Saturday, July 30, 2011

Baroque literacies?

The picture is supposed to evoke the idea of ponds within ponds (Leibniz) and the following are some of the ideas I'm working on, beginning with the idea that the human subject is embodied and all activity is situated (there is little choice in this, after all, at least from a phenomenological poit of view). And then, as a result there may be little gain in ‘looking up’ to more abstract theory, but a compelling richness in ‘looking down’ into the complexities and interconnections of embodiment and situated activity itself. Rather than moving in the direction of coherence and convergence this suggests a view of literacies informed by the notion of ‘baroque complexity’ (Kwa, 2002) - one that may provide a more nuanced account of how digital texts enter the communication economy of contemporary literacy practices. Drawing generously on the work of Deleuze (1993), Kwa outlines three characteristics of the baroque: 'First the historic baroque insists on a strong phenomenological realness, a 'sensuous materiality'. Second, this materiality is not confined to, or locked within a simple individual but flows out in many directions, blurring the distinction between individual and environment. And third, there is also the baroque inventiveness, the ability to produce lots of novel combinations out of a rather limited set of elements, for instance as in baroque music.’ (Kwa, 2002:26). So Kwa’s version of the baroque encourages us to ‘look down’ at the detail rather than to ‘look up’ for some broader picture (Law, 2002). In practice that may well mean seeing the ways in which the broader patterning of practices such as the global flows of information, shifting power relations and so on are inscribed or become manifest in specific situations. To be continued....

Monday, July 25, 2011

Learning to....

Gearing down for the summer offers more time for my exploration of music software. For the non-specialist, Logic Studio is a densely-wooded forest of terminology, toggles and plug-ins. You could easily get lost. It brings me face-to-face with digital learning. Step-by-step guides, help functions and tutorials are evidently a non-starter. First of all I want quick gains. You could call it impatience, but I need a certain feel for the possibilities before the questions and then the real learning start up. So my first step is to hitch up midi controllers and to begin to playfully explore what's available. And my way of doing this is to draw on repertoires I already have - just to get started, to gain interest and to experience some early success. And then I'm in! I want more, because I'm at that point that Jim Gee calls the 'pleasurably frustrating'. My curiosity kicks in: 'surely you must be able to...'; 'I wonder how...'; 'will it let me...'; 'what happens if...' And the perfect solution is the just-in-time advice that at-elbow support can give you. Ruth, whose already done a course, is great for this as she show me how to quantize, modify the velocity and fade out. But if I aspire to my own brand of contollerism (see the vid and here) I know I have a long way to go.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Of maps and brains

Sometimes when you're on a journey you glance at the map to see exactly where you are, and at that point become suddenly aware of how far you've travelled. Sometimes, too, you can see the exact point at which a particular choice - a fork in the road, for example - took you in a particular direction and into a distinctive kind of landscape. I had the impulse to check the map at this year's UKLA conference in Chester, when I was listening to Usha Goswami. Her explanations of neuropsychology and what it tells us about early reading were lucidly presented, but they seem to be located in another territory. It is a territory in which 'the brain' is a central feature and in which stories of how the brain works and how it develops are told. Checking my metaphorical map, I find I'm accustomed to a completely different set of landmarks, in a very different country. It's a far more densely populated place - one in which meanings are negotiated and exchanged, in which stuff is used in all sorts of ways, and one in which irregular and complex shapes form and re-form as practices evolve. I can't find the fork in the path, though. But I suppose my interest in language variation, in the stories we write and tell and in the impact of the digital on these things all presuppose a sociocultural orientation. I am in different territory and I'm glad I am, but I'm also pleased to know that some people are interested in brains. The map would be inadequate without their work.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Kids, kit, classrooms

It looks as though we've got nearly all of our students enroled on the learning futures wiki (pilot version), so I'm now really looking forward to looking at the work of these digital leaders over next couple of weeks. In the meantime I've been sitting on a list of views that emerged during our last planning meeting. They tend to cluster - in the ways I have them on the wall - around ideas about students and ideas about schools. Students are generally percieved of as having technological expertise, whereas schools are seen as an inhibiting force. Technology and innovation are described as 'kit', and basically you're lucky if you've got it! All our views are of course far more subtle than that, but the broad contours are still there. At this point in time I'm intrigued to see if the digital leaders themselves have a different view of these issues.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Shop fronts and shutters

The shops used to be closed a lot. Sundays completely, often Saturday after lunch, and mid-week. I think Thursday was 'early closing day' when I was young. So if you were incarcerated in an educational establishment (and most of the time I was), looking at what you could buy was time-limited. From quite an early age I compensated for this by window-shopping, pressing my nose up against the fronts of closed shops, peering in against the glare to see what you could get. I started with children's toys, but as my ambitions grew I began to focus on musical instruments and LP covers (big boys' toys), spanners and wrenches (serious boys' toys) and eventually clothes and electrical goods. I carried that on well into adult life and as a matter of fact I still enjoying looking at things I could buy, might buy, or might one day buy. It's everyday life in the consumer market-place. Sometime in the 1980s shop-owners - particularly those in urban areas - began to worry about civil disturbance, disturbed, no doubt, by images of rioters putting bricks through shop-windows and helping themselves to stuff they ought to pay for. They began to install shutters to protect their interest and city streets, at least on Sundays, became greyer places. When I first got into Flickr, partly as a homage to my days as a window-shopper, I started photographing shutters, putting them in a set. I was interested in the way that shutters were becoming a surface for art-work and graffiti. The security barrier of the shutter effectively kept most people out, but while the goods were protected another form of expression was errupting. Now many shops commission artists to decorate their shutters. So you'll see The Rude Shipyard, itself a wonderful boho artsy venue has followed the trend. Must upload to Flickr!

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

If it's not baroque....

I'm still on the romantic/baroque theme today and savouring Chunglin Kwa who makes the case for the baroque so eloquently: 'It may seem unnecessary to use an overloaded word like baroque, especially because it is not immediately apparent that there is a historical continuity with the grand style of the seventeenth century. In the case of romanticism it is much easier to argue for an uninterrupted lineage. Yet several important characteristics of the historical baroque make the term baroque attractive to use for later periods, including the present. First the historic baroque insists on a strong phenomenological realness, a 'sensuous materiality'. Second, this materiality is not confined to, or locked within a simple individual but flows out in many directions, blurring the distinction between individual and environment. And third, there is also the baroque inventiveness, the ability to produce lots of novel combinations out of a rather limited set of elements, for instance as in baroque music. Similarly, action in early baroque theater is not based on the logical development of a plot but rather on a sequence of monologues, debates, and allegories.' (Chunglin Kwa, 2002:26). And it satisfies the inner-geek to copy this out of my Evernote notebook entitled 'Folds'!

Sunday, July 03, 2011

The modern disease?

In 'The Wild Places' Robert Macfarlane dichotomises the human social world and the natural world, and I think that's the weakness, or at least the romanticism, of his project. At best, in his writing, he captures the baroque in ways that equal Deleuze, and details the specific in a style reminiscent of Bachelard. But I think that the thesis that man is alienated from the natural world in a sort of latter day fall is a romantic fallacy. So the author slips all too easily from observations of our current condition into a sort of moral panic as the following extract illustrates: 'In so many ways, there has been a prising away of life from place, an abstraction of experience into different forms of touchlessness. We experience, as no historical period has before, disembodiment and dematerialisation. The almost infinite connectivity of the technological world, for all the benefits it has brought, has exacted a toll in the coin of contact. We have in many ways forgotten what the world feels like. And so new maladies of the soul have emerged, unhappinesses which are complicated products of the distance we have set between ourselves and the world. We have come increasingly to forget that our minds are shaped by the bodily experience of being in the world - its spaces, textures, sounds smells and habits - as well as by genetic traits we inherit and ideologies we absorb. A constant and formidably defining exchange occurs between the physical forms of the world around us, and the cast of our innere world of imagination. The feel of hot dry wind on the face, the smell of distant rain carried as a scent stream in the air, the touch of a bird's sharp foot on one's outstretched palm: such encounters shape our being and our imaginations in ways which are beyond analysis, but also beyond doubt.' (Macfarlane, 2007:203). Bring back Rousseau! It's an argument that's not exactly wrong, but incomplete. But in the end, you have to admire Macfarlane's rugged frontier spirit - when things get really wild his unstoppbale reponse is to strip off and go for an icy-cold swim - naked probably, although that's the kind of detail we're spared!

Saturday, July 02, 2011

Texting change in language

Anthea Rowan had a good piece in yesterday's Telegraph. As to be expected it drew the usual range of comments. The full text from which she quotes (which I wrote for UKLA) runs like this: Language and literacy change over time. Social, economic and technological conditions influence these changes in significant ways. The development of mass media and, more recently, digital communication has accelerated the spread of language change and innovation. We now routinely communicate in different ways - such as emailing, instant-messaging, and making Skype calls. We use different technologies - laptop keyboards, mobile phones and webcams - to do this. These different channels of communication have led to the emergence of new communicative styles including text abbreviations, acronyms on bulletin boards, and microblogging conventions such as the use of @ and # in Tittwer. Writing, often a relatively stable or conservative mode of language, is currently enjoying a moment of creativity. This is a rich area for the study of literacy and one that has an unavoidable impact on children and young people. In fact young people are very often at the forefront of these innovations. It is too simple to suggest that 'new ways' are replacing 'old ways' or to suggest that the 'new litearcies' are somehow better than traditional practices. They co-exist and are likely to do so, at least for the foreseeable future. Most new literacy practices depend on the familiar -being able to read a familiar image and to encode and decode alphabetic writing. In fact they extend the possibilities for meaning-making and interconnection. Literacy is a much larger topic than it was twenty years ago, in an era when digital communication was still in its infancy. To fully participate in contemporary society, children, young people and adults alike need literacy more than ever before. They need to be able to write letters and send emails; they need to be able to fill in forms online and leave notes for friends and family members. There is no evidence that literacy is in decline. In fact there has been a massive increase in vernacular writing with the advent of the internet. At the same time, though, the ways in which we write and the ways in which we read are changing. In our capacity as an association for the promotion of literacy and with our interest in education, we are committed to supporting the reading and writing for all - reading and writing in whatever form is advantageous.