This summer I’ve started doing podcast interviews for the New Books Network. I just produced my first interview with Jim Rickabaugh of the Institute for Personalized Learning. I’ve worked with Jim for the last 3 years on our research project, so this was a natural way to start. Now I’m starting to line up more fabulous academics that I want to talk to. I listen to more and more podcasts, and it’s pretty exciting, though not without apprehension, to make this switch.
Educators are increasingly asking students to find authentic audiences for their work. As I sat preparing for Jim’s interview, I was nervous, unsure of some of the details, frustrated that some of the logistics of the audio recording studio didn’t work, and knew that I’d have to listen to my own voice on the recording! But, I knew that I would enjoy talking to Jim, the interview itself would be meaningful to others, that doing it would improve my interviewing skills, and that it is a good way for me to connect with scholars in my field.
In other words, there was interest, meaning, and personal value in my learning. I read about interest-based learning (like Brigid Barron or Nichole Pinkard), Connected Learning (Mimi Ito), and participatory cultures (Henry Jenkins), and now I’m doing it!
Also this is my 100th post! Reflection on that coming soon…
But for now, this post is a reaction to Neil Gershenfeld’s article, How to Make Almost Anything: The Digital Fabrication Revolution, and Erica Halverson’s paper, Digital art-making as a representational process:
If you are a traditionally trained, career teacher, you likely have no idea how creative processes work in industry. I think one of the most compelling parts of the Youth Media Arts Organizations is that they use real processes of production, like Reel Works pitching to actual directors at an actual film studio. This is what makes it authentic rather than contrived. Without personal experience as an artist, I think teachers struggle to facilitate authentic student work in this area. I know that I personally have assigned video projects without any discussion of what the rules of the genre are, types of films, camera angles, storyboarding, etc. “Creating art mindfully, that is learning how to construct and critically evaluate these representations, requires scaffolded instruction” (Halverson 2010). Being able to scaffold instruction requires deep content and process understanding by the teacher, which the majority do not have. For this reason, students who are good with iMovie flair might dazzle their teachers with effects, and teachers then mistakenly equate the ability to manipulate software with understanding the rules of genre and/or content understanding.
I see three opportunities for bridging this gap between the experiences we want kids to have and what is currently happening. First, I think we need to recruit and enlist second career teachers who come from within industry. I see this happening at the Sullivan Center at the ‘Iolani School, an independent K-12 school in Honolulu, where they have a game designer, software architect, and studio and fabrication artist, among others, as faculty. Alternately, in the same way that the National Writing Project promotes teaching writing by developing teachers as writers, there could be art and maker institutes for teachers to develop themselves as creators. I would also love to see arts integration coordinators who support teachers designing, implementing, and assessing lessons. This might see new literacies (Knobel and Lankshear 2007) and “tasks that put the arts forward” (Halverson 2010) take root K-12 schools.
Gershenfeld (2012) in his article also addresses making, but in a different context and purpose. For the most part, his article is historical or explanatory, but there was one point that I thought stood out: the parallel comparison made between personal computing and fabrication. Although some could not imagine what people might do with personal computers, users adapted its design to their own desires (shopping, connecting, sharing). One of the radical ideas of the Ito et al. (2008) report was that they observed students “in the wild,” seeing how they actually used the tools, rather than assuming that they would just be used as they were designed. I think it is telling that in Gershenfeld’s Bits and Atoms class, it was research students who came up with innovative ideas, adapting it to the “market of one” (Gershenfeld 2012), and that as adults, we often can’t fathom what to do with something like a 3D printer.
One final point is to tie the art and process of “making” in with Sennett’s three key themes for navigating the era of new capitalism: narrative, usefulness, and craftsmanship. I see making, whether digital media or fabrication, as providing opportunity for developing personal narrative and craftsmanship through mindful design, production, and performance, and the performance of making, as seen in participatory cultures (Jenkins et al. 2006) and the FabLabs in Manchester and Barcelona (Gershenfeld 2012), provides spaces where people feel useful and connected. Perhaps in contrast with the fearful reaction by many (Gershenfeld 2012), I see the maker movement as a fundamentally hopeful trajectory for individuals and communities.
Gershenfeld, Neil. (2012, September 27). How to Make Almost Anything: The Digital Fabrication Revolution. New York Times.
Halverson, Erica. (2010). Digital art-making as a representational process. Paper presented at the International Conference of the Learning Sciences.
Ito, M. et al. (2008). Living and Learning with New Media : Summary of Findings from the Digital Youth Project (pp. 1–58).
Jenkins, H., Clinton, K., Purushotma, R., Robison, A., & Weigel, M. (2007). Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21 Century (pp. 1–72).
Lankshear, C., & Knobel, M., Eds. (2007). A New Literacies Sampler.
Sennett, Richard. (2006). The Culture of the New Capitalism. New Haven: Yale University Press.