Monday, April 03, 2023

New article published

Michele and I were still working on papers and book ideas when she died. One of our projects was with a team of three Masters students from a cohort we worked with in 2018 and 2019 on the theme of learning to become teacher researchers within a hybrid course in their M.Ed. specialism (Literacy Education). The students and I continued working on the article last year, and it has just been published in the Australian Journal of Language and Literacy -- exactly 30 years after Michele published her first peer reviewed academic article in the same journal. 

Many thanks to Diana, Theresa and Suzanne for seeing this through, and for being such wonderful academics all the way through the program and subsequently. Long may you run.

The article can be viewed (view only) here:

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Our recent paper on memes

At the end of the 90s we began asking ourselves what might count as 'new' literacies. What would it mean to think of literacy practices that could, in a significant sense, be regarded as 'new'? We took a fairly simple approach to this question and identified some examples of what we considered to be 'new' literacy practices--in the sense of: well, if anything can be thought of as a 'new' literacy practice, then X (or Y, or whatever) would be an example. Then we just had to find some Xs and Ys and try to decide what is was about them that made us think of them as being 'new'.

One of the first examples we hit on was what we called meme-ing. We thought of memes in the way David Bennahum had defined them on his Meme electronic newsletter : as contagious ideas that replicate like a virus, passed on from mind to mind, and that function the same way that genes and viruses do, propagating through communication networks and face to face. For us, meme-ing involved trying to come up with something that was catchy and had 'hooks' and to then try to spread it as far and as quickly as possible. Using electronic networks was the obvious option. At that time very few people talked about memes outside of those involved in the emerging scholarly field and theory of memetics, although the idea of internet memes was just starting to catch on at the time.

By around 2003-2004 mainstream media was running occasional stories about internet memes and by 2005 we had identified a pool of English language internet memes we considered to be 'successful'. We analyzed these memes and published a small number of articles and book chapters based on our provisional exploratory study. These included Online memes, affinities and cultural production .

Shortly afterwards macro meme generators were invented, LOLCats exploded, and we pretty much lost interest in memes because they were no longer the savvy and quirky remixes we'd come to enjoy. We kept a casual eye out for meme trends, but it was only around 2017 that we started thinking about memes again. This was partly because Michele was getting interview requests from diverse US media sources, and we noticed a spike in readings of our memes work on social media like Researchgate and

We realised that significant trends in memes and participation in memes over the previous decade made it a good idea to rekindle our earlier interest. At the end of 2019 we published our initial foray back into thinking about memes and trying to identify what we think are significant trends and issues associated with memes. We called this article Memes, macros, meaning and menace and it can be found here

Call for papers for Special Issue of Journal

Our wonderful Spanish colleagues Daniel Cassany and Cristina Aliagas are calling for papers for a special issue -- to be published in English and Spanish (translation provided) -- of the journal OCNOS on the theme of Digital literacy practices: Online read, write and chat about literature. OCNOS is indexed in Quartile 1 in Scopus and is indexed to the Web of Science.

The full call for papers can be found here

Meanwhile we have excerpted the following information from the call for papers for your convenience:
This special issue aims to explore ... new forms of creation, learning, consumption and literary socialization, with an inclusive look, addressing some of the more current examples:

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Myers Education Press

This is just a shout out for Chris Myers' independent publishing company Myers Education Press

We have worked with Chris for more than 20 years now, as authors, editors and series editors, and are thrilled to see his new venture well under way.

You'll find a list of the areas the press is interested in publishing books in, and information about the company's publishing ethos and the kinds of relationships it seeks to develop with authors and readers here

With Judy Kalman, we have an edited collection in the pipe on the topic of "Data analysis, interpretation and theory in Literacy Studies research," The manuscript for the book has just been submitted, and we are hoping that it might be published in time for the 2020 American Educational Research Association conference--although it is currently slated for June 2020.

Once we get some front matter proofs we will update our information. For now it will suffice to say that the book will contain ten chapters in which researchers walk and talk readers through the processes by which they developed their data analysis approaches informed by their theoretical orientation, and how they conducted their data analysis and interpreted their results. Chapters cover approaches as diverse as mediated discourse analysis, conversation analysis, interactional ethnography, multimodal analysis, microethnographic discourse analysis, and Actor Network theory; and range over topics and themes like using spreadsheets to analyze data, theorizing with (a) difference, using prompt questions to analyze meanings in memes, and doing collaborative participatory research wit communities.

More when we have more to report.

Long time between posts

We certainly lost our way with blogging these past 18 months or so. That reflects having lost our way with a lot of the stuff that one blogs about,

For example, we used to post when new books were published in our New Literacies series. And the long time between posts reflects, to some extent, a long time between books.

A couple of things happened. One is that Peter Lang Publishing went through a major change, and the editor we had worked so closely with over more than 15 years has ended up creating his own publishing business, but more about that shortly.

The bottom line is that after having published 70 books to date in this series we have found the pool drying up. We have used social media to pitch to potential authors, but without success. This may bell reflect the extent to which "new literacies" seem now to be commonplace, old hat, yesterday's papers. That would be unfortunate, because new literacies practices are emerging all the time, and others are thriving, evolving, taking on new lives.

In 2000 we presented a paper at a conference convened by Jim Gee at the University of Wisconsin. One of the "new literacies" we identified there was what we called "Meme-ing". Today memes are on everyone's minds. They even help get presidents elected. They spread LOLs and lulz, love and hate, and plenty else. We noticed the two items on memes we had posted to Researchgate getting plenty of attention, despite the fact that they were published in 2006 and 2007. So we went back to rethinking and writing about memes, and have recently published this article on Memes, macros, meaning and menace

We have a second paper on the drawing board and are looking toward writing a book on the topic. Maybe we are misguided, but we don't believe "new literacies" are dead yet. And we are still hoping for potential authors to pitch book proposals our way.

If you are interested in talking about a possible book writing contract we are still at home all hours. You can find us at and/or

Thursday, May 03, 2018

Border crossers

If your mother was anything like mine when it came to trying to shape up good choices in her children, she likely informed you numerous times that while "you can't choose your family, you can choose your friends." As the years rolled by I became increasingly absorbed in the thought that neither can you choose your country of birth. That's every bit as much a lottery -- for the same reasons, I guess -- as what you end up with in the way of family.

By the time I had completed the sabbatical referred to in the previous post I was acutely aware that I really wanted to be some place other than New Zealand. And I am sure that at some point in their lives a very sizable proportion of people arrive at the same idea: they would like a chance to live in another land. Moving as I did to Australia for a few years -- until a laughable work situation made fleeing not just a good idea but an absolute necessity -- doesn't count because New Zealanders at that time got Australian residence pretty much automatically: a reciprocal arrangement between the two countries.

But when we decided to head for Mexico we were faced with the need to apply for residency. There was no assurance of getting it, not least because the only work we had at the time was some contract research student supervision kindly organised for us by Chris Bigum out of Central Queensland University. We would have struggled to meet the economic requirements for entry on the small amount of 'wealth' we possessed at the time, and we had no job in Mexico. Eventually,we found an immigration lawyer, who has become a lifetime friend, and thanks to having published a few books we managed to get a toehold. An FM 3. And after several years more an FM2. And, for me, finally, my treasured permanent residency card.

I simply cannot envisage ever wanting to leave Mexico, and I hope I never have to. This is the first sense of home I have ever experienced at the kind of level that makes it feel like a real privilege to be able to pay taxes in return for the right to live in the country! I simply love living in Mexico, and I love being a permanent Mexican resident. It took ten years and a lot of running around on hot days, but I treasure my Mexican residency with a passion and a sense of pride that goes beyond words.

A couple of days ago, in the company of some very dear Mexican friends, I found myself in the Lagunas de Montebello National Park for the first time. Right on the border with Guatemala. I had no idea upon arriving at the first lake on the guided tour that the border was there. The guide just pointed to some stairs and said "the first lake we will be seeing today is at the top of these stairs, so let's walk up there and take a look".

We got up to Laguna Internacional and all of a sudden I saw a sign:

Directly in front of me, a few meters away, there was another sign:

I walked toward it, looking at a tiny road leading off to the left hand side, and a track further to the left winding up the hill. I thought one or both must be the way to the border. So I turned round to ask the guide and, in doing so was met by another sign indicating the limit of the Republic of Guatemala:

I asked the guide where Guatemala began, and he said "you are in Guatemala". He pointed to a concrete strip that came out from the base of the white pillar in the photo above, right by the feet of the muchacha standing there. "That is the border", he said.

So I asked "then where is immigration and customs?" and he said "that's at another place quite some distance from here". Another question followed: "Then what is to stop people just walking across the border?". He replied "Nothing. People do it all the time. Those people in the stalls there selling chocolate and crafts, many of them are Guatemalan. They come over in the morning and go home at night. Many people come here to look for work because they can get more for what they earn." 

I found myself just walking to and fro across the border, numerous times, just soaking up the feeling of complete freedom of border crossing. It felt so good. I have long thought how wonderful it would be if people received as part of their birthright one free shot at living where they wanted to live, given that you can choose your friends but not your country of birth. A silly, naive, unworkable thought, to be sure; but one that generates a good feeling when I think it.

I looked across the lake to the well defined cutting that marked the border, musing about it just being there, completely open and completely porous.

I appreciate that there are lots of places in the world where borders are porous and 'free' in this kind of way. This one just happened to be the first one I had experienced. 

The guide liked to throw in the occasional word in English and I asked him if he had ever been north, to the US. He said he had. He'd worked in construction in Atlanta for a couple of years, and loved it. But he had no papers, so "I had to come back here". He just said it matter of factly. He was illegal, he knew it, there was no hint of resentment. He'd had a shot for a couple of years, and he was very happy to have had the experience. Would he like to go back? Absolutely, but there was no chance.

I walked back and forward across that border line several more times, savoring the feeling and the symbolic significance. I wished it for my guide.

Later in the day, after returning to Tuxtla Gutierrez for my overnight bus back to Veracruz, I was in a cab to the bus terminal. The cabbie asked where I was from, and I said I was originally from New Zealand, but my home is Mexico. I was a permanent resident and intend to live the rest of my life here. And that I work part time 25-30 days a year in Canada, and would continue to do so for as long as there was work and I could get a work permit. He said that he had worked as a security guard in Iowa, "by Nebraska" he added. "But I didn't have papers so I had to come back." He expressed exactly the same sentiments as the laguna guide had earlier in the day. He'd only managed one year, but was so pleased to have had the experience. He'd obviously crossed at some border point that was reasonably porous. When the axe fell he returned to Mexico, to limited work options and low earning capacity. Would he like to go back? Absolutely, but he saw no chance of that.

There was a bit more than usual to think about on the 12 hour bus ride home. That included a renewed sense of gratitude for being extended the opportunity to find my home in Mexico. They say that home is where the heart is. I know that at some point pretty much every day I am going to feel my heart almost bursting with the joy of being able to call Mexico home. The joy and something very close to the kind of love one can feel for other people and for pets. Mexico is like a friend for me. Like I would like to grab it into my arms and hug it as I would a loved one.

And I sometimes wonder what proportion of people in the world could honestly say that about where they live. I hope the proportion is high, although I guess I doubt it.

Analogue cooking: with apologies to vegetarians

During the one and only sabbatical I hung around the university long enough to qualify for I saw an unfinished prototype of a solar oven. It had been part of a suite of appropriate technology ideas a Belgian engineer introduced in the area of the Nicaraguan countryside where I was living and studying everyday life. Jan Haemhouts had fled Haiti, where he had been working with poor rural communites, barely escaping with his life and what he carried in his head. He introduced the prototype of what has become the renowned Nicaraguan Rope Pump, with a view to making it easier for women and girls -- the principal drawers of water in the countryside at the time -- to meet the family's water needs day by day.

The rope pump took off on a major scale.

Jan tried to push the solar oven as a low cost technology to alleviate the health risks for women of cooking by fire in smoky kitchens as well as on the obvious ecological grounds. In the area where I was living the landscape was largely denuded of trees, which went for firewood and for making carbon. The solar oven was as unsuccessful as the rope pump was successful. During the 18 months I spent in that area I tried several times to encourage the men working in broom and mop and rope pump production to work with me and complete te oven, and give it a road test. The response was always the same: there's no point, no one will use it.

I vowed to myself that one day I would build and use a solar oven, but the other things in life -- especially writing -- always seemed to get in the way.

Until a couple of weeks ago, when I had finished off most of the work I've been doing to create a small garden and some serious living and hobbying space on the roof. Since the roof was the most obvious place to get maximum sun, getting the most of the work completed meant there was every incentive to finally see if solar cooking on the roof might be a viable proposition.

I found the version I wanted to start with and set about finding the materials -- including getting sheets of 2cm thick polystyrene from a nearby stationery shop.

This morning I got the oven finished, as near as I could manage to the specs of the plan I had used. It was a most enjoyable building task, and the local supermarket had the kind of black enamel pot recommended for cooking.

I put a little olive oil on the bottom of the pan and loaded in some chicken pieces, which I thought would be an indicative place to start.

Then it was time to load up the cooker.

With the glass set in place the thing was good to go.

I gave it 5 hours, hopeful that it might work out well, but quite prepared for a less than optimal result. As luck would have it, the oven worked a treat.

The juice created by the slow cooking process will be used tomorrow as stock for a simple chilied vegetable soup.

The next thing will be to look out plans for a larger model for future use out on the coffee land. I am very happy with the initial result, and am hoping for another good sunny day tomorrow and for equal success with the soup.

Thursday, February 08, 2018

Remembering John Perry Barlow

Long before the time when I first read him speaking good sense about what was then becoming known as cyberspace (in the early 90s), I first heard John Perry Barlow 'speak' through his lyrics for songs written in collaboration with Bob Weir. Cassidy remains one of my all time favourite songs. While Weir's melody is hauntingly beautiful, it is the way the lyric renders the lives of people who were deeply significant to Barlow that has always stood out most for me. The way he cuts to the core of deep things so clearly and economically, blending force and beauty.

Chris Bigum pointed Michele and me to Barlow's 1995 interview with Nat Tunbridge in Australian Personal Computer when we were all working together on the idea of mindsets in relation to the uptake of new technologies in education. In this interview Barlow makes what we believe to be the original reference to a distinction between "natives" and "immigrants" with respect to understanding the internet and life online. [Prefiguring Justin Trudeau, Chris and Michele and I opted for "insiders" and "newcomers" in place of "natives" and "immigrants" as ways to distinguish the mindsets; but the distinction itself was pure Barlow.] Barlow was arguing that to think about virtual space/internet space/information space in the ways we have become accustomed to thinking about physical space is a fundamental misconception.

If what Barlow was arguing back then, almost 25 years ago, is a little better and a little more widely understood today than it was then, it is nonetheless still inadequately understood and applied within such important spheres as law, commerce and education. For the sake of posterity, and for expressing our appreciation of John Perry Barlow and our sense of loss at his passing, we will recall here a couple of gems from 1995.

Within the paradigm of physical or material space, said Barlow, controlled economics increases value by regulating scarcity. In the economy of virtual space, however, the opposite holds. To quote Barlow, with information it is familiarity, not scarcity, that has value. With information, "it's dispersion that has the value, and it's not a commodity it's a relationship and, as in any relationship, the more that's going back and forth the higher the value of the relationship".

He said that several years before talk of "relationship technologies" got any traction.

And with respect to pornography on the internet, a hot topic in 1995, Barlow simply rejected the strategy of trying to apply gross filters. Filters would not work, he said, because "Netspace" cannot be controlled that way. The more elaborate the filter, the more elaborate will be the search to find ways around it, and the more powerful these resistances become. He advocated more local and individualized filters that work on the principle of people taking responsibility for their choices. "If you have concerns about your children looking at pornography, the answer is not to eliminate pornography from the world, which will never happen; the answer is to raise them to find it as distasteful as you do".

Pornography may be yesterday's issue, but Barlow's principle holds for a raft of parallel issues today. It's not Barlow's fault we've learned next to nothing of importance about such matters over the past quarter century.

He gave it his best shot, and it could not be expressed any better today than he expressed it way back then: in the beginning.

Rest in peace, John Perry Barlow. You were truly special and your wisdom will be greatly missed.

Lyric to "Cassidy"

I have seen where the wolf has slept by the silver stream
I can tell by the mark he left, you were in his dream
Ah child of countless trees
Ah child of boundless seas
What you are, what you're meant to be
Speaks his name, though you were born to me
Born to me, Cassidy

Lost now on the country miles in his Cadillac
I can tell by the way you smile, he is rolling back
Come wash the night-time clean
Come grow the scorched ground green
Blow the horn, tap the tambourine
Close the gap of the dark years in between
You and me, Cassidy

Quick beats in an icy heart
Catch colt draws a coffin cart
There he goes and now here she starts
Hear her cry

Flight of the seabirds
Scattered like lost words
Wheel to the storm and fly

Faring thee well now
Let your life proceed by its own designs
Nothing to tell now
Let the words be yours, I'm done with mine

Monday, January 22, 2018

New book in our series--congrats again, Matt Farber!

Matt Farber (of Gamify Your Classroom fame) has just published another lovely book in our New Literacies & Digital Epistemologies series with Peter Lang. Game-Based Learning in Action: How an Expert Affinity Group Teaches with Games (foreword by James Paul Gee) focusses on concrete ways to develop games-based learning in classrooms. From the back cover:

"How are expert educators using games in their classrooms to give students agency, while also teaching twenty-first century skills, like empathy, systems thinking, and design thinking? This question has motivated Matthew Farber’s Game-Based Learning in Action: How an Expert Affinity Group Teaches With Games showcasing how one affinity group of K12 educators—known as "The Tribe"—teaches with games. They are transformational leaders outside the classroom, in communities of practice. They mentor and lead newcomers to game-based learning, as well as advise game developers, academics, and policymakers.
Teachers in "The Tribe" do not teach in isolation—they share, support, and mentor each other in a community of practice. Farber shares his findings about the social practices of these educators. Game-Based Learning in Action details how the classrooms of expert game-based learning teachers function, from how they rollout games to how they assess learning outcomes.
There are plenty of lessons to be learned from the best practices of expert educators. These teachers use games to provide a shared meaningful experience for students. Games are often the focal point of instruction. Featuring a foreword from James Paul Gee (Mary Lou Fulton Presidential Professor of Literacy Studies, and Regents’ Professor), this book comments on promises and challenges of game-based learning in twenty-first century classrooms. If you are looking to innovate your classroom with playful and gameful learning practices, then Game-Based Learning in Action is for you!"

We're so pleased to have another dynamic book from Matt!

Monday, June 26, 2017


Right now I'm smiling my way through a delightfully irreverent and waspish account of fear and loathing in Silicon Valley's startup culture. Antonio Garcia Martinez's Chaos Monkeys: Obscene Fortune and Random Failure in Silicon Valley has the kind of bite that can make long haul international plane flights seem like a rewarding experience.

Among many unexpected bonuses flying in from left field is this gem of a perspective on writing in which, of course, I have a more than passing interest, thanks to my own line of professional misadventures over the years.

As he begins to recount the process by which he and his two colleagues set out to create their startup pitch to prospective investors, our author take a paragraph out to address his question "What is writing?" With the politically incorrect candor that typifies his book as a whole, Garcia Martinez responds:

"It is me, the author, taking the state inside my mind and, via the gift of language, grafting it onto yours. But man invented language in order to better deceive, not inform. That state I'm transmitting is often a false one, but you judge it not by the depth of its emotion in my mind, but by the beauty and pungency of the thought in yours. Thus the best deceivers are called articulate, as they make listeners and readers fall in love with the thoughts projected into their heads. It's the essential step in getting men to write you large checks, women to takeoff their clothes, and the crowd to read and repeat what you've thought. All with mere words: memes of meaning strung together according to grammar and good taste. Astonishing when you think about it."

Small wonder literacy educators find the challenges so demanding.

Small wonder the theory can often seem so precious.

Small wonder the research can often seem to fall so short.

Write on.

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