Saturday, March 19, 2016

Rethinking gesture use in technology and (pronunciation) teaching

Personal digital communication technology is revolutionizing our understanding of the critical role played by touch in accessing "data" and thinking. As students rely more and more in school and out on handheld devices, the designers and promoters of those interfaces are far out ahead of educators in systematically exploiting the "haptic" (movement plus touch) possibilities, what Sinclair and deFreitas term "tangible gesture". Not all gesture involves tactile engagement, of course, but that which does in cutting edge haptic technology has much to teach us about the effective use of gesture, especially in pronunciation teaching.

A recent paper by Sinclair and de Freitas focusing on "tangible gesture" provides a helpful framework for understanding better the value of systematic haptic gesture work. Quoting the abstract:

" . . . This re-thinking of gesture returns to the principle of indexicality found in Peirce’s material semiotics, and develops this principle through the work of Gilles Châtelet and Gilles Deleuze around hand-eye relationships. Drawing on the work of Jürgen Streek, we propose and discuss the notion of the tangible gesture, in the context of mathematical explorations of young children with a multitouch iPad environment designed to promote counting on and with the fingers."

Allow me to translate that: As research in haptic learning has long established, what touch does is create a more efficient, integrative bridge to meaning that gesture alone may not accomplish. In effect the point of touch by the hand can drastically narrow the focus of attention and enhance the bonding together of the concept or symbol and object or process underway.

More practically speaking, a gesture involving strategic touch in pronunciation teaching on a stressed syllable, for example, should be substantially more effective in promoting the acquisition or access to memory of the targeted sound, word or phrase than the same gesture done without the haptic anchor.  

Tangible gesture. Nice concept. More on it shortly. Keep in touch.

Sinclair, N. and de Freitas, E. (2015). The haptic nature of gesture: Rethinking gesture with new multitouch digital technologies. Gesture 14:3, 351-374.

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