In this study, I used the construct of design to examine the interplay of texts, tools, and participants to ask, “How are educational environments designed and how do participants interact with designs to create spaces.” I approached this question from the theoretical stance that material settings (e.g., schools, classrooms) may be designed for particular uses through institutional norms and purposeful thought (e.g., curriculum guides, technologies, architectural designs), but the way participants take up designs is not given a priori. Using ethnographic methods and spatial theories, I studied the literacy practices of a high school class designed for learning with and through multimodal textual practices, focusing on how this design of learning operated within the institutional norms of a comprehensive urban high school.
Data included participant observation, qualitative interviews, and analysis of cultural artifacts, but spatial theories (de Certeau, 1984; Deleuze & Guattari, 1987; Lefebvre, 1991; Soja, 1989, 1996) and theories of design (Kress, 2003; New London Group, 1995) guided the selection and analysis of the data. Stylistically, this dissertation uses video and hyperlinks as a representational tool to illustrate the connections between conceptual fields and to illustrate how meaning is made and conveyed through the added dimensions of multimodality.
The dissonance that the teacher’s designs caused with the school’s available designs is one of the most interesting findings. By breaking temporal and spatial boundaries of what constitutes a class, an academic discipline, and a teacher/student relationship, the teacher and the students used multimodal literacy practices in ways that offered fewer opportunities to assimilate understandings of what and how it means to learn and teach in school into available designs. The participants’ interactions with the designs were mediated, however, by their cultural understandings of the purpose of school, their place in the school, and the potential of learning in school. In other words, the rules and grammars of available designs of school were co-constructive in the active designing by the participants.