Friday, December 17, 2010

New media news

I missed my blog’s anniversary. It’s not that I’m sentimental or anything, but I’ve been writing here for 7 years and that seems quite a long time for a blog that deals with new media. In a week in which the news has been dominated by the Wikileaks affair, in which Twitter was reported as being worth $3.7BN, and in which Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg was named Time magazine’s person of the year it seems that small niche interests have quickly become important features of the social, cultural and political landscape. Wikileaks was founded 4 years ago, Twitter 4 years ago and Facebook 6 years ago. So what’s new? Maybe it’s the level of over-exaggeration and misunderstanding. Time commended Zuckerberg on connecting the world. ‘In less than 7 years’ they said he has ‘wired together a twelfth of humanity into a single network, thereby creating a social entity almost twice as large as the US.’ Facebook’s success should not be under-played, but to claim that it has created a ‘single network’ or, for that matter, ‘a social entity’ is simply wrong. Perhaps underneath it all is the simple fact that old media types, in their attempt to understand what’s going on and play it to their advantage, have fallen under the spell of new media.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Social networking and protest

Ever since Howard Rheingold wrote about smart mobs we have been aware of the potential of social media to mobilise people in acts of resistance. In the UK the history of flashmobs has been limited to leisure spectacles such as iPod parties and the occasional activities of technology-enabled eco-protest. Things have changed with the latest round of mass student disturbances. Opinion is divided on the impact of SNSs in mobilising activists, but as this enthusiastic reportage from the BBC illustrates, old media are clearly excited by the possibilities of harvesting citizen journalism to present breaking news.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Networks and silos

I liberated this fabulous image from the great information silo of the university's VLE. I thought that was quite appropriate since nothing else seems to be able to get in or out on account of severe weather. Snow to be precise. Last week saw large-scale disruption to the transport network. Most academics were virtually working at home and managed desktops were groaning under the strain. I eased that particular burden by reading Gillian Tett on data silos, and in so doing confronted the irony of living in a highly connected world which is at the same time deeply segmented (I mean what exactly do I know about banking?). So while I'm chewing over some theoretical issues about networking, and online social networking in particular, I started to wonder just how much a space like Facebook has its users locked-in, generating a rather large data silo which can be partially explored from within but not from outside. It's networking, Jim but not as we know it!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Taking my turn

Belated congratulations to Dr Tamara Jones whose thesis looked at power and the patterning of spoken interaction in a reality TV show!! Bouncing from that to a bit of online teaching using Adobe Connect made me acutely aware that online interaction (can we still call it CMC?) is not the real world. And even though it's generally pretty smooth and quite immersive, it's virtual after all. Tamara's work reminded me how the old-school world of Conversational Analysis in which speakers were supposed to take polite turns, stay on topic and repair any hitches or perturbations is now about as idealistic as attempts to apply written grammar to speech. In other words most everyday conversations are littered with overlaps, as well as being punctuated by attempts to take the floor or change the topic. On the other hand conversational interaction in Connect cannot proceed in that way, because it's stripped down, with only the video feed of a talking head for a listener cue. Our best solution is to do turn-taking, and of course the environment encourages that in its design (mikes on or off, and onscreen icons to flag one's intention to speak). I think the upshot is that the conversational flow is different, turns are longer, collaborative meaning making as well its opposite, disputation, is harder to achieve. It's my sense that individuals talk for longer periods of time than they do in most face-to-face encounters and that they may be more measured in what they say. Certainly it's another of those instances of virtuality in which it seems deceptivley like RL, particularly as the technology gets better and the connection less vulnerable to glitches; deceptively like RL, but nothing like it!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Easy reader

Last night I bought 'You are not a Gadget'. It was one of the simplest bits of shopping I've ever done. First of all I was just curious to see if they had it in the Kindle bookstore. Less than 20 seconds later I saw that they had, and by exerting some gentle pressure with my thumb on the choose button my bank account was lighter by just over £10:00 and I was reading Jaron Lanier's book, still not quite sure whether I really wanted to or not. You could say I was curious. It has a lite style but a strong message, and one that fits the idea of technological determinism like a kid glove. But it made me think about how easily Amazon had relieved me of £10.00. Now I like the Kindle. I like the easy reading that it enables, and I don't have a problem with easy shopping. But the thing is that these things are seemlessly bundled together and I suppose that's where markets and meaning meet. And when all is said and done, I am what I consume.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Multiple threads

I've got multiple threads going at the moment and I'm beginning to wonder if they'll coalesce into a single theme. So I'm half way through writing a theoretical piece on the relationship between SNSs and wider social networks and really enjoying some of the reading I've been doing, and at the same time I've been hot on the trail of pinning down my ideas on critical media literacies. So here's a big shoutout to Colin and Michele for pointing me to the book Digital Content Creation (in their series). In particular, the debate set up between David Buckingham's cautious offering and John Hartley's digital optimism is really interesting. More on this when I've got the time, but for now this is just a strong recommendation!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Social Network

At first sight the film version of Mark Zuckerberg is an unlikely hero. Depicted as emotionally-driven, at times bewildered and at times bewildering, he appears to have a strong sense of vision. Exactly what that vision is, is only ever hinted at. Facebook should connect people; Facebook should be free; and at all costs it should remain 'cool' - whatever that means. Zuckerberg's narrative actually turns on a familiar trope. Individualism operating outside of social structures in the business of carving out new terrain. It's the Wild West, it's the American Dream. You just have to replace rugged individualism with geeky individualism. That's not to say it's not a good film, and a great story. I left the cinema wondering whether and how Facebook is cool. It's as cool as warm beer in Britain. Not particularly cool but nearly everybody seems to drink it! Here' another review.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Material meaning

For a long time I've been thinking (and sometimes arguing with Richard) about meaning and material objects. In the highly entertaining book 'What Goood Are The Arts', John Carey describes this great thought experiment in which an established artist paints a tie with blue paint, and completely by chance and more or less at the same time, a child performs the same act, perhaps for very different reasons. Is the first one, because it is self-conciously part of the work of the artist, any different to the child's version? Carey succinctly expresses the point of view I have been taking. 'Meanings are not inherent in objects. They are supplied by those who interpret them.' (2005:20). Enter Bruno Latour as the door swings closed behind him (or was that Jim Johnson?).

Friday, November 05, 2010

Do I have some principles?

Well yes I do. But these are principles that guide my interest in literacy. I feel a list coming on. Here goes: 1. What children and young people produce/consume or read/write is an important starting point for those who work with, care for and educate them. 2. An important function of education has always been (and continues to be) concerned with encouraging learners to read and write (produce/consume) the 'right sort' of things in the 'right sort' of ways. 3. Whether as moral correction, or for intellectual development or to prepare them as future (present?) citizens literacies matter. 4. Children and young people engage in a whole range of literacy practices that are not always recognised by adults and by the education system and often meet with their disapproval. 5. The boundary between informal/formal and vernacular/official literacies is becoming increasingly blurred, particularly as we recognise its permeability and the importance of building upon what learners already know and do. 6. Meaning-making in digital environments is at the frontier of these new configurations. Mmm...are they principles?

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Technology and early childhood literacy

We have a really great Special Issue of JECL just out which brings readers the cutting edge research on literacy and technology in the early years. It's co-edited by Victoria Carrington, Vivian Vasquez and myself. You can see the contents here. It's got a great international feel to it and it was very rewarding working with colleagues on this edition. Of course, as always, the finished product is just the tip of the iceberg so thanks to all involved in the process from the contributors to the reviewers, to the admin support and to the publishers. Happy reading!

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Network mapping

I've just started writing a piece on social networking. The provisional title is 'Unravelling the social network' and I reserve the right to use that! Having a title I like helps me get started even if I drop it later on. Visualizing social networks needs to have some sort of focus so I had a look around at what's out there. There are reasonable free tools for visualizing web sites (not quite the same thing) and some work on Flickr. But the Neuroproductions Twitter Friends visualizer wins the day for me. I'll probably use it as an illustration. I suppose all it does really is to feed off your Twitter stream and the Twitter streams of your friends, and the downside is that it doesn't show linkages. But it's playful and attractive and works well and hey that's me right in the middle!

Sunday, October 31, 2010

e-reading the news

The newspaper is delivered silently in the dead of night. There is no rattle of the letterbox, no picking up, no folding and refolding. I can't use it to swat flies with or stuff into my wet boots as they dry. There's no stack of yesterdays in the living room to raid for wrapping broken glass in, or for laying a fire or helping it draw. It's wirelessly delivered to my e-reader. And yes, it's because of all this I recommend a 10 day free subscription to any student of literacy in order to better understand how habits and material affordances interweave with our nostalgia for certain media. The expeience is qualitatively different. It has to be. But the news is arguably the same. Navigation requires a different logic and one in which I'm still a novice, shaving doesn't interupt my reading (I just turn it on voice) and if I'm reading outside a gust of wind is not a problem. I can check the details online at a single click. Yet for all its newness I'm disappointed with the reduced depth of modality. The colour supplements are grey and the illustrative content paired to the linguistic bone. So e-readers represent an interesting moment in technoliteracy, one in which convergence is always a promise and divergence a commercial reality. Ergonomically well honed, easily portable and with glare reduction to die for the Kindle has so much going for it. But then it's not particularly versatile. Although our technology is getting light and more mobile, you still need to pack your bag with all sorts of devices each one of which probably has the computing power to manage all those separate functions.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

DJs go digital

töken experience from yöyen munchausen on Vimeo.

Well of course they went digital years ago - at least as soon as CD-Js took over from turntables. I first saw this when Shuiab Meacham and his kids rocked the Crucible in Sheffield. Apart from obligatory glances in the rearwiew mirror (making CDs sound like scratched and pitted vinyl) and nostalgia in the form of the decks-are-best crew, DJs have moved on with the technology using what the boffins come up with and the sound companies can sell. DJEmmaLou told me about the touchscreen interface in the video which takes DJ-ing into a new space. There is some talk of gestural music interfaces, but at the moment all we have is haptics (here). In my imagination the truly gestural DJ will also be a dancer whose movement in space triggers the sound we hear. Now that would be a hard act to follow!

Monday, October 18, 2010

The book is dead

Philip Dodd's radio debate on the future of the book in the era of e-readers holds no surprises. But it's still entertaining to listen to an exploration of familiar positions. From print nostalgia to digital utopia the viewpoints are clearly presented. David Almond is the most plausable as he acknowledges that the significance or pleasure of the book is distinct or deeper than its material form. He also recognises the creative possibilities of new kinds of writing and reading without being too quick to claim that the book is dead. On the other side of the fence, the print nostalgics feel they have history on their side and their arguments are based on the materiality of the book. The fixity and durability of print text is seasoned with plenty of reference to the aesthetic and multisensory qualities of bundles of inked paper that have been glued together. Perhaps for now the both/and arguments are the most sensible. I was interested in an audience contribution on how e-readers might be used as part of a lending library services. Perhaps Amazon's aggressive marketing of the Kindle is poised to challenge the nature of everyday reading.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Social rituals

Weddings, blessings and civil partnerships are significant social rituals and ones in which new and old textual practices play an important role. Oral recitation, repetition and the signing of official texts are often the centrepiece. But official practices sit alongside very important unofficial ones. So whilst some sort of professional photography seems necessary in order to keep a record of the event, these images jostle against the Facebook sets and the casual snaps and short movies captured by the guests. New and old ways of mediating the event comfortably co-exist and hardly raise comment. this is my contribution!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Daily blog?

At yesterday's ELMAC conference we played a bingo-style icebreaker with each item related to some sort of digital literacy. I got quite a lot of hits as someone who keeps a daily blog. I was rather aware of the irony, since it's over a week since I posted anything. What with a family wedding in Cyprus and an evaluation of BBC's Talkie Time to write up, life's been pretty full-on. So I kicked back on Friday night and watched the film adaptation of The Reader. It's a while since I've read the book but I was struck by the emphasis on the redemptive power of literacy. I'm not sure that it's a message I'm too happy with it. Nevertheless it's a good story - am I reading too much into it?

Friday, October 01, 2010

Are all texts virtual?

Looking at books on an e-reader certainly makes you question the nature of the text. Changing the font, adjusting the size and flipping across pages on a handheld device makes you realize that the text isn't the same thing as its material form. What's true for the e-reader is true for the book. The material form and the place of its appearance are the medium which carries the message but not the text itself. In a sense you could argue that the text is virtual and only becomes recognisable at its point of contact with the material world. Pixels on a screen, ink shapes on paper are the result of technological processes that convey textual meaning. To make-meaning we have to see through these processes. I've been arguing that a sort of believing has to take place. Something rather similar happens in dramatic and filmic texts: for most of the time we have to look beyond the artifice. If that's true, are all texts virtual?

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Computer head

Reading Katherine Hayles helps you to reflect on the relationship between bodies and technology. One theme she doesn't address though is how moral panics about new media often revolve around how our bodies are changed: corrupted from their natural state by our unnatural inventions. From the jokes about square eyes and playstation thumbs to the more real sounding fears that mobiles fry our brains, computers ruin our posture (and our memory) and too much time online makes us obese, the idea that we are being changed, and changed for the worse, propels these narratives. The poster in the picture is an advertisement for mental healthcare and although there's no caption the message is clear. Technology is doing our heads in (as well as our bodies)! But is there any evidence to support this? All right, let's be critical for a moment, there isn't a shred of evidence. Yet, wait a minute, the latest idea that working on screen is leading to my premature ageing must be true. I look in the mirror and I see hard evidence of COMPUTER FACE. Yes, it's true because the Daily Mail says it is. The story is syndicated around the world thanks to new technology and Dr Michael Prager's homepage climbs Google rankings. Now who would believe a cosmetic surgeon? Me. Pass the botox, I think I'm ageing.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Fandom and participation

Ika Willis was certainly the most thought-provoking speaker at today's ESRC Seminar Series on Rethinking Youth Cultures in the Age of Global Media. Lots about active reading of media texts in fandom - new readings, new subjectivities and plenty of meaning-making through production. I think she called it over-invested interest and provided plenty of examples of the kinds of participation that some people engage in. She also showed this Harry Potter mash-up which really brings out a particular reading of the text.

Friday, September 17, 2010

It's virtual, baby

Laila Shereen Sakr is thought provoking when it comes to virtuality. She argues that belief is crucial. Belief 'allows the virtual or the image to represent, refer to, or even engage with' the actual person. It's a telling statement about how technology can make the strange familiar. I can't even claim to explain how a digital image becomes pixels on the screen, let alone tell how it gets from A to B. The envious ghost of Johannes Gutenberg peers over my shoulder as I type and publish, but I can offer no commentary except about the keys I press and the mouse I click. Shereen-Sakr tells us that virtuality bridges the material world and the world of data. 'Virtuality is a negotaiation between materiality and information..', I keep thinking about that when I look at the video and reminding myself that it's virtual baby.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Simple model of reading

I've been thinking about a simple model of reading that can be applied to texts of all kinds - books, new media and virtual worlds. There's only 2 aspects to the model (although that's a bit of a cheat, because they all break down much further). They are: 1. operating the interface, 2. engagement. First of all then, operating the interface in the typographic world involves all that book knowledge, directionality and decoding stuff, whereas the analagous skills in online texts are sometimes the same and sometimes different with large doses of clicking and pointing, dragging and dropping and so on. The important point about operating the interface is that for a skilled user it becomes naturalised and usually takes place beneath the level of consciousness. That frees up attention for the second aspect engagement. Not, of course, that they should be seen as sequential operations or to suggest a developmental path for learning. Engagement is all about meaning-making and at the moment I see it as having 3 dimensions. The first is interest, because without that we won't have the energy to give the text enough attention. The second is point of view. Somehow or other an interaction between our point of view and the point(s) of view in the text needs to happen. In other words we need to negotiate the meaning. Finally, we have belief. Seems a bit strange, I know, but after reading about virtuality (I recommend Laila Shereen Sakr) I'm starting to think that the textual meaning is in some senses virtual. We have to believe in it to engage with it. That doesn't mean we have to believe or accept the point of view or the message, but we have to believe the text to bring it into being. More on this, no doubt, in future postings. Stay tuned!!

Friday, September 10, 2010

Multimodally Jung

Published in October 2009, Jung's Red Book is of interest to literacy scholars not simply because of its rich multimodal style. As you can read here, it was locked away in a bank vault for nearly a hundred years. Was it ever meant for publication? Well I suppose we'll never know. But what is really interesting is that Jung, who after all was a man of letters, chose this highly visual form to explore material, his own journey if you like, which would later inform more conventional scholarly work. You can see some more of the visual material here.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

It's critical

Recent debates on the fate or future of critical literacy and what we really mean when we talk about critical media literacy have made me re-examine the nature of criticality itself. It strikes me that the aim of producing critical consumers of media pleasures is preferable to one of producing market-driven consumers whose choices are driven by rating and popularity ranking. To be critical, though, one needs a vantage point. That's probably why Marxism and Feminism (and other isms) have flavoured intellectual life over the last 50 years: they offer a position from which to observe and critique social and cultural matters. Criticality should not be about claiming the high ground, but about looking at things differently. Gergen hits the target when he says 'To think critically is essentially to deliberate on one tradition through the discourse of another. The advantage of the critical thinker is not in having a superior tradition, but in being capable of seeing the advantages and disadvantages of both traditions. The critical thinker who claims superiority of perspective, not only loses this advantage, but strangulates the potential for action.' (2009:261)

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Nobody texts any more

A few years ago the cool hunters of adolescent literacies were reporting that young people thought that email was dead. You might send an email to your parents or your tutors but that was about it. Young people in the UK began the massive communication migration to texting a while back. In fact many reports suggested that texting was bigger here than elsewhere (maybe the cost factor?). But what next? My daughters are no longer teenagers, but I was still interested to hear Ruth say 'Nobody texts anymore, there'll all on messenger!' It was new but not new, if you see what I mean. True though, to the extent that regular bulletins on the lead-in to the birth of my grandson, Dylan (pictured above) all came through Blackberry Messenger, as did the photograph itself. Born into a world of mobile messaging and phonecam images. New born babies are surrounded by our devices and their arrival in this world is recorded and distributed in new ways.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Digital Literacy - the missing framework

December 2005 is a bit 'yesterday' in terms of the rapid pace of debate in new literacies, but I just came across this European project which was tasked to produce a framework for digital literacy. The project is described here but the project website seems to have vanished. Allan Martin argues here and elsewhere that digital literacy is 'the ability to succeed in encounters with the electronic infrastructures and tools'. So we are essentially talking about a model of ICT competence - not quite what I understand by a 'literacy' in a strict or a even a metaphorical sense. The definition derives from the EC's observation that 'The ability to use ICT and the Internet becomes a new form of literacy: 'digital literacy'. Digital literacy is fast becoming a prerequisite for creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship and without it citizens can neither participate fully in society nor acquire the skills and knowledge necessary to live in the 21st century.' quoted in the above paper by Martin. There's no reference to critique, refusal or a participation gap here, nor anything about the understandings and developments necessary to establish this literacy in the first place. But maybe this is all in the framework, wherever that is.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

So why can't they read?

Well one thing is certain - the Centre for Policy Studies pamphlet 'So why can't they read?' offers nothing new to the debate on reading standards. It recycles opinion as if its fact, and attempts to simplify complex professional and pedagogical issues in a single sweep. The ridiculous suggestion by Boris the Preposterous that these complexities could be resolved by some sort of 'shoot-out' is not really worthy of comment (but see here). Alarm bells began to ring for me when I looked at the contents page: foreward by Boris Johnson: alarming figures (!); reading wars; immigration; what's happening in primary schools now; facts are fun; a good school. In 38 pages there couldn't be much - and certainly not £5.00 worth and I can safely say there isn't. I went straight to the immigration page. Could a pamphlet with that title possibly suggest that immigration was to blame? Was the author Alf Garnett? Well no and no. The immigration chapter with its two subheadings, SEN and Speaking street is pretty incoherent but not as dangerous as I anticipated. Thank goodness for that! But if any budding sociolinguist wants to do a study of language and power, I recommend the 'Speaking Street' as a text for analysis. Whether you're interested in verbal hygene or cleaning up the streets, it's a gift!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Quote, quote

Oh that was what I meant by the YouTube video. I don't think he went commercial or anything like that. Here's one of my favourite quotes from his chapter 'Slacking off' in the Counternarratives collection: 'Shopping malls, street communities, video halls, coffee shops, television culture, and other elements of popular culture must become serious subjects of school knowledge. More, however, is at stake here than just an ethnography of those public spheres where individual and social identities are constructed and struggled over. More important is the need to fashion a language of ethics and politics that serves to discriminate between relations that do violence and those that promote diverse and democratic public cultures through which youth and others can understand their problems and concerns as part of a larger effort to interrogate and disrupt the dominant narratives of national identity, economic privilege, and individual empowerment.' (Giroux, 1995: 74)

Monday, August 09, 2010

My Giroux moment

I was working this morning. Working to try to reclaim some critical space in new media literacy. So I turned to Henry Giroux, and somewhat surprisingly there he is on YouTube. Maybe he's cool with that, YouTube being participatory and all that. But I was reminded of finding a copy of The Mouse that Roared, his trenchant analysis of all things Disney right there in the belly of the beast - in the Magic Kingdom in Anaheim, LA. I suppose, if that's some kind of victory it has to be handed to the publisher, but it was still a great experience enjoying Disneyland and reading the critique at the same time. Given the corporation's voracious appetite I'm surpised they haven't already tried to consume critical pedgaogy - I'm sure there's a ride in there somewhere!

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Writing and reflexivity

I've just finished Ralf Cintron's wonderfully written book 'Angel's Town' which was recommended to me by Damiana Gibbons. It's one of the most reflexive ethnographies I know, and it is particuarly successful in analysing the act of writing. Cintron talks about the 'special relationship between the space that contains the writing and the writing that inhabits that space' arguing that the two form 'a powerful dialectic, Stated simply,the dialectic consists of writing (the making of socially meaningful marks usually realting to oral language) and a blank surface (paper, clay tablets, computer screen, walls, and so on). Writing is the making of an order and the blank surface is that space or servant that holds the order. Typically, writing catches the eye, but the surface that recieves the writing does not. In this sense, the writing contains the stronger presence, and the surface that receives the writing is defined by that presence. The surface, then, is an ordered, limited space cleared of obstacles and ready to be acted upon by an ordering agent weilding a highly routininized tool.....the goal of literacy to produce individuals [ordering agents] who can create viable minature worlds in both their writing and reading....Writing attempts to interrupt or shape an amorphousness that might otherwise melt us into everything else, and we call those interruptions or shapings acts of consciousness or self-consciousness.' Say no more!

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Discourses in time

I like the idea of 'retired' signs and sometimes show them on my Flickr stream. One of the good things about Scollon and Scollon's 'Discourses in Place' is the detailed attention given to the context of everyday environmental signs. They suggest that 'there is a major aspect of [...]meaning that is produced only through the placement of that sign in the real world in contiguity with other objects in that world.' (Scollon & Scollon, 2003:30). But of course place cannot be properly discussed without time. This No Parking sign has, I assume, lost its authority through the passage of time. How do we know that a sign's meaning is still current?

Friday, July 30, 2010

Selective attention

This video caught my attention partly because it so clearly states its intention. I suppose it could be seen as a good example of getting public engagement in research using YouTube. But I was also interested in the whole phenomenon of ‘inattentional blindness’ or the idea that if you're not focusing attention on something you can hardly be said to perceive it. Not only did it remind me of Goffman’s idea of ‘civil inattention’ in which we notice but don’t stare (codified as politeness) but on a deeper level it made me think of the cultural scripts or ideologies which we are more often than not blind to. These implicit ideologies frame our view of the world; masquerading as common sense they are experienced as ‘the way things are’. Gramsci has a great way of describing these ideologies as ‘a product of the historical process...which has deposited in you an infinity of traces without leaving an inventory.’ (Gramsci, 1995:324). The work involved in seeing the gorilla is slight in comparison, but the underlying principle of focus, or should I say critical focus, seems to me to be analogous.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Mapping place

The map is not to be confused with the territory but it does nevertheless produce a virtual representation of it. Early aerial photography seems to have provided an interesting interruption to this distinction. As Hauser observes, ‘The most familiar of things.... were all made unfamiliar from the air. The aerial view flattened out the landscape, pictured it like a map, and with such resolution, such detail...but unlike maps they were records as well as diagrams, containing photographic information that was sometimes unexpected and always up-to-date.’ (Hauser 2007:105). Enter Google Maps and Streetview; and as I noted here, there is often the element of the unexpected even though it may not necessarily be up-to-date! But maps are a very useful way of knowing your place, where you started from and how to get to where you want to go, and Google has again begun to blur the boundaries between representation and view. Traditional maps reduce the excess of information through the application of measurement and symbolisation, and so become a material representation of space and of those objects in it that are seen as significant. A spatial map becomes a coded text. ‘Looking at a contour map, the student sees lines on paper, the cartographer a picture of a terrain.’ (Kuhn, 1970:111). The geographer’s map is always selective, drawing attention to certain aspects of place to the exclusion of others, and in this way it maps the relationship between significant objects. And I suppose it is this selectivity that tempted Borges to suggest the 1:1 map in his fast fiction ‘On rigour in science’ in which ‘the Cartographers Guilds struck a Map of the Empire whose size was that of the Empire, and which coincided point for point with it’ (Borges, 1998:325). Borges’ fictional map is subsequently deemed useless; in contrast, Google seems to have a very useful product.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Changing place

Augmented (hyper)Reality: Domestic Robocop from Keiichi Matsuda on Vimeo.

I'm intrigued and slightly disturbed by our first glimpses of what augmented reality might look like. In a comment in an earlier post I posed the question of what happens to theories of place-based practice when virtual space overlaps or annotates a physical space. The video above - which Karen Wohlwend showed at the UKLA conference suggests how this might play out. The Junaio app for the iphone provides a foretaste of AR, but I'm not particularly attracted to the idea of staring at the world through a smartphone. Nevertheless the idea of being able to access deeper levels of information about real world places is attractive, but as the video suggests it could provide all sorts of information that we might wish to filter out. Maybe here's yet another reason for returning to the critical?

Saturday, July 17, 2010

The future of critique

Gunther Kress, in his latest book, argues for a shift from critique to the ethics of design. I won't rehearse all of his arguments here - but merely point to some important themes. Most of these relate to what has been called the condition of late modernity. In short we have witnessed a shift from a society in which workers produced and then consumed in their remaining free time, to a one in which consumers have become producers and sometimes work in their free time - and all of this in a globalised and heavily marketised economy in which the old stabilities of a social order have fragmented. Lifestyle becomes more important than social position and design or re-design becomes the available arena of agency and even resistance. Kress argues that design is prospective; critique retrospective. But there seems to be something awry when the discourse of the market starts to erase or at least re-write critical or emancipatory positions. It seems to me that one thing that the New Literacy Studies has in its favour is a foundational recognition that power structures practices. This strengthens its application to different socio-cultural settings and the particularities of place. It can therefore be applied to textual practices that seem to embody or live in the condition of late modernity - sketched out above - as well as in contexts where older and more familiar forms of social order persist. In literacy and media studies there is this tendency to stop short of spelling out what a new critical practice might look like, but I think it is well overdue.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010


It's happened before, but not in such an extreme way. At Winchester I met someone for the first time that knew lots and lots about me. My work, my house move, my family events, my sadness, interests, pets....lots of things! This blogger has followed mine (without me knowing it) for quite some time. And unlike before that hasn't been reciprocated. I've been followed without following. It was - and I must admit to it - quite a surprise, not that I mind at all, after all that's part and parcel of life online. I suppose I've embraced the blurring of private and public, and as the previous post shows, I'm not particuarly upset believing that I have nothing particular to hide. I remember in fact when working with Julia Davies on this project that we thought of blogs as being like a window onto the street. You looked out, but passers-by also looked in. You controlled what they saw, but you couldn't completely obstruct their gaze. At least if you did there would be no blog. Like all metaphors the street window goes only so far in capturing what goes on. When Colin and Michele put something different 'in their window', it still works. Somehow keeping blogging seems to be the main point, and if there are readers, even if you don't know who they are, that's got to be a good thing!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Literacies in place

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In a previous post I wrote about the emphasis on place and space that characterised the CSNL conference, and this thread continued through the UKLA International Conference in Winchester. In the Focus Day, which addressed multilingual/plurilingual issues it was an everpresent theme right from Christine Helot's explorations of language politics and pedagogy in Alsace to Dina Mehmedbegovic's nuanced look at place-referenced autobiographical writing in London schools. Although the International Conference keynotes didn't directly reference the significance of location, Barbara Comber returned to the theme with a delightful exploration of place-based pedagogies. The critical literacies symposium which included Hilary Janks and Helen Nixon provided more illustrations of the significance of place and its interconnections across time and space through the stories of the cameleers - the Afgani migrants to Adelaide. Since I've been thinking about what happens to geosemiotic approaches when virtual space overlaps or annotates a physical space, this provided me with an alternative perspective in the sense that the particularity of place is always infused with stories from elsewhere whether in terms of personal/family narratives or other texts. And so Margaret Mackey's poignant auto-bibliography, her own multimodal literacy history, illustrated this in another way. Part of her experience growing up in Newfoundland was simply about family, that most personal space, but then the influence of books and TV with a distinctly North American feel showed how that took 'place' in a wider socio-historical context. But Roy Rogers (and Trigger), the Lone Ranger (and Silver) had a much wider currency. I was struck by the way in which these TV narratives with their proto-global distribution became loaclised. As Margaret was crawling through wet grass of semi-rural Canada, I was riding the arms of a sofa in urban England - both of us embodying those cowboy narratives of the 1950s in different ways and anchoring them to the spaces we variously inhabited using, of course, the materials at hand to make our different meanings. In a rather different way, Dylan Yamada-Rice had already pointed us to the specifics of place-as-text through her fascinating visual explorations of London and Tokyo. Google StreetView makes the particularity of place instantly and globally available as the image above shows. Here I'm captured pruning the holly tree at home last summer - virtual space overlaps and annotates physical space!

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Generation re-wind

This little video's gone viral with its easy-to-digest dystopia/utopia message. It's an interesting example of how the affordances of the moving image can subvert the linearity that is usually associated with the written word. Maybe calling it a palindrome-poem is a bit of a stretch...but what's really interesting is the way the Lost Generation meme moves from parody to critique as the Lost Generation Sucks illustrates pretty well.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

CSNL summer conference

I did the final plenary for the CSNL Summer Conference yesterday so I thought I'd show a fuller version of that here today. I was struck, after over ten years of work, how the new literacies remain hard to describe - a bit like the exotic lands visited by old-school ethnographers. In 1957, Raymond Firth wrote of one such trip saying 'I wondered how such turbulent human material could ever be induced to submit to scientific study.' It sometimes seems that we are dealing with equally turbulent material, albeit much closer to home. And so there is an almost restless searching for descriptive and analytical frameworks through which we might make sense of new practices (if indeed they are new). Media studies, new literacy studies and multimodality have all informed our work and there is a call for still wider interdisciplinarity. In the CSNL conference we heard more of the geosemiotic turn in literacy studies. Scollon & Scollon's (2003) notion of discources in place was evoked on a number of occasions, most notably by Karen Wohlwend who used this and the earlier nexus analysis to explore representations of children and technology. She illustrated how discourses of childhood circulated on YouTube and how these were renewed or revived through processes of participation. Participation subsequently became a major theme in the conference. The Jenkins White Paper was much cited, but with rather scant reference to 2 key issues that are often missed. One is the issue of the participation gap and the other is the idea of critical media literacy which is often referred to but seldom fleshed out. (For a critique of the concept of 'participation', this may help). Another weighty concept that was frequently evoked was that of identity. Jennifer Rowsell drew our attention to the producers in TV, game design, and on the web - those who are often hidden from view or erased by our romanticised views of participation and user-generated content. Producers are important if we believe that particlular identity positions are made available through the meaning-making resources that children and young people use. (Perhaps there is some kind of notion of identity affordances here - possibilities for certain kinds of performance.) We also learnt about multimodality as a counternarrative, a way of destabilising taken-for granted notions of curriculum and pedagogy and again, and perhaps in a similar way, how the relationship between formal and non-formal practices raises new questions for educators. Scott Bulfin argued that we needed to move beyond the simple recognition of new and complex meaning-making practices and suggested that it might also be fruitful to look at what happens inside schools but outside classrooms. This had a number of resonances with Julia Bishop's excellent presentation on children's playground rhymes in which she illustrated a different kind of complex-meaning making - in texts which are inhabited and embodied in interstitial spaces in children's free time. That brought me full circle to a consideration of analytical models, since the use of space, the identity affordances and the challenge of describing texts that are chanted to subtle rhythmic patterns and simultaneously enacted corporeally and gesturally have a number of similarities with what we see on YouTube, in virtual worlds and in other digital texts.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Return to the series!

Computer problems interrupted my sequence of posts on the ESRC seminar series final conference, but fortunately in the meantime the wonderful Sheila Webber has gathered together a range of resources. There's a set of pics on Flickr (I stole the one above), a chatlog, and a couple of YouTube videos. They're all linked from Sheila Webber's blog, please have a look. It's an excellent record of the event.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Literacies in virtuality

I notice that yesterday's Prezi doesn't always show up. It seems to in Firefox and Safari, but not in Explorer. Strange. So today I'm showcasing a student video that should work...I think it's really good! Does it link well to the second seminar series theme? Well it might, and that all depends on your conception of literacy. Recently Gillen and Barton (2010) seem to have been quoted a lot, defining digital literacy as 'the constantly changing practices through which people make traceable meanings using digital technologies.' Throughout the series we have been examining these practices, noting their multimodal nature and the ways in which the boundaries between reading and writing, between production and consumption are repeatedly blurred. It's also become apparent that within many digital environments the text is not only multiple but contains individual points of view. Each inhabitant sees and experiences Second Life from a unique perspective; no two Twitter streams will look the same, an so on. Point of view becomes an ever more important dimension as readers and writers construct their own journeys through the textual landscape. Along with this we've noted the development of new narrative vehicles and encountered complex questions of authorship, and repeatedly asked how these new kinds of texts map on to curriculum areas like media studies, English, drama or literacy. So in some ways, Helen Nixon summed it up when she asked how far can we stretch the term literacy before it ceases to be useful?

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

What is the virtual, anyway?

In virtual worlds on Prezi - these are the four themes that seem to me to have dominated the virtual worlds seminar series (link). I'm just taking the first today, which is the problematic nature of notions of virtuality. I considered applying Lefebvre, because in a sense some virtual worlds seem to work in opposition to other spaces (heterotopias) and others seem to mirror them (isotopias) - but this sort of analysis hinges on the distinctiveness or even the separation of the virtual from the everyday and the series has made me question this. So that drives me back to interrogating the concept of the virtual. So we think of the virtual as 'almost', an approximation or a movement towards something more real; we regard it as an 'as if' world, a simulation of the more familiar, it is 'quite similar' to the everyday, but always, as Deleuze and Guattari suggest it is defined in relation to 'the real'. In our uses of the term virtual, the word reality is bracketed or elided. On Saturday I suggested that one of the most common uses of the word was in describing a virtual learning environment - a place where virtually no learning at all takes place! But our discussions on the virtual took us further on as we saw that many non-digital experiences shared the same charcteristics that have begun to associate with the virtual. Viewing film, immersive book reading, drama, role play and fantasy games are good examples of when an imaginative parallell world is conjured into being...and these sorts of experiences are interwoven with mundane reality just as virtual world gameplay is. Players and inhabitants of the metaverse engage in multiple textual worlds in which the distinction between online and offline becomes arbitrary. Constance Steinkuehler's 'constellation of literacy practices' is a very helpful description of this. There is a continual to-and-fro movement between RL and VL which suggests that any distinction between the two should be more precisely defined than we have tended to do so far.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Researching virtual worlds

Yesterday's conference ended the ESRC Seminar Series in an appropriately celebratory style in Second Life - attracting a varied and engaged international audience. In the morning I had a brief spot, summarising some of the main themes that have emerged in the course of the five seminars and I'll be posting that up in the next couple of days. For now though, my immediate impressions are of the different ways in which research is addressing children and young people's engagement with virtual worlds. There are 3 basic orientations. The first is simply to plot what's going on in the metaverse - essentially various interpretations that look for demographics beneath the general statistics offered by organisations like K-Zero and the Kaiser Foundation. There are some built-in difficulties such as the shifting allegiancies of age groups, the problem of determining regional variations and how to look further than statistics about the number of accounts. In a rapidly changing market there is a danger that by the time you publish it your data is out of date. The second orientation is to treat virtual worlds as texts, to look at their social affordances, their communicational possibilities or the identity positions that they offer to inhabitants and visitors. This holds considerable fascination and offers all sorts of challenges - perhaps the greatest of which is how to produce an account that takes into consideration how children and young people read or read against these texts, what sorts of resistance, subversion or parodic uses they create. The third orientation is to try to understand the sense and the meanings that these users actually make as they enter virtual worlds, how they evaluate the experience and their own levels of sophistication and critique. Here there may be a degree of rich description, but the usually difficulty in saying anything that is more general - which simply goes to illustrate that these orientations are by no means new, and simply reframe existing challenges in how we interpret and understand textual landscapes and the interactions that take place within them.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Saturday's conference

It's the final conference of the ESRC Seminar Series 'Children and young people's digital literacies in virtual online spaces' at the University of Sheffield on Saturday. We have a great line-up with presentations from Victoria Carrington, Cassie Hague and Sarah Payton from FutureLab, and Bill Lord. Paul Coulton will be orchestrating some mobile mayhem. In the afternoon the conference migrates to Second Life where we have Peggy Sheehy, Rebecca Black and Constance Steinkuehler. If you can't join us in RL the conference venue in SL is here. That's 2:00pm BST on the InfoLit Island. It'll be a great event!

Monday, June 14, 2010

Media literacy

Gus Andrews was very entertaining at NMC. She spoke about the making of The Media Show with some examples (not this example I don't think, but I chose it because I fell for a number 5). You can find out more here. This constitutes a particular approach to critical media literacy - perhaps, at route it's an inoculation model, but I must say I like the way it's done.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Reading new media

Today was the end of NMC 2010. The final keynote by John Seely Brown was a thought-provoking look at non-formal learning, with the suggestion that this involves the same dispositions (habits of mind) that are at the heart of 21st Century learning with new media - debatable but interesting. The conference has been dominated by video presentations and projects, like the one above, which has some interesting contradictions. I'm sure the kids enjoyed the choreography and the opportunity to dance, wave books and work to the BEP song. But the project enlisted the so-called new media to promote an old medium (nothing wrong in that), yet no-one is actually reading or really demonstrating any of its benefits!

Friday, June 11, 2010

NMC Conference

In yesterday's opening keynote at the NMC Conference, Mimi Ito was as thought-provoking as ever. The 'hook' for the audience was the webcam lipsync meme on YouTube as an instance of new media practice. Apparently having its genesis in Gary Brolsma's Numa Numa with its 37 million views, she used the example and its subsequent development to make points about production and learning. Posing the question of how, as educators, we can leverage informal learning and develop critical media literacy.

Mimi's 3 themes were the movement from originality to appropriation; stocks of knowledge to flows of knowledge; and assessment to reputation, the last of which was illustrated by the AMV work and these were set against the backdrop of blurring boundaries between school/out-of-school, popular/mainstream culture, formal/informal learning and so on. We wondered whether her 3 themes really did capture something new or whether they are better conceived of as a continuum for mapping specific kinds of activity and engagement.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Integrating technology

Let's Go Water Quality trial from CeLeKT on Vimeo.

This is an interesting short video that includes mobile phones and QR codes in some school science work on water quality. The traditional teaching looks a bit scary, but the students seem to be engaged in some good quality learning in which technological tools serve a useful purpose. This is part of a suite of projects hosted by the Centre for Learning and Technologies at Linnaeus. Full details are available here.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Social media spaces

I've been reading Matt Locke's blog recently. Matt is Channel 4's Education and New Media Commissioner. Being an enthusiast for typologies and lists I'm rather taken with his six spaces of social media. It's an idea he first came up with three years ago, but it still works. The six spaces are secret spaces (SMS, MMS, IM), group spaces (Facebook, Myspace, Bebo), publishing spaces (Blogger, Flickr, YouTube), performing spaces (Second Life, World of Warcraft), participation spaces (Meetup, Twitter) and watching spaces (mobile tv). Here's the original post. And in the pic you'll see the poster for the amazing ESRC Seminar Series dissemination conference. This, in true style, will happen in a number of spaces - face-to-face in Sheffield, on Twitter, and in the afternoon in Second Life (here).

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Immersion and ambiguity

Britta ended her talk on Friday with this provocative video 'Immersion', originally featured on the New York Times site. It's the second time I've seen it and I can't help feeling that it seems like a criticism of new media because of the way in which some of the gleeful expressions are juxtaposed against violent audio tracks from the videogames. For me it also edits out some important features like reflection, decision-making, problem-solving and, of course, collaboration. But interestingly not everyone sees it like that. Others I talked to on Friday just see the level of immersion - and maybe the idea that gamer kids have other (newer?) pleasures, and I think that was Britta's reading of it. On reflection it's a real test case in multimodality, because somethings are clearly communicated but others are open to interpretation. Should we care about the author's intentions? Or, even if we knew them, would they be relevant? Presumably a written account of the topic of immersion in videogames would require some point of view, and perhaps a more closed set of meanings (interestingly, point of view has an alternative meaning here). I'm not arguing that that would be better, of course. Just different. Any views on the video?

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Mind blending

Yesterday was the fifth in the ESRC Seminar series 'Children's and young people's digital literacies in virtual online spaces ' and brought the focus onto classroom innovation. It was a fascinating combination with Angela Colvert on ARGs in school, Steve Thompson on children producing internet radio (using Audacity in Wordpress), Martin Waller on ClassroomTweets and other interesting things and Britt Pollmuller on animation and Machinima (she's using Fraps and Second Life). Here's more detail on the programme. Uniting themes for me were the emphasis on playful and creative meaning-making across a number of virtual/actual and digital/traditional textual spaces. So, although I never liked that whole bandwagon of 'blended learning', the presentations actually showed us different sorts of blending - or a weaving together of semiotic systems to create what Margaret Mackey has described as slippery texts. All told a very stimulating day as one of the participants observed.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010


One can only wonder whether our new coalition government’s package of education reforms will do anything at all to reduce the inequities of our system. The market logic of the proposed increase in academies (schools deemed to be successful through accountability measures) doesn’t seem particularly promising. And in Higher Education, despite widening participation, we learn from Sir Martin Harris, the Director of Offa, that the ‘most advantaged 20 per cent of the young population are now around seven times more likely than the most disadvantaged 40% to attend the most selective institutions’ (here). Reading this against Annette Laureau’s well-written and nuanced account of unequal childhoods in America just reinforces the view that inequality is deeply embedded in both cultures, and is just lightly touched by the rhetoric of hope and opportunity.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Questions of identity

Wandering around the Lodo district of Denver is like remembering a past with its imposing warehouses which stored the spoils of intense agricultural and industrial activity. Each of these brick-built buildings now repurposed as loft accommodation with boutiques and smart cafes at ground level bears the fading painted sign of the former proprietor - each an identity lost in time. It seemed like a fitting end to a conference in which identity was often mentioned yet never fully explored. And that set me thinking that apart from developing more powerful theories of identity we need to ask why it so often enters the contemporary discourses of social and cultural theory, of literacy and education research. Is it simply a circulating discourse with no identifiable origin, or is it part of the post-modern condition, a state of affairs where we no longer have religion to tells us who we are, in which we no longer play a part in the grand narratives of the industrial age, where we are no longer embedded in close-knit communities, and increasingly less anchored to time and space? This is the sort of position that Giddens articulates in his conception of late modernity and provides the conditions for the obligation to continuously perform narratives of the self. A considerable amount of the commentary on youth online and analyses of new digital literacy practices appears to provide evidence of this as studies reveal how their participants produce and perform identities in remixes and collages of popular culture. But this sort of activity clearly varies across populations, and in some cases the real identity work is a struggle to enter this world whilst remaining faithful to a more deep-rooted sense of one's social position. For me, the idea of identity and particularly identity and meaning-making remains central, but it seems to invite further interrogation.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

High-Tech Tots

Went to an early session today - High-Tech tots explored the intersections between literacy and technology in early childhood. Marina Bers work (see above) on robotics in the early years was fascinating. She described how young children might first understand some basic principles by a role-play of programming their teacher...a metaphorically loaded idea. But on the more practical level she and her colleagues help young children to programme robots with 'smart' wooden blocks and that's impressive work. Nicola Yelland was also very good on problematising play as a concept. This enriched yesterday's reflections on playful spaces. In these cases play was presented in terms of adult designed spaces populated by material objects (also designed by adults) in which children were encouraged to engage in creative and informal activity. They varied to the extent to which adult intentions might impact on children's learning. The book which showcases the work is called High-Tech Tots, so I went straight to the publishers' stand at AERA to grab a copy. There I was told it was for display only, so I helped myself to some promotional lip-salve as recompense!

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Finding a space

Why Cecilia Henriquez and Jessica Robles' work on expert identities in table-top games was placed with our work on SNSs under a title of Digital Identities is a mystery only AERA organisers could solve, but interestingly the juxtaposition was useful not least because it set us thinking of how apparently dissimilar topics shared some commonality. Both constitute social spaces in which relational and identity work is done, and in which learning is not directly related to curricular content areas. And in this sense they also share some similarities with virtual worlds. So are there spaces in school in which these kind of activities can find a comfortable home? There seem to be two kinds of responses to this. One is trying to open some spaces in educational contexts which are not so driven by curricular constraints, and in sensitive ways, so that when the cool enters school it doesn't cease to be cool. The other is to do pioneering work like Sasha Barab in which transformative play gets linked to curricular goals. Both seem worth exploring.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Connecting sites

Ruth sent me this political comment on a hung parliament today via Blackberry Messenger. It was a good reminder of nearly-now connectivity and family networking. It didn't need a comment, she knew I'd like it. The theme continued for me as I tried to keep track of AERA delegates I know via mobile phone and text messages. And then I enjoyed listening to Amy Stornaiuolo and Glynda Hull talking about the Kidnet project. This is work that draws on social networking to create extra school/ school-based links between students in the US, India, South Africa and Norway. The issue of using literacies and multimodal representations to communicate cosmopolitan understandings across sites in an 'educational' way is interesting. I'm not sure at what point it ceases to be social networking and becomes educational networking, particularly when the public dimension often seen as a hallmark of Web 2.0 is removed. You can learn more here, where you log in with 'guest' and use 'space2cre8' as password.