Module 2, Topic 1 – Viewing Multimodal Texts

What makes a mulitmodal story successful?

Multimodal stories are made up of a combination linguistic, visual, audio, spacial and gestural devices to represent and communicate meaning. Inanimate Alice is an effective example of how these different devices interact to create a digital text. I showed my class Inanimate Alice using the SmartBoard; I paid particular attention to whether or not my students seemed engaged in the text –  I noticed that their level of engagement was quite high. They found the story quite interesting although some did struggle with the progression of the story in terms of understanding the conventions of digital storytelling (e.g. having to click on the arrows to move to the next ‘page’ in the story). Many of my students commented that it was an interesting way of presenting a story and it was made more real because the viewer was expected to interact with the story (e.g. catching the wildflowers as Alice’s mum drives the car). My students were so curious about this type of storytelling some actually remarked that they would like to create their own.


Module 1, Topic 3 – Affordances of virtual worlds


“Changing cultures encourage changing pedagogies and the digital humanities (especially as taught in Second Life) are transforming our discipline and our profession”.

Young readers today are desirous of highly graphic, anime-inspired texts with sound and action—not the kind of action found in an adventure story, but the kind found on the Wii or World of Warcraft. Students today are most deeply engaged when their senses are stimulated visually and physically (Nicosia, 2008)

 Digital worlds are used as platforms to teach the content, skills and dispositions of the discipline of English.

   Imagination – the avatars and the virtual community spaces that can be created in Second Life help users to experience things (such as novels and plays – e.g. Macbeth) from a different perspective

Ÿ  Avatars – users can take on a character (avatar) to represent themselves in the virtual world. Students also become immersed in the classroom activities and find that they are empowered by the manipulation of their avatars. The user can choose to project an aspect of his or her personality that he or she wishes to develop, or to suppress. The level of anonymity provided by inhabiting an avatar may facilitate the progress of social skills that might otherwise be hampered by face-to-face experiences. Shyness and social anxiety may be somewhat alleviated by the use of an avatar

Ÿ  Role play – inhabiting an avatar may be an invitation to role-play or to take on a new personality

Ÿ  Exploration – “when students enter Second Life, they manipulate and embody an avatar, explore new environs, make new acquaintances, learn new content, acquire new skills, share their knowledge, gain agency and do so while having fun” (Nicosia, 2008)

Ÿ  Interaction – They become participant-observers and see themselves in their avatars as they are engaged in conversation

Ÿ  Community – Second Life can be used to foster collaboration and allow students to participate in a virtual learning community

Ÿ  Space to play – the online 3D virtual world of Second Life is similar to a multiplayer game. It provides “an immersive space, where users can meet play and interact. It allows residents to create and build their own environments” (‘Virtually Creative’ Presentation to the Australian National Library’s Innovative Ideas Forum 2009)

Exploring the virtual Sistine Chapel

Having recently visited the Sistine Chapel on our honeymoon it was amazing to see it created in Second Life. This is a good example of how Second Life could be used to teach students about art history and aspects of Christianity.

Virtual Macbeth is another good example of how a virtual space can encourage students to think more deeply about issues and themes in the play from a different perspective. By combining the visual element with the ability to physically move through Macbeth’s headspace provides a unique view of what happens in the play.

New Literacies

New Literacies (digital literacies): online, messaging, sms, phones and computers. New Literacies combine letters, symbols, colours, sounds and graphics to extend language and the ways we communicate.

These diverse new literacies are often built around mobilizing information creation and exchange for relatedness purposes. Examples include: chat, IM, multiplayer online gaming of all kinds from role playing to first person shooter, blogging and photosharing.

Mobile Phones and SMS

Text messaging allows people to maintain social connections and social identity. Mobile phones are often a reflection of the individual. People can download their favourite tunes as phone ring tones, pictures or photos are used as wallpapers. Photos are stored, sent and shared amongst peers.


Blog (short for web log) is an online personal journal or diary. Blogs are usually maintained by an individual with regular entries of commentary, descriptions of events, or other material such as graphics or video.


Wikis are web pages designed to allow anyone who accesses the pages to modify or contribute to existing wiki pages. Wikipedia is a well-known wiki, it is an free online encyclopaedia. However, as it is easy for anyone to modify the content of it’s pages its reliability can be questionable.

Instant Messages (IMs)

Instant Messaging is a way of sending text virtually instantaneously from one computer to another. It is also referred to as ‘online chat’. Facebook and MSN Messenger are examples of instant messaging services.

Short Message Service (SMS)

A way of text communicating, usually through a mobile phone.

Playstation3 (PS3)

The video game console from Sony… The major features of the console include its multimedia capabilities for movies, TV, games and music. The main feature that distinguishes the Playstation 3 from previous games consoles is the ability to access online gaming community throough games such as Call of Duty and Gran Turismo; users can play against friends, strangers or can play co-op (playing on the same team against other people).

Apps (Application software)

Apps are computer software designed to help the user to perform specific tasks. There are applications that perform all sorts of tasks, examples are graphics software and media players. There are applications for accounting, office tools, lifestyle apps (e.g. Photo Sync – allows you to transfer multiple photos quickly and easily via the wireless network), entertainment apps, productivity apps (e.g. Doc Squared – this app acts as a miniature word-processing program, creating .Doc or .Docx files that can be read in Microsoft Word later. Users can also change font sizes, add indents or pictures, create numbered lists and then email the created document).

Some Popular Social Networking Websites, MySpace, Facebook and Flickr

Facebook is a social networking site where users can create a personal profile. They can add other users as friends and exchange private or public messages, including automatic notifications when they update their profile. Users can also join common interest groups (such as ‘like’-ing music bands), organised by workplace, school, college. Facebook users can post photos, links to videos and websites.

The social network site allows anyone who declares themselves to be at least 13 years old to become a registered user of the website (this is problematic as there is not failsafe way of preventing teens under the age of 13 from creating an account by simply declaring themselves to be older than they really are).

The privacy settings for users allow them to restrict or open up their profile etc. for ‘only friends’ or ‘everyone’; to view.

 Flickr is a popular website for users to share personal photographs. The service is also widely used by bloggers to host images that they embed in blogs and social media.

I agree with Jenkins (2005) comment that “children need a safe space within which they can master the skills they need as citizens and consumers, as they learn to parse through messages from self-interested parties and separate fact from falsehood as they begin to experiment with new forms of creative expression and community participation” (p. 16). Currently schools block access to social networking sites (such as Facebook and MySpace) as well as sites like YouTube. Jenkins (2005) suggests that the inability of schools system’s to close the participation gap has negative consequences for everyone involved:

On the one hand, those youth who are most advanced in media literacies are often stripped of their technologies and robbed of their best techniques for learning in an effort to ensure a uniform experience for all in the classroom.

On the other hand, many youth who have had no exposure to these new kinds of participatory cultures outside school find themselves struggling to keep up with their peers.

What is not discussed here is the negative impact that personal comments made on social networking sites can have on relationships in the real world

Their writing is much more open to the public and can have more far-reaching consequences. The young people are creating new modes of expression that are poorly understood by adults, and as a result they receive little to no guidance or supervision. Young people are discovering that information they put online to share with their friends can bring unwelcome attention from strangers.

In casual settings, there is rarely a body to police what information is shared in online communities. It is left to young people (teens) to decide what they should or should not post about themselves or their friends on social networking websites. “Different online communities have their own norms about what information should remain within the group and what can be circulated more broadly, and many sites depend on self-disclosure to police whether the participants are children or adults” (Jenkins, 2005, p. 16); many young people seem willing to lie to access those communities. For example, there is an age restriction on Facebook, however users are easily able to navigate around this to become part of the community by lying about their age.

Michael Schrage (cited in Lankshear & Knobel, 2006) argued that the greatest impact that the internet and other digital technologies “have had and will continue to have, is on relationships between people and between organisations” (Lankshear & Knobel, 2006, p. 12).

What is important to my students about being ‘on Facebook’ (being part of the Facebook community) is largely about how many ‘friends’ you have; the more friends you have the better off you are even if those friends are acquaintances or strangers. Using the site allows them to keep up with the ‘goss’ and stay connected to their friends.

 I believe it is crucial for teachers to incorporate these new literacies into classroom practice across a range of subject areas in order to engage students who may be otherwise disengaged for whatever reason (be it boredom or low literacy skills) and to develop students skills as critical thinkers, rather than – as Lankshear & Knobel (2006) term it, mere consumers of these innovations.

Topic 1: Growing Up Digital

Digital technologies that are socially interactive have the capacity to broaden social interaction between youth. Many students participate in online communities and are knowledgeable about new literacies, often to the detriment of traditional literacies. For example, text messaging – ‘texting’ is an inexpensive and instant way for students to communicate with their friends to maintain social interaction. Through conversations with my students I have found that the low cost of mobile phones and the ability to text their mates for nothing (0 cent or ‘free texts’) has lead to increased usage. Many mobile phone network providers offer post- and pre-paid mobile phone plans that include data allowance so access to social networking sites is ‘free’ and easy. Telstra, for example, provides their Tribe application, which allows unmetered access to Facebook, Twitter and MySpace. In their article ‘Instant Messaging, Text Messaging, and Adolescent Social Networks’ Bryant, Sanders-Jackson & Smallwood (2006) state that “many youth consciously use the Internet and SITs [Socially Interactive Technologies] to influence their peer networks… [In other words] online communication promotes social support and expanded social interaction [between youth]” (p. 577). Many, maybe even most, of my students are ‘permanently attached’ to their mobile phones – their mobile phones are literally a lifeline that allows them to instantly connect with people (possibly to the detriment of other forms of communication such as a verbal conversation).

New media literacies are valuable, but they cannot be used effectively if the individual does not have the ability to read (gain understanding and meaning from texts) and write. Researchers Black (2005) and Henry Jenkins (2006a) (cited in Bennett, 2009) argued that “the new digital cultures provide support systems to help youth improve their core competencies as readers and writers. They may provide opportunities, for example, through blogs or live journals, for young people to receive feedback on their writing and to gain experience in communicating with a larger public, experiences that might once have been restricted to student journalists. Even traditional literacies must change to reflect the media change taking place. Youth must expand their required competencies, not push aside old skills to make room for the new” (p. 19).

 There are several issues relating to having students in classrooms who have grown up digitally: interactions between teens and people soliciting sexual behaviour, exposure to unwanted sexual material (for example, through obscene spam) and increased nonsexual harassment (for example, through cyber bullying from peers).

These online networks can affect the offline social and friendship networks in which youth are immersed. Digital technologies can also have the capacity to foster antisocial behaviour.

Some youth consciously choose not to participate in online communities, these youth are either ‘conscientious objectors’ (individuals who are politically minded) or ‘disenfranchised teens’ (those teens who do not have Internet access, whose parents ban them from participation and those teens who access the Internet through school and other public venues where social networking sites are banned).

A worrying trend (described by Cassell and Cramer, 2008) may also be that as students become more technologically minded and increase their participation in online communities that face-to-face social contacts will become increasingly brief and impersonal. As well as this there are concerns about privacy – students (children) taking risks by putting private information about themselves ‘out there’ on the WWW (World Wide Web) for anyone to view.

“As youth negotiate group structures and their own behaviour according to the social conditions, they are likely to explore and test out adult scenarios. Youth may be more daring in groups and they also may be more self-regulated” (Cassell and Cramer, 2008, p. 58).


Bennett, W.L. (2009). Changing citizenship in the digital age. in W. Lance Bennett (ed.), Civic life online: learning how digital media can engage youth. Cambridge: MIT Press/MacArthur Foundation. pp. 1-24. Available:

Bryant, J., Sanders-Jackson, A. & Smallwood, A. 2006. IMing, Text Messaging, and Adolescent Social Networks. Journal of Mediated-Computer Communication, 11, 2, pp. 577–592. Available:

 Cassell, J. and Cramer, M. (2008). High tech or high risk: moral panics about girls online. in Tara McPherson (ed.), Digital youth, innovation and the unexpected. Cambridge:MIT Press/MacArthur Foundation. pp. 53-76. Available:

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