ICE and Gunther Kress presentation

by Paul Maharg on 22/03/2007

Attending the ICE conference at Ross Priory, and just listened to a fascinating paper by Gunther Kress.  I’ve been wanting to hear him talk about new technologies and literacy for some time, and wasn’t disappointed.

Kress’s key distinction is that between technoligies of representation (which he calls modes) and technologies of dissermination (called media).  He took an interesting example to illustrate this — a visit to the Brtish Museum by a six year old, and the description of the event not only in text, but also in image.  The two representations hold fascinating contrasts in terms of time and causation (but also, a point not made by Kress) of in-time communication and through-time communication.  Above all, Kress, argued, we need to examine at a deep level the affordances of technologies and the curriculatization of the world.  Interesting concept with reference to learning, because of course only a tiny proportion of learning takes place within a curriculum.  And it raises issues about what such curriculatization does to learning. 

Many of Kress’s concepts regarding literacy and technology were there, and elaborated on.  As with most of his work, we are forced to think about learning in a deep way.  As he pointed out, we have many prefixes now to describe learning with technology — e-, m-, online-, lifelong-learning.  But are these different kinds of learning, he asked?  If so, what kinds of learning are they?  And there are deeper questions as well.  Eg re mobile learning… Who is mobile?  What is mobile?  Who makes whom or what mobile?  Similarly, with the concept of social sftware — what is the nature of community?  What is the nature of the social?  Whose power? 

For him, learning was (the result of) semiotic work.  It could also be described as a change / transformation / augmentation of ‘inner resource’.  In the process there is a change in the position of pedagogue as rhetor — a point I found very interesting indeed.  In my book (a phrase that will occur so often in the next few months because it’s still so much in my mind, as IMB) I argue that learning with technology inevitably changes the staff role.  In the book I say how that might happen for law teachers, and I’d have liked that to have been more elaborated in this session, but there wasn’t enough time.  Still, it ought to be considered, not least by managers at dept, faculty and senior management levels. 

Kress went on to outline the qualities of contemporary environments of learning, which created in his view a new habitus of learning — ubiquitous access to the world (though there is the question of whose world, etc); the learner as author and producer of knowledge, and the learner as consumer of knowledge.  In this section of his talk he gave some fascinating examples of texts including a comparison of a text-centred text, and a Dorling-Kindersley book, with its image-centred text, which encourages  a bricolage of sorts, I guess.


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