Staff spotlight: Words are not enough for classroom success

Published: Monday 24th August 2015


International success: Professor Len Unsworth (left) shares his expertise around the world, including China.   

Teachers need more than words to connect with students, and should employ a full range of communication for maximum effect, according to Professor Len Unsworth from ACU’s Learning Sciences Institute Australia (LSIA).

“Words are important, but they are not enough,” said Prof. Unsworth, who joined ACU in 2014 and leads the Educational Semiotics in English and Literacies Education research program within the LSIA.

“Language needs to integrate alongside other communication forms, such as images. In this digital age kids are not going to be successful in the modern world without a full range of communication.”

Semiotics is the study of how signs and symbols (visual and linguistic) create meaning and semioticians like Prof. Unsworth continue to make a strong national and international contribution to improving education.  

Since 2005, Prof. Unsworth has been a researcher on seven Australian Research Council (ARC) funded projects, all significantly informed by systemic functional semiotics, and dealing with areas such as children’s literature, curriculum literacies, literacy assessment, animation and multimodal authoring.  

After teaching in government schools in Queensland for 10 years, Prof. Unsworth moved to teacher education in NSW in 1979 at what is now the University of Western Sydney and then to Sydney University where he later became a Head of School in the Faculty of Education for four years. 

Then he moved to the University of New England and subsequently became Head of the School of Education there. The next move was back to Queensland at Griffith University for a couple of years and then to ACU in 2014.  

“While teaching and research have always been my passions at university in recent years I have been more heavily involved in research,” he said.  

In 2011 the ARC funded animation project was featured on the ABC Television’s Catalyst program. As well as journal articles and book chapters the research has produced a number of books including in the last couple of years: Reading Visual Narratives (Painter, C., Martin, J. and Unsworth, L.) and English Teaching and New Literacies Pedagogy: Interpreting and authoring digital multimedia narratives (Unsworth, L and Thomas, A.). 

A new project in which Prof. Unsworth is chief investigator and led by Associate Professor Kathy Mills at Queensland University of Technology involves developing the multimodal expression of emotion and judgment by educationally disadvantaged students in Queensland.  

This three-year, ARC-funded, Linkage project begins in the latter part of 2015 and will extend for three years.

In the last few years Prof. Unsworth has also been involved in developing multimodal communication research and multi-literacies in English and curriculum area learning in a number of international contexts.  

“Systemic Functional Linguistics and multimodal literacies are very strong in Latin America and I have particularly strong collaborations with the Pontificia Catholic University of Chile (PUC) in Santiago, where I have been conducting staff and student research seminars for some years and assisting with the supervision of doctoral students,” he said. 

In 2014 a delegation from the Faculty of Education at PUC visited ACU in Sydney, presented work on their moves to multimodal literacy in Chile and visited a number of schools in which ACU has been conducting research and teacher professional development in Sydney.  

“I have been involved in several locations in Argentina, notably Santa Fe and Mendoza, where I am to be an invited plenary speaker again in 2016,” he said.  

In Asia there has been great interest in multimodal research in education and multi-literacies in Hong Kong and Guangzhou in China where Prof. Unsworth has been invited as plenary speaker on a number of occasions.

Recently also in Vietnam, where Prof. Unsworth was able to meet with the Vice-Minister of Education to discuss work in relation to current textbook and wider educational reforms currently underway in Vietnam. 

Early this year the Director of the Vietnam Institute of Linguistics, Professor Nguyen van Hiep visited ACU Sydney and conducted a seminar on recent educational developments in Vietnam and the interest in Systemic Functional Linguistics and multi-literacies research. 

This international outreach will continue with plans in 2016 for work in in Chile, Argentina, Vietnam, China and Singapore.