Academic journal article Educational Technology & Society

Through the Lens of a Tetrad: Visual Storytelling on Tablets

Academic journal article Educational Technology & Society

Through the Lens of a Tetrad: Visual Storytelling on Tablets

Article excerpt

Introduction and research purpose

The study of digital and interactive information and communication technologies--so called "new media"--provides opportunities to reflect on several aspects of engagement; whether the focus is on users, technologies, or both issues of participation, mediation, and perception can be meaningfully explored. Moreover, broader questions arise when considering the shifts in socio-technical arrangements that arise as consequences of new media in different contexts, and when used by diverse groups of people. Questions include, what are the boundaries between the user and the device (Latour, 2012; Suchman, 2006; Orlikowski, 2002; Star, 1989); between traditional and new media (Marvin, 1988; Jenkins, 2006; Bolter, Grusin, & Grusin, 2000); between the information literate and the illiterate (Spitzer, Eisenberg & Lowe, 1998; Lewis & Jhally, 1998; Jones & Flannigan, 2006); and between ability and disability (Harlan, 1993; Sutherland, 1997; Barnes, 2003; Peppler & Warschauer, 2011)? This article reports on a comparative media study of adults with intellectual disabilities who used tablet devices for visual storytelling, and explores the role of sensory perception in boundary explorations.

Science and technology studies (STS) scholars have focused on the roles that technologies play in providing platforms for participation and inclusion. Moser (2006) employs feminist theory to explore how technologies contribute to processes of making, unmaking, and reproduction of definitions of disability. Notions of power and control are highly integrated when examining technology use, the disabled, and the disenfranchised. In the history of the evolution of digital technologies from pre-industrial revolution to more recent times we observe that many times technological practices transferred from communities of experts to less skilled communities unwittingly, and when this occurs there is the potential for an opening up of the status-quo, further potential for power shifts, and consequently shifts in the ways that we understand the social order and each other (Innis, 2007; Marvin, 1988; Ling & McEwen, 2010). However, as Goggin and Newell (2003) argue these potentialities do not always lead to the types of participation from the (dis)abled as we could imagine and often new media implementations reinforce existing social structures, particularly when viewed in in an abled-disabled comparative dichotomy.

The curiosity at the heart of this research is less about issues of power-as-agency as it is about power that may arise via the process of making art using technologies--instead of a comparison between abled and disabled people; we focus on those with disabilities and compare instead the media themselves. We conjectured that there is a relationship involving artistic expression, specific forms of technological mediation, and communication, experienced by persons for whom communication is impaired through disability. McLuhan (2003) anticipated the close relationship between art and media, particularly in reference to the ways that they combine to influence our senses. For McLuhan (2003) "art provides the training and perception, the tuning or updating of the senses during technological advance" (p. 208).

While the results of this study may be instructive to a broader population of people we focus on users with disabilities as they are a group for whom the use of new media technologies are sometimes assumed to be less useful in non-therapeutic applications. In the spirit of STS scholarship, which has incorporated and resurrected earlier technoscience scholarship including McLuhan's Laws of Media (Fuller, 2007, p. 2), we seek an understanding of how new media could alter disabled users' engagement with art-making as expression and participation, and in so doing open the status quo, and shift the ways that we may understand each other.

Background and influences

This study was inspired by students who are members of the Visual Storytelling Club (VSC), an extra-curricular art initiative for adults with moderate intellectual disabilities who are enrolled in a college program in Toronto, Canada. …

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