Saturday, September 29, 2007

Reading "The Ignorant Schoolmaster" – A subversion

I am presently re-reading and re-reading Kristin Ross’s inspired translation of Jacques Rancière’s sublime critique of pedagogy as stultification: "The Ignorant Schoolmaster". The immediate impetus is an upcoming trip to Finland where, among other things, we will be presenting some ideas for discussion under the title of "Unpedagogy for the unfaithful".

Rancière reminds me a lot of de Certeau and the whole critique of what we might call "Bourdieu-ism": the naming and explication (in Rancière’s pejorative sense) of "inequality", "distinction", "social reproduction" and the like in a way that profoundly (even if unwittingly) serves and maintains the interests of (the) explicators. The ways Rancière discusses contemporary educational buzzwords like "attention" (and, by implication, "engagement") and "emancipation" are jolting -- and, to our way of thinking, compelling.

Jim Gee told us about the book in the course of an email exchange where I was rabbiting on about why I thought some recent "post progressive" pedagogies seemed to me to be upside down. At one point I said something about the assumption that the way we explain the world holds the key to how we should teach and learn about it. I mentioned how in a lot of our current "teaching" work we very consciously set cohorts of our students to learning things we don’t know much about -- and how this seems to work as a pretty good way for all parties to learn things. Jim asked if I’d read "The Ignorant Schoolmaster".

Needless to say, I hadn’t. But I’m on my third run through it now, and commend it enthusiastically.

The catalyst for Rancière’s work is the story of Joseph Jacotot, a French academic who was exiled in the Netherlands following the restoration of the Bourbon dynasty in France in 1814. By a quirk of fate Jacotot found himself teaching Flemish speaking students who knew no French when he knew no Flemish. He "taught" the students to speak French by having them work assiduously through a bilingual French-Flemish edition of Fénelon’s 1699 novel "Télémaque".

While there are more (and more profound) differences than similarities between the respective experiences, the Jacotot story resonated powerfully with some of our own experiences of wrestling with de Certeau’s work. After a typical 1980s flirtation with "The Practice of Everyday Life" we found ourselves in Mexico teaching courses at the UNAM. Our Spanish at that time was about as limited at the students’ English -- which is to say, pretty limited. We offered a course on reading de Certeau’s "Practice of Everyday Life" -- partly because the second volume had just recently been published, partly because the work was available in Spanish as well as English, and partly because we wanted to get to grips with de Certeau’s thinking.

It was risky business and called for a bit of innovation. Basically, we met every three weeks for a minimum of 8 hours. In between time we did email interchange in spanglish. We allowed two sessions (16 hours) minimum per chapter. What was de Certeau saying? How did the translations compare? What sense could we make of it in terms of Mexican social, cultural, economic, political and educational life? What were the passages in the text that supported individuals’ reflections? When opinions on interpretation differed, what evidence from the text could folk bring to bear? The text was the expert intelligence and our procedures for verifying "attention" were uncannily close to some of Jacotot’s principles of universal teaching. Above all, and to a person, the courses were driven by an intense will to engage with the object of learning.

It was a magical experience that went on for four years -- during which time we acquired some Spanish. Each semester ended with the question "well, what shall we explore next semester?" So we went from "Practice" to "The Capture of Speech" to "The Mystic Fable". It was not something that could easily be replicated in distance and flexible modes, and it was certainly not something that squares well with neo-liberal constructions of "time", "efficiency", "knowledge", "curriculum" and, even, "learning". Neither, of course, does it square at all well with much that passes for pedagogy according to our various expert-privileging educational sciences.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Some new projects related to literacy and new technologies

It's been an interesting week in terms of becoming involved in some new projects in the general area of literacy and new technologies.

Yesterday we accepted an invitation to join the editorial review board of a very interesting new venture being spearheaded by Gail Harwisher, Cindy Selfe and colleagues.

They are proposing "a Digital Press that will specialize in online books that for the most part cannot be easily produced in print venues. Published projects will be selective and rigorously refereed, undergo a thorough process of blind peer review and extensive editorial development, and benefit from post-production review that will also help the press establish a reputation for excellence."

The goal is to accept projects that have "the same specific gravity as a book, but [that] will be both digital and multimodal in form". They will involve "innovative combinations of words, images, video, and audio." Importantly, the completed projects "will be freely accessible to institutions, scholars, and libraries."

It sounds like a venture well worth supporting.

In a similar but much smaller-scaled vein, Montclair State University has given Michele a project grant of $10,000 to develop a wiki textbook to be made freely available to students. Anyone familiar with the textbook racket knows how students are sitting ducks for $125 compulsory texts that get "new editioned" every other year, and get sold to captive audiences. Our project will involve targetting a particular text and paying members of a collective to produce an alternative text that will be available free to anyone, and that will become the course text at Montclair. The writer collective will be invited to edit the text over the first couple of years of its life, and we'll see howit goes from there.

The wiki will have two versions. One will be modifiable only by members of the athoring group. The other will be truly public, there for anyone to contribute to if they want to.

The third project is a new Australian Research Council Linkage Grant for 2008-2010 to continue work from the team's earlier work on factors associated with low female participation rates in ICT careers. Neil Anderson and Colin are the university-based members of the team, and our industry partner and fellow chief investigator is Sonja Bernhardt (Australia's first Silicon Valley Hall of Famer, and a truly talented innovative entrepreneur).

Meanwhile, another issue of the E-Learning journal has just gone to press and the following one -- which will complete 4 years of the journal's life -- is in preparation. Colleagues have been wonderful in supporting this journal, and every issue has heaps of diversity.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Machinima for Dummies is in shops now!

I'm happy to report that Machinima for Dummies by Hugh Hancock and Johnnie Ingram (both of "Bloodspell" fame) is out in shops now. I'm sitting here with a nice shiny copy by my computer and am thoroughly looking forward to getting stuck into reading it!

Chapter content includes an introduction to machinima, an introduction basic film-making techniques, insider advice on set design and texturing, character design, video editing, storytelling, audio production, ten machinima films considered much-see viewing, and much, much more. the chapters themselves are organised into five parts, moving from novices through to pro machinima makers, and ensuring that there's something for everyone between the cover.

An interesting interview with Hugh about the book can be found here.

Machinima moves to a whole new level...

I've just watched a promo clip about Halo 3's new "save film" function and am speechless at what machinima makers are going to be able to do with it. The camera controls are especially ground-breaking. I'm betting this really will take machinima to a whole new level.

Paul Marino--from a nice write up about "Save Film" and an embedded copy of the promo clip here.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Saluting Amazon and its supporters

A recent story reports having launched a public beta offering the biggest selection of a la carte DRM-free MP3 music downloads at competitive prices. Still no match for the late and lamented "", but will certainly provide a better deal than current competitors. With luck, as in other aspects of online business, Amazon's initiative will encourage others to lift their game.

Of course, we feely admit to having a special regard for Amazon. When we moved to Mexico it was our lifeline to continuing what we did. We had been early adopters while still in Australia, but when we moved to Mexico we became absolutely dependent on Amazon, and it came through every time.

So we were very happy to read in the story that Amazon is today a Fortune 500 company. It prolly has been for a while, but we don't tend to keep up with that kind of information. So it's a good time to give our personal salute to Jeff Bezos and his vision, and to express appreciation to the supporters of Amazon -- including those who invested with willingness to lose their investments through the early hard years -- for nurturing a progressive business vision. It's kind of hard to imagine the world without, no?

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