Saturday, August 21, 2010

Mexican night sounds

If you listen carefully here you may hear the unmistakable mix of Michele playing Aquaria to a mariachi band serenading party guests in an apartment in the next building over.

Monday, August 09, 2010

After the conference: Back in Mexico City

The conference in Aguascalientes was one of the "best feel" conferences we have ever attended. It was as though everyone there had a mind to celebrate their shared interests and to actively seek to build in constructive and expansive ways on what was being presented. There was an excellent diversity of papers and the setting was excellent. The Universidad Autonoma de Aguascalientes provided extremely generous support for the conference. In his contribution to the opening session the Rector of the university identified literacy as a foremost equity issue, and it seemed clear that his university's support for the conference was grounded very much in that consideration.

Our second keynote on the theme of digital literacies and learning grounded in research mediated by Web 2.0 resourcesseemed to be well received and conversation went on a long time after we had finished. There was also some pleasant book signing to be done, and then it was into the final session, ahead of a wonderful paella meal, and then the jaunt to the airport and the 50 minute flight back to MagicTown -- this wonderful chaotic city that keeps you on your toes.

Our presentation included some examples of student novice media production. We were describing how we introduce learners organised in teams to conducting research by getting them to create a digital media artifact from scratch in an area they have no knowledge of. Basically, they are on their own, with help from the internet and a few recommended resources. Their task is to get a sense of what insiders to the practice in question identify as good artifacts of that kind and to work out how to conceive and create such an artifact. They learn "hands on", and have a week (30 face to face connected hours, plus whatever they get done in the evenings) to learn how to do it and to generate their artifact. All the while they are doing this they are simultaneously learning in a hands on way how to collect good quality observed, written and spoken data about their learning. This generates a data set which they subsequently analyse within the process of writing a formal report of their research, assisted by various templates, other "on demand" resources, and collaborative writing using google docs (and with continuous feedback from us while they are doing their writing).

The talk included presentations of some of the media creations, as well as indicative visuals of pages of colour coded field notes, pages from written reports, approaches to organising and analysing data, stretches of collaborative writing and so on.

For me, one of the best moments in the talk came from watching the audience appreciation of a sand animation (a stop motion video animation made using sand and lights) created by one of last year's groups in response to a poem written by one of the team members. None of the group had any prior experience of sand animation, but in a week of sustained work were able to put together a short work -- The Escape -- that came across beautifully on the big screen.

The next task will be to write the talk up as a book chapter, and that will keep us off the busy streets for some time.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

A disturbing new literacy: reading the wrinkles. AKA the shirtless Iggy Pop

This is not the best recovery option after a wonderful lunch following our second keynote. Sometimes it pays not to open your email in the airport whilst waiting for the flight.

Friday, August 06, 2010

Survived the first one

It really is a case of "one down and one to go". It's been a long time since we presented in Spanish and our fragile command of functionality has slipped a notch or two -- which is tricky when you're starting out from fragile. Even though the theme, "Digital literacy practices of networked youth", is one we are reasonably at home with, it was hard work negotiating the Spanish. We let the slideshow carry as much of the weight as possible, and it got us through, together with a lot of good will from a generous and sympathetic audience.

The set up was interesting. The slideshow was not linear, and the projection point was 6 or 6 rows back in the tiered auditorium. We couldn't have the computer on stage because there was no cable of the required length, and we could not have someone else do the clicking because it was too easy to get lost. Moreover, there was no sound system to run off the computer. We'd anticipated possibilities pretty well, as it turned out, so we had carried a neat wee set of Creative speakers with a power adapter from Mexico City. Augmented by Michele's microphone from the body of the auditorium we got out perfectly acceptable sound. I spoke from one side of the stage for the bits I was taking the lead on, and Michele spoke from her location at the projection point.

Once we were under way it was fine, although the script, already long in English, was on track for going over time in our versions of Spanish. As we reached the deadline for the talk I said to Michele that we'd have to cut the example of the bicycle stunts video creators, and the audience - incredibly generous -- came back, almost in unison, "no, go on". So we did. Although the talk was truncated near the end we did cover all the main points we had hoped to cover.

Which reminded us of how nice it is to be back in Mexico -- as if we needed reminding.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Waiting for Daniel's Keynote at the II International Seminar on Writing in the University

We've got to the auditorium in good time for the opening keynote of the conference, by Daniel Cassany, from the Universitat Pompeu Fabra, Barcelona. Daniel is Catalan, which gives us a nice point of connection since some of our work has been translated into Catalan.

Unlike us, Daniel is an expert on writing, so we should be in for a good show as he takes up the theme "Internet 3; School 0: Learning about what young people do outside of school".

Meanwhile, we've been negotiating arrangements for data projection for our own talks. This will be a little complicated, since there is no cable to run from a computer on stage to the projector, and the slideshow is not in the least linear. The arrangement at this point is that I will be Michele on the stage and Michele will speak from the projection point and run the Mac.

Next time we'll be linear.

So now they are introducing the officials and the keynote speakers. It's very flash, with lovely flowers on the stage and a beautiful auditorium.

From here we'll go to the book launch, which should be fun. It was nice to see our book on display, since it's a work we are very close to and that gave us a lot of fun in writing, and that has treated us extremely well since it was first published in 2006.

Alma Carrasco is opening the conference and we'll try to upload some pix. The light is a bit low, but they'll give a sense of the scene.

Daniel has been introduced and is now getting under way. He's referred to a very influential book about street maths in which the kids are 10 in life and 0 in the school. He's spelling out the findings from Nunes, Schliemann and Callaher's book as a prelude to the 3 cases he is going to talk about.

Michele is keying flat out, so we'll be mixing and matching this post as we go along. Meanwhile, it is surprisingly pleasant to be following the talk pretty well in Spanish. Academic Spanish is certainly much easier for me to "get" than conversational Spanish. I guess that reverses Daniel's order, since for me, at least, it's looking like School 3, Life 0.

A paradox to treasure ......

Meanwhile, Michele has emailed some content.

Daniel opens by discussing the title of his talk, and emphasizing it’s not to do with soccer, but to do with a book published in Brazil, called “Na vida dex, na escola zero”.

He explains he’s going to talk about a group of three young people who wanted to attend university, but two of whom couldn’t because of problems they had with reading and writing. He signals that these young people used the internet to teach themselves really sophisticated things that many adults have no idea even exist.

The first young women is Ari-chan—she has a number of blogs, spends about 3 hours a day on the internet. She translates a range of texts from Enlgish into Catalan—but has failed to pass the entrance exam to undergraduate degree twice and is about to try again.

The second young woman is Simbelmyne (umlaut over final e). She is into fanfic.

Arnau is a reader with difficulties in terms of reading academic texts. He currently works as a kind of barista en in Barcelona. He’s a sports fanatic and reads every magazine he can get his hands on.

After this introduction, he begins to talk about the text that provoked his talk and which focusses on ethnomathematics, or, more specifically, on studies of street maths (the kind that takes place in fruit stalls etc.). Children learn to multiply numbers informally by means of playing with numbers and money, by serving customers and needing to calculate final costs etc. The contexts for this kind of learning include life (e.g., children of fruit stall owners, of carpenters, and in school. He talks about the difference in experience between life and school for these children. That maths in every life for these children is socially relevant, grounded in every practice, interactive in terms of spoken language, and shaped by personal strategies developed to calculate numbers. There is a real emphasis on practical, everyday knowledge. But in school, there is a gap between maths and it’s social use. They are expected to talk about maths in a very abstract and abstracted way. Maths involves a lot of reading etc. there is a lot of technical practice rather than practical application.

Ari-chan is 21 years old and has a friend in the UPF. She’s a serious fan of “Tokio Hotel”—a popular German band. She has a German boyfriend and is very social. She has two photologs – one is personal, and is group-oriented. She posts every day: a photo and a caption in Spanish. Friends comment on these posts and she responds. She is active on the forum, “Neolitera”—she has a space there where she posts her stories. She translates the lyrics of Tokyo Hotel from English for posting on her photoblog. She uses online translators for her translation work. She failed her Spanish and Latin exams as part of the entrance application to the university, but it’s never occurred to her to use online translators to help her study Spanish or Latin. She can write in Catalan and Spanish. She can also use the language of the internet—chat language, text language. She is adept at using language colloquially and formally. As such, she can be said to be fluent in 3 languages.

She likes to write narratives that she calls “realistic history”—that is alter-identities for Tokio Hotel band members. This is a genre whose name she has developed herself to describe the kinds of texts she writes. Daniel makes reference to Charles Dickens’ and his serial publication of stories over time and compares this practice to how Ari_chan adds chapters to her stories posted to Neolitera. For Ari-_chan, writing this stories isn’t only about reading and writing stories per se, but about establishing and maintaining social relationships with others who share her passion for writing about things important to her.

But, despite all this, she’s not interested in academic reading or writing. She doesn’t use online resources to help her complete/study for academic tasks. Ari-chan herself believes her failure to pass her entrance exam is the fault of her friends or of the whims of the professors evaluating her entrance exams. Ari_chan is highly literate online in ways many adults aren’t: blogs, writing with photos, translating texts etc.

Simbelmyne is 21 and a fourth year student in the UPF. “Simbelmyne” is the name of a flower in the Lord of the Rings saga. She is an avid fanfic writer (Harry Potter fiction). Some of her narratives run to 70 pages of text. There is a well-defined world of fan fic writing—and Harry Potter fanfic writing in particular—in Spain. For example, “Harriet Potter”—where Harry becomes a girl and has additional/new adventures. Simbelmyne also creates photo montajes—such as of photos of characters from the Mexican telenovela “Rebelde”.

Daniel then presents an interesting comparison of Ari-chan and Simbelmyne.

Simbelmyne didn’t care for reading until her mother read to her the entire set of Harry Potter books, and then she was hooked. She read and writes a range of genres: fan fiction, realistic histories, uses Facebook and has a bog and photolog. She uses the resources available to her to reach her objectives, and to make links between identity and relationships with others. For her, reading and writing are not ends in themselves, but tools or the results of her interests in relating to the group of fanfic writers with whom she associates.

She is very well aware of linguistic diversity in her own reading and writing and speaking practices. She speaks different languages, as well as in different registers.

Arnau is 17 years old. He is a fan of “Barca” (Barcelona's soccer team). He left school and wasn't interested in going to university. He currently works in a coffee shop in the city. He identifies as having difficulties with reading. Arnau explains that “I’m an intelligent person, even though I can’t read.” He did repeat a grade at school, but abandoned his studies again; he is about to try again to please his mother, who is quite ill. He spends his time chatting online, emailing—about 2 hours a day. He likes to visit his grandmother who lives in a seniors’ residence—mainly so that he can read the sports magazines they have available there. When his mother fell ill, he spent a lot of time reading to her. He ultimately would like to be a sports reporter.

He and his girlfriend write a collaborative blog about their everyday lives, and about their relationship. Arnau has a great capacity to find strategies for overcoming challenges presented to him by his reading difficulties. These include strategies for avoiding reading—especially avoiding academic reading. He searches online for video clips related to texts he’s meant to read for his studies; he obtains exam questions beforehand. Daniel argues that Arnau sees books in terms of content to be known and so that he can represent himself as a reader to others (e.g., Arnau explains “Now I know “Don Quioxte”). For Arnau, academic reading is an individual task, focused on books and textbooks. His sports reading though, is much roe organic and shared with others.

To synthesise: all three are very internet literate but only Simbl. has been able to enter into university studies. Ari_chan and Arnau are considered to have problems with literacy according to “school” definitions. Daniel explains that the internet has facilitated Ari_chan’s and Arnau’s development as literate beings, but that schools have failed them.

These three cases aren’t generalisable, but there is still a lot to be learned from each. They draw attention to the vernacular literacy practices (both analogue and digital) that young people engage in. all three young people connect the texts they read and write to their world, to their identity and to their relationships with others. They engage in a range of collaborative reading and writing tasks—and this is rarely allowed to occur in universities.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

2nd International Seminar on Reading in the University in Aguascalientes

We have just arrived in Aguascalientes from Mexico City (all of 50 minutes in a plane), where we will be presenting a couple of keynotes related to reading in the university and catching up with some old friends, as well as making some new ones.

It's been a blur since we left Cape Breton within 5 minutes of completing a week's teaching there last Friday. We drove from North Sydney (Cape Breton) to Maryland in time to make a friend's birthday party on Saturday night. Back to Montclair on Sunday to pack and immediately on to an airport hotel for the early fight to Mexico City on Monday. The flight down was good, although exhaustion was the order of the day. Yesterday was 14 hours of solid work producing the best translations into Spanish as we could manage of the material for our visual presentation. We have written the papers in English, but there is no simultaneous translation. So we'll be doing the best we can on our feet during the presentations, thinking in English and turning it into the best sense we can in our respective versions of Spanish. It'll be practice, practice, practice, between now and the keynotes.

There's a launch of the Spanish translation of New Literacies tomorrow evening. One of the conference presenters, Daniel, says he has read the book in both English and Spanish and said the translation is superb. The book was published conjointly by a Spanish publishing house and Spain's Ministry of Education, so there was obviously some funding available for translation. That's nice. It might actually have come out making more sense in Spanish than in English.

Meanwhile, we have checked in to "home" for the next 4 days, and all of a sudden the nerves about having to present in Spanish and the trials of generating the papers in the midst of summer madness seem less significant.

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