Academic Discourse Deviation: risks, opportunities and consequences of multi-modality.


This is an essay I wrote for my MA TESOL module on Issues in EAP. Unfortunately, it did not score well. It did not meet the requirement of the University (Nottingham) of links the theory to practice. I wonder why I was not aware of this – I think during my previous MA the criteria were different and I had not adapted. Also, I admit getting carried away with the theory – I enjoyed reading about the development of discourse (Bazerman) and exploring Bakhtin and looking at Saussere. I also tried non-standard style with the opening of quotes that (I felt) encaptured the perspective on the topic which were then elucidated throughout the essay.

But hey, the essay is about the risks of deviating from standard discourse – in some way, scoring only 53 epitomised the risk being elaborated upon – expressing meaning in a different way may make it harder to be understood.

Anyway, by putting it here, perhaps it will be useful to someone if they stumble upon it and read it.


Academic Discourse Deviation: risks, opportunities and consequences of multimodality.


“Multimodal, dialogic texts contest the primacy of the essayist, monologic approach to writing … in HE”

Lillis, 2003


“Digital academic texts have the potential to disrupt our ways of making arguments and describing ideas.”

McKenna, 2015


Lillis (2003) suggests multimodal and dialogic forms of meaning making offer an alternative to the standard monologic, text-based academic discourse. McKenna (2015) suggests that differences may relate to ‘ways of making arguments and describing ideas’. ‘Academics are increasingly turning to digital spaces’ (McKenna 2015) and the affordances of technology have reduced the primacy of text-based knowledge representation through language; other forms, especially image, are becoming increasingly common and are found in combination with other forms. The consequences of changes in meaning representation from, for example, text to image or image with text to moving image (video) with text are important as:


“A semiotic is hard pressed to provide an unproblematic transparent and ‘direct’ translation for meaning made in another semiotic.”

Latour, 1992 (in Idema 2003)


New ways of making meaning and representation are available through multimodality but knowledge created using a different semiotics would inevitably have a different meaning.

Structure of essay

This essay seeks to identify what the consequences of adapting multimodality within academic discourse are and to elucidate what the key considerations for choosing to utilize multimodal opportunities are from the perspective of the scientist, researcher or student. The argumentation is as follows: first the setting of the analysis in an academic literacies perspective is introduced. This essentially sees writing as a social activity. Next, ‘multimodality’ and its roots in Hallydian social semiotics and systemic functional grammar are covered briefly and linked to more recent concepts such as ‘multimodal discourse analysis’, intersemiotic complementarity (Royce 2007) and resemiotization (Idema 2003).

Academic discourse is described in terms of the historical development of the genre with particular reference to Bazerman’s analysis of the ‘scientific report’ published in 1988. The academic research paper is considered as an ‘utterance’ in the Bakhtinian sense and acknowledges a ‘dialogic’ form of meaning making.

These aspects are related to the reader’s schema of the genre. Discourse deviation (Cook 1994) is understood as challenging the schemata of the reader.

The possible consequences of changing the mode from still image to moving image, to represent Event Related Potentials, are analysed as an example. Some generalizations of the risks and opportunities are made and the main considerations for a student, researcher or scientist are discussed.

  1. Academic Literacies

Prior to Academic Literacies (AL) the framework for assessing and developing student academic writing was deemed insufficient. The prevailing approach reflected a ‘normative attitude that discourses (of …) are not open to negotiation or criticism’ (Canagarajah 2002). AL rejects the notion that suppression of alternative discourses is necessary and beneficial to the academic community. It recognizes that writing is a social process: ‘based in social practice, historical experience and interests’. AL argues ‘vernacular of L1 may enhance expression’ (Canagarajah 2002). Furthermore, it is an approach to writing that allows for the representation of individual identity representation and with it, more flexible discourse is allowable.

1.1 Examples of progressive multimodal academic discourse

Kairos ( is an online journal that publishes peer-reviewed articles. Other forms of meaning making being experimented include the ‘intertext’ by Colleen McKenna (2015). This prezi (more commonly used for presentations as an alternative to using PowerPoint) covers the same topic area as the text-based version published in Lillis et al. ‘Working with Academic Literacies: Case Studies Towards Transformative Practice’, 2015. Another notable publication was the PhD thesis produced entirely in comic book format by Nick Sousanis, defended in 2014 (Sousanis 2015).

  1. Multimodality – opportunities

The term ‘communicative competence’ was introduced in 1972 by Hymes (in Royce 2007). He stated that people need to understand how the community of speakers uses the language to be able to communicate effectively.

Savignon (1972) (in Royce 2007) articulated the idea of communicative competence as a target for second language learners:

“Ability to function in a truly communicative setting – that is, in a dynamic exchange in which linguistic competence must adapt itself to the total informational input, both linguistic and paralinguistic”.

‘Total informational input’ introduces the notion of dealing with different forms of integrated meaning receptively and being able to combine various modes, linguistic and other nonverbal forms, to express meaning. This reverberates strongly with the notion of multimodal communicative competence.

However, the starting point to describe the concept of multimodality often refers back to Hallyidian social semiotics (Halliday 1978) (for example as introduced in Idema (2003), Camciottoli & Fortanet-Gomez (2015). He stated that language is functional, semantic (can make meaning), semiotic (making meaning meanings from the total possible options, and meanings ‘generated and exchanged are motivated by their social and cultural contexts.

Royce summarises (2007):

“This social semiotic view of communication implies that whether a text contains only verbal, or both verbal and visual modes, it can and should be viewed as embodying the pattern of purposeful choices made by it’s constructors in order to make meanings for others it receive and respond to in some way.”

2.1 Inter-semiotic complementarity and resemiotization

To express meaning with multiple modes, an author needs to consider how different modes create meaning together and how meaning changes when one mode is used instead of an alternative. For example, words and a visual image can produce meaning together as ‘one domain is mapped onto the other’. This follows ‘conceptual metaphor theory’ (Lakoff and Johnson 1999). This form of analysis considers that the one form (visual) could be more dominant than the other (verbal) or vice-versa, or the meaning could be complimentary.

Choices should take into consideration the gains and losses of using a particular mode: ‘potential of different semiotics’, what they ‘enable and/or constrain’ (Kress & van Leeuwen 1996). Regarding using language:

“Natural language contains no continuum of degree.”

“The natural world is about kinds and degrees.”

“Representation of the world requires a combination (of modes).” Lemke, 2004

Lemke illustrates the very necessity of multimodal expression to represent the world in a meaningful way. Language categorizes objects and things. Modifiers can be used to give more precise meaning but there cannot be a continuum of degree. Language forces categorization upon descriptions of reality that are then understood, shared and become accepted as accurate representations of reality.

In some cases, an alternative mode would offer an alternative representation of reality and facilitate the production of research in that area using a similar mode of representation to share research findings. Yu & Owyong (2011) investigated the use of symbols (for example ‘CO2’) in chemistry. It is argued that once fixed, this symbolic representation helped chemistry develop as a paradigm (Yu & Owyong 2011).

  1. Discourse deviation – risks

Multimodality is about representing knowledge in different ways that can facilitate, inhibit and direct future knowledge creation.

Bazerman (1988) explored how the nature of the experimental research paper from its beginnings in 1665 to the 1980s. The development of the research is explained in terms of the changing expectations of the scientific community. The findings within the reports are ‘socially legitimized’ in ‘socially orgainsed forms’ and may or may not be ‘accepted into the codified literature’ (Bazerman 1988).

Bakhtin in ‘The problem of Speech Genres’ notes that a genre is a relatively stable type of ‘utterance’ linked to a particular sphere of communication. The ideas expressed within an utterance are a chain of expression full of dialogic meaning making. All utterances, even when adhering to a genre contain elements of individual style (Bakhtin 1986). This lends support to using alternative modes of representation and thus evolving a discourse. But as noted: ‘not all genres are conducive to individual style.’

Kress (2003) highlights ‘the broad move from the now centuries-long dominance of text to the medium of the image’. Kress notes that people from different cultures may interpret the images differently. This can be viewed through the application of different schema that is used to project an expected structure onto a social event (Whitney 2001). These schemata also carry shared assumptions and understandings (content schema) as well as rhetorical schema (Gurkan 2012). ‘Readers interpret the meaning of a text through (own) shared values, customs and assumptions (Gurkan 2012). Multimodality offers ways to express meaning that may be unfamiliar; the audience schemata may not be activated. This poses a risk for the writer who wishes to place the new idea within a set of shared knowledge. The greater the discourse deviation (Cook 1994) the greater the risk that the idea will not be understood. If the unfamiliar can be understood then meaning is transferred, if not, then ‘confusion’ is the likely result and possibly rejection of the validity of the idea (Stockwell 2006).

  1. Using moving image

When there is a need to express meaning with a ‘continuum of degree’ the use of image should be welcomed as the categorisations (and therefore approximations) that take place when language is used, distort reality when represented and reality is distorted again in more unpredictable ways – by the reader.

Moving image offers a way to present changes through time on a continuum of degree. Moving image could not only be a video or model of reality changing in real-time or slowed-down / speeded up depending on the time scale of the observation but also of the correlations between variables. A third variable, often ‘time’ can be represented by movement. This resemiotization changes the meaning making process from one of looking at multiple graphs representing different points in time to simply observing one. This could have significant consequences beyond simply concerned with using image. Firstly, multiple variables can be presented and relationships between them shared easily. The continuum of degree is significant when the additional variable is time. Looking at multiple graphs required the reader to remember the previous graph and relate the next graph to it. The discrete points on time measure moments in time rather then giving the complete view of what occurred.

Therefore, utilizing multimodality to represent multiple modes simultaneously without the need to use language to describe the interaction between the modes could better represent an accurate version of events to another interested scientist. The process of knowledge sharing could be enhanced; ideas can be validated or invalidated through replication more easily. The area of research investigated here points to the end of the rigid discourse of the behaviourist psychologist’s report, as suggested by Bazerman (1988). Investigating brain activity opened up a new way to understand psychology that has led to a different form of empirical experiment.

4.1 Event Related Potentials (ERPs)

Brain scanning technology measuring Event Related Potential (ERPs) has become widespread. These are represented in through a variety of graphics in research papers. The spatio-temporal nature of the information presents a challenge. The ERP readings occur at different points on a map of the brain and also at different points in time.

The graphic Fig 1 below shows the level of ERP at 3 points in time. The colours are used to represent the levels of ERP taken from scalp surface measurements. However, this is represents a continuous change over time. The interpreter of the information would need to conceptualize the continuous change by inferring the changes from one time frame to the next. Also, the time frames are already covering increasingly longer periods of time: the image on the left 100ms, then 200ms and then 300ms. The conceptualizing of the actual event becomes increasingly difficult.

Fig 1. From Cohn et al. (2012), “Voltage maps illustrate the differences across the scalp surface of ERPs evoked by panels in Structural Only minus Semantic Only sequences (top row), and Semantic Only minus Structural Only sequences (bottom row) at the 300–400 ms (N300), 400–600 ms (N400) and 600–900 (late negativity) time windows.”

A moving image of the two cases could assist the interpreter to some extent. The meaning represented would have greater ‘semiotic closeness’. Creating a moving image that allows the reader to control the timescale could be created and embedded into the research report [for example, in Miller 2016, published in Kairos].

4.2 Risks

Inferencing from schema is not eradicated; it is transferred from the readers, applying individual and varied schemata to make inferences, to the researcher (the writer). The original recordings are from points in time and are not continuous. A moving image created from the measurements taken would require inference of missing data in order to create a moving image. There is a risk of presenting an event that is an inaccurate representation of the data recorded.

There are already concerns over the validity of ERP related studies:

“Neuroimaging is definitely the hottest topic in cognitive science. If you produce a study that is accompanied by at least one high-resolution scan of some aspect of the brain, preferably also with some parts of it lit up (and all of it, of course, in vivid colours!), people will know that this is serious matter.”

Dornyei, 2009

ERP research suffers from two serious issues: no one is sure exactly what causes the ERP measurements, ‘what N400 actually indexes’ (Kutas, VanPattern and Kluender 2006) and that identical patterns of ERP activity does not necessarily mean the same neural processing took place.

He mentions the use of ‘vivid colours’ as a way to increase the validity of the findings. Here, he is not only referring to how technological advances enable areas of research to become possible, he is noting the effects of mode of representation on perceived validity of research. The use of moving image could further attract more research into an area that measures and represents something (ERP) that is not even fully understood.

  1. Discussion

Language is now losing its place of prominence as a way of communicating meaning. Technology now allows the creator of the text to utilize the various modes available. Perhaps, with the advent of multimodality, language should and other forms of meaning should be studied under the umbrella of ‘Semiotics’ originally put forth over 100 years ago by Saussure (lectures noting ‘semiotics’ were presented to students from 1906-1911). However, given the primacy of text (language) over the intervening 100 years the study of language has been most fully developed. Multimodality research has started to address the in-balance and study different semiotic systems and importantly the interaction effects of using different modes together.

The effects of these changes can be seen in terms of gains and losses, opportunities and risks. Knowledge creation and sharing is affected by changing modes and historical developments of discourse indicate that these changes have consequences on areas of research pursued.

The more immediate consequences on the individual scientist, researcher or student relate to making appropriate choices. It is important to understand how the discourse operates to facilitate the communication of ideas. A discourse is never fixed and any deviation from the standard discourse is possible but any deviation is a risk. The research findings may not be understood in a consistent way – any change in mode, changes the meaning understood. Meanings become fixed and accepted overtime. The meanings understood and shared by a community are settled upon through a dialogic negotiation (Bakhtin 1986). Assuming multimodal offerings (including moving image and sound) become the norm after sometime, the complimentary meaning created by using the modes in conjunction with each other cannot fully be predicted. The meaning created through ‘juxtaposition’ for example can only be stated with certainty after the negotiation has taken place. If the value of this element causes unpredictable meaning outcomes, it may become the norm to ignore or avoid using such an element all together. In this sense, declaring the meaning created by intersemiosis is premature. The scientist sharing his research should not only pay attention to the gains and losses of each mode but also be aware that multimodal adoption of the kind published on the online journal Kairos, is still in the early days of the process. Almost all academic papers submitted for publication are still produced on a page, are written within the margins of a page despite the near absence of need to actually print it onto paper.

Furthermore, the community of scientists is now international, with researchers coming from varied backgrounds. The community may ultimately settle on a meaning that is prevalent in one culture over another. For example, Kress (2003) speaks of a culture that is familiar with a writing system from left to right to interpret the juxtaposition of image to text in a different way to an alternative writing system. An image on the right of the text may be considered as being more prominent and important if the reader’s native writing system is written from right to left as opposed to left to right. The eventual meaning settled upon (if any) would depend on the community itself. Meanings of elements are not directly imposed upon a community of users (Saussure).

Finally, the writer would need to consider their own identity within the community of scientists and academics that is their audience. Using moving image in a published research paper that is not the accepted form of meaning representation could for example, be not only more difficult to understand, but risk the researcher being seen as an outsider. Being the pioneer within the field may assist credibility in the field or it may cause the research to be respected by some disciplines that have long since agreed on a fixed discourse. It may be worth noting that those in the community that a novice researcher wishes to impress may have more conservative ideas regarding the forms of acceptable meaning presentation for example, multiple annotated stills to present gesture versus embedding the actual three-second video of a gesture taking place.

5.1 Other constraints on multimodality

There are other constraints that have not been considered fully in this paper. Two constraints worth a brief mention are: the value institutions place on paper-based records and access.

A new university library completed recently in 2009 for Georgia Southern University boosted enough storage space for 70 years collection growth capacity (Lilli 2013). It was expected that the publication would be in duplicate form – one paper-based version as well as an online (‘e-paper’) version (Lili 2013). This predicts that in 2079, academic papers will still be restricted to modes within the margins of the page. I personally feel that this university library will never use up all the available space.

Universities all around the world may have Internet access although in some places the connectivity speed may be slow and intermittent. This may mean that printable versions are still important for readers in these regions for sometime to come. However, in terms of the university in the developing world with tight budgets, when making a purchasing decision regarding buying an online version or paper-based versions or both, it is likely that buying an online version would be cheaper, even if the reduced cost is solely related to reduced storage costs and transportation costs. Increased accessibility due to cost concerns may in fact encourage the proliferation of publication solely for the online space if problems related to Internet connectivity are overcome.

This essay has attempted to identify the consequences of adapting multimodality within academic discourse and to elucidate key considerations for choosing mode with respect to the meaning created and represented, from the perspective of the scientist, researcher or student.





Bakhtin M., (1986), Speech Genres and Other Late Essays, translated by McGhee V., University of Texas Press.


Bazerman C., (2000), Shaping Written Knowledge: The Genre and Activity of the Experimental Article in Science, WAC Clearing House, Landmark Publications in Writing Studies: Originally published in Print 1988, by University of Wisconsin Press, Madison, Wisconsin.


Camiciottoli C., Fortanet-Gomez I., (Eds.) (2015), Multimodal Analysis in Academic Settings: From Research to Teaching, Routledge.


Canagarajah S., (2002), Multilingual Writers and the Academic Community: towards a critical relationship, Journal for Academic Purposes, 1, p29-44.


Cohn N. et al., (2012), (Pea)nuts and bolts of visual narrative: Structure and meaning in sequential image comprehension, Cognitive Psychology, 65, 1-38.


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Dörnyei, Z. (2009), The Psychology of Second Language Acquisition, Oxford, Oxford University Press.


Gurkan S., (2012), The Effects of Cultural Familiarity and Reading Activities on L2 Reading Comprehension, 3rd Int. Conference on New Horizons in Education INTE, 55, p1196-1206.


Halliday, M.A.K., (1978), Language as Social Semiotic: The Social Interpretation of Language and Meaning, Edward Arnold, London.

Idema R., (2003) Multimodality, resemiotization, extending the analysis of discourse as multi-semiotic practice, Visual Communication, 2(29).


Kress, G., van Leeuwen, T., (1996), Reading Images: The Grammar of Visual Design. Routledge.


Kress, G., (2003), Literacy in the New Media Age, London: Routledge.


Kutas, M., C. K. VanPatten, and R. Kluender (2006), ‘Psycholinguistics electrified II (1994–2005)’ in M. J. Traxler and M. A. Gernsbacher (eds.): Handbook of Psycholinguistics, 2nd edn. London: Academic Press, 659–724.


Lemke J., The Literacies of Science. In Saul E., (Ed), (2004), Crossing Borders in Literacy and Science Instruction: Perspectives on Theory and Practice, International Reading Association.


Lili L., (2013) The Future of Academic Libraries in the Digital Age. In Trends, Discovery and People in the Digital Age, p253-268.

Lillis, T. (2003). Student writing as “academic literacies”: Drawing on Bakhtin to move from critique to design. Language and Education, 17(3), 192-207.


Liu Y., Owyong Y., (2011), Metaphor, multiplicative meaning and the semiotic construction of scientific knowledge, Language Sciences, 33(5), p822-834.


McKenna C., (2015), Digital Writing as Transformative: instantiating academic literacies in theory and practice. In Lillis et al., Working with Academic Literacies: Case Studies Towards Transformative Practice. Perspectives on Writing. Fort Collins, Colorado: The WAC Clearinghouse and Parlor Press. Available at

And accompanying ‘intertext’ prezi located here:


Miller B., et al. (2016), The Roots of an Academic Genealogy: Composing the Writing Studies Tree, Kairos: A Journal of Rhetoric, Technology and Pedagogy, 20(2). Available at:


Royce T., Bowcher W. (Eds.), (2007), New Directions in the Analysis of Multimodal Discourse, Lawrence Erbaum Associates, Inc. Chp. 12 Royce T., Multimodal Communicative Competence in Second Language Contexts


Saussere, F. de. (1983), Course in General Linguistics. Tr. Roy Harris, London: Duckworth.


Sousannis N., (2015), Unflattening, Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press.


Stockwell P., (2006), Schema Theory: Stylistic Applications, Encyclopedia of Language and Linguistics (Second Edition), p8-13.


Whitney P., (2001), Schemas, Frames and Scripts in Cognitive Psychology, International Encyclopedia of the Social and Behavioural Sciences, p13522-13526.



ASIA CALL 2014 Learning Reflections with a boundless future

ASIA CALL 2014, Taiwan

Perhaps the most significant moment that occurred was the disappointment from a presenter, who at the beginning of a talk on digital literacies realised that the audience was not at all familiar with dialogic meaning construction. I was one of the audience who didn’t know Bakhtin. Up to this point, I at least have some awareness of Piaget, Vygotsky and other theories. Bakhtin proposed dialogic knowledge construction focusing on changing roles and identities rather than ‘acquisition’ of knowledge. It would appear that other theories of learning focus on the individual and dialectic synthesis rather than the social co-construction of knowledge. With dialogic meaning construction, the self and other (interlocutor) come together in dialogue building meaning together. Learning is a process vs. an event as expressed in dialectic learning. The event of learning from Bakhtin’s view: ‘spark of insight’. (I feel these moments -humble insights;-) occasionally while trying to integrate new theories that I’ve recently read about on this blog.) Words and meaning are all stories linking previous expression to future expression. With reference to language learning, it seems to stress the importance of voice and register, linked to sociolinguistic proficiency – a speaker needs to choose the correct register to identify with group, express function, maintain position, develop further opportunities for interaction etc. While doing so (back to Bakhtin) there is the conflict of intersubjectivity (developing shared understanding with others) and alterity (need to distinguish oneself from others). I would say for a L2 learner trying to be accepted by the new language group, alterity is less of an issue as you are often in the position of ‘foreigner’ anyway, although you may still wish to express your individuality with respect to other foreigners and the stereotypical character perception.

Texts – (e.g. knowledge artefacts)

In any text, there is also the interesting dynamic of conveying meaning and creation of new meaning. Texts can be designed to convey and create to different extents (poem vs. law document.) What is this blog? To convey and create meaning for myself or for others? As a means of reflecting on recent readings and to weave ideas together, this is a mixture of conveying meaning and creating meaning (for myself) but at the same time posting online allows the ideas to come alive and potentially weave and interact with others’ knowledge building. I should also note that since becoming aware of the dialogic / dialectic difference, I have seen references to it all over the place in the literature on learning. It’s interesting to reflect on how I did not ‘notice’ the term – I had constructed meaning from texts and probably misconstrued the intended meaning of the author. Mmmnn, authors/artists/musicians must always make a judgement call as to when to explain and when to assume understanding will be sufficiently shared by all readers.

Regarding creation of ideas and poetry/art interpretation:  some viewers may expect finality of meaning and may see little value in creating further meaning themselves. If meaning creation is expected and it is OK to interpret the meaning differently, then this would need to be made clear and encouraged.

Final point on dialectic and dialogic exchange, I think when creating an opportunity for dialogue whether in the classroom or some form of Computer mediated communication, the design can allow and encourage a finality and synthesis of meaning creation when appropriate (decision making systems?) or not and focus more on the exchange and development of various ideas simultaneously (brainstorming?).

Other takeaways from the conference:

– research takes a lot of effort! (weeks of tracking down students and analysing questionnaires and recordings! I had help but with already 35 students with 4 questionnaires each and 70+ recordings of approx. 10minutes each, this took hours and hours)

– the depth of reading is essential before designing the research – so glad I read up on Seglowitz ‘Cognitive Fluency’ – this prevented me from over valuing the quantifiable aspects of fluency (measuring turn length, pause length etc) and assuming this provided a simple neat correlation to performance fluency as judged by a trained or non-trained assessor.

– the stats don’t mean anything if there are too many jumbled up variables – a group of students is made up of individuals with varied learning styles, interests, personalities, level, age, developmental histories etc. Stating ‘this mode of learning is better than this one’ when so many variables are all interacting with each other at any point when the student performance was measured, is invalid.

– moreover – its almost impossible to isolate any variable so I think we should tell a story (describe the actors and plot) and conclude tentatively.


Other further reading that has come out of the conference:

I read a bit on social constructivism and in my mind there would be overlap with Bakhtin. Meaning of words are co-constrcted and differ from person to person and continuously change (historical- cultural view of individual knowledge?). Dialogic stresses words are determined by speaker and interlocutor together. Learning and understanding are co-developed without aiming to reach agreement or synthesis. The lack of finality would be the key difference here. But (minor spark…) why not go further and say meaning construction can be diabetic and dialogic simultaneously – I already know that what I think I know right now will be different to my understanding tomorrow, and yet I seek some closure when trying to make sense of something or when in communication. Meaning and perspectives generated by others are able to spark an concept of understanding in my mind but I wish to reach a level of appreciation to which I can label ‘OK, got it – I see what you are saying’. (Relating this to assessment for a moment – assessment and achievement testing would seek to identify an understanding of a concept at a point in time, assuming closure of development has taken place to some extend.) I think perhaps those that constantly push their own learning and can almost track their own changes in perspective are maybe aware and more comfortable with simultaneous process knowledge construction and more dialectic knowledge construction.

Ramachanran, mirror neurones, self-identity and fluency

The meaning of anything is a coexistence of my understanding of something with all other’s understanding. From that, I conclude that it’s impossible to ‘know’ anything as it is impossible to know how everyone understands something at any given moment. This also applies notably to understanding of ‘self’. I am as I see myself and how others see me. Therefore I don’t really know myself. I understand self for me, but not self for others. (I have since started to catch myself making projections about my ideal self – mostly in terms of the ‘self for others’. This is still Bakhtin (I think).

Relating that to: Dornyei 2009 Theory of Motivational L2 Self system (From Segalowitz again – Cognitive Bases of L2 Fluency), we have IDEAL self – (would like to become), EXPECTED self, FEARED self (what we try to avoid – lonely, depressed), OUGHT-TO self – image that we believe others have of us. I think these are all interconnected. I can make a projection of myself in terms of my feared self as I don’t want to appear to people in my social group. For language learning, this could be most important and a development away from integrated motivation. The desire to associate with the group identity of the language group not doubt provides a strong motivation. The language which you speak shifts your own cognitive mechanisms toward those of the target group to some extent. You are able to share meaning more closely – creating a feeling of closeness. This (also in Segalowitz) is presented as a reason that to become fluent a person needs to be able to manipulate certain fixed phrases adeptly to achieve fluency. Using certain fixed phrases in the right way can reassert identity within the group.

So, Ramachandran – a strong promotor of the theory of mirror neurones, which he claims may be the development behind an ability to copy, imitate and share knowledge amongst our early ancestors. The mirror neurones fire and replicate the feeling of doing something that someone else is doing. So, using a phrase correctly within a social/L2 language group may be able to fire more mirror neurones to in the audience – creating a greater sense of group identity and ‘closeness’.

The need for relatedness and group identity is strong within us all I believe. Perhaps, when learning an L2 the shift into another group identity can help us find a place of acceptance and further motivate us (I have spent most of my adult life in China, speaking Chinese.) Or perhaps, L2 motivation is generated by wishing to be seen as a person who can speak L2 well, to be more accepted into a particular L1 group (affluent Chinese people?). In this case the motivation would perhaps not be so strong as a desire to really take on the identity of the new L2 group. The alignment of self for others and ideal self (actual identity and values system you wish for yourself) is important. Cultural understanding and language are an element of conflict which can further polarise the group identity of the opposing groups. Motivating the dominant group to learn even minimal levels of language of minority group is difficult due to the perception of values of the culture, as well as the conflict it creates within the established social group you are in (OUGHT TO self). You may be rejected by your current social group. This negative motivation can be overridden by the need to carry out commerce in some cases but this is limited as the minority group receive school instruction in the majority language. (This is all in reference to NW China.) Conflicts are generally negatively perpetuating and its difficult to reverse downward trends once set in motion. Language learning and motivation can play a large role in moderating polarised group identities. There have been some tentative moves in the direction of promoting the positive cultural values which could be seen as a pre-cursor to promoting further language exchange. This policy and a serious push to allow all groups to celebrate each others festivals would be positive. (I’ve heard of numerous friends noting the need to continue working as their boss says they cannot have time off.)

Finally, Schmidt on Noticing

Time to wrap this up, seeking some temporary closure to my current conceptual understanding. Now, speaking of the term’Noticing’, I’d heard of this, talked about it like I was some kind of expert and even made online self-study courses based on helping the student to ‘notice’ the language. Again, like with my reading of ‘dialogic’ I had never felt the need to question and look into it in any particular depth, satisfied that I understood it sufficiently well. In fact, SLA literature is strong in presenting noticing almost as a given. It seems to make intuitive sense – at least on the surface. My understanding of noticing seemed to fit comfortably with my conceptualisation of constructivism (personal rather than social) in that after the rule had been noticed, the mind would generate a pattern or rule associated with the use. This language item would be tried out in various contexts, if the user finds their speech to be unsuccessful then understanding of a concept is re-configured. This rebalancing of disequilibrium may come from self-reflection or from interaction with a teacher to scaffold or correct issue, or to answer question about language use.

But – how much of this learning process as I had conceptualised it required conscious vs. non-conscious noticing? If it’s all conscious, then it’s more learning rather than acquiring right? Should a learning process in the classroom be designed to generate conscious or non-conscious noticing? And….how to best promote not only noticing of a language item, but also the generation of a pattern that can be transferred? Does the generation of a pattern assume critical thinking skills of self-identifying function and assigning of attributes related to context (when where how to use)?

It’s clear that language input needs to be noticed – paid attention to, and awareness may facilitate the noticing and lead to more conscious pattern building, but without awareness of the process, this pattern building may take place on its own. Perhaps this is the difference between declarative knowledge and proceduralised and lexicon building vs. vocabulary. Perhaps the aware form of noticing can lead to quicker above chance performance but for full fluency to be attained the different aspects of social use need to be mastered as well – these elements of learning can proceduralise the ‘learnt’ knowledge. These social aspects of knowledge use are perhaps noticed on a non-conscious level (difficult to reflect on how your speech has affect your position within a group while having a conversation).

SO, maybe awareness noticing the best way to go to speed up the process of learning related to a grammatical form and rule, but this will always have it’s limitations. Fluency requires some re-organisation and efficiency of use but maybe the greater chance of initial successful use that benefits from more conscious aware noticing are important to promote motivation and successful integration within social group, thus providing more opportunity to integrate and practice more. To reach a re-organised more efficient processing state the knowledge of the initial pattern building (conscious) may have to be rebuilt while taking into account non-couscious form of learning attributes. Then the only thing guided teaching would do facilitate the proximal development of the self constructed knowledge. This would recognise the temporal nature of the understanding and allow for more efficient processing later. Perhaps as a teacher, recognising the temporal state / process of knowledge construction is key.

But wait, a Chinese learner expects a definite answer, direct correction, finality… and without reflection or having to generate patterns, other than accuracy based assessment rather than appropriate functional use. Being aware and noticing would not be enough, the evaluating process and pattern building may need scaffolding at an early stage. The process of transference of a language item to another context may also need scaffolding (key to build fluency of access). The ‘temporal state’ is either correct and should be fixed or incorrect and should be fixed.

So far, I have mainly tried to reflect on performance fluency. I feel the efficient organisation of information is perhaps key to this. Thinking about the noticing and creation of this knowledge, it would be interesting to look at noticing fluency, knowledge creation fluency etc… Critical thinking fluency may allow some learners to generate patterns and integrate new knowledge much faster than others. A learner would be more effective if they have gone through the process of scaffolded noticing, then proceeded to self-scaffolding and production. Finally, the mind would be able to process new language input in the most efficient and effective way to integrate it into existing knowledge. Is teaching people how to learn in the digital age what this is all about?

Gamifying ekaola IELTS mock tests Part2

4. Activity loops

Engagement loops

Based around the principle of teacher feedback that indicates learning had taken place. This can simply be

1. additional moments of encouragement presented to the student as they study – ‘ticks’, ‘thumbs up’ etc.

2. reminding students how they compare with class average (no explicit leaderboards)

3. boss fights – these are indicated to the student by completing the mock and the full follow-up

Progression loops

1. progress bars added to summary pages, how many mocks completed, how many to go

2. Progress bars added to self-study courses to indicate how many activities completed so far

3. Study plan – breakdown into 5 steps (1. Read comments and listen to recording 2. Note down mistakes and repeat phrases 3. Complete self-study content 4. go to websites and note down topic and 5 new words or phrases 6. watch teacher tip video) with progress bar


Representing symbols of achievement that teacher may award e.g. ‘star’ on paper / tick

Complete first mock – Starter badge

Improve on last mock score by 50 points! Skill booster (speaking

Improve on last mock score by 100 points! Elite skill booster

Complete first follow-up study plan! Positive attitude

Submitted first practice mock for teacher! Positive plus!

All mocks completed, with study plans = Super student! badge and ~ free live mock!

Unexpected, random, but related to performance – the most pandas at the end of the course – free live mock with a panda!



Before first mock – remind students that it’s easy to do, stress-free (low challenge) Try your first mock! It’s easy, don’t worry!

After first mock – reminders to complete study plan – add motivation ‘Carry out these activities to boost your score next time! It’s going to really help!’

After the study plan is finished: (socialisers)

‘How about doing a simulation to improve your pronunciation! Over half of your classmates are trying this!’ (need to keep up with classmates) or ‘How about doing a practice mock for your teacher to listen to? Impress your teacher!’

Later to challenge them to beat their score:

Last time you scored well but this time you can do even better! Go for it!


5. Just for the fun

Avatars – basic, female or male

Design of badges – fun style please

Messages from teacher (trigger), with teacher’s avatar!

progress of movement one mock to next mock – follow metaphor on first page with stopping points depending on number of mock completed. Moves up along the line towards the rocket!

Activity tracker – who what, and gained what badge,

John completed a writing mock test! He gained a skill booster badge for improving by more than 50points!

Say congratulations – click ‘Congrats’ (like ‘like’ button),

Give a gift to be funny a pet ‘panda’, soft fun motivator to engage with friends on social and competitive level. (Pandas only become available if you earn a badge.)

For giving a panda – add a note of encouragement, e.g. well done!

Hope that generates some ideas or if you have any suggestions I would love to hear them.

Gamification plan and proposal – Ekaola IELTS preparation site

The following is a first draft attempt to formulate a gamification of the IELTS preparation site

1. Defining business objectives

Repeat sales – persuading a new school to use the service relies on generating trust of quality and through finding ways to illustrate expertise related to IELTS teaching and grading. Once this has been achieved (no small task), then the school makes a tentative purchase to try out the grading service. If they see that the students benefit, they will hopefully commit on a larger scale and make a more long-term, commitment. Student benefit relies on students exploiting the resources on the site as much as possible notably doing the mock tests and also carrying out the follow-up study plan (videos, reading, self-study units) and using the simulation room to get pronunciation feedback.

2. Target behaviours

Timely mock testing

Type A behaviour: some schools will simply control the process by leading all students to a computer room at a set time and then coordinating mock testing all at once. Extrinsic motivation (potential punishment) to do mock-test, little to no attempt to change value perception, harder to generate engagement loops

Type B behaviour: Some schools may not have these facilities and as such the students have to motivated enough to complete their homework/mock test in a timely fashion. Perception of value needs to be increased (shift to integrated regulation) as much as possible. This is about actual value – beneficial feedback – and guiding the students in such a  way to realise the potential value without relying on extrinsic motivation of teacher/school punishments. Engagement loops can be generated easier after first mock is completed.

Feedback follow-up – key to generating engagement loop and motivation to do future mocks

If students carry-out the feedback follow-up activities this will hopefully make them realise improvement, feel a sense of pleasure from learning and nearing their goals and ultimately understand the benefit of the process. They will also be more motivated to carry out the next mock and potentially study additional content available on the site and perhaps choose to voluntarily take an online live class. The more time on the site, the more benefit to the student, the more likely there are more live or non live mock tests carried out.

3. The players

Tech-savy, young (age 18-25), Chinese, high online activity, (one of the highest in the world), practically addicted to phones and constantly using social networking sites to interact with friends online (it’s a challenge to work with this in class) On the face of it, they would appear to be well-suited to online learning even without a gamified system however, they are generally externally regulated when it comes to learning in general. For the most part, learning anything school related is seen as book, teacher, classroom and something that has to be done to avoid punishment. The few lucky ones who are able to escape this and jump into perhaps a self-perpetuating engagement loop are the most intelligent few who can feel motivated by the knowledge that their scores and relative class performance is at the top – explicitly presented to students in the form of scores. With intrinsic motivation generally lacking, there is also an issue of value perception of online learning. Online activity is generally considered to be fun and distracting attention away from actual learning that occurs by looking at a book. (I have heard of instances where parents actually use going online as a reward for having completed the book homework.)

The challenge is to devise a learning system that not only takes some of the elements of popular sites (fun, social interaction etc) as well as enable the students to realise the benefits and this challenging the value perception of online learning. The balance is required – can’t make it too much ‘fun’ otherwise this might not be perceived as valuable, but need it to be engaging to make the students actually want to do it and then realise the benefits.


How to gamify doing HW?

I have started a course on Gamification on Coursera to be able to put myself in a position to implement it on Ekaola (IELTS preparation website). Trying the ‘Signature Track’ this time around – I think it will certainly motivate me to finish the course knowing I have paid for it. Interesting how that works, relating cost to value and commitment. Perhaps this relates to using money and considering the alternative benefits that could have been consumed with the same money – and also knowing that it would also take effort to ‘earn’ the money spent back again. There’s an attempt to avoid the negative emotions associated with wasting money, making a bad decision. Many websites give stuff away for free (freemium’ model) to attract people to pay for the good stuff. The ekaola website now moves to give away all the learning content for free – and as such the students and teachers attach little value to it and don’t necessarily use it as a result. In strange contrast to a more traditional based paper text book – less interactive media forms, without instant feedback, no speech recognition feedback etc etc. Perhaps the key to a business success is riding a wave of a change in perception of value, as much as spotting where value can be created in new ways.


This all has little to do with gamification unless we consider that a website is perceived as being of a higher quality when there is evidence of gamification on it. Everyone will have a suggestion about how to gamify a learning website. It follows the trend and there is supposedly solid evidence to show that it improves results – not having it can lead people to conclude the learning experience designer is a bit out of touch or the development team have a lack of awareness of their field. So, this maybe relates to the perception of value but in order to add some gamification elements I’m finally looking into this once and for all. Any gamification needs to add actual value as well as perceived value. And already from the initial videos and readings, I’ve realised that this is going to be more complex than PBLs as the professor calls them (points, badges, leader boards) although no doubt there will be a bit of that.

So, it’s about adding game elements to activities generally not associated as being game-like. In the case of the learning website, this is about getting students to study more. The learning is the goal – tied to this is the business goal of charging for the grading of submissions. With the mock test writing and speaking submissions graded online – this is how the business operates. The submissions are set as homework – everything is in place for the student to benefit from the feedback – but the final catch is getting the student to complete the HW! To integrate the website the teachers ideally schedule some class time to allow students to ask questions about the feedback they have received and even begin the follow-up study that has been suggested by the teacher giving the feedback. When the submissions are not made timely, the class schedule can begin to fall apart, the chance is missed to add further value to the students’ learning.

Goal 1: full integration of online mock test submissions into current classes as HW

Goal 2: Students actually do the HW punctually

I think gamification can help as part of the second goal. To motivate the students to complete the HW through prizes and points, perhaps some healthy competition amoung classmates, a chance to show off achievements in social networking sites etc, not sure exactly yet.

This is one tool of many – the other tools rely on teacher and centre buy-in – to show the students that the site is a valuable learning tool for them. It’s got to be useful for teachers as well as students – the non-paid for HW submission function should help with this. Breaking down the different ways students can submit HW in ways that align with the current HW submission process of the teachers is important, along with adding a simple feedback mechanism for the regular teacher to use.

Give it all away for free except for the submission grading – the teacher may recognise the value through the additional freedoms that it allows – ease of organisation, providing feedback – and then this voice, along with the gamification elements may bring about the tipping point in usage. I sense we’re getting closer, not quite there yet but not that far off either.


#CIC Creativity and knowledge frameworks

Had some more time this week to return to online courses, one work related on Child Protection (engaging, scenario based format, relating to key themes, with links and statistics) and 2 on coursera: Creativity, Innovation and Change, and Accountable talk.

I want to try and link the ideas around types of creativity to knowledge framework of Cynefin. There is a scale of creativity according the course principles: adaptively creative, meaning you take the existing systems and parameters that define the problem and seek improvements or reformulations of the same process, vs innovative creative where you question the existing parameters and processes, ideas may be considered more ‘radical’ or ‘out of the box’.

The cynefin framework as far as I understand it, relates to situations where different amounts of information are available, from ‘simple’ – where all variables are known, we know know how each variable affects the other. In this case, I would say that the case for following established best practice, would be a good fit here. Then we move to environments that are more complicated. Here, many different variables are interacting with each other in ways that it is impossible to understand fully. However, there are experts out there who can help and be called upon to give advice about what to do. There are common attractor states and models to follow. However, there is some unpredictability. Perhaps, a change in circumstances, political turmoil, economic uncertainty, national celebration, new technology has brought about a change. In my view, this is when the ‘out of the box’ ideas come in. The parameters that you were once working within have changed. An expert has sufficient awareness of the the interacting variables within his field to know how this change in circumstances can allow for new opportunities. In the case of knowledge and learning, this might relate to utilising a new piece of software to lead to more productive learning experiences.

The other 2 elements to Cynefin are ‘complex’ and ‘chaotic’. The ‘complex’ situation is when many variables are interacting with each other in new and unknown ways. Everything is affecting almost everything else. In this case, I think the model of Intelligent Fast Failure overlaps with Cynefin model when it talks about trying things out and learning from them. This way you are able to understand the interactions between variables better and gradually formulate the best course of action as you learn. You should not expect to succeed the first time around.

The last sector is ‘chaotic’. In this situation, I would say everything is affecting everything else and its almost impossible to hypothesise on the best course of action to take to meet any goals. Perhaps the best policy to take would be ‘fail to safe’ / ‘do no harm’ while trying the IFF approach.

I’ve enjoyed looking at the course material so far and have been prompted to reflect on my creative style. I wish to complete the project and will probably focus on my current online ekaola exam preparation site. I like the ‘morphological’ analysis involved of assessing the service again: ‘when, why, who, how’. It has also brought me awareness of the fact that there are many people out there like me trying to develop a currently small but potentially big business and that this takes ideas but more importantly – energy and drive. I think I need to plan out any achievements step by step and gradually realise the goals bit by bit.

Finally, the course on ‘Accountable talk’ relates quite directly into good training and classroom practice. This is about helping people to develop their ideas and reminds me of the auto tutoring systems I looked at a while back when thinking about developing reflective learning online. The example video of the students is nothing short of impressive with the students aged about 12 asking each other to extend ideas and reflections about the book they have read with almost no teaching prompting. I think this is going to be interesting to explore for teacher training work (online and offline) as well as trying to prompt better self-reflection and perhaps even peer assessment on the online course in future.


San Jose Uni professors MOOC concerns and MOOC developments

 San Jose professors complain about the influence of MOOCs – ‘social injustice’!
Mmmn, my views on this one…
First of all, I can say that it’s possible to learn and be engaged by MOOCs. I’ve done a couple of the more radical MOOCs that attempt connectivist style of learning which I found was really inspiring and I’m onto my second MOOC on Coursera. I did the ‘Elearning and digital cultures’ a few months back and really enjoyed it –  I would like to share the digital artefact I made for that course.
Right now, I’ve started to an intro to Python programming course. Arrggh – it’s like I’m torturing myself! but I’m learning a lot. Maybe what’s missing is some kind of buddy system? with students paired up to others to offer tips and mostly encouragement to keep going.
The issue of the article as far as I can see it, is about whether students at different universities around US/world should be watching the same videos from the same lecturer. There’s a concern that the message being presented is not suitable for all students in different contexts with different life experiences etc. I think in terms of this issue of relevance and meeting students needs, the issue is probably pretty minor, especially for introductory courses to students who have broadly the same cultural background. I think the professors at San Jose are more concerned with a possible reduction in status and prestige than a concern about the education quality received by the students. It would appear that it’s just like choosing a textbook for the students to use in class, although the medium of the message is different – video rather than text. But, of course, that’s easy for me to say – I’m not a professor, never have been and probably never will be.
My overarching approach to online learning is let it do what it can do well (i.e. let students watch lectures in the form of videos etc) and keep the face to face discussion for high value collaborative communication – deep meaningful learning experiences.
I think that MOOCs in coursera could become the answer to oversubscribed introductory courses and the first year of university may become more of an online thing rather than a on campus going to lectures thing. Once the value of face2face discussion becomes more important then in the 2nd and 3rd years, students will be more inclined to pay for the interaction with the professors.
Back to the issue of teaching students from different cultural backgrounds:
Sebastian Thrun, the Udacity guy, said that there could be only 10 universities left in the world in the future. He has a point maybe – that less universities could be required in terms of massive university campus blocks. But I think the numbers will be greater than this as students from different cultural and language backgrounds will require slightly different approaches to learning and perspective on the learning materials. I would guess that the philosophy of Plato needs to presented in a different way in China compared to the US, as a result of students’ different cultural backgrounds.

#EDCMOOC The Social Human

My submission of digitial artefact for the EDCMOOC is:


The robot introduces a world where human interaction in person essentially no longer exists as it is no longer necessary. People are constantly connected to each other, the internet has become a connection of minds and we are all simultaneously collectively intelligent. This vision is certainly trying to draw on some of the transhumanist principles of the human being, in particular – that it is a work in progress.

The most relevant derivative values from the Bostrom article that relate to the version of the future presented:

  •         Improving understanding (encouraging research and public debate; critical thinking; open-mindedness, scientific inquiry; open discussion of the future)
  •         Getting smarter (individually; collectively; and develop machine intelligence
These are both facilitated by the constant state of collective connectivity – to each other and to the internet.
So what does this say of attempts to identify what makes us human and the need to recognise this as we move forward from a ‘post-humanist’ perspective? My thoughts on this are that our ability to communicate and interact socially has been crucial to the success of the species. It has been proposed that homo sapiens expanded rapidly and overcame other forms of human at the time when they began to develop language abilities. In a sense, the ability to communicate ideas and work together the deciding factor in the successful domination of the homo sapiens of the planet and its resources. (See video here). Therefore, I think, for what it’s worth, that the need to communicate does not define us as humans as such, in terms of granting pleasure or providing a sense of fulfilment, this is related to the fact that we had utilised this ability and we are innately aware that it is crucial to our survival. In this light, communication online helps us achieve this need but we are aware that it is not as good as face to face. There are elements of meaning that are being communicated that are missed – an emoticon cannot express the precise expression and feeling of the individual, it can only be an approximation.. even a video call presents a slightly distorted version of the real think as the data is processed sent and presented on the screen the other end, and in addition we of course cannot experience the location of the other person which gives fuller context and meaning, we are limited in the body language etc. Therefore, there remains a craving for the real thing as, through face to face communication, we are aware that we can see the full picture – and perhaps this increases the chance of survival of the species or (in terms The Selfish Gene, Richard Dawkins) the successful replication of our genes.
Well, that is probably asking whether there can really be any consideration of what it means to be human as opposed to anything else that has the goal of reproduction. To be human simply means, we have become good at doing what everything with a gene wants – that is to reproduce and the crucial factor that has led to this success is the ability to exchange ideas and thoughts through language primarily but on a more basic level through relating meaning to symbols of representation whether sound/voice or visual or the other senses.
Development as Freedom (extra)
The essay by Badmington noted that perhaps many philosophical ideas that have come to represent the key elements of post-humanism have come into difficulties as fresh insights into the nature of humans have come into light. In particular, there was the rights. Could we be defined by a set of all encompassing rights? The essay suggests that, no, as there are some cultures and regions that dispute this. In light of reflecting on the posthumanist approach I think that these still hold and this has always been the case. I think a universal set of rights are applicable to all humans as this facilitates our ability to survive on a simplistic level – civil and political rights give us freedom to communicate ideas with others.

#EDCMOOC China and internet

This is an article from China Daily which as I see it, is used to present the China perspective to foreigners as a balance to the western media. In this article a Chinese professor criticises  a Human Rights Watch report about surveillance of internet use by the government. In it, he outlines what I think is the general perspective within China regarding the internet, in that it is allowing for greater expression and freedoms but within boundaries. I would agree that currently, there is an expansion of expression happening at the moment. However, it’s far from utopian as all communication is monitored and sites which allow communication that cannot be monitored (for example google+ groups, hangouts, anything from youtube) are blocked and are only accessible via a VPN. The professor tries to justify the monitoring and restrictions. I would say that most Chinese people are aware of these and accept them (at least for the moment) as freedom of expression has at least expanded a little compared to previously. Corrupt officials are regularly exposed through social media sites. That said, my office colleagues are cautious about posting anything controversial, such as an official document signed at end the war with Japan. This showed that the Japanese conceded defeat to the Nationalist government and not to the Communists at that time. My colleague chose not to post it in case this was contrary to the popular understanding that the Japanese conceded defeat to the Communists although they were not in fact the recognised power in China at the time. (They defeated the Nationalist forces after the Japanese were defeated.) I wonder if the professor in the article would agree whether or not this should be posted and shared on social networks.
So, to summarise I would say the internet is being embraced and seen as a good thing offering more ways to express ideas and connect to information. However, people are aware that the freedoms only go so far.

The original HRW article can be found here.

#ETMOOC A Language Learning MOOC – Thoughts & Vision « A Point of Contact

A Language Learning MOOC – Thoughts & Vision « A Point of Contact.

Exploring how to use connectivist mooc style learning for language learners.

I think the prospect of hastagging homework published online in the form of a digital story/learning artefact could bring learners studying from the same classroom material together to connect and interact together, is very exciting.