Based on the implementation process of The University of Findlay’s Multimodal Composition Initiative to date, I conclude that the environment of the liberal arts institution provides an unstudied, yet useful incubator for altering the scope of multimodal composing at the institutional level. A built-in commitment to writing inherent in the liberal arts tradition (described in the Introduction) combined with a culture that supports a comprehensive view of communication (through art, music, and speech as well as print) offers some unique resources/benefits for the small/liberal arts college writing program administrator:
1). The process of multimodal composing is an ideal instructional match for a liberal arts college because it already fits into a pre-existing culture of using all available tools of communication to make knowledge.
Because a liberal arts education is concerned with “content, skills, the creation of a whole person, and that person’s action in the community” (Kaplan 47), it makes sense that liberal arts colleges begin to incorporate the digital literacies students already are using to communicate in their non-college lives. Rather than adopting multimodal assignments to provide students with technology “skills” alone, instruction can be folded into the existing mission of the liberal arts college. Technology and liberal arts instruction are not mutually exclusive, and “…we must establish the ‘new liberal arts’ of…the ways technology works, and the computer if we want our education to evolve in concert with our culture. Since the predominant culture is technical, we cannot liberate our students unless we introduce them to the information and facts of technology.” (Kaplan 60) The mission of generalism that many liberal arts colleges share is enacted through study and knowledge of communication and cultures, including the culture of technology.
2). Writing programs at liberal arts colleges tend to be stable and supported by faculty, allowing the opportunity for thoughtful integration of multimodality by interested parties.
This does not mean such thoughtful integration necessarily happens. Revising a writing program is a daunting enterprise. As Lunsford writes about her revisions of the writing program at Stanford University, “…teaching writing based on a substantive redefinition of writing affects every single aspect of our work: our theories of writing, our curriculum, our classroom configurations, our staffing, training, evaluation principles and procedures, our relationships with other programs (and with upper administration), and our methods and materials.” (176) And WPAs of larger institutions often face pressure from administrators (and likely, professional programs with high numbers of content courses) to reduce composition requirements as a part of a growing trend to reduce general education requirements, leaving little room for true writing program reform (Bamberg 1).
Because writing is already accepted as necessary to the liberal arts enterprise, writing programs, whether present in the form of first-year composition, writing across the curriculum projects, or writing intensive courses, tend to remain stable. While the WPA at a small liberal arts college may face a host of other challenges including a high teaching load, lack of budget, or a general failure by faculty to realize WPA work as intellectual work (Taylor 59-60), the dominant presence of writing on the campus is usually not questioned. In fact, such overinvestment in the places and spaces of writing on the liberal arts college campus can lead to faculty resistance to overarching “initiatives” if they are perceived as mandates.
In fact WPA Rebecca Taylor notes at her own liberal arts college, “My most experienced colleagues send a strong message: Trust us to design our own courses, please. We don’t need a ‘composition expert’ to design writing assignments for us, and those assignments needn’t look alike. This is a liberal arts college, is it not?” (59) While overcoming faculty perceptions of the best venues and methods for writing are unique challenges facing the liberal arts college WPA, due to limitless possibilities for execution multimodal compositions offer an opportunity to cater to each faculty member’s strengths, both inside and outside the writing program.