Comparing School Science Explanations in Books and Computer-Based Formats: The Role of Images, Image/text Relations and Hyperlinks

By Unsworth, Len | International Journal of Instructional Media, Summer 2004 | Go to article overview

Comparing School Science Explanations in Books and Computer-Based Formats: The Role of Images, Image/text Relations and Hyperlinks


Unsworth, Len, International Journal of Instructional Media


INTRODUCTION

Many school age students (and older adults) enjoy popular science programs on the national public television and radio broadcasting service in Australia, the Australian Broadcasting Commission (ABC). One of the most popular personalities is Dr. Karl Kruszelnicki. 'Dr Karl' has degrees in Physics and Mathematics, Biomedical Engineering, and Medicine and Surgery, and, as well as a popular science writer and television and radio presenter, he is the Julius Sumner Miller Fellow in the Physics Department at the University of Sydney. His books include titles like Ears, Gears and Gadgets (Kruszelnicki, 1997a) and Forests, Fleeces and Prickly Pears (Kruszelnicki, 1997b), but equally popular with many students is his zany ABC science website (http://www.abc.net.au/science/k2/ efault.htm). Websites like this (as well as some more sedate school science websites) and CD ROMS like Encarta (Microsoft, 1994), and The Way Things Work (Macaulay, 1994), are popular 'out of school' sources of enjoyment for many students, and are increasingly being incorporated into school science resources (Lankshear, Snyder, & Green, 2000; Russell, 1999). This emphasizes the potential of computer-based texts for engaging young learners in school science and also the need for educators to understand what and how students are learning, and could learn, from such resources. However, while the ever-changing affordances of information and communication technology continue to impact on the nature and role of subject-specific literacies in school learning, it appears that students and teachers will continue to work for some time in an environment where conventional book and computer-based texts co-exist (Hunt, 2000). In such an environment it is important for educators to understand the changing repertoire of literacy practices required to negotiate the changing textual habitat as textual forms in both hard copy and digital electronic media continue to evolve and influence each other (Bigum et al., 1997; Reinking, McKenna, & Labbo, 1998).

The affordances of computer-based texts, such as hypertext, windows, articulation of audio with text and image, and the inclusion of dynamic images, have fundamentally transformed many of the literacy practices derived from interaction with conventional texts. This means we need to reconceptualize the ways in which text form relates to text comprehension and composition (Burbules, 1997; Garton, 1997; Inkinen, 1998; Lankshear, 1997; Richards, 2001). However, although there is no doubt that multimedia, electronic, information sources are quickly taking up the communication of much information previously presented solely in traditional text formats, this has not meant the extinction of conventional literacies. Rather, they are maintaining a complementary role as well as being both co-opted and adapted in the evolution of our textual habitat (Goodwyn, 1998; Lankshear et al., 2000; Leu & Kinzer, 2000; Rassool, 1999). To understand the contrasts, continuities and complementarities of literacy practices entailed in using texts in conventional and digital electronic formats, research is needed on the nature of the relationships among the rhetorics of electronic and conventional, texts and the comprehending strategies readers need to use (Kamil & Lane, 1998). A first step is to investigate how the rhetorical organization of conventional texts relates to their rhetorical organization in digital electronic form. Three key parameters of such an investigation are the organizational structuring of the written texts, the nature and role of images, and the rhetorical use of hypertext within digital electronic formats. This paper focuses on the latter two parameters.

INTEGRATING VISUAL LITERACY--IMAGES AND IMAGE/TEXT RELATIONS

As part of the "hybridity' of digital electronic texts, emphasis has been given to the significance of images and of 'visual literacy' as one dimension of the 'multiliteracies' involved in engaging with such texts (Bolter, 1998; Kress, 1997; Lemke, 1998; New London Group, 2000; Purves, 1998). …

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