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  • Technology, Literacy and Learning: A Multimodal Approach
  • Janaina Minelli De Oliveira
Technology, Literacy and Learning: A Multimodal Approach by Carey Jewitt. London: Routledge, 2006. 192 pp. $180.00 (cloth), ISBN: 978-0-415-34549-1.

As technologies develop, those of us who work in the field of education may face either the pressure or the temptation to incorporate new tools into our pedagogical practices. Such tools present different levels of interplay of still and moving images, color, writing, sound-effect, speech and music, while many of them allow progressively more flexibility regarding time and space. The key question would be if it is about teaching and learning the same things in different ways or if it is the case that new technologies shape new pedagogical practices and learning processes. Jewitt’s book, Technology, Literacy and Learning: A Multimodal Approach, explores this problem. The author comments on empirical data to examine the question of what real difference the use of technology can make for learning.

As her theoretical background, Jewitt draws on multimodal theory and activity theory. The former stems from the work of Halliday’s social semiotic theory (Halliday, 1978, 1985), but extends it, applying Halliday’s principles of communication beyond the linguistic mode, to all different modes people use to produce meaning. Language, as well as image, sound, gestures, etc., are understood as semiotic resources people draw on to communicate. Multimodal theory [End Page 356] regards these resources not as ready-made codes people use, but emphasizes they are interest motivated, the result of people’s constant cultural and social work of meaning negotiation. Activity theory builds on Vigotsky’s (1981 Vigotsky’s (1986) cultural historical approach to learning, in which people’s similar use of different tools to realize shared objectives turns them into an activity system, historically connected and with a common basis of values and social relations. Kress and Van Leeuwen (2001), Engestrom (1987), and Daniels (2001) constitute Jewitt’s basic framework for thinking about “people’s use of representational and communicative modes in the complex social interaction of the classroom” (Jewitt, 2006, p. 3).

Interconnected, multimodal theory and activity theory allow Jewitt to think of norms, rules, communities, roles, and student’s sign production in classroom as elements with historical cultural significance which go far beyond the observable classroom interaction. Learning is taken as a process whereby meanings are reformulated in relation to a person’s present and previous experience. The external material signs that both students and teachers make embody the patterned exchanges and interactions they arise from. Literacy and pedagogy are then conceived as multimodal design. On the one hand, what students do when they learn something is dynamically draw on different modes to transform multimodal signs and design new meanings. On the other hand, when teachers choose semiotic resources to teach their classes, they are realizing specific relationships to knowledge and power. In other words, they are exercising pedagogic design choices, by instantiating “their ‘willingness’ (or power) to bear the consequences of resisting convention and the extent to which they have been inducted into social convention” (Jewitt, 2006, p. 22).

Throughout the book, the author analyzes video recordings of the use of new technologies in English, math, and science classrooms, focusing on multimodal resources like CD-ROMs, for example, displayed on the computer screen, and classroom interaction with and around the screen. She attends all modes in her analysis, paying special attention to how different modes realize different kinds of meaning. For example, textually, the position of an element on the screen informs the value the designer attributes to it; interpersonally, different representations of distance signify different degrees of formality and intimacy; ideationally, the question of who or what is acting and who or what they are acting on contributes to the analysis of gesture. Jewitt uses examples from her data to show that technologies reshape both knowledge and what learning means.

The author particularly stresses the fact that when students engage with computer applications they learn from all modes present on the screen, not only from written words or speech, as traditionally thought. New technologies offer students new potentials of engagement, what produces changes in what students need to...


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pp. 356-358
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