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Movies Over Books in Classroom - It's Impact on Learning

Updated on November 8, 2016
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Erwin Cabucos writes from Brisbane, Australia. He has Masters in English Education from the University of New England.

Technology in the classroom

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The shift from book to screen in the classrooms

By Erwin Cabucos

The use of visual-verbal or multimodal texts has predominantly taken over the use of written texts in classroom activities. For example, the new Australian Curriculum: English specifically recognises and prescribes non-linguistic texts in the way students engage with the subject. The Australian Curriculum aims to ensure that students “learn to listen to, read, view, speak, write, create and reflect on increasingly complex and sophisticated spoken, written and multimodal texts across a growing range of contexts with accuracy, fluency and purpose” (ACARA, 2011).

This call from the education sector is appropriate as the world in general has been significantly impacted by the sudden flux of technological innovations and our communication processes and practices, in particular, have been overwhelmingly inundated with a variety of text forms and modes through which teaching and learning are exposed. It is not uncommon in any classroom these days to hear requests from students of literature to watch the film instead of reading the book.

This is a challenge to schools and to teachers, in particular, who are at the forefront of implementing this calling. Macken-Horarick (2009) poetically refers to it as our [sailing] “on the unfamiliar seas… with the waters of an expanded field of textuality lapping at the gunwales.” Her metaphor can be extended by referring to it as rather an exciting journey where new frontiers of creative possibilities, engaging activities and interesting new grammatics for visual-verbal or multimodal texts can be explored. This essay will examine the change within the image-text relationship within the larger interaction of technology and communication.

More importantly, this essay will also examine theoretical frameworks and concepts through which two examples of multimodal texts will be subject for analysis and evaluation. The two texts are: Shaun Tan‟s 2003 picture book of the year The Rabbits and a youtube upload of Akmal Saleh’s Stand-up Comedy Performance at the 2010 Melbourne Comedy Festival.

The Shift from Book to Screen

The current advancement in computers and technology has certainly changed the landscape of our communication processes and practices. There has been a change from the dominance of the written text to the favouring of the image, a shift from the authority of the book to the popularity of the screen (Kress, 2003). Evidence for this claim can be easily traced in the way societies utilise signs and visuals to engage in communication processes and practices. Icons, arrows and commonly-coded visuals are used in computer-mediated communications. A student looking for a DVD of „Romeo and Juliet‟ in lieu of the printed version of the play is a common occurrence in many Australian classrooms.

Perhaps this can be attributed to the rather difficult word choices of the Shakespearean text. However, perhaps it is fairer to say that the current generation of young people are more inclined towards interacting with materials that are enhanced by visuals, images and if possible, hyperlinks, sounds and three-dimensional effects. Students of today would find it more interesting to receive class hand-outs enhanced with illustrations and sophisticated typography rather than a white page of paper filled with a big chunk of black-printed words. Significantly, the students‟ diverted attention towards the screen does not necessarily signify today‟s reduced intelligence. The shift to the preference for the screen simply favours multimodal texts as opposed to other modes of multiliteracies where meanings can also be found and negotiated.

The changing nature of the image-text relationship is best illustrated in the way images and written texts are used in advertisements. Written texts in early forms of advertising were the dominant carriers and conveyors of information and images were only supporting agents which did not provide nor were expected to provide new information. However, more recent advertisements use images as the major carriers and conveyors of information. Some current advertisements may still have the dominance of the written texts, but may also use images that carry added information. Many contemporary advertisements, however, simply leave a collage of images and written-texts complementing each other. What is significant in this image-text relationship is the noticeable favouring and desirability of the image. The following two advertisements of Vegemite support the changing nature of this phenomenon.

Moreover, the consequence of this change is the collapse of power and authority vested the written texts by the keepers of knowledge and perpetuators of dominant ideology. Traditionally, books have been the medium through which authorities in knowledge, learning and class standards are manufactured and disseminated. From the auspices of the monastics and scholastics, knowledge, information and cultural standards were kept to the educated elites and professionals. However, with the recent inundation of computer-aided communications activities, such as the Internet and digital media portals, texts, images, meanings, social groupings and discourses have burst into a kaleidoscopic array of interactions, productions, reproductions and consumptions at different times in and from different locations. Subsequently, the question of authorship, authority, standards, designations, and hegemony has been challenged. Suddenly, everyone can become authors, creators, producers, editors of texts, either discretely or conspicuously. New discourses, community networks and languages have been spawned, sometimes controlled if the participants are working within a monitored organisations such as schools, but oftentimes, they propagate free-flowingly and uncensored. Kalantzis (2011) has even identified a language "netlish‟ which is the digital and word wide web derivative of English as a medium of expression on emails and chat rooms.

The use of visual and other non-linguistic modes of communication has always been part and parcel of civilisation‟s activities in meaning-making. It is not difficult to notice some of the beautiful medieval religious texts, academic textbooks and a variety of every day and media texts where ideas and representations are illuminated. Communication has always been multi-semiotic (Kress, 1999:70). Anthropologically, symbols of significant ideas and sentiments have been uncovered, carved or painted on a variety of modes and locations, “consistent with the unspoken language and culture of their [people]” (Hall, 1966, as quoted by De Silva Joyce, 2007:9). It has been argued that “the visual sense evolved long before language and the way we interpret images is essentially the same as the way we perceive everyday reality” (Messaris, P, as quoted by De Silva Joyce, 2007:9). Non-linguistic texts have been commonly used as modes of communication and culture across times and places.

The reason that the image has become more desirable than the written texts is because it only operates on logic, as oppose to time. The organisation of the written text, being governed by the logic of time and of the arrangement of words, makes it laborious and demanding for today‟s digital and what Lemke (2011) refers to as „hasty environment‟.

Impact on Learning

These new developments in communication and image-word relationships have significantly impacted teaching and learning. Lemke (2011) cites the interactive learning paradigm which allows students to “pursue topics and interests and problems and agendas of their own and of the groups they participate in”. He suggests that students need to be engaged with more interactive and critical application of multimedia literacies. He implies that there are many opportunities for the students to apply creativity, selectivity, analysis and aesthetics with the information available to them. Lemke explains that this “new authoring skills will hopefully enable students to create multimedia portfolios that will help teachers remove the logocentric bias from our evaluation of students‟ understanding and competence, as well as enable students to produce the kinds of meanings they really want to mean” (2011). He also adds that critical interpretive skills must be applied to videos, films, news photos, advertising images, statistical charts and tables and mathematical graphs. In this new pedagogy, students will be given opportunities to create, share, use multi modes, learn to be critical and learn in context and purpose. Also, in these new literacies, there are opportunities to interrelate, find consistencies, evaluate purposes, appraise effects and celebrate aesthetics of the available texts, images and multimedia resources in learning and teaching. It is important for students to be able to select textual features, manipulate elements and discern meanings of the texts that are valuable and significant to both creator and recipients (2011).

In response to this challenge, De Silva Joyce and Gaudin (2007:4) have identified six theoretical approaches through which multimodal texts could be read and examined. They will assist students in interpreting texts, help them realise that that meaning is not just „in the words‟, guide students and teachers to create more effective multimodal texts, such as orals, webpages, digital stories, and reinforce among learners the importance of using language in combination with an array of meaning-making resources.

Theories that Underpin Multimodal Use in Education

At the onset it is important to cite the significant contribution of semiotics, the study of signs and sign systems developed by Peirce (1839-1914), Saussure (1857-1913), Jakobsen (1896-1982) and Barthes (1915-1980) in establishing seminal concepts that lead to the necessary tools in analysing advertising, film and media images. For semiotics, a sign is essentially what composes the image. The Signs then are connotative representations of cultural and ideological meanings which form part of the naturalised myth and beliefs.

The first theoretical approach is the social theory which is made popular into the early Twentieth Century by European philosophers and social theorists concerned on the way arts and media are influenced by, and in their turn influence, power and the way social power is established and may be challenged. The cultural studies theory from the 1970s is concerned with the social and political agendas and looks at the signs and symbolisms in the text to decode racist, sexist or consumerist messages in films, advertisements, and other media.
Moreover, the well-known media studies examines the features of composition and expressions, such as framing, perspectives and lighting. De Silva and Gaudin (2007:4) points out “the way a specific medium works is often more important than the content of the message it seeks to communicate”. Visual studies, which became popular in the last two decades only, is another approach which tends to combine cultural studies with art history and art criticism within the realm of visual technology.

Perhaps the last two approaches: visual literacy and quantitative approaches are the commonly used ones in terms of classroom and media affiliations. Visual literacy is used in classrooms to teach student-viewers how to analyse, interpret and construct visual images in a multimedia-robust environment. The visual literacy approach is cognizant that children will be guided to understand the visual and will be encouraged to create their own images as a way to understanding the broader media environment. The quantitative approach on the other hand is a form of content analysis solely focusing on the media to detect bias in newspaper and television news. Using content analysis helps unravel evidence of marginalisation and privileging of certain groups in society.

It is important to establish the place of the image as a text in the context of semiotics, the study of signs and signification to obtain meanings. Texts are „any instance of language, in any medium, that makes sense to someone who knows the language‟ (Halliday & Matthiessen, 2004: 3) and „may be very long, or very short; and it may have no very clear boundaries‟ (Halliday and Webster, 2009:56). They are a “meaning-entity‟ (Kress, 2011: 59) or „message entity‟ (Kress and van Leeuwen, 2006:15). The image or visual is a repertoire of signs and codes, with its size, colour, participants, shape, perspectives, vectors position, direction, camera angle, camera movement, shot type, light, and editing through which multiple significations, readings and meanings could be formed. Likewise, a text can be spatial, for example, location and movement in space, sports arenas, public parks, restaurants – spaces where inclusions and arrangements of objects can be subjects of study and examination to extract significations and meanings.

The above theories will assist students in interpreting texts, help them realize that meaning is not just „in the words‟. They will also guide students and teachers to create more effective multimodal texts, e.g. orals, webpages, digital stories, and reinforce among learners the importance of using language in combination of an array of meaning-making resources.

In our current new digital world, a shift to the dominance of the image over the written text has been created. This has subsequent effect on the teaching and learning activities at schools. The new Australian Curriculum: English has given emphasis to using multimodal texts in the subject English. Teachers and students should also be exposed to available theoretical frameworks through which they can anchor their discussion and exercises. The grammar of analysing multimodal texts is an exciting frontier for new kinds of literacies and modalities in education and in English learning. Multimodal texts, like any other texts, are rich in signs, significations and meanings which can be read and enjoyed by all readers in the subject English. The strong emphasis on multimodal texts by the new Australian Curriculum: English is challenging yet very exciting.


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Melbourne Comedy Festival, 2011, Akmal Saleh,, accessed on 2 September 2011.

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