Education in the Wild

One of the main questions guiding my research is: where can youth learn outside of the classroom? As previously discussed, affinity spaces are spaces in which students are able to use community resources, mess around, share ideas and learn through experience with various technology and communication with other creators. Usually, youth participate in these spaces on their own accord, with a foundation in a specific passion or interest, which drives their learning. We already know that the affect of spaces like these are important for youth to build their own creativity and learn 21st century tools. How, however, can we bring these ideas into the classroom to embed the culture found in affinity spaces into the classroom worlds students live in the majority of the time.

Curwood et.al’s “Writing in the Wild: writers’ motivation in fan based affinity spaces” describes learning in the wild as being, “intertwined with culture, available resources, and interaction with others (Hutchins, 1995). When they post a status update on Facebook, share a story on FanFiction. net, or role-play on Tumblr, their writing practices are inextricably linked to digital tools and online spaces. These, in turn, shape their understanding of audience, purpose, and genre” (677, 2013). This growth of understanding happens because of their involvement with these spaces. Is it possible to do this within the classroom? Scott et.al mention ‘transformative’ works in which the original artifact becomes something new – this term is very reminiscent to the concept of remix in which the original is changed to make something new. In remixing, or transforming works, youth engage in deeper learning, which allows their understanding of concepts like audience and purpose etc. to grow. Before we can understand how to bring affinity spaces into the classroom, we need to explore why youth move to these spaces in the first place.

Curwood et.al used ethnographic research to suggest that fan culture is part of the main pieces that supports, “writing stories, creating art, producing songs, and participating in role-playing games” (678, 2013) and the texts that students create in these spaces are, “ fluid, dynamic, nonlinear, and often collaboratively constructed” (679, 2013). These spaces allow for both new participants and ‘masters’ interact with one another, learning from one another (679, 2013). Curwood et.al found these characteristics these spaces and the participation within them:

  1. A common endeavor is primary.
  2. Participation is self-directed, multifaceted, and dynamic.
  3. Portals are often multimodal.
  4. Affinity spaces provide a passionate, public audience for content.
  5. Socializing plays an important role in affinity space participation.
  6. Leadership roles vary within and among portals.
  7. Knowledge is distributed across the entire affinity space.
  8. Many portals place a high value on cataloguing content and documenting practices.
  9. Affinity spaces encompass a variety of media specific and social networking portals. (679)

These commonalities may be difficult to recreate in the classroom. For example, a common endeavour for all students is very difficult to achieve, unless you force that endeavour on them – which ruins the purpose of the space to begin with. However, some aspects like finding a public audience for content is very possible. Some teachers connect with schools across the world, or find public forums for student to share work, taking them beyond the project itself. This also forces the projects to relate more to ‘real world’ jobs and tasks (ex. You don’t become a professional powerpoint maker but you can be a filmmaker).

Curwood et.al suggest that teachers, “ should not seek to co-opt popular culture, but they can allow writers the space to remix and transform others’ work, “build portfolios that demonstrate their developing writing skills, and share their writing with an authentic audience” (684, 2013), this means as opposed to trying to create affinity spaces in the classroom that mimic all the values and norms of those spaces, teachers should try and take certain pieces and bring them in to their classrooms.

Curwood et.al suggest the following steps:

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I know some teachers that already follow some of these points. Like using an online space for communication or asking the students about their out of school interests. These ideas get very interesting when you space implementing the multimodal pieces and playing around with technology and alternative learning environments.

In Andrew Burn’s “Making machinima: animation, games, and multimodal participation in the media arts” he explains that that the audience is also now the creator, maker and producers and asks the questions, “what children do in their own acquisition of such semiotic tools, then; and what they know about their own work: how this appears as a form of literacy, and what its cultural and curricular implications might be” (314, 2016). Burns examines the work of students who participated in a multimodal, alternative learning project, in order to create a Machinima film.

What I found both concerning and interesting in the article were the semiotic choices made by the students. For example, the girls in charge of making the main character made her white as opposed to someone of south Asian descent, despite being south Asian themselves. They did this so that the, “character [was] not marked as unusual or different, with whom spectators can easily identify” (315, 2016). In doing so the girls are doing two things. Firstly, they understand why actors or characters in games are often Caucasian. Secondly, when they had the chance to change this narrative, they continued to reinforce dominant ideologies. Personally, I believe youth works to be the most interesting when they defy dominate standards and expectations. In following this same pattern, the girls are continuing a problematic cycle of representation, and are possibly failing to understand the implications of that. This also happens when another male student created the look for another character and was, “…excited by the exotic nature of his character, and the agonistic nature of his narrative role. He chose a scar, a tattoo, dark skin, a feather headdress, and a dark shirt and trousers” (Burn 317, 2016). There isn’t anything wrong with being excited to create a character, but if the students were basing their characters off an actual community, such as indigenous peoples, some research should be done into the culture instead of making them into an exotic stereotype. If we are going to formally bring affinity spaces into schools, we have to step in at points to not only guide learning, but to encourage alternative and informed interpretations.

Finally, we have to consider what it might actually look like to bring an affinity space into an institutionalized space such as school. In Kelly Tran’s “Her story was complex”: A Twine workshop for ten-to twelve-year-old girls” Tran examines what affinity spaces would look like in a workshop at a school for girls using Twine. She wanted to explore this because according to research, “women can find that they are less prepared for majors and careers in computer science and other technology related fields due to lack of exposure to and practice with computers and games when they are younger” (213, 2016). As we have touched on before, part of the importance of these affinity spaces is to give 21st century youth an opportunity to be prepared for the future. Females are of particular interest (along with minority youth) in terms of their technology use, as they don’t seem to be as comfortable with technology as men are in the their later years.

Tran wanted to explore the idea of remixing and the narrative arts, using Twine as a tool to help bridge the gap between writing and game making, as she, “encouraged participants to draw on their knowledge of cultural objects and use it to inspire their writing and game making” (214, 2016). In using the medium of writing, something the students were comfortable with in terms of their understanding, the game making could be less intimidating. In Tran’s study the student didn’t need to stay on task, and were really able to explore the messing around concept (as stated in previous summaries) within the school setting (216, 2016). All of the students interacted with Twine differently, some making complex stories, others really getting into the program itself, and some just enjoying the narrative function. There was no grade for the creation or ultimate goal, Tran just wanted to the students to explore the tool how they wanted to, using whatever interest to motivate them (like puppies, or horses), they were also able to use language they might not have been allowed to otherwise (like a unicorn barfing rainbows) (Tran 222, 2016). This freedom lead to interesting creative works, but not everyone participated at the same level or found the same interest.

This study is important because it shows that affinity spaces can be re-created within the school setting, however, they don’t work for everyone and not all students will participate in the same way. Having a club or afterschool program makes more sense as a space for students to explore this, but how can we further this in the actual classroom? Perhaps during IBL time (inquiry based learning) or with a certain project. I’m not sure how this all fit together, but I know that we need to continue to find spaces for student creation and innovation as a way to not only close gaps between youth but to help engage and motivate students within the classroom.

Fan Power

Moving on from last week’s discussion of spaces that allow students to discover and learn through messing around, this week I’d like to look at what may drive student interest and the importance of “cultural capital” that comes from producing and participating within that interest. John Fiske explains the “Cultural economy of Fandom” using Bourdieu’s idea of mapping economic status onto social space (Fiske 31, 1992). One can gain capital by taking place in “high art” or through educational means. Fiske uses the idea of gaining capital to explain the power and importance of fan culture as a type of currency which fans gain through knowledge and production. When our students become fans (and I would argue anyone with high interest or passion in any subject including water bottle flipping – is a fan) they can gain currency among peer groups and communities through their “geeking out” experiences.

As an educator, my hope is to teach my students in such a way that goes beyond curriculum expectations. I’d like to believe most educators want this as well. They want to foster creativity and passion in their students that can challenge corrupt social norms, or create social change. How can fan culture do this? What is the connection between the fan and the student? Fiske explains that fans are active producers of culture capital, they create and share within their communities, gaining power and distinction.

Take for example Jessica Nigri whose detailed cosplay has made her famous among gaming/anime fans giving her both cultural and “real” currency.

Fan productions can be such high quality and gain so much cultural capital, it may push back against formal, institutional capital (Fiske 33, 1992). Another example is the Yu-Gi-Oh Abridged series, which re-dubbed the series, and shortened it to it’s most important points. It was not only hugely popular among anime fans, but exposed the show’s stereotypes and flaws.

 

Fiske mentions that participating in fandom and gaining fan cultural capital does not usually lead to economic capital, however I would disagree. Fiske states,

Acquiring it will not enhance one’s career, nor will it produce upward class mobility as its investment payoffs. Its dividends lie in the pleasures and esteem of one’s peers in a community of taste rather than those of one’s social betters. Fans, then, are a good example of Bourdieu’s ‘autodidacts’ – the self-taught who often use their self-acquired knowledge and taste to compensate for the perceived gap between their actual (or official) cultural capital, as expressed in educational qualifications and the socio-economic rewards they bring, and what they feel are their true desserts (34, 1992).

Here, Fiske explains that participating in fan culture creates esteem in fan communities. This is true, such as master cosplayers and fan-fiction writers, or those who have mastered the bottle flip may gain accolades in their groups. However, the skills they gain in participating in these activities are what I’m focusing on. Students won’t become professional bottle flippers, but some might create video compilations and in the process learn some video production skills. Fans are indeed, ‘autodidacts’, learning and gaining skills often on their own or through community. However, students can use this learning to not just close the “perceived gap” but potentially the economic and learning gaps they face (such as the participation gap).

Fans create, what Fiske calls: textual productivity, in which fans create and circulate texts that match those of the official culture (39, 1992). Fan productivity also builds on the original text and can change or effective a narrative – such as the fans of the Rocky Horror Picture Show (40, 1992). Fiske argues that “fan texts” have to be ‘producerly’ containing, “gaps, irresolutions, contradictions, which both allow and invite fan productivity. They are insufficient texts that are inadequate to their cultural function of circulating meanings and pleasure until they are worked upon and activated by their fans, who by such activity produce their own popular cultural capital” (Fiske 42, 1992). In saying this, Fiske seems to downplay not only the text fans consume, but also their ability to examine a text. It may not be that the text contains ‘gaps’ per say, but that the fandom is skilled at finding the gaps and building on them. In terms of students in the classroom, those who have great interest and find themselves a part of fandom communities; learn new ways of examining a text to find those gaps. This could extend to outside of the classroom in terms of political and sociological gaps, as being able to unpackage any narrative is an important skill. Especially during this time of fake news.

 

Fiske makes an interesting point about fan texts, however, stating that, “they are thus open to the productive reworking, rewriting, completing and to participation in the way that a completed art-object is not. It is not surprising then that the dominant habitus, with its taste for official culture, denigrates and misunderstands both the production and reception of popular culture” (Fiske 47, 1992). I can’t help but see a parallel between “school culture” and “official culture”. School culture is the dominant habitus and often misunderstands what fandom or student interest can do. The institution of schooling is a “completed” object with little room for reworking and rewriting. This is why it can be difficult to make space for student interest to grow within the classroom space.

Fiske also talks about semiotic productivity, explaining that it “is characteristic of popular culture as a whole rather than of fan culture specifically. It consists of the making of meanings of social identity and of social experience from the semiotic resources of the cultural commodity” (37, 1992). People make meaning, identity and understanding based on cultural commodities they consume and present. In Dick Hebdige’s popular, “Subculture: The meaning of style” he discusses the ways in which a subculture uses style and presentation to push back against dominate ideologies through the cultural commodities they consume. “Style in subculture is, then, pregnant with significance. Its transformations go ‘against nature’, interrupting the process of ‘normalization’ (Hebdige 18, 1992). Here, I’m not focusing on the ‘style’ of subculture specifically but the interruption of normalization, that students participate in when they create their own works or build on existing works.

When students do participate in creating their own works based on those that already exist, they participate in the process of remix, in which the original work is subverted or changed in such a to create something new. In Lev Manovich’s “What comes after remix” he questions what comes after the ‘remix era’ (2, 2007). If we are living in a remix era, it shouldn’t be surprising that our students are also participating, remixing content to create their own. Manovich states that he doesn’t know what comes after remix but that, “we now try to develop a better historical and theoretical understanding of remix era, we will be in a better position to recognize and understand whatever new era which will replace it (6, 2007). It is important that we start acknowledge fan works and those fostered by students interest as important stepping-stones for the future. In legitimizing student interest, and fandom we can better foster engaged students who push back against social and political limitations. In doing so, we can also potentially better understand our own ‘remix era’ as to better prepare for the future.

Messing around in School

 

In Ito, et al’s Hanging out, messing around, and geeking out: Kids living and learning with new media we explore the ways in which youth live and learn in the context of new media. Divided into the categories, hanging out, messing around and geeking out, Ito, et al map out how youth become involved with new media and how this involvement impacts their relationships to their peers and the outside world. I will be focusing on the messing around relationship youth have with technology, as I believe the space and time to do so is what can lead self-discovery and interest in topics that may continue into a great investment that is both fun and engaging (and geeking out).

Ito, et al address David Buckingham in their work, discussing the gap between the “life worlds” of students and their everyday educational learning space (2, 2009). This divide is leading to an, “…intergenerational struggle over authority and control over learning and literacy. Technology, media, and public culture are shaping and being shaped by these struggles, as youth practice defines new terms of participation in digital and networked media ecology (Ito 14, 2009). This offset of knowledge, and therefore who has the power in the classroom, can make educators feel uncomfortable, creating an overall shift in classroom politics. This isn’t to say that educators are not trying to engage students, but it just might be that the spaces within the educational institution of school have barriers that make this engagement more difficult than, let’s say, an  program or even a friend’s house. Jenkins calls these spaces of creative potential, affinity spaces. In his, Confronting the challenges of participatory culture: Media education for the 21st century Jenkins explains affinity spaces are informal, with constantly changing, innovative education. These spaces have can have short-term needs or temporary interests with localized learning (Jenkins 9, 2009). These affinity spaces may not be achievable in the same way within institutional settings such as schools.

Just because we can’t produce the exact same space within schools, doesn’t mean we can’t try. As Jenkins explains, the skills youth learn through participatory culture are important with in the “world of tomorrow” (21, 2009). We do need to find what drives students, what makes the engaged, because then, “the individual is willing to go through the grind because there is a goal or purpose that matters to the person. When that happens, individuals are engaged, whether that be the engagement in professional lives or the learning process or the engagement that some find through playing games (Jenkins 23, 2009).

Ito et, al separate two distinct categories of practice: interest driven and friendship driven. In interest-driven practices, the interest comes first; these are the kids who are “…identified as smart, different, or creative, who generally exist at the margins of teen social worlds. Kids find a different network of peers and develop deep friendships through these interest-driven engagements, but in these cases the interests come first, and they structure the peer network and friendships, rather than vice versa” (Ito 17, 2009). In my opinion, this is where messing around becomes important. Youth who are geeking out don’t become experts over night, they mess around and learn through spaces that allow them to do so safely. As Ito et, al explain, networked publics allow places for youth to “lurk” which, “…effectively lowers the barriers to entry and thus makes it easier to look around and, in some cases, dabble or mess around anonymously” (56, 2009). The issue with messing around, is the spaces needed for this to occur, as most youth who have the privilege of messing around also have households that provide media spaces with agency over their media choices (Ito et,al 63, 2009).

 

Alternative spaces for media engagement are important, because youth need spaces to not only create productive works, but to explore and learn with out high barriers to entry. In the text, Jacob, is in a program where he is able to stay after school and mess around (Ito, et al 63, 2009). Having the media tools is important, but I believe the ability to discover, and “lurk” without the expectation of creating something is important too. Messing around is important as it “…represents a highly productive space for young people in which, they can begin to explore specific interests and to connect with other people outside their local friendship groups” and can be a way of moving to the process of geeking out and eventually into creative production (Ito, et al 65, 2009).

In my travels as a Supply Teacher, I see a lot of students with fidget spinners. The teachers hate them as they can be distracting (even though they are supposed to help you concentrate). Sometimes teachers take them away. A couple of students made their own spinners after the teacher took theirs away! Through messing around and playing with the fidget over and over, they learned how the spinners work, their different pieces, and came up with their own creative solutions. Some used hot glue, the others used zip ties. They used the pieces off the wheels of old skateboards. It was great to see these students become innovators and creators! Despite this, these were created in spite of the school environment, where instead this could have been done with the support of the teacher for a fun, engaging lesson.

As Ito, et al explain youth media programs that this process of geeking out can lead youth to have more agency, provide self-expression and challenge consumeristic norms by creating their own works (247, 2009). But bringing these creative spaces into the classroom has challenges, such as “how to assess” media based work. Teachers assume that the media “does the work” and that works that look too clean or professional are suspicious, especially with teachers who are unfamiliar with media practices (Ito et, al 249, 2009). This relates back to my earlier point, where teachers may feel intimated or powerless in situations where their students know more then they do. In 2009 (where two of these articles were written) I was in grade 12 and in my communications technology class. Interestingly enough, all my teachers who were unfamiliar with media loved when I added my own creative spin to presentations or projects, but my communications teacher hated it. He didn’t understand why I did quick cuts and not fades – I tried to explain that popular interviews on youtube where edited that way to make it more fast paced and engaging but I had marks docked off because of it – even though no specific editing form was outlined in the rubric. He also didn’t let me put any of my anime music videos on my doc reel, as he said they weren’t professional enough, even though they contained some of my best work.

It is important, however, to not idealize out of school spaces as they too aren’t perfect. Glynda Hull and Katherine Schultz explore this idea in School’s out: Bridging out-of-school literacies with classroom practice. They suggest that in past instances in-school practice was held much higher than out of school practice, and now that idea has been switched in reaction to those ideas (Hull and Schultz 45, 2002). As both Jenkin’s and Ito et,al demonstrate, however, is that out of school spaces are important. Still, how do we bring some of the ideas into the classroom? Hull and Schultz discuss after-school programs that also sometimes fall into institutional ideas of what learning looks like, they fear that, “the danger, of course, is that we will lose a currently available creative space for doing academics differently” (Hull and Schultz 48, 2002). Hull and Schultz make another great point – it isn’t that teachers don’t want the change; they just aren’t sure what to do. As they explain,

            Indeed, many of the current educational reforms that we and others believe take us backward, not forward, are handed down to teachers for implementation, not debate or consideration …We wince when we read the sweeping claims-in-school learning is top-down with teachers doing most of the thinking; schooled literacy is based on a universal model that reduces other literacies to deficits; schools are hostile, demeaning places where young people aren’t heard nor their interests considered. Out of school, these accounts sometimes go on to claim, learning is participatory and democratic, literacies are multiple and satisfying, and programs so appeal to children and young people that participants have to be turned away. It must be more complicated than that (Hull and Shultz 52, 2002).

Indeed, it must be more complicated than that, because teachers aren’t trying to be the enemy, they don’t want students who are disengaged or disinterested. So how can we take the values and ideas present in affinity spaces and after school programs? How can students receive a mark for messing around? I feel we have moved forward from Hull and Schultz work, written in 2002. Schooling is starting to understand the value of out-of classroom spaces and the value of inquiry based learning driven by student interest, we just haven’t learned how to do it right just yet. As long as teachers are willing to learn and be open to new forms of education and engagement, we may be able start making in-school spaces as interesting as what’s going on out of them.

 

Connected Learning: Investing in your Interests

In grade 8, when I made an entire scrapbook dedicated to Inuyasha, filled with character biographies and relationship descriptions, my mom said I was wasting my time. I spent weeks on that scrapbook instead of doing other schoolwork. I wrote pages of fanfiction and uploaded them to fanfiction.net and had other writers comment and critique my work. Eventually I figured out how to download video, and started video editing for hours and hours a day.

My interest in anime lead me to become a better writer, helped me learn basic code and computers, gave me insight into video editing and production, and allowed me to become a part of many different communities of learners outside the classroom. These endeavors shaped who I am today, and have greatly impacted my career as an educator.

In Connected Learning, Ito et.al discuss the many way in which cultural capital and outside interest play a huge role in the future of youth. As described within the text, the job market is moving more toward “creative” careers (Ito et.al, 23), and those creative careers are easier to attain if one builds a network of peers, and various skills, such as writing, illustration, and video production. This is especially important with “…the educational and demographic indicators point to growing populations of non-dominant youth who are being shut out of educational pathways to opportunity” (Ito et.al, 23).

Connected learning provides spaces for non-dominant youth to find ways back into the educational space, to help them reclaim their voice in society. This is emphasized when Ito et.al states that: “…we believe education must continue to deliver on foundational literacies and knowledge, while also diversifying and multiplying entry points and pathways to opportunity and meaningful participation in society” (Ito et.al, 34). These multi-entry points are true to all learners, but are especially needed for those are part of the non-dominant youth as the job market becomes more and more narrow for every all of us, it effects these youth even more so.

However, the article address that educationally privileged youth take more advantage of these online opportunities (Ito et.al, 25). This is something I can attest to. In looking to my peer group for creative individuals who took a passion or interest and made it into something educational or useful for a future career, only 3 were people of colour, despite having a very diverse group of friends. In my discussion with my friends, often their parents thought of these interests to be a waste of time and encouraged schooling first and foremost. This was my experience as well, however, my parents eventually saw the potential it had, and agreed to let me continue with these passions.

In a past course I took last year, many of the minority students who were parents addressed a similar issue, stating that because their children were people of colour, they had to work 10 times as hard to prove that they were good enough. Because of this, they often forced their children to focus on academics, rather than outside hobbies. This could be a contributing factor. Without that support, connected learning cannot take place as Ito et.al explains, “Connected learning is realized when a young person is able to pursue a personal interest or passion with the support of friends and caring adults, and is in turn able to link this learning and interest to academic achievement, career success or civic engagement” (Ito et.al, 4).


While reading the article, I was very invested in reading about the HPA (Harry Potter Alliance) because I had a friend at York who started the Ministry of Magic (the Harry Potter Club at York). Ito et.al explains that the HPA are young people who contribute, “to the health and growth of a civic collective, jointly produced stories, and real world social change” (Ito et.al, 48). In the Ministry of Magic, my friend paired with the HPA and Nerdfighteria (a group supported by the Vlog Brothers to decrease world suck). They joined the campaign “Not in Harry’s Name” to make sure the Warner Brothers Potter Chocolate was made using fair trade (see more). They helped win this battle, resulting in an amazing accomplishment for fan activism.

“Connected learning has an explicit focus on learning that is linked across the settings of school, home, peer and popular culture…Rather, it is a focus on the creation of social, cultural, and technological supports to enable a young person to link, integrate and translate their interests across academic, civic and career-relevant domains” (Ito et.al, 82)

Through my interests I have become:

A fan, an otaku, a community member, an activism, a creator, a writer, a re-mixer, a video producer, an editor, a website builder, an artist, a student and a teacher. I was able to take my experiences and turn them into an ongoing passion. My hope is that education can start to embrace connected learning as more than just a form of engagement, but as a form of endless learning.

Fetishizing Labour? Issues with commercializing Maker Spaces

This weeks readings had us look into DIY culture and the commercialization of makerspaces. Makerspaces are currently a very popular concept and many schools are pushing the initiative. But how are these spaces shaped in our classrooms, and are these really spaces of IBL, or more of the same pre-constructive narratives?

I consider myself a DIY maker, often learning how to use digital tools through practice and trail-error methods. This is how I taught myself iMovie and Final Cut. For my media tools project this week, I used Photoshop. I learned Photoshop a little bit differently than I did my other digital programs. I had a PC for a very long time, and there wasn’t any editing program that existed like Photoshop for PC at the time, unlike Windows Movie Maker. So, my first experience with Photoshop was in class. We had about a week to learn photoshop and we were given very specific instructions and steps on how to use the different tools to create a final image. All of our images had to be the same, and the more our final project looked like the one suggested on the page, the better your mark. This taught me a lot about Photoshop, how to use magic brush, the magnetic tool, how to cut and move things, how to use the copy tool etc. This introduction has had an interesting effect on my relationship with Photoshop. I can use the basic functions as learned in that 1 week of school but I haven’t really bothered to learn much more about it. My learning has stayed static.

My experience with Photoshop is similar to the commercialized makerspaces Pinto brings up in her article, “Putting the Critical Back into Spaces”. Pinto gives really interesting insight to the “original” makerspaces like Hackerforge, whose mission was to have free, DIY content. You could learn from others or take on a project alone with reusable materials. Pinto goes onto explain the commercialization of maker culture with things like Hacklab and Makerfaires. These sites say they encourage curiosity, or team building and have the makers create things whose only purpose is consumption such as toys or clothing. Pinto is critical of these hackerspaces and says that classrooms using things such as Makerbot with pre-made templates don’t make students more engaged, instead, “…they are mere spectators of the production of crafts, using state-of-the-art technology” (Pinto 38). The novelty of these technologies will wear off. If students are not taking place in their own learning, it doesn’t matter what you put in front of them.

Pinto goes onto say that, “…the critical makerspace must engage the learner as a whole person who fully participates, not as passive receiver of the official knowledge held by the “teacher”(Pinto 38). This goes back to ideas in previous weeks, that the amateur can also be the expert if given the chance and that not one person, even the teacher, should hold all the knowledge.

Wark address the issue of separating production from consumption in their article, “A More Lovingly made World”. In which, “…bourgeois culture sharply divides technical design from everyday design, or tools of production from commodities of consumption,”(Wark, 300) therefore leaving people unable to make their own creations and alienated from the productions they are consuming. Wark also critiques Maker Faires explaining them to be a like putting Ikea furniture together but more fun – a point, which I may disagree as I actually like putting together Ikea furniture.

In true universal makerculture anything can be hacked by anyone. Of course, this is problematic for big companies, who need their costumers to rely solely on them for production. As Wark explains, “…amateur labour processes – maker culture – at least provide some sort of pedagogic key within the spaces of everyday life in the overdeveloped world for at least asking questions about what labour is, and how the organization of labour limits how the world can be thought objectively” (Wark, 302) by taking this critical lens to makerculture we may be able to bring attention to DIY making, giving production power back to the people.

In classrooms, makerspaces often follow a regulated, pre set organizational pattern. Students don’t really have the free space to make what they want, how they want. This still creates a division between production and consumption as the production is still fixed in a pre-set consumer world. Essentially as Pinto puts it, “If you’re just solving problems from a teacher with ready-made solutions, you’re doing it wrong” (Pinto 38).

 

Technology and Gender: Does it Matter?

The answer, obviously, is yes. Of course gender matters when discussing technology. This concept, however, isn’t something I really thought about until I was in university. I didn’t really consider technology as something that would lean more to the male side. Looking back, however, I understand that was because I accepted hegemonic norms about gender and technology and didn’t question why when I thought of a math teacher or an engineer, I automatically thought about a male.

Looking back into my own schooling and upbringing I realize that I may have took part in many activities that were considered male oriented. In most areas I found that I didn’t have much pushback, except in sports. In my house, no one was really good “with technology” so I became the person who would set up the Internet and figure out why the TV isn’t working. Most of the time I would just look up forums online for help, or play around with the equipment until I figured it out. At this time, I didn’t realize the “gender scripts” I was pushing against, in where males “tinker” and women prefer simplicity (Bray, 40). When I began video editing and playing around with cameras I did notice almost no girls in my Communications Technology class in highschool. If there were girls in the class they were often the “host” of the show. I remember wanting to be apart of the morning news program at the school, working behind the scenes but my teacher insisted that I work as the on camera host, which I hated.

Once I was in the film program at York University, I was already used to being in the “boys club” through years of playing sports. There were almost no girls in my class and I didn’t mind. At this point I still hadn’t quiet put together how gendered technology was and still is. Once we started doing readings and having discussion, I slowly began to understand why I was one of the only girls in the film program, why people were surprised when I said I wanted to be an editor, why the guy at Henry’s Film thought I knew nothing about cameras.

Then I started noticing it everywhere. Even in my own home, where I was the technology God, as soon as I brought my boyfriend around, he became the de-facto in house tech wiz (even though he knows just as much about technology in general as I do).

These intersections of technology and anthropology are the concerns addressed in Gender and Technology by Francesca Bray. Using Feminist technology studies (FTS) Bray explains how technology is firmly coded as male. She addresses technologies role in shaping global configurations of power, forms of identity and ways of living (38). FTS’ goal is to develop the “theoretical and methodological tools to analyze technology and gender simultaneously in equal depth” (39). So how does technology become so tied to masculinity?

Bray explains that technological skills are connected to masculinity, the practical skills of the mechanic and the intellectual acuity of the software designer (41). For example, “an electric iron is not technology when a woman is pressing clothes, but it becomes technology when her husband mends it” (42). These ideas are reinforced when we began to explore the Gamergate issues and the way females are problematized in the game industry.

Gamer Hate and the Problem of Women by Jenson and Castell go into detail about the many issues facing women who wish to become a part of, or who are a part of technology-based industries. As they explain, “…women who do purse education in programs that most directly point to the tech industry, many will not enjoy a career in that industry…women leave the industry after 5 years and never return” (187). I personally left the tech industry after doing a couple of internships where I felt like I didn’t enjoy what I was creating. I didn’t have any major issues in terms of harassment or clear misogyny. My sister, who is currently in the tech industry, plans to leave within 5 years to go into teaching because the hours aren’t sustainable for family life. These experiences aside, when reading the article I was very angry and disappointed at the hostile and demeaning comments shown. For example this comment: “I look at #1reasonwhy and I laugh at all the feminists who think they matter. If you were good in your field you wouldn’t be misrepresented” – which just blatantly ignores all of the messages and clear issues within the industry.

Having been aware of Gamergate and an active watcher of feminist frequency, I understood that one of the the biggest issues within the industry was the fact that women were starting to have a voice. As said by Beard, “If you venture into traditional male territory, the abuse comes anyway. It’s not what you say that prompts it- it’s the fact that you are saying it”. Saying anything at all to address these concerns and challenged the current hegemonic rhetoric disrupts the system and makes those complacent within it, very uncomfortable. There are ways to change our current state of male dominated tech spaces, “…feminist approaches and practices can and do provide a means to initiate a broad-based, grassroots transformation, with a powerful cross-sectorial infrastructure” (Jenson & Castell 194). Giving females the opportunity to learn code, programs like Ladies the Code, or even having a girls only coding club in school can be helpful.

 

 

 

Sidenote:

In reading Bray’s comment about “user-centered design” I couldn’t help but think about Chun’s On Software where she discusses the evolution of coding and how women were used when computers were first created. Not only does she discuss the gendered aspects of coding and computer interface, but the ways in which the “visible becomes invisible” as the user interface becomes more “user-friendly” we are left with little transparency into the inner workings of our computer systems.

 

Teaching Critical Media Literacy: Why is it so hard?

Both readings this week discussed how we teach media literacy, its importance and what we might do to change how we teach it. This is a topic I am very familiar with. In my undergrad as film and communications student, I was exposed to connotative and denotative imagery, mythology, the sign, signifier and signified. I felt my world open up, and had a new understanding for the media that surrounded me. When I entered teachers college concurrently, I found a huge lack of discussion around media literacy. We had one class in our “teaching language” course on media literacy, which required us to make a movie. We never talked about how to analyze an image, or the importance of lessons surrounding topics with media. In teacher’s college I took every “tech” course I could enrol in, and we almost never discussion media literacy. One of the reasons I decided to do my Masters is because I’d like to change curriculum policy, specifically those around media literacy.

In, Critical Media Literacy, Democracy, and the Reconstruction of Education by Kellner and Share, they aruge that students need “critical media literacy” to help empower students, enabling them to both read and produce media (3). The media we consume has a very large impact on the way we behave, ideas such as gender roles, our values and our general knowledge of the world (Kellner and Share, 5). Within the article, Kellner and Share explain that literacies evolve depending on who is in control (5), this idea is the same with curriculum itself.

Media, as a literacy is an interesting concept. In my past research, it seemed it was difficult to teach or integrate media literacy into the curriculum, because there wasn’t much of a clear definition. Literacy is the process of understanding, being able to “read” something. So how does one “read” media? This partially understood concept is then shoved into the curriculum as a tiny segment in language, because – you know, literacy and language, I guess it should be there? – and then wow, you get “media literacy”. The subject that few people seem to take seriously. Currently, the powers at be in “hegemonic control” as Kellner and Share put it, deem media literacy of little importance, however, STEAM subjects are on the move. We have seemed to move right past the media piece and straight into the technology, possibly forgetting that technology is heavily connected to media as well.

Okay, so how exactly are we supposed to teach critical media literacy? Many people have asked this same question and different streams of have emerged. The protectionist view, I would argue, is the most prevalent. The protectionist view, although widely criticized, is still used often in schools, as a way to “scare” kids out of their technology. In this stream of educational thought, “…teachers merely denounce the media and students are encouraged or coerced to follow this anti-media line” (Kellner and Share, 6). But that’s no good, because it stops students from actually engaging with the material and making their own thoughts and ideas. When the topics get a little “sticky” teachers tend to run this way, making sure there are clear good/bad boundaries. For example, in an undergraduate teaching course a police officer came to talk to us about how to teach students about “sexting”. It was very one-sided, mostly blaming the female for sending the images etc. The class of teacher candidates was very upset, and didn’t agree with the officer at all. It was interesting to witness. Shortly after this incident, I created a workshop about sexting for a class and it was put into place through an “at risk” community program that I worked at. We had very interesting discussions about what it means to “sext” someone, and broke down stereotypes about people who do it and people who don’t. We talked about why it happens and how its become so normal in society. I believe this was a form of critical media literacy. As critical media literacy is an understanding of ideology, power and domination, it guides students in their exploration of how power, media and information are linked (Kellner and Share, 8).

As Luke et al address in Digital ethics, political economy and the curriculum: this changes everything there is a lot of moral panic surrounding youth and media such as advertisements, pornography, bullying, privacy, safety and the overarching digital footprint (8). We also fear the displacement of physical activity, that youth are missing out on face to face time, with screen time, that the future generation won’t have the emotional capacity to deal with life offline. It isn’t to say that this “panic” isn’t unwarranted, but we often go about teaching about these things the wrong way. Instead of these panics being the centre of our conversation, critical media literacy wants a curriculum that, “…should engage developmentally and systematically with the current issues regarding everyday actions and their consequences, corporate and state surveillance, privacy and transparency, political and economic control and ownership (7). The issue with this, however, is that curriculum moves very slowly. It takes a long time to change, to adapt and most importantly, a lot of schools don’t want to discuss ethical challenges (Luke et al, 15).

Critical media literacy is so needed in our current world. Not just for students but for adults as well. As Luke et al address in Digital ethics, political economy and the curriculum: this changes everything it is difficult to really understand what is real or fake through the media:


…with interweaving questions about what might count as truth, how to tell certain the truth, what is real and what is imagined, about control, privacy and transparency of the information archive, an archive packed with trivia, state and corporate secrets, personal actions and images, official and unofficial communications, metadata on human behaviours, wants, needs and actions, communications of all orders – and this is proliferating at a breathtaking rate, even as it is being hacked and mined (Luke et al, 8)

People want to know what the truth is, and someone who promises to be truthful and then declares anything against them as “fake news” can be very dangerous to a population who doesn’t understand critical media studies. As Kellner and Share explain, “When the messages are naturalized, people seldom question the transparent social construction of the representations” (10). Without being aware of the “naturalizing” process, people are left without the tools to reject these narratives. As Pasqual explains, “The educational lessons here is simple: that the media that we use are not ‘neutral’ or benign but are owned, shaped, enabled and controlled, capitalized upon and managed in their own corporate interests (13). We need critical literacy in our classrooms. We need to start helping our students think critically of the world around them, but where to start?


The whole curriculum really needs to be reformed, I think critical media literacy can literally tie into any subject and should be used cross-circularly. However, it cannot be seen as a throw away subject, that we do if we “have time”.

A possible move in the right direction is the discussion surrounding “unlearn” posters. Students are meant to analyze the works and understand what the subject is “unlearning” in context to their own life. It is an interesting approach to critical literacy, and I’m glad to see it being used often in classrooms.

Breaking the Code: Why aren’t we teaching kids how to code?

Coding. What is it? Why is it so critically important? What are the dangers of not teaching it, or refusing to try understanding it? Personally, coding is something that had eluded me for many years. I’m not exactly sure why, I just seems I never go around to it. I learned basic html when MySpace was around so I could make simple edits to backgrounds or load images from my photobucket account to my page. The only person I remember really discussing code with was my cousin who happened to skip 3 grades and was known as a “math genius”, he tried to explain C++ to me and I was totally lost. We had computer science in high school but I only had room in my timetable for so many courses, and I would rather take Communication Technology. Maybe people had similar mindsets and that’s why we have come to a point where most people are “coding illiterate”.

In The Cathedral of Computation Ian Bogost compares are ideas about algorithms to that of God. Where “algorithmic culture replaces God” and “computers are idols”. In my own experience, I often put coding on an unreachable pedestal, that only certain people can do or understand. We live in a world surrounded my algorithms as Bogost mention, which control our Netflix and Amazon accounts. We often consider algorithms to be perfect, and infallible, as Bogost’s states: “In its ideological, mythic incarnation, the ideal algorithm is thought to be some flawless little trifle of lithe computer code, processing data into tapestry like a robotic silkworm”.


Of course, this isn’t true. Most people just don’t understand how an algorithm really works, and so it becomes this intangible Godly device. What I believe to the most important line in Bogost’s analysis is when he states that, “…we need not believe that they rule the world in order to admit that they influence it, sometimes profoundly”. It is in this influence that we realize how important it is that we start paying attention to coding and algorithms in realizing that they are not Godly, but a language that we can learn and understand. If we continue to refuse to learn this new language, we will be left behind, or left without the ability to reject or accept rules imposed on us that are written in this unreadable language.

In both Code Literacy: A 21st century requirement (Douglas Rushkoff) and Exploring Media Literacy and Computational thinking: A game maker study (Jen Jenson & Milena Droumeva) teaching coding is put in the forefront. As Rushkoff explains, kids using Facebook are not consumers, they’re the product and it’s our lack of understanding of how exactly they become that product that’s scary. Rushkoff explains that, “when acquired language we didn’t just learn how to listen, but also how to speak. When we acquired text, we didn’t just learn how to read, but also how to write,” but for some reason when we learned how to use programs we didn’t learn how to code.

Jenson and Droumeva are trying to change this and did a study on students learning to code using Game Maker. They equate computational thinking and algorithmic logic as a type of literacy (112) – a literacy, which many of us do not have. Jenson and Droumeva also reject the idea of the digital native. As this is a “gendered, raced and classed” presumption, as being familiar with technology doesn’t necessarily make skillful users (113). Personally, being familiar with technology is still an important factor as it may make the learner more interested in the learning taking place. Which may be why boys take more interest in coding at first as it plays directly into the material they are interacting with (at least more often then girls).

In their study, Jenson and Droumeva found that boys played more online role playing games and high end consoles where girls played more puzzle based games or mobile games (116). In their testing they found boys to be more confident about making games, which I would attribute to playing what people consider to be “video games” more often. I say this because in my experience most people don’t consider mobile games to be “video games” and those who play them don’t really seem to consider themselves gamers. I also wonder what would happen if you separated the boys and girls while they learned coding. In another one of my Masters classes, a teacher was in charge of piloting the coding program for Ontario in his grade 6 class. He found that separating the boys and girls made a huge difference in confidence and ability from both his boys and girls.


For me, the saddest part of the study was that the girls confidence seemed to go down after trying to use the programs. What can be done to change this in the future? We already know there is a clear discrepancy of male and females within the coding workspace. The Game Maker experience was a good start, but clearly we need more opportunities for coding in education.

Personally, I think educators have to be willing to learn coding or be willing to take on coding spaces within their schools. In Rushkoff’s example, the coding afterschool program doesn’t even need a teacher who understands coding to run the program. I think teachers are afraid to teach what they don’t completely understand. Going back to last weeks discussion we need to give students creative agency and trust them to work with the technology. As educators if we are not going to learn the literacy ourselves we have to, at the very least, give our students the opportunity to learn the language of code.

In the future I think I will learn how to code. There have been talks and murmurs about code becoming a part of the curriculum in the near future. I hope this is the case, and I hope that teachers will be willing and open to learning or at least open to allowing their students to take charge of the learning.

Who’s the expert here?

Playing with Garageband

 

This week we were given a challenge. To do something, in order to make something, we have never done before. Usually when given the task to create something I go with video. I’m very comfortable with that medium, and it is a skill I acquired mostly on my own. My process with video editing embodies the ideas put forth in this week’s readings. I learned editing on my own, outside of school, in a space where I could make mistakes and try again without any curriculum rules guiding me. In fact, the rules I played by were the ones designed by my audience. In the New Media Modules Introduction video, Seymour Papert’s idea of people making meaningful things if they have an audience rings true in this sense. Posting videos online, putting them into a public forum to be judged and analyzed, was a part of my learning process. I looked at other videos and started to mimic styles, and in doing so started to build my own style. At the same time I started becoming more and more familiar with the tools in front of me. In this sense I was part of the production pedagogy, learning through purposeful meaning making.

When we were given the challenge this week to do something new, I decided to go with creating a song, or an instrumental of some kind. I’ve always loved music and recently started teaching myself guitar, so thought, “why not”. For this challenge I used the application, Garbage Band (GB) on the iPad. I would like to point out that I choose GB on the iPad and not on the computer for a very specific reason. On the computer you are limited to moving the mouse in order to interact with the instruments on screen, the iPad, however, lets you use your hands, making the overall interface easier to work with. In the New Media Modules Introduction video, they mention that students can feel alienated when they have no control over their learning, or control over their project. In this case we have been given total control, determining the value and purpose of the project on our own. Some of that purpose is part of a grade, but some of it is part of intrinsic value, in learning something we always wanted to learn, making something we always wanted to make, doing something we always wanted to do.

In, Seymour Papert’s Legacy: Thinking about Learning, and Learning About Thinking, Bilkstein mentions that “many children are held back in their learning because they have a model of learning in which you have either ‘got it’ or ‘got it wrong’.” This idea goes against the current, “growth mindset” model, in which students are to focus on improvement and the process of learning at opposed to the end goal. Unfortunately, even with the growth mindset imbedded in classroom teaching, it can be hard to “unlearn” this concept. While attempting to make a song using GB, I kept stopping after the introduction. I kept restarting and now I have 3 unfinished songs. I just didn’t feel like I could ‘get it right’ so I started over.

In spite of this frustration, I did have a very good experience. Blikstein gives the example of poor personalized learning to an inmate who is told “you can walk around your cell at your own pace,” and states that “…today’s ‘learning at your own pace’ is a caricature and not what Seymour advocates, which is about intellectual self-determination, agency, personal expression, and falling in love with learning.” In the classroom we have limitations as teachers. Time being one of the biggest. We only have a certain amount of time allotted in a period, in a day, in a week, in a month etc. to get the entire curriculum into our students’ brains. My experience in creating my song(s) has been positive because I didn’t feel that same time constraint. I restarted as much as I wanted to and through experimenting, have learned more about the program and how to create longer songs in the future.

This experience has given me the opportunity to play the “master” as opposed to the “amateur”, diving deep into music world with GB. In Thumlert’s Affordances of Equality: Ranciere, Emerging Media, and the New Amateur we look into how classroom ‘roles’ are created within the classroom, and question how meaningful learning takes place when the boundaries between “expert” and “non-expert” are blurred. Thumlert asserts that there is a clear difference in current education, “between those who educate and those who are ‘the subject’ of an education” (116). In current education we place an ‘imaginary distance’ in the classroom between what is capable and incapable (116). In my own experience it seems that teachers can’t really seem to trust students with their own education. This ‘imaginary distance’ becomes a very concrete distance when students leave the classroom and are still incapable of filling that gap. In my opinion this happens because we don’t trust students with their own learning and so, when they leave they are unable to apply that learning outside of the classroom. Due to time constraints and teachers inability to trust their students, “…curricular fragments of learning are detached from wider ecologies of meaningful practice” (Thumlert, 117). This detachment has consequences both in and out of the classroom. Inside the classroom we find students to have lost the will to pay attention. We connect attention to intelligence and may make the assumption that a student isn’t very intelligent because they don’t seem to be pay attention in the classroom. However, as Castell and Jenson have explained, our students’ attention is divided between several new media tools creating and over stimulation, making school possibly last on the list of attention priorities. So it isn’t that our students our smart, its just that our detached curriculum and lack of trust in our students own capabilities is causing a lack of interest from our students.

Much like we have been allowed to take on the role of the “master” or “expert” this week, we need to give our students opportunities to do the same. By inviting them to “play the game as the master” (Thumlert, 118) we can switch the attention economy by creating situations in which “….by virtue of the intensity of want, will or desire that is exerted in relation to a present challenge or a meaningful practice” (Thumlert, 118). In short, trust your students and see what happens.

VR in the Classroom

In this weeks readings, we are asked to question how Virtual Reality (VR) will become a part of 21st century education. In The Role of Digital Technologies in Deeper Learning by Chris Dede, we examine how technology can greater impact our students not so much by transforming what teach but how we teach.

As Dede outlines, our current society is “…one that treats education as a routine, almost mechanical process analogous to the production of material good on an assembly line” (1, 2014). This is not commentary we haven’t heard before. Dede emphasizes that; in order to move from industrial-style instruction to deeper learning we need a vehicle (1, 2014). He believes that vehicle to be technology.

As opposed to “learning about” or “learning to do” education needs to move to “learning to be” in order to provide room for deep engagement in education (4, 2014). However, in learning what “to be” we have to consider other issues still present within technology at this time. For example, if we consider technology having a major role in learning “what to be” we need to think about issues such as the transparency problem outlined by Jenkins. If we fail to examine the ideologies, mindsets and nuances put into technologies that we teach and learn with, we are ignoring the possibility of we could “become”. For example, Facebook’s algorithm for news and file sharing on the main news feed gathers information about what we like, don’t like, want, don’t want etc. It uses this information to make informed “guesses” about what we would like on our newsfeed, as well as advertisements. This allows Facebook to not only understand our past and present self, but to predict and influence our future selves. VR technology could possibly do something similar depending on who owns the hardware and software of the product.

Continuing with his analysis of technology in the classroom he explains that there are many benefits to using “Digital Teaching Platforms” (DTP). They can assist teachers in: Case Based learning, Varied representations, Collaborative learning and Diagnostic assessments. However, he also notes that continuing to pursue, “a narrow set of learning goals related to preparation for an industrial economy” (5, 2014) will not create deeper learning even with the assistance of technology. The potentially of DTP can fully actualized with VR technology by building immersive spaces where students can participate in an array of activities that may deepen their engagement and learning potential.

In The Use of Immersive Virtual Reality in the Learning Sciences: Digital Transformations of Teachers, Students, and Social Context by Bailenson and Yee (2008), they tested the idea for VR using teachers and students. The VR world was set up like a regular lecture hall but teachers could track eye contact and what/when students were engaged by tracking bodily movements. In my opinion, although this was a very interesting study, the only real impact was the way in which the program tracks movements, allowing teachers to adjust methods of teaching/lecturing. In noting that this is just a test with potential future implementation, I have to say that I was not that impressed. Personally I don’t see the point in having the same reality re-created online. In speaking to Dede’s work, I don’t believe VR used in this way would create much more student engagement. In simply re-creating the shape in which we teach nothing is really being done about how we teach.

In Up close and personal: virtual reality can be an instrument for social change, Villanueva talks about the potential for empathy using VR. He uses the example of iChicken where, upon putting on a VR helmet, you become a chicken getting ready for the slaughter. This is supposed to help you build empathy for chickens and other animals that are farmed for slaughter. Five Ethical considerations for using virtual reality with children and adolescents written by Darvasi also gives some insight into VR. He talks about a VR experience where you become someone trapped in the one of the towers during 911. This is also made to help build sympathy. However, he also mentioned, “keep talking and nobody explodes” which is an application meant to encourage discussion. Although, I think it is kind of strange to help one mention of explosion as sympathy and the other as a way of getting students to discuss.

Darvasi also explains some serious potential issues with VR such as manipulation of agency, psychological change and mental illness. He also discusses social hallucination or the perception of having rich social life with VR instead of in real life. Social hallucination already exists now, as noted in this article https://www.theguardian.com/world/2010/mar/05/korean-girl-starved-online-game

A couple neglected there real life child for a virtual one. But it should be noted that these issues are few and far between, and issues like this are often used as some anti-tech propaganda. Darvasi exposes the fear that online VR worlds may be more exciting than our real ones, and the scariest part may be the increasing lack of privacy and data. With this already being a very pressing and re-occuring issue, in what ways does VR add to the dilemma?

If we do decide to use VR technology in classrooms we must use it in ways that deepen learning and create room for questioning and engagement. We cannot ignore the potential issues of this technology but we cannot afford to ignore this technology because of those issues. VR has the ability to gives students immersive experiences and opportunities of engagement they may not have otherwise had. It gives teachers ways of bringing lessons to life by making strong connections to real world places and problems.