Grieg Research School in Interdisciplinary Music Studies

Project title: Teaching as improvised semiotic practice: – a multiple case study of teacher students’ use of semiotic technology

Project period: January 1, 2014 – December 31, 2017

Main supervisor: Prof. Kari Smith

Co-supervisor: Prof. Magne Espeland


The project: The widespread use of digital presentation software by teacher educators and teacher students has given these semiotic artefacts a central place in the didactic toolbox. Power Point, Prezi and Notebook afford the user to structure, transform and present subject content by utilizing the available semiotic resources of the software and the modes of the media.

The process of preparing to teach with presentation tools may resemble that of transformation of subject content (Shulman, 1987); it draws on teacher’s representational repertoire, instructional repertoire and the adaptation of representation to the needs of the learners. Scholars claim that the best teaching may be likened to disciplined improvisation as it resides in the tension between structure and freedom (Sawyer, 2011). Informed by a pilot study, this PhD project seeks to explore whether a digital slideshow provides a structural framework within which teaching is executed improvisationally. The project asks if the act of presenting is improvisational transformation as it requires the teacher to author the presentation, while presenting, by combining the multimodal objects of the slideshow, such as text, images and graphics, with speech and gestures, in order to make meaning. 

A multimodal social semiotic perspective (Kress, 2010; Zhao, Djonov, & Van Leeuwen, 2014) is applied to better understand the overall meaning making activity of slideshow presentations. This theoretical perspective may capture and unveil if and how improvisation manifests itself in the multimodal interplay between presenter and slideshow.  

The project is designed as a multiple case study and will throughout the autumn 2014 sample data from 36 separate teacher student presentations across a variety of subjects, varying from 5 -15 minutes each. Data sources subject to transcription and analysis will be video recordings of presentations, focus group interviews, field notes made by the researcher and the student-made presentation files.

This PhD project is part of a larger research project called “Improvisation in teacher education” (IMTE) which is being conducted at the Stord/Haugesund university college in Norway.


Kress, G. R. (2010). Multimodality: A social semiotic approach to contemporary communication Routledge.

Sawyer, R. K. (2011). What makes good teachers great? the artful balance of structure and improvisation. In R. K. Sawyer (Ed.), Structure and improvisation in creative teaching. (pp. 1-24) ERIC.

Shulman, L. (1987). Knowledge and teaching: Foundations of the new reform. Harvard Educational Review, 57(1), 1–22.

Zhao, S., Djonov, E., & Van Leeuwen, T. (2014). Semiotic technology and practice: A multimodal social semiotic approach to PowerPoint doi:10.1515/text-2014-0005


Øystein Kvinge (f. 1972) has previously been working in the field of arts management in Bergen, Norway, since 1997. He began his career at the BIT20 Ensemble and the Music Factory festival, and moved later on to the administration of Norwegian national company of contemporary dance, Carte Blanche, where he stayed for 8 ½ years. He worked as programme coordinator at the Bergen international festival from 2011 until he started as a PhD student at the Stord/Haugesund university college in January 2014. Øystein plays the jazz piano and blues guitar in his spare time.