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Multimedia literate, expert says

Johnny can’t read, they say. But he can watch videos and understand the message. Johnny can’t write, they say. But he knows how to use a digital video camera. Johnny can’t speak clearly, but he can tell stories through images and music. Johnny, they say, is not literate.

Others say he is literate in ways some people don’t understand. That is the crux of the problem educators face: How do you deal with students—K-12 and college-level—who fall into the “multimedia literate” category? One expert says the answer is simple: You embrace them.

Elizabeth M. Daley wishes everyone had the multimedia literacy of some so-called illiterate students. This fall, she is coming to the U-M School of Information to deliver the second John Seely Brown Lecture on Technology and Society titled “Screen as Vernacular: Expanding Concepts of Literacy.”

Daley, dean of the School of Cinema-Television and executive director of the Annenberg Center for Communication at the University of Southern California, champions literacy as a total package of “nontext writing,” or two-way communication that incorporates sound and visuals. In nontext writing, various forms of low-cost technology become an instrumental part of the learning process.

As society moves toward immersion in text, audio and video communication, the truly literate—no matter their age—must be fluent in all forms of expression, she says. Daley will outline what this means for children, schools and the work place. Multimedia literacy may be the foundation that all information professionals must be willing to understand, she says.

The event, named for John Seely Brown, retired chief scientist of Xerox Corporation and former director of its Palo Alto Research Center, will be at 3 p.m. Oct. 3 in the Michigan League Ballroom. A reception will follow.

The free symposium will include two other public components. A presidential panel from 9–11 a.m. Oct. 4 will discuss the implications of expanded concepts of literacy for higher education. Panelists include U-M President Mary Sue Coleman; Robben Fleming and James J. Duderstadt, former presidents; and Homer A. Neal, former interim president. John Seely Brown, Elizabeth Daley and Prof. Daniel Atkins of the School of Information also will participate.

At 10:30 a.m. Oct. 5 in 170 Dennison, Hideo Mabuchi, associate professor at the California Institute of Technology, will participate in a special Saturday Morning Physics program being held in conjunction with the U-M Department of Physics. The popular Saturday presentations take highly scientific topics and present them for a lay audience. Mabuchi’s talk will address quantum physics in conjunction with multimedia literacy.

For more information, visit or call (734) 763-2285.


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