally concerned with both. This is possibly one of the most important issues we will face in defining a twenty-first century liberal education. To do so, we must:

  • Share information broadly and be strategic in our practices.
  • Create learning environments and institutional practices that foster and reward media scholarship while making good use of its inherent potential to encourage interdisciplinary collaboration.
  • Adjust the "form" of our institutions to carry the critical content of our time.

This does not mean meeting the students where they are — it means showing them where they are. If our students can employ a wide variety of media technologies to shape their world, there is much less reason to fear that they will unwittingly allow technology to shape their world for them.


We would like to thank the National Institute for Technology in Liberal Education for supporting this project, and the more than 40 faculty, technologists, and librarians who contributed their time, energy, and expertise. The following project participants kindly agreed to our use of portions of their interviews in this article: John Cummin 2012, Student, St. Lawrence University; John Crespi, Associate Professor of Chinese, Colgate University; Amy Hauber, Associate Professor of Fine Arts, St. Lawrence University; Angel Nieves, Associate Professor of Africana Studies, Hamilton College; Vincent Odamtten, Professor of English, Hamilton College; Patricia O'Neill, Professor of English, Hamilton College; Meg Scott 2010, Student, St. Lawrence University; Krista Siniscarco, Graphic Designer in Instructional Technology, Hamilton College; David Smallen, Vice President for Information Technology Services, Hamilton College; Suzanne Spring, Assistant Professor of Writing, Colgate University; Nate Torres 2011, Student, St. Lawrence University; and Christopher Watts, Assistant Professor of Music, St. Lawrence University.

Original multimedia projects incorporated into videos in this article were authored by faculty and students who participated in the Media Scholarship project case studies courses. We gratefully acknowledge projects by Jina Chung, Flaherty Video from Media Scholarship Project (2009), Barbara Regenspan, Digital Storytelling Workshop project (2009), and Suzanne Spring, Digital Storytelling Workshop project (2009), of Colgate University; Zachary Zinn, Nicole Knapp, Meaghan Sutton, and Justin Thompson-Tucker, "Whits of the Afternoon" Art of Cinema Remake (2004), and Charles Vick, "Barber Shop," Actuality Film Projects 2004, of Hamilton College; and John Cummin, Dora Ehrhardt, Tansy Peplau, and Nate Torres, Introduction to the iPhone 2009, and Ashley Alden, Jordan Hensley, Meg Scott, and Skylar Van Steemburg, All Things Green (2009), of St. Lawrence University.

  1. Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death (New York: Penguin Books, 1985), pp. 10–11.
  2. The term "multimodal" is used in this article to refer to assignments and/or products that may contain a combination of digital text, audio, images, and/or video.
  3. Juniata College was also a member of this group initially, but withdrew due to personnel changes.
  4.  See "Communication Tools" on the Hamilton College website.
  5.  See "Example of Support Load Spreadsheet" on the Hamilton College website.
  6. Randy Bass interview with Cathy Davidson, "New Media Technologies and the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning: A Brief Introduction to this Issue of Academic Commons," Academic Commons, January 2009.
  7. Larry Johnson, "The Sea Change Before Us," EDUCAUSE Review, vol. 41, no. 2 (March/April 2006), pp. 72–73.
  8. See Recommendations 4 and 5; note also the similarity to Kolb's theory of experiential learning as explained by Lisa Lim, "Going Cycling with Learning Styles," Successful Learning, no. 27 (2003).
  9. See Bruner's theory concisely summarized online.
  10. Randy Bass and Bret Enyon, "Capturing the Visible Evidence of Invisible Learning," Academic Commons, January 7, 2009.
  11. Holly Willis, "Video: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly," EDUCAUSE Review, vol. 44, no. 6 (November/December 2009), pp. 106–107.
  12. Eric Faden, "A Manifesto for Critical Media," Mediascape, Spring 2008.
  13. For examples of evaluation rubrics, see the Media Scholarship Project Final Report, Appendix, pp. vii–ix.
  14. For examples of highly structured and flat assignment designs, see the case studies "The Marrow of African American Literature" and "Collaboration Across the Arts" in the Media Scholarship Project Final Report, pp. 15–16 and 25–26.
  15. Products that mimic the Hollywood studio aesthetic might not be desirable in the first place. This aesthetic naturally frames the content as entertainment, which is not necessarily helpful.
  16. Kathleen Fitzpatrick, "The Future of Scholarly Publishing: Supporting Faculty Research in the Liberal Arts College," keynote address, National Institute for Technology in Liberal Education Summit, March 26, 2010.