[Composition]: Conversations about Content and Form

[Composition]: Conversations about Content and Form is a product of an ongoing collaboration with James Lamb of the University of Edinburgh, with whom I have collaborated before on the New Geographies of Learning and Elektronisches Lernen Muzik, projects that explore the role of space in digital education and how music inspires and accompanies scholarly activity, respectively. In this third project, we explore composition itself and how ‘writing’ can reimagined across modes. Basically in this new project we are exploring how academic knowledge can be nudged a bit in the direction of more diverse forms of representation. This project is basically driven by three questions:

  1. How does the growing digital influence within higher education enable us to take a creative, multimodal approach in the construction and representation of academic knowledge?
  2. How does the ability to draw on a range of digital resources disrupt conventional ideas surrounding authorship, and the relationship between writer and reader?
  3. Are there alternative ways of publishing academic scholarship that coheres with and exploits new digital ways of constructing and representing academic content?

To do that, we select part or all of a journal article or book chapter that we found interesting or inspiring, and reimagine, remix, reinterpret, or respond to it in digital form in a way that helps to convey its content, significance, or merely how we feel about it. So as a taster of that, we take an academic work that left some impression on my work in the mobile learning space, which in this case was

  • De Souza e Silva, A., & Frith, J. (2013). Re-narrating the city through the presentation of location. The Mobile Story: Narrative Practices with Locative Technologies, London, NY: Routledge.

And then I responded to it from a multimodal perspective. It isn’t a faithful representation of what it was about initially, but rather more of a derivative response to it using the media I have at my disposal and my interpretation of how it applies to the work I do and my existence as an expat in Asia. This is my reinterpretation of the chapter.

We are referring to these as compositions, but we could also think of them as interpretations, or mini-analyses of the subject matter under consideration. From there, I offer my rationale of why I chose both this work and why this assembly of modes to interpret that work followed by responses from academics from both the multimodal perspective and the mobile learning space.

Although this rationale is on the site itself, it is worth repeating.

My rationale for presenting the work in this way, as layers of related though disparate activity, emerges from the nature of urban space itself. It is haunted with the past (hence the layers of public domain stock footage from Asian metropolises mostly from the 1930s and 1940s), rich with parallel activity (hence the rows of apartment blocks from Hong Kong), and decipherable only as a set of interrelated streams of activity (the audio I recorded from Seoul layered into the background is incongruous with the activity taking place visually, yet in concert it almost sounds like the expected din of Asian urban space. The traffic in front of the apartment blocks might be seen to represent that is what perceived but not fully seen, one of the million data points that we routinely discard from our urban existence. All of this builds from one of the points of the chapter, namely that:

“locations, however, are not isolated entities. They are relational, and their meaning derives from their ability to develop connections to other locations. Consequently, locations will be understood differently depending on which other locations are perceived as connected to them.”

This, as a long-time expat in Asia, has significance beyond the cognitive elements of it. As an expat, you are often hyper-aware of your environments, you develop relational connections between these elements askew from those created by those who have lived their lives there. You associate freely from memories and with media seemingly at odds with these presented: each window from the apartment block telling a different story and each story reminding me of something other than an Asian metropolis. Leading to the second point of the chapter, that of the “generalized elsewhere”, the idea that mobile and online connectivity creates hybrid space, ones often unmoored from physical space. As the authors state:

“people could live in places without fully integrating into place-defined communities because they could create their own “community” in an online chat or virtual world…As a consequence, people gained awareness of distant places. Rather than just erasing local cultures and local identities, as many globalization scholars suggested, Joshua Meyrowitz observed that these mass communication media actually helped people foster greater emotional attachments to places, through what he calls the “generalized elsewhere.”  According to Meyrowitz, the generalized elsewhere works as a mirror in which to view and judge our localities. The generalized elsewhere makes us more aware of our local spaces because they acquire relationality.”

The relationality I applied to my urban Asian spaces, however incongruous, made them my generalized somewhere. So if this type of academic work interests you, feel free to visit the site and get in touch if interested in participating.

By Michael Gallagher

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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