A very interesting and incisive article by Kelli McGraw entitled “Defining Multimodal” was posted today on her blog: Kelli McGraw sharing resources, inviting conversations

It pertains very much to the discussion over the term “transmedia” and the different ways in which it used by educators, politicians, digital publishing experts and media experts, etc. I’m borrowing Kelli’s post because it is very topical, she is a friend of Alice and this particular topic relates very closely to this property; it’s even mentioned in her post. Please visit her home site and comment- especially those of you close to the Australian education system. Feel free to leave posts here to discuss Inanimate Alice in particular…

Without any further ado:

Defining ‘multimodal’
Kelly McGaw

Reading the Draft Australian Curriculum for English (‘DACE’…?) I can see that confusion over the meaning of ‘multimodal’ text is about to cause English teachers some major problems.

My understanding is that when we say a text is ‘multimodal’, we mean that the audience participates in the text’s creation. This is the definition I would say that academics and practitioners in the field of English curriculum would use; consider this explanation by Anastopoulou, Baber & Sharples:

Multimodality is based on the use of sensory modalities by which humans receive information. These modalities could be tactile, visual, auditory, etc. It also requests the use of at least two response modalities to present information (e.g. verbal, manual activity). So, for example, in a multimodal interaction a user may receive information by vision and sound and respond by voice and touch. Multimodality could be compared with ‘unimodality’, which would be based on the use of one modality only to receive or present information (e.g. watching a multimedia presentation and responding by pressing keys).

…but that’s not the definition that ACARA are going with.

The definitional confusion between terms like multimodal, multimedia and media has been around for a while, and speaks to the significant changes in what is considered core content in English brought about by the rise in visual and especially digital texts. We are very familiar with the concept that language can be spoken, written or heard…but when it comes to texts that combine these modes, things are still a little muddled.

Please take a moment to check out, for example, the preface for the Year 7 section of the DACE (click the image below and get ready for your head to spin):

Year 7 English Content Preface

See what I mean?

In this Preface to the curriculum content descriptors multimodal texts seem to be pitted against texts that are ‘literary’ (which creates even more confusion as the definition of literary appears to change with each new use). I can appreciate that the ACARA curriculum writers have had to avoid using the word ‘text’ because of the political beat up the term has received in recent years from certain op-ed writers in certain newspapers. That is why this new curriculum has reverted to the more traditional term Literature – and it is because of this change that we are now supposed to say, it seems, ‘literary text’.

But now check out the etymological shenanigans that take place in the content descriptors of the Literature strand:

Year 7 - Literature

Year 7 – Literature

Oh brother. The constant reference to ‘literary texts’ is supposed to be a nod to the strand content being described as ‘Literature’. But this is ultimately VERY confusing, as ‘literary’ texts are separated from ‘non-literary’, digital’ and ‘multimodal’ texts in the Preface. There result is that there is no sense in this strand of multimodal texts being included.

The term ‘literary’ is also conflated with ‘fiction’, and what are really language elements are referred to as literary elements. In ‘Discussing and responding’ the term ‘text’ makes it in unscathed – which just goes to show that the word does make sense and can be used. The term ‘text’ is highly appropriate for collectively describing all works of language art, and recognises that the works we study can be written, spoken, aural, or a combination of these. The term ‘literary texts’ is stupidly redundant, but I’d be happy to get on with using it to placate the punters, if only it were used consistently and provided scope for the study of a broad range of texts! Which brings me back to multimodality…

In the NSW English syllabus, students engage in what we call a range of language modes. These are: speaking, writing, representing, listening, reading and viewing. So ‘multimodal’ could reasonably be taken to mean ‘using more than one language mode’. This would make film, picture books and digital stories (which use a combination of visual and written language) and many other forms of text multimodal. OK, I can work with that.

But another thing we do in NSW English 7-12 is differentiate between the activities of composing (which involves text ‘making’ or ‘creation’, not just ‘writing’) and responding (a broader term than ‘reading’ which encompasses the ‘reception’ of all kinds of text). These activities are viewed as always interrelated in some way, but I would say that it is only when text explicitly invites the audience to participate in the text (e.g. in video games, virtual reality, and participatory narratives such as Inanimate Alice) that the term multimodal should really be applied. If I’m going to give up the term ‘multimodal’ to the meaning of ‘using more than one language mode’, then I’m going to need a NEW WORD that I can use when I mean ‘texts that the audience helps to construct’.

Currently this recognition of true multimodality, and of the interplay between responding and composing, is severely lacking in the DACE.

If you are an English teacher and haven’t yet responded to the consultation on the Draft Australian Curriculum, I implore you to log on to the ACARA site and say something about these contradictory and frankly bizarre definitions. I can’t be the only one who feels like the curriculum writers just didn’t use a glossary!

Faced with the prospect of a shiny new curriculum that is supposed to be clarifying professional meanings and terminology for all teachers, students and parents across the nation, these definitional conflicts are something that must be sorted out before we go any further. Agreed?


from Microsoft Europe by By: Kirsten Panton

The pace of change and development in education has picked up substantially in recent years – largely because of the key role ICT is increasingly playing in both teaching and learning.

To think that only a few years ago we lived in a world with no social networks – today these constitute a vital part of our, and even more, our youngsters’ lives. I for one can hardly imagine a student unable to use a computer when they leave school.

This is why predicting what the trends in European education will be in the coming years is almost impossible. However, if I were to hazard a guess I would include some of the obvious developments, such as the latest phrase du jour: cloud computing. With applications increasingly moving from your desktop computer to the internet, cloud computing represent a revolution in how IT services are delivered. It allows users to scale and virtualize resources over the Internet, carrying immense implications for the education sector, in particular as it is likely to dramatically reduce costs for institutions such as schools.

Gaming is probably a surprising area for me to include, however games – or rather so called serious games or edu games, if done right, can become a powerful tool to get groups to work together, increase social interaction and civic engagement among youth. Gaming also allows learners to “fail to success”. This concept of failing forward allows learners to test their limits in a safe environment. In addition, gaming increases muscle memory, or the rehearsal necessary to solidify correct behaviour. Finally, gaming increases an internal and external competitive spirit related to learning opportunities.

New advances in hardware and software are making mobile “smart phones” indispensible tools – in schools as much as elsewhere. Just as cell phones have leapfrogged fixed line technology in the telecommunications industry, it is likely that mobile devices with internet access and computing capabilities will become a valuable tool along with the personal computers as the information appliance of choice in the classroom.

Finally, one-to-one computing describes a notion that every child should be given a computer or a device that would allow them to have universal access to technology. One-to-one computing will give the student access to knowledge anytime anywhere and it gives the teacher the possibility to personalize the learning to suit the single student’s learning style. Also some of the benefits associated with this notion include increasing student achievement and engagement. However, it is particularly important to development of the workforce of the future.

All in all, it seems that one of the few things I can say for sure is that ICT is more critical to education now than ever before and likely to increase in its importance. Today, computers, software and the internet aren’t simply part of the educational process, they are embedded in it. With the emergence of increasingly robust connectivity infrastructure and cheaper computers, school systems around the world are developing the ability to provide learning opportunities to students “anytime, anywhere”. ICT has already transformed how we access information and that has in turn transformed the skills our educated people require.

How they learn those skills and how we teach them is still partly an unanswered questions and partly a question with a developing answer. What Europe will do to make sure we stay ahead of the curve not only in terms of education, but also later in life when it comes to developing a competitive workforce as well. We hope that we will be able to provide a small part of that answer at a roundtable discussion we are organizing on the topic of “Are we doing enough to keep Europeans ahead in education?”. The event will be held in Brussels on 20th April 2010 with a start at 10.30 and will last until approximately 14.30. It will take place in the European quarter in Brussels at the Microsoft’s Executive Briefing Centre on 85 Avenue des Nerviens.

Inanimate Alice has been a featured property for ICT Education for the EC E-Skills Week

European e-Skills Week highlights the growing demand for skilled ICT users and professionals to drive a competitive and innovative Europe. This exciting campaign seeks to inform students, young professionals and SMEs about the vast range of opportunities that ICT-related jobs present.

Throughout the coming months, public authorities, ICT companies, education institutions and students will engage in hundreds of activities, training events, competitions and much more. The awareness campaign will culminate in a dedicated European e-Skills Week from 1 to 5 March 2010.

This ground breaking initiative of the European Commission’s DG Enterprise and Industry is coordinated by DIGITALEUROPE and European Schoolnet in conjunction with twenty national partners.

Translated into twenty two EC languages- from English to Bulgarian to Slovenian and more, the piece on Inanimate Alice focused on Alice’s ability to transcend borders and classification. Housed in the “Games” section of the E-Skills site and a write-up that focuses on iTeach and Inanimate Alice’s diverse educational values and uses, it’s clear that the formal bodies of the EC are catching on to what many fans already know; Alice is engaging, unique and has so many applications for so many people.

Many big-name EU and global media companies sponsored the event, including BitKom (Germany), Computerworld (Denmark), LaStampa (Italy), EuropeanVoice, TheParliament.com, Dagens Næringsliv (Norway), eLearningEuropa.info, M.O. Comunicación (Spain), Auridian Consulting, Simerini/ Sigma Live (Cyprus), plus many others inlcuding Microsoft, Acer, Oracle and Nokia.

The English write up of Alice:
Inanimate Alice

Written by Johanna Snellman

‘Inanimate Alice’ is an entertaining story for young people aged 8 upwards. It is a digital novel – an interactive multimedia fictional tale – told with pictures, music and sound effects. It is a reading-from-the-screen experience for the videogame generation. The story concerns a young girl, Alice, who is growing up to become a character animator and computer game designer. Interspersed with puzzles and little games the series acts as a primer for those who are not proficient at computer games.

The story is written by novelist and digital pioneer Kate Pullinger, the 2009 winner of the Governor General’s Prize for fiction (Canada’s top literary award) and created by renowned digital artist Chris Joseph.

Eventually, there will be 10 episodes following Alice’s life from age 8 traveling the world with her parents through to her mid-twenties and working with the biggest games company in the world. Now four episodes are available on-line. The first 3 episodes are available in French, German, Italian and Spanish in addition to English.

This is a story for young people that transcends national boundaries. Alice is a child of the world, traveling to interesting places and meeting the kind of people that you rarely hear about.

The series demonstrates strong educational attributes and is popular with teachers around the world. The four available episodes provide more than one hour of high-quality material providing a basis for Language, Literacy and ICT education. Education Packs have been created to accompany the series. These are available by registering for free download:

See also ‘iTeach Inanimate Alice

Written by Ian Harper, BradField Company
Inanimate Alice

On Thursday (19th of November) I started the final unit of the term with my English 102s at Grant MacEwan University (Edmonton, Alberta). After essays and other academic texts, our final study would focus on the multimodal narrative, Inanimate Alice.

Before I began the lesson I recalled what I had done with other classes (mostly media or creative technologies while at De Montfort University in Leicester, England). But this time, it would be a little different. I could incorporate more of a “literary” analysis as this was for an English class…right?

Interestingly out of about 30 students, only one admitted to having read something similar to Inanimate Alice (but when he was “younger”). I gave a background to Inanimate Alice. I introduced the students to Alice, to Brad. I also explained what Alice’s parents do. We talked about setting and character development, noting that Inanimate Alice can be read as a bildungsroman.

We agreed to spend the remainder of the lesson reading Episodes 1 and 2. Students were also given time at the end of the lesson to reflect on their first-time reading a multimodal narrative. Some of the questions I asked them to think about included:

  • How reading this online fiction is different from reading the essays in the course books or reading the texts for your research assignment
  • What can readers infer about the identity of Alice? What traits does Alice seem to possess?
  • 1 instance of foreshadowing
  • Complete this sentence: “I think the author is trying to say….”

These students have had plenty of opportunity to respond to literature. They all understand what a story setting is and how to examine character development. However, until we slowed down and re-read each screen of Episode 1, the students found it difficult to answer the aforementioned questions. Only when we paused on a screen and analysed the role of sound (it’s speeding tempo and increasing volume), the role of image (the gravel road, jerking in and out of a downward view), the role of text (the comforting voice of mother Ming) and reader interaction (the blurring arrows urging the reader to click on), we were able to recognise foreshadowing. Josh reads this scene as: “The text reads “Mum says, John knows what he’s doing, he’ll be back soon. That’s what she said yesterday and the day before. But not today.” This text suggests that unlike before, the mother, Ming, can no longer comfort Alice because she too may be worried about when John will be returning, foreshadowing that something may have happened to him.” Looking for a different example of foreshadowing, Ivy interprets: “[a]n example of foreshadowing is that Brad is becoming more animated, he first appeared as a stick figure in the first episode but his images is constantly progressing. I believe as the episodes progress he’ll become an actual person.”  Jamie also had a different view of foreshadowing: “An example of foreshadowing is expressed by the speech bubble that states Alice is the girl always losing her parents. The whole scenario of it appearing seemed out of place, perhaps hinting at a hidden importance.”

Slowing down and performing this kind of close reading proved powerful for the students (and me too!). In turn, they clicked back to individual screens and reread the multiple modes. When asked how this online narrative is different from some of the texts students have read in the past Tasha explained that Inanimate Alice is very “different [from] reading a book, essay, or text because there are many different sounds, moving pictures, and games that could distract you from the text that you have to read. It helps you to visualize what is going on… Also the speeding and slowing, and the type of music makes you more emotionally involved in the story. For example, in the second episode after Alice finds her parents, a softer music is playing and it gives you a sense of relief.” Another student, Matthew, noted: “The audio is very context sensitive, as with the pictures. When the story gets more intense the music speeds up.”  Many of the students also enjoyed the required elements of interactivity. Not only the clicking of the arrows (which Matt likens to “the equivalent of turning a page in a convential text.” ) but the puzzles too. As Kalmy explained, “It also allows us to interact with the story as well (ie: selecting the clothes she’s going to wear).”

My English 102 students began to read as transliterate readers. Scott put it succinctly:

“The growth in [t]ranliteracy as Alice grows in age in my opinion is the author/creators way of expressing how the general public views this mixture of media, text, and story. We’re still developing a bridge between all of our learning tools. While everyone is structured to learn how to read and write the old fashioned way, new forms of literacy tools are developing.”

Since our first class, students are now becoming producers of their own texts. Their creations (an example of differentiated instruction) will, in turn, reinforce the importance of reading all modes simultaneously. Students can choose one of the following activities:

  • Write a letter to the authors: Kate Pullinger and Chris Joseph

** Use strong English, give examples
** ask at least two questions
** length should be two paragraphs

  • Create a podcast reflection of Episodes 1 and 2 (include the link to your podcast and e-mail me the HTML and the written version). Analyse the role of multimodality. You might use http://www.mypodcast.com// or http://audacity.sourceforge.net/
  • Create a google map of places from the first two episodes of Inanimate Alice (include the link to your map in the comment and e-mail me the HTML). For each place marked on the map include:

**analysis of the story related to that area
**and a link to an image

While the students are crafting their responses, I’m looking forward to tomorrow’s class because I as Brian sees it, “Inanimate Alice is the next generation of text, designed to incorporate all of the modern technologies of today.”



You can follow along on our class blog.

Hello. My name is Dale Luckwitz, educational technologist, editor and newest member of the Inanimate Alice team. I will be handling social media aspects of Alice — Twitter, Facebook, blogs, and other outreach medium.

I came to Inanimate Alice initially as a fan, and this mindset boosts my excitement about unfolding developments, not just with Inanimate Alice as a digital narrative, but also with the varied ways it is being adapted for classroom instruction by educators. The sense of this project as a living, growing, adapting entity is what I love the most, and that sentiment is echoed in comments I have read from educators.

I will be writing a number of blog posts in upcoming months, and will focus on brevity, offering concise discussions of particular elements of Inanimate Alice — the useful, the innovative, and the entertaining.

For this introduction, however, forgive my complete abandonment of brevity, but I want to share with you the elements of Inanimate Alice that captured me, and hopefully capture you.

Inanimate is Art.
Above all, I appreciate the craft of Alice, from the controlled, understated observations of our young Alice (written by author Kate Pullinger) to the melancholy visuals and haunting music of digital artist Chris Joseph. Other contributions, from photography, typography, and virtual product design, show a level of pride, commitment and creativity that make Inanimate Alice a joy.

Inanimate Alice is Adventure.
From Alice in a remote area of China to the wonder of watching an online series grow and develop as an energetic work in progress, the entire story and process of story is an adventure.

Just as the production values of each subsequent episode grow in complexity, mirroring Alice’s increasing skill as a game designer, so do the ways in which educators adapt the story of Alice to teach writing, literature, English as a second language, and other subjects.

In fact the series itself did not begin with the education field in mind. Instead, that aspect grew out of the series organically, and now we are looking at the future roll out of a number of high-quality teaching tools (don’t worry – we will keep you posted). For an educational technologist, that is adventure!

Inanimate Alice is Innovation.
From the blending of fiction with gaming to the progressive development of episode complexity as a type of of storytelling tool to the creative education plans created by Dr. Jess Laccetti, the Inanimate Alice project continually moves with purpose, but not limitation. We as a team attempt to look not at what has been done, but what can be done. That is thrilling for all of us involved in the new world of digital fiction, both for entertainment and education purposes.

Inanimate Alice is … a Bit More than All of the Above.
I am a lifelong learner — the type of person who never liked the limiting question of “What do you do for a living?” Inanimate Alice represents that good something that refuses to be too tightly categorized. The project is beyond the individual creators and is more than just a story, or a teaching tool, or a piece of digital art. It is all of those, but more. And how I do like that more.

I thank all of the blog readers for granting me this rare indulgence (550 words and going!), but I wanted to let you all have a sneak peak into my thoughts and relationship to this project.

I look forward to hearing from you all, and hope you will follow us on Twitter at http://twitter.com/InanimateAlice and at Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Inanimate-Alice/125007357446.

We are all going to have some fun.

Dale Luckwitz -- social media for Inanimate Alice

Dale Luckwitz -- social media for Inanimate Alice

Dale Luckwitz

Last year we heard from two educators in Australia who are doing amazing work using ‘Inanimate Alice’ in the classroom. Here’s an update on their exciting work from Margo Edgar (classroom teacher at Pascoe Vale PS) and Kate Story (Teaching and Learning Consultant)

Pascoe Vale Inanimate Alice Wiki

This coming week (May 21st- 23rd)we are presenting at the 6th International Conference of the Middle Years of Schooling Association in Brisbane. The conference focus this year is on the use of ICT in classrooms for teaching and learning. As a part of our presentation on Digital Literacy for the explicit teaching of readers and writers in the middle years (yr 5-9) we have created a wikispace for sharing our planning and the student’s amazing work using Inanimate Alice as the stimulus.

The challenge we put to the students in grade 6 at Pascoe Vale Primary School was to analyse episodes 1-3, identifying author’s writing techniques and style for a digital narrative, to then create and present their own episode 4 using powerpoint.(The students did so without viewing the actual episode 4 until after completion.)

We would like to share with you this wikispace which will include all of our plans and the student’s work. We are happy for that to be shared with Inanimate Alice users worldwide and would like to confirm that we have your permission to use Inanimate Alice in this way and following protocols you outlined in previous correspondence.

In all we have put together a plan for implementing Alice within a Digital Literacy unit lasting for approximately 10 weeks (around 30 hours of work.)The wiki will include a copy of this plan with all supporting documents as well as our conference presentation and samples of student work, their powerpoint episodes, photos and videos of students at work.

It has been an outstanding success and something that is being showcased across schools in the northern suburbs of Melbourne. Inanimate Alice has provided us with a stimulus and vecihle to develop the reading and writing personalities of our students in a digital forum. We are only too eager to share with you our journey.

Kind regards,
Margo Edgar (classroom teacher at Pascoe Vale PS) and Kate Story (Teaching and Learning Consultant)

English is fun

May 18, 2009

More stories inspired by the Inanimate Alice series are to be found on Mrs. Kluge’s blog.


We continue to be amazed at the imagination and ingenuity of the authors of these stories.