Browsing metaphors

This conference paper examined the importance of visual metaphor as a key element of visual literacy to be addressed in literacy instruction, particularly in view of students’ increased exposure to visual metaphor in digital reading environments. Theoretical framework. The practice of basing the design of a digital interface on an existing, commonly used model in the real world is known as interface metaphor and is a widely employed strategy in interface design (Barr, Biddle, and Nobel, 2002, 2005). Longtime users of the Internet, for example, may have noted the “voyager” metaphors popular in browser design for Netscape Navigator, Safari, and Internet Explorer. Such metaphors position users in a particular way as adventurers charting new territories, and perhaps hearken back to the imperial project of global colonization with knowledge as the new territory to be colonized. The Firefox logo likewise is suggestive of global exploration, and “learner as fox” may suggest a certain craftiness in the endeavour. Even if they are not conscious of the metaphor, such metaphors may influence the way individuals view themselves and their agency in the learning process. In this study we have examined visual metaphors evident in a range of reading interfaces students are likely to encounter in digital environments. These included Internet browsers and online chat environments as well as reading interfaces on mobile devices such as text messaging platforms. We are in the process of analyzing these reading interfaces to arrive at a taxonomy of metaphors and to identify the way each of these metaphors implicitly positions readers. Given the nature of digital reading environments, which are invariably framed by interface design, and the influence of such design on users’ positioning in the learning process, we argue that understanding of visual metaphor common in such design should be a key element of literacy education.

Peña, E., Dobson, T., & INKE Research Group. (2013). Browsing Metaphors. Presented at the Canadian Society for the Study of Education (CSSE), Victoria, BC.