Creative Education
2011. Vol.2, No.3, 181-188
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. DOI:10.4236/ce.2011.23025
Students’ Metaphors for Defining Their Learning Experience with
Audio-Visible versus Invisible Authors. Results from a Case
Study in a Social Science Discipline
Terry Inglese, Francesca Rigotti
New MinE, New Media in Education Lab of the Università della Svizzera Italiana,
University of Lugano, Lugano, Switzerland.
Received January 19th, 2011; revised March 10th, 2011; accepted March 18th, 2011.
This article summarizes an instructional experience designed and conducted at the University of Lugano—
Communication Sciences—(Switzerland) within a Political Theory’s freshmen course, which involved disci-
plines like: philosophy, political science and epistemology. We offered students two types of authors to be
learned: one through a multimedia video interview in combination with written texts of these authors, defined as
the audio-visible authors, and one type of author offered only through a text-based format (the invisible author).
We gathered quantitative data (students’ performance on their written exam compositions, their grades; the
number of written words they wrote; and the number of times students mentioned the two types of authors in
their written compositions). We also collected qualitative data (through semi-structured interviews and thinking
aloud protocols), analyzing the metaphors students used to define the reading and learning experience with the
audio-visible and the invisible authors. Results show that students perform better when the author to be studied
is offered with more media instructional supports, they tend to establish a social relationship with the a u t ho r, and
the quality of their critical thinking and the level of interest in a new subject both increase . Th e article is divided
in three parts: we will first give some definitions of what a metaphor is; second, we will describe our case study
and the results of the data analysis; third, we will discuss the results.
Keywords: Multimedia Le arning, Metaphors and Learning, Audio-Visible Author, Invisible Author, New Media
and Learning, Digital Learning
According to several contemporary philosophers (Collen-
berg-Plotnikov, 2006), also philosophy as a discipline is trying
to understand the impact of the new media on its discipline, and
looking for scientific research methods to comprehend the so
defined “iconic turn”, or visualistic turn”. In this article we
focus on Social Sciences’ disciplines such as philosophy, po-
litical theory, communication theory and how multimedia
might promote in freshmen, with low prior knowledge in these
fields, an engaged interest in critical thinking.
We explore these areas taking into account the learning ef-
fects on students’ performance combining audio-visible inter-
views with important scholars which are usually only read
through written texts (the Austrian philosopher Paul Feyera-
bend and the French anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss) and
authors presented only through a text, such as the Italian
scholar Andrea Semprini. The video interviews, produced in the
late 70ies and 80ies, were extracted from the public TV archive
of the RTSILugano (Switzerland). The iconic turn is here
represented by the technical, as well as the instructional oppor-
tunity to access and use old but very unique and vivid materials
stored in archives, such as a multimedia interview with a Social
Science scholar usually read and learnt only through a written
text. The end goal is to study the learning effects on students
which have never read, heard or seen these authors. The stu-
dents’ population was divided in two groups: an Italian native
speaker group and a non native Italian speaker one.
Through our analysis about students’ metaphors on reading
and studying works of these audio-visible authors, compared to
only text-based authors, we demonstrate that there are three
levels of languages: the language of the discipline (philosophy
and political science), the instructional design language about
how to teach these disciplines, and the language that students
used to write and read these two types of authors. One of the
key we choose to interpret the cause-effect of our instructional
choice is the analysis of the metaphors students expressed to
define their learning experience.
A Definition of Metaphor
Metaphor is a word or phrase applied to an object or a con-
cept that it does not literally denote it, and is suggesting a com-
parison with another object or concept. A dictionary definition
is not enough to cover all the meanings related to the explana-
tion of the metaphor, which has several interpretations accord-
ing to the discipline which understand it. Rigotti (1995, 1996)
undertook several metaphorical analyses in different areas of
knowledge and ages, such as the influence of rhetoric in ethics,
religion, psychology, agriculture and political contexts. But
“metaphorology is not an exact science; metaphors and their
components do not have precise outlines and established pe-
rimeters” (Rigotti, 1996: p. 2).
Metaphors are primarily linguistic phenomena. Their main
function is to provide an alternative linguistic mechanism for
expressing ideas, as well as having a communicative function.
According to Black (1993), a metaphorical statement can some-
times generate new knowledge by changing relationships be-
tween the things designated. Ortony (1975) considers the role
of metaphor as a tool for overcoming active memory limitations
in the use of spoken language. There are three theses for ex-
ploring how metaphor may facilitate learning: the compactness
thesis, where metaphors work by transferring chucks of ex-
perience from well-known to less well-known contexts; the
vividness thesis, which maintains that metaphors impress a
more memorable learning due to the imagery or concreteness or
vividness of the experience conjured up by the metaphorical
vehicle; and the inexpressibility thesis, in which it is noted that
certain aspects of the natural experience are never encoded in
language and metaphors carry with them this extra meanings
never encoded in language. These characteristics have its ori-
gins in the oral language and serves as a tool for cognitive
economy by helping to transfer information in large chunks.
Sticht (1996) distinguishes the two types of metaphors: the
metaphor as a tool for communication, as an exchange of in-
formation among speakers and listeners (for example in our
case: how students communicate about the learning experience
with the multimedia authors compared to the invisible author);
and the metaphor as a tool for thought, concerned with the dis-
covery of relationships between disparate domains and the ex-
ploration of the extent to which they can be related (for exam-
ple in our case: how students describe the cognitive impact of
these authors on reading and learning).
After revising studies on metaphor in different Social Sci-
ences (Lakoff & Johnson, 1980; Glucksberg & Boaz Keysar,
1996), such as anthropology, sociology, linguistics, cognitive
psy- chology and learning (Mayer, 1993), philosophy of science,
and epistemology, Ortony (1993) summarizes two opposing
conceptions: 1) metaphor as an essential characteristic of the
creativity of language (the constructivism); and 2) metaphor as
a deviant usage about the relationship between language and
the world (the non-constructivism). More specifically, “The
con- structivist approach seems to entail an important role for
meta- phor in both language and thought, but it also tends to
under- mine the distinction between the metaphorical and the
literal. Because for the constructivist, meaning has to be con-
structed rather than directly perceived, the meaning of
non-literal uses of language does not constitute a special prob-
lem. The u se of language is an essentially creative activity, as it
its comprehend- sion. … By contrast, the non constructivist
position treats metaphors as rather unimportant, deviant, and
parasitic on nor- mal usage. If metaphors need explaining at all,
their explana- tion will be in terms of violations of linguistic
rules. Metaphors characterize rhetoric, not scientific discourse.
They are vague, inessential frills, appropriate for the purposes
of politicians and poets, but not for those of scientists because
the goal of science is to furnish an accurate, literal description
of physical reality.” (p. 2)
Our analysis is a constructivist one, because we can identify,
behind the students’ collection of metaphors, their feelings and
perceptions of how they related with the two types of authors.
For this reason, we will first provide some statistical analysis’
results of our case studies (the quantitative data), and then the
qualitative analysis, and specifically the metaphors students
used to describe their reading and learning experience with the
two types of authors. We provide a data triangulation, where
the quantitative and the qualitative data sets complement each
Description of the Case Study
We designed the following instructional scenario: reading
and studying an author through written texts characterized by a
formal, academic, “difficult” type of writing and with a very
low social presence percentage (the invisible author Andrea
Semprini) compared with reading and studying authors pro-
posed through an audio-visual interview, using a dialogic I-you
format, through texts that are complex, but where the level of
social presence is high (the use of TV interviews with the
French anthropologists Claude Lévi-Strauss and the Austrian
philosopher Paul Feyerabend). For the level of social presence
we intend how many times the authors speak in first person and
address their discourse to an audience, establishing an I-you
relationship with the audience (Paxton 1997, 1999, 2002;
Brand (1990), Inglese et al. (2007)).
We looked for cognitive gains in the quantitative data, taking
into account: 1) the grades on the written composition exam
questions’ for the native Italian speaker students, as well as the
non-native ones; 2) how many words students wrote in their
written compositions, and 3) how many times students men-
tioned the two types of authors (the audio-visible and the in-
visible authors) in their texts.
From the qualitative data collection, we measured the levels
of comprehensibility, interest and emotional cohesion students
reported to have established with the two types of authors, as
well as the types of metaphors they used in the thinking aloud
protocols and interviews.
Two were the independent variables: first, the second lan-
guage perspective of the non-native Italian speaker students;
second, the impact of the audio-visibility and the invisibility of
the author to study on students’ performance for both linguistic
The Population
The class was composed of 108 university freshmen (84 fe-
males, 24 males) and divided into two linguistic groups: 60
native Italian speakers and 48 non-native ones, as a real multi-
cultural mix with students coming from 15 different countries
and speaking a total of 13 different languages. The average age
was from 20 to 25 years old. The class was made up of ap-
proximately 70% female students.
The Case Study
The case study took place during the academic year 2004-
2005. The course dealt with the abstract concepts such as: de-
mocracy, mono-culturalism and multiculturalism, liberalism,
universalism, and cultural relativism, exporting democracy into
non-democratic countries, collective and individual human
rights, and the meaning of citizenship. The professor selected
excerpts from rather long TV interviews with the two au-
dio-visible authors. We uploaded them on the Moodle learning
platform, which we used as a storage instrument for all the
instructi o nal materials.
The Audio-Visible and Invisible Authors
Claude Lévi-Strauss (1908-2009)—the Audio-Visible
In a one hour interview, conducted in 1982 by the Swiss
Television of Lugano, Lévi-Strauss answered several questions
posed by a journalist. The professor chose two video-excerpts
from a one hour interview. In the first video, Lévi-Strauss ex-
plains the concept of racism. From his studies, racists’ support-
ers define intellectual and moral attitudes as functions of ge-
netic heritage. If a person doesn’t possess a similar genetic
heritage, the so called “other” is rejected and stigmatized as an
inferior. The anthropologist labels this racist conviction as
“monstrous” and “absurd” from both the ethical and the scien-
tific point of views. But he goes on in mentioning that generally
people, including the ones who are not racist, do not love other
people who are not similar to them. This is also supported by
the fact that anthropological studies of non-western populations
do not interest western societies. This is reflected in westerners’
verbal expressions for foreigners, such as “savages”, “barbari-
ans”, “enemies”, “louses’ eggs”. Lévi-Strauss concludes that
most people cannot believe their own values while at the same
time accepting the values of different cultures. The essence of
his statement is an invitation to understand the concept of ra-
cism from an anthropological point of view, which is often
hidden in our language expressions.
In the second video, he outlines the presumed differences of
superior and inferior societies between the so called civilized
and savage populations. Ultimately, he argues that there are no
absolute terms in referring to the difference of societies. Even if
one argues that Western society has had superior scientific
reasoning and technological progresses, one must admit that the
price for this progress has been the estrangement from nature.
On the other hand, societies with little technological progress
and scientific expertise, he argues, usually have a deeper con-
nection with nature. Lévi-Strauss concludes that all value judg-
ments about societies are relative. Assuming otherwise means
that “at the end we pay a price for these superiorities!”
Paul Feyerabend (1924-1994)—the Audio-Visible Author
The roles of experts in a democratic society were the focus of
the TV interview with the Austrian philosopher of science Paul
Feyerabend. He is known for his provocative critique of science
and its methods, and for attacking the tendencies of scientists to
be too dogmatic, objective and often too narrow focus.
In the selected excerpt from the interview, the philosopher
defines the responsibilities of scientists and experts in a de-
mocratic society. From his perspective, experts and scientists
are necessary, even if they are not perfect. But they need to be
controlled, because very often they make mistakes and hence
we need an institution that monitors them. Feyerabend gives the
following example: if someone decides to build a nuclear reac-
tor in a certain area this decision concerns everybody in the
surrounding area, because if the nuclear reactor fails a general
catastrophe could affect millions. Therefore it is necessary be-
fore constructing the reactor to consult various experts. But the
ultimate decision is one that should be decided upon by the
local population in a democratic manner. Feyerabend adds that
in California, citizen’s committees fought an attempt by gov-
ernment to build a nuclear reactor in their area, reminding the
experts that California is subject to earthquakes and that a geo-
logical examination is necessary before building a reactor.
Citizens, not experts, demanded a geological examination of the
area, but the experts focused only on their expertise while ig-
noring the danger under their feet by refusing to undertake any
geological examinations. In this case, in a democratic society,
citizens act as a body to monitor experts. He then gives other
concrete examples in support of this notion of a check against
the single-mindedness of experts by a democratic citizen body
and highlights the power that such a body can have in a de-
Andrea Semprini—the Invisible Author
The Italian multiculturalism scholar Andrea Semprini was
the invisible author. He was ‘invisible’ in two ways: first, be-
cause he was not seen and heard and second, because he is
writing his texts in a mostly detached, formal and academic
way. He was introduced by the professor through several pres-
entations concerning his text, his models and concepts about the
phenomenon of multiculturalism compared to the mono-cul-
turalism. His text was a required reading for the final exam and
contained two key concepts: 1) the differences between mono-
culturalism and multiculturalism; and 2) four abstract models
Semprini developed for explaining the multiculturalism con-
Additional Course Materials
Additional course materials were: the course syllabus; five
textual transcriptions of the audio-visible authors’ videos; the
weekly slides of the corresponding lectures; pictures and slides
of all the authors presented during the course, with a brief de-
scription of his theoretical significance a nd how it relate s to the
course; the teacher’s lectures transcribed (the dispense); an
article written by the professor and the text of Semprini about
multiculturalism. (Semprini, 2002).
Each video of the two audio-visible authors was shown twice
in class and was preceded by the instructor’s introduction. The
first screening provided students with an introduction to the
audio-visible author. We then gave the transcript of the video
just seen to the students, followed by a second screening of the
same video. The students could then follow the second screen-
ing, either reading the text and/or listening to and watching the
audio-visible authors. A discussion between the teacher and the
students followed after the second screening. The text of the
invisible author was read by the students outside the classroom
activities as the book to study.
Measuring the Social Presence of the Audio-Visible
and the Invisible Author’s Texts
We measured the social presence of the authors’ texts by
counting how many times the three authors were using the first
person singular and plural, the second person singular and plu-
ral, the presence of rhetorical questions, examples and the total
amount of words. We adopted the counting methodology from
Paxton (1997, 1999, 2002), with the hypothesis that this kind of
measure might have an impact on how students perceived these
texts, as well as the relationship with these aut h ors.
As we see from Table 1, the Lévi-Strauss’s text was charac-
terized by a 1.90 % of social presence, the Feyerabend’s one by
Table 1.
Measurement of the first person singular and plural, the second person
singular and plural, the presence of rhetorical questions, extracted
from the TV interview transcriptions.
(700 words) Feyerabend
(558 words) Semprini
(2141 words)
I 1.10% 0% 0%
you 1.30% 0.20% 0%
we 2.10% 0.50% 0.20%
questions 0% 0.40% 0%
examples 0% 0.70% 0%
Total 4.50% 1.80% 0.20%
3.90% and the Semprini’s text by 0.20% of social presence. We
are aware that the audio-visible authors were perceived as more
‘present’ than the invisible one, because of the TV interviews.
Data Collection
The Quantitative Data
The Written Compositions Results
The final exam consisted of six questions: two were dedi-
cated to the audio-visible authors and one to the invisible author.
The other questions were devoted to other materials studied in
class, which we did not analyze. Non-native Italian speaker
students were given the option of answering in: French, English,
Spanish or German. From a class of 108 students, 86 (46 native
Italian speakers and 40 non-native Italian students) took the
exam at the end of the course. The professor gave scores from 0
(very low) to 10 (very high). Each question was given a sepa-
rate grade by her, so we were able to compare the performances
for each type of author and questions. We analyzed: 1) the
grades for the audio-visible and the invisible authors’ questions;
2) the number of written words students wrote and 3) the num-
ber of times they mentioned the two types of authors in their
written compositions.
Descriptive Statistics
The average grade for the 46 Italian speaker students for the
visible authors was 7.98 (SD = 1.71) and the average grade for
the invisible author was 7.17 (SD = 3.05). The average grade
for the 40 non Italian speaker students for the visible authors
was 7.40 (SD = 1.74) and the average grade for the invisible
author was 5.80 (SD = 3.57).
How many words, on average, did the native and the non-
native Italian students write for the questions on the two au-
dio-visible authors and on the invisible one?
Scardamalia and Bereiter (1987, 1991) found that the number
of words in students’ writings correlates substantially with in-
dicators of the quality of their writings. Here, the assumption
underlying the word counting is that if students feel the author
more socially present, they might establish a personal relation-
ship with him/her, and therefore they might write more words.
In order to prevent students from being rewarded for mere ver-
bosity, they were told by the teacher that they would be graded
for the content and not for the length of the exam’s answers.
The average number of written words for the 46 Italian
speaker students for the visible authors was 161 (SD = 61.53)
and the average number of written words for the invisible au-
thor was 160 (SD = 86.13). The average number of written
words for the 40 non Italian speaker students for the visible
authors was 156 (SD = 66.20) and the average number of writ-
ten words for the invisible author was 111 (SD = 90.18).
How many times, on average, did the native and non-native
Italian students mentioned (through the name of the author
and/or his personal pronoun, or personal reference, for exam-
ple the philosopher”) the two types of authors?
Again the assumption is that if students feel the author more
socially present, they might mention him/her more times in
their written compositions. The average number of quotes for
the 46 Italian speaker students for the visible authors was 2.9
(SD = 1.31) and the average number of quotes words for the
invisible author was .60 (SD = .64). The average number of
quotes words for the 40 non Italian speaker students for the
visible authors was 2.87 (SD = 1.81) and the average number of
quotes words for the invisible author was .32 (SD = .52).
We collapsed the data of the two audio-visible authors Feye-
rabend and Lèvy-Strauss in one visible variable. We conducted
a multivariate ANOVA to test the effects of language (Italian vs.
non Italian native speaker students) and author visibility on the
three dependent variables: 1) grade; 2) the number of words;
and 3) the number of quotes referred to the visible vs. non visi-
ble authors written by the students in their compositions. We
found a main effect of visibility on grade, F (1, 257) = 14.84, p
< .001. We also found a main effect of visibility on numbers of
word F (1, 257) = 5.71, p < .05. There was a main effect of
visibility on quotes F (1, 257) = 191.87, p < .001. We found a
main effect of language on grade, F (1, 257) = 9.68, p < .01.
We also found a main effect of language on numbers of word F
(1, 257) = 7.83, p < .01. There was no main effect of language
on quotes. There was an interaction between visibility and lan-
guage on number of words F (1, 257) = 5.24, p < .05.
The Qualitative Data
The research methodology we used to gather the qualitative
data was the thinking and feeling aloud protocols (Pressley,
Afflerbach, 1995; Ericsson, Simon, 1984, 1993), a methodolo-
gy that keeps tracking the cognitive processes while people do a
certain activity, which in our case was reading texts of the au-
dio-visible versus invisible authors of the case study. There are
also three other advantages in using this methodology: 1) it
provides data on cognitive processes and reader responses that
otherwise could be only investigated indirectly; 2) it provides
access to reasoning processes underlying sophisticated cogni-
tion, response, and decision making; 3) it allows for the analy-
ses of affective processes of reading in addition to or in relation
to cognitive processes.
Brandt (1990) appreciates this methodology as a “process
centered” approach as insightful and as a new area of inquiry in
reading pedagogy, because it offers a new glimpse into literacy
in action, for understanding literacy and literacy development,
showing how the meaning of textual language is tied to what is
going on in the reader’s here-and-now working context. Oral
protocols are rich records of the social contexts of writing and
reading, providing social context is not construed as an external,
reified force but as something that writer or reader is accom-
plishing as part of the act of composing or comprehending.
Twenty-eight students (over a class of 108 students) were
randomly assigned to the task. They represented one fourth of
the class.
The texts used were: one text of Lévi-Strauss (2002) com-
posed by 162 words. The second text was from Feyerabend
(1981) and composed by 258 words. The last text was written
by the invisible author Semprini (2000), which consisted of 197
words. The criteria of selection of these texts were their rele-
vance to the course contents. These texts needed to be ap-
proximately the same length (number of words) and be the
same in the difficulty level of reading and understanding.
Measuring the Social Presence of the Texts Used for
the Thinking and Feeling Aloud Protocols
In Table 2 we summarized the measurement of the three
texts’ social presence “effect” by counting how many times the
authors used the first person singular and plural, the second
person singular and plural, the presence of rhetorical questions,
examples and the total amount of words. As mentioned in then
previous section, the counting methodology was adopted from
Paxton (1997, 1999, 2002).
The Lévi-Strauss text was characterized by a 1.90% social
presence, the Feyerabend one by 3.90% and the Semprini’s text
by 1%. Of course, we are aware of the fact that the two au-
dio-visible authors had the advantage of being more present,
more studied, more quoted, and more presented through a dia-
logic and audio-visual approach.
Participants were invited to: 1) reading aloud texts passages
of the three authors; 2) paraphrasing and taking position to-
wards what the authors are arguing; 3) describing the reading
experience of the authors; 4) describing the level of: a) com-
prehensibility of the texts; b) difficulty of the texts; c) interest
that the these texts promote; d) emotional cohesion towards the
authors read through the following questions: Which is the
Table 2.
Measurement of the first person singular and plural, the second person
singular and plural, the presence of rhetorical questions from the texts
of the authors.
(700 words) Feyerabend
(558 words) Semprini
(2141 words)
I 0% 0.40% 0%
you 0% 0% 0%
we 1.90% 1.90% 10%
questions 0% 0.80% 0%
examples 0% 0.80% 0%
Total 1.90% 3.90% 1%
most comprehensible, interesting and the most emotionally near
author and why?
Data Collection
All interviews were audio taped and transcribed. Transcripts
were first reviewed informally and after additional reviews,
metaphors were identified. The goal was not to come up with a
detailed map of cognitive processes, but to get an overall view
of students’ thoughts while reading the three texts. The tran-
scribed protocols were analyzed to determine whether students
considered the audio-visible versus invisible authors as a major
influence on their understanding through their metaphors.
The following graph shows which the most comprehensible,
interesting and the most emotionally closer author for the stu-
A consistent pattern in the data, graphically summarized in
Figure 1, is that the audio-visibility of an author counts for the
comprehensibility, the interest, and for the emotional cohesion
factor: Feyerabend was the most appreciated by the students,
followed by Lévi-Strauss.
The Metaphors’ Analysis
We analyzed the metaphors used by the students, which un-
warily expressed their considerations regarding the two types of
authors studied through different modalities. We identified
some metaphors and their metaphorical fields (Peil, 1993) and
compared them using couples of opposite metaphors (Lloyd,
1) heavy, dry, sterile (pesante, secco, steriletranslation
from Italian)
This first group of metaphors: heavy, dry, sterile, is associ-
ated to the invisible author (Semprini) and is introducing the
idea of the instructional material being terrestrial, meaning the
characteristics of an unpleasant touch to a mass of heavy and
dry piece of soil. The students described the Semprini’s text as
they would have in their hands a cloud of arid soil or a clay
brick, which both are heavy, dry, sterile.
2) light, flowing, fluid (leggero, scorrevole, fluidotransla-
tion from Italian)
This second group of metaphors interprets the instructional
comprehensibility, interest and emotion
comprehensible more interest i ngm ore em ot i onal
28 Italian and non Italian students
Figure 1.
Qualitative data: measurement of comprehensibility, interest and emo-
tion rating of both gr o u ps of students toward the three a uth o r s .
material through an aquatic filter. Lightness, flow, fluidity are
in fact characteristics of water and generally of liquids. The
students described the audio-visible authors’ texts as something
being fresh and pleasant in which they can immerge the hands
(of the mind) (Heidegger, 1985), as they would grasp the con-
cepts (die Begriffe) with both hands (as the German word be-
greifen implies) in a tactile manner (Hegel, 1970). One student
commented that the thought of Feyerabend is palpable, empha-
sizing its pleasant consistency, because it is fluid and flowing.
These perceptions are contrasted with the unpleasant feeling of
heaviness and aridity of the written pages of the invisible au-
3) hard, hostile (duro, osticotranslation from Italian)
This third group lists the metaphorical images attributed to
Semprini’s text, and are partly similar to those of the first group
(heavy, dry, sterile) with an additional and different element:
the metaphors of hard and hostile give an idea of the instruct-
tional material being almost impossible to grasp, because rigid
and difficult to immerse the hands of the mind. Also from the
perspective of affection and feeling, a person who is defined
hard it means that she/he is not easy to approach.
4) fragile, sensitive, open (fragile, sensibile, apertotransla-
tion from Italian)
We arranged these three metaphors in one unique meta-
phorical field, because they evoke an idea of delicacy (fragile)
and of easiness of entering into an “open thought structure.
All these metaphors are attributed to the visible authors.
5) twisted, muddled, tied (contorto, ingarbugliato, annodato
translation from Italian)
We enter here in a metaphorical field which is very specific
and circumscribed in the imaginary, but difficult to recognize
from whom is using it: that is to say, the metaphorical back-
ground of the thought's thread (Rigotti, 2002). This metaphori-
cal background is inspired by the idea that the thought (the
thinking process) corresponds to a rough and irregular material,
composed of wool's, linen's or cotton's tufts, which are ruffled
and impossible to understand. If these “tufts” are worked with
the fingers, wringed and spun, slowly the thought's/the thinking
thread is becoming to be arranged in a linear and continuous
thread, intertwined with other threads, of fibers or of thoughts,
until it is becoming a texture, which allows to express ideas and
concepts in a orderly and sequential manner. Using the follow-
ing terminology (twisted, muddled, tied) to define Semprini’s
text, students are expressing their difficulty in understand it.
6) linear, not twisted, that goes in one direction (lineare, non
contorto, unidirezionale)
If a thought is linear, it means that it flows on a line (from
Latin, linea, which means little cord of linen) and that follows a
meaning and a direction (“that goes in one direction”), and
therefore, it is not twisted, it does not wrap on itself, it does not
come back to carry out new or superfluous circle. The linear
thought will be possible to cover with the finger of the mind, in
a digital manner (from Latin, digitum, which means finger)
without being forced to do sudden and irrupted stops, or jumps
and returns. It is a thought which has a continuous dimension
that students can control and understand, as the thoughts of
Feyerabend and Lévi-Strauss.
7) complex, complicated (complesso, complicato)
This group of metaphors offers another example which refers
to the metaphorical textile. Both terms derive from the Latin
word plica (which means pleat) and they express the idea that a
type of reasoning can contain many pleats (Rigotti, 2007;
Deleuze, 1988) (from Latin cum, which means with and to-
gether). The metaphors of this group are similar of those of the
fifth group, (twisted, muddled, tied), but they supply also an
idea of darkness and obscurity, from the moment that all they
are nested between the pleats of the conscience or in the pleats
of the soul in a place without light and with closed doors. The
metaphors of this group are all attributed to the invisible author.
8) simple, smooth (semplice, liscio)
What is simple has only one pleat (from Latin sem, which
means one, and semel, which means one time, cfr. gr. hen and
plica), or what is simple may also not have any pleats (meta-
phors do not follow the rules of logic, metaphors have their
own reasons). Without pleats means that something is smooth
and flat, but also clear and bright, since “s- piega” (from the
Italian word spiegare, that is to say to explain, to remove the
pleats) means to remove everything that contains pleats, re-
ferred to what is folded and complicated. Coincidentally the
Italian word spiegazione, explanation (from the Latin ex-pla-
nare, ex-plicare), means to remove the pleats and arrange the
things on a smooth surface, as for example a well ironed table-
cloth stretched over a table. When the thought of an author is
presented in this way (as for Lévi-Strauss and Feyerabend), this
means that students perceived them with an easiness and a
pleasure feeling of the reading experience and of a more direct
access to the understanding process.
9) cold (freddo)
With this image and the following terms (warm, far away,
near) we enter in a metaphorical field in which the physical
feelings overlap over the affectionate ones. In fact, cold is re-
ferred to an author, in this case the invisible author, his thought
and his writing style, which is not communicative, not accessi-
ble, and it gives the impression of chill to whom is trying to
approach him. The invisible author (Semprini) is cold, says a
student, because he is not present, he does not involve me in.
10) warm (caldo)
The warm thought demonstrates warmness and conveys a
human presence, says a student regarding Lévi-Strauss, which
is perceived as the author behind the text. The term warmth is
associated to the concepts of interest and involvement, and even
pleasure. For students it is an intellectual pleasure to see and
hear Lévi-Strauss and Feyerabend, which are perceived as more
warm authors compared to Semprini.
11) distant, to be in his ivory tower (lontano, in alto)
The text of Semprini is metaphorically imagined as distant
and to be in his ivory tower, that is to say distant from the per-
sons who would like to engage in. Because the text is distant, it
does not touch the soul’s student, it does not impress, it does
not engage in. At the same time, this higher position renders the
invisible author, Semprini, sophisticated, theoretical, scientific,
even if the students recognize a certain positive qualification of
the invisible author exactly due to this detachment and to be in
his ivory tower position. (Ginzburg, 1976)
12) near (vicino)
Feyerabend (more than Lévi-Strauss) promotes a sense of
nearness, even a sense of relationship, developed from an eq-
ualitarian disposition feeling, according to some students. The
visible author is not imagined to be in the ivory tower (even if
Lévi-Strauss is perceived more academic than Feyerabend), but
rather near, so near that the student can even touch him, arrive-
ing to identify with the visible author.
The possibility to see and to hear the author to be studied
promotes a feeling of nearness towards the author at the point
that some students feel to establish a direct and personal rela-
tionship with the author. This proximity feeling is so strong that
the students perceive not only the sound of the voice but also its
intonation (Chun, 1988), as well as the breathing of the visible
authors (Feyerabend and Lévi-Strauss). The nearness feeling,
emphasized by the possibility to hear the voice of the author,
promotes in the students a tie, an involvement. But at the same
time, in some cases, this relationship is ‘too much’ and creates
also some discomfort. For example, for a student, Feyerabend
creates confusion and bother.
Six Metaphorical Op posite Couples
The most representative metaphorical fields which have been
extracted are twelve, arranged in six metaphorical opposite
couples, and summarized in Table 3. They are:
The components of these metaphorical couples are not al-
ways arranged symmetrically. There is no perfect correspon-
dence between the elements of the first group and those of the
second, because metaphors have been spontaneously expressed
by students.
Regarding the invisible author’s text, it is often defined by
the students to be: realistic, precise, scholastic, serious, au-
thoritative. The audio-visible authors, on the other hand,
aroused a bigger number of metaphors, such as: fresh air, leav-
ing a trace, freedom, being a testimony, influence, embraces.
Taking into account these last terms, particularly significant of
the two lists, students define “authoritative” Semprini and they
embrace” Feyerabend and Lévi-Strauss. From one side, ac-
cording to the students, an auctor is serious, rigorous and au-
thoritative, but also cold and distant. From the other side, we
have two human beings which “wrap” and involve in a warm
This type of conclusions was in a way already implicit in our
research, while we were listening the audio-taped interviews
and reading the transcripts. Through the recurrent analysis of
the data, we supported our anticipated results. What was not
possible to speculate before having analyzed the metaphorical
repertoires was the types of metaphors used by the students,
which has confirmed what we defined as the conventional re-
pertoire composed by metaphorical expressions like: easy/diffi-
cult, simple/complex, light/heavy, etc., where the metaphor is
defined as “dead (Ricouer, 1975), hidden, or difficult to iden-
Table 3.
The six metaphorical opposite couples.
Heavy, dry, sterile Light, flowing, fluid
Hard, hostile Fragile, sensitive, open
Twisted, muddled, tied Linear, not twisted, that goes in
one direction
Complex, complicated Easy, smooth
Cold Warm
Far, to be in the ivory tower Near
Students referred to this conventional repertoire, but they
also produced, in a creative way, unconventional metaphors,
which were stimulated by the new instructional system, which
implies to use traditional written texts in combination with TV
We are aware that our instructional system might have also
some limitations. In order to replicate these results, we need to
create additional experiments with other audio-visible and in-
visible authors in other disciplines.
Discussion and Some Conclusions
The metaphors’ analysis implies also another explanation
which has a profound implication on literacy, literacy deve-
lopment and the development of interest towards new subjects.
If the focus moves from the product of a reading and study-
ing act as a result to understanding the process of it, a different
picture of literacy will emerge. Social involvement appears as a
fundamental basis of orientation while reading and writing,
“making literacy not the narrow ability to deal with texts, but
the broad ability to deal with other people as a writer or a
reader.” (Brandt, 1990: p. 14)
The oral-literate dichotomy is a relationship of context and
text. In speech, the direction of meaning is from context to text;
in writing and reading, the direction of meaning is from text to
context. Speakers, such as our audio-visible authors, have a
context, such as the real world, physical presence, the mutually
reliable setting, that the invisible author does not have. The
context is the situation, the classroom setting, “the possible
world”, where time and space define the joint presence of par-
ticipants. In literate exchange, context is represented only by
the text. In oral exchange, context is the taken for granted social
world, it is the shared backgrounds of the participants. Context
is everything that participants in a conversation know and un-
derstand, that contributes to how they make sense of what is
said, as in our classroom settings. In both exchanges, literate
and oral, inter-subjectivity, such as the mutual recognition of
the presence of the other, is the core of interpretation and
One’s own involvement with other peoplerather than with
textsis the centre of literate interpretation and development.
In fact, according to Brandt (1990), literacy has to be consid-
ered as a growing meta-communicative abilityan increasing
awareness of and control over the social means by which peo-
ple sustain discourse, knowledge and realitya condition
where social involvement becomes the key model of literacy
and literacy growing. “… making sense of print requires the
fundamental realization that written language is about an in-
volvement of writer and reader; its reference and meaning de-
pend on the inter-subjective bonds established in the acts of
writing and reading. Developmentally, that makes knowledge
about the acts of reading and writing … the key knowledge for
literacy development. Learning to read and write depends criti-
cally on immediate social involvements with people who read
and write and who can show you how the work goes. More
broadly, this perspective suggests that we look toward our or-
dinary social ties … as the very means that enables reading and
writing. ” (Brandt, 1990: p. 32).
In order to do this, we have to move from a product to a
process description of literate experience, where context, in-
volvement, and meta-communication are central. Popular de-
bates about the literacy crisis rely on oral-literate dichotomies
by putting print against television and other form of orally base
media. But recent scholarsand we share this perspective
proposed that orality and literacy are best understood as a con-
tinuum rather than a dichotomy.
Important is to promote in students a situation of imaginative
engagement with texts. Brandt (1990) defines reading as an
involvement act, where readers try to reach across texts to other
human beings, having to be more consciously aware of what is
taking place on the other side of the communication, as is ne-
cessary when the discourse is oral. Readers read not to separate
from others, but to reach out to them. The motive for reading is
to find other minds.
“Learning to read requires learning to maintainin fact, in-
tensifyreliance on social context even under new and pre-
carious circumstances. Literacy failures are not failures of
separation but rather failures of involvement. They arise not
from overdependence on context but from the lack of access to
a viable context for making sense of print. Instead of viewing
the oral as antagonist to the literature, it is necessary to under-
stand better how the oral sustains the literate. If the key know-
ledge for literacy development is finding out how people do
reading and writing, the literacy is indeed dependent on oral
transmissions, for this knowledge must be passed mouth-to-
mouth, person-to-person. Literacy ceases to be an abstract, text-
engined technology in tension with local practices and loyalties
and instead appears as something that flourishes only in local
forms, as part of ‘how we do things around here’. It is by nature
and necessity pluralistic and in flux.” (Brandt, 1990: p. 7)
Because the audio-visible authors were presented in an au-
dio-visual and I-you format, we trust that the oral quality of
speech and communication helped students in establishing a
new type of reading and studying experience, especially for the
less skilled readers. From our results, we can hypothesis that to
offer to novice students authors to be studied with the use of
multimedia supports, together with their written texts, would be
perceived as a cognitive as well as an affective help, augment-
ing their interest and involvement in studying new authors. We
argue that the audio-visible authors’ texts (versus the invisible
author’s text) are the means by which students maintained an
inter-subjective bond with these authors. The texts of the au-
dio-visible authors possessed a quality of involvement. The
metaphors used by students can be considered important in-
structional cues for teachers and multimedia instructional de-
signers for how to instructionally offer an author to be studied
because her social presence counts.
The digital and multimedia technology is ripe enough to of-
fer students new ways to present learning contents and to col-
laborate with multimedia archives. Our case study is a testi-
mony that it is possible to find audio-visible interviews with
scholars which are usually studied only through texts. Educa-
tional research in this area is still new, and we hope to have
given a meaningful contribution in this direction.
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