Multimedia vs. Multimodal: A Matter of Terms

multimedia_multimodal

Many writers and producers are often confused about the differences between a multimedia project and multimodal product. To put it simply, both words share the prefix “multi-”, which means “more than one.”

On the one hand, the word “media” – a plural of medium – refers to the technology that is used to produce the work. So, a multimedia project requires you to present your work in multiple forms of medium, such as print, oral/aural, and visual – whether they are analog or digital. An example of a multimedia project is a slideshow presentation, where you could combine words, images, audios and videos to make a coherent point.

On the other hand, the stem word “modal,” which derives from the root word “mode,” refers to a state that determines the way information is interpreted to convey meaning. These states can include linguistic (verbal), visual, aural (sound), spatial (space), temporal (time), and gestural (physical movement). A a multimodal project is one that is interactive, which requires the audience to experience your argument.

examples

One multimodal project I have done with my first-year composition students in the past was the Public Chalk Writing Project, where students used chalks to reproduce some thought-provoking maxims on different “canvases” around the college campus, such as the brick walls, trash bins, stairways, doors, etc. This multimodal project combines not just the verbal and visual modalities in writing, but also the spatial and gestural to create meanings. The audience of the project has to engage with the writings and ideas using different senses to extract meanings – such as walking down the stairs to read the complete maxim, or smelling the trash can to get the double meaning of a maxim. (See some of these students’ work on Facebook here: http://on.fb.me/1IHhgC5)

Therefore, as you can see, the emphasis in “multimedia” is the technological form or the medium of presentation, whereas the emphasis in “multimodal” is the means to persuasion. They can, of course, overlap. Some say multimedia is to multimodal like a rectangle is to a square. Just as every square is a rectangle but not every rectangle is a square, so every multimodal project is multimedia but not every multimedia project is multimodal.

Clearly, the difference here is probably very minimal when it comes to your class project, since the instructor may limit your project to certain modes and media. However, it doesn’t hurt to ask your instructor is he or she is open to some unconventional ideas. In my classes, students are welcomed to propose any creative presentation ideas, as long as it is not an interpretive dance.

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