D E L E T I N G   T E A C H E R S'   F E A R S

title | introduction | section one | section two | section three | conclusion and limitations | references

[ Section Two ]
Technology as a Means to Convey Multimodal Literacy

But must technological texts necessarily be defined as anarchic? Does the advent of post-typographic literacy really mandate an entire shift in pedagogy and classroom paradigms? By understanding the ramifications of the current definition of technological literacy, I will explore ways in which technological literacy can be discussed within the existing classroom discourse, instead of distinct from and in opposition to it. I suggest that technology can be translated into terms that do not threaten or challenge the power dynamics of a classroom; terms that are perhaps broader than the traditional, but that are still familiar to classroom teachers. In short, technology becomes defined as a tool used to produce multimodal literacy. And based upon this definition, I suggest that the issue becomes much simpler: to find the right technological tool that can help the teacher become comfortable with technology in the classroom.

I assert that a distinction should be made between the definitions of literacy and the tools that produce them. Gunter Kress (2003) (re-)introduced a narrower definition of literacy than the one stated above, but he did so to draw a distinction between literacy produced by technology and technology itself. If technological literacy is not literacy in its own right, what is it? Kress argued that it is a tool through which to convey many modalities at once: "mixed logics are, above all, a feature of multimodal texts, that is, texts made up of elements of modes which are based on different logics. Mixed logics pose new questions: of reading, but also of design in writing" (p. 46). Kress identified these mixed-mode texts as examples of "ensembles of modes, brought together to realize particular meanings" (p. 116). Kress's definition of a mode of literacy situated it within a larger sociocultural domain.

Why, therefore, have researchers focused upon technological literacy as a distinct literacy, instead of as a tool for conveying many modes of text? Kress conjectured that it is because researchers have become preoccupied with the characteristics of the many modal choices offered by technology. Researchers can switch modes easily through new media, and therefore concentrate more upon the limitations and potentials of the mode itself, and less upon the literacy that the mode conveys. Researchers have therefore become caught up in the learning curve intimated by the bells and whistles of technology, and have lost their focus upon the semantic meaning that the text conveys. Because Kress believed that "language alone cannot give us access to the meaning of the multimodally constituted message; language and literacy now have to be seen as partial bearers of meaning only" (p. 35), he posited that the true focus of the researcher (and the classroom) must change from linguistics, or word-based text, to semiotics, or the meaning of the text as a whole.

If technological literacy takes its place as a tool that conveys multimodal literacy, the final semantic meaning of its message becomes more important than the means by which the message is conveyed. The tool itself does not therefore become its own literacy, but the way through which a literary text is provided. The complications that arise when the teacher or researcher focuses upon the technology instead of the final product of the technology become moot.


The Classroom and Multimodal Literacy

Despite the fact that Kress (2003) and Fehring (2001) defined technological literacy within the realm of multimodal literacy instead of as its own pedagogical paradigm, these researchers continued to situate their discussions within a discourse of power relations, and turned often to the language of revolution in their rhetoric. Kress echoed Purves (1998) when he discussed the impact of multimodal literacy upon teachers. Kress stated that technological literacy, conveyed through images on a screen, will fundamentally alter the very nature of writing. This change will "have profound effects on human, cognitive/affective, cultural and bodily engagement with the world, and on the forms and shapes of knowledge" (p. 1). And for Fehring, multimodal literacy has necessitated a "massive change to...the nature of what it means to be literate" (para. 1). But if, as Kress suggests, texts are studied as units of semantic meaning, the meanings themselves do not convey ideas that are outside of the realm of existing worldviews or classroom practices. Despite the fact that the "Information Age encompasses a world of global and multicultural education" (Fehring, 2001, para. 3), classrooms have been well on their way to developing a global and multicultural perspective even before the onset of the internet. And although "learners in the Information Age must access, understand, transform and transmit information at an exponential rate" (Fehring, 2001, para. 3), the semantic meaning transmitted to students at this increased rate remain unchanged. Using definitions of literacy constructed by Kress and Fehring, multimodal literacy can be resituated within the traditional practices of the classroom rather than in opposition to them.

The term "multimodal literacy" does not dictate that new technologies are the only methods that can be utilized to convey semantic meanings. In fact, Collins and Blot (2003) posited that one less-privileged mode of literacy is quite ancient, yet fundamental to and inextricable from the classroom: oral literacy. The discourse of the mainstream classroom is itself a multimodal experience. Not only does the classroom contain performative elements of the oral and visual modes of literacy, it also contains written text--both the straightforward, traditional written text, and the "hypertext" that results from a teacher's references to other texts in a lesson. A student's sociocultural background also comes into play during a lesson. The student must not only focus upon the linguistic elements of the written text given her, but must also translate the cultural context of the lesson into terms that she can comprehend. The very walls of the classroom contain textual encoding that the student must interpret and fold into her experience, from word walls to signs indicating classroom rules to daily schedules. The multimodal text of the classroom provides the student with a unified semantic meaning rather than an isolated linguistic or textual one.

The preservice teachers studied by Lewis and Finders (2004) seemed to find no difficulty in negotiating their position within this richly intertextual and multimodal world. The multimodality of classroom teaching does not threaten--and indeed, reinforces--existing power dynamics. Teachers do not have to shift their pedagogical paradigm to account for practices that have traditionally taken place. This would indicate that teachers also do not feel threatened by multimodal literacy itself--instead, the threat stems from teachers' fears of a shift in classroom power proffered by the new "anarchic" form of literacy. Technological literacy, presented as a tool to further traditional multimodal classroom practices, could not therefore inspire the same uneasiness. In their study of preservice teachers' uses of technology, Hagood et al. (2004) concluded that the best way to overcome the fear of technology is to consider it part of any other daily activity. None of the students studied by Hagood et al. (2004) possessed the same fear of technology as their teachers, simply because it is ubiquitous in the adolescents' lives: "Television, music videos, movies, the Internet, email, instant messaging, online chats, streaming video, and computer-generated games, for example, entail literacies that permeate the lives of today's Millennial youth, affecting the information they encounter and the texts they read" (p. 70). Therefore, if teachers' fears of technology are to be eased, teachers must be introduced to technology that can be easily incorporated into their out-of-classroom lives, that will not challenge their traditional classroom practices.

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title | introduction | section one | section two | section three | conclusion and limitations | references