Making New Media

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Moving Image Literacy, Software & Editing

Above as elsewhere there is evidence of a certain dissatisfaction with “the literacy metaphor” (Buckingham, 2007:147) given the primacy of print within which it is enshrined, lending credence to the BFI’s campaign to “reframe literacy” in the curriculum (Reid et al, 2006) and subsequently to “move literacy on” (Marsh & Bearne, 2008). The premise is that:

“Literacy is the repertoire of knowledge, understanding and skills that enables us all to participate in social, cultural and political life … this repertoire has to include the ability to ‘read’ and ‘write’ in media other than print: in moving images and audio, and in the hypertext structures of the digital world.” (Reid et al, 2006)

The campaign largely concerned itself with the cultural and critical benefits of interpreting the language of film and the processes of its material production. What may now appear lacking academically in the move towards a more rounded moving image literacy paradigm is an examination of the design of digital editing software and the extent to which editorial choices are alternately enabled and/or constrained by it. In short, we ought to be considering the social implications of media texts and practices determined, perhaps foreshortened, by a pick-n-mix, off-the-shelf, database aesthetic conceived by groups of elite entrepreneurial technicians, distinctly non-neutral in their motivations.

Furstenau and MacKenzie comment on how software iconography and rubric consistently refer back to professional film industry discourse sustaining the style and received wisdom of professional editing. However, references to the “promise of … makeability … (and) access to the movie-dream” (2009, 7-8, my italics) suggest that amateur efforts to imitate will necessarily be compromised and always deferred. These commentators claim that the diversification and expansion of “cinematic life” within popular culture should promulgate the Cultural Studies perspective of “occasionality … the specific contours of the contexts within which cinematic texts circulate” (ibid, 11) as well as the extent to which amateurs, that is young people, are positioned as “subjects” and consumers of new media (ibid, 12).

The development of new media literacy is fraught in a number of ways: with the fetishisation of technology and the text, with the imperatives of the commercial sphere, with rigid subject-bound curriculum structures and the outmoded preconceptions of some English and media teachers “blind to the extra-linguistic” (2009:89). Burn argues that they have inherited “a set of beliefs that representations of the world proceed organically from their referents” (2009:18), hence the devaluing of technologically mediated production and of texts with algorithmic origins.  Drawing on Lev Manovich, Burn asserts that there need not be such a destabilizing “rupture” (2009:20) in the media education camp, reminding us of historical continuities with older representational forms and processes and of the flow of “common semiotic principles” (2009:89).

Rhetoric, Second Orality & The Gutenberg Parenthesis

Gutenberg Printing Press

Gutenberg Printing Press

Burn further invokes Green’s 1995 observation with reference to the resurgence of the rhetorical, an approach that might be used as a means of balancing out prevailing reading modes of “suspicion” for media texts and “appreciation” for literary texts (Burn, 2009:9). Again looking for conceptual and interdisciplinary relations and a more holistic understanding of textual constitution, Burn neatly wraps Aristotelian rhetorical precepts around “how a text makes a truth claim, and what a reader makes of this” (Burn, 2009: 10); with consideration given to performance credibility (ethos/production), message integrity (logos/text) and listener interpretation (pathos/audience) such that:

“… orality and oracy may often be better metaphors for the communicative processes of new media than literacy” (Burn, 2009: 10)

This proposal recalls the historical continuities inherent in Walter Ong’s notion of “second orality” (1982), that is, the media text comprises elements of the pre-Gutenberg oral tradition which is now informed by contemporary self-conscious reliance on the written word.

Tom Pettitt extends the historical perspective and perceives the period from the medieval inception of moveable type up until the postmodern digital age as something of an anomaly –  “The Gutenberg Parenthesis” (Pettitt, MIT Communications Forum, 2010) – to the extent that oralcy, through the agency of the internet and digitization, is now re-asserting itself as the predominant communicative medium. Texts once more share the impermanence and unprotected status of the manuscript. Interestingly, Pettitt even suggests that the beginning of ‘the parenthetical (print) period’ coincides with increased levels of social and cultural circumscription and containment: from the nature of books themselves, to gardens, to underwear, to bodily etiquette and access to thought and language.

Social Semiotics & Multimodality

Like Jenkins, Loveless’ stance is largely celebratory of the affordances of ICTs in schools, emphasising process over more goal-oriented rhetorics associated with the pro-economic or Romantic text reification. Drawing on her work with Fisher & Higgins (2006) Loveless proposes certain “clusters of purposeful activities” (2007:7) for learning with digital media, many aspects of which chime with Burn’s synthesised conceptual framework.

Loveless’ four clusters seem to mirror Kress and van Leeuwen’s “schema of semiotic strata” (Burn 2009: 7) indicated below (IN CAPITALS), with Burn’s INTERPRETATION layer added to the cycle. The model also recalls Buckingham’s condensed ‘Circuit of Culture’: production (1 & 2) > text (2) > consumption (3 & 4). All the activity clusters are represented in my case studies, however, highlighted in red are aspects which appear most salient to my account:

1. Knowledge building

  • Adapting & developing ideas
  • Modelling
  • Representing understanding in dynamic & multimodal ways (a)

2. Distributed Cognition

  • Accessing resources
  • Finding things out
  • Writing, composing & presenting with mediating artifacts and tools (b)

3. Community & Communication

  • Exchanging & sharing communication (c)
  • Extending the context of activity
  • Extending the participating community at local and global levels

4. Engagement

  • Exploring & playing (d)
  • Acknowledging risk & uncertainty
  • Working with different dimensions of interactivity
  • Responding to immediacy
Clusters of purposeful activities for learning with digital technologies (Fisher et al 2006) meshed with Kress and van Leeuwen’s “schema of semiotic strata” & Burn’s adaptation

a) Representing understanding in dynamic & multimodal ways – the monomodal written word is one way of demonstrating knowledge, by contrast the fluid, provisional and plastic nature of multimodal text-making, for example digital film production or animation, increases opportunities for peer-to-peer conferring and immediate feedback. It is written into ‘digital DNA’ for data to be ‘always on beta’, “always a set of instructions … waiting to be rewritten” (Burn 2009:65); the skill is to develop the confidence to go with the gut and intuit when to stop and deliver the audiovisual oeuvre. There are those who derive comfort from the fixity of finished thought or intervention-free print and those who respond more keenly to open-ended, mutable modes of self-expression, that is, to the “electronic word” (Lanham, 1993) in its widest sense.

b) Writing, composing & presenting with mediating artifacts and toolsthese are three cognitional skills familiar to traditional literacy, however, the capacity to ‘write’ multimodally, make infinitely editable compositions, present to innumerable numbers and immerse oneself in “digital bricolage” (Burn 2009:78) are core 21st century skills to which all children have a right. The challenge is for educators to achieve consensus on disseminating scales of semiotic and multimodal progression and assessment – such as the UKLA’s “Beyond Words” (2010) – according more value to the meaning-making properties of voice, gesture, dress, visual design, music, sound and movement and their integrated articulation, in short to the “kineikonic mode” (Burn & Parker, 2003).

c) Exchanging & sharing communicationthe extent to which an audience is ever passive is a moot point but it becomes less relevant in a “networked public” (d. boyd 2008) where dialogic media exchange is the norm. Dialogue is no longer confined to the spoken, it is the defining asset of social media, even if it is only a potential audience with whom one is motivated to share, such as within the blogosphere. For some groups, digital interactivity creates an irresistible arena for the pleasurable rehearsal and spectacle of ‘self-performance’ or ‘self-filtering’.  This ubiquitous form of digital identity play is succinctly expressed in John Potter’s notion of “Curating the Self” (2009)

d) Exploring & Playing – in the traditional school context, time for these is often sacrificed in the name of top-down, easily assessed,  goal-oriented activity informed by a tick-box mentality. Burn problematises this way of working suggesting that a more hands-off teacher approach that scaffolds, values pleasure, uncertainty and aesthetic experimentation, allowing it to flow within set constraints, will have pay-offs in terms of intellectual engagement, enriched social identity, being primed for risk-taking and going beyond one’s comfort zone.

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