Susan O’Neill

The expansion of people’s literacy and wellbeing through intergenerational curricula

In their recent book, Why Multimodal Literacy Matters”, Rachel Heydon and Susan O’Neill (2016) bring together theoretical understandings, educational practice and empirical research findings to conceptualize wellbeing and multimodal literacy and to illustrate potential learning opportunities that promote wellbeing when people who rarely come together do through singing-infused, multimodal curricula. Literacy research has focused increasingly on the social, cultural, and material remaking of  human communication. Such research has generated new knowledge about the diverse and interconnected modes and media through which people can and do make meaning and opened up definitions of literacy to include image, gaze, gesture, print, speech, and music. And yet, despite all of the attention to multimodality, questions remain that are fundamental to why multimodal literacy might matter to people and their communities. How, for instance, might multimodal literacy be implicated in wellbeing? And what of the little-researched sonic in multimodal ensembles?

For centuries singing, as a basic form of human communication and tool for teaching and learning, has been used to share knowledge and pass on understanding of the world from one generation to another. What, however, are the implications of singing and its effects on people’s prospects for learning and making meaning together?  In this paper, Susan O’Neill talks about expansive notions of wellbeing and what is created when skipped generations are brought together through singing-infused multimodal, intergenerational curricula. Drawing on research from their recent book involving a seven-year study of intergenerational singing in multimodal curricula, O’Neill will discuss why multimodal literacy might matter in fostering the expansion of people’s literacy and identity options across the lifespan.

*My research is located within two related areas focused on multimodal and music learning and youth engagement and related aspects of young people’s perspectives, experiences, valuing, identities, wellbeing, learning relationships, and cultural understandings. An overlapping concern is to gain more inclusive, discriminating, and integrating perspectives on youth issues in relation to multimodal and musical learning, and how to initiate and sustain meaningful and equitable youth-adult and youth-peer creative collaborations that support youth engagement, empowerment, and social innovation in practice.

A key focus of my current scholarship involves mapping young people's learning ecologies and creative meaning making, particularly within learning contexts involving interactive digital media. This focus on learning ecologies provides an interface between multimodal activities, materiality, networks, human agency, connectedness, and the construction of learning identities within the contexts that render young people’s experiences purposeful and personally meaningful.

My research on transformative music engagement (TME) explores what is needed for young musicians to become deeply and purposefully engaged in the process of music learning. As an orientation to research, TME contributes to our understanding of young people’s perspectives on what initiates and sustains their involvement in music learning activities. As a learner-centered practice, TME seeks to provide educators with new approaches and more inclusive and expansive learning opportunities that help to deepen and enhance young people’s music engagement, empowerment, wellbeing, and musical flourishing. Within the TME perspective, research and practice inform and support each other.

I am also interested in creative collaborations and the potential of using interactive modes as resources for learning, communication, and expression. Current research projects focus on intergenerational multimodal learning, intercultural learning, and dialogical inquiry, drawing on theoretical ideas from critical youth studies, critical pedagogies, critical social psychology, multimodal literacies, communication and media studies.

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