Wednesday, March 05, 2014
Is it a book or is it an app?
With World Book Day
approaching, it is anticipated that children's literature and its authors will get plenty of coverage - but what about the growing market of digital fiction, e-books and story apps? Recent developments in app design have begun to show the way forward in new interactive texts for young children and work by researchers at the Sheffield Institute of Education
and the University of Sheffield
has been investigating the potential for using apps in story-sharing activity with young children. We've seen how size, portability and touchscreen operation make tablets like the iPad attractive to young children and their teachers. And young children enjoy the interactive nature of some of the better story apps, and although it's still early days, the potential for innovative development is clear. Here's three examples of story apps for the iPad that show how the technology can be harmonised with story meaning to offer a strong learning experience for young children. For toddlers, Nighty Night
is a great little app in which young children explore a farmyard scene, turning the lights off and saying goodnight to each of the animals (see here for more
). This app depends on interaction from the reader who taps the screen in each location to move the story on. For slightly older children, there's a number of different versions of the traditional tale 'The Three Little Pigs'
on the market - but the version by Nosy Crow is by far the most engaging and attractive. It's great the way that blowing into the microphone can involve children in the repetitive sequence of 'blowing the house down'. Young children love it! A more sophisticated story, 'The Heart and the Bottle'
has been around for a while. It is beautifully illustrated and uses many of the iPad's multi-tasking gestures through a number of puzzles that are woven into the story. My favourite is the way that it uses the built-in accelerometer so that youngsters can create a snowfall by repeatedly shaking the iPad! In short, there are plenty of story apps out there, but these three really show the potential - and that lies in how an app can engage young children, actively involving them in making meaning. They won't be replacing print stories and picture books, but they certainly sit well alongside them. Whether they class as digital fiction, multimedia, or apps seems rather irrelevant. They are good stories, a new kind of book, and their development should be celebrated and encouraged on World Book Day
Labels: digital literacy; education, media
Sunday, February 09, 2014
Digital futures for teachers
The need for teachers to engage with digital literacies at all stages of education has been articulated in numerous policy documents and directives in many parts of the world. Often the economic desirability of 21st century skills is seen as the central rationale for this, but commentaries also make reference to the increasing importance of digital literacy in citizenship and participatory culture. In education theory and research, the importance of acknowledging and using children and young people’s knowledge of popular culture has become a key theme, with a growing number of studies addressing the rise of digital culture. In the face of this, educators now realize that levels of participation in popular digital culture vary considerably between populations and social groups (Warschauer and Matuchniak, 2010). To add further complication, the understandings and experiences that learners and their teachers have, and need, are rapidly changing as technology itself changes (Davies and Merchant, 2009). Preparing teachers to operate effectively in this volatile environment presents a number of challenges. In our chapter in this book we look at some of the driving and constraining forces, concentrating particularly on the ways in which open educational resources (OERs) may have the potential to support teachers and trainee teachers in developing their capacity to address the ‘digital challenge’ (Abrams and Merchant, 2012). All this receives a detailed treatment in the chapter that Julia
and I have written for this collection (now available)
. The chapter draws on the work of the DefT project
Labels: digital literacy; education, future, social issues
Sunday, January 26, 2014
Last week I bought a goat, a spider and a stork. They cost 99p for the job lot. I know that because of the helpful receipt I got from iTunes. Now I've done some strange things in the name of virtuality, and this wasn't really one of them, but it is what they call a telling case. You see, as it turns out, I bought the goat, spider and stork as a way of upgrading my grandson's favourite story-app: the story that he calls 'Night Fours', which is his rendering of the opening line 'Night falls'. It's an app I recommend (it's real title is 'Nighty Night
'). It's his favourite because it's an engaging app, and just right for 2-3 year olds. In the story, it's night time and most of the village is in darkness - apart, that is, from the farmhouse, which is still blazing with light. The reader is invited to 'go' to each light in the farmhouse, say goodnight to the animals found there and turn off the light. Once the light is turned off, there's no going back. Sure, you can return to the barn, the dog's kennel and so on, but they've gone to sleep and there's nothing at all you can do about it. It's a simple scenario, that helps with prediction, naming animals, and the simple and repetitive night time rituals of saying goodnight and turning off the light. So in this way it does what good picture books tend to do, in supporting language, helping children to make predictions and making connections to firsthand experience. What might the app add then? Well first off, even though, it's made for sharing, the child can look at it independently and still hear the story being told - a small gain admittedly, but nonetheless a difference from a print book. Then there is the important fact that it is user-driven. This happens in two ways: firstly, the animals and insects won't go to sleep unless you switch off (tap) the light and secondly, the order in which this is done is entirely up to the reader - so it's not unilinear, the child dictates the reading path. Because this is an app for young children, these features are simple and easy to see, but imagine if they were scaled-up and you begin to glimpse the future of digital fiction. Rather like a videogame, you are in
'Nighty Night' because you change the story environment as you go along. And then, of course, there's the upgrade I started with. I really enjoyed the surprise Dylan felt when he suddenly discovered that, overnight, more animals had moved into the farmhouse! The potential for a story that has add-ons is quite something. Of course, the same business model as in-game purchases is lurking behind the scenes - but I want to keep that in proportion. The app plus add-ons, is cheaper than most good quality picture books for this age-group.
Labels: apps, digital literacy; writing; education
Sunday, January 19, 2014
Make up money
I'm posting a picture of make-up. In fact I'm posting two pictures of make-up - and that might just be a first for this blog. It's a photograph of what my mother would call a powder compact, or perhaps more simply a compact. I asked my daughter what she called it. Make-up, she said. It's a pleasingly shaped hinged box in black plastic, which snaps closed with a satisfying 'pock', and as you can see there's a delicate flower-like design in gold on the front. By contrast my mother's were weighty metallic things with an enamal finish. Enough to lend some substance to your handbag, I should imagine. But this is make-up with a difference. It's money. Or to be a bit more accurate it's got purchasing power......just a prototype, I know, but it works. And it may well be the shape of things to come. Probably the next big thing, if indeed something so small can be called big. And here's where the second picture comes in. You see you flip it over, and there's the evidence, in the Mastercard contactless chip which is embedded in the plastic case. Neat. And that allows you to buy things with make-up, and it's what I call new. It made me think of the slow demise of currency. Remember, I'm old enough to
remember decimalisation. When all of a sudden there were 100 shiny new pennies to a pound compared to twelve shillings, or whatever awkward amount we had before. And now it's all turning into plastic. Spending is gradually becoming more abstract, several steps away from the real thing. No wonder so many people get into debt! Of course that idea of coins as the 'real thing' is actually a strange convergence of the material and the abstract. Maybe currency only has any real meaning at the point of transaction. And financial transaction itself is built on a sort of tacit social contract. Now I'm sure economists have better ways of talking about this, but the one thing I'm sure of is that the money business is looking very different as mobile digital technology takes hold. Take the fascinating emergence of mobile exchanges in Kenya. Read about it here
, if you haven't caught the story - and this isn't about smartphones, we're talking basic models, here. What a wonderful illustration of the ways in which social groups take up the affordances of mobile technology and make it work for them to fulfil their needs. In fact, I can see myself doing the Kenya thing rather than carrying around make-up (or cufflinks, apparently).
Labels: digital literacy, maps; social issues, mobiles
Sunday, January 12, 2014
In the current book project New Literacies around the Globe
, we've had to confront some of the myths surrounding the idea of 'the global' as unbounded free space. In its place we use the term 'global assemblages' (from McFarlane, 2009) to capture how complex and multiple forces coalesce as place-based events. We suggest that these events are constituted by the exchange of ‘ideas, knowledge, practices, materials and resources across sites’(McFarlane, 2009:561) as language and power intersect with socioeconomic status. Although the word 'global' is so much easier, it often erases all this. Increases in the extent of broadband connectivity, and growing access to resources (particularly powerful handheld devices) is accelerating the sorts of exchanges that constitute translocal assemblages. But this isn't a universally even process. In the studies featured in the book, we see how practices are patterned by local forces as cultural resources are accessed (or not), appropriated and recontextualised within specific social networks. To be specific: things like PlayStations, jacuzzis,and mobile phones take on different meanings in different settings and practices like texting, chatting and flirting are given local nuances. More often than not, in translocal assemblages we see that sociotechnical practices are absorbed into existing ideologies, sustaining and sometimes amplifying them. In other words, technologies and the global flows that are associated with them rarely flatten out inequalities, but they certainly can draw our attention to them.
Labels: digital literacy; education, maps; social issues, mobiles
Sunday, December 29, 2013
The discourse of online reviews
Reputation and ranking through comment and consumer review are a ubiquitous feature of new media. Reviewing involves online performances of identity and taste that are highly influential in the consumer-led participatory culture of late modernity. Based on an analysis of a corpus of 1000 such texts, Camilla Vasquez
's book 'The Discourse of Online Consumer Reviews
', due to be published by Bloomsbury later this year, explores the linguistic features of this new online genre. Using an eclectic range of approaches, the discourse of these (often humorous) reviews is given a detailed treatment. In a compelling exploration of stance-taking Vasquez shows how the quest for the perfect product inflects the comments of these self-appointed reviewers. As she observes in the conclusion to the second chapter 'on our quest to have a "mind-blowing" dining experience, or with our hopes of finding the "perfect" diaper bag - we will continue to consume.' We see how reviewers work hard to position themselves on the expertise continuum, often evoking professional knowledge or the views of others to bolster their credentials - and, of course, all this is indexed in their written comments. Advice, warning and product endorsement all feature here as review-writers gain reader involvement and encourage interaction. Vasquez majors on reviews of specific items such as multi speed blenders, diaper bags and yoga mats, throwing in more general ones such as hotel reviews from TripAdvisor, movie reviews from NetFlix, and recipes from Epicurious for good measure. A highlight, for me, was the mushroom tortellini debate on the recipe site - witty, yet spirited - and this is lovingly analysed for the play of voices in the extended online interaction! Through their evaluations and short narratives these reviewers create a shifting online community of consumer advice, and Vasquez shows how they deploy discursive resources to achieve this. All this makes goes to make this book an essential for anyone who is interested in online discourse.
Labels: digital literacy; writing;, media, social issues
Wednesday, December 18, 2013
Political speeches, presentations, ritual invocations, announcements, radio broadcast and so on are closed one-to-many forms of communication in which interaction is constrained through the ways in which the speaker occupies a position of power in relation to the audience. Often enough, although not exclusively, their textual power is achieved through appropriation of the linguistic structures of writing and in fact part of the process of their production may involve the use of scripts, notes, prompts, the inclusion of quotation from written sources, or the memorisation of sacred texts. Casual conversation,with its diversions, its vagueness, hesitation and the prevailing condition of incompleteness is tinctured by provisionality and is in contrast more open, more democratic and more context-dependent. These contrasts, however, are extremes on a continuum and perhaps, because of this, the in-between ground is as interesting as the extremes. We often use the context dependent/independent continuum as a way of differentiating between texts, but really we have to accept that text must always have a context. Perhaps it's more a case of foreground and background. In much of the casual traffic of texts it almost seems as if the text (by which I mean, in this case, the linguistic element) is an elaborating detail that surrounds the action. When we're fixing something perhaps, we are involved in action and that's foregrounded. The linguistic detail attaches to that. In other instances - reading a novel or writing a paper, it seems that we work the other way round. The linguistic content is central and reference moves both within the text as well as to the world, real or imagined, that is outside it. It can be no different with digital text, except that it may be the case that there is more possibility for extra-linguistic material to become part of the situation. Perhaps, by moving away from a text-centric way of looking at things we are simply becoming more interested in action, activity and relationship, and maybe they are the underplayed dimensions of communication.
Labels: digital literacy, ideas, writing