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:
http://www.inanimatealice.com/education/iteachregistration.html

See also ‘iTeach Inanimate Alice

Enjoy!
Written by Ian Harper, BradField Company
Inanimate Alice