Tag Archives: multimodality

just words

One of the joys of teaching is learning from and being inspired by the students with whom you are working. Last week in a graduate course I am teaching called eLearning in PK-20, we focused on multimodality and multimedia in our teaching and learning. We read a chapter I had written with a colleague called “Multimodal Meaning: Discursive Dimensions of e-Learning” in the book eLearning Ecologies

In our course, a different class member “sparks” a conversation for the week, and we all respond using FlipGrid. For this week, Sheri sparked our conversation and in a very thoughtful way, pushed back on some of the overemphasis in our chapter on thoughtfully, responsively, and purposefully designing multimodal/media instruction. She invited us to think about the unintentional and unexpected places we’ve been when we follow students’ leads. I appreciated the push, and it made me think back to another spark from Zachary who had invited us to consider if and how we were designing instruction that was (or was not) culturally responsive, and in humanizing ways, attentive to the diverse lived experiences of our students. Needless to say, I was inspired to focus on both of these dimensions in my response video for the week. Here it is:

For those of you interested, here is the first paragraph from “Multimodal Meaning: Discursive Dimensions of e-Learning”:

From graphic organizers to 3-D models of cellular structure to choreographed performances of Shakespearean sonnets, multimodal objects and practices are not uncommon in traditional schooling. However, these expressions are often presented as accompaniments to the central, dominant evidence of knowledge and learning—language in the form of print text (Bezemer & Kress, 2008; Jewitt, 2005; Kress & van Leeuwen, 2001). All too often, learning activities and assessments are reduced to alphabetic expressions that can be collected and counted. This holds true for teacher planning materials as well, such as in the prescribed talking points and quiz questions in annotated textbooks. However, the rapid changes to the communicative practices brought on by the sweep of the digital era—including the prevalence of screens, the interactive and social nature of media composition, distribution, and consumption—have created an expanse between the practices of schooling and the practices of daily life, civic engagement, disciplinary study, and professional careers. More often than not, the texts we encounter in daily life are multimodal (Kress, 2003), and we are expected to digitally design multimodal texts in return. Miller and McVee (2012) argue that “integrating the dramatic broadening of purposeful literacies and practices of knowing to include multimodal systems beyond print text for all students may be the essential task for schools in the 21st century” (p. 6). In this chapter, we further argue that when educational spaces and practices are reimagined with the affordances of multimodal meaning making foregrounded—particularly those made available by digital tools and interfaces—the potential for reshaping many of the assumed building blocks of educational design and experience in e-learning ecologies is realized.


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#AERA13 or What I’m Up To This Week–Other Than 37,989 Feet Above Iowa

I am currently 37,989 feet above the middle of Iowa sending digital messages to people around the world. The next generation will be unfazed with this phenomenon. I don’t think I’ll ever cease to be amazed. Continue reading #AERA13 or What I’m Up To This Week–Other Than 37,989 Feet Above Iowa

Tweet-a-Read: Vasudevan’s “An Invitation to Unknowing”

Sometimes while I am reading, I am so struck by the ideas and the prose that I sheepishly begin live-tweeting. On even rarer occasions, when the text is one I can’t get out of my mind, I collect the tweets and recommend the text to you. This time it was Lalitha Vasudevan‘s “An Invitation to Unknowing.” Highly recommended.

Continue reading Tweet-a-Read: Vasudevan’s “An Invitation to Unknowing”

Creating Conversation: Composing in the Digital Age

Update: You can now navigate this conversation here.22477440_4366572e31 (1)

One of the many potentials of the shifts in re-envisioning writing in multimodal spaces is the chance for new conversations — for stretching out thinking beyond your own physical space and joining in discussions about the changes now underfoot. During November 2012’s Digital Writing Month, educators and writers and others from across many teaching levels and learning domains — from public schools to college universities and beyond — were engaged in a deep exploration of digital tools and ideas, and many participants shared reflective practice on what those digital choices were doing to their conceptions of writing.

As fellow explorers during Digital Writing Month, Kevin Hodgson and I have decided to continue that conversation through consideration of digital literacies and contemporary composition by coordinating a multimodal conversation that begins with the idea of Digital Writing Month and then stretches outward from there. We will be jumping, leaping and diving from digital media platform to digital media platform in their conversation, as we first reflect on literacies in the 21st Century and then ask, and respond to, each others’ questions.

Kevin is a sixth grade teacher in Western Massachusetts and a member of the National Writing Project. He is the co-editor and writer of Teaching the New Writing: Technology, Change, and Assessment in the 21st-Century Classroom. You may already know him as @dogtrax on Twitter. I am ecstatic to learn with him! (And, by the way, most of the text in this blog post was written by Kevin. Gotta love collaboration!)

We hope others to join us as we build this digital tapestry of ideas and reflections! We’re excited to announce that we’ll be hosting this conversation on the National Writing Project‘s Digital Is website. The exchanges will take place on Kevin’s Digital Is blog posts and my Digital Is blog posts. Please visit and join us in the comments…and feel free to respond using the same platform we used! We are also using the hashtag #modigiwri on Twitter to link the conversation together.

(#modigiwri is a play on #digiwrimo, which was the hashtag for Digital Writing Month. Our #mo doesn’t quite stand for month…We’re hoping you can infer its meaning!)
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To DEAR (Drop Everything And Read) or to DREAM (DRop Everything And Make)

20120914-131047.jpgLast weekend, as I was walking to my weekend office (my favorite cafe in El Barrio, East Harlem Cafe), I passed the corner of 105th and Lexington, which had been under construction for the last months. Suddenly, I heard someone calling my name from inside the building. Sure enough it was Manny Vega, visual artist and mosaicist extraordinaire, who is well-known for his restoration of the Spanish Harlem mural on 104th and Lexington and the mosaics in the NYC subway station at 110th street.

20120914-131059.jpgHe was working on his newest project, a mosaic realization of the appliquéd series of public art that runs along the businesses from 104th to 105th in East Harlem (featured in the NY Times). In the renovation of the building at 105th and Lexington, the art there had been removed in pieces, and the folks at 7173 Associates, LLC, and the owner of the long-standing neighborhood perfumerie, Exotic Fragrances, had decided this was not a loss they would let the neighborhood feel. Expected to run 20 feet long and 7 feet high, Espiritu: A Visual Prayer in Glass and Stone for the Here and Now, is Vega’s gift for the streets of East Harlem. It will be unveiled October 6th at 3:00 p.m.

The theme is a celebration of moments in my life where spirit has been the vehicle for living. It has been an amazing experience to share these images with everyone as folks have provided even more meaning to this project with their own association with my art and the realm of the spirit. -Manny Vega

And if I wasn’t already lucky enough to live in a neighborhood with such a vibrant art community, Manny Vega has been kind enough to take me on as an unofficial, part-time mosaic apprentice. We had met at East Harlem Cafe, where a commissioned piece hangs announcing their name. We began to talk technique and tools, and pretty soon, I had my first assignments. I studied, up close and personal, the mosaics throughout the subways stations in NYC (and got a more than a few weird looks as I stood nose to tile) and then on a trip to Russia, the Byzantine style that Vega practices. With pieces of construction paper and scissors, I drew then places tiles in channels, a Byzantine-style technique that creates the movement, depth and life seen in Vega’s creations.

It was a Saturday, and I had a long to-do list awaiting me, but I did what any sane person would do with your mosaic mentor working on a landmark piece. I dropped everything and went to get my pieces and tools. I returned and we worked alongside each other with a stereo blasting the local flavor for hours. Manny showed me a new fastening technique, and let me use a new clipper tool to practice making curved pieces that “fastened” into the next stone. (You can see magnified sections of some of his work here by running the mouse over the image. Watch for the channels and how pieces are cut to fasten into each other.) He told me that as tile and glass becomes malleable and the pieces begin to run as you intend in the channels, the therapy sets in. The mind and body and the creation become one. And, as usual, he was right. I was transfixed and healed. I tweeted and an old student of mine responded brilliantly:

This got me thinking. Just a few nights before during #literacies chat, we had been discussing contemporary digital literacies while listening in to the National Writing Project’s bi-monthly radio program. We had this little exchange:

20120914-131124.jpg Part of Manny Vega’s mosaic mural Espiritu will be a piece that features The Trickster, a mythical creature that shows up across time and cultures. As a mosaic, Vega is afforded the ability to insert actual dominos and dice in his rendition of a modern-day Trickster, who gets around via skateboard. The dominos and dice are physical manifestations of the hustle, of the gamble, of the games today’s Trickster uses to entrap us. This physically-realized aesthetic and referent would not be possible in any other medium.

I think this is the approach we need to take when thinking about digital literacies. What are the affordances of the medium that—if we took advantage of—would result in compositions that could do and be things otherwise not possible? A few of my grad students took to defining contemporary literacies last semester. Some of the results are here. Doug Belshaw, of the Mozilla Foundation, is writing a white paper on web literacies right now, and he is looking for input. What do you think these affordances are that we should be attending to in schools today?

One of the changes I see as necessary, is to stop saying literacy when we mean reading. Literacies in contemporary times (and perhaps always) are equal measure reading and writing/interpreting and composing. In a forthcoming chapter in Critical Digital Literacies as Social Praxis: Intersections and Challenges, I explain (with co-author Glynda Hull):

Via digital means we are now easily able to compose in multiple modes and, with access to the Internet, to do so in response to and in collaboration with international others. Such practices are, in fact, increasingly viewed as central rather than peripheral to literacy (Andrews & Smith, 2011). Critical reading implies a reader’s active response, as Rosenblatt (1938/1995, 1978/1994) long ago taught us. The interpretation of written language and image resides at the intersection of text, the reader’s personal experiences with other texts, and the social world. In a digital age, a reader’s response can become manifest materially (cf. Coiro & Dobler, 2007). When readers engage with a blog, for instance, they are able, indeed expected, to click on links, add comments, and reblog or remix content. Such response is a customary, expected part of the reading experience. Thus, the reciprocal relationship between reading and writing becomes tighter in the digital sphere, making authorship more obviously tantamount to readership, and vice versa.

One way we could do this is change the DEAR program (Drop Everything and Read) and institute a DREAM program (DRop Everything and Make). As my old student Emily implied, this would include making meaning from existing texts, along with making new ones. I know from my Saturday afternoon with Manny, making is not just critical and creative, it can be healing.

(The #literacies chat also led us into another fascinating discussion of the boundaries of writing when considering contemporary digital composition. I’d love to continue the conversation on that topic that started here.)

#literacies chat: The Reboot

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As many of you know, after an intriguing semester collaborating across our courses in New Literacies and Content Area Literacies, using the hashtag #literacies on Twitter, Emily Pendergrass (Lecturer at Vanderbilt University and @Dr_Pendergrass on Twitter) and I (@writerswriting on Twitter) wanted to take advantage of the momentum built by having so many of our colleagues think with us about the demands and dimensions of contemporary literacies. Using our course hashtag, we began the #literacies chat which runs weekly on Thursdays from 7:00-8:00 PM EST on Twitter.

The #literacies network of educators, researchers and theorists built quickly and expanded to include international colleagues, grad students, in-service teachers, and many others working related fields. Several of these folks became my shortlist for #FF including: @klbz, @mhall78, @allistelling@Jessifer, @JRRockwall, @linlouj, @mday666, @cjprender@ryanrish. (If you’re a #literacies regular and I missed you on this list, I am sorry! I have been away—see Part I and Part II—and I’m trying to do this from memory!)

Already we have discussed:

  • Our priorities and commitments when it comes to contemporary literacies. (Topic here. Summarized here.)
  • Ideas that frame our thinking about “literacies.” (Topic here. Archived here.)
  • The deceptively simple definition of “text.” (Topic here. Archived here.)
  • Swapping syllabi–a chat that extended across two productive weeks of exchange. (Topic here. Archived here.)
  • The role time plays in contemporary literacies. (Topic here. Archived here.)

We then took a short summer break, and this Thursday we are “rebooting” (thus the reason for the Spiderman image) the #literacies chat with the very important topic #Literacies with Diverse Learners. As Emily Pendergrass said in her chat topic description:

[There are] dumbfounding disparities within our schools and communities. Economic, ethnic, and achievement differences are greater in the US than in other countries. So…

  • How can contemporary literacies help build learning successes with diverse learners?
  • How can we revive the flat line among all our students and promote achievement and understandings?
  • What role does contemporary literacies play in reviving achievement and closing the gap?

In the coming months, we are looking forward to several guest hosts with great topics. We’ll have @ryanrish and his crew hosting about multimodality. @MaryAnnReilly is going to lead us in deep discussion on remix. And the team at @HybridPed, led by @allistelling, is going to host a chat on hybrid pedagogies for these contemporary times.

I hope you’ll join us Thursdays from 7:00-8:00 PM EST on Twitter using the hashtag #literacies! (Directions on how to do that here.) Check out our #literacies chat blog for a calendar and descriptions of upcoming topics and links to archives from past chats.

Forget Defining Literacies. What’s ‘Writing’?

I’d like to talk to you about the 468th episode of This American Life. Specifically, I want to hone in to 23 and 1/2 minutes that makes up Act Two: Forgive Us Our Press Passes. I don’t recommend many things, as a habit, but this is worth your time.

In producer Sarah Koenig’s story about a company called Journatic, which outsources local newspaper stories, be whisked away into deep contemplation about what constitutes journalism, authorship and attribution, news, consumerism, the local/the global, human rights, and the list goes on.

Screen shot of Journatic’s homepage.

As I understand it, Journatic focuses on amassing large amounts of data from small towns across the United States—birth and death records, budgets, police blotters—and then outsources the writing of articles based on this data to people in other places—according to this story, a few in the US, and many in other countries such as the Philippines. Journatic sells these stories to newspaper outlets across the US and the stories are often printed with fake bylines or none at all. (Makes you take a second look at Jenny Smith’s article on last week’s town budget meeting. Do you know Jenny Smith?)

For this post, I am only going to focus on one aspect touched on in this episode, but it is the combination of these topics in one story that makes this worth a listen. So, even though this post will be focused on ‘writing,’ I am more than happy to discuss any and all of these other aspects in the comments below.

Let’s get to it. I encourage you to listen before reading on. In the embedded sound file below, Act Two begins at exactly 26 minutes. Here is a link to the episode on the This American Life website in case you want to go to the source for a listen.

(This American Life has posted two articles from Poynter.org that have more detail and an update after the airing of this episode.)  

What’s ‘Writing’?

A few weeks ago, after another fascinating #literacies chat on Twitter, I posed a follow-up tweet about the use of the word “literacy.” Kevin Hodgson (or @dogtrax on Twitter) posted a reply that I couldn’t get out of my head while I listened to this episode. Here’s our exchange:

We continued to exchange tweets, and in doing so took this idea forward, considering terms like composing and designing to capture the multiple modes with which we find ourselves composing in a digital age. In this episode of This American Life, however, I found myself thinking backward, reductionist, in fact. What can we strip away and still call the act writing?

In the following section of the episode, Sarah Koenig had interviewed the Brad Moore of The Chicago Sun-Times who had hired Journatic to fill the local sections of their papers with local news, and Brian Timpone who was a champion of Journatic as a company. Each of these gentlemen claimed that all local news stories—though they were not written locally—were ‘at least’ written in the United States. Sarah Koenig was pushing to find out what exactly was outsourced, specifically to the Philippines. (All added emphasis is mine.)

Brad Moore: Just to be clear, all of the writing and editing of everything that Journatic is doing is happening by professional journalists here in the US.

Sarah Koenig: I went around and around about this with both Brad Moore and Brian Timpone who insisted that Filipinos were not writing stories. They were more like typing information, assembling it in paragraph form, which sounds to me a lot like writing. Brian Timpone told me this was a semantic confusion I was having.

Brian TimponeReally what they’re doing is assembling and copy editing a bunch of facts, right? So they write the lead. If there’s a paragraph about a person, the paragraph is technically written by someone in the Philippines, but not written. It’s like they have to type out who the person is, right? So they have to know how to write to send it over. I mean but to say oh, it’s written in the Philippines– I mean there might be a paragraph of it that the first draft is written in the Phillipines.

Sarah Koenig: Timpone declined to put me in touch with any of his Filipino employees. But I reached out to half a dozen of them on my own.

Sarah Koenig: You yourself are writing those stories, right? You’re not just gathering the information and sending it along to an American writer or editor. You yourself are writing those.

Man: Yeah.

Sarah Koenig: That one word is all you’re going to hear from this particular worker at his request. He’s got a full time professional job. But he told me his Journatic work pays better. And he needs the money to help pay his family’s expenses. Plus he likes the work. Back in April when the Tribune announced that Journatic would be providing stories for TribLocal, some readers and media watchers instantly began to grumble about the job losses but also about the product. It was canned, they said, barely rewritten press releases and daily stories under the news section about top DVD rentals in town or where to find the cheapest gas according to gasbuddy.com. No context, no analysis.  © 2012 Chicago Public Media & Ira Glass

As I write this blog post, I keep questioning: Am I writing? typing? copying and pasting? assembling? copy editing? drafting? developing context? adding analysis? I’d love to chat about these and other questions I am left pondering:

  • As we now have more user-friendly ways to remix media and content, are we ‘writing’ less often and ‘assembling and copy editing’ more often?
  • What does ‘context and analysis’ look like in a product that is not all words, but mostly image, sound, and quoted text?
  • When does ‘typing out’ something end and ‘writing’ begin?

Please add your thoughts in the comments below!