Literacy education primarily has been ruled by written language, which as a result has pushed the teaching of visual images and multimodal elements to the outskirts of the literacy curriculum. In today’s world it seems as though texts that focus primarily on written language are scarce in comparison to multimodal texts that include visual images and a variety of other design features. This is due to the rapid development in technology, which has impacted the way in which people communicate.
Nowadays students are confronted with these sorts of texts more so than ever, which means that “continuing to view the world through linguistic and print-based sensibilities limits one’s experiences and narrows the forms of expression and interpretation available in today’s expanding visual culture. ” (Serafini, pg. 21) The Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) gives the most fitting description: “Literacy conventionally refers to reading, writing, speaking, viewing, and listening effectively in a range of contexts.
In the 21st century, the definition of literacy has expanded to refer to a flexible, sustainable mastery of a set of capabilities in the use and production of traditional texts and new communications technologies using spoken language, print and multimedia. Students need to be able to adjust and modify their use of language to better meet contextual demands in varying situations” (2009, p. 6). An emphasis on the teaching of visual literacy has recently come to the surface, and it has so for good measure.
Nowadays it is particularly important for students and children to understand how visual images and multimodal features represent and make meaning. Students should also be taught the knowledge of the meaning-making systems used in the texts construction. This will give students the ability to properly, as well as meaningfully, engage in their personal, social and professional lives to best fit in with society and the changes that happen in society. The twenty-first century demands that a literate person possess a wide range of abilities and competencies, many literacies.
They need to: – Develop proficiency with the tools of technology – Build relationships with others to pose and solve problems collaboratively and cross-culturally – Design and share information for global communities to meet a variety of purposes – Manage, analyse and synthesize multiple streams of simultaneous information – Create, critique, analyse, and evaluate multi-media texts The concepts for interpreting meaning and understanding intention from images is essentially the same as it is for textual literacy.
The only difference is, is the boundaries of what text is. Literacy involves a range or practises that are shaped by culture, society, and situation, the language mode, the roles and relationships of the participants, and the sources of knowledge brought to, or gained from, the interaction with texts within a given context. An extension of visual literacy to include media literacy, that is an understanding of how media (including images) works to create meaning, provides a foundation for potential analysis.
Markowitz (1998) suggests that there are three key components to media literacy which are: 1. Media Content Literacy – The capacity to understand what the communication is saying 2. Media Grammar Literacy – How the media is presented and the way it is made 3. Medium Literacy – How the mode of the media influences what it is trying to say. From this foundation Buckingham (2003) expands upon Markowitz’s base study by presenting four components to base the analysis of media product on:
1. Production – an understanding that the media is constructed with intention 2. Language – The understanding that the media uses a particular set of conventions and elements of language to present its discussion. 3. Representation – The understanding that media is representational of elements in society, but may not reflect society itself 4. Audience – The understanding that the media has been crafted intentionally to appeal to a specific audience An extension of visual literacy is Media literacy.
Media literacy was created to challenge the way that particular stereotypes (race, gender, social class, age and sexual orientation etc. ) were portrayed in the media, as well as a means for protection to shield children from the effects of advertising, movies and media. The term media literacy is defined in various contexts as the ability to critically understand, question, and evaluate how media work and produce meaning (Chauvin, 2003) and the ability to derive pleasure from mass media and choose selectively among popular cultural icons (Alvermann, Moon, & Hagood, 1999).
Media literacy also involves the processes by which individuals take up cultural texts differently depending on their interests and positioning in various social and historical contexts (Messaris, 1997); and how production techniques of each medium interact with content elements to create meaning (Heiligmann & Shields, 2005) It’s important that the field of visual studies needs to move beyond cognitive perspectives of visual persuasion and analysis to include critical and sociocultural theories and perspectives.
These theoretical tools will enable teachers and students to understand not only what messages are constructed, but how social, political, historical, and political contexts influence the production, dissemination, and reception of mass media. In much the same way as visual literacy needs to be incorporated into school curricula, media literacy is an important component of a comprehensive literary framework. It’s particularly important that the field of visual studies moves past cognitive perspectives of visual persuasion and analysis to acknowledge critical and sociocultural theories and perspectives.
These set of theoretical tools will help teachers as well as students to understand what messages are being assembled, but also how social, political, historical, and political contexts influence the creation, distribution and reception of mass media. Both visual literacy and media literacy need to be merged into school curricula as they are both important components of a comprehensive literary framework. What is multimodal? In recent times the concept of multimodality has been emphasized as a way to acknowledge the ever-increasing complexity of texts in both print-based and digital formats.
Multimodal texts by definition show information across a variety of modes. Serafini describes a mode as “a system of visual and verbal entities created within or across a various cultures to represent and express meaning (Serafini, 12). Modes can come in a variety of different forms including photography, music, sculptures and written language to name but a few. Each mode has a different potential for expressing and communicating meaning, and was made to express meaning within a culture.
Different modes express different meanings in different ways. Each mode offers a unique way for expressing and communicating meaning, and was created to express that meaning within a culture. Therefore, a multimodal text is made up of more than one mode. They are used to convey a message or communicate information to the audience. A multimodal text is complex, utilizing a variety of cultural and semiotic resources to communicate these concepts and information.
The texts that students encounter nowadays are shifting primarily from printbased to digital-based, which means there are more possible modes that can be accounted for such as sound effects, moving images, and other digitally rendered resources. So what is Multimodal literacy? Serafini best describes Multimodal literacy as “a process of generating meanings in transaction with multimodal texts, including written language, visual images, and design features, from a variety of perspectives to meet the requirements of particular social contexts” (Serafini, 2014).
These modes can be considered multi-modal when they involve two or more parts of the semiotic system which include the elements (Serafini, p. 33): 1. A Linguistic Component: Oral or written language and their associated conventions 2. A Visual Component: Images and their associated conventions 3. An Audio Component: Sound and/or music and their associated conventions 4. A Gestural Component: Including movement, expression and body language 5. A Spatial Component: Including concepts of proximity, proportionality and direction in relation to an object.
This focus on multimodal texts is simply because of the changing communicative landscape, which is a directly result of changing technologies as previously mentioned with visual literacy. It is gaining notoriety as well as being focused on in modern research and literacy education because multimodal texts and visual images are prominent in our literate landscapes and will continue to dominate it into far into the future. Technology isn’t going to slow down by any means and it is highly unlikely that we will go back to a time when print-based texts are most common.
Sturken and Cartwright (2001) contend that instructional approaches proposed to help develop students’ multimodal literacy should focus on an individuals perceptual and cognitive abilities, as well as addressing how visual images and multimodal texts function in broader sociocultural contexts, and how practises of looking inform our lives and identities. Students should be informed of what multimodal texts do instead of asking what modes or multimodal texts are.
An important part of multimodal literacy is understanding how iscrete sign systems and individual modes articulate and represent meaning potentials, and how meaning is constructed as these sign systems interact with one another. In other words, we need to consider how multimodal texts work intramodally (how meaning is constructed within modes) as well as intermodally (how meaning is constructed across modes) (Unsworth, 2006). Paul Duncum (2004) states, “… there is no avoiding the multimodal nature of dominant and emerging cultural sites” (p. 259).