For decades, key authors of journal articles and textbooks on the arts (e.g., artistic development, arts education) have discussed multimodal processing and artistic forms of literacy (e.g., Abbs, 1987; Eisner, 1985; Gardner, 1973, 1980, 1982; Hausman, 1980). It is ironic that, only relatively recently, writers from the field of literacy (as traditionally defined as hearing sounds of speech and graphically representing sounds by letters on flat surfaces) have begun to acknowledge a broader definition of literacy as encompassing all forms of multimodal texts.
Perhaps a main reason for a shift of thinking toward a more liberal interpretation of text has resulted from the necessity to assist children to learn to conceptualize, think, and communicate in new ways, using newly emerging communications environments: technologies (e.g., computers, the internet, digital media) and cross-world contexts (e.g., hypertext, web pages, e-mail messages). Through these new forms of text, we participate in a kind of vernacular republic. In other words, the dialect or language used in these communication environments is universal and resides with all the people, kind of like an "Infobahn" (Cope & Kalantzis, 2000). Children's views of the world are influenced by the new abilities offered through these technologies and cross-world modes of communication, and they can interact instantly with others from any part of the world or find information about different cultures, which is offered in many forms. For example, through the Internet, they can view the artworks of children from around the world.
Although we think of new technologies as being virtual—in other words, they are in essence and sort of "unreal"—older forms of virtual reality have been available for decades, such as photographs, telegraphs, newspapers, novels, telephones, radios, and televisions. Today's children accept all formats for communication as being commonplace, similar to the way they expect that, when they flick the light switch in their bedrooms, they will have instant electric lighting. Although adults refer to mass communication, such as teleconferences or videotelecasts, as taken-for-granted commodities in our modern society, these media possibilities can cause some confusion for children in relation to the ways in which such communication is transmitted.
A Preschool Child's Confusion About a Videotelecast Transmission
Our college teaching team was eager to expose our early childhood students to an excellent preschool on campus. However, because we had such a large group of students and didn't want to interrupt the program by having a number of seminar groups traipsing through the center or being cramming together in the observation booth, we decided to film the program and have it telecast to the lecture theater, where 150 students could all view the preschool program at the same time. That way, we could talk to the teacher live and get more information about what was happening in the program.
Sue, the preschool teacher, explained to the children what was about to happen and told them that, in a few minutes, her "voice would go to a lecture theater somewhere else on campus." About twenty minutes later, when the program was in full swing and children were involved in a variety of learning experiences, a four-year-old girl went up to Sue and asked, "When is your voice going?"
When the girl was inquiring about when the people at the other end would begin to hear the teacher, and how this would occur, is hard to know. Perhaps she thought Sue's voice would simply stop working or maybe even be "transported" away, into some other dimension. As in the case of the boy who bodily-kinesthetically described the hill as being heavy, this girl's comment provides another example of a child's multimodal perspective of thinking—she made an association between the aural aspect of the teacher's voice with that of the technical aspect of televised media, and imaged the teacher's voice as going somewhere else. Such cross-domain ways of thinking are part of knowing and understanding associated with artistic literacy
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