Persuasive-Pervasive Composing: Multimodality, Virtual Reality, and Google Cardboard

(Multi)Modality

Cheryl Ball and Colin Charlton, in their encyclopedia-like entry in Naming What We Know, state that “all writing is multimodal” (2015). Further,

rhetoric and composition’s historic approach to the teaching of writing has almost always included the production of multimodal texts. This understanding can be traced from classical rhetorical studies of effective speech design including body and hand gestures, to current concerns with infographics and visual rhetorics. (Ball & Charlton, 2015)

Typically associated with new media and new communicative affordances in emerging technologies, multimodality refers to the use of multiple modes of communication to creative, maintain, and convey meanings. In a previous post where I have attempted to differentiate “multimedia” composition from “multimodal” composition, I contended that the emphasis in “multimedia” is the technological form or the medium of presentation, whereas the emphasis in “multimodal” is the means to persuasion.

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Since that writing, it has become central to my research activities to examine the roles, functions, and forms of persuasion afforded through rising communication media, including embodied technologies such as wearable and biometric technology, as well as virtual and augmented reality environments, where persuasion can be pervasive and ubiquitous. I am interested in learning how persuasion works in new immersive environments, i.e., how new modes of meaning making modify the arrangement of arguments (logos), heighten the credibility of the source (ethos), and create impacting experience for the user (pathos).

Google Cardboard & Virtual Reality

To begin explicating the possibilities of integrating virtual/immersive reality as a pedagogical tool for teaching persuasion, I introduced Google Cardboard in my first-year composition class this semester. (Watch this video to learn more about Google Cardboard and low-end virtual reality.)

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What I am interested in having my students explore using Google Cardboard is the element of “reality” in composition.

As writers we have been taught many ways to create a sense of reality (some scholars call them context) for our audience: the 5Ws & 1H, the rhetorical situation, the Burkean pentad, etc. These strategies aim to construct the circumstances in which persuasive communication takes place, as audience tend to be more persuaded by arguments that are made as close to actuality as possible. In fact, arguments are more persuasive if they provide more sensory stimuli to the audience.

In other words, people prefer to believe in things that seem or feel real.

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By providing its user an immersive experience, virtual reality seems to afford pseudo-realistic argumentations. Such realization opens new grounds for the theorizing of virtual spaces as rhetorical spaces that can be used for pervasive-persuasive composing.

Today, my students and I got to experience virtual reality through Google Cardboard, and we discussed how virtual reality redefines writing and persuasion. We also talked about the following:

  • What is made possible through virtual reality?
  • How might virtual reality enhance arguments and persuasion?
  • What are some limitations to communicating via virtual reality?

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The Fun Factor

Needless to say, virtual reality is fun! Watching students experiment with Google Cardboard for the first time reminds me of the goals of active learning––authentic, engaging, and valuable. And the Cardboard activity seems to allow students to participate and contribute more earnestly than the typical lectures on rhetoric and persuasive writing. The energy was off the roof when our class session ended this morning; and for a teacher, this is humbling.

I will continue to design lessons around Google Cardboard and deploy them in class so students can get early hands-on experience with this emerging communicative technology. If you have suggestions for deployment activities, or ideas for collaborative projects, please feel free to comment here or contact me directly.

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