Multimodal Essays

Multimodal essays of all different forms can deliver an emotive argument by using images, time, sound, rhythm, etc… to activate a conceptual and intuitive connection with an audience.  This type of project involves an awareness of how storytelling can illicit affective responses, and students will have to work through their materials in a way that delivers information to activate these dimensions. Usually a multimodal essay is a very creative endeavor as students work through material to make a smooth or purposefully broken narrative delivery, and it is a highly active way for students to arrange, compile and perform curriculum.

A multimodal essay can exist in many forms, from still image compositions to audio casts to video narratives or even animations.  Below are a few ideas that can be achieved through digital media, but the project should also incorporate a storyboard component to help students develop the work and alleviate too much post-editing.  Please be cautious of expectations for this project as it can be quite time consuming, so you may want to keep it quite specific, and on the short side!

Photographic and especially video editing programs need computing power because they are editing large data images.  Below are some low cost or free options you can recommend to your students, as well as professional programs available for student to use on UBC computers.

Projects Ideas

A photo essay is a visual display of a topic or of information through images captured by camera. These depictions are accompanied by text to provide the audience with a context, or a point of view, that might not be clear in the picture(s). The purpose of a photo essay is to offer the development of a particular topic with a clear objective in mind – to denounce, inform, criticize, explain etc.

  1. Have students pursue research on a particular subject, space or person by taking a series of original photo documents. Have them photograph change in people or geographical locales, significant moments or everyday events, objects or materials, behind the scenes or different perspectives of the same subject, etc… After exploring the topic visually, students can then connect it to ideas, insights and revelations that activate class concepts, and visually order and align the photographs with written descriptive text, guiding the viewer through the results of their exploration.
  2. Have students create, refine and depict a particular archive formula to provide them with boundaries and strategies to create an archive either sourced or made from images or videos within the parameters decided upon to guide them.  For example, a student might organize the first 100 image results of a google search resulting from the words “romantic couple”, from here they will find archive categories for their results that they will then display.  For example, categories they could define and create can be; age of the subjects, sexuality, ethnicity, depicted intimacy gestures, etc..  They would then display this archive in a moving chronology or still image layout.


Useful Links

A video essay is a multimodal piece that attempts to present, support or develop a thesis or proposition about a specific topic and can use narrative and story development in the making of a work. It usually combines audio and visual modes, may include text, and is rendered through a written plan. The piece narrates a story, explanation or analysis using multimedia formats to immerse the viewer into a particular reading and effect.

  1. Create a work that uses a voice-over dialogue over film and/or still images. For example, students can study a specific area in the city by filming it, collecting archival images, and writing and sound recording a written analysis of the area.  Another idea is to have students complete a structural analysis of a particular film, to uncover hidden meaning or sub textual emphasis by analyzing a collection of scenes from a film or television show and observe how a film’s story takes shape.  Students would edit the footage and render the information tied together through their voice-over analysis.
  2. Documentarian Ken Burns used this technique extensively; the Ken Burns effect is a moving video where the lens travels across still images (photographs, graphics, charts, maps, etc…) with moving, zooming and panning effects, focusing in on specific areas of the image. The technique works best when accompanied by an audio narrative which can be used to describe areas in focus, and other translations of what is visually projected.  For example, you might animate a still graphic with a moving lens and focus area, and have the audio narrative describe what the graph relays, and conclusions as to what this might mean. An Art Historian might use it to navigate a painting with audio narration of a formal analysis, or a creative writing class may want to pair sound and still image to examine illustrations for a storybook.
  3. A more experimental form of film can explore other practices of meaning making that differ from the traditional avenues. It attempts to diverge from mainstream productions by disrupting conventional narrative forms; particularly, it breaks and plays with the idea of time-space continuum, and can collage effects into a visually stimulating moment wherein the process of making creatively informs the content it is critiquing. An experimental video work may also recut sources through conceptual analysis, bringing out another reading.


Useful Links

Usually shorter in duration, a video explainer describes an idea in a simple and appealing fashion. It attempts to answer basic what, when, where, how or why questions. There are different formats in which they can be developed: live action, animated or whiteboard simulation.

  1. Have students create a 2 to 3-minute video (it can also be longer, but it is meant to be short in nature) to explain an idea succinctly and poignantly, but also in an entertaining fashion. The piece should attempt to answer basic what, when, where, how or why questions.
  2. Test student comprehension of literature, a theory, historical event, etc.. by asking them to make a video trailer for the moment. Have a very brief time limit so that they deliver the progression of the idea as succinctly and poignantly as possible, while also building up a reason/purpose to why it is important and intriguing to know, just as a trailer does.


Useful Links

A podcast can be a single or set of audio episodes or chapters that concentrate in a specific topic. The development of the topics can be provided by one person or a group of people, and at times, guests might appear in an episode in interview form.  Audio techniques such as sound effects and mood music can help deliver ideas.

  1. Producing an episode podcast can allow students a way to collaborate and express an idea on a certain subject, and to craft and verbally unfold an argument from written language on paper to dynamic sound and narrative. Students can include other voices via sound bites and interviews, and narrate the piece via a sound track and sound effects. Episodes on a particular subject of your class can gather together into a class series you can host online.
  2. Ask students to step into someone else’s shoes, consider another position or frame of reference, and perform in that mode via a developed podcast.  For example, you might ask students to take an example from class and become the person in the example, this can include historical figures or a medical subject, etc… From here, students can enact and express their point of view and perspective on an issue, giving enough information to develop the character, time period, social and/or political situation. This can include background sounds and effects, soundtracks, and narrative of different voices, interviews


Useful Links

A video presentation in experiential learning classes can make space for student reflections about their processes particular to their experiences and partnerships. It seeks to analyze and convey the experience students have when provided with practical experience of a hands-on opportunity to solve a problem in the real world. While making the work, students can reflect and work through their experience by visually demonstrating:

  • challenges they faced and how they overcame them
  • how the solutions they provided might differ or be similar to the ones presented in the class literature
  • the changes in preconceived notions they had prior to the project (e.g., biases with the community they were working or the topic, how to solve of a problem of the sort)
  • the new skills they developed while doing the project
  • how the skills or knowledge gained might be helpful in their future, be it professional or personal

"I think writing a report would have limited our creative vision in the storytelling aspect of our final report, and easily less effective because readers would only be left to imagine what kind of things were accomplished throughout the process."

Student Reflection

To target more overlooked or invisible facets of experiential learning, the aim of the video is to reflect, not to report. Hence, it would be ideal for both students and teachers to focus on the reflection of the experiences they underwent more than reporting the process in itself.  Resources to help with creating an experiential learning multimodal project is available in our Implementation section on Scaffolded Curriculum as well as in the following example of student work from the class.


Useful Links

Some recommended programs:


* UBC obtained a license for faculty, staff and student use free of charge. Download here.

Available on UBC Computers

UBC has many professional programs available on library computers and digital labs from Adobe Creative Cloud for Photoshop and InDesign (photo editing and layout) and Premiere (video editing) as well as Final Cut Pro.

Warning: These programs can be expensive for a student to purchase on their own.