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New Literacies, New Agencies?

A Brazilian Perspective on Mindsets, Digital Practices and Tools for Social Action In and Out of School

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Edited By Eduardo S. Junqueira and Marcelo E.K. Buzato

From students as teachers’ pets to teachers as Second Life avatars, or from being ridiculed for not knowing your syntax to ridiculing others through multimodal remixing, something has changed in the way people are acting and being acted upon through literacies. From parallel text processing «under a cloud» to text-as-process enhanced by cloud computing, or from one laptop per child to several laptops left behind by children in creative spoken interaction, learners and educators’ actions through and around texts and technologies provide quite a telling example of such changes. From writing as technology to blogging as a tool for fostering critical mindsets within complexity, or from automatized knowledge acquisition routines to new forms of relating to knowledge and new perspectives on autonomy, social ordering and Self constitutional processes defy binaries such as agent/structure, global/local, social/technical, virtual/real, or even human/non-human. In this volume a team of scholars from some of the most prestigious Brazilian universities address these issues, and illustrate them with findings from research on the interplay between new literacies, digital technologies and social action in and out-of-school. The chapters introduce, or revisit, an array of theoretical constructs from education, sociology, linguistics and media studies, while presenting a new inside perspective about how research on new literacies is being carried out in Brazil. Altogether, they provide a very useful set of ideas, tools and analytical frameworks for researchers, teachers, and students of Education, Language and Arts and Communication worldwide, especially those concerned with technology-enhanced education and social inclusion.

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Chapter 4. Distributed Agency in Avatar-based Learning Vilson J. Leffa 69

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Distributed agency between humans and nonhumans is a concept that has been around for some time and has been approached from different perspectives, including artificial intelligence (Rammert, 2008), business administration (Whittle, Suhomlinova, & Mueller, 2010), literary criticism (Taylor, 2009), edu- cation (Facer & Sandford, 2010), and sociology (Taylor, 2001). One of its assumptions, of special interest in this chapter, is that human autonomy is a myth (Rammert, 2012), meaning, in this case, that we, as human beings, can- not act without assistance from the artificial artifacts around us. The idea that we depend on what is available in our environment to achieve our goals is cer- tainly not new and can be traced back to Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, as well as being an important concept in more recent theories of moral and intellec- tual development, including, for example, the influential ideas of Piaget (Kohlberg, 1981) and Vygotsky (Cole & Engeström, 1993). There is no disagree- ment between these more traditional theories and distributed agency concepts, as long as the artifacts are treated as tools, in what may be described as agent- artifact interaction (Harris, 2012). The issue arises when these artifacts are treated as agents in their own right, from a functional parity perspective (Harris, 2012), producing what could then be described as agent-agent interaction, as implied in a stronger version of the distributed agency perspective. This is the · 4 · Distributed Agency in Avatar-based Learning VILSON J. LEFFA Junqueira_t3 contrib 9/9/2013 8:49 AM Page 69 point where dissenting voices are...

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