CHAPTER 1: INTRODUCTION


In this multimodal dissertation, the initial introduction is offered in the form of a video where the framework for the need and the value of multimodality is laid out. Each section of the dissertation starts with a video, offering an additional perspective to the text that follows. Video and text are presented in tandem, each with equal importance to the comprehension of the whole. In addition to the introduction video presented here, each section of the dissertation has a series of videos that contribute to the concepts being presented. The videos, together with direct quotations from the literature, offer the reader the opportunity to hear the scholars in their own voice, adding another dimension and layer to the text and the understanding of the message

My interest in composing a multimodal dissertation was initially sparked by Nick Sousanis' Unflattening - a doctoral dissertation written entirely in comics format. I am particularly interested in exploring how multimodality can help make academic work more accessible to a wider audience, who may not otherwise be able to consume academic research. I wish to explore what multimodality can add to the doctoral dissertation and hope to contribute to the expansion of our understanding of what a multimodal dissertation may look like.


I propose that we must challenge the exclusivity of text-based knowledge production in academic scholarship. My goal is not to oppose the use of text, but rather to promote the expansion and inclusion of other modes in addition to text and print. Academia must embrace new modes of expression if it wishes to remain relevant and have an impact on the lives of students and practicing educators everywhere. I propose those of us working in education should continue to push for the expansion of our notion of reading and writing, and knowledge making. And scholars should not only discuss the inclusion of multimodality in education but also start including multimodality in their own research and work. The central point I will address in this study concerns the need to expand our ideas of academic inquiry and scholarship. If education is to fulfill its role in enabling and empowering students to become active members of society, then we must insist on exploring new modes of meaning-making and attempt to engage with a much wider audience. To that end, I will argue for the inclusion and expansion of multimodal research in academic and dissertation writing.


This work starts by looking at multimodality in education in general – investigating and understanding what is multimodality and the field of multimodality and its application in education in general. To gain a historic perspective, I start by identifying and reviewing some of the scholars who have pioneered the study of multimodality; and then look at some of the works and application of multimodality in the classroom.
Next, I look more specifically at the literature related to the use of multimodality in academia and dissertation writing. In the last 20 years, much has been written about multimodality, but most of the work has focused on K-12 education. More recently, there has been an increased interest in multimodality in higher education, and I have found some studies specific to college composition classes. But, there is still a gap in the literature with regards to multimodal scholarship and dissertation writing in particular. There have been some pioneers, who have produced and successfully defended multimodal doctoral dissertations, during the last decade. However, the examples are still few and far between, and there are still many obstacles to the production of multimodal academic work and dissertation writing, which will be discussed in the findings section of this study.


The theoretical foundations of multimodality is explored, with the inclusion of key terminology and key concepts and principles that guide the work. Starting with the work of the New London Group (1996), and key scholars in the field of multimodality, such as Kress, Cope, and Kalantzis to help provide an understanding of what is multimodality and why it matters. This work also draws from Vygotsky's Sociocultural Theory of Cognitive Development and Paulo Freire's Critical Pedagogy - stressing the need to undertake knowledge-making as embedded in the community within which it takes place and the need to validate the experiences of all those who are often left behind and invite everyone to join the conversation. Multimodality is proposed here as a means to expand and diversify academic inquiry in order to reach a wider audience, who might otherwise not be able to consume it; as well as to provide alternative means of communication to those who might not feel adequate to discuss academic matters and to help them find their voice.


To gain a deeper understanding of the challenges and difficulties in producing a multimodal dissertation, I conducted a case study with multiple cases, locating 4 multimodal dissertations successfully defended in the last 10 years, in the humanities. Each case was selected based on the dissertation format itself and the modes included, following pre-determined criteria explained in the methods section. Interviews were conducted with the authors as well as their supervisors/advisors, to learn from each case what were their obstacles and how they were able to overcome the challenges encountered along the way. I also looked at the requirements and guidelines from each university, to compare and contrast the challenges of dissertation archival deposit.


While all cases investigated in this study were successful and the authors managed to successfully defend their multimodal dissertations, all of them shared some level of frustration, challenges they had to overcome, and changes they had to make to the original plan, in order to have their work accepted by their doctoral committee as well as fulfill the university requirements. In the findings and conclusion sections, I share their views and their recommendations, as well as my own recommendations based on what I learned from the analysis and my own experiences attempting to produce a multimodal dissertation.