Social Change: Youth Activism and Schooling

As I come to the end of my research, I don’t know if I have a complete answer to my question: how can we engage students in the classroom through student interest and relevant culturally pedagogy? However, through this research I do understand that if we can at least put efforts forward in creating that environment, the results for both our students and as us as teachers – can be extremely rewarding.

In Mahiri’s book, Digital tools in urban schools: Mediating a remix of learning, he uses a yearlong case study at an inner-city school in America to explore what happens when cultural, remix pedagogy is applied for a whole year. Mahiri not only focused on student projects but professional development for the teachers so they could learn how to create lessons incorporating technology, remix, and cultural pedagogy (20, 2011). Mahiri mostly focuses on Ms. Foster’s class, titled Hip-hop Journalism.

Firstly, Ms. Foster states that she, “…never assigned her students any assignments that we were not willing to do [them]ourselves” (31, 2011). Going back into past research this directly relates to the idea that teachers should not only work with students, but create what that they (as teachers) would also find interesting.

Ms. Foster goes on to say,  “We also kept our class relevant to current events and personal experiences…sometimes we pushed students out of their comfort zones, but we always participated as well … we wrote  poetry together, rapped together, wrote headlines that reflect our lives 10 years from now, and played musical chairs and other games” (31, 2011). If we look into what is considered engaging, what counts as student interest, what makes pedagogy culturally relevant –  I think this statement by Ms. Foster hits all the points. What I want to address here is that she isn’t doing anything totally ‘out there,’ she doesn’t need tons of technology to create these lessons. By participating with her students and creating lessons that are relevant to the class, Ms. Foster brings a great deal of engagement into her classroom.

Ms. Foster Developed a unit on stereotypes based on a shooting that occurred near the school. This is an example of creating current content that doesn’t just reply on surface-level experiences or images. This lesson on stereotypes is able to directly connect with the curriculum meaning the work could also be assessed without issue.

I would like to add that not everyone in Ms. Foster’s class participated fully. Although seemingly very engaging, Mahiri points out that there were still students who came late or slept through class. He makes mention that this is just part of the school environment as many students in the area have external obstacles effecting their school performance. In some notes of the case study, students eventually did come around, but it wasn’t easy. No system is perfect. As much as we can try and engage students through this pedagogy, it won’t work for every single student. However, this doesn’t mean it isn’t worth trying.

The changes Ms. Foster makes in her classroom when compared to what we might call the “regular classroom” are not that big. Ms. Foster is simply changing the space in which her students learn by changing her own mindset.  In pervious posts I explained that space is created by the individuals who exist within it. This is true in Ms. Foster’s class as Mahiri explains, “changing teaching practices is ultimately tied to changing the underlying values beliefs and cultural models that dictate and sustain and reproduce the practices even when they are ineffective or worse yet actually harming youth” (50, 2011).

Mahrir claims that we are harming youth by not changing our pedagogical practices. In keeping the same static ideas about education and learning, the youth who need the change the most face the most amount of harm. The students within the inner-city school need teachers who are willing to make changes and engage them, to create culturally relevant pedagogy. In order to help close the ‘participation gap’ as Jenkins has outlined in many texts, we have to make efforts to engage minority youth who are continuously left behind.

Within the professional development (PD) meetings lead by Mahiri, he explain that, teachers must continually develop disciplinary knowledge, cultural knowledge, technical knowledge, and pedagogical knowledge (55, 2011). Mahiri specifically designed the PD sessions as a way to, “model approaches that they also could use to activate and excite student learning in their classrooms” (59, 2011). In focusing on these collaborative measures that include multimodal texts and ‘remixing’ classroom knowledge (60, 2011), the PD both taught the teachers and model expectations. This way the concepts of ‘cultural pedagogy’ won’t seem so foreign when they begin to implement them into their classrooms. One teacher in particular, the math teacher, had a hard time with these concepts. Eventually, through teacher collaboration they were able to come up with ideas for the teacher to possibly use in his classroom.

In Goodman’s book Teaching Youth Media: A critical guide to literacy, video production and social change, he also addresses the need for teachers to not only work with students, but to learn themselves in their own ‘zone of proximal development’, “for the teacher is also learner who has his or her own particular zone of proximal development and should always be seeking to learn more beyond that development. Every group of students he or she works with and every project they embark on together presents the teacher with a new opportunity to grow” (60, 2003). In teachers recognizing their ‘zone of proximal development’ they may be able to understand the importance of working with their students to accomplish a task.

Goodman’s case study also follows students in inner-city schools and suggested that the project they were working on was, “unlike so many of their other experiences at home and school which ended in disappointment and failure this class yielded tangible evidence that they could succeed that if they stuck with a product over time their hard work would pay off” (99, 2003). The students in the class made a documentary about their community and lives. Of course, in this work, Goodman addresses a problem that has been faced with many projects like this as, “rich as their experience was, the use of video increase as a methodology for teaching and learning did not become institutionalized as part of the school’s culture” (99, 2003). Despite this, however Goodman address some of the efforts that have been made to change the exclusion of video and media from the school day.

Goodman explains that the state department of education does not see media literacy or media education as a specific subject area, it is also not a subject for standardized testing (100, 2003). Because there are no standardized tests about media literacy, there is much less of a focus or a need to address it in schools. This is an interesting point because it acknowledges one of the biggest issues with standardized testing. When we give all our attention to the subjects that ‘matter’ the other subjects suffer. Even though Goodman’s work takes place in America, this is still relevant to Canadian school regulation. We mostly focus on Math and English as our two main subject areas. Both of the subjects end up ‘stuck’ in regulatory practices and because of this, many teachers don’t venture into multimodal aspects of these subjects, even though there is clearly room to do so. As Goodman states: “Academic credit is often not granted to students for coursework that doesn’t fit into mandated subject areas” (101, 2003).

Even though this text was written in 2003, Goodman explains that in order, “to bring media into the classroom as a serious subject of study they must overcome the view that since video is a close relative of Television it can only be a source of distraction or entertainment for students” (101, 2003), this is still a current problem when trying to bring in multimodal texts. Using one’s cellphone to do work is often an issue for this same reason. Sometimes I feel as though if we as teachers use media the students enjoy, it’s almost looked down upon. If we bring pokemon or rap music into a lesson and the students are having fun as they learn, they must not be learning that well. We have all these documents about 21st century education and what it can look like, but rarely are those elements supported in the classroom. For example, in the works by both Goodman and Mahiri, the teachers who participated in culturally relevant pedagogy, were often alone in doing so. Sometimes receiving help from administration, but seemingly, only because they had to for the purpose of the study. In the Mahiri texts the Prinicpals says, “the robustness of the applications exceeds our students ability, one. And two, they’re innovation and excitement exceed the robustness of the applications. So it is the marriage of those two things that I think is sometimes problematic” (Mahiri 82, 2011).

As Goodman explains, “media education practitioners must either join forces with the education reformers or look outside of schools to find other institutional partners” (102, 2003). In the end, through his research, Goodman turns to after-school programs, which he argues tap into a “third arena” between school and family (102, 2003). Until media literacy education is taken more seriously in schools, another place must exist for creative literacy to take place. While I agree with Goodman to an extent, it just isn’t good enough. These programs don’t always exist, in fact, I have yet to see one in my own community. I worked community programs for 8 years, I pitched ideas for youth media workshops, in fact I had a whole plan outlined and submitted it to my supervisor, but it never came to fruition. This is why, I believe, it needs to take place within the school. However, these ideas shouldn’t stop within the school. I want students to feel relevant and engaged in school, because I want their schooling to connect to their passions, and I want their passions to connect to the real world, to hopefully create positive change.

If we can give these ideas place to grow, they may be able to effect greater social change. In Kilger-Vilenchik’s et.al’s work, Experiencing fan activism: Understanding the power of fan activist organizations through members’ narratives we explore two separate clubs that create social change based in fandom and interest.

“According to this approach, popular culture and participatory culture, rather than being causes of disengagement, serve as resources around which young people come together and are mobilized to social action” (Kilger-Vilenchik’s et.al 1.1, 2011). If we can tap into this idea as educators, we can have students who create and participate in communities that make a difference in the world.

This text looks at two main groups, the HPA (Harry Potter Alliance) and Invisible Children. While both are interesting, Invisible Children is very different from HPA. The HPA create connection based on the Harry Potter fandom. Often their work is based on things that exist within the HP universe. For example, Care of Magical Creatures part of HPA works to help end animal cruelty. Invisible Children (IC) is, “itself as a movement built around a movie. Invisible Children: Rough Cut documents the long-running civil war in Uganda, particularly focusing on the hardships of child soldiers conscripted into the Lord’s Resistance Army” (2.3, 2011). While I was reading this text, I couldn’t help but think I recognized the name ‘Invisible Children’ and then I remembered that this was the organized that launched a major campaign to find Joseph Kony, creating the KONY 2012 movement in 2012. Kilger-Vilenchik’s et.al state that IC’s fan activism is created through an, “activist goal and has, almost inadvertently, built a fanlike public around its self-produced documentary media” (2.4, 2011).

 

 

When the KONY 2012 video was released I was in my third year at York studying film and communications, and starting my first practicum for teaching. My friends donated money to the case, buying kits and shirts and other merchandise. Of course, it was later discovered that IC was a well marketed ‘sham’ or sorts, with the owner taking most of the money. Why is the relevant to my argument?

My friends who loved film, and who understood media literacy, fell into the trap of IC. But I think more importantly, it showed that they wanted to make a change. And for all those who participated in IC, who donated their time and expertise to the cause, shows that youth want to make change. IC was a well funded, well advertised, engaging opportunity for youth to use their talents to do something different. Why can’t we create these opportunities in our schools?

It is clear that youth want to have opportunities to share their voices, to be impactful, to do more than what is bound to the classroom. We need to start giving them the spaces to do so. In both Mahiri and Goodman’s work, the students created documentaries, or podcasts or blogs that were relevant to their lives and communities. This brought engagement for both the students and teachers. It is up to us as educators to make these changes in our classrooms in hopes that these changes can extend beyond the classroom.

Culturally Relevant Pedagogy and Co-Opting Popular Culture: Where to draw the line

At a classroom level, there are many things we can do as teachers to help foster creativity as well as engagement while within policy guidelines. Last week, we looked at a more extreme example, where researchers went into a school in order to complete a project, which took over the school-lives of the students and teachers. It was a huge effort between administration, staff, the community, students and the researchers. In the end, the student’s work wasn’t even gradable because there does not seem to be updated assessment for 21st century education like this.

In the following texts, people who are both educators and researchers explain things they have done in their classrooms to try to engage and teach 21st century learners. We will be exploring “culturally relevant pedagogy” and the fine line it shares with co-optation of culture. It appears, however, if teachers are able to plan lessons in accordance with pedagogy that is culturally relevant, without co-opting culture, we have a new way of meeting out student’s needs.

In Gloria Ladson-Billings work: Culturally Relevant Pedagogy 2.0: a.k.a. the Remix, Ladson-Billings specifically looks into way of connecting to African American students in her classroom (74, 2014). She notes that in her work, the, “notion of a remix means that there was an original version and that there may be more versions to come, taking previously developed ideas and synthesizing them to create new and exciting forms” (74-75, 2014). For these three texts, this is how we will look at remix. If we use the term remix as away to say we are building on something, constantly recreating it in terms of how we teach – things become interesting. This suggests that we create curriculum lessons that are classroom specific, lessons that revolve around the lives and communities of the students present in our classrooms. Many teachers pushed back against IBL for this same reason, because it requires constant change and teachers are unable to plan far ahead into units. Remix pedagogy would suggest something similar, in that you cannot plan until you know your student’s needs. Teachers have to be willing to flow with the students and implement changes as needed. As Ladson-Billings explains, “such revisions do not imply that the original was deficient; rather, they speak to the changing and evolving needs of dynamic systems. Remixing is vital to innovation in art, science, and pedagogy, and it is crucial that we are willing to remix what we created and/or inherited” (75, 2014)

Ladson-Billings calls this the secret of culturally relevant pedagogy: “the ability to link principles of learning with deep understanding of (and appreciation for) culture” (76- 77, 2014). As she was searching for information on learning achievements from African American youth, the results were always negative, or talked about learning disadvantages. Then Ladon-Billings start looking at things differently, “by focusing on student learning and academic achievement versus classroom and behaviours management, cultural competence versus cultural assimilation or eradication, and sociopolitical consciousness rather than school-based tasks that have no beyond-school application, I was able to see students take both responsibility for and deep interest in their education” (76- 77, 2014). These ideas are things that I have brought up before through various theorists. Focusing on real world application for example, as opposed to school based tasks. By changing our view slightly, from things like ‘cultural competencies versus cultural assimilation’ we as teachers, can begin to look introspectively at our tendencies and re-examine how we run our classroom.

In one of her main points, Ladson-Billings wants us to question what critical perspectives we are bringing into the classroom. What really matters to our students? In her research Ladson-Billings found that discussions floated on fluff and didn’t get into serious debates that surrounded their communities. Topics such as, “school choice, school closings, rising incarceration rates, gun laws, or even everyday school climate questions like whether students should wear uniforms” (78, 2014). In doing so, we take into consideration the community and tasks that impact students outside of school. We give students the ability to draw from their own experiences. This also stops cultural pedagogy from becoming a watered-down version that ends up doing more harm then good.

For example, Ladson-Billings says that, “the idea that adding some books about people of colour, having a classroom Kwanzaa celebration, or posting “diverse” images makes one “culturally relevant” seem to be what the pedagogy has been reduced to” (82, 2014) which is both sad and embarrassing for educators. In reducing culture to simple image of people of colour in your classroom, does a disservice to both the students of colour and those who are white. It stops students from truly learning from each other’s culture and instead gives 2 dimensional characters for students to cling their identity to.

The fluidity of culturally based pedagogy is what makes it difficult as, “It has no definitive or prescriptive solutions, and, for some, that will be deeply unsatisfying” (82, 2014). However, this can also be exciting and a way to take time to learn from our students, as mentioned in previous weeks. Ladson-Billings does urge us, however to not use something like hip-hop to “hook” students but then fall back, “…into the same old hegemonic, hierarchical structure” (82, 2014), in this sense co-opting culture as a surface level type of engagement.

Andrade et.al’s work The art of critical pedagogy: Possibilities for moving from theory to practice in urban schools this co-option of hip-hop culture seems to be what is happening. Although they argue what they are presenting is a critically teaching popular culture, it’s the ways they suggest doing this that make me apprehensive (72, 2008).

 

Andrade et.al wan students to be critically literate, and I agree. They want students that, “can understand the socially constructed meaning embedded in texts as well as the political and economic contexts in which texts are embedded. Ultimately, critical literacy can lead to an emancipated worldview and even transformational social action” (73, 2008). I agree with this, critical literacy is very important. In many ways, what Andrade et.al describes throughout this article makes sense. They focus on units that includes, “critical dialogue and a critical engagement of the text, and related the texts to larger social and political issues” (74, 2008). The issue I have with this, is way it is done. For example, the text describes a hip-hop unit that, “laid the groundwork for more traditional academic work while fostering student activism” (75, 2008). The students took on a poetry unit, connected it to rap music, presenting a rap or poem as well as a final essay.

On the one hand, approaching cultural pedagogy in this way is interesting. It fits in nicely with current practices and uses texts that are relevant to the students. However, it also seems that the art of rap was simply used as a hook for the students, as opposed to really culturally engaging them. Often, when I think about what someone would consider “do-able” in the classroom, this is what I think of. Throw in a little pop culture and then fit it into current teaching norms. I’m not saying this is wrong per say but I don’t think it is where the conversation should end.

In Leif Gustavson’s Influencing Pedagogy through the Creative Practices of Youth Gustavson spends time getting to know a student who participates in turntablism, and through this experience lays out groundwork for potential change in our classrooms. Gustavson explains that for students, “The creative practices are part of who they are and how they understand the world around them. The way they live their lives and forms there practice and their practice influences the ways in which they live their day today” (82, 2007). I very much agree with this notion. In my Connected film I state that the things we love, shape who we are – this is able what Gustavson is describing.

In this text, Gustavson talks about a student named Gill who was extremely interested in turntablism. He was allowed to use a room within the school to set up equipment and practices with others. This space was offered to them by the Jazz teacher, who trusted the students to use it responsibly (86, 2007). Once again the time to explore and mess around is done out of the classroom space. However, Gustavson addresses ways to help bring these ideals into the classroom, so students aren’t just regulated to clubs or opposing spaces. His suggestions are simpler than you would think, and really don’t take a huge shift in our classrooms.

When explaining his suggestions, Gustavson says,

“I make this commitment recognizing the real constraints that standardized tests core curriculum class size on even distribution of funding and other state and district mandates place on curriculum and pedagogy. However, I choose to believe that these constraints need not get in the way of allowing students to work and learn on their own terms… merely emphasized which skills and concepts need to be developed within a certain time frame” (98, 2007).

Gustavson wants teachers to realize that we often take books and other common forms of literature and position them as things to be studied as a opposed to things to create (100, 2007). Even when teachers bring in the products of pop culture, such as graffiti or raps and so on, they often remove the learner from the creative process. Gustavson says this makes teachers and students outside observers as opposed to active participants (100, 2007). By bringing these things into the classroom, teachers may attempt to “fix” the work in such a way that it loses its vitality (101, 2007).

Ultimately, Gustavson believes this:

“The way we design learning spaces in schools needs to honour the idiosyncratic nature of real work. Instead of making everyone follow the same steps for a research paper…teachers need to recognize everyone’s personal way of exploring something…these criteria should be shaped by listening to youth describe their ways of attacking a problem, exploring an issue, or developing an argument balanced by our understanding of the ways mathematicians, historians, writers and scientists pursue their craft…design ongoing conversations where teachers and students articulate to each other and themselves how they go about working” (109, 2007).

Think about this way, would you as a teacher want to do the very work you are assigning your students? Instead of teachers being ‘detached spectators’, we need to evaluate the type of work we are giving to our students and be engaged with them. Teachers must work to create lessons that are purposeful and meaningful to help push students forward. I would argue that if teachers take the time to be engaged with their students, then almost any work can be purposeful and find connection outside the classroom. In this ‘recasting’ of teacher and student rolls we have the possibility of creating a classroom that reflects our students needs, if only by taking the time to learn with our students and be informed by them (110, 2007). Remix, in this context is very exciting. Our roles as teachers are changing as our students seem far more interested in their phones than us as educators. Why not take advantage of this moment to make a change and embrace the idea of cultural pedagogy to learn alongside out students? Use this time to build on what we already know about education, and add something different, make a change.

Fitting 21st Century Education into 20th Century Schooling

If we can’t create affinity spaces in the classroom, how can we use some of the ideas from those spaces in our everyday classrooms? How can we create deep thought and engaged students in our classrooms?

Let’s look outwards first, at the physical spaces which hold students and teachers. Cathy Burnett explores the idea of “classroom-ness” and digital practices in her work, “Investigating pupils’ interactions around digital texts: A spatial perspective on the “classroom-ness” of digital literacy practices in schools.” Burnett wants to understand how technologies are used in the classroom, how students react, how they play, and what kind of learning takes place. She explains that most research shows that technologies are framed by “…curricular learning outcomes rather than personal interests, needs and preferences and can be inhibited by inconsistencies in teacher confidence, unavailability of equipment, accountability measures linked to print literacies, and safeguarding procedures which limit internet access” (193, 2014). These are drawbacks most teachers are all too familiar with. It can be difficult to have access to technology or do work with little Internet access.

The most interesting piece of Burnett’s work would be her concept of space and the idea that people “sit” across online and offline spaces, in order to challenge the notion of the “classroom” and that, “children’s meaning-making is associated with multiple spaces which articulate with each other in different ways” (193, 2014). One of the challenges in the classroom, is knowing that our students sit across these spaces, understanding that these spaces inform their learning, and somehow struggling with ways to bring learning from those other spaces into the classroom.

Teachers have to make conscious efforts to push back against this “classroom-ness”, as the classroom space, like all spaces if influenced by the people in the space. As Burnett says, “what people do is influenced by spaces but spaces in turn are shaped by what people do, how people conceive them and what they feel spaces should be like. This reflexive dynamic can generate possibilities for change” (194, 2014). The people in the space can change the classroom dynamic and “feel” of the space. Education is bound up in policies and resources, and classroom design – but the way the students and teachers communicate and respond to one other, creative use of space, and working to make tools available can change the “classroom-ness” of the classroom (Burnett 194, 2014)

Burnett explains that, “space is not fixed, but relational” and uses the example of David from the text. Burnett observed various classrooms as they used technology for educational “classroom” purposes. David is a student who became the “expert” in the class. Burnett explains he shifts from teacher to entertainer. As he helped others with their work, he also shared his own works as an example but also as a performance. “His comments and actions seemed to generate a social space centered round the group table in which positioning in relation to his peers perhaps mattered more than completion of the task (Burnett 200, 2014). Here, is an example of what teachers struggle with when technology is brought into the class. Often, the students become “off-task” and begin searching for music, video, games or images, that don’t pertain to their work. This doesn’t mean that the students aren’t learning, but they may not be learning what we need them to learn at that time.

Burnett wants to focus on the widening circles of space, “ the classroom within the school within the locality within the country within the world. However, we also need to recognize the fluidity with which relationships between these locations were experienced” (203, 2014). While I agree that we have to acknowledge the fluidity between spaces, we also need to acknowledge the time in each of these spaces. Times spent in these spaces are not equal. The time one is physically in the space, and what one does with the time they have in that space. Within the classroom, we are bound by time in many ways. The time allotted for subjects, the time we have to gather assessment, the time within the school year.

In building lessons that focus on deep learning, engagement, technology and embracing the fluidity of space we also have to be aware of how time functions in these spaces. However, time shouldn’t stop us in our quest to create lessons that contains these values, but we do have to be aware to be realistic.

Burnett wants to draw attention to, “how official and unofficial practices and identities merge with each other in different ways and prompts us to question who is empowered by these spaces and what modalities they are able to recruit to meaning-making” (206, 2014) – and this is something we must consider. How are students responding to this power shift? How do teachers improve or disempower students? Do we push away technology or the fluidity of technology because we are afraid of students becoming more powerful than us?

In response to students feeling disempowered, they may produce and generate “tactics” as explained by Stan Goff referring to de Certeau. As tactics are the “purview of the non-powerful (Goff). It is an “adaptation to the environment, which has been created by the strategies of the powerful” (Goff). In relation to Burnett, the powerful – the teachers, the administration etc. can create environments that reject of accept the fluidity of space. When this environment rejects multiple learning spaces, and does not distribute power the students may use tactics to move against the strategies of the powerful. It could be that what we may consider disengagement or distraction is actually a tactical response to being disempowered in the classroom. However, Goff uses the OODA-loop employed by John Boyd to explain when tactics come into play. “…people observe their surroundings (O), orient on the most important developments in the environment (O), decide on an immediate course of action (D), take that action (A), then revert immediately to observation of the environment to see how their last action might have changed it”. This creates a loop, but it also creates an opportunity for change. If students are constantly re-evaluating their environment then we constantly have chances to change it.

Burnett understand that classrooms can be under a lot of constraint and suggests that we create a sense of community and “shared engagement generated as large groups of children work alongside adults in classrooms and which can be used to foster experimentation, collaboration and creativity (206-207, 2014). In this sense, we distribute the power through the classroom, through both students and teachers, which may lower responsive “tactics” from students. What might a classroom like this look like? What work may have to go into creating this shared distribution of power, change of space and use of time?

Smythe et.al explore this in their work, “Video Making, Production Pedagogies, and Educational Policy” where they take on a large digital project in a grade 4 class. Smythe et.al wants to push back against, “policies and practices that see real literacy as print- and paper-based alphabetic literacy practiced by individual actors” (742, 2016) as opposed to a multimodal, collaborative effort.

The Smythe et.al team worked with the teachers, administration, and community resources to create their video projects. The project was to make connections to the nearby park, which has a relationship to indigenous communities. The video would then be shown as part of the celebration of the park, connecting their project to social impact and give them a “real world” use (751, 2016).

The project needed many “work arounds” and collaboration between teachers, researchers and administration. For example, they needed to work with, “inadequate or flawed hardware and software, district policies, school space, school timetabling, photographic and video graphic conventions and capabilities, and so on. In some ways, the project’s network was a kind of counter network to School-as- Usual (Smythe et.al 752, 2016). School as usual, being rigid, with clear timetables and time allot to each specific subject. The project did not follow these rules. Most of the day was dedicated to the project, with students only leaving for subjects like music or gym when the teacher had prep time. Students also were allowed to go back to the park to film additional scenes, but needed a staff member to accompany them. The administration helped to make sure someone was always available. They also had to find quiet spaces to record or film, often using empty classrooms, or quiet stairwells (764, 2016). This flexibility relates to Burnett, as the spaces in which learning was taking place was in and out of the classroom. Students were encouraged to bring in their outside knowledge and use it within the (many) spaces they recorded in.

Smythe et.al are critical of the 21st century mandates and their expectations, stating that, “supporting “choice,” “flexibility,” and “personalization” in curriculum, but maintaining and improving province-wide evaluations of students in the “core” areas— numeracy, reading, and writing—seem somewhat contradictory” (753, 2016). Mostly because the way these “core” areas have to be represented restrict how flexible and personalized the curriculum can be. In their project, Smythe explains, “while the videos children were making actually did relate to curriculum goals, they were not seen as “real school,” perhaps because prescribed texts that presented “facts” were not used in the pedagogy, and no individual evaluation accompanied the activity” (762, 2016). This is a very big issue. A lot of time and effort went into creating these projects. There was a collaborative effort between administration, community, teachers and students, it follows all the 21st century learning ideals, but it can’t be assessed because it isn’t seen as “real school”?

Smythe et.al believe current assessment is not capable of effectively evaluating 21st century learning as they cannot evaluate “abilities to learn, work and produce collaboratively” (751, 2016). This is why many of the spaces for 21st century learning have moved to after-school and community programs, as they don’t have to follow the same constraints as the schooling system. Smythe et.al suggest that it order to really change schooling, that we should bring, “policy and practical attention to how learners and literacy are defined, to patterns of access and distribution of valued technological tools, and to how space and time are organized and audited within curricular and assessment …” (764, 2016). If we can look at these things at a policy, administrative and in-classroom level, we may be able to create actual change for our 21st century students. As teachers, we should look at our own literacy practice, how we assess, and try to discover how to share both ideas and power within our classrooms.

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.