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Semiotics and new literacies

December 1st, 2009 by Graham Attwell

I was fascinated by a presentation by Elizabetta Adami on issues on literacy in the contemporary semiotic landscape at the workshop on ‘Technology Enhanced Learning in the context of technological, societal and cultural transformation’ at the Alpine Rendezvous at Garmisch Partenkirchen.

Here are my live blogging notes on her presentation. Her slides can be found here and their is a longer discussion around the workshop on the workshop Cloudworks site.

Part 1

“L.iteracy has extended meaning – but only in English! Literacy as fruit of power relationships. Literacy same meanings as competence in Italian.

Confused and diverse semiotic practices used for communication in different countries. Some practices become institutionalised if approved by elite and then become genres with conventions.

Descriptions are important in a genre as proscribed and prescribed practices – this is what is taught in schools as literacies e.g. CVs, academic articles, newspaper articles but also dance, architecture etc. Vertical power relationships – texts policed by limited number contributors or elite. Standards change but always is a standard. Literacy is to know the established conventions. schools teach the norms of a society.

Power relations in new media more horizontal – developing wide variety of types of text which do not have established conventions – eg podcasts, text.

Shift from competence to given norms to creative ad hoc agency.

If schools are to teach new literacies what norms can they teach to and what generalisations are possible? If was to be possible is it desirable to keep cycle of institutionalisation going?”

Part 2

“More from Elizabetta – media have affordances for new shared social practices. Many devices enable us to produce great variety multi modal artefacts and distribute in social spaces – all share copy and past – ability to select, represent and  recontextualise. Changes in mechanism for representation have led to changes in mechanisms for communication. Leading to individualised participation in networks / chains of semiosis according to participants wishes. But shared understanding becomes less important than usability. Leads to scattering of coherence patterns. Cooperating becomes less important than using according to ones interest. Browsing is not coherent – but related to our interests in links we encounter whilst browsing.

Collecetd (and often incoherent) artefacts define online identity.

Questions – moving from coherence in contents to forms in contexts. Does this lead to a lack of wholeness. What capabilities are developed most and least. Is coherence still useful and where is it needed?

1. What is gained and what is lost?

2. Where are we headed to?

– do we teach the most required abilities

– or do we teach the lost-in-transition abilities

3. Is the description – pre/proscription cycle avoidable”

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