Being based at a university, and working within the cooperative extension system, I’m always looking for models of community/university collaboration that exemplify a participatory engagement with citizens (Or, as some would put it- “stakeholder” engagement). And in our current era of makers and making, examples […]
Civics, 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.
Last week we ran our first code to craft workshop with 20 youth from across New York state. They formed 5 teams and set about using the available technologies (Scratch, littleBits, Arduino and more) to develop solutions to a community issue or problem. This is […]
In planning for an upcoming workshop with youth I’ve been thinking more deeply about the meaning of digital literacy. Like any literacy, there are layers of ability that can be developed. And there are orientations to the teaching of these literacies – social contexts and […]
Information 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.
We have continually expanding access to new technologies. And yet the issues, problems and plagues that have been with us for decades still endure. And what is even more troubling is that we have largely surrendered the dreams and visions that have the power to […]
Just a bit of archival preservation here. In 2003 we did a 4-H Career Explorations session on Design and Technology. In the past few years I have looked for, but been unable to find, the documents related to this event. Today I did stumble on […]
I recently returned from two weeks in Nicaragua. During my time there we conducted some tech workshops with kids using littleBits (more about that in a future post). While I was there I began to think more closely about the relationship between things like open source, cultural and economic constraints, and so on. I’ve worked with kids and young adults around tech issues for a long time now – sometimes here in New York and sometimes in Nicaragua. I still harbor the firm conviction that tech literacy is now a fundamental need if one is going to take part in shaping a new world, the world we want.
But what became startlingly clear to me (perhaps I am a slow learner?) this time around was the basic powerlessness of teaching tech, so long as it is disconnected from a political orientation, or a political platform. This is perhaps a troublesome thought and possibly poorly articulated. But what I’m trying to get at is something about the point of using technology as a toolkit to build a better, new world, necessitates that tech itself is politicized, contextualized within an operating framework that engages not just tech but the whole social/economic/cultural ecosystem. Because I don’t think it’s possible to build a new world using the constraints of our current system.
Open source is a great concept, but in the context of the political systems we currently work within it is a privileged concept. Access to tools, supplies, even knowledge is unevenly distributed due to a particular system(s) – to enact open source as a robust technology system demands it be a part of a new ecosystem that includes the social, political and economic workings (inner-workings, networkings) across the board.
All of this arises from thoughts about free association and knowledge sharing that I began to put down on January 2nd while in Managua. It was deepened as I moved to the Atlantic coast and began working with kids there. Thoughts of open educational resources, open systems, and networks soon became mired in the realities of daily life – which I only experienced as a spectator. But it rapidly became obvious that the untidy, sometimes ugly, nest of interrelationships between economics, politics, culture and technology cannot be sectioned off and dealt with as autonomous entities.
Each bit of tech we carry, each new thing we teach about, carries with it this intertwined web of economics, politics and culture. The challenge is to be able to use this tangled tool as a lever opening the door to another possibility. Add to that the additional difficulty of respecting difference and diversity and culture and it becomes daunting. But not impossible. I keep coming back to the image of handshaking (in the IT sense of the term). There has to be a negotiated connection that can establish common boundaries and parameters, that does not overwhelm one side of the connection but finds an equilibrium that allows participants to move forward together.