Multimodal literacy is a term that originates in social semiotics, and refers to the study of language that combines two or more modes of meaning. The related term, multimodality, refers to the constitution of multiple modes in semiosis or meaning making. Modes are defined differently across schools of thought, and the classification of modes is somewhat contested. However, from a social semiotic approach, modes are the socially and culturally shaped resources or semiotic structure for making meaning. Specific examples of modes from a social semiotic perspective include speech, gesture, written language, music, mathematical notation, drawings, photographic images, or moving digital images. Language and literacy practices have always been multimodal, because communication requires attending to diverse kinds of meanings, whether of spoken or written words, visual images, gestures, posture, movement, sound, or silence. Yet, undeniably, the affordances of people-driven digital media and textual production have given rise to an exponential increase in the circulation of multimodal texts in networked digital environments. Multimodal text production has become a central part of everyday life for many people throughout the life course, and across cultures and societies. This has been enabled by the ease of producing and sharing digital images, music, video games, apps, and other digital media via the Internet and mobile technologies. The increasing significance of multimodal literacy for communication has led to a growing body of research and theory to address the differing potentials of modes and their intermodality for making meaning. The study of multimodal literacy learning in schools and society is an emergent field of research, which begins with the important recognition that reading and writing are rarely practiced as discrete skills, but are intimately connected to the use of multimodal texts, often in digital contexts of use. The implications of multimodal literacy for pedagogy, curriculum, and assessment in education is an expanding field of multimodal research. In addition, there is a growing attention to multimodal literacy practices that are practiced in informal social contexts, from early childhood to adolescence and adulthood, such as in homes, recreational sites, communities, and workplaces.
Kathy A. Mills and Len Unsworth
Visual literacy was originally defined as a set of visual competencies or cognitive skills and strategies one needs to make sense of visual images. These visual competencies were seen as universal cognitive abilities that were used for understanding visual images regardless of the contexts of production, reception, and dissemination. More contemporary definitions suggest visual literacy is a contextualized, social practice as much as an individualized, cognitively based set of competencies. Visual literacy is more aptly defined as a process of generating meanings in transaction with multimodal ensembles that include written text, visual images, and design elements from a variety of perspectives to meet the requirements of particular social contexts. Theories of visual literacy and associated research and pedagogy draw from a wide range of disciplines including art history, semiotics, media and cultural studies, communication studies, visual ethnography and anthropology, social semiotics, new literacies studies, cognitive psychology, and critical theory. Understanding the various theories, research methodologies, and pedagogical approaches to visual literacy requires an investigation into how the various paradigm shifts that have occurred in the social sciences have affected this field of study. Cognitive, linguistic, sociocultural, multimodal, and postmodern “turns” in the social sciences each bring different theories, perspectives, and approaches to the field of visual literacy. Visual literacy now incorporates sociocultural, semiotic, critical, and multimodal perspectives to understand the meaning potential of the visual and verbal ensembles encountered in social environments.
Digital Culture and Qualitative Methodologies in Education
From a digital culture perspective, this article has as main objective to assess two contemporary qualitative research methods in the field of education with distinct theoretical orientations: the cartographic method as a way of tracing trajectories in research-intervention with a theoretical basis in the biology of knowledge, enactive cognition and inventive cognition; and the cartographic method as a means of identifying and mapping the controversies linked to the different associations between human and non-human actors with a theoretical basis in actor-network theory (ANT). With their own specificities, both methods have been fruitful in the development of qualitative research in the field of education, in the context of digital culture, and more recently, in the hybrid culture of atopic habitation, mainly because they also relate to equally consistent theories and aspects of human cognition, making it possible to detect traces and clues in the fluid associations between actors enhanced by different digital technologies (DT), including data mining and learning analytics. From the Brazilian perspective on the topic, this article approaches the experience of the cartographic method of research intervention as well as the cartography of controversies as tools for developing qualitative research in education. These different forms of the cartographic method have inspired the construction of didactic-pedagogical experiences based on theoretical approaches linked to cognition, producing inventive methodologies and interventionist pedagogical practices. These methodologies and practices, which will be discussed at length in this article, have been developed and validated by the Research Group in Digital Education at Unisinos University at different levels and in varied educational settings.
Teaching Writing in the Digital Era
In the digital era, written communication for children and youth is changing. As texts and media include complex intersections of print, image, sound, and other modalities, the ways in which writing is conceived is shifting. The evolution and impact of digital technologies follow a long history of invention, innovation, and change in written communication, with critiques of writing and communication technologies present in both historical and contemporary contexts. A new development in contemporary digital culture is the significant and widespread participation of children and youth in digital media and communication due to the ubiquity, affordances, and appeal of mobile digital devices. In the history of writing instruction, pedagogical approaches and perspectives have continued to evolve, with the teaching of writing at times positioned as subordinate to the teaching of reading, a pattern that has repeated into the digital era in which an emphasis on digital writing production and text creation has been similarly less of a focus than receptive consumption of media. Shifts in digital practice and the emergence of new devices for writing present both challenges and opportunities for the teaching of writing and the creation of texts in schools, with issues of digital resource provision and access to technology presenting hurdles for some teachers. Teacher awareness of the digital worlds, practices, and “funds of knowledge” that students are bringing to the writing classroom is vital to reimagining the writing classroom within contemporary digital culture. In the 21st century, writing instruction needs to be inclusive of the operational demands of writing as well as sociocultural and critical requirements, in addition to responding to fluid technoliteracy contexts and consideration of how “writing” itself is changing.
Donna E. Alvermann and William Terrell Wright
Naming is a curious practice. It entails rudiments, now mostly taken for granted, that serve to categorize everyday literacy practices across fields as diverse as cultural anthropology and the management of multiple Git profiles. As a term unto itself, adolescent literacies is not immune to the vagaries of naming. In fact, it serves as an excellent example of how commonly named concepts in education embed the field’s histories, debates, pedagogies, and policies writ large. Conceptualizing literacy in its plural form raised eyebrows among academics, researchers, practitioners, publishers, and indexers concerned with the noun–verb agreement in phrases such as “adolescent literacies is a subfield” of adolescence. For some, the very notion of literacy extending beyond reading and writing is still debatable. With each passing day, however, it becomes noticeably more evident that multimodal forms of communication—images, sounds, bodily performances, to name but a few ways of expressing oneself—are competing quite well in the marketplace of ideas that flow globally with or without a linguistic component attached to them. Aside from the naming process and its attendant political overtones, the practice of treating youth between roughly the ages of 12 and 17 as a monolithic group has been common in the United States. Largely traceable to a time in which developmental psychology dominated the field of literacy instruction (in the early to late 20th century), designating youth as adolescents equated to viewing them as some a normative group devoid of racial, class, gender, and any number of other identity markers. Even with the sociocultural turn in early 21st century and its abundance of studies reifying the socially constructed nature of adolescents, the term persists. Its adhesive-like attraction to literacies, however, may be weakening in light of research that points to youth who are agentic and dynamic game changers when it comes to participating in a world grown more attuned to the need for collaboration based not on hierarchical standing but instead on working through commonplace tensions too complex for any one solution.
Digital Literacies in Early Childhood
Fiona Scott and Jackie Marsh
The study of digital literacies in early childhood (0–8 years) is an emergent and fast-growing area of scholarship. Young children’s communicative practices are today more complex and diverse in scope than ever before, encompassing both “traditional” reading and writing and a growing range of “new” communicative competencies across multiple digital media contexts. Scholars are increasingly interested in children’s literacy practices outside traditional print-based texts, and the theory of multimodality helps them to understand children’s communicative practices in relation to a range of modes, including those present in digital technology. At the same time, the boundaries between what constitutes “digital” and “traditional” literacies are themselves blurred. Multiple academic disciplines have contributed to our understanding of children’s digital literacy practices. Numerous definitions for digital literacy or literacies exist, and scholars have proposed a range of theoretical approaches to the topic. Bill Green’s “3D model” of literacy provides a useful starting point for understanding the different dimensions of children’s digital literacy: operational, cultural, and critical. It is acknowledged that children’s digital literacy practices are specific to particular social and cultural contexts. In particular, scholars have identified important differences between accepted literacy practices in schools and early years’ settings (“school literacies”) and children’s literacy practices in a socioculturally diverse range of home settings (“home literacies”). A growing field of research is explicitly concerned with the unique skills developed at home, as children learn to produce and interpret a range of “new” digital and multimodal texts. At the same time, numerous scholars have suggested that there is still a general lack of progress with regard to early years’ practitioners’ use of technology in the curriculum. Gaps and absences in knowledge still exist, and it will be important for scholars over the coming years to continue research into young children’s digital literacy practices, both in homes and communities and across early years’ settings.