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

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)

Name: TBA Afiouni

Message: Hi!

Wow! I really like your games/stories, especially the second one and the newly released fourth one. I was just wondering if there are flash files or downloadable files for the stories, instead of playing them only on the internet.


Name: Lois Johnson

School or Institution: St Mary’s CE Primary, Droylsden, Manchester, M43 7BR

Country: England

Message: Brilliant, innovative resource which thoroughly engages children. If ‘click’ to ‘read only’ how do you get the interactive games back? I would use extracts to discuss style of narrative, emotions and ‘what could happen next?’ from the first three episodes.

teacher writing on a chalkboard A reader recently asked for some directions to links I’ve mentioned in the education pack. Hopefully this will help:

Literature in a Hypermedia Mode: An interview with Marjorie Luesebrink” by Thomas Swiss

Electronic Literacies” by Caitlin Fisher

Examining a Picture” by Dr. Martha Driver

On Gold and Silver Ages and the Elements of Hypertext” by Jennifer Ley

Hypertext and the Art of Memory” by Janine Wong and Peter Storkerson

Narratology: A Guide to the Theory of Narrative” by Manfred Jahn

How the Relationship Between Soundtrack and Image Contributes to the Meaning of the Documentary ” by filmmaker and journalist, Fatmir Terziu

“The Sounding Image: About the Relationship Between Art and Music-An Art-Historical Retrospective View” by Barbara John

Hypertextualizing Autobiography” by Laura Sullivan

The Bildungsroman Genre” by Suzanne Hader