I write this the morning after experiencing a ‘duelling piano bar’ for the first time. Wow. We need more (any?) of them in the UK. Fun.
As the DML Conference has gone on, I’ve felt that there’s been more pushback. This is a good thing: what’s being presented should always be subject to critique and thoughtful questioning.
I attended three-and-a-half sessions on Day 3 of the DML Conference 2012:
- Building Education Innovation: The Social & Technical Infrastructure
– Does digital and media literacy support civic engagement?
– The Politics and Paradoxes of Inclusion
– Ignite Talks
Building Education Innovation: The Social and Technical Infrastructure
Diana Rhoten, the conference chair, was joined by Vicky Phillips (Gates Foundation), Ronaldo Lemos (Centre for Technology and Society in Brazil), and Leslie Redd (Valve). This was an interesting combination, especially as Valve is a games publisher that’s only very recently decided to get involved in education.
Valve have a couple of websites for educators. the first is http://learnwithportals.com which uses the game Portal 2 to teach STEM subjects. The second is http://thinkwithportals.com which is about custom maps and modding. They’re going to be giving away free copies of Portal 2 to educators, and their educational resources are also free.
Vicky Phillips from the Gates Foundation seemed very keen on the Common Core standards and the Shared Learning Collaborative (SLC). Apparently the SLC is “an infrastructure to find high-quality resources aligned to Common Core standards. If I had my cynical hat on I’d say it sounds like a portal to make it easier for businesses to sell educational content to schools. In that sense, there’s clear water between the aims of the MacArthur Foundation and the Gates Foundation. But that may just be my perception (and biases).
Ironically, I found out that the US now has the Teaching Channel (https://www.teachingchannel.org). They’re just getting started with theirs as the UK has just got rid of TeachersTV.
Ronaldo Lemos talked about ‘LAN houses’ that have sprung up all over Brazil causing moral panic. In fact, a law was passed so that they weren’t allowed within a mile of a school. However, this was overturned through lobbying.
A gold rush is happening in Brazil at the moment, noted Lemos. Companies such as Pearson want to be part of the $700m set aside by the Brazilian government for digital educational resources. Unfortunately, the government has decided that these should be distributed on DVD-ROMs. Not so handy for tablets, then. And there’s been no conversation about licensing and appropriation/re-appropriation. It sounds a bit of a mess.
I felt the questioning, both by the conference chair and the audience, was a bit weak in this session. We need a better way to crowdsource questions at conferences.
Does digital and media literacy support civic engagement?
I was hoping for great things from this session, having recently finished my doctorate in the area of digital and new literacies (http://neverendingthesis.com). Unfortunately, the two short presentations I caught before bailing on the session presented their research findings in a rather stilted, formal way.
It’s the DML conference! Where’s the audience engagement? I ended up finding a quiet space to catch up on some RSS feeds. I saw some others had done likewise from other, parallel sessions. For #DML2013 (in Chicago) they need more participation, more workshops.
The Politics and Paradoxes of Inclusion
This was a fantastic session. Not only because danah boyd – someone I have huge respect for – was presenting, but due to the engaging way some important research was presented.
The session began with Antero Garcia on ‘This Ain’t Montessori: Mobile Participation in South Central High School’. Antero is a great guy, having taught over the past few years in a tough school whilst doing his PhD. He’s also one of the conference organisers.
Antero got the audience discussing the ways in which we use our mobile phones professionally and civically, then asked how schools can support these practices. It all depends on context, however, and in his school in Los Angeles, that’s extremely challenging. There have been times when the school has been on ‘lockdown’ for seven hours. He and his students aren’t given any information, making it a dehumanising process.
We certainly have issues with our education in the UK, but nothing like the way that, to quote Antero, students in the US are routinely “criminalised in the school space”. It’s shocking, it really is.
He continued to discuss the ways that traditional models of learning are enforced by school policies. This disregards participatory learning and stifles civic engagement. Mobile phones are only available to students at lunch and after school – the very times they don’t need them (as they can interact face-to-face). Antero called students’ mobile device their ‘civic portal’. Nice term.
One more interesting snippet from Antero’s presentation is when the bomb squad came into his school. They needed everyone to turn off their phones so they didn’t get damaged by the equipment being used. The hour or so when no-one was using mobile devices felt very odd, he commented. It changed the dynamic.
Without wanting to make this post an epistle, I want to quickly mention the research of Jeffrey Lane and Christo Sims. Jeff’s been looking at social affordances of technology on the streets of Harlem. He’s done some ethnographic research around the ‘networked public’, the ways courtships happen in both online and offline spaces. It was fascinating.
Christo picked up on Jeff’s theme talking about the ways that the ‘heteronormative imperative’ played out in two groups of boys within a supposedly progressive new school in NYC. By the end of the year, those who were expressing masculinity through video games were seen as fine, whereas those doing so through offline behaviours had been suspended or expelled. Again, a really interesting study.
At the end of the session, danah boyd did a fantastic job wrapping things up. Although I didn’t catch everything she said (she speaks so quickly!) she focused on who it is that has power in various contexts. For example, Antero’s school doesn’t want to be undermined by students, but it being undermined by the state.
Inclusion, argued danah, creates the appearance that we can live in a world without boundaries. But who gets to maintain power? Who sets the agenda in these environments. Inclusivity has many of the same problematic markers as meritocracy – it presumes that we can have everyone on a level playing field, ignoring other methods of exclusion.
One delicious ‘vignette’ that danah presented was in some work she was involved with when working with Yahoo! There was a forum for women including those in the US, the UAE and Brazil. For whatever reason they had to have a definition of ‘pornography’. As you can imagine, each group of women thought their definition was the ‘normal’ and acceptable. Who’s voices get to be respected? And in what context?
Finally, danah pointed out that we don’t account for how certain interests become valued interests. What kinds of ‘participation’ do we want to include in ‘participatory culture’?
Mind suitably blown by the previous session, I caught up with a few people and headed to the wine reception and then to the Ignite talks. They were good, and included ones from Mimi Ito and Henry Jenkins. However, I felt that as a group, the earlier ones (of which I was part) slightly edged these.
In the evening, I headed out for dinner with JP and Jamie from the BuzzMath team (http://buzzmath.com), as well as Richard, one of the DML Research competition winners. After a great dinner at the Salt House (http://salthousesf.com) we ended up at a duelling piano bar. It was my first experience of one, and a whole lot of fun.
Today, now that I’ve finished this mammoth blog post, I’m packing and then planning to head up to Golden Gate park. My flight’s not until 16:00 so I’ve got a bit of time to see the sights. San Francisco’s a place I’m going to have to back to with my family.
I’ve had a great time at the DML Conference 2012. It’s been an extremely positive experience and I’ve met some wonderful people with some great ideas. Roll on #DML2013!