CHAPTER 4: FINDINGS
The objective of this study is to investigate successful multimodal doctoral dissertations in the hopes of expanding the notion of what a doctoral dissertation could look like, as well as providing guidelines for future students considering producing a multimodal dissertation. The primary research question for this study is to learn how have doctoral candidates successfully overcome the problems/challenges typically encountered when trying to create and defend a multimodal doctoral dissertation in the field of education?
In order to address the research question, I conducted a case study, with multiple cases – locating 4 multimodal dissertations successfully defended in the last 10 years. Each case was selected based on the dissertation format itself and the modes included; following the criteria outlined below. For each case, in-depth interviews were conducted with the authors as well as their supervisors/advisors, to gain different perspectives on the issues involved in each case. Additional data and information for each case came from the analysis of the dissertations themselves and university dissertation guidelines and requirements.
As discussed in the methods section, the interviews followed a qualitative, semi-structured format. Each case is unique and brings up different issues and challenges. Keeping an open mind and remaining reflexive and critical to the findings as they emerged, was critical and an integral part of this study. Rather than trying to determine a priori every step of the way, this study required being able to add and adapt the methodology in accordance with the theoretical foundations of qualitative case study, thick description, bricolage, and critical research described above.
CASE SELECTION CRITERIA
The cases for this study observed the following criteria used in the identification and selection process:
The dissertation is fully multimodal, presented through alternative modes; other than just the traditional printed- text format.
The dissertation also contains text, but the text does not take precedence over the other modes. The multimodal element(s) play an equal or more substantial role in the work. Videos, audio, and other multimodal elements contribute to the argument, not merely serve as decoration.
The dissertation may contain audio, video, as well as other three-dimensional, tactile, or other modes of communication. And it may also contain hyperlinks and be presented in a non-linear form.
Some of the possible types of work to be considered might include blogs, portfolios, web-based, film-based, or other kinds of non-print-based formats submitted for final examination. In this type of dissertation, the multimodal part of the submission “is” the dissertation, rather than being an appendix at the end.
The dissertation must have been successfully defended at an accredited university (preferably within the last 10 years).
Once the intended cases were identified, participants were recruited by email invitation sent to each potential participant. Three potential participants who were contacted, were not available or able to participate. Participation in the study was on a voluntary basis and subjects were free to accept or decline (or ignore) invitation to participate. Participants were informed that they would not receive any compensation for participating in the study.
For each case, in-depth interviews were conducted with the authors as well as their supervisors/advisors, to gain different perspectives on the issues involved in each case. Additional data and information for each case come from the analysis of the dissertations themselves and university dissertation guidelines and requirements.
Participants’ informed consent was obtained at the beginning of the research study. The researcher asked permission to video record the interviews, informing subjects that interview data would be transcribed for research purposes, and their names would be identified in the dissertation. The potential topics generated were not expected to be of a highly sensitive or emotional nature. The topics expected to be discussed are typically related to the inclusion of multimodality in dissertation writing and the challenges encountered in the process. It is important to note that two participants requested not to be video-taped. One agreed to have the interview audio-recorded, and an audio clip with a portion of the conversation is included in the findings section. One participant requested not to be recorded and only handwritten notes of the conversation were taken during the interview. One of the dissertation advisors initially agreed to participate in the study, but later, due to the COVID Pandemic, was not able to participate due to unforeseen disruptions in schedule. In the discussion of the findings and recommendations, video clips of the interviews are included whenever available and as deemed appropriate to give the reader a sense of each speaker in their own voices.
4.3 CASE SELECTION AND DATA SOURCES
This study followed Yin’s (2013) framework for multiple case study design, using the following four steps: Step 1- Defining and selecting the cases for the case study; Step 2 - Using multiple cases as part of the same case study; Step 3 - Strengthening the evidence used in the case study; Step 4 - Analyzing the case study evidence.
Following the above steps, for each case, I did the following:
Reviewed the actual dissertations and analyzed it based on what multimodal resources were used and for what purpose (Form and Function). This followed the pre-determined criteria defined in the previous sections.
Conducted an in-depth interview with each dissertation author.
Conducted an in-depth interview with the supervisor/advising committee members.
Reviewed other pertinent data, such as university requirements for dissertation deposit.
A total of four cases were identified and seven interviews were conducted. One of the cases was from the Department of Education, one from the Department of Journalism, Media and Performance, one from the English Department, and one in the Department of Cultural Studies and Comparative Literature. Three of the cases studied incorporated video in their dissertations and one used podcasts.
4.4 CASE DESCRIPTION
In accordance with the case selection criteria outlined above, the following cases were selected and studied:
Dissertation - “From documenting subcultures to academic video essay: A critical examination of historical and contemporary documentary debates” – (2020).
University of North Hampton, UK.
Department of Journalism, Media and Performance
Multimodal component = video essay
Dissertation – Raising Creativity: A multimodal dissertation – (2014).
Brock University, Ontario, Canada
Department of Education
Multimodal Component = video documentary
Dissertation – "We Rock Long Distance: M.anifest and the Diasporic Media Currents of Transnational Hip-Hop" – (2013).
University of Minnesota
Department of Cultural Studies and Comparative Literature
Multimodal component = series of video clips
Dissertation – My Gothic Dissertation: A podcast – (2019).
University of Iowa
Multimodal component = series of audio podcasts
All cases examined contained the following basic criteria: they were all successfully defended multimodal dissertations, including both text and one other mode of communication, such as video and audio files. In all four cases, the multimodal element plays a critical role and is essential for carrying the dissertation argument. All four dissertations also contain a print text component, which will be discussed in detail next.
Individual interviews were conducted with each dissertation author, plus another interview with their dissertation advisor or another member of their dissertation committee. The interviews were video recorded and each lasted for about an hour. The interviews helped reveal the views and experiences of the authors, plus the perspective of the university in the form of the dissertation guidelines and the views of the dissertation advisors.
The interviews were used to provide a deep understanding of what each individual experienced and what they considered critical to their success, and the challenges encountered. The interviews followed a semi-structured approach. The interviewer initiated each interview with an outline of the types of questions and information desired, open-ended questions were used and the researcher tried to remain flexible to allow each participant to elaborate and expand on each topic addressed. The interviews were conducted online and recorded using Zoom. Recording the interviews freed the researcher from notetaking and allowed a focus on the conversation and to refer to the recording afterwards to review and analyze what was said.
Each individual interview was video recorded and later transcribed in detail, to try to minimize researcher bias in the note taking process; and to provide a permanent record of what was said. The transcript of each interview was made available to each individual participant for review and approval.
Since the cases were located across the globe, from Canada to the UK, it was not possible for the researcher to travel to the location of each participant, and thus requiring a virtual meeting or call. For each case and each interview, the video recording helped bring additional insight into the mind and world of the participants during the interview, allowing the researcher to focus on the conversation and being able to refer to the recording afterwards to review and analyze what was said.
Some of the challenges encountered in conducting this study are due to the more open-ended and subjective nature of conducting qualitative research. It is generally more difficult to determine when enough data has been collected; maintaining objectivity during data analysis, and minimizing researcher bias. Reliability and generalizability of the study should also be acknowledged, since replicating the exact conditions of the study will be almost impossible due to the uniqueness of the setting and each case.
Another challenge of using qualitative case study was the need for the researcher to remain vigilant on the role of researcher bias during the collection and interpretation of data. Multimodality is both the subject of study, as well as the means of producing this dissertation. I am both analyzing the findings of the case study, as well as going through and discovering some of the challenges for myself as I conduct the study and attempt to produce a multimodal dissertation.
4.6 STUDY FINDINGS
Below is the compilation and analysis of the interviews with the four case study dissertation authors and their advisors, plus a look at their respective university guidelines and requirements for dissertation deposit into the archives.
4.6.1 Inspiration and purpose
One of the first questions I wanted to know about from all those who have undertaken writing a multimodal dissertation is “why,” or how did they first become interested and how did the idea first come up to produce a multimodal dissertation. Each of the four cases analyzed was different and each author had a unique story to tell.
Roy Wallace, who created a video essay for his dissertation, indicated that his idea and interest came from his background as an audiovisual practitioner. He has been working with different forms, mainly producing documentaries for a long time, and he decided to undertake both a written and a practical element to the doctoral dissertation.
Rebecca Zak, who produced a video documentary for her dissertation, stated that she simply was not motivated to write a 300-page, 90.000-word dissertation in writing. She started her dissertation at a time when YouTube was really taking off and making videos was becoming quite popular. Zak identifies herself as an artist/researcher/teacher, and to include multimodality in her dissertation seemed like an obvious choice. For her, it “did not make sense not to do so.”
Justin Schell produced a dissertation with a series of short video clips (which later became part of a documentary he produced). Schell started working with video in 2007 and had wanted to create a documentary, more so than write a dissertation. He had also had extensive experience in writing, and he ended up creating a dissertation that included both writing and video, side-by-side. His final video documentary was produced after he completed his dissertation.
Anna Williams produced a series of podcasts for her dissertation. She recounted her interest and experience working with radio storytelling as the inspiration for her dissertation. Plus, at the time she was working on her dissertation at the University of Iowa, the Next Gen Ph.D. project was taking place, focused on discussing alternative forms of dissertations. It was from this combination of factors and circumstances that Williams’ dissertation idea was born.
While each case revealed a different set of circumstances that led them to decide to incorporate different modes of communication in their dissertation, they all shared the feeling that they did not wish to produce a traditional dissertation. The common sentiment was not that they were trying to make a statement “against” the written text, but rather to propose an expansion of the text and the notion of what a dissertation could and should look like. All four dissertations did include a printed text component, submitted as a PDF file, together with the video and audio files.
For my own dissertation and interest, I can say that I was inspired by Nick Sousanis dissertation in comics format published in 2014 by Harvard University Press. From the beginning, I was interested in the possibility of expanding the notion of academic discourse and the potential of multimodality for expanding the audience who may be able to consume such work. I will discuss that in greater detail later.
In the following video, Rebecca Zak shares her inspiration and her impetus for producing a multimodal dissertation:
Roy Wallace felt the need to investigate and interrogate the relationship between film production and the final textual output. He criticizes how in typical film studies; the final output is usually a printed text product. Wallace proposed a more sophisticated, complex understanding of the sets of relationships involved in the production and presentation through video essay.
And Justin Schell echoes that sentiment when he states that he wanted “to really bring that element and not just talk about it but actually have the visual element embedded within it.”
4.6.2 Challenges and difficulties
The list of challenges and difficulties encountered by the four case-study participants was long and varied, but some common themes emerged, which also coincided with my own experience. Here is a list of some of the issues that were identified:
The university’s requirement for depositing a PDF copy of the dissertation.
Technical challenges of how to include or embed the multimodal elements within such required PDF file.
Doctoral students trying to produce a multimodal dissertation end up doing double the work – because they are still expected to produce all the standard dissertation elements, plus the multimodal component.
The need to establish new protocols for multimodal dissertation – this point varies greatly from university to university, but most are still not yet entirely onboard and equipped to accept fully multimodal dissertations.
Finding other universities that have produced and accepted other multimodal dissertations that can serve as a model and help provide the necessary models and examples.
The question of preservation and longevity of the dissertation – as new technology comes up and old technology becomes obsolete, the need to preserve the work is a major concern for all university libraries.
Acquiring the technical expertise to work with different modes of communication, whether video or audio, in addition to learning how to write a dissertation – having the multimodal component adds another set of skills and complexity to the work.
Having the necessary tools, software, and programs needed to create and edit the video and audio components.
The challenge of editing the multimodal files, video or audio, after it has been completed – this can create an extra challenge of how to get approval from the committee before the finished version is complete.
Finding and securing an advisor and committee who will support and guide the doctoral candidate through the process of writing the dissertation, plus incorporate the multimodal element along the way. (For many of the advisors, this was also their first time working with a multimodal dissertation).
Ensuring the multimodal dissertation contains all the required and necessary elements of a traditional dissertation: how to include footnotes? How to include the lit review?
Ensuring the dissertation has the necessary and required rigor, and can be accepted and fulfill all the requirements for a doctoral degree.
Maintaining readability and interest – the question and concern with the audience were very present in all four cases.
Not everything that typically goes into a traditional dissertation could be included in a video documentary or audio file – so, understanding the medium and how to use it and what it can do well and what to do in writing instead; and how to incorporate and integrate the different pieces and parts together.
The question of who should consider creating a multimodal dissertation when considering issues of career path and tenure.
There is a component of working of multimodality that is much more concerned with aesthetics and design than a traditional dissertation would be.
In this video Roy Wallace challenges the need to fulfil the requirements of the university in order to have the dissertation accepted:
4.6.3 Value of multimodality
Another topic that was addressed in all four case studies was the question of what does the video or audio component add to the dissertation. All four authors felt very strongly they could not have accomplished what they did without the multimodal component of their dissertation.
For Roy Wallace, his video essay is an original standalone piece of work, but at the same time, it complements the critical examination. He says, “. . . what makes it so much different from a monomodal essay, is that you can take different elements, both of actuality and it could be experimental art, it could be cartoon, it could be still image, it could be audio, and you blend the different modes to produce your video essay, which is what makes it so exciting.”
Rebecca Zak discussed how so much gets lost in communication and that by juxtaposing text with images and video, you can amplify your options and your message. She felt the video allowed her to use all of her communication skills, body language, etc. Her choice of music, settings, backgrounds, and all other video elements were orchestrated to convey and evoke a particular message and emotion in the viewer.
Justin Schell described how the video allowed him to walk down the streets of where his subject had grown up and to be able to capture his posture, see what the place looks like, hear the sounds in the background, and be immersed in the setting, all of which cannot be captured through text alone.
Anna Williams describes the layers of meaning hard to capture “on a flat black and white page” alone:
4.6.4 Technical aspects
Working with multimodality for the four cases involved many different technical aspects and singular unique challenges and details.
For his dissertation, Roy Wallace produced a video essay. He described how over the years he has been experimenting and testing different formats and lengths and for this type of academic work. He found 20 minutes to be the ideal length. The following table shows Wallace’s break down of video length that he uses for his own work and research, and with his students.
Figure: Video Essay Length
And he offered the following framework for creating an academic video-essay:
First, research the subject in the same way that you would research any academic work.
Formulate your arguments based on your particular research question.
From the notes, you then generate somewhere between 10 and 15 PowerPoint slides which give you structure.
Then you narrate the PowerPoint presentation.
The next step is to take the audio and then to ground it visually in materials that indexically bond it.
Everything then refers to the internal logic of academic research.
The final stage is to reference every single element of the work at the back in an academic way … basically, that's your bibliography.
Rebecca Zak describes it as a delicate process of creating the video documentary for her dissertation – to be able to have all the important points in the piece, but also to have to edit it down to make sure there is nothing more, or you would run the risk of losing the viewer. Zak discusses the issue of “watchability,” for her this is a critical issue when trying to produce a video dissertation. She says, “If it's boring then you haven't done it well. You haven't actually utilized the format properly.” Rebecca used a script from which she produced the videos. First, she did a voice-over, and then selected and determined what shots she needed for what she wanted to convey.
Anna Williams warned of another aspect of working on a multimodal dissertation that some people may not think about, such as the day-to-day logistics of things like the software and hardware needed to do work in a different mode. She shared how in the beginning of the dissertation process, she did not have Pro Tools at home, which was the audio editing software that she used to produce her dissertation. For the first couple of chapters, she described how she had to go to campus to sit in the studio to produce her work. It was only later in the process, that she was able to secure a grant to acquire the needed software so that she was able to work from home and have greater freedom of time to devote to her work.
The question of rigor is one that comes up often when discussing multimodal and other forms of alternative dissertations. When asked about their position in regards to the need to ensure rigor in a doctoral dissertation and how they felt about their work in terms of rigor, they all agreed rigor is not exclusive to the written word.
Roy Wallace discussed how at every step of the way in a video essay, the author is applying a particular critical examination and systematically trying to answer a particular research question. So, that at every stage, the work is grounded academically. But, at the same time, he feels, it also offers much more creativity. Wallace counters the question of rigor versus innovation by saying:
… academic institutions thrive on the fact that they are the most creative and innovative. So, they gotta take some chances, and in the area of research, they have to step up then, and really back students who are being creative and innovative. So, it's a two-way process and not a unidirectional process where prove to me that it's rigorous … and we need to find our own methods, which is suitable to multimodal approach, to say, this is how it's rigorous, this is how it's validated.”
Justin Schell countered with: “… what is rigor?" You can hear it in his own words:
Anna Williams expressed the same type of frustration with the question of rigor applied to her work, or any other multimodal work. She questions the notion that only through a traditional dissertation it is possible to maintain rigor, that there is only one way to demonstrate rigor. She defended the idea of how her dissertation contains all the elements of a traditional dissertation and more. She asserted that there was nothing that would have been done in a traditional dissertation, that she did not do. Some of the elements of a typical dissertation, such as footnotes, had to be modified and adapted in her dissertation, as they would not make sense in her audio files – and for that reason, the footnotes were added to the PDF file. So, for Williams all the elements are still there; they may have a different look and feel, and call for an expansion of the expectations of what a dissertation should include and what it should look like. She states: “. . . it just all goes back to this question of how do we not see that just because words are delivered in a different method that doesn't make them any less rigorous.” In the video below, she questions a narrow interpretation of academic rigor and defends the rigor of her own work:
4.6.6 Advisors' perspective
In addition to interviewing the authors of each dissertation case study, I also interviewed their dissertation advisors, or another member of their dissertation committee to try to gain an additional perspective on the process and to understand the challenges and difficulties encountered by their professors. I also wanted to get a glimpse of what it’s like to try to guide someone doing innovative work that has not been done before.
When asked about the experience of working with a student trying to produce a multimodal dissertation, Dr. Robin Brown, Justin Schell’s advisor, from the University of Minnesota, reflected on the issues or challenges of trying to produce a multimodal dissertation, or any other innovative type of dissertation, as a result of what he calls a bifurcation of the field of education. On one side there’s a radical and liberatory pedagogy along the lines of Paulo Freire and others. But, there’s another side to the discipline that is historically immensely conservative. As described in the section above regarding the evolution of the field of education, the pressure to emulate the “hard sciences” and to prove its worth, has produced a conservative discipline manifested in resistance to digital mediation.
Dr. Peter Vietgen, who was a member of Rebecca Zak’s dissertation committee, also talked about his own experiences and his own path at Brock University with regards to working with multimodality. The university does have the stipulation that alternative modes and artwork can and will be considered for such matters as tenure and rank advancement. However, in his own career when he went up for tenure, he shared, he had to explain himself, and he had to convince others of the value of his work and why it deserved to be recognized. He did get tenured, and others have since applauded his work. But, he still had a lot of convincing to do in order to have his work accepted.
Not all universities, however, are equally resistant or strict with regards to the format a doctoral dissertation must follow. Dr. Judith Pascoe, Anna Williams advisor, described how at the University of Iowa, all they had to do was get five people in the English Department to agree to be on the dissertation committee. According to her recollection, the University did not have a specific rule that stipulated what a dissertation had to look like, and since it did not specifically prohibit the inclusion of podcasts, they just did it “. . . as long as she could get people on her own committee to say yes this is a dissertation, that's all she needed to do . If the dissertation committee said it was OK, it was OK.” The trick, for Pascoe, was in getting the dissertation to have enough of what a traditional dissertation includes so that people would sign on to saying “Yes, this counts as a dissertation.”
Dr. Pascoe did describe some of the tension that arose from the cross-disciplinarity in Williams’ work. Because she was doing a literature analysis, but which also commented on issues of education, and this created some tension among the committee members questioning whether she should be allowed to do that since she was not trained as an education specialist. There was a question of legitimacy and not just the challenge of working with multimodality, but also the challenge of working across disciplines, which goes beyond the scope of this study but should be mentioned as one of the issues raised in this particular case.
When asked what value the video or audio added to the dissertation, all professors had a very strong reaction and enthusiastic support of the value of multimodality and the work their students produced.
In the following video, Robin Brown refers to the new knowledge-making process and stresses how the video element in Justin Schell’s work created new knowledge of great value and produced something that is a great gift to all of us, which could not have been done through text alone:
Peter Vietgen describes multimodal work as more holistic. When you can explore a topic from various perspectives and using different modes of communication, then you can see a more complete picture. It’s quite “obvious” to those working in the arts and those who have embraced multimodality. But, “we still have to convince others – it’s their loss! They are lagging behind.”
Judith Pascoe discussed the use of audio in Anna Williams’ dissertation and how the intellectual conversation is enhanced by the podcast format, bringing the voices of the people she is talking to. In this video, Pascoe shares how Williams’ work has generated so much interest, with different people from different fields contacting her to ask about Williams’ dissertation. She says no one had ever done that before with any of the dissertations she had ever worked with:
When asked about the question of how to ensure rigor in a multimodal or innovative dissertation, all advisors had a strong reaction to the suggestion that rigor would suffer by the inclusion of multimodality.
Robin Brown argues that the question of rigor is an argument about traditional forms being seen as more valid more etic, more real than new forms. Below, you can hear him discuss the word decorum to describe how certain ways of acting and being are perceived as proper and therefore desirable:
Robin Brown continues with the idea of the complexity of film and the ability to use film within academic discourse. He argues that film can be just as semiotically dense as any written text and just as semiotically definitive. For Brown, the question of rigor should be understood in its full historical political-economic context of what it means to change the discursive modality “...because then you'll know why some like it, why some hate it, why it's being resisted, why it's being fought.”
Vietgen also expressed that he feels the idea of rigor is flawed. Coming from an arts perspective, he is used to working with different modes. And the notion that academics have of the importance of the written word is incomplete. He argues that the arts are perfectly capable of expressing and representing with academic rigor. Academics are lagging behind, he says. For Vietgen, just because the work is not done in the traditional written text format, does not mean that it is not rigorous. But unfortunately, he admits, you still have to do a lot of convincing. Academia is not always ready to accept alternative or multimodal works as part of the academic circle, “so, we still have to fight for the inclusion of the arts in the production of academic work.”
Pascoe expresses her skepticism of the word rigor, not because she does not feel that academic work should be rigorous, but rather that simply following a traditional path will not necessarily ensure rigor. In this video she questions the notion of academic rigor:
Another topic brought up by Dr. Pascoe is the skills needed to produce multimodal works, whether it is video, audio, or any other form. While she did not want to suggest that one should not consider working with multimodality unless they are already an artist or a skilled videographer or podcaster, she did reflect on the challenge of having to learn a double skill set, of how to write a dissertation and having to learn the technical aspects of working with other mediums. She reflected:
“. . . it would suggest that If we did want to allow people who do not already have that kind of previous background to do these things, then they would need pretty early on to be getting different kinds of education in graduate schools, so they develop the kinds of skills they would need to do this kind of project.
In the end, I think that Pascoe sums it up well when she says: “So yeah, I think there's just all those kinds of conversations that would need to keep going on.”
4.6.7 University guidelines and requirements
The universities involved in the four case studies are
The University of Northampton in the UK.
Brock University in Ontario, Canada.
University of Minnesota
University of Iowa
There is actually quite a bit of variation among the four universities regarding the level of detail provided and required for doctoral dissertations. Below, I present the requirements and guidelines from each university, plus the University of Illinois, where I am conducting the present study. It is interesting to note that in a couple of places, specific mention is made with regard to the inclusion of multimodal files, while in others, no mention at all is made - and at least for one of the authors, Anna Williams, at the University of Iowa, that lack of mention was used to her advantage: "If they didn't say it couldn't be done, then she just did it."
University of Northampton
Here is Northampton’s policy for dissertation submission. This information was retrieved from their website in October of 2020.
What to submit:
Practice-based research degrees: If your PhD is practice based you should submit both your written work and your practice (or documentation of it). When submitting the files, you should make clear how they should be uploaded and subsequently ‘read’ in relation to the written component of the thesis.
PhD by Publication: You are expected to submit the critical commentary for NECTAR and, if possible, separately deposit in NECTAR the published works which form the basis of the thesis. (The NECTAR team in LLS will check and make live any items they can, and create links to other available full-text copies where necessary e.g. on journal webpages.)
All research degrees – full text: You should submit the full text of your thesis, including a copy of the abstract and, optionally, any supplementary information (such as multimedia files, datasets etc.) that you wish to accompany the thesis. If you are uncertain about the suitability of these for upload or dissemination then contact the NECTAR team (mailto:NECTAR@northampton.ac.uk) for advice.
All research degrees – metadata: NECTAR can make public a range of metadata which showcase your work and help others to find and use it. Examples of useful metadata include keywords, the names of your supervisors, your funder and project details (if relevant, e.g. if you have been working within a funded research group), your ORCID (http://orcid.org/) identifier (if you have one) and links to related web pages and other documents. If you have published from your thesis then you may wish to provide a link to the article(s).
Note how the University of Northampton does mention the inclusion and uploading of multimedia files. In addition, they do have a provision for "practice-based" research, where students are expected to submit a written portion of the work, plus additional documentation containing evidence from the practice portion of the study, such as video, images, sound, or other alternative forms. But, regardless of what form the multimedia element may take, the written component must also be present. So, a written dissertation without any multimedia is acceptable, but a multimodal dissertation without a written component is not. Roy Wallace brings up this point in his interview and relates how his original idea for what he wanted to produce, had to be adapted to suit the requirements of the university.
Brock actually has a special section for the inclusion of multimodality, but it is also worth noting how it states that the dissertation must also contain a written component. This information was retrieved from the university’s website in October of 2020.
Multimodal Format (In order of appearance)
Frontispiece or Quote Page (optional); faces the title page
Abstract (maximum 350 words)
Acknowledgment (optional); should appear in the prefatory pages only and not in each paper.
Table of Contents (listing chapter heads and subheads, bibliographies, and appendices)
List of Tables (if any)
List of Figures or Illustrations (if any)
List of Plates (if any)
List of Symbols, Nomenclature, or Abbreviations (if any)
Footnotes (if any)
Appendices (if any)
A multimodal thesis/dissertation is a work in which the key component is a performance or piece of art. For multimodal theses, part of the work can be produced in a digital or print format, but key elements of the dissertation experience rely on the exam committee’s direct experience with media, visuals, moving images, pieces of art, and performance.
The thesis must have a written component.
There is a heavy emphasis on film, videos, slides, electronically interactive word/image-based text.
Key elements of the work depend on direct experience with or interaction with a text whose physical form may be changed as a consequence of the interaction.
Students producing multimodal dissertations should consult with the institutional library to find out if the text format is uploadable for the library and Theses Canada Portal (www.nlc- bnc.ca/thesescanada) on the Library and Archives Canada website for advice on formats.
Brock University was willing to accept Rebecca Zak's multimodal dissertation, but she indicated in her interview how she had a lot of convincing to do in order to get her dissertation accepted. In Zak's case, she produced a video documentary as her dissertation, accompanied by a blog that contained the elements that did not fit or were not well suited to be included in the video - either because it would make it too boring to watch, or too long for the documentary. The dissertation accompanying blog contained the required elements that could not be included in the video, with a running commentary on topics such as copyright, methodology, and self-reflection.
University of Minnesota
Minnesota has a very detailed and specific description of what should be included and how it should be formatted. The following images were retrieved from the university website in October 2020.
Like the other authors, Justin Schell also had to submit a PDF file with his multimodal dissertation. In his case, rather than having one long documentary, such as in the case of Rebecca Zak, he opted for including short clips together with the written text. Schell produced two forms of his dissertation, one online version with all of the media embedded, and one conventional PDF file, where he placed a static image of a play button to indicate where the video would go. The image below shows a sample of what he included in the PDF version of his dissertation to show where the video would go:
Figure: Justin Schell Dissertation Screen Shot.
University of Iowa Thesis formatting Guidelines
It is interesting to note that the University of Iowa guidelines contain a list of “required” and “optional” elements. Perhaps among the four universities included in this study, Iowa is the most flexible and open to interpretation. Anna Williams and her advisor, Judith Pascoe, both mentioned the fact that since it was not stated anywhere what format the thesis should take, then they used it to their advantage and simply submitted the dissertation with the corresponding audio files. In Anna Williams's case, as long as her committee approved her work, then the university was willing to accept it.
And for comparison, here is the information from the University of Illinois regarding the formatting requirements for dissertation submission. The information can also be found at: https://grad.illinois.edu/thesis/format
It is worth noting that it is also very detailed and specific in terms of what is expected to be included and how it should be formatted (not leaving much room for deviation).
Figure: University of Illinois Dissertation Requirements
As one can see from the examples above, the requirements for doctoral thesis submission varies across the different institutions. This situation does not help the plight of the student who may wish to produce a multimodal dissertation. Since most students enter graduate school without a firm idea of what they are going to do for their, it is unlikely that requirements for dissertation submission is something the prospective student will look at prior to selecting what program to join. Only later in the process or when starting and writing the dissertation, will the student find out what he or she is up against. At that point the student will find out whether the university will support or hinder the multimodal project.