[technology and improving literacy]

A topic I'm always interested in and am examining during my research fellowship at the IOCT and through pedagogical work on multimodal story Inanimate Alice. With this in mind, the recent article by James Paul Gee and Michael H. Levine on "Innovation Strategies for Learning in a Global Age" seems particularly relevant.

As Katie Ash notes, the article by Gee and Levine "using new, innovative technology can help students who are struggling with language to increase their vocabulary and form associations between what they're learning with the real world." Also, being au fait with 21st century technology means that the digital divide is closing and students won't be left out of the "global economy."

Some key points:

  • According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, most low-income children in this country [U.S.A.] are below grade level in reading by 4th grade [known as the fourth-grade slump]
  • What gives students a good head start toward comprehension is a wide-ranging, sturdy vocabulary of complex words in the early years, before the age of 5
  • Video games, simulations, modeling tools, hand-held devices, and media production tools can allow students to see how complex language and other symbol systems attach to the world
  • Mastery of digital media for the production of knowledge constitutes a new family of “digital literacies,” since such media, like print before them, are tools for the production of meaning
  • Digital media offer other advantages. They naturally elicit problem-solving behavior and attitudes in students, and have the potential to create different modes of assessment
  • [Digital media] can also be used to track how learners learn, moment by moment, allowing constant feedback based on our knowledge of various trajectories of learning.
Read the entire article here.


[mirror neurons and literacy]

Proof that humans are "wired" to connect with others:

image of brain with mirror neurons highlighted "Scientists have recently been decoding how "mirror neurons" in our brains work. They've realized humans are wired to connect with others, to live vicariously through others' experiences, in much stronger ways than we once thought. The brain doesn't differentiate much between watching someone do something, and doing it yourself - which is why there are so many obsessed sports fans in the world. Most important for teachers, these mirror neurons are also a key to how we learn. Just watching someone read a book teaches us more than we ever realized about the reading process. And we use our emotions to readily connect those experiences to other related tasks (either physically or emotionally). I will never be a gymnast (beyond the contortions I go through to get through airport security screening). But I can connect to the feelings of almost, not quite reaching a goal again and again, and finally succeeding. What teacher hasn't experienced weeks or months of helping a struggling student almost, but
not quite, grasp a concept? It makes those breakthrough moments all the more sweet.

Mirror neurons are also the reason modeling in classrooms is so essential. When students see the strategies teachers use to tackle difficult texts, no matter the genre, their brains don't differentiate between their experiences and ours. The teacher's strategies become part of the mix that fires up whenever a student approaches a new text. Likewise, all those whole-class activities to build community around reading and writing early in the year become ingredients in the chemical soup in our students' brains as they read and write on their own. The consequences of broken mirror neurons can also be dire, as any teacher who has worked with an autistic child knows.

What about mirror neurons in staff settings? Simply put, our moms were right - we shouldn't hang out with the wrong crowd, and we need to choose our role models carefully. Mirror neurons imitate and absorb what they see around us whether we like what we're seeing or not. If you're surrounded by negative, unhappy people, it's human nature that you're going to absorb that outlook over time. Sometimes toxic environments or people can't be avoided, but it's important to note when it comes to "emotional contagions," negative environments have more powerful effects than positive ones. If you have a colleague or two who are always resentful or angry, you owe it to yourself and your students to limit your time with them. If you have to spend time with them, even decreasing eye contact or verbal interactions can help limit what your brain's mirror neurons pick up."

Read more here.


[chris joseph and NRG]

a cyclist enjoying the unfolding of the digital narrativeToday Chris Joseph, digital writer in residence at the IOCT presented his latest project, NRG. A culmination of his two years at the IOCT resulted in an impressive hybrid piece of electronic art that highlights issues pertaining to digital literacy, digital art, art reception, performance, narrative, multimodality, interaction, performance and the environment. Chris is well known for his work on multimodal digital fiction Inanimate Alice (with Kate Pullinger) and his work has frequently been nominated for a variety of prizes. Some examples:


  • Finalist (Interactive productions category), Learning on Screen Awards 2008, British Universities Film & Video Council, UK

  • 2007:
  • Selected Finalist, 2008 CULTURAS Intercultural Dialogue Awards, Madrid, Spain [Alicia Inanimada, Episodio 1: China]

  • Selected Finalist, 8th Seoul International Film Festival, Seoul, Korea [The Surveys]

  • IBM New Media Prize, 20th Stuttgarter Filmwinter, Stuttgart, Germany [Inanimate Alice, Episode 1: China]

  • Selected Works, 20th Stuttgarter Filmwinter, Stuttgart, Germany [Inanimate Alice, Episode 1: China and Inanimate Alice, Episode 2: Italy]

  • Today Chris presented NRG at the IOCT. This work is a combination of bicycle, human power, narrative, multimodality and a laptop. Chris notes that he was initially very interested in raising the question of sustainability in electronic art, a question seemingly often overlooked. Spurred on by the success of The Magnificent Revolutionary Cycling Cinema, Chris attempted his own pedal-powered system. Players or readers or interactors must cycle to generate the story which appears on a laptop hooked up to the bike. As Chris says:
    It's 2010 and you have been appointed to lead the new World Energy Directorate, with the powProfessor Sue Thomas introducing Chris Josepher to control international spending and research on energy sources and production. Your decisions will influence the life of billions of humans, countless species and the Earth as a whole. How will your choices change all our lives during the planet's next forty years of industrial development?

    Part environmental game, part multimedia artwork, NRG (short for En-er-gy) is self-sustaining, people-powered installation. No previous knowledge about energy issues is assumed or required, but NRG is intended to stimulate thought and discussion about energy consumption, its links to global warming and the need for the development of lifestyle alternatives.


    Over the past fifty years electronic art has grown to become an established genre, yet energy – specifically the power required to view a work, as well as create it - is rarely acknowledged. But a electronic writers, artists and musicians must confront the fact that natural resources (converted to electricity) are continually required in order for the work to be experienced by both physical and virtual audiences. So in responding to the IOCT - an institution at the forefront of electronic creation - it seemed natural that my residency work should consider energy, both as a narrative theme and in the practical realisation of the piece.

    NRG resides on a laptop that is not connected to the mains, but instead requires power to be periodically supplied by its ‘players’ through a bicycle generator. To play, simply select which energy sources the world should invest in, choosing as few or as many as you wish. Just as in the real world, the choices made will have significant impacts upon energy supply and use, population, carbon dioxide levels and other planet-wide measurements over the next five decades.

    Perhaps the reading/kind of performance required to understand this work is a good example of transliteracy and of transdisciplinarity - various modes and disciplines coming together.

    Congratulations Chris and best of luck!


    [how to write fiction]

    This morning's Guardian has arrived. After briefly skimming the front page and a lengthy read of the Money section (100 questions about the current *financial* climate answered!) I happily found Kate Pullinger's tutorial on "How to Write Fiction." Working with Sue Thomas, Kate runs DMU's Online Masters in Creative Writing and New Media (and is author of Inanimate Alice with Chris Joseph) and thus is the perfect person to write this user-friendly guide. I'm definitely going to memorise these tips including the suggestion to "turn off your word count."

    This guide book doesn't tell you where to buy your ideas: "Asda for chick-lite, perhaps, Waitrose for literary fiction," but it certainly includes loads of opportunities for laughter (not something I would expect from any guide). Kate tells us that writing is about "graft" rather than just a great ideas and that the act of writing is the important thing:

    "But really, the best way to start writing is to start writing. Get the words down onto the page. For many writers the most productive technique is to push on, regardless of what crap they are spewing. Bad writing can be imprved upon, can be polished and cut and shaped and revices. A blank page is just that, and the only thing it is good for is driving you crazy."

    Besides the instructions concerning genre, character, setting etc and the wide reference to other writers, there is a checklist:

    1. Is the beginning too slow?
    2. Have I "killed my darlings"?
    3. Have I checked my grammar and punctuation?
    4. Have I laid out my dialogue properly?
    5. After my compelling beginning, amd I keeping my reader interested?
    6. Is it finished?

    If you don't have the Guardian hardcopy, each of the eight steps included in the guide are available as separate articles on the Guardian site.

    [postdoctoral research fellowships at the ioct]

    Two fantastic opportunities to work at the IOCT:

    Jobs at De Montfort University

    Postdoctoral Research Fellow (two posts)

    Institute of Creative Technologies (IOCT)

    Three years fixed term

    £29,138 - £31, 840 pa

    You will work on ‘DMU Creative', a project which aims to provide a commercial showcase for the best creative work in the East Midlands by establishing a quality threshold and an advanced content management system. This project is funded by the HEIF (Higher Education Innovation Fund), which is an HEFCE funding stream designed to encourage and facilitate knowledge transfer, collaboration and outreach, in support of the development of innovative goods, services and policies. The undertaking or possession of a PhD is essential.

    The two Research Fellows will work closely together to ensure a co-ordinated project. Responsibilities will include literature research, experimental work, software development, field trials, project documentation, seminar/workshop, technical/academic papers and laboratory support. The work will involve travelling within the UK.

    Post 1 (ref. 5062): You will, in the first instance, establish a record label and associated internet radio station to connect with a large number of SMEs and micro-businesses working in music production across the region. This will be followed by similar endeavours in other fields of creative production. You will be based in the Music, Technology and Innovation Research Centre, which is a partner of the IOCT.

    Post 2 (ref. 5063): You will undertake the creation of an advanced content management system that utilises broadband to bring the creative resources of the region together, to create a portal which promotes the regional creative works nationally and internationally, to establish by making them commercially available over a variety of connected devices, including TVs. You will be based in the Mechatronics Research Centre, which is also a partner of the IOCT.

    Please quote relevant reference number.

    Closing date: 7 October 2008.

    Application forms and further details are available from our website: www.jobs-dmu.co.uk.

    Alternatively telephone 0116 250 6433 (24 hour answerphone).

    Or write to:
    The Human Resources Team, De Montfort University, The Gateway, Leicester LE1 9BH.


    [transdisciplinarity and communication]

    A little while ago I tweeted that I was working on a transdisciplinarity check list (things to read, watch and listen to) as a way of mapping the field and setting the scene for a conference I'm going to run and a journal I'm going to start (no prob!). Christy Dena, transmodiologist extraordinaire, saw my tweet for help, tweeted back and wrote a blog entry with loads of links and information on transdisciplinarity. Interestingly:

    "there are (at least) two very different implementations of transdisciplinarity in the methodological realm: one that argues it should be about collaboration between academia & non-academia to address world-scale problems, and another that argues it is a conceptual approach that can be applied to anything, by an individual or group."

    I prefer the idea that connections can be made between any kind of group rather than making an initial separation between "academic" and "non-academic." I'll be following the Nicolescu and Dena school of thought.

    Have a look at Christy's post


    [ioct homework]

    As Research Fellow at the IOCT not only do I get awesome office supplies to *borrow* (wii, eee pc, aibo), but Andrew Hugill let me pilfer his newly ordered library (alphabetic and by genre thank you very much) in search of some classic print books to read for homework. I'm especially loving the lined and well-read copy of Sentimental Education. I'm also secretly hoping to find some funny doodles...check out the one Whitney found in her professor's book.

    [long live the experimental novel]

    Long live the experimental novel with what Suzi Feay declares in her report in Sunday's Independent. Strangely that's also when a rather one-sided view on digital literature appeared. Feay's report on "Who'll be the bestsellers of tomorrow?" makes some interesting predictions including more books on the subject of our failing environment and, wait for it...digital narratives. One example Feay turns to is Chris Meade's In Search of Lost Tim, a magical musical graphical digital fiction "which uses fictitious blogs (hosted at www.insearchoflosttim.net) and YouTube videos to tell the story of a blogger who is contacted by a boy who claims he lives in the 1960s and is communicating via his "Futurizer"). Young Tim is trying to contact his future self, the political activist and secret agent Lord Tim. It's a jeux d'esprit, but also, just possibly, the future of fiction."

    nb: note the allusion to Proust's À la recherche du temps perdu or...In Search of Lost Time

    A Synopsis: "On holiday Jennifer begins writing a personal blog to help her through a recent bereavement. Then she receives mysterious messages from a boy who claims to be communicating through time via his 'Futurizer'. Young Tim has lost contact with his future self, with whom he has been fighting crime across the centuries.

    In their 21st Century comic book world, Lord Tim and his glamorous Sidekick are under attack from the evil Mister B.
    Should Young Tim save his elder self by tackling Bailey the school bully, or his suspicious neighbour, Barry?
    What are 'Futurolusions'? Why is Jennifer caught up in all this? And is Young Tim in peril as he emerges into the dangerous, grown up world?

    Starring a glove puppet, cartoon characters and a blogger, featuring words, ukuleles, video, photos and drawings, this is a multimedia novella about what the future means to a group of people living in the past, the present and the pretend."


    [st. albans' farmers market]

    why shop at a supermarket if you can go to a farmer's market?! I love this one in St. Albans:


    [new media and not so intelligent reporting]

    The Independent on Sunday did a piece which included "quotes" from Professor Sue Thomas on reading and writing in digital climates. Besides misquoting Thomas (and OMG he says she's a lecturer!! Hello...I think he'll find it's Professor) and making fundamental generalisations the reporter (or observer as this write-up is imbued with numerous personal surmising) the article sees digital literacy as a highly straight-forward, black and white issue. Print books are good and "e-books" are bad. I'm slightly simplifying the argument, well nah, that's pretty much the gist of it. For the article writer, e-books and seemingly anything available online is there for entertainment and readers become "power browsers." While print fiction is "intelligent" and a collection of "classics" including "Don Quixote, Bleak House, Moby Dick, In Search of Lost Time." Umm... Most perplexing to me, is the comment that gone are the years when teenagers (yes! teenagers) "confidently approached" these books (specifically Quixote et al.). Speaking from a small and necessarily parametered experience, I've never know a teenager to approach these books with confidence...in fact, I wonder whether anyone does. These are books that instill questions rather than answers so I'm not sure really whether confidence is synonomous with the kind of literacy this reporter is striving for. In fact, why is it not "A la recherche du temps perdu" because serious readers would surely only read the book or, erm, text in its original language (the same for Don Quixote de la Mancha and my, isn't this a good example of self-conscious/self-reflexive language-play?).

    Digital literacy and programmes devoted to instilling and encouraging this (still) nascent skill emerge alongside other forms (and teaching) of literacy, including print, visual and sonic. Thomas's
    course, just one example, focuses on narratives crafted in an online or digital environment. It's not about replacing Moby Dick or handing someone an e-reader and replacing the whole publishing business, but it is about learning more and reading more and, as Thomas says, connecting more.


    [facebook and job-hunting politics]

    According to Toni Bowers at Tech Republic, hiring managers are increasingly discovering the need to address "casual" communication (texts, e-mails) from potential job candidates. She notes:
    "While text-messaging lingo might be completely natural to these young people — indeed, for some it’s the only way they communicate — they fail to notice that those in positions of authority (who tend to be older) find such methods of communication disrespectful."
    Funnily enough in today's column, Bowers tells us about hiring managers who do the opposite, they actually send out friend invitations to potential employees....The job candidate in question explains:
    "To be honest, my face is in no book, I have no space, I’m neither linked in, nor linked out. I just don’t have any interest in social networking."
    Akward position? There are 20 comments so far that say so.


    [ELO - collection 2: call for work]

    The Electronic Literature Organization seeks submissions for the Electronic Literature Collection, volume 2. We invite the submission of literary works that take advantage of the capabilities and contexts provided by the computer. Works will be accepted from June 1 to September 30, 2008. Up to three works per author will be considered; previously published works will be considered. The Electronic Literature Collection is a biannual publication of current and older electronic literature in a form suitable for individual, public library, and classroom use. Volume 1, presently available both online (http://collection.eliterature.org) and as a packaged, cross-platform CD-ROM, has been used in dozens of courses at universities in the United States and internationally, and has been widely reviewed in the United States and Europe. It is also available as a CD-ROM insert with N. Katherine Hayles' full-length study, Electronic Literature: New Horizons for the Literary (University of Notre Dame Press, 2008). Volume 2, comprising approximately 50 works, will likewise be available online, and as a cross-platform DVD in a case appropriate for library processing, marking, and distribution. The contents of the Collection are offered under a Creative Commons license so that libraries and educational institutions will be allowed to duplicate and install works and individuals will be free to share the disc with others. The editorial collective for the second volume of the Electronic Literature Collection, to be published in 2009, is Laura Borràs Castanyer, Talan Memmott, Rita Raley and Brian Kim Stefans. This collective will review the submitted work and select pieces for the Collection. Literary quality will be the chief criterion for selection of works. Other aspects considered will include innovative use of electronic techniques, quality and navigability of interface, and adequate representation of the diverse forms of electronic literature in the collection as a whole. For volume 2, we are considering works of electronic literature in video. Works submitted should function on both Macintosh OS X (10.5) and Windows Vista. Works should function without requiring users to purchase or install additional software. Submissions may require software that is typically pre-installed on contemporary computers, such as a web browser, and are allowed to use the current versions of the most common plugins. To have a work considered, all the authors of the work must agree that if their work is published in the Collection, they will license it under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-
    NoDerivs 3.0 License, which will permit others to copy and freely redistribute the work, provided the work is attributed to its authors, that it is redistributed non-commercially, and that it is not used in the creation of derivative works. No other limitation is made regarding the author's use of any work submitted or accepted. To submit a work, prepare a plain text file with the following information: * The title of the work. * The names and email addresses of all authors and contributors of the work. * The URL where you are going to make your .zip file available for us to download. The editorial collective will not publish the address of this file. * A short description of the work — less than 200 words in length. * Any instructions required to operate the work. * The date the work was first distributed or published, or "unpublished" if it has not yet been made available to the public. Prepare a .zip archive including the work in its entirety. Include the text file at the top level of this archive, and name it "submisson.txt". Upload the .zip file to a web server so that it is available at the specified location. Place all of the text in the "submisson.txt" file in the body of an email and send it to elc2.elo@gmail.com with the name of the piece being submitted included in the subject line. The Electronic Literature Collection is supported by institutional partners including: Brown University, Literary Arts Program; Center for Program in Contemporary Writing at the University of Pennsylvania; Duke University, Program in Literature; Hermeneia at the Open University of Catalonia; Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities; Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Program in Writing and Humanistic Studies; nt2; Pomona College, Media Studies Program;UCSB, Department of English; University of Bergen, Department of Literary, Linguistic, and Aesthetic Studies, Program in Digital Culture; University of Dundee, School of Humanities. Institutional sponsorship opportunities are still available. If your organization or academic department is interested in more information, please contact Helen DeVinney, Managing Director of the ELO, at hdevinney@gmail.com.


    [transliteracy & transdisciplinarity in new highcross, leicester]

    Today marks the opening of the new Highcross area in Leicester. It boasts some great new shops (including a flagship and absolutely enormous John Lewis) and loads of fabulous eateries (business meetings right Sue?!) Sue and I headed down today for the opening and ended up beginning and finishing our first collaborative research project of the new academic year. We used clay (how transdisciplinary) to create a transliteracy/ioct island complete with people (well, one person), a tree and two flowers. Though this is difficult to tell in the photo below as it's a bit blurry.... After that hard work we enjoyed a very tasty hot chocolate (I had a white one) at a All Things Chocolate and then saw the silk parade complete with clowns on stilts and marching band. A bit from the Highcross site:
    "The river of Silk will, flow through the city to the hub of Highcross Leicester. Made up of a flowing river of 24 silk banners, which signify Leicester’s rich textile heritage, community groups from across the county will start the procession at the Clock Tower with participants making their way down High Street, along Shires Lane and through the lower level of the new mall."


    [all work and no play]

    All work and no play is definitely something IOCTinis don't subscribe to! In between all the work and new technologies I have been able to pass on my transliteracy tiara (last used at the transliteracy workshop to make a transliterate object) to Lisa...princess of the IOCT.


    [new toys at the ioct]

    Andy Hugill, director of the IOCT, received a brand-spanking-new-fun-techie-toy and now I want one (hint hint!!! it's going on my tech. wish list btw). First Sue Thomas got one, then Andy followed suit...and now me. I think Sue has started an ioct-trend!