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foxharrell

Education’s war on millennials: Why everyone is failing the “digital generation” - Salon.com
"Both reformers and traditionalists view technology as a way to control students — and they're getting it very wrong"



"In addressing the hundreds of thousands who watch such videos, students aren’t the only ones in the implied audience. These videos appeal to many nonacademic viewers who enjoy watching, from a remove, the hacking of obstreperous or powerful systems as demonstrated in videos about, for instance, fooling electronic voting booths, hacking vending machines, opening locked cars with tennis balls, or smuggling contraband goods through airport x-ray devices. These cheating videos also belonged to a broader category of YouTube videos for do-it-yourself (DIY) enthusiasts— those who liked to see step-by-step execution of a project from start to finish. YouTube videos about crafts, cooking, carpentry, decorating, computer programming, and installing consumer technologies all follow this same basic format, and popular magazines like Make have capitalized on this sub-culture of avid project-based participants. Although these cultural practices may seem like a relatively new trend, one could look at DIY culture as part of a longer tradition of exercises devoted to imitatio, or the art of copying master works, which have been central to instruction for centuries."



"Prior to the release of this report, Mia Consalvo had argued that cheating in video games is expected behavior among players and that cheaters perform important epistemological work by sharing information about easy solutions on message boards, forums, and other venues for collaborations.

Consalvo also builds on the work of literacy theorist James Paul Gee, who asserts that video game narratives often require transgression to gain knowledge and that, just as passive obedience rarely produces insight in real classrooms, testing boundaries by disobeying the instructions of authority figures can be the best way to learn. Because procedural culture is ubiquitous, however, Ian Bogost has insisted that defying rules and confronting the persuasive powers of certain architectures of control only brings other kinds of rules into play, since we can never really get outside of ideology and act as truly free agents, even when supposedly gaming the system.

Ironically, more traditional ideas about fair play might block key paths to upward mobility and success in certain high-tech careers. For example, Betsy DiSalvo and Amy Bruckman, who have studied Atlanta-area African-American teens involved in service learning projects with game companies, argue that the conflict between the students’ own beliefs in straightforward behavior and the ideologies of hacker culture makes participation in the informal gateway activities for computer science less likely. Thus, urban youth who believe in tests of physical prowess, basketball-court egalitarianism, and a certain paradigm of conventional black masculinity that is coded as no-nonsense or—as Fox Harrell says—“solid” might be less likely to take part in forms of “geeking out” that involve subverting a given set of rules. Similarly, Tracy Fullerton has argued that teenagers from families unfamiliar with the norms of higher education may also be hobbled by their reluctance to “strategize” more opportunistically about college admissions. Fullerton’s game “Pathfinder” is intended to help such students learn to game the system by literally learning to play a game about how listing the right kinds of high-status courses and extracurricular activities will gain them social capital with colleges."



"However, Gee would later argue in “The Anti-Education Era” that gamesmanship that enables universal access and personal privilege may actually be extremely counterproductive. Hacks that “make the game easier or advantage the player” can “undermine the game’s design and even ruin the game by making it too easy.” Furthermore, “perfecting the human urge to optimize” can go too far and lead to fatal consequences on a planet where resources can be exhausted too quickly and weaknesses can be exploited too frequently. Furthermore, Gee warns that educational systems that focus on individual optimization create cultures of “impoverished humans” in which learners never “confront challenge and frustration,” “acquire new styles of learning,” or “face failure squarely.”"



"What’s striking about the ABC coverage is that it lacked any of the criticism of the educational status quo that became so central for a number of readers of the earlier Chronicle of Higher Education story—those who were asking as educators either (1) what’s wrong with the higher education system that students can subvert conventional tests so easily, or (2) what’s right with YouTube culture that encourages participation, creativity, institutional subversion, and satire."



"This attitude reflects current research on so-called distributed cognition and how external markers can help humans to problem solve by both making solutions clearer and freeing up working memory that would otherwise be tied up in reciting basic reminders. Many of those commenting on the article also argued that secrecy did little to promote learning, a philosophy shared by Benjamin Bratton, head of the Center for Design and Geopolitics, who actually hands out the full text of his final examination on the first day of class so that students know exactly what they will be tested on."



"This book explores the assumption that digital media deeply divide students and teachers and that a once covert war between “us” and “them” has turned into an open battle between “our” technologies and “their” technologies. On one side, we—the faculty—seem to control course management systems, online quizzes, wireless clickers, Internet access to PowerPoint slides and podcasts, and plagiarism-detection software. On the student side, they are armed with smart phones, laptops, music players, digital cameras, and social network sites. They seem to be the masters of these ubiquitous computing and recording technologies that can serve as advanced weapons allowing either escape to virtual or social realities far away from the lecture hall or—should they choose to document and broadcast the foibles of their faculty—exposure of that lecture hall to the outside world.

Each side is not really fighting the other, I argue, because both appear to be conducting an incredibly destructive war on learning itself by emphasizing competition and conflict rather than cooperation. I see problems both with using technologies to command and control young people into submission and with the utopian claims of advocates for DIY education, or “unschooling,” who embrace a libertarian politics of each-one-for-himself or herself pedagogy and who, in the interest of promoting totally autonomous learning in individual private homes, seek to defund public institutions devoted to traditional learning collectives. Effective educators should be noncombatants, I am claiming, neither champions of the reactionary past nor of the radical future. In making the argument for becoming a conscientious objector in this war on learning, I am focusing on the present moment.

Both sides in the war on learning are also promoting a particular causal argument about technology of which I am deeply suspicious. Both groups believe that the present rupture between student and professor is caused by the advent of a unique digital generation that is assumed to be quite technically proficient at navigating computational media without formal instruction and that is likely to prefer digital activities to the reading of print texts. I’ve been a public opponent of casting students too easily as “digital natives” for a number of reasons. Of course, anthropology and sociology already supply a host of arguments against assuming preconceived ideas about what it means to be a native when studying group behavior.

I am particularly suspicious of this type of language about so-called digital natives because it could naturalize cultural practices, further a colonial othering of the young, and oversimplify complicated questions about membership in a group. Furthermore, as someone who has been involved with digital literacy (and now digital fluency) for most of my academic career, I have seen firsthand how many students have serious problems with writing computer programs and how difficult it can be to establish priorities among educators—particularly educators from different disciplines or research tracks—when diverse populations of learners need to be served."



"Notice not only how engagement and interactivity are praised and conflated, but also how the rhetoric of novelty in consumer electronics and of short attention spans also comes into play."
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june 2014 by robertogreco
Chimerical Avatars and Other Identity Experiments from Prof. Fox Harrell
After spending his youth happily playing computer and table-top role-playing games as pale-grey-skinned elves with long, straight, silver hair (usually over one eye), or "forcing African-coifed robot pilots into the anime world of Macross," Fox Harrell says he started wanting to play characters that expressed and presented themselves in ways that captured his real world cultural values, though still set in those same fantasy worlds.

That hasn't always come easily. I asked Fox, a computer scientist and literary artist, for some examples.



Fox: In terms of software, the systems for creating identities have never seemed adequate for my self-expression. Let's just take computer role-playing games for example:

In Elder Scrolls III and IV: I wanted to create a character I could identify as African-inspired (the "Redguard race") but then was automatically made less intelligent.
In Guild Wars: Nightfall, I could make an African-inspired character - but I wanted to both have [dread]locks and wear ornate masquerade-style clothing. I could not - locks were allowed for the earthy Ranger class, and the clothes only allowed with the illusion-casting Mesmer class - never to be combined.
In Phantasy Star Online, I wanted to be elegant and clean-lined, and smartly-appointed. I could only be a female robot (called a Cast), males were always boxy and hulking.
In Neverwinter Nights, I could actually make a character I was very happy with, but in Neverwinter Nights 2 the style was removed.
In World of Warcraft, my first inclination was to play a spectral, Undead, ghostlike character - but the males all had poor posture, distended jaws, hulking shoulders, and silly hairstyles.

In these games, your appearances, abilities, eventualities and more are all often tied in with categories for race, class (profession), gender, and more. Certainly, these limitations primarily are used for game-mechanical reasons - each player takes on a different, complimentary role (though primarily only for fighting). The limitations also lend a certain coherence to the fictitious worlds of the games. Yet, I often find that my own personal choices for self-expression are unsupported. It is not just well-known issues of race and gender. What if I simply want my character to be both rootsy and dainty? It all becomes more complicated when abilities are so closely tied with categories and appearances.

Much more is at stake than just fun and games. Prejudice, bias, stereotyping, and stigma are built not only into many games, but other forms of identity representations in social networks, virtual worlds, and more. These have real world effects on how we see ourselves and each other. Even in systems that have very open identity creation options, like Second Life, there are still different valuations for skins, social groups and categories being formed, people playing out different personae...one realizes that identity is social matter, because even if one can create the perfect avatar, it does not mean that others will respond to it in the desired way that the person sees himself or herself. This means that even in social networking software, we create profiles that ostensibly represent our real selves, but they are limited by many of the same constraints as characters in games.

Fox is a professor and director of the Imagination, Computation, and Expression Lab/Studio at Georgia Tech. His research and software development are all about creating new opportunities for fluid, nuanced narratives, identities, and social categories to take shape--and shift shape--online.

Shape-shifting poetics

For example, one of Fox's artworks is an AI-based interactive narrative project called Loss, Undersea in which an avatar forms and morphs based on emotional tone ( demo video). Here's how Fox described it to me:

Fox: The avatar starts as a human and is blended further and further with sea creatures. Artistically, it describes the poignant pathos of a civilization slipping into the sea, a transforming being losing more and more of herself or himself, mindless traveling through life as if on a moving platform. Such visions capture for me a sense of dissolution of joy, daily struggle for happiness, and the contrast between the rich mental lives of all individuals and narrow social prejudices that constrain people to discrete boxes. It also features poetry generated based on emotional tones selected by user actions.

Profile pic as community-made metaphor

Another project in the works at the ICE Lab/Studio is DefineMe: Chimera (beta-version), a Facebook app where users collectively determine their friends' identities.

Fox: If I were to enter that "Lissa is courageous like a lion" and someone else enter that "Lissa is strong like a stegosaurus," the system would output a hybrid animal images as an avatar. The idea is to look at how people define each other socially, like the collective ratings of sellers on eBay, but through richer imagery and with more nuance. It is also about the difference between one's self-conception and how others might see her, an idea written about as long ago as W.E.B. DuBois's introduction of the term "Double Consciousness" in The Souls of Black Folk.

In the end, I design these technologies for two reasons: (1) for users to represent identities in ways that are empowering and have the potential to increase their self-efficacy and agency in the real world, and (2) for artists to be able to use technologies to express, criticize, and change the ways that identities are used to oppress, discriminate, and otherwise disempower. Avatars may or may not be able to serve these needs, but basing such technologies on the best practices people use in the real world may be a step in enabling both of these directions.

Conjuring social change through computation

The young people I work with at Youth Radio-Youth Media International often write about their own shifting identities and question the social categories applied to them (see, for example, Mark Anthony Waters' story questioning solid gold masculinity). In light of all his work on technologies of identity, I asked Fox what he thinks young people need to know and be able to do if they're going to fully realize their own potentials and participate in the work and play that matters to them and their communities.

Fox: I celebrate the skill and panache with which many young people can use media creatively and form new communities and practices. At the same time, I want them also to be able to create media themselves and not have to rely upon frameworks that others, who may not have their best interests at heart, create for them. This means that computational literacy is not just using computers, but it also is not just learning computer science. It also should mean being able to think critically about how data-structures and processes both operate and impact the world. But we should not even stop there! They need to learn to think critically about how these technologies empower or disempower them, and how such computational media might be taken up more imaginatively in order to conjure phantasms with the potential to change their world for the better.

What's more...

Though Fox's experiments let users re-imagine characters' outward appearances, what strikes me about his work is its appreciation of interiority, shifting and messy as it can be. It also gets me thinking about Henry Jenkins' idea that one of the hallmarks of digital media literacy is what he calls " distributed cognition," which holds that thought doesn't live inside an individual's brain. Cognition takes root and evolves across multiple minds, through social activities and connections. It seems to me Fox's DefineMe app pushes that thinking into a new realm: distributed identity formation. It's not that I want or need other people to tell me who I am. It's that I hope we can find and form communities that care enough to try.
Featured  Games  avatars  foxharrell  identity  from google
april 2010 by Chris.Hamby

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