Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Death of the book 

When asked recently about the impending death of the book it occurred to me that, just like the terms 'text' and 'literacy', new developments prompt us to rethink our definitions and terms of reference. If we think of the book as that familiar material object made up of printed paper bound together between hard or soft covers we are likely to think of the different platforms now available - platforms that turn the actual book into something like a virtual simulacrum of the 'original' object. Alternatively, if we think of the book as a particular form of writing - a reasonably lengthy piece defined by the generic conventions of literary fiction, reference and the like, we might think that the exponential growth in the number of titles available and the number of topics covered continues regardless of trends in format and distribution. In this sense, book sales remain high, and although e-book sales are rising rapidly there is no reason to believe that we are witnessing the death of the book. Take children's literature, fiction and non-fiction for young people as a case in point. These forms continue to attract some of the finest writers and illustrators, and although Children's Laureate Malorie Blackman is currently campaigning for more reading for pleasure, I don't believe that things are in terminal decline. Of course we want children to read, and to enjoy reading as a leisure activity, but we also need to recognise that new digital forms have an important a part to play in this. It's probably true to say that with the advent of widely available tools for digital communication, there is more reading and writing going on now than at any other point in our history. This means that there's more competition for our reading time, and of course narrative fiction has to compete with both film and videogaming for our attention. But, at the same time, print books continue to be popular and attractive (they gain media attention - witness the Harry Potter phenomenon) whilst on the other hand more authors and media producers are investigating what digital fiction might look like, and indeed how 'transmedia' narratives gain traction. In my own work I have shown how young children respond positively to interactive story apps on iPads and there are some great resources available - and huge potential for future development. However these developments don't sound the death knell for the book, they just provide more alternatives. Parents shouldn't be worried by the growing availability of resources like story apps - they should embrace them and allow them to take their place alongside familiar storybooks. Although school and public libraries are threatened by funding cuts, there are some compelling reports of libraries that have embraced digital media, giving them a proper place alongside more traditional forms. In short, books matter - we need to introduce children to them, celebrate them, own them, share them and lend them. But we also need to be aware of the alternatives and the exciting developments that are now possible.

Labels: , ,

Monday, June 30, 2014

Coming and going 

Settling into a new location involves many small adaptions; adjustments that we make in order to stabilise the disturbance caused by the inconvenience of travel, the sudden breakdown of familiar routine, the disorientation that results from the disappearance of familiar landmarks, and all those major and minor details that when combined together have a tendency to make us recoil from the change we encounter. But with experience and perseverance I think we learn to cope. In fact we do surprisingly well. Our capacity for adaptation feels like a sort of survival instinct, and what's more, it seems to be written deep into the psyche. It appears, for instance, as if a territorial sensitivity has been awakened in us, as we attempt to read our surroundings in ways that will aid our navigation to avoid becoming lost. A keen attention to signs and landmarks springs up. Conscious noting of changes of direction are temporarily anchored to particular occurrences as we map our immediate location. In new urban contexts I invariably find myself walking in short bursts, building up an impression, staking out the territory, initially within something like a quarter of a mile radius of my temporary home, hotel or wherever I might be staying. Only when this is done, can I venture further afield daring, perhaps, to be temporarily lost until the familiar re-emerges once again in its reassuring way, like the shoreline out of a sea mist. Cussins (1992) calls this phenomenon perspective-dependence. He argues that we understand where we are, in other words the territory, by making 'cognitive trails'. This is our way of achieving stabilisation. And what's even more interesting is that this activity can work as a metaphor for learning in a more general sense. Although Engestrom (2009) applies this theory to mobile learning, surely it applies to all learning. We need to work out the territory, the key landmarks, the junctions and distinctive features. The quirky features, the dangerous areas, places that are under construction - they are all part of the jigsaw. Our cognitive trails are not like maps, although maps may be helpful, the key thing is inhabiting the space, albeit temporarily, but at least until navigating it becomes embodied. At that point, perhaps, it might be admitted that we have learnt something, even if our sense of territory is only modest, temporary or provisional. Then, of course, on our return, the familiar is re-awakened once more as we rapidly remember things that had been temporarily shelved away. The detail begins to fill in, just as it can 'rez' in a virtual world. And so it is that even though we can't go back in time, we can, as it were, go back in space; go back thanks to the cognitive trails we have blazed and the perspective-dependence we have achieved, the sum total of our prior learning. And that, it must be said, is very comforting indeed, and  perhaps one reason amongst many, why we call it home, sweet home!


Monday, June 16, 2014

Embodied expertise 

Over the last couple of weeks I've been involved in a lot of discussion about how teaching and learning get conceptualised in the on/offline blend. Sometimes that has involved avatar instructors organising a kind of cybergogy, at other times the idea of heutagogy and on a more fundamental level the differences between VC delivery and face-to-face teaching. What becomes clear is that there are all sorts of different blends and possibilities for creative learning designs, and although institutional systems tend to be a bit primitive (with the exception of thin VLEs) there's plenty of ways to enrich the student experience. But in a discussion with Masters students, what impressed me most was the value they placed on the 'tutor in the room'. Here you got the sense that what I called embodied expertise has a significant, affective impact. Watching the expert, who is perceived as being at the cutting edge, thinking on her feet, responding to questions, outlining the dilemmas live and unplugged as it were, was still one of the most valued experiences. So, in situations in which this is still possible the real challenge is how to make other modes work effectively and creatively to free-up live performance. And of course, the related to challenge is to find the kinds of online experiences that could be the next best thing to witnessing embodied expertise.


Tuesday, May 27, 2014


Last week at the University of Greenwich I talked about new technology and the commodification of literacy. I used digital apps and playthings - aimed at very young children and their parents - as a way of exploring the tension between the opportunities and attractions of the digital, and the corporate interests that package and sell them. Erica Hateley in Children's Literacy, Learning and Culture expresses something similar when she writes that: 'As children are inducted younger and younger into particular modes of literacy, and particular dispositions as 'consuming citizens', researchers committed to learning from and contributing to young people's agency and social opportunities need to pay attention to what is happening culturally when reading and playing and literacy and learning means tapping, touching, swiping, and scrolling and combining online and offline activities.' (2013:39). I also pointed out how some of what is available carries an implicit message for parents - these are the sort of literacy routine that are important. This has been called the discourse of the 'good parent'. But this tension runs through everyday and institutionalised uses of technology at all levels - its potential both to free us and to enslave us.

Labels: ,

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

New book! 

The increasing popularity of digitally-mediated communication is prompting us to radically rethink literacy and its role in education. In our new edited collection Cathy Burnett, Julia Davies, Jennifer Rowsell and I draw on cutting edge research from the USA, Canada, UK, Australia and South Africa to launch international debate around these changing literacies, how they might shape policy and practice, and how they articulate across national boundaries. Currently many national policies promulgate a view of literacy focused on the skills and classroom routines associated with print, and these are bolstered by regimes of accountability and assessment. As a result, teachers are caught between two competing discourses: one upholding a traditional conception of literacy and the other encouraging a more radical take on 21st century literacies driven by leading edge thinkers and researchers. The book explores studies of literacy practices in varied contexts through a refreshingly dialogic style, interspersed with commentaries which address the significance of the work described for education. The book concludes on the ‘conversation’ that develops to identify key recommendations for policy-makers through a Charter for Literacy Education. The book is due to be published by Routledge in July. Advance orders, library recommendations and more information can be found here.


Sunday, May 11, 2014

Boxes of poison 

Stacks of cardboard boxes are scattered around Barnsborough. Children's avatars might just discover them, and if they do, by hovering over them they will read a label that says 'boxes of poison'. Such a chance discovery might or might not map on to their interest, and to the play of narratives that emerges in this virtual world and the classroom in which it is accessed. And what is more this will only happen through extended, exploratory and open-ended action and interaction. Story building of this sort, whether it involves drama, videogaming, movie-making, virtual world play or immersive  engagement with written text, takes time and has multiple and complex learning outcomes that are not quantifiable or easy to measure. Although understanding narrative and the opportunities for problem-solving and generating hypotheses that are embedded within are generally understood to involve important habits of mind and learning dispositions, they have come under threat from a curriculum that is driven by simple, measurable outcomes, over-specified learning objectives and so-called evidence-based practice. Reclaiming this territory is fraught with difficulty, particularly when dominant discourses are pervasive, and present a regime of truth which evokes sentiments like investing in our children's future, securing high standards and developing a world-leading education system - who could criticise those virtuous ambitions? In a forthcoming piece provisionally titled 'Boxes of Poison' that's exactly what we'll attempt to do!

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Baroque Philadelphia 

When Cathy and I worked on the data that later became Points of View, we experimented with deconstructing the notion of 'the event', partly because we found it hard to define any clear boundaries between different instances of meaning-making in the material we were dealing with, and our multiple readings of the data, the stacking stories we developed, highlighted increasing levels of complexity, rather than coalescing around a single version of what was happening in classroom virtual world play. We struggled to find a word for what we were observing - maybe occurrences or action sequences might work - otherwise just call it the project! Part of the problem with the idea of 'events', which we haven't so far articulated, is the way in which they tend to associate too easily with 'activities' or 'routines' in the world of literacy education. And one thing that is clear about the virtual worlds work is the way in which it challenges just those sorts of boundaries, planned learning sequences, activities, objectives and all the rest. In our AERA presentation, we deepened our baroque reading of the data, using this to critique simple, reductive models of literacy in classrooms. Cathy introduced the notion of a baroque pedagogy, an exuberant expression of free roaming gameplay, one that is hard to describe, hard to understand, but thoroughly absorbing for participants. But we also used baroque techniques to illuminate the heterogeneity of meaning-making in classrooms, and that, I think, will be at the heart of the next paper that we're working on.

Labels: , ,

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?