Literacy In The Contemporary Media Landscape
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LiterAte, litterBin or liter-C? Some issues on literacy in the contemporary semiotic landscape Elisabetta AdamiUniversity of Veronaelisabetta.firstname.lastname@example.orgStellar - Alpine Rendez-Vous - 30th November to 3rd December Workshop: Technology-enhanced learning in the context of technological, societal and cultural transformationSession: Literacy (J. Cook, E. Adami, M. Boeck)
Here is my provocative title to prompt some debate in this workshop.First of all, Im 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 Ive 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, Ive come across the word literacy several times. And each time Ive found it, some questions started to come to my mind.
Literacy? A social semiotic viewFrom: (the knowledge of) the use of the resource of writing (Kress, 2003: 24) -> cf. literate
Extended (in English only) to: certain kinds of production-skills associated more or less closely with aspects of communication (Kress, 2003: 23) -> being able to make readings of texts of the elite, which conform to the readings of the elite culture (Kress, 2003: 23)Text readings and text productions -> competence
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 dont 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 thats what I would use to translate it in Italian).
The egg-and-chicken issue on LiteracyPracticesConventions of use: approved, proper semiotic acts in contexts, andstigmatized, inappropriate semiotic acts in contextsDescriptions (academics, critics) Institutionalized conventionsPrescribed and proscribed semiotic practices(taught) Literacy
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 its hard to establish which came first, since every step in the process influences the others.
The egg-and-chicken issue in the context of established genresEstablished (written) genres: CV; academic articles vertical power relationshipsStandardization of conventionsLiteracy = knowing the established conventionshow a CV / academic article MUST be writtenSchool: teaching the norms enable students to master a genre and enter an elite community
Lets 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 conventionsSo 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.
The egg-and-chicken issue in the context on New MediaNon-Established genres: videoblogs, txts, podcasts, social networking etc. horizontal power relationshipsStandard = difference-within-attuning (Adami, 2009)Literacy -> rhetoric (Kress, 2008) from competence to (creative and ad hoc) agencySchools:teach (which) norms??? description institutionalization pre/proscriptionsprovide students with the abilities needed to be a rhetor?Assess the situation and creatively act to make the difference
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 thats what Ive found on youtube).Here rather than competence and Im using kress again its 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?
The here-and-now issueNew everyday mediaNew affordances = new potentials in the mechanisms of communicating representing accessing and contributing to info and knowledgeWhat changes in the way we make meaning and act semiotically (= we learn)?In the mechanisms/practices of sign-makingIn the mechanisms/practices of communicationWhat can educators make of these changes?
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?
The contemporary media landscape: semiotic affordancesMany devices
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. Heres 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, Ive uploaded it to my flickr page, or shared it in my facebook profile and forwarded to friends by email.
The contemporary media landscape: semiotic affordancesMany devices - interconnected spaces
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