LEARNING SPACES / DIGITAL EDUCATION / MULTIMODALITY / SOUND
After fourteen enjoyable years working in widening access at Lothians Equal Access Programme for Schools, I'm about to follow a different path as I embark on a PhD in the School of Education at Edinburgh University. Although my departure is temporary rather than permanent, my colleagues were keen to mark the occasion and proposed that we finish early on my last day to take a leisurely stroll around the city, stopping for food and drink along the way.
The problem with this plan was that a care-free amble around central Edinburgh during the Festival season would need to navigate crowds of visitors and performers. Instead, I put together a route that would take in some of the city's quieter closes and streets, whilst at the same time visiting some of the locations that have featured in my working life over the last fourteen years. Fittingly, we began in George Square where I was first interviewed for the job that I'm now taking a break from. Some hours later our journey drew to a close outside Moray House School of Education where I will take my first classes as a PhD student later this month.
To add wider interest to our walk, I proposed that as we passed different sites of interest we should consider how they had changed over time. Thus, before setting out on our adventure I searched through the digital archives of the National Library of Scotland and SCRAN and bookmarked a series of buildings, streets and squares that we would likely pass on our route between George Square and Moray House. The different sites are foregrounded on my iPad in the images below. There's a juxtaposition here not just of new and old buildings, but of traditional and digital approaches to capturing images.
Something I like about the images is the trace of my work colleagues: their hands, cagouls and partial on-screen reflections. Bearing in mind how closely we have worked, it was fitting that my colleagues should have a presence within the images . Another thing that strikes me about the images is the occasional lop-sided positioning of the iPad, reflecting the architectural imperfections and character that make up this part the city.
I also captured a short ambient audio recording at each site we visited. In a second representation of the collected data, the video below combines the sight and sounds of each of our stopping points.
I think the video offers different insights into the same locations captured in the earlier slideshow. An obvious example would be how our journey was accompanied by the almost constant hum of traffic, even when there were few or no cars in view. Elsewhere, the sound of music, a child crying and a passing conversation about a visit to the zoo reveal a warmth, humour and emotion that isn't always present when we consider the photos in isolation.
The way that these different semiotic resources converge to create new meaning – and to contest the ideas we might draw from a single mode in isolation – is something I have touched on before. In January of this year, alongside my digital education colleagues Jeremy Knox and Michael Sean Gallagher, I undertook and then presented an exercise in multimodal autoethnography in a district of London. We came to the same conclusion: by tuning into the gathered aural data we were able to see beyond the edges of the snapshots we had taken of the parks, pavements and public houses of EC1.
The way that the introduction of sound contests the impression of contemporary Edinburgh presented in the slideshow prompts me in turn to consider whether the same rules might apply to the archived images. Or to put it another way, if we somehow had access to sound recordings taken at the time of the photographs of old Edinburgh, would we draw different conclusions about the stories that appear to be unfolding in some of the images? I wonder whether our understanding of how we used to live that we might take from the apparent calm and tidy order of the archived images, would change if we were to hear the sounds pouring from the sepia-tinged breweries, printworks and classrooms that dominated Edinburgh's Southside a hundred years ago?
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I am a Lecturer in Digital Education (Education Futures), within the Centre for Research in Digital Education at The University of Edinburgh.