Community of Practice & Multimodality (Part 2): New texts, hypericon, and peripheral identities

(A ‘new’ text or me just rambling on about cultural heritage in NYC? You be the judge!)

Reader: yes, it is another post on thesis stuff. The phrases Community of Practice and Multimodality appear early and often in this post so beware. For those actually interested (judging by the traffic, at least a few of you are), then this post follows the original post outlining a few different ways these theories might intersect. It is condensed from the original (and intentionally deflated of its seriousness as often as possible). Still struggling with the term ‘new texts’, but for lack of a better phrase, on we go…

Engagement with new modes of communication, writing

The semiotic resources employed in the construction of new texts are artifacts of the community of practice itself. They have meaning or are aligned with community practice in terms of what comprises acceptable resources for generating meaning. For the Humanities, this is a fairly diverse list of semiotic resources. Very little escapes attention as evidence in the realm of academic observation. When mediated through a particular (mobile) technology, this list becomes much smaller and is limited to the media that can be captured by the (mobile) technology itself, the functions provided to assemble the media (mashup, remix, edit, etc.), and the ability to circulate the created assemblies (social dissemination). As such, the semiotic resources related to media that fit these criteria include audio, video, image, text, and additional metadata (geolocated positions, additional code, etc.). These all are applicable to the study of the Humanities and are used regularly in both digital and traditional material projects. What is critical to foreground in this discussion is that the semiotic resources employed in new texts are artifacts of the community. They either support existing community practice, or challenge it (producing conflictive relationships-Wenger) in a manner that improves the community (Fairclough’s deontic modality).

This deontic modality is critical in this discussion as new texts demonstrate an evolving community of practice, a community actively acquiring attributes for its survival and improvement. This ‘newness’ (experimentation) generally exists on the peripheries of the community itself. New modes challenge the boundaries of what is and isn’t part of the domain of the community; this process is negotiated constantly as new attributes (semiotic resources, theories, technologies, or relevant applications) become available. Communities negotiate this meaning to determine the applicability of these new attributes to existing practice. New texts constructed in (mobile) technology challenge the boundaries on the following fronts:

  • Available semiotic resources
  • Available applications of technology and the assemblies made possible by these technologies
  • Accepted orders of discourse

* Note: See Wenger (1998) and Lave & Wenger (1991) for discussion on communities surviving/evolving through the acquisition of artifacts and resources for survival.

If we assert the shift away from text (or at least the fragile acceptance of alternatives to text) in the Humanities, then we assert that new writing and novel uses of technology are potential supplements or replacements for traditional text-based modes of writing. Bezemer and Kress (2008) address this volatility and its effect on learning and writing:

“The digital media, rather than the (text) book, are more and more the site of appearance and distribution of learning resources, and writing is being displaced by image as the central mode for representation. This poses sharp questions about present and future roles and forms of writing. For text, design and principles of composition move into the foreground.” (p.166)

As the subject of my thesis is the construction of new texts through (mobile) technology, an emphasis is placed on the nature of the text itself as an assembly of digital media; an assembly that asserts the importance of design and composition.

Mural of Seo Sang Don (Seo Sang Don (서상돈) in Daegu, Korea. Seo Sang Don is my wife's great-great grandfather and significant character in Korea's independence activities (1880-1910). Aka, a hypericon, using a single image/composition as window onto larger process of investigation.
Mural of Seo Sang Don (Seo Sang Don (서상돈) in Daegu, Korea. Seo Sang Don is my wife’s great-great grandfather and significant character in Korea’s independence activities (1880-1910). Aka, a hypericon, using a single image/composition as window onto larger process of investigation.

Construction of New Modes as Signaling Legitimate Peripheral Participation

I am focusing on legitimate peripheral participants in a particular community of practice, namely graduate students in the Humanities at Yonsei University in Seoul, Korea (specific enough?). For this group, the creation of new texts or texts with novel attributes signals legitimate peripheral participation, an attempt by ‘newcomers’ or apprentices within the field to engage and use imagination towards community interaction. The novel texts must be aligned with community practice to demonstrate community awareness on the part of the ‘newcomers’, but the generation of these novel texts establishes newcomers as engaged, imaginative, and embracing their role as practitioner. These new texts are also artifacts of community and signal intent to establish identity within the community of practice. Legitimate peripheral participation places the focus of learning not on the ‘cognitive processes and conceptual structures involved’, but on the ’social engagements’ that provide the proper context for learning to take place’ (Hanks in Lave & Wenger, 1999). Apprentices/graduate students, learn to navigate the community through the production of texts and these texts (and their reception in the larger community). Imagination signals intent to establish identity; this imagination being aligned with community practice signals an established or establishing identity (a centering process from periphery). If new texts or novel uses of technology to produced new texts are not validated by experts (in this case, faculty) or embraced by the community as a shared resource or process, then the apprentice has not successfully aligned imagination with community practice. As a result, a centering process from apprentice to expert has been stunted. If faculty do legitimize these new texts (and in turn, legitimize the means in which technology enabled these texts), then we witness an emergence of new modes leading to new literacies (transliteracy, digital literacy, multimodal literacy, etc.) leading to new practices and mechanisms for ordering and presenting discourse, a process encapsulated in Multimodality.

“Fairclough, Jessop, and Sayer (2002) draw on Wenger’s work, as well as that of Jean Lave (1988) to argue that learning-as they conceptualize it, as “active participation in the innovative meaning-making practices of community”- can be seen as productive of change in knowledge, social relations and social identities and therefore in semiotic form in discourses, genres, or styles” (Barton, 2005, p.44)

We see an evolution of the community of practice in both the construction and interpretation of new texts in their stress on assembly (design), an evolution quite prevalent in Multimodality (Kress, 2000). The community of practice evolves in the range of tools (discourse, media, modes, assembly) available for meaning-making; examples of this evolution in the Humanities exist. For example, “a new way of conducting humanities research, a new method in which a specific scene or textual image” (e.g. Faust’s sigh, Gibb’s Eye Socket, Las menina) acts as a hypericon, a generative, multi-directional passageway onto a research project” (O’Gorman, 2006, p.22). In this example, an emphasis is placed on assembly and alignment, how a single image triggers and frames an investigation around a research topic. However, these methods in the Humanities are not new; they have antecedents in the (seminal?) practitioners of the community’s history. They are merely being foregrounded in light of new technologies and their respective potential.

“The notion that a single image or textual scene might act as an inlet onto a network of discourses is certainly not a new idea. The playful, deconstructive approach of Jacques Derrida and the structural experimentation of Roland Barthes have nearly put the term “intertextuality” into everyday usage.” (O’Gorman, 2006, p.22).

Intertextuality along with other mechanisms for meaning-making is being drawn into everyday usage (again) through what the emergent possibilities for construction made possible by technology. The apprentice in this highly fluid landscape engages the practices of constructing texts with a range of community tools through technology; yet these texts, if aligned with practice, are validated by drawing on established practices (the hypericon, among others). A heady and complicated process of navigating community practice, one that stresses the constant evolution of the community of practice and of the apprentice centering within it; every action transforms practice, transforms social relations within the community, and subsequently, transforms learning altogether. Barton emphasizes this transformation:

“Fairclough, Jessop, and Sayer (2002) draw on Wenger’s work, as well as that of Jean Lave (1988) to argue that learning-as they conceptualize it, as “active participation in the innovative meaning-making practices of community”- can be seen as productive of change in knowledge, social relations and social identities and therefore in semiotic form in discourses, genres, or styles” (Barton, 2005, p.44)

Part 3 or this series of posts will discuss engagements with technology and salient characteristics of these new texts as made evident through Multimodality. At some point, I will also discuss some of the limitations of these theories as there has been a fair share of criticism regarding their scope and application. Let the anticipation begin!

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About Author

My name is Michael Sean Gallagher. I am a Lecturer in Digital Education at the Centre for Research in Digital Education at the University of Edinburgh. I am Co-Founder and Director of Panoply Digital, a consultancy dedicated to ICT and mobile for development (M4D); we have worked with USAID, GSMA, UN Habitat, Cambridge University and more on education and development projects. I was a researcher on the Near Futures Teaching project, a project that explores how teaching at The University of Edinburgh unfold over the coming decades, as technology, social trends, patterns of mobility, new methods and new media continue to shift what it means to be at university. Previously, I was the Research Associate on the NERC, ESRC, and AHRC Global Challenges Research Fund sponsored GCRF Research for Emergency Aftershock Forecasting (REAR) project. I was an Assistant Professor at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies (한국외국어대학교) in Seoul, Korea. I have also completed a doctorate at University College London (formerly the independent Institute of Education, University of London) on mobile learning in the humanities in Korea.

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