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Literacy In The Contemporary Media Landscape
Literacy In The Contemporary Media Landscape
Literacy In The Contemporary Media Landscape
Literacy In The Contemporary Media Landscape
Literacy In The Contemporary Media Landscape
Literacy In The Contemporary Media Landscape
Literacy In The Contemporary Media Landscape
Literacy In The Contemporary Media Landscape
Literacy In The Contemporary Media Landscape
Literacy In The Contemporary Media Landscape
Literacy In The Contemporary Media Landscape
Literacy In The Contemporary Media Landscape
Literacy In The Contemporary Media Landscape
Literacy In The Contemporary Media Landscape
Literacy In The Contemporary Media Landscape
Literacy In The Contemporary Media Landscape
Literacy In The Contemporary Media Landscape
Literacy In The Contemporary Media Landscape
Literacy In The Contemporary Media Landscape
Literacy In The Contemporary Media Landscape
Literacy In The Contemporary Media Landscape
Literacy In The Contemporary Media Landscape
Literacy In The Contemporary Media Landscape
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Literacy In The Contemporary Media Landscape

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  • Here is my provocative title to prompt some debate in this workshop. First of all, I’m not into education. My background is in linguistic and semiotics. I do descriptive stuff. So, my humble contribution to this workshop on literacy would be providing the point of view of an outsider of the education community, whose job is to describe how we represent and make meaning of the world, and thus, I believe, how we learn. Specifically, so far I’ve been working on changes in the forms of contemporary communication, with the use of the so-called new media, such as youtube, blogs and mobile devices. Especially in the work on mobile devices with the london m-learning group, I’ve come across the word literacy several times. And each time I’ve found it, some questions started to come to my mind.
  • To start with, I refer here to an illuminating chapter by kress in his book ‘literacy in the new media age’. Literacy is an english-only word. Other languages don’t have an equivalent word, at least in the extended way it is used now. Originally, coming from litterae/letter, the word meant simply: to know how to read and write, or ‘(the knowledge of) the use of the resource of writing’ . In Italian it would translate with ‘alfabetizzatione’. In English – and only in English – its meaning has extended to encompass to other modes than writing and has come to mean the production-skills associated more or less closely with aspects of communication. That is, from a social semiotic view (which considers representations and conventions as the fruit of power relationships within society), ‘ being able to make readings of texts of the elite, which conform to the readings of the elite culture ’ and to produce them accordingly. In this sense, Literacy has more or less the value of competence (at least that’s what I would use to translate it in Italian).
  • The way I see it, with every mode and with every medium in every context people produce texts using a wide and diversified variety of practices. Some of them become dominant and generate conventions of use, which lead to approved, proper semiotic acts and to stigmatized and inappropriate semiotic acts. These conventions can eventually become institutionalized by powerful sources (the elite of every community owning a given genre of representations). Descriptions highly contribute to this institutionalization, of course. So that the description of the use of a certain tense or word by descriptive grammarians eventually generate prescriptions and proscriptions of use. These prescribed and proscribed practices are taught in schools, as literacy that students need to learn to produce appropriate representation in a given community and context. I call it the egg-and-chicken issue because it’s hard to establish which came first, since every step in the process influences the others.
  • Let’s see this process in the example of established genres. By Established genres I refer here mainly to the written ones, like a CV, academic articles, newspaper articles, but also to those produced in other modes, like movies, whose conventions are described by film theory, for example, or classical music. established genres, produced by old media, are the fruit of a vertical organization of power relationships: few producers and editors detain the power to say what is right and what is wrong. Established genres have standardized conventions So that literacy means knowing these conventions, that is, knowing how to write a cv or an academic article. Here schools do a great job: they need to teach the norms of the elite so that would-be members of the community can get a chance to succeed and enter it. by teaching literacy schools enable students to master a genre and enter an elite community. Which is often fundamental for surviving in western society.
  • But what happens with the so-called ‘new media’? The many-to-many forms of communication? Here power relationships – which are there – are horizontal, since everyday digital media make readily available to anyone the production of a wide variety of texts which can be publicly distributed and shared to everyone interested. The use of these new media by a large number of producers has given rise to a wide variety of non-established genres, such as videoblogs, txts, podcasts, or the artefacts that are forwarded in social network websites. Which are the conventions for these genres? Of course, academics are more and more describing them, but, for the time being, the standard is ‘be as different as you can while attuning with others’ (at least that’s what I’ve found on youtube). Here rather than competence – and I’m using kress again – it’s rhetoric that is needed to be a successful communicator. It is a matter of a creative and ad hoc agency rather than merely complying with the norms. What should schools do in this case? Should they try and get prescriptions out of the descriptions of these new genres and teach the norms? And in that case, which norms should school teach (seen the impressive variety of practices within a myriad of different networks (rather than communities)? In other terms, can the usual process of description – institutionalization – prescription and proscription be still valid? Can it be Possible? And, in this case, is it desirable? Ultimately that would only foster an institutional role of schools in teaching the norms of the most powerful ones. Or, rather, should schools provide students with the abilities needed to being a rhetor in the contemporary semiotic landscape? To make the student not only a critical evaluator but also a creative agent who can make the difference?
  • Here are then my questions of literacy reformulated in the contemporary communicative landscape. New everyday media have new affordances, they have new potentials in the ways we can communicate, represent, access and contribute to information and knowledge. The question is: what changes in the way we make meaning and act semiotically (that is to say, in the way we learn)? And, consequently, what can/should/would educators make of these changes?
  • As for the first point. The many devices we have available allow us to produce and interpret representations shared in interconnected spaces. These all have one shared technical affordance that has become social: That is, copy-and-paste. Copy-and-paste is nothing less than selection and recontextualization. Indeed now representation is more readily made through selection, possible transformation and assemblage, and recontextualization than through transcription. What I mean by that. Here’s an example. Last week I was in Venice visiting the Biennale. In the past years it occurred to me to write down the name of the artist and device some keywords or sketch some attempted drawing that could remind of a work which had particularly impressed me. Well, this time I had this and it was much much easier to capture a photo of the work. And, right on the spot, I’ve uploaded it to my flickr page, or shared it in my facebook profile and forwarded to friends by email.
  • As for the first point. The many devices we have available allow us to produce and interpret representations shared in interconnected spaces. These all have one shared technical affordance that has become social: That is, copy-and-paste. Copy-and-paste is nothing less than selection and recontextualization. Indeed now representation is more readily made through selection, possible transformation and assemblage, and recontextualization than through transcription. What I mean by that. Here’s an example. Last week I was in Venice visiting the Biennale. In the past years it occurred to me to write down the name of the artist and device some keywords or sketch some attempted drawing that could remind of a work which had particularly impressed me. Well, this time I had this and it was much much easier to capture a photo of the work. And, right on the spot, I’ve uploaded it to my flickr page, or shared it in my facebook profile and forwarded to friends by email.
  • As for the first point. The many devices we have available allow us to produce and interpret representations shared in interconnected spaces. These all have one shared technical affordance that has become social: That is, copy-and-paste. Copy-and-paste is nothing less than selection and recontextualization. Indeed now representation is more readily made through selection, possible transformation and assemblage, and recontextualization than through transcription. What I mean by that. Here’s an example. Last week I was in Venice visiting the Biennale. In the past years it occurred to me to write down the name of the artist and device some keywords or sketch some attempted drawing that could remind of a work which had particularly impressed me. Well, this time I had this and it was much much easier to capture a photo of the work. And, right on the spot, I’ve uploaded it to my flickr page, or shared it in my facebook profile and forwarded to friends by email.
  • This copy-and-paste affordance inserts itself in more profound social changes and contributes to change the ways in which we participate, in the ways we communicate. So that now communication is an individualized participation in networks and chains of semiosis according to the participant’s interests. Again the example at the biennale. Sure, when looking at the work of art it happened to me to think what the artist wanted to communicate, to try to understand the artist’s meaning, to get a mutual understanding. But more than that, what happened more readily to me was thinking of what I could make of that work of art. Rather than cooperation in a shared understanding (which, if you are familiar with linguistics, is the traditional gricean model of communication), it is now usability that is relevant: every representation becomes an artefact that can be reused – it can be captured (selected), edited and forwarded (recontextualized).
  • This copy-and-paste affordance inserts itself in more profound social changes and contributes to change the ways in which we participate, in the ways we communicate. So that now communication is an individualized participation in networks and chains of semiosis according to the participant’s interests. Again the example at the biennale. Sure, when looking at the work of art it happened to me to think what the artist wanted to communicate, to try to understand the artist’s meaning, to get a mutual understanding. But more than that, what happened more readily to me was thinking of what I could make of that work of art. Rather than cooperation in a shared understanding (which, if you are familiar with linguistics, is the traditional gricean model of communication), it is now usability that is relevant: every representation becomes an artefact that can be reused – it can be captured (selected), edited and forwarded (recontextualized).
  • This has great implications. For example, it leads to a scattering of coherence. Coherence – as you’ll certainly know – is the semantic relation of the parts to a whole, that is, topic relatedness. Traditional models of communication maintain that incoherent texts have no point in discourse, can’t be understood, so that communication fails. This is not the case with new forms of communication. Here acting on topic, cooperating coherently becomes irrelevant in many cases.
  • That’s what happens when we hop from link to link when browsing the web; the mental text we construct is not coherent but rather related according to our browsing interests on the basis of the prompts given by the links that we encounter while browsing. That’s what happens when we share artefacts on social network platforms, such as facebook or myspace. You see an event and think that it would perfectly fit your profile image on facebook, independently of its meaning in its original context. So You take a photo with your mobile and upload it. Others see it and may take it, edit and recontextualize it somewhere else; this all independently of the first sign-maker’s intended meaning. Ever looked at somebody’s myspace page, it’s often an assemblage of incoherent artefacts, links, images, which contribute to define that person’s online identity.
  • So that rather than coherence on topic (the contents) it is the usability of forms (in different contexts) that determines successful communication. And the activities – and related abilities – most frequently required to represent are selection, assemblage, transformation, forward, recontextualization
  • So, these are the questions I think are vital to reassess the issue of literacy: In this shift from coherence in contents to the usability of forms in contexts, What skills/abilities/capabilities are Developed the most / the least? Required the most / the least? What happens to literacy? From ‘what in what form’ to ‘how-to where and to whom’?
  • And to conclude, after describing these gained and lost abilities, I think it is up to educators to decide what to do of these descriptions: Teach the abilities that are most needed? Teach maybe the abilities that are less developed by contemporary media, maybe because otherwise a lot gets lost? (the ability to reflect, to act coherently, to transcribe, to relate, to plan ahead, for example)? And what happens to the vicious cycle?
  • Transcript

    • 1. Liter A te, litter B in or liter- C ? Some issues on literacy in the contemporary semiotic landscape Elisabetta Adami University of Verona [email_address] Stellar - Alpine Rendez-Vous - 30th November to 3rd December Workshop: Technology-enhanced learning in the context of technological, societal and cultural transformation Session: Literacy (J. Cook, E. Adami, M. Boeck)  
    • 2. Literacy? A social semiotic view <ul><li>From: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>‘ (the knowledge of) the use of the resource of writing’ (Kress, 2003: 24) -> cf. literate </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Extended (in English only) to: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>‘ certain kinds of production-skills associated more or less closely with aspects of communication ’ (Kress, 2003: 23) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>-> ‘ being able to make readings of texts of the elite, which conform to the readings of the elite culture ’ (Kress, 2003: 23) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Text readings and text productions -> ± ‘ competence’ </li></ul></ul>
    • 3. The egg-and-chicken issue on Literacy <ul><li>Practices </li></ul><ul><li>Conventions of use: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>approved, ‘proper’ semiotic acts in contexts, and </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>stigmatized, ‘inappropriate’ semiotic acts in contexts </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Descriptions (academics, critics…) </li></ul><ul><li>Institutionalized conventions </li></ul><ul><li>Prescribed and proscribed semiotic practices </li></ul><ul><li>(taught) Literacy </li></ul>
    • 4. The egg-and-chicken issue in the context of established genres <ul><li>Established (written) genres: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>CV; academic articles… </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>‘ vertical’ power relationships </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Standardization of conventions </li></ul><ul><li>Literacy = knowing the established conventions </li></ul><ul><ul><li>how a CV / academic article MUST be written </li></ul></ul><ul><li>School: teaching the norms </li></ul><ul><ul><li>enable students to master a genre and enter an elite community </li></ul></ul>
    • 5. The egg-and-chicken issue in the context on ‘New Media’ <ul><li>Non-Established genres: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>videoblogs, txts, podcasts, social networking etc. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>‘ horizontal’ power relationships </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Standard = ‘difference-within-attuning’ (Adami, 2009) </li></ul><ul><li>Literacy -> rhetoric (Kress, 2008) </li></ul><ul><ul><li>from competence to (creative and ad hoc ) agency </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Schools: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>teach (which) norms??? </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>description – institutionalization – pre/proscriptions </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>provide students with the abilities needed to be a rhetor? </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Assess the situation and creatively act to make the difference </li></ul></ul></ul>
    • 6. The here-and-now issue <ul><li>New everyday media </li></ul><ul><ul><li>New affordances = new potentials in the mechanisms of communicating – representing – accessing and contributing to info and knowledge </li></ul></ul><ul><li>What changes in the way we make meaning and act semiotically (= we learn)? </li></ul><ul><ul><li>In the mechanisms/practices of sign-making </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>In the mechanisms/practices of communication </li></ul></ul><ul><li>What can educators make of these changes? </li></ul>
    • 7. The contemporary media landscape: semiotic affordances <ul><li>Many devices </li></ul>
    • 8. The contemporary media landscape: semiotic affordances <ul><li>Many devices - interconnected spaces – </li></ul>
    • 9. The contemporary media landscape: Changes in representation <ul><li>Many devices - interconnected spaces – One shared semiotic affordance: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Copy-and-paste </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Representation is more readily made through selection (assemblage) and recontextualization than through transcription (Adami, 2009) </li></ul>
    • 10.  
    • 11.  
    • 12.  
    • 13. At the Biennale with iphone…
    • 14.  
    • 15. The contemporary media landscape: changes in communication <ul><li>Many devices – One shared social affordance: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Individualized participation in networks/chains of semiosis according to the participant’s interests (Adami, 2009) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>rather than </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Cooperation and shared understanding (unlike defined by Grice 1965, 1975; Hall 1980; Sperber and Wilson 1986) </li></ul></ul>
    • 16.  
    • 17. The contemporary media landscape: changes in communication <ul><li>Many devices – One shared social affordance: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Individualized participation in networks/chains of semiosis according to the participant’s interests (Adami, 2009) </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Cooperation (shared understanding) </li></ul><ul><li>Usability (selection, transformation, recontextualization) </li></ul>
    • 18. The big issue: Coherence <ul><li>Mechanisms/practices of sign-making: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Copy-and-paste </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Scattering of coherence patterns (Adami, 2009) </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Mechanisms/practices of communication: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Individualized participation </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>acting on topic (= cooperating) is irrelevant </li></ul></ul>
    • 19.  
    • 20. From content to (re)context <ul><li>Coherence on topic (content) </li></ul><ul><ul><li>cf. Halliday & Hasan 1976; van Dijk 1985; Fairclough 1992 </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Usability of forms (contexts) </li></ul><ul><li>selection, assemblage, transformation, forward, recontextualization </li></ul>Successful communication Chains of semiosis
    • 21. Here-and-now Questions for education <ul><li>From coherence in contents to forms in contexts: </li></ul><ul><li>What skills/abilities/capabilities are </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Developed the most / the least? </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Required the most / the least? </li></ul></ul><ul><li>What happens to literacy? </li></ul><ul><ul><li>From ‘what in what form’ to ‘how-to where and to whom’? </li></ul></ul>
    • 22. Egg-and-chicken Questions for education <ul><li>What is gained and what is lost? </li></ul><ul><li>Where are we heading to? </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Teach the most required abilities? </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Teach the lost-in-transition ones? </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Is the description-pre/proscription cycle avoidable? </li></ul>
    • 23. Copy, paste and share this, Thank you!

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