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Multimodal Literacies

Communication and Learning in the Era of Digital Media

Learning Module

Abstract

This Learning Module supports chapters 8-16 of the "Literacies" book, written by Kalantzis, Cope, Chan and Dalley-Trim, and published by Cambridge University Press. Whereas the focus of traditional literacy pedagogy has been the written word in its standard and literary forms, this Learning Module and its accompanying book expand the scope of literacy learning to encompass contemporary multimodal texts and the wide range of ways of making meaning that occur in different social and cultural contexts. The Learning Module includes updates that can be delivered into the activity streams of learners to prompt discussion, surveys which prompt short responses, and two projects in which participants write multimodal works and peer review each others works before they are published into each person's web portfolio. In one of these projects, participants themselves design a Learning Module, deliverable to a defined student group. Another learning module, "Literacy Teaching and Learning: Aims, Approaches and Pedagogies" addresses Chapters 1-7 of the "Literacies" book. This "Multimodal Literacies" learning module does not require or expect that participants will have already completed the "Literacy Teaching and Learning" module.

Keywords

Literacy, Communications, Media, Learning

Section 8.1: Introduction

For the Participant

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Welcome to this Literacies Learning Module. Using Scholar, we prompt a number of different kinds of interaction between course participants, all of which use digital media and collaborative writing processes. Our Scholar medium is our Multiliteracies message!

So, what is 'Multiliteracies'? This term captures two aspects of meaning making in the era of our contemporary communications environment, two kinds of 'multi', if you like. The first is the multimodality of contemporary meaning making in which text, image, sound and other media are used together and the same time to make meaning. Just look at a social media activity feed, and Scholar's activity stream, and you will see this mutlimodality at work. The second is the multiplicity of different ways of meaning. Once, literacy was just about correct spelling and grammar, as if there was one best and correct way to communicate. Now, we explore literacies in the plural. A social media post is different from a report on a science experiment, is different from a personal opinion blogpost, is different from an email, is different from a text message. Literacies are about creating a message that is right for the context and medium, and contexts and media are always different.

Scholar is a web discussion and writing environment that supports multimodal literacies. As well as text, your 'writing' in Scholar can include images, videos, audio, dataset, and even embedded web media—which means that you can do traditional literacy here, and also broaden out your meaning-making to create multimodal communications. Scholar is also very social. In this Learning Module, you will be discussing literacies issues and topics with your peers in the Community Area of Scholar. You will be taking surveys. You will also be creating multimodal works in the Creator area of Scholar, peer reviewing each others works, then revising for submission to your community admin, and publication to your personal portfolio page in Community. You will not only be exploring the subject of literacies. In the spirit of our time, this will itself be a very multimodal and very social experience of literacies.

Literacies - The Book
"Regimes of Literacy," Kalantzis and Cope

Comment: Discuss the ways in which literacy is changing, and why the word 'literacies' might be more appropriate today. Read over each others' comments as they come through in the comments area and respond to each other's thoughts by mentioning the other person, @Their Name.

For the Instructor

For new users of Scholar, we recommend the Learning Module, Getting Started in Scholar. Post the updates through to Community as needed. At this stage, we recommend the following updates:

  • Scholar Overview
  • Participating in Community

Section 8.2: Multimodal Meaning and Synaesthesia

For the Participant

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Meaning-making is a process of representation (sense-making) and communication (in which a message prompt is interpreted by another person). This update analyses the design process through which people take available resources for meaning, and use these as building blocks for designing new meanings. Although they are often similar, newly made meanings are never quite the same as any previous meanings. These ‘redesigned’ meanings then enter the world. At this point the world has been transformed, even if in the smallest of ways. Then the cycle of meaning-making can start over again. Even though in the schools of our recent past and still today we have separated out literacies as a singular subject that deals with the mechanics of reading and writing, our processes of meaning are always at least to some extent multimodal, bringing together written, visual, spatial, tactile, gestural, audio and oral modes. This is particularly true in the contemporary era. The new, digital media are intrinsically multimodal. This update suggests an approach to ‘design analysis’. It is a prelude to the following sections that outline a multimodal grammar, one that will help us describe and understand meaning-making across different modes.

To explore these issues further, read the supporting material on the Literacies website.

 

Multimodal Meaning Making


Comment Below: What are the benefits and challenges of a multimodal approach to literacies?

Make an Update: Describe an important site of multimodal communication in your life, or your students lives. How might a multimodal analysis of meaning prove useful? How does this compare with traditional notions of literacy?

 

For the Instructor

Section 9: Making Meaning by Reading

For the Participant

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In this update and the next, we examine written language, beginning in this update with a discussion of different approaches to learning about the connections between the sounds of speaking and the written representation of these sounds. Here, we explore approaches to reading, or making sense from written meanings.

To explore these issues further, read the supporting material on the Literacies website.

Comment Below: Why is reading so controversial? What's behind the difference in approach?

Make an Update: Analyse an approach to reading or reading program that you have encountered, or used, or would like to find out more about. Use the concepts introduced in this section to explore the pedagogy that underlies this approach or program.

For the Instructor

Section 10: Making Meaning by Writing

For the Participant

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This update continues to examine written language, this time from the perspective of representing and communicating meaning by writing. We begin by looking at how making meaning in the written mode develops with a discussion of how speaking and writing differ. We then explore alternative approaches to describing how written language works, from the traditional grammar of didactic pedagogy, to Chomsky’s transformational-generative grammar, to Halliday’s functional approach. We end the update with our own Multiliteracies approach, which describes what we call the ‘design elements’ of written texts, and a discussion of the design process.

To explore these issues further, see the supporting material on the Literacies website.

Comment Below: How and why is writing different from speaking? What are the implications for literacy teaching and learning?

Make an Update: Find an approach to learning to write that you have encountered, or used, or would like to know more about. Describe and analyse the approach using the concepts introduced in this section.

For the Instructor

Section 11: Making Visual Meanings

For the Participant

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This update explores the ways in which we make visual meanings. It offers a design analysis of the visual mode for the purposes of literacies learning and teaching. We refer to two types of visual meanings or images. Perceptual images are the things that you see with your body’s eye – your vision. Mental images are the things you see in your mind’s eye – your envisionings. The world does not just present itself for us to simply see. Our minds make visual sense of the world through what we call perceptual imaging. We can also envision things that we cannot for the moment see by using our imaginations. Growingly aware babies make sense of the world first by seeing it and making mental images, only later learning words for what they see. There are both similarities and differences between visual images and language. The similarities in these two symbolic ways of making meaning allow us to refer to the same things in language or in a visual image. There are also important differences. Visual images and words can never be quite the same.

To explore these issues further, see the supporting material on the Literacies website.

Comment Below: How are images like and unlike language?

Make an Update: Find some examples of curriculum resources or classrooms where teachers engage their learners in meaning-making texts that move between images and writing. How do these experiences highlight the power of synaesthesia—the process of shifting from one mode to another—and integrated, multimodal learning?

For the Instructor

Section 12: Making Spatial, Tactile and Gestural Meanings

For the Participant

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This update explores three more important modes of meaning. Spatial meanings are framed by shape, proximity and movement. Tactile meanings capture our interactions with objects. Gestural meanings are bodily expressions, ranging from hand and arm movement, to facial expressions, to bodily presentations, such as clothing, to body language. These modes of meaning are closely interconnected and offer productive connections to oral and written meanings in multimodal literacies environments.

To explore these issues further, see the supporting material on the Literacies website.

Comment: In what ways do spatial, tactile and gestural meanings frame spoken or written language? How does multimodal analysis help us to interpret meanings in language?

Make an Update: Describe and analyse a pedagogical practice that locates linguistic meanings in the context of spatial, tactile or gestural meanings.

For the Instructor

Section 13: Making Audio and Oral Meanings

For the Participant

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Audio and oral meanings share the sense of hearing as the primary medium of reception. Audio meanings range from ambient or background sounds in our environment, to sounds that have symbolic meaning, and to the complex meanings represented in music. Oral meanings carry with them the basic qualities of audio meanings as we modulate volume and pitch in the sounds of speaking. Despite the important connections, there are large and significant differences between the ways in which language is formed in the oral and written modes. These differences are what motivates mode-shifting in communications and learning, not just between oral and written meanings, but across the full range of modes of meaning.

To explore these issues further, see the supporting material on the Literacies website.

Comment Below: Of what significance are the differences between speaking and writing for literacies teaching and learning?

Make an Update: Analyze an example of a curriculum resource or practice which connects audio and/or oral meanings to reading or writing. Use this example to explain the dimensions of multimodal literacies pedagogy.

 

For the Instructor

Section 14: Literacies to Think and to Learn

For the Participant

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In this update, we explore the similarities and differences between communication in humans and other animals. One key difference is our human capacity to apply symbols to meanings in the world, and to connect symbols with each other into symbol systems. Symbols represent general things – the concept of ‘dog’ as distinct from this dog, Fido. Although young children learn the word ‘dog’ at a young age, it is not until they are older that they use the word as a concept. Conceptualisation can also occur in the other modes – for instance, in visual or gestural meanings. All academic disciplines use literacies as a basis for communicating knowledge, and also for learners to represent knowledge to themselves in their thinking. Literacies, for this reason, are the most basic of all basics in education.

To explore these issues further, see the supporting material on the Literacies website.

Comment Below: In what ways are literacies integral to learning across many subject areas?

Make an Update: Take a curriculum area other than literacy/language learning itself. Locate an example that illustrates the power of literacies to represent academic knowledge. Explain the role of literacies in the example you have chosen.

For the Instructor

Section 15: Literacies and Learner Differences

For the Participant

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In this update, we explore the range of learner differences that impact upon literacies learning. We outline concepts with which to classify and interpret these differences among learners. We discuss, in general terms, how we approach learner differences in relation to literacies learning. Then we explore in depth two particularly important dimensions of learner difference: age and other-language background.

To explore these issues further, see the supporting material on the Literacies website.

Comment Below: How do differences between learners affect literacies outcomes?

Make an Update: Take one dimension of learner differences. What are the most appropriate literacies strategies to address this dimension of difference?

For the Instructor

Section 16: Literacies Standards and Assessment

For the Participant

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This update introduces the idea of standards, which specify expected learning outcomes at different levels of learning across a variety of subject areas – literacy or literacies, for instance. Assessments measure student outcomes against these standards. We contrast the fundamental assumptions and processes of standards or achievement assessments with intelligence assessments. We also examine the differences between diagnostic versus formative and summative assessments, norm-referenced versus criterion-referenced or self-referenced assessments, and select response versus supply response assessments. Finally, we explore the possibilities of bringing formative assessment (providing direct feedback to learners) closer to summative assessment (providing a retrospective view of what learners have achieved), particularly in new-media learning environments.

Here is a paper is a paper on the latest developments in writing and other assessments:

Big Data Comes to School

To explore these issues further, see the supporting material on the Literacies website.

Comment: What do you see in the future of literacies assessment?

Make an Update: Select a literacies assessment method or technology. Identify how your selected method or technology works—what are its strengths and weaknesses?

For the Instructor