UCL News


Spotlight on Professor Carey Jewitt

1 June 2016

This week the spotlight is on Professor Carey Jewitt, Director of

Carey Jewitt ucl.ac.uk/ioe/departments-centres/centres/ucl-knowledge-lab" target="_self">UCL Knowledge Lab.

What is your role and what does it involve?

I am the Director of UCL Knowledge Lab, a research centre based at the UCL Institute of Education (IOE), whose mission is to understand and to develop digital technologies to support and transform education, and beyond. 

The lab brings together nearly thirty expert researchers with imagination and insight from across different disciplinary backgrounds to: undertake cutting edge research on digital media and technologies; provide an innovative and exciting interdisciplinary range of postgraduate courses; create empowering technologies for communication and learning that lower the barriers to knowledge; and incubate enterprise and achieve impact via partnerships with public sector, business and industry. 

Our leading interdisciplinary digital research, study and design centres around six themes at the heart of contemporary debate on digital education:

  • Designing smart technologies for teaching and learning
  • Coding and creativity
  • Playful learning and games
  • Designing for diversity
  • Multimodal interaction
  • Digital cultures and media literacy

My research is within the theme of multimodal interaction and takes account of all the many different ways that people communicate, not just what they say. I explore how digital technologies effect the ways that people interact, communicate and learn in schools, museums, at home and at work. 

In particular, my work looks beyond language alone to understand what we call the 'multimodal character of interaction' by attending to the body, gesture, movement and the role of image, sound and so on in digital environments. My latest research will investigate how touch-based resources are being newly brought into digital communication in innovative and challenging ways.

How long have you been at UCL and what was your previous role?

I joined UCL IOE as a junior contract researcher in 1997, working with Professor Gunther Kress on the 'Multimodal Science Classroom' project. It was my first academic post. We explored how school science teachers use image, gesture and body posture, and how they interact with science models, as well as how they talk, and how they combined all of these communicative forms to teach science concepts. As a contract researcher I worked with Gunther and others on a range of projects, eventually securing my own funding and research portfolio. 

Although I have now been here for years, I have had lots of different roles and feel like I have changed jobs on many occasions! UCL IOE has been an inspiring and exciting place for me, with its excellent research environment and colleagues. 

Before joining UCL IOE, I worked as a social researcher in sexual health for a variety of primary care organisations. My work was focused on communication; for example I did a large study on how GPs and other health practitioners and patients communicate with one another about sexual health. At that time I did a part-time MSc in social science theory and methods at Surrey University and discovered that I loved research theory and methodology, got introduced to multimodality and Kress's work, and 'accidentally' became an academic.

What working achievement or initiative are you most proud of?

The work achievement I am most proud of is MODE. This is one of six large methodology-focused grants funded by the ESRC National Centre for Research Methods. It enabled me and a team of colleagues (Dr Jeff Bezemer, Dr Sara Price, Professor Gunther Kress and others) to push at the frontiers of digital and multimodal research by exploring how new digital technologies remediate how people communicate and interact in relation to learning, work, health and wellbeing, and personal relationships. 

The project resulted in many research outputs and training materials, as well as the first ever textbook on multimodal research: Introducing Multimodality (Jewitt, Bezemer and O'Halloran, 2016). I am also proud that UCL IOE got two of the six national grants - the other was NOVELLA led by Professor Ann Phoenix.

Tell us about a project you are working on now which is top of you to-do list?

Top of my to-do list at the moment is making sure that we let everyone know about the innovative research and teaching going on at UCL Knowledge Lab and ensure its impact within education and beyond. 

More personally, I want to contribute to understanding touch as it is digitally mediated. I am setting out to examine how the rapid expansion of digital touch technologies is set to reconfigure touch and the tactile in new ways, and its social significance for communication as it reshapes what can be touched and leads to new touch-based capacities and practices, and new forms of knowledge about the world. 

In doing so, I want to develop theoretical insights and methods to help generate a social account of touch in digital contexts by integrating ideas from the micro-lens of multimodality, the broad-ethnographic lens of sensory anthropology, and the experiential-lens of the arts.

What is your favourite album, film and novel?

Album: It's an impossible choice between Bowie's The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust or Aladdin Sane.

Film: I am a film noir fan: In a Lonely Place (Nicolas Ray, 1950) - the most depressing love story ever told.

Novel: Plum Bun: A Novel Without a Moral by Jessie Redmon Fauset (1928), who was a part of the Harlem Renaissance. Although a controversial novel, it remains, for me, a usefully complex critique of identities, racism, sexism and capitalism told through a story of family drama and tragedy.

What is your favourite joke (pre-watershed)?

What did one academic say to the other? 

I don't know?


Who would be your dream dinner guests?

I don't really like going for dinner with people I don't know that well, but I would love to go for a drink with Simone de Beauvoir, James Baldwin, Erving Goffman, Lorraine Hansbury, Prince, my partner Karen (who would want to invite Beyoncé along) and our daughter Devan.

What advice would you give your younger self?

I think she knew it already, but fitting in is overrated - you can and should say what you think and feel, even when those in power don't like it.

What would it surprise people to know about you?

Not much as I'm a bit of an open book

What is your favourite place?

Brixton, London, where I live.

Find out more about UCL Knowledge Lab.