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08/12 Multimodal Storylines in Language Teaching

Presentation given with Hege Emma Rimmereide at 6th International Conference on Multimodality, London 2012.

This paper examines how students use wikis and tools for rich multimodal expressions in second language learning where the students are given tasks framed by a “storyline”.

Earlier projects have proven that wikis are effective tools combined with the Storyline method, making students able to work in close collaboration with shared texts. Tools with wiki functionality do however, seem to favour written expressions. Even though more complex multimodality can be achieved, e.g with tools like Google Sites, written texts seem to be preferred when students are told to produce their stories.

Templates and scripts, written into various tools by their creators, have substantial influence on the texts produced by the end users. In second language learning several skills are equally important. The students must be able to express themselves in writing, which wikis seem to facilitate. The ability to let the text corpus evolve over time, as a result of collaborative efforts, is also a wanted feature. When it comes to oral expressions the wiki, in this case Google Sites, have some fundamental shortcomings. In addition the users have to possess more advanced skills to be able to make more than trivial visual expressions.

In this project we have used a couple of free tools like Glogster, Go Animate and Voki, to add some wanted learning activities: more complex visual expressions combined with oral expressions. The storyline method has been kept as an overall framework, and the wiki is where all the elements come together. The different works made with Glogster can be embedded into the wiki (Google sites) and become part of the storyline.



Wiki technology has been developed mainly to support the production of written text. Modern tools, like Google Sites, do make it possible to embed material from external sources, and thereby create pages with several modalities, this material has to be produced with other tools and stored externally. Thus text production within the wiki will often be limited to written expressions.

Google Sites is a publishing environment based on templates. As educators we are able to design and give some structure to the site and let it evolve from there. The students can not change the overall design, but have complete freedom when i comes to the editable parts of the templates.

One of the benefits of templates is that the system hides complexity from novice users. More time can then be used to introduce the students to the different affordances of various media, and how the tools can make them able to take advantage of these affordances.

Most students are experienced media users, but many do not have specific knowledge about how to use different semiotic resources when expressing themselves with online tools. In this context templates makes things somewhat easier.
Tools that are easy to use do, however, come with a price. To some extent users are limited by the functionality that is offered.

One important quality of digital networked media is the ability to reuse existing objects, and provide various context to the different elements. New digital expressions almost always involve some kind of copying content, or selection from existing sources.
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Students have to master several interconnected tasks:
  • Browsing 
    - find what material to use
  • Selecting 
    - make qualified judgements and refer to the original
  • Remixing 
    - be able to make new creations on the basis of existing material, in combination with their own original creations 
  • (re)publishing
    - make their creations available online
We want to make the students able to make visual and verbal expressions, accompanied by sound and moving images. For this purpose we introduced Glogster, a tool for creating virtual posters, Voki, which can be used to combine oral expressions and online avatars, and Go Animate, which is used to make animated cartoons. Most of our experience so far is from students working with Glogster.

Glogster facilitate copying and reuse of media material found on the web, to produce more complex remixes. Existing media-elements can be combined with the students own recordings, and shared online. Like when embedded within Google Sites.

We presented an example where Gloster was used in, and when presenting,an assignment where the students were asked to present their favorite novel.Parts of the novel is presented in writing, and by a recording made by the student. Sound- and video recordings can be made directly in Glogster, but there are few possibilities when it comes to editing.

Another tool, used in schools, is Go Animate. This enable students to create cartoon movies where the characters are given voices. Students can choose among a selection of avatars, and do some visual changes. The avatars can be given voices: with prerecorded voices
or with the students own recordings. This enables cinematic narration, which is quite different from what is possible with tools like Glogster. Note that the childish looking charater is the best one was able to find in the free version of Go Animate. One have to look behind the avatar's direct appearance to see the potential in this tool.
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Template Literacy
The use of different tools give the students some creative freedom, and the combination of different solutions overcome some of the limitations given by one system. To take advantage of all the possibilities do require a complex combination of verbal, visual and ICT skills. The increased use of templates, avatars and preproduced material in education calls for what can be characterised as template literacy.
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