#MobilityShifts – Day 3: Hacking, Playfulness, and Free Universities [guest post]

Mozilla Drumbeat session at #MobilityShifts

I attended three sessions today, with roughly half of this written in an empty room full of chairs before the third session and the remainder written by lamplight in my hotel room. Some sessions run until 10pm at this conference – there would be uproar about such scheduling in England! ;-)

The sessions I attended today were:

  1. Hacking as Learning: A Slice of Mozilla Drumbeat Learning, Freedom and the Web Festival
  2. Playful & Digital Literacy? How Digital Media Shapes Our Biographies and Fosters Transformative Learning
  3. The Beginnings of The Free University Movement

If there was a common thread running through these three sessions it was that innovation necessarily involves letting go of the reins sometimes and not pre-supposing the outcomes of a particular activity or programme. This is an important lesson for us all to learn, I think.

Hacking as Learning: A Slice of Mozilla Drumbeat Learning, Freedom and the Web Festival

I’ve been fairly involved with Mozilla’s Open Badges recently and so have been finding out about some of the fantastic work that Mozilla have been dong more generally. The session I attended this morning focused on P2PU.org and Hackasaurus, the former being a place for running informal online courses, the latter about helping young people to understand the way the open web works.

This was a very interactive session, including some robotic dancing(!) and drawing of possible ways in which we could structure learning activities helping young people to understand ‘hacking’. Whilst in the popular media ‘hacking’ means some kind of criminal activity it actually means modifying something for your own interest or use. The Hackasaurus website is currently pre-beta, but it’s definitely worth checking out – even if only for the X-Ray Goggles!

Playful and digital literacy? How Digital Media shapes our biographies and fosters transformative learning

This workshop, like the Mozilla one, was mainly a hands-on session with some input from Konstantin Mitgutsch, a post-doctoral researcher at the Singapore-MIT Gambit Game Lab (based on Boston). What I really liked about this session was that it forced us to reflect on our own experiences of media throughout our lives and then helped us make sense of them.

I and other delegates were encouraged to draw a timeline on a piece of paper upon which we charted ‘meaningful’ interactions with a particular form of media. It was up to us which form of media we chose and what we personally meant by ‘meaningful’. I chose video games, although I equally could have chosen books or the internet. I won’t bore you with the details of my particular timeline (see below) but suffice to say entering code into a BBC Micro to play Duck Hunt aged about seven years of age was a fairly formative experience for me. :-)

Doug Belshaw's 'mediagraphy'

On the timeline the ‘bubbles’ represent how meaningful the experience was to us. We were also asked to divide these experiences into stages. The completed timeline was then used as a conversation starter with a partner to whom which we explained our visual representations. Just to demonstrate how different media timelines and experiences could be, my interlocutor was a Reformed Jewish Rabbi doing a PhD who had been a professional dancer and Hollywood writer! His formative experience was watching West Side Story on TV aged five.

Konstantin went through a lot of theory (which was really interesting) to situate our experiences in a theoretical framework. This would be difficult to rehearse briefly here but towards the end of the session he did put up a useful overview slide making these points:

  • Attention is the gatekeeper
  • Expectation as the door-opener
  • Content is queen
  • Context is king
  • Meta-context is not instruct-able (but essential and social)
  • Kairos – or the right point of time

The main thrust of the session was that context shapes everything that we do and that meaningful learning experiences are intrinsically social in nature. Konstantin summed this up in a nice phrase: “Transfer is NOT the transformation”. I think this resonates strongly with Cathy Davidson’s book Now You See It (which I’m currently reading in preparation for meeting her on Friday!)

The Beginnings of The Free University Movement

This session comprised of two short talks with lengthy Q&A sessions:

  1. History of DIY Learning (Kasper Opstrup Frederiksen)
  2. ElectroSmog: The Quest for a ‘Sustainable Immobility’ and the Tele-Presence Conundrum (Eric Kluitenberg)

I had really been looking forward to this as I think we live in very interesting and potentially-revolutionary times when it comes to re-imagining education. I was extremely disappointed then when the first talk was a real let-down. The speaker read his paper in a voice which varied little in tone or cadence to people sitting in rows of chairs. The Q&A session, which I hoped might provide some enlightenment or light relief, descended into a self-serving ‘look how much I know about this subject’ swamp of tedium. In short, I wasn’t exactly enthralled and directed my attention elsewhere, much as I did in school when the teacher made no particular attempt to make the material interesting. Here in 2011 my attention goes to my digital devices; in school I just used to look out of the window.

The second talk seemed to be about someone’s failure in organising an online conference. Again, for me Twitter and checking my email won out for most of it, although my ears did prick up towards the end when the words ‘education’ and ‘tele-presence’ were mentioned. The argument seemed to be that we lose something through ‘hard’ tele-presence when we try to replace physical interaction. Wow. I award it the 2011 prize for Most Obvious Conclusion.

Celebrating Jim Groom’s birthday

Pizza and beer at John's on Bleeker

I had fully intended to go to a late session entitled An Autonomous Alternative Accreditation Agency led by Thomas Gokey, someone I’d come across through interacting around Mozilla’s Open Badges. However, I met up with Joss Winn and Mike Neary, then Boone Gorges, and finally Jim Groom (who’s just turned 40!) and Mikhail Gershovich. We went for some fabulous pizza and beer, got talking and before I knew it I’d missed the session. I very much encourage you to find out more about these people as the quality of conversation and the ideas expressed were top-notch. :-)

Conclusion

What I’m really enjoying at this conference is the space to discuss and explore ideas. Presentations can often be interrupted by clarificatory questions, and workshops sometimes go off at interesting tangents. Apart from the final session I attended today, I’ve found Mobility Shifts to be almost the opposite of the so-called ‘Continuous Professional Development’ (CPD) I was subjected to during my years as a teacher. The days of standing up to ‘impart information’ aided by a badly-formatted slidedeck are over: foster interaction and debate or go home.

3 things I learned about New York today

  1. Some people put their dogs in daycare.
  2. You don’t have to sign or enter a PIN code for small credit card transactions (presumably this is a US thing?)
  3. Contrary to the myths, New Yorkers are actually quite likely to hold doors open for you.


Encouraging clearer thinking in education, technology and productivity, Doug Belshaw is an educator and activist. He lives in the north of England with his wife and two young children. Doug is currently Researcher/Analyst at JISC infoNet (hosted by Northumbria University) after spending seven years as a teacher and senior leader in various UK schools. He has just submitted his doctoral thesis on the subject of ‘digital literacies’.

Blog: dougbelshaw.com/blog  
Twitter: @dajbelshaw / @dajbconf

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