I have been perusing an article recommended by a colleague that appeared in the March 2016 edition of the New Yorker magazine. The article is entitled Learn Different - Silicon Valley Disrupts Education and written by Rebecca Mead. In this article, the activities of AltSchool Brooklyn, a new kind of school and learning environment, are discussed. What this article highlights is the multimodal environment that AltSchool Brooklyn has created. What is multimodality? How can it ‘disrupt’ the education paradigm as we know it? Multimodality is the ability to communicate in terms of the textual, aural, linguistic, visual, and spatial modes. In a paper written by Nathan Phillips and Blaine Smith entitled “Multimodality and Aurality: Sound Spaces in Student Digital Book Trailers,” the authors raise this issue of the emergence of multimodal learning, but in the context of it being a product of the “global, fluid, and networked nature of contemporary societies.” The authors again posit here that “a key aspect of this is the reconfiguration (my emphasis) of the representational and communicational resources of image, action, sound, and so on in new multimodal ensembles.” From the above accounts, one can deduce that multimodality has the potential to at least reconfigure education as we know it, in much the same vein that Uber has reconfigured taxi transportation. This is what, from the article by Rebecca Mead in the New Yorker, is what AltSchool seeks to do. The point of convergence between literacy, learning and digital technology is indeed the creation of a multimodal environment for learning and most importantly, meaning-making. Meaning in the multimodal scheme of things is created in and interpreted through multiple channels. These modes or channels include text, sound, image, gesture, and body language among others.
According to author Len Unsworth, James Gee, in his book What Video Games Have to Teach us About Learning and Literacy suggests that “the combination of images and text communicates things that neither of the modes does separately. But he also noted that for learning to be critical as well as active the learner not only needs to be able to understand and produce meanings but also how to think about meaning-making in particular contexts at a ‘meta’ level as a complex system of interrelated options.”
What does all this mean for the future of learning? If as according to the above, there are ‘meaning makings’ that happen only when certain modes are working in combination, then it can be said that the present educational paradigm is lacking in terms of some aspects of meaning-making. The learner also has to be able to function in environments where he or she is able to apply the meaning making made at a micro level to a macro level. Is American education ready for this reconfiguration?