Category: Education

New media literacy videos reinforce 19th century thinking

[video link]

Canada’s MediaSmarts media literacy hub has recently put together a series of videos (episode one posted above) to teach people about their six basic principles of media literacy. MediaSmarts is one of the organizations I analyzed in my dissertation, which in general seems to be ahead of most other North American media literacy organizations in terms of shifting their paradigm towards digital media. However, when it comes to these basic principles, I think they are still stuck in 19th Century thinking.  The videos are fairly simplistic–perhaps too simplistic–reducing media literacy to a formula that loses a lot of nuance. In essence, this is media literacy for a short attention span audience.

I’m also a little suspicious of the organization since MediaSmarts receives a lot of funding from major media corporations (check the sponsor links at the bottom of its homepage). While I don’t know if that has a direct influence on their methodology, I can’t imagine big media corporations backing a curriculum site that would be contrary to their interests.

I’ll break down why I don’t believe some of these principles serve us anymore. In short, the general problem is how they reinforce mechanistic thinking based on industrial-era science and technology, which inhibits ecological thinking about media. Mechanism views the world as a machine composed of reducible parts and is foundational for the view that nature is a thing that can be exploited for human use. As Einstein is oft quoted, we can’t solve problems with the same thinking that created them. For this reason, I don’t think this approach to media literacy will help us solve the great challenges that face us in the 21st century.

Media Minute Introduction: What is media anyway?

One of the biggest problems with media education is the metaphor we use for media. Here it is used in the singular form, which implies that media are some kind of entity. By using the singular form they really mean “mass media.” The video strongly reinforces the one-to-many paradigm of mass media, which elliminates a whole set of practices that involve media making by individuals, activist groups and non-traditional organizations, essentially denying the role of people to “be the media.” My perspective is that media are an ecosystem… an environment that grows culture. Viewing media as a thing reinforces a mechanistic view that media are a kind of machine that programs us. As an ecosystem, media comprise a habitat in which we are members with rights and responsibilities.

Media Minute Episode 1: Media are constructions. 

The construction metaphor reduces media to a mechanical collection of parts. This reflects 19th Century ideas about communication in which messages are transmitted through space. In contrast, media are more like nonlinear conversations, a series of “utterences” that refer to other communications. While I do see the value of learning the “nuts and bolts” of message construction, ultimately media are always contextual and cannot be analysed in isolation from the environment they are embedded in.

Media Minute Episode 2: Each medium has a unique aesthetic form

This is an important point, one that is often neglected. It is very important that people understand that all media have different characteristics. However, the way it is framed in this video reinforces the “content delivery” model of media, presenting each media technology as a kind of medium-specific channel as opposed to different ecosystems that afford possibilities.

Media Minute Episode 3: Media have commercial implications

This principle is my least favorite and always irks me when I see it taught. Media do not always have commercial implications. Though it is true that a vast majority of what we engage in is produced by or within commercial platforms, this principle negates all the media that have no commercial implications. It reinforces a market-view of media that all media are relegated to the laws of consumerism.

Media Minute Episode 4: Media have social and political implications

This is a principle I basically agree with. It essentially argues that media are a kind of socio-politcal education. I would extend this to say that media are also environmental education–they teach us how to act upon the environment.

Media Minute Episode 5: Audiences negotiate meaning

This is probably the best insight from these principles. It goes without saying that all communication is negotiated.

Promoting neurodiversity

As a mildly dyslexic, right-brained kind of guy, I appreciate the perspective offered by this video. It calls for neurodiversity recognizing that we have various cognitive orientations and those that are not statistically “normal” shouldn’t be marginalized. This is one of my biggest gripes when it comes to education standards: there are many in the population who do not fit the profile that tests are designed for. For example, in my own personal experience I have consistently bombed standardized tests, yet I could still earn a PhD and have a successful academic life. Brains, like life, are diverse. Let’s keep them that way.

The world gets smaller with local storytelling app


[video link]

An innovative education and citizen journalism project, Small World News, has just released a storytelling app that has built into it all the tools necessary for scripting, shooting and editing a short news video. StoryMaker (demonstrated in the above video) walks through all the steps to put together a short video that can easily be uploaded to the web. It has editing features, compositional suggestions, story formats and many ways to link and share the final piece.

The app draws on the long experience of Small World News. In his TEDx talk (posted below) co-founder, Brian Conley, describes his work in a variety of war zones and revolutionary situations to help people tell their stories. The Small World News web site features their multiple storytelling projects that are happening around the world.

This tool will be handy for media educators. Students can learn rather quickly the basic storytelling structure of news and produce their own within a meaningful amount of time without a major investment in technology or funds. My only concern is that the app could potentially be too formulaic: its templates may restrict creative possibilities. On the other hand, it is simply doing what teachers normally do, which is to model a boilerplate that scaffolds to more advanced forms of production. I look forward to the opportunity of giving this app a try.

Update: Niels ten Oever writes: “One small correction: the Storymaker app is jointly developed and published by the Guardian Project, Small World News and Free Press Unlimited.”

NY Times article wastes time with false digital literacy argument

This NYTimes article, “Wasting Time Is New Divide in Digital Era,” is currently making waves in the media ecosystem. I find it troubling, but maybe not for the reasons that others have written about. It basically reports on new research that suggests poor, young people are wasting more time with digital media than their more affluent counterparts, and that policy makers need to ramp up their digital literacy funding.

I’m bothered by the metaphor of “time-wasting” being used without qualification–it’s a metaphor about how the net is used that has some implicit biases–even class bias. Whereas the educated and affluent don’t waste time, poor people do. Are they somehow supposed to be more productive, but are not because they are not intellectually active members of society? I think the article alludes to the problem of why poor young people lack supervision (overworked parents)–but why is it that their activities are considered inherently time-wasting? Do we really know how and why they are using media? This reminds me of Gramsci’s discussion of the organic intellectual: “All men are intellectuals, one could therefore say: but not all men have in society the functions of intellectuals.”

The other problem I have for how the article is framed has to do with its uncritical use of the term “digital literacy.” While it is true that many advocates for digital literacy (such as governments and mainstream educators) see it as a path to greater participation, there are other people who see digital literacy as requiring a dimension of critical engagement that leads to cultural citizenship. I think critical digital literacy makes more sense in this situation. This way, rather than encouraging the further “waste of time” of uncritical engagement with media technology, young people can be encouraged to become active, reflective cultural citizens of their media environment. Here is one example of how it could be done. But don’t expect such solutions to come from corporate funders who prefer young people not think too critically about issues like social justice and ecology.

I think the solution advocated by the Times article is essentially a neoliberal response by encouraging an unobtrusive private sector literacy approach that reinforces preexisting power relations in which youth are encouraged to “waste time” with a corporatized Internet through a semi-passive, uncritical form of literacy.

My media literacy wish list for Earth Day

Surviving Progress trailer [video link]

Just as every month is Black History Month, every day is Earth Day. To mark this year’s passing, Alternet.org features a fabulous review of nine environmental documentaries that bring ecology to the center of our cultural awareness. In particular it led me to Surviving Progress, a necessary critique of our current notion of “progress.” Based on the book, A Short History of Progress, this film has been called a mash-up of Koyaanisqatsi and The Corporation. I’m all for anything that problematizes our notion of technological evolution.* Moreover, I feel this is an area of critique generally lacking in media education. For one, youth media educators could problematize how mediamaking devices are produced and disposed of. Media lit educators focused on textual analysis could zoom in on how technology works as a trope for a variety of values associated with consumption and unlimited growth. Along these lines, here are some more suggestions for ways media education can be greened:

Discourse analysis: Media literacy has pioneered techniques for analyzing the way media frame and discuss issues, both visually and textually. Since discourse analysis can be applied to news and propaganda, green media educators can use this tool to examine how a critical issue like climate change is covered in the news, or how to detect greenwashing. Claims makers–from BP to GreenPeace–vie for public attention. What strategies do they use, and what systems enable some voices and not others?

Semiotics: Basic media literacy is a primer for the deconstruction of symbols. Often times semiotics is used for studying representation, in particular racial, gender, and cultural stereotyping. Animals and living systems are also used and stereotyped in a variety of ways. Why and for what purpose?

Marketing: Media literacy techniques have mastered deconstruction, drawing attention to nearly 30 different persuasion techniques used to manipulate and hook our attention. The primary technique, emotional transfer, is represented by how marketers (or propagandists for that matter) generate feelings in order to transfer those sensibilities to brands. But the various emotions generated by sex, fear, and humor are tied to more ancient needs related to our connection with living systems. Media literacy could point out that when advertisers are playing with our emotions, they are trying to tap into deeper experiences of authenticity and resonance that can be fulfilled by activities that don’t require consumption, and could even tie into our primary need to connect with humans and nature.

Ideology: This is usually applied in the form of critical media literacy, and aims to challenge the claims made by corporations and governments. In the age of Occupy, much attention will be applied to the way in which economic values are propagated through media. To this extent it is absolutely necessary to examine those discourses surrounding growth and consumption, and how they lead to debt on multiple levels: personal, social, and ecological. To what extent are both economics and ecology ultimately two sides of the same coin?

An additional dimension can be explored: different media promote a range of environmental ideologies–beliefs about how we act upon the world– spanning from anthropocentric to ecocentric perspectives. What implications do these different worldviews have for ecology? Moreover, given that most media literacy aspires to greater democratic participation, it would be good to examine the kind of democracy we believe in. Is it anthropocentric, or could we work towards what Vandana Shiva calls Earth Democracy, which incorporates living systems?

The Cultural Commons: Educators pushing for media justice can link the enclosure of the techno-communication system by telecoms and media corporations with the enclosure of culture. IP law, anti-piracy legislation, and corporate mergers all have the effect of limiting democratic participation and access to cultural resources. This process began with colonization and witch hunts, which eliminated indigenous and female participation in order to promote patriarchal control. Now these processes are extending to the enclosure of all ideas: it is the colonization of our interpersonal realities. This can be challenged by highlighting the importance of open culture, reformed copyright laws, and a less restrictive approach to sharing.

Intertextuality: People should not just think about ecosystems, but think like ecosystems. This means looking at our mental models and learning to think in terms of systems, relationships, and connectivity. Our social networks do this naturally, but what about media texts? Traditional media literacy tends to focus on single texts (like an alcohol ad), but what if we looked at texts as if they were a node in the media ecosystem? The way the web makes all texts open works does that for us. Consider how Kony 2012 became a dialog between many different texts produced by a vast range of critics and supporters. Or how a WikiLeaks document becomes linked to a Web of ideas and practices. Or look how we make sense of a film like Avatar, with its linkages to various genres and tropes from other films, and then how fans and activists remixed and spread various memes from the film.

Gadgets: As mentioned, media education programs rarely critically engage the tools used to make media. We should celebrate the creative process and promote the empowerment of media making, yet we should not take our eye off the fact that the gadgets we use have an increasingly negative impact on global ecology and social justice. Can we get away with making critical documentaries without also examining our own complicity within this production system?

Phenomenology: Most media literacy looks outwardly to ask questions about what media do to us. Sometimes the question is changed to focus on what we do with media. But what about the manner in which media influence our cognition–for better or for worse? How does media engagement impact our sense of space, place, and time? What are the “splaces” we are engaging? How might this experience of extending ourselves into media networks impact our sense of planet? How can we become more mindful of our attention so as to not lose ourselves in the dreamworlds of other people’s design (Kony 2012 seemed to be quite hypnotic in that sense)?

Alternative Cultural Practices: There is a tendency among many media educators to focus on the negative aspects of media. But we also need to support positive media practices. After all, media are a necessary means for solving problems. While I fully endorse critical approaches, I also would like to warn against too much negativity that leads to learners feeling powerless and victimized. We need to pull people towards aspirational solutions. This is a slightly different take on problem-solving pedagogies that focus on how to fix problems. Rather, we should encourages learners to create solutions. The difference is subtle but important. What we are aiming for is supporting lifelong learning skills that build towards sustainable cultural practices that can envision a positive response to a very wicked problem.

These suggestions are part of a larger project I’m working on to re-orient media education towards a green worldview. These points barely scratch the surface of what I’ve been developing. If you are interested in joining me or offering feedback, please comment below.

Happy Earth Day!

* For what it’s worth, to question technology is to not be anti-technology. Hopefully people will come to realize that thinking critically about technology is not a desire to go back to the Stone Age, but rather to consider the boundaries and limits that can be placed on how technology fits within the context of ecology and human experience, and not the other way around.

McLuhan on education

From McLuhan’s infamous 1969 Playboy interview. Seems relevant as ever.

PLAYBOY: Why do you think they aren’t finding it within the educational system?

MCLUHAN: Because education, which should be helping youth to understand and adapt to their revolutionary new environments, is instead being used merely as an instrument of cultural aggression, imposing upon detribalized youth the obsolescent visual values of the dying literate age. Our entire educational system is reactionary, oriented to past values and past technologies, and will likely continue so until the old generation relinquishes power. The generation gap is actually a chasm, separating not two age groups but two vastly divergent cultures. I can understand the ferment in our schools, because our educational system is totally rearview mirror. It’s a dying and outdated system founded on literate values and fragmented and classified data totally unsuited to the needs of the first television generation.

Greening a digital media course

I’ve been a media literacy educator for over a dozen years. And since participating in the punk movement during the early ‘80s, I’ve been a lifelong proponent of do-it-yourself media. Since entering the field of education I’ve worked in numerous arts programs with youths, spending considerable time in under-served communities. Consequently, working with Native Americans, Latinos and Afro-Caribbean youth has helped me to formulate a multicultural, multi-perspective approach to media literacy that has pushed me to reconceptualize cultural assumptions embedded in traditional media education.* Learners in those communities are under greater stress than mainstream Americans, and their particular needs call for attention to social justice, environmental issues and cultural citizenship, things that many privileged Americans take for granted.

While working on the rez, at one point a Native American elder said of the information highway: “any road can get you somewhere.” Unfortunately, many programs that embrace digital media tools are too enamored with the technology to think more critically about the “somewhere” we are moving towards. It was during the period when I worked on the rez that I realized the importance of appropriate applications of technology and the ethnocentrism embedded in the idea of “progress.” More importantly, I was forced to think more carefully about who or what I was ultimately serving in my work.

As a fellow media geek it might surprise you, then, to suggest that my approach since then has been to serve  the planet: humans and nonhuman alike. In particular I feel a strong calling to speak to the best of my abilities on behalf of our silent partner: nature. These days in my current role as a professor of media studies at an American university in Rome, I find myself in the unlikely position of having to argue for a greener approach to media. I have taken to heart the task of incorporating lessons I learned beyond the walled garden of academia to green the field of media studies. What follows, then, is a field report from my most recent effort, which was to green a digital media culture course.
Continue reading

Pushing “agendas”

It might seem like a waste of brain cells to complain about Fox News. I used to think that even though they were little better than cheese mold, a few million people watching it didn’t mean the end of the world. Yet, as the News of the World scandal has shown, Fox’s parent company, News International, is neither innocuous nor ethical in its broad influence on world politics and debates. It has a disproportionate influence on shaping the symbolic power relations of particular discourses. It’s remarkable, for example, that Obama fired Van Jones based on the lunatic rantings of Glenn Beck. Since when do insane people wield so much influence on reality?

Anyhow, this is certainly masterful propaganda. The pundits argue that schools can’t even teach kids math and reading, why in the hell should they teach about the environment using a ridiculous cartoon like Sponge Bob? (Unless, of course, Mike Huckabee does it.) What do teachers know? Perhaps Fox’s newsreaders could apply a little critical thinking to their own claims. Which science journals are they reading to make their argument? What proponents of anti-climate change scientists are a percentage of the nearly universal scientific consensus supporting the human-caused climate change thesis? Yes, some people claim the Earth is flat, but does that make discussing Earth’s shape controversial? Apparently they fail their own test: anti-science pundits should not complain about the lack of science education in schools.

But, they doth complaineth too much. Education policies like No Child Left Behind have largely produced the ignorance and lack of critical thinking Fox so cherishes. They act like abusive patriarchs, treating teachers like scum of the earth, meanwhile making sure they don’t have the tools to do their job well.

Murdoch has certainly muddied the climate change debate. For example, he made his company “carbon neutral,” seemingly contradicting the anti-climate change rhetoric of his minions. It took me a while to figure out why, until it dawned on me that there was a shrewd strategy afoot. First, is the carbon neutrality claim really verifiable? According to whom? Given the parent corporation’s ethical standards and normal use of doublespeak, I find any claim of verifiability dubious (kind of like S & P giving Goldman Sachs AAA credit rating at the peak of the derivatives bubble). Secondly, how are they defining carbon neutrality? The meaning of the term is not objective. Just because there is a pledge to plant trees doesn’t mean that the real carbon footprint is offset. Moreover, getting electricity from a wind farm does not compensate for the ecological “mindprint” of Fox’s magical thinking. Likely this is actually a model of the kind of climate remediation that will be pushed by Fox (when they have no choice but to actually acknowledge that something has to be done). They will point to themselves and say that we can do it without government regulation. We can make any claim we want and it’s acceptable because we say it is so.

Yeah, just like the claim that they are “fair and balanced.”

You see, these are very tricky people. Shape-shifters, if you will. Pay close attention because they are modeling the reality of fascism that they claim to rail against. In this sense, they offer us an excellent case study for how this works. The trick is to defuse their influence, which is tough. I don’t have all the answers, but maybe the case to revoke their broadcast license based on ethical and legal violations could ultimately do them in. This seems like a vague and distant future, but then again, the swift collapse of News of the World was as sudden as the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Writing about green media literacy

I just wrote a case study for how I greened a digital media culture course. You can read it USC Annenberg’s Project New Media Literacies Web site. It represents a leap forward in my conceptualization for how to green media studies. I plan to develop the curriculum further this summer and to do an online training for teachers in either August or September. The curriculum will have wider application and won’t be confined to undergraduate courses. The training will be for anyone who works with new media and wants to explore ways to incorporate sustainable cultural practice into their projects.

Additionally, a few months ago I wrote a media manifesto on greening media education. As you can see, no one commented on it. I don’t know if it is because of a lack of interest, or that I failed to communicate the ideas in a way that makes sense to people. I think the current piece at the New Media Literacies site is better developed and easier to understand. I’m still trying to simplify the language, which is difficult for a subject that is so complex. Any feedback here or at the respective Web sites where these recent articles are posted would be greatly appreciated.

Blackboard and the closing of the educational mind


If you can’t see the video, you can access it through this link.

My first blog post in a while. I hope to post more soon. Here goes….

I’m pretty convinced that the iPad (or something like it) can be effectively utilized for education. In particular I think it will be a great media literacy device since it offers a good mix of interactivity and multimedia. However, the vision offered by Blackboard in this ad is hardly the kind of innovation that I imagine. For one, Blackboard is a proprietary system. It is a closed system. Though it offers additional interactivity than a traditional classroom Web platform, you are stuck with their service and would be dependent on their pedagogy and architecture (check out Douglas Rushkoff’s great rant about it here: “Blackboard is brilliant… it is written for the Blackboard company to dominate education in a particular way”).

As a grad student I really hated Blackboard. It has been a few years since, so it may have improved, but the video depicts a technological bandaid for the traditional educational approach–it is very mechanical. The interactivity shown in the ad is very limited and repeats the top-down cliches of the one-to-many educational model. If multimedia is to be incorporated into education, it should be more interactive, hackable and open to the outside world. The medium is the message.

I used to use Ning for my courses, but they switched to a paid service, so I could no longer use its platform in my classes. It was modestly good– I didn’t like the fact that it had only few plug-ins (the plug-ins that did exist were pretty bad and lacked any community or tech support). The free version required displaying google ads. The paid version is ad-free, and though not priced too exorbitantly ($19 a year per site), if you are running a site for each class, the bill can add up (I had seven sites). I didn’t qualify for the sponsore-free service for educators because I’m not based in the US.

In the end, Ning pissed me off because I learned that my students like to access course Websites after they finish the class, and now they can’t access the sites. I have some students who continue to use the sites for several years in order to access videos, notes, links and articles. In one case a student needed coursework evidence to justify a transfer credit. Unfortunately, even as the site creator I have to pay to access the site. Imagine the situation with Blackboard. What if the company were sold or went out of business? What is the access for adjuncts and students once they leave the university and no longer have registered accounts? What about the symbiotic relationship between Blackboard and expensive textbooks? Would students be locked into both?

The solution is open systems. I have always been a big fan of the open source blogging platform, WordPress, and have been relatively pleased with the BuddyPress plug-in that turns WordPress into a social network. I host my education site myself, so that means I pay for it. But I don’t pay extra because it is covered by the fees I pay for my other Websites (such as this blog), and every time I create a new course blog it doesn’t cost me anything. The only additional cost is the domain name registration. My hosting service, BlueHost, uses SimpleScripts, which makes installing sites really easy.

Using BuddyPress for my main site (Open Media Education–note I’m still building it out, so it is not that sexy–I can launch Websites for each additional class I create. I can manage all my sites through the parent network, which is a great advance made by WordPress. I can upgrade and install plugins across the network for all my course sites with the click of a mouse. The other reason I love WordPress is that there are so many fantastic plug-ins and an amazing community of support. BuddyPress also has a great community of users and developers. I have usually gotten my tech questions answered within six hours.

One strategy is to combine the power of Wikis with BuddPress. The folks at University of British Columbia have built their entire system around this formula.

I’ve been using WordPress since the early days, so for me I find it quite intuitive and easy to use. The current version (3.1.1) is very simple to use and much more powerful and flexible than previous versions. It’s also mobile and has multilingual support. I hope more educators will discover the power of WordPress. It will empower them and their students. And you don’t need to depend on the whims and business strategy of Blackboard to develop your online classroom.

Now teachers are blamed for the financial crisis

File under this shit has gone too far. As a severely underpaid teacher, I find it laughable that we are now the evil force behind the economic crisis. In a way, I hope Wall St. keeps pushing on this. I don’t think people will bend much further.

Incidentally, I read somewhere that folks in the UK are holding teach-ins at banks by entering and holding classes inside their lobbies.

Media literacy as ecological homeopathy

Media literacy and ecoliteracy people are worlds apart. Media educators don’t prioritize sustainability because ecology is perceived to be the realm of the natural sciences. For example, education programs are often outdoors or garden oriented. Nothing wrong with those kinds of workshops, but if we continue to ignore the cultural and technological dimension of ecology, frankly we’re screwed, because the ecological crisis is a cultural crisis. We can add to that, of course, that it is also a spiritual problem. But a culture without a holistic spirituality is a dying culture, anways. So the issues are related.

Then there are the environmental educators who refuse to engage technology because of its perceived corrosiveness. At the Bioneers conference, for example, I met with anti-TV crusader Jerry Mander to discuss the possibility for incorporating media literacy into environmental education. He told me that it was a good idea but that he was against it because it would make media more interesting. But that is exactly the point: we want people to get more interested in media, not as passive consumers but as a means for understanding the “system” (however broadly we want to define it) and for learning how to be empowered practitioners.

I’m a fan of the idea that media are “institutions-to-think-with.” Play with and use them to understand human communications, technology, economy and perception. In this sense, media literacy can be a kind of homeopathy. By engaging it holistically, mindfully and holistically we stand to gain amazing insights. We can learn how the system thinks.

For those unfamiliar with homeopathy, it is a kind of healing practice in which people take small doses of the very thing that ails them in order for the immune system to learn how to adjust to the ailment. Granted, I am nervous about using medical metaphors for the “problem” of media. In many ways the kind of media literacy I’m opposed to is the kind that takes the medical approach by viewing “bad” media as a disease that needs to be excised like a cancer tumor. This is an industrial kind of medicine that views the body as a machine needing to get fixed. It lacks a holistic dimension that looks at illness from multiple perspectives, such as the mental and spiritual state of the patient. Nor does it take into account the person’s environment, including diet, pollutants and stress.

Media literacy as homeopathy has the same unintended consequence of a college degree. We forget that an education is not just about learning the liberal arts, but its also learning how the system wants us to think and what is appropriate intellectual practice. In my Peace and Conflict Studies program at Cal, the best undergrad course I ever took was on epistemology. In it we read Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions and studied how the university mirrored the global economic infrastructure.

It is so meta. You can walk around UC Berkeley’s campus and see the embodiment of the world system (by this I mean the economic, political and military design mechanisms of neoliberalism). There’s the law school that trains the lawyers who draw up the biz contracts; the engineering school (named after Bechtel) that trains the dam builders; the physics department that works on weapons systems; the ROTC that prepares military officers; and so on. You can also see how the UC regents have deep ties to the military industrial complex and global petroleum oligopoly. All of a sudden the university’s image as a bastion of “free speech” becomes a misleading ruse. Sure, in a university with over 40,000 students there is a niche for peace studies, but when I graduated, there were only 12 of us in my class. There’s always a space to keep the dissidents happy.

The point is, I learned more than I bargained for when I got my degree. I learned not just the content and grammar of the liberal arts paradigm, but its form as well. This is not to say that most well-meaning university professors and administrators don’t believe in the enlightening benefits of the liberal arts. Indeed, there are many good aspects to the democratic and humanistic traditions of education, but can this structure as it exists today adequately confront the challenges of a structure encountering its material limits, poisoning its living system and gutting its social fabric? Is the university up to the task of challenging the prevailing “wisdom” that education should be reduced to a business paradigm that views itself as a factory that manufactures students to reproduce the same destructive logic that has brought us to the brink of ecological catastrophe?

Going back to the discussion of media literacy as homeopathy, what I’m getting at is that there is tremendous benefit to learning media’s “cultural form” (to barrow from media educator David Buckingham). Being a literate media practitioner enables us to be “bridgers.” After all, “media” really mean something “in-between”: they mediate. To bridge a sustainable world, we will need to mediate the past with the future. Media education, in my view, is one technique for doing so for it enables us to map paradigms in order to change them.

Changing educational paradigms on YouTube

This is the latest salvo from Michael Wesche, who has done extraordinary work with his Digital Ethnography program at Kansas State University. I find this to be his least interesting video because it mostly hypes feel-good jargon about the digital environment without offering as much insight as his earlier work, which prompted so much attention (see his YouTube channel for more— in particular check out The Machine is Us/ing Us (Final Version) and An anthropological introduction to YouTube).

Wesche’s video does make the important, if not redundant, point that the digital environment is changing knowledge dissemination and education. For how this impacts academics, I’m a big fan of the Hitler Down Fall mash-up by Digital Humanities. I also highly recommend Ken Robinson’s RSA* animated talk about the disconnection between old knowledge hierarchies and the reality of contemporary students.

These are more concept-oriented videos, and barely touch upon the abundance of how-to videos that proliferate YouTube, leading some to argue that it’s possible to get a free education on the Web in the way that Ivan Illich imagined DIY education in his book Deschooling Society. I think it is a little of a stretch to presume that one can be educated in complete isolation from a learning community– there is great value in having a community of learners interact with each other. So it may work well to learn how to play guitar with Web tutorials, but it can’t teach you how to play in a band or how to jam. One Web experiment that is building learning communities of practice is Howard Rheingold’s new project, Rheingold U. (I’ll be participating to see how it goes.)

How this plays out for sustainability education remains to be seen. I think these videos make powerful arguments for how the traditional system is failing our students. You can also read into them the problems with the environment and how the old systems and its industrial models of education are closely related to the ecology crisis. There needs to be a way to reconcile the new media environment with the need for promoting sustainable behavior. This video of Lawrence Lessig’s Green Culture talk is a good start.

* Many of the RSA animations are truly amazing, in particular Jeremy Rifkin’s talk on the empathic civilization. My only complaint is that they really need to diversify their offerings– too many white guys. Why not invite Vandana Shiva? She would be perfect.

A manifesto for greening media education

There’s a new Website publishing media education manifestos. It includes some excellent missives by the likes of Henry Jenkins, David Buckingham and David Gauntlett. They have posted my own entry on the site, Greening Media Education. I’m honored to be included among the giants of the field.

I’m posting here the complete text of the manifesto. It is a very simplified version of my current research project. More on that on a later date. Please let me know what you think.

Greening Media Education



Though there is increasing interest to guide education towards sustainability issues, so far there are very few examples of green approaches to media education. In spirit, though, many of the goals and aspirations of media education are in perfect alignment with the cause of sustainability. As John Blewitt argues, media literacy and environmental education have in common the goals of participation, action and critical engagement.

But in order to truly green media education there needs to be a radical rethinking of many underlying premises that have lead to a deficit in sustainability discourse among media education advocates (for example, take a look at the tag cloud of this Website). Part of the problem has been the lack of a sufficient bridge between ecoliteracy and media education. In important ways their approaches are epistemologically different. For example, the traditional divide between the biological sciences and the social sciences and humanities is well-reflected in the history of media studies. With the exception of Raymond Williams and the newly emerging field of environmental communication, the problems of the environment generally have not been linked to the other social justice issues taken on by media studies and cultural studies. So though racism, sexism, homophobia and postcolonialism have been tackled by media education, the environment has not received similar attention.
Continue reading

Institutionalized: you’re the one who’s crazy (and other thoughts about education)



Institutionalized by Suicidal Tendencies (sorry about the stupid ad at the beginning)

Like the word “community,” when we hear the term “education” we feel warm and fuzzy. It can always be good, right? This attitude might not be too productive as demonstrated in a recent New York Times piece railing against social media (check out this nice rebuttal from the Nieman Journalism Lab). In the NYTimes article school came across like a hapless victim of smart phones and Facebook. It compared recent brain research showing how our gadgets and social software hurts school performance, yet the article never challenges this very idea of “performance.” In particular the story featured a young man who’d rather edit a video on his Mac than study Latin. Think about it: making media versus learning a dead language, who’s gonna win that battle? The problem with the article is that it gave school the default position of all that is “good” about schooling and made youth media practice the foil. Sound familiar? I don’t want to equate Facebook with rock and roll, but this is a 50 year-old polemic, with roots going as far back as Plato.

With that said, I don’t want to give social media and wireless gadgetry a free pass. But it also shouldn’t be an either or discussion. By contrast, it needs to be argued that literacy of media gadgets and network usage is ever more necessary. But will it be taught in school? Most likely not. Rather than be confronted in a meaningful way it will just be banned, made forbidden and a non-topic. This is a shame, because if there ever was a place for young people to become literate of the tools that are shaping cognition and impacting culture and economics, school would be a logical site for it.

Unfortunately, “school” is broken. Which puts me in an awkward place, because I am sympathetic to the protests against ed reform policies, but in other ways I’m against school. In light of the financial restructuring taking place in Europe and North American, these policies are part of a general re-feudalization of the world. These reforms are actually a logical progression of education policy going back for decades which has sought to reduce learning to a technocratic and mechanistic activity designed for the information economy. Reforms are designed to break the public gains of the Enlightenment, while preserving the more nefarious benefits of the past 500 years for the “elites” (banking, finance, captains of industrial-scientific “progress,” etc.). There are lots of problems with Enlightenment thinking, especially in regards to ecology, its idealogical co-dependence with capitalism, and the belief in an isolated, autonomous self. Yet cosmopolitanism should be considered a good side-effect, and at one point this was one of the goals of liberal education.

Three books I’ve been reading lately confront this problem. Deschooling Society (Open Forum), written in 1970 by Ivan Ilich, is a remarkably prescient book. Hard to believe it is 40 years-old, because almost every word is a prophesy for the present moment. He argues that schools are an expensive means for conditioning people to accept the institutionalization of learning, and to learn how to be institutionalized (see video pasted above). Learning can only be decided by experts and paid professionals, reinforcing a dependence on the irrational inner-logic of bureaucracy (a la Kafka)* without regard to that which is required or practical for daily life, as is the case with the disconnect between standardized testing and the skills necessary for being global citizens. Though I should have read this book years ago, in a way it is the right book for the moment because many of the solutions he envisioned–DIY education using networks and open source tools–have become reality. Several of the ideas he has for deschooling can be facilitated by the likes of YouTube, Craigslist and alternative educations projects sprouting up all over the net (it would take a much longer post to list them all– you can start by typing “open education” into your search engine and see where it takes you).

Illich differentiates between open (“learning Webs”) and closed networks (“manipulative institutions”), which sounds a bit like the struggle between open education and the privatization of learning. To apply an ecological metaphor, maybe education can be more like a rhizomatic network of mushrooms instead of a monocultural crop of soy beans. I could exhaust my fingers covering the array of ideas in Deschooling Society, but suffice to say it is a tight little polemic at 116 pages and can be read in a day.

Unfortunately, open education has the danger of being a trojan horse for the neo-feudalization of education. DIY U: Edupunks, Edupreneurs, and the Coming Transformation of Higher Education, a recent book about self-education, features an assortment of advocates for open education that range from artisons, monks to entrepreneurs. Many of the ideas are inspirational and well intended, but their motives don’t all agree. Anya Kamenetz has a valid argument that most students should not have to go deeply in debt for an education which is increasingly suspect. I, for one, am guilty, and will end up at least 50 K in debt by the time I get my PhD. And that is a light load compared to many whose post-graduate debt tops 100 K. For my credential I’ve indentured myself to the banks with little chance that it will pay back my investment. And this is the kind of thinking that Ilich rails against: education should not be about turning students into customers. But the reforms being proposed in the UK use that kind of language, and as a college professor it is well known that we are being asked to deliver a product to the students. But I digress. Going back to DIY U, creating our own education via an assortment of open access resources (including those driven by corporate driven incentives) sounds kinda cool, but the implications for society are complicated. Are we saying that credentialing should be done away with, or even privitized? Are we saying that education is not a public good or right and should be left to the scavenging of the marketplace? This is where anarchism and libertarianism can sometimes feed off each other, which makes for strange bedfellows, for sure.

The last book I want to mention is EduFactory Collective‘s Toward a Global Autonomous University: Cognitive Labor, The Production of Knowledge, and Exodus from the Education Factory. The book is a little of a cross between Deschooling Society and DIY U. It is a savage critique of the economics of university, and also proposes alternatives of the punk rock variety. This is certainly more critical of the system than DIY U, and is written in a much different format (and tone) because it is presented from the perspective of a collective enterprise rather than as a journalistic foray in the magazinespeak of FastCompany (as is the case with DIY U). In this sense, the book models the kind of approach it advocates.

I wish I had time to write a more in-depth analysis of these books and their implications, but unfortunately I’m out of time and must get back to work. Consider this some outloud thinking as I work through these ideas. I apologize for their incompleteness.

* A good example is getting a drivers license in Italy. The Italian bureaucracy is so complicated that you are forced to pay a driving school to handle the paper work for the license. Meanwhile, the horrendous and godawful test takes months to prepare for through rote memorization with a net result that no one follows the laws. In my case it took five months and 500 euros to do what normally takes half a day in the United States for a fraction of the cost.

Guantlett’s “Making is Connecting”: a bridge to sustainable media education?

David Gauntlett, who coined media studies 2.0, has moved far beyond old school thinking about media. His forthcoming book, Making is Connecting, looks like it has great potential for bridging media education with sustainability. Why? The primary axiom of sustainability is “everything is connected to everything else,” with the caveat that not all things are connected equally. I recently enjoyed reading Gauntlett’s book, Creative Explorations: New Approaches to Identities and Audiences, which explores the use of Lego building for understanding identity creation.

Based on the snippets from his Website and this video, my impression is that he’s on track to combine three essential skills I see necessary for a sustainable world: putting things together (material and immaterial) in a socially context that engages the world. I don’t know if Gauntlett is an old punk, but this sure reminds my of what DIY was/is all about. Though he’s active in Web 2.0 tools, Gauntlett also is interested in guerrilla gardening, knitting, crafting and home electronics. He gets bonus points for drawing on the work of Ivan Illych.

Please support my Mediacology: Green Media Education Website!

Free Range Studios (the folks who made Story of Stuff) are having an open competition to give away free design services. I’m in the process of developing my dream media education Website (see description below) and would receive a tremendous boost from these very talented designers. I’m asking for help with identity development. Please click on the link below to vote (it only takes a few minutes, really).

Thanks for all the love and support, and if you are so motivated, please share with likeminded folks in the network. Peace! Antonio

Mediacology: Green Media Education Website:

The Mediacology: Green Media Education Website connects media literacy with ecoliteracy. By filling a gap between media and environmental education, this resource offers sustainable and ethical media education tools for educators, community activists and cultural citizens engaged in transformative planetary change. In the spirit of sustainable communication, the final product will be open source and freely available to the global community via a Website portal. The resource will consist of free downloadable curricula, community space, online multimedia lessons and access to online trainings. This project requests help in developing a unified identity for all its materials: logo, print and Website.

Mapping education paradigms

Yet another luminous RSA Animation, this one accompanying a Ken Robinson talk mapping education paradigms. In it he brilliantly deconstructs the failures of the current education system (and a prophesy for why current reforms will fail) and characterizes the properties of an emergent paradigm that reflects current human cultural practice, and not those predicated on the Industrial system of command and control.

Question is, how will this way of conceiving education pass through the walls of the brick and mortar system that locks out such creative insights? First, get the kids off the meds and then let a “youthquake” tear it down!

PS Be sure to see Robinson’s TED talk on why education kills creativity.

From Deepwater Horizon to Event Horizon on Planet BP

Many of you might be feeling powerless about the situation in the Gulf of Mexico. I don’t want to descend into disaster porn to report how scary things look at the moment. But they do. And I, for one, have been feeling a lot of despair, angst and anger. However necessary these emotions are, I also feel the need to be proactive. Given that one of the primary problems of the situation is a lack of transparent communication, I thought it would be excellent if we could put our brain trust together to create a response that can can empower citizens to understand the discourse and spin surrounding what is happening, and also to guide our thoughts towards a systemic reflection on what we can learn from this horrible tragedy.

As such, I’m now referring to the Deepwater Horizon as the Event Horizon, because for me it reveals the broken condition of our world system’s operating paradigm and offers us a point of visualization that our future selves could look back upon and say: that was the moment we went into recovery and ended our addiction to oil.

Here is some background information that informs my thinking:
Continue reading