Civic makers

IMG_0115Civics, for some of us of a certain age, might call up memories of somewhat musty school books, droning teachers and student councils. It is one of those terms that can seem endearingly dated in our ironic (or are we post-ironic yet?), cynical post-democratic ( we sure seem to be hitting the mark on that one) age. But it is far past time for us to reclaim civics, to reclaim the commons that we as citizens share. Some attempts are being made, some alternative pathways to a new civics are trying to be born, but it is an uphill (which in not to say sisyphean) slog.

But the systems that interlock and compose the civic sphere are not completely gone. And they are systems and networks and linkages – discernable even under the dust and corruption of non-use – which brings me to my reason for this post. The development of civic makers.

The use of our ability to teach others (especially, but not exclusively, youth) how to use technology to make things that exist, interface with, rebuild and/or reinforce civic structures and networks should be a primary focus of our work. This does not mean that we use civics, or making for good, or communities as workshops, as a bludgeon but that those elements of community and citizenship are present in our work and teaching. We must use our time to teach both the technology and an understanding of systems, of logic and processes that is transferable beyond the realm of technology.

Understanding technology and  using it to create can be a liberating experience. And in the past I have facilitated sessions where it was just that. And it is a wonderful thing to accompany youth on this journey – without a doubt. But leaving it there, as an experience that exists somewhere beyond the ‘harsh’ realities of the tangible world, is a kind of disservice. I say this as someone who believes deeply in the power of Minecraft as a tool, a hook, to bring youth into the world of coding and crafting. The ever-present challenge, as I perceive it now, is to use tools such as Minecraft with clearer focus and intent. Structuring learning opportunities such that we are very clearly teaching comprehension of systems and processes. Not in a lifeless and pedantic way and not even in any blatant way but as co-learners and co-teachers with our participants, discovering systems and networks and processes together as we use the tools at hand to craft and make.




From Code to Craft – Open, appropriate, technology and the design of a new world – part 3

10900111_343478819172598_193884582881854888_oInformation and communications technologies (ICT’s) continue to change and develop at a rapid pace. Increasingly pervasive and networked (both socially and ‘physically’) ICT’s are largely black boxes. While there are indications of movements and trends that attempt to plumb the depths of these black boxes, by and large, most people remain unaware of the ‘mystery in the box’. Digital literacies, hard and soft, offer a way into understanding ICT’s.

The development of a robust understanding of ICT’s leads to an ability to deconstruct, reimagine, and innovate beyond the original boundaries of any given tool or technology. It is possible to see this process at work in communities surrounding the sandbox game, Minecraft. There are ways of seeing the world building, mod creating, and sharing within the Minecraft community as analogs for other processes that can/could have tangible real world impacts. The challenge is in moving from code to craft.

While there is value in knowing how to use software to build vivid and impactful worlds online, the end goal should be to teach literacies that help learners emerge into the world and enact change there. Building the world we want is an exercise in shaping tangible realities. Crafting a more just and equitable world may seem outside the direct goals of any digital literacy learning, but all learning should orient itself towards that goal. The tools and technologies of ICT can be powerful agents acting towards sustainability, creativity, free expression and on and on.

This movement from understanding to intervention informs the Maker and DIY movements, to a degree. But it is time to think about harnessing the energy of such movements towards concrete and meaningful impacts in the world. This is not to say that all activities must be socially useful, just that an articulated goal should include utility towards a more just and equitable world.

Minecraft, littleBits – virtual/physical interactions and sensing

This past Jminecraftlilbitsuly we did some work with littleBits and Minecraft (video below) which has lead to some further thoughts and development. Once you start taking these two tools seriously there is a tremendous amount of potential in their educational use. One of the most important aspects for me is the connection of the virtual and the physical. Being able to use Minecraft as one piece of an ecosystem that connects virtual and real provides an easy entry into the module development of a range of activities. littleBits provide a toolkit that we initially used to mirror creation in Minecraft. The expanding range of littleBits modules is continually opening new connectors that allow for an even greater range of activities.

As I was thinking about this I felt a need to map what I view as the current ecosystem for this virtual physical project space. While this is not definitive or static, it captures what I currently see as the key elements – the flora and fauna – of this space. The Minecraft/littleBits symbiosis moves beyond a mirroring of what is created in one is replicated in the other into a robust and modular system that can include programming, micro-controllers and sensors. Mapping physical world interaction into the virtual or having virtual interactions move out into the physical – sensing changes, reacting – all within the creative grasp of kids and curious adults is powerful and facilitates multilayered learning processes.

So what I’m poking at now or in the near future: redstone, sensors, arduino, logic gates, computercraft – still the Minecraft/littleBits combo but expanding a bit to strengthen the virtual physical interactions elements. Look for more specific details, recipes and learnings over the next few months as I (with the help of engaged colleagues and new collaborators) tinker and test.