A living Christmas card in Finnish Sign Language!

We’re delighted that Elina Tapio of the Department of Languages/Sign Language Centre at the University of Jyväskylä is coming to visit the Literacy Research Centre on 13th January (1pm, if you’re anywhere near and can come along.)  The title of Elina’s talk is: “Institutional academic spaces enabling and/or disabling multilingual and multimodal meaning-making in a Finnish Sign Language study programme.”

Elina is kindly sharing with us, and you, a short Christmas documentary from the Sign Language Centre.
FinnishSL Elina writes, ” It is in Finnish Sign Language, made by us (Sign Language Centre students and staff). What people are signing there are mostly answers to a questions “What is the best thing about Christmas?”  The joined signing a tthe end is our “living Christmas card” with a winter scenery.

Thanks, Elina, and we look forward to seeing you in January!


Hong Kong student protest map

Recently I was very fortunate to be able to spend some time with the student/Occupy protests known as the Umbrella Revolution in Hong Kong.

My photos included this astonishing map of the Admiralty area, which was located in the Admiralty MTR (mass transit railway) station, created by the protesters. It tells people where you can find first aid, supplies, social workers, “the stage” from which people sing and make announcements, and a self study area for students.


On looking at the map, which many people were stopping to study, I realised that for me one immediate visual reference was the official map of Admiralty station, which I’d seen further inside the station.

So I went back inside and took a further photograph of that map.


I used these maps among other images in an exploration of multimodality in a lecture I gave on returning in my undergraduate Understanding Media course. I couldn’t have been more delighted than when after the lecture two students came up to me and offered to help me further with my interpretations. Since then they’ve suggested that in its detailed indication of details of everyday life, the protesters’ map may evoke a painting, attributed to Song Dynasty artist Zhang Zeduan called “Along the River during the Qingming Festival”. The painting captures the daily life of people and the landscape of the capital back then from the Northern Song period.

Looking into this painting I found indeed that it is “widely considered to be China’s best known painting” by: the Columbia University (2013) Asia for Educators: The Song Dynasty in China 960-1279. Life in the Song seen through a twelfth century scroll.

Further, I discovered that in the tradition of Chinese art,the practice of creating new versions, sometimes adding contemporary details, is a much respected practice. Take a look at this presentation of a Qing dynasty version in the collection of the National Palace Museum in Taipei, completed in 1736  and now with a contemporary reworking on the Museum’s virtual media site.  It’s really worth playing to show how imaginatively they’ve added animation and music to the presentation of the 18th century scroll.

All these images vary, of course, but have in common a panorama which includes many details illuminating everyday lives, including as to social interactions and even the idea of people of different social classes co-existing. This photograph shows the extraordinary disjunct between the tiny tents and the buildings of the business district.

Admiralty tents

So I’m now engaged in turning this into a research project, which means of course that I need to think ethical procedures through properly and make a submission to our ethics committee. That’s why I can’t name the helpful students, yet, although I intend to find ways of developing a proper collaboration and crediting their work.

What was I doing in Hong Kong for a week in the middle of term?  Well, I had quite a few things to do.  I taught Research Methods to a wonderful group of students on our MA TESOL (Hong Kong) who are about to embark on their independent dissertation projects.  I also visited the School of English, University of Hong Kong, and the Department of English in the City University of Hong Kong.  By the way the latter is now housed in a rather exciting site: the School of Creative Media, in the Run Run Shaw Creative Media Centre.  I presented papers on my Edwardian Postcard Project.  I also met up with Winnie Ho, one of my PhD students – so we’ve had a good laugh about how far Lancaster Uni supervisors are willing to go to meet their supervisees! Finally, I was fortunate to catch up with Carmen Lee, of the Chinese University of Hong Kong,  a long term associate of the LRC, including, of course, co-author with David Barton of Language Online: investigating digital texts and practices.

Research associate jobs at the Literacy Research Centre: Academics writing project

We are currently advertising two Research Associate positions in the forthcoming ESRC-funded project “The Dynamics of Knowledge Creation: Academics Writing in the Contemporary University Workplace”.  The 23-month appointments start from February 2015.  For details, go to https://hr-jobs.lancs.ac.uk/Vacancy.aspx?ref=A1098 .  Closing date Sunday 30th November 2014.

The research associates will be working with Karin Tusting, David Barton and Mary  Hamilton on an in-depth ethnographic study of the nature of academics’ writing practices.  Some more information about the project is available from here: http://wp.lancs.ac.uk/acadswriting/ .  This is an exciting project and will be a great opportunity for people with research interests in areas like transformations in academia, workplace literacies and academic literacies.  The research will be based in the Lancaster Literacy Research Centre, well known for innovative research into the role of literacy in social life, working with stimulating and supportive colleagues.  One researcher will be employed through the Department of Linguistics, and one through the Department of Educational Research.

Please circulate widely!!

For informal enquiries contact Karin Tusting: k.tusting@lancaster.ac.uk .

Minecraft and literacies: do videogames support children’s reading and writing?

I recently came across an online article suggesting that Minecraft and other videogames may support children’s literacy – see here: http://www.wired.com/2014/10/video-game-literacy/.

As a mother of an 8 year old who regularly spends time reading Minecraft handbooks, I am tempted to believe that the author of this article (I don’t know who s/he is) has a point. The books on Minecraft are always displayed in a prominent spot in my local bookstore. They must sell, I suppose. I have seen children bring them to school, to share with their friends

Looking inside the Minecraft books, I can see that they offer detailed instructions, are written in a sophisticated language and use many specialised terms. No doubt, my son and his friends are stretched when they read these instructions. May that be the reason why I also see them frequently turning to YouTube where they watch videos of more experienced and skilled adult players of the game?

And what about other games? Is Minecraft one of the reasonably ‘good’ games, demanding and difficult, with plenty of stuff to learn and thus of some interest to parents and educators? I am reminded of Gee’s ideas about videogames and what we can learn from them. In a recent discussion with my current Masters students we compared different games they know and what literacies they might involve. No doubt, some require more, others less. I wonder how interested teachers are in games such as Minecraft. Do they/can they support literacy?

Hans Nielsen Hauge: A catalyst of literacy in Norway

I’m fascinated by this article by Linda Haukland just published in the Scandinavian Journal of History.  Hans Nielsen Hauge was responsible for a movement spreading literacy (which entailed reading and writing in Danish at the time) in rural areas throughout Norway in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.  Despite persecution, Hauge succeeded in catalysing many activities involving literacies among working people, often without any formal education, including in isolated areas.  The homes of his followers became places where people could learn about the topics Hauge wrote about, springing from religion to embracing all sorts of everyday concerns.  Haukland shows how these new textually mediated opportunities to interact led to greater physical and social mobilities among the peasant communities.  Hauge himself travelled around from place to place, with books, texts and letters, and his followers, including women, wrote texts of their own and helped others to learn to read and write.

Anthropology of Writing book cover

Part of Haukland’s framing is the book The Anthropology of Writing edited by David Barton and Uta Papen.  You can download the first chapter of that book here.