A Very CC Year …

As it’s the Creative Commons movement celebrates a birthday this week, I thought I’d take the opportunity to reflect on my year in CC terms, as well as showing off some very impressive CC-licensed work by my honours students.  It has already been a pretty big year in Creative Commons terms for me and the students I teach; in the first semester my Digital Media class experimented with Creative Commons licenses on a lot of their output, including many of their Student News reports and almost all of their outstanding Digital Media Projects; I’ve also enjoyed being part of an education panel at the Building an Australasian Commons conference in July, as well as presenting on my talk ‘Building Open Education Resources from the Bottom Up’ at the Open Education Resources Free Seminar today in Brisbane in September.

As the year’s drawing to a close, I’m delighted to highlight one last effort, this time from the honours students in my iGeneration: Digital Communication and Participatory Culture course.  The course, as in past years, has been a collaborative effort between the students and myself; I’ve provided the framing narrative and opening and closing weeks, while the students, in consultation, have written the central seminars in the course.  Moreover, all course content from the seminars to the curriculum, from the students’ audio podcasts to their amazing remix videos, has been released under a Creative Commons license as both an exemplar of their fine work and an Open Educational Resource which, hopefully, will be something other teachers, students and creative citizens can draw upon for their own purposes. Moreover, given that I first ran iGeneration in 2005, this year’s students already built upon the work of that first cohort, learning from their peers and, hopefully, sharing so future peers can build on this work, too.

I also thought I’d take this opportunity to showcase some of the specific media projects created this year.  The first is a really impressive podcast by Kiri Falls which looked at the Babelswarm art installation in Second Life

Babelswarm MP3

[Full Sources & Exegesis] [CC BY NC SA]
Kiri’s final project for the unit, this time a remix video, takes quite literally the idea that creativity builds upon the past, with this enjoyable video which mashes together a plenitude of videos and photographs …

[Full Sources & Exegesis] [CC BY NC SA]

The second remix project I wanted to showcase is by Alex Pond; Alex has created a short but very poignant  video which takes issue with the monolith that is copyright law, but celebrates the freedoms which are shared via the Creative Commons …

[Full Sources & Exegesis] [CC BY NC SA]

The final remix I wanted to highlight is a bit different.  This one, by Chris Ardley, includes art and music from creators who’ve explicitly given Chris permission to re-use their work and share it under a CC license.  This animation, created in Flash, explores remix more metaphorically, and tells a tale of worldly creation …

[Full Sources & Exegesis] [CC BY NC SA]

I think all of these projects are quite impressive, and I was delighted at how seriously this year’s students took the idea of remix and how many of them embraced everything that the Creative Commons has to offer, as well as giving back something of their own.  I’ve also finally written iGeneration up as an educational example in the CC Case Studies Wiki, something I’ve been meaning to do for a while!

So, Happy 6th Birthday to the Creative Commons! In the next six years, I hope you’ll consider sharing work under a CC license if you haven’t already, but a shared culture can help us all be a lot more creative.  I know my students have benefitted from the generosity of the Creative Commons, and have, in turn, added a few quite impressive ideas and artefacts back in the creative stream.

[Cross-posted from Tama Leaver dot Net]

Student Creativity and Writing (on) the Web

One of the things I’ve been thinking about a lot this semester has been the way my teaching does – or doesn’t – encourage my students to develop that elusive, highly ambiguous but universally sought-after quality of creativity. I’ve been running two units – Digital Media, which is a relatively large second year unit (about 140 students) with a fairly hefty hands-on component; and a far smaller honours unit called Creative Selves which is specifically about exploring the way creativity is thought about, situated and can ultimately be harnessed in the world of work (or, at least, the world outside of formal education).

Even though creativity is often associated with the romantic ideal of the lone creative genius, one of the contradictions I’ve been quite aware of, and something that has come up in both units, is that both individual and group creativity is often meaningfully enhanced and provoked when students are thinking about the audience that might ultimately view/experience/interact with their creative work. This really shouldn’t come as a surprise since over the last 4 years I’ve often encouraged (and occasionally mandated) that students blog their work for just that reason. In so many cases, when the potential audience for a work – written, audio, video or whatever else – stops being just the marker or examiner and starts being a potentially global community, students tend to push themselves to work that little bit harder. Occasionally one or two students have suggested this is unnecessarily stressful, but 99% of the time when students are faced with the large potential audience that the internet provides, they step up to the challenge.  There are other clear advantages of getting students to create in the public sphere, too, such as those outlined by Jason Mittell:

One of my pet peeves about teaching is that often you get wonderful student work that is, by design, written for an audience of one, and has no lingering presence beyond the semester. By asking students to blog, share, and otherwise publish their work, it both raises the bar for their own sense of engaging a community with their ideas, as well as offers an opportunity for faculty to publicize their excellent work.

Mittell has written a series of posts showcasing some of the impressive work students have made as part of his Media Technology course this past semester.  They range from podcasts which interrogate something specific about audio, to video-games based shorts (sort of machinima, but not in the Red Vs Blue sense – more videos which mix and match game footage in different ways to highlight a particular critical or creative point).  One assignment I particularly liked was the use of video remixes, or mashups, which included one student effort which remixed current blockbuster trailers – and a ubiquitous iPhone ad – to create an overhyped trailer for technological convergence itself:


Another student collaboration I’ve come across recently is Shake Girl, The Graphic Novel.  This graphic novel was a collaboration between 17 Stanford creative writing, art and design students who’ve produced a moving and provocative story which ultimately ends up being a heart-wrenching tale highlighting the terrible phenomenon of acid attacks on women in Cambodia.  This is no two-dimensional moral rant, though: it’s a thoroughly engaging story, with sophisticated characterisation which envelops the reader in the story only to shock them with the protagonist’s fate.  In their About section, one note rang particularly true for me, regarding the challenges but also the substantial rewards which come from successful creative collaborations between students:

The process of collaboration – we think all of our students will agree – was both one of the most frustrating and exciting experiences of our lives. A lot of the first in the first two weeks, much of the second in the last four. Those of us writing the script seemed to trip over one another in the early stages. We wrote, researched, rewrote, tossed drafts aside, argued, yelled sometimes, tossed our hands up in the air, and then started over. The illustrators waited patiently, until patience ran out, and we were finally left with this mission statement: 1. We want to get this project completed, and 2. We want to make everyone moderately happy.

And with that, we made the jump to light speed. How many late-night hours did we draw, redraw, rewrite, design, redesign, and mostly… really enjoy each others company, efforts, and camaraderie?

All I can say is that Shake Girl definitely highlights an impressively successful student collaboration! [Via BBoing]

This graphic novel also reminds me on one idea for a small-scale creative project I’ve always wanted to do especially with a large first-year class.  Many of you will recall the fabulous Theory.org.uk Theorist Trading Cards, which were essentially bubblegum cards featuring well-known cultural theorists.  In a large first-year class where new theorists, ideas and concepts are introduced for the first time, I suspect that if students generated their own cards as part of tutorial presentations, this would be a great way to creatively get them reading and thinking about the main features, and differences, between the writers and works they encounter.  As an added bonus, these trading cards could be collated online and serve, to some extent, as useful prompts when students are revising for exams.

For a few more examples of engaging creative work, Siva Vaidhyanathan has posted two nifty videos created by students in his Introduction to Digital Media course: Restricted Knowledge? University Bandwidth Regulation and Facebook World.

Along a similar line, this week my Digital Media students are presenting a pitch, outlining an idea for a short video which will critically explore some aspect of digital culture loosely based on arguments about either convergence or citizen journalism, so I hope I’ll be able to post a few of the results in a few weeks time.

Until then, I wanted to end this post by pointing to the very cool and very virally popular video Apple Mac Music Video by Dennis Liu.  While not really student work (Lui has just finished formal education, but has been working professionally for a while; read an interview here) this is video is inspirational.  It’s a brilliant reminder that under the hood of an Apple Mac (or even a decent PC) is more than enough power to make some truly inspiring and amazing creative work …

[Cross-posted from my main blog.]

Pew Report: Teens & Online Stranger Contact

Those researchers and report-writers at Pew have released a short but important paper ‘Teens and Online Stranger Contact’.  The details:

Fully 32% of online teens have been contacted by someone with no connection to them or any of their friends, and 7% of online teens say they have felt scared or uncomfortable as a result of contact by an online stranger. Several behaviors are associated with high levels of online stranger contact, including social networking profile ownership, posting photos online and using social networking sites to flirt. Although several factors are linked with increased levels of stranger contact in general, gender is the only variable with a consistent association with contact that is scary or uncomfortable–girls are much more likely to report scary or uncomfortable contact than boys.

It’s well worth thinking about, especially in terms of how we educate young people. Also notable that gender remains an important factor. Read the full report here.

[Via New Literacy, New Audiences]

A Vision of Students Today

Michael Wesch and his 200 students in ANTH 200: Introduction to Cultural Anthropology at Kansas State University, Spring 2007 collaborated in exploring what exactly a student does these days. Their results make a fascinating video and a timely reminder of the way (some) student experiences are changing:

[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/dGCJ46vyR9o" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]

Some of the noteworthy results from 133 of the students survey included:

  • “My average class size is 115.”
  • “18% of my teachers know my name.”
  • I complete 49% of the readings assigned to me. Only 26% … relative to my life
  • I will read 8 books this year.” “2300 web pages” “and 1281 facebook profiles”
  • “I will write 42 pages for class this semester.” “And over 500 pages of email”

Given how many times Wesch’s first video, ‘The Machine is Us/ing Us’, has been used to discuss Web 2.0, I suspect this video may very well find itself as part of the conversations we have in rethinking student engagement in the twenty-first century.

[88Mb .wmv version downloadable here.]

Learning Futures: Day One Insights

I’m at the Learning Futures Symposium today and tomorrow.  I’m not blogging summaries of sessions because, to be fair, that’s often quite dull.  However, I thought I’d take the opportunity to take the conference discussions to springboard some observations or thoughts that occurred during these interactions…

Insight #1: There is a reasonable amount of critical distance in terms of the ‘digital natives/digital immigrants’ rhetoric, but the same critical perspective doesn’t stretch to critiquing the idea of ‘web 2.0’.  Whereas ideas which supposedly encompass an entire generation are easy enough to pull apart, many educators seem wary of software and claims made about software as they acutely feel that this is one of the few areas in which students know more about this area than they do.  I suspect that if the same educators were dipping their toes in a little more they’d realise something commonsensical which seems to have entirely escaped these kind of conversations: that while there are many types of web 2.0 software, there are generic skills to be found in using these tools and platforms.  The reason that people can move from Friendster to MySpace to Facebook so easily, for example, is that at a basic level there is a lot of similarity between the way these platforms operate and the skills needed to use them.  Sure, the rate of new names of software can be overwhelming, but if we remember that a large section of the skills learnt using one social software platform are viable for the next, super-duper, upcoming must-have web 2.0 tool are transferable, that makes taking the time to learn and teach them a whole lot more important and palatable.  And social software platforms are just one example; skills in blogging, using wikis and many other forms of ‘web 2.0’ tools are similarly transferable and, at some level, generic.  Perhaps we should be focusing more on what those skills are.

Insight #2: Often the people in the driving position for educational policy aren’t confident to make decisions about ICT – nor should they be!

[Cross-posted from my main blog.]

US Tweens and Teens Talk Education while participating in Online Social Networks

JD Lasica points to an interesting new report from the US National School Boards Association entitled Creating & Connecting /Research and Guidelines on Online Social – and Educational – Networking. The report focusing on ‘tweens’ and teens, and has some really important notes about the role of social networking in forming learning communities and even casual connections between online presence and learning.

As this graph shows, more than half US tweens and teens have discussed education in online social networking:


Likewise, many tweens and teens are not just discussing and downloading, but also creating, uploading and participating in creative projects:


Again we are reminded that education in the twenty-first century has to think about the digital literacies of students and how to allow those literacies to develop in our curricula.

My Interview for the Mobile Technology in TAFE Podcast

MobileTAFEEarlier this week I was interviewed by Sue Waters who produces the Mobile Technology in TAFE podcast, which looks at different eLearning tools in Tertiary and Further Education. It was a fairly wide-ranging conversation, but the two biggest topics (and the subject of the two podcasts) were the use of Lectopia, especially in terms of podcasting, and the use of blogs and other social software (and eLearning tools) more broadly. I won’t be rude and direct-link to the media files, but you can find them here:

If you’re interested, please go and have a listen. Feedback is most welcome!


Australian IT has an interesting article on a new Australian software tool and service called ChatAlert! which:

employs fuzzy logic to analyse phrases, slang and speech patterns in chat and instant messaging sessions, testing them against a range of threat categories. Depending on the parameters set by parents, children will be given an onscreen warning, while parents will receive a text message to their mobile phone, or an email

I’m in two minds about this level of surveillance, but I’m sure a lot of parents will buy this tool for peace of mind while their kids are chatting. However, I thought I’d check out the company’s website and found some interesting descriptions, but I was rather concerned by the prominence of typos on their “How does ChatAlert! work?” page:
ChatAlert! Website Screenshot
For a service that relies on locating and evaluating specific words and text I find it rather concerning that they can’t even proofread their corporate website!

Update (28/11.06, 5.25pm): As Fraser Larcombe notes in the comments, the typos are fixed.

The Future of Digital Literacy and Media Education

In the past month, two important reports have been released in the US which detail the current state of digital media literacy in both the K-12 environment and tertiary education. These reports are extremely valuable in thinking about curriculum design and about wider social, cultural and political concerns relating to digital media and technology. A quick overview …

Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century

Recently, the Digital Media and Learning section of the US MacArthur Foundation made the following announcement:

The MacArthur Foundation launched its five-year, $50 million digital media and learning initiative in 2006 to help determine how digital technologies are changing the way young people learn, play, socialize, and participate in civic life. Answers are critical to developing educational and other social institutions that can meet the needs of this and future generations. The initiative is both marshaling what is already known about the field and seeding innovation for continued growth.

An an integral part of this push toward fostering and enhancing young people’s understanding and participation in digital technology and related spheres, the MacArthur Foundation colloborated with Henry Jenkins who wrote their white-paper Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century [PDF version].

Rather than giving the technologies centre-stage, Jenkins argues that it is extremely important to educate young people and facilitate their full potential in engaging with what he terms participatory cultures (an idea familiar to readers of this blog or to those familiar with Jenkins’ Textual Poachers or more recent Convergence Culture). A snippet from the report:

That is why we focus in this paper on the concept of participatory cultures rather than on interactive technologies. Interactivity is a property of the technology, while participation is a property of culture. Participatory culture is emerging as the culture absorbs and responds to the explosion of new media technologies that make it possible for average consumers to archive, annotate, appropriate, and recirculate media content in powerful new ways. A focus on expanding access to new technologies carries us only so far if we do not also foster the skills and cultural knowledge necessary to deploy those tools toward our own ends.

We are using participation as a term that cuts across educational practices, creative processes, community life, and democratic citizenship. Our goals should be to encourage youth to develop the skills, knowledge, ethical frameworks, and self-confidence needed to be full participants in contemporary culture. Many young people are already part of this process through:

Affiliations — memberships, formal and informal, in online communities centered around various forms of media, such as Friendster, Facebook, message boards, metagaming, game clans, or MySpace).

Expressions — producing new creative forms, such as digital sampling, skinning and modding, fan videomaking, fan fiction writing, zines, mash-ups).

Collaborative Problem-solving — working together in teams, formal and informal, to complete tasks and develop new knowledge (such as through Wikipedia, alternative reality gaming, spoiling).

Circulations — Shaping the flow of media (such as podcasting, blogging)

The MacArthur Foundation has launched an ambitious effort to document these activities and the roles they play in young people’s lives. We do not want to preempt or duplicate that effort here. For the moment, it is sufficient to argue that each of these activities contains opportunities for learning, creative expression, civic engagement, political empowerment, and economic advancement.

Through these various forms of participatory culture, young people are acquiring skills that will serve them well in the future. Participatory culture is reworking the rules by which school, cultural expression, civic life, and work operate. A growing body of work has focused on the value of participatory culture and its long-term impact on children’s understanding of themselves and the world around them.

The full report contains a great deal more context, detail and has the potential to act as a coherent and robust blueprint for incorporating digital media literacies into K-12 environments and the has clear implications for the tertiary sector as well. Jenkins also recently blogged “Eight Traits of the New Media Landscape” which was originally written for the white-paper but cut for length reasons. If you find the report of interest, I’d recommend checking out that post as well since it provides important context (and a useful shorthand for explaining the state of digital media literacy in the US and elsewhere).

The Horizon Report

The Horizon Report is produced by the NMC (New Media Consortium) and EduCause, two of the peak US technology and education organisations focused on higher education. The report examines the current state of technology use in the US tertiary system and signposts a number of technologies to watch and their estimated rate of implementation on a broad scale. The full report is released under a Creative Commons license [PDF version] and comes complete with a project wiki. I’d heartily recommend diving into the full report, but to give you a taste of what’s inside, here’s a sample from the executive summary:

Social Computing. The application of computer technology to facilitate interaction and collaboration, a practice known as social computing, is happening all around us. Replacing face-to-face meetings with virtual collaboration tools, working on a daily basis with colleagues a thousand miles away, or attending a conference held entirely online is no longer unusual. An interesting aspect of social computing is the development of shared taxonomies – folksonomies – that emerge organically from like-minded groups.

Personal Broadcasting. With roots in text-based media (personal websites and blogs), personal broadcasting of audio and video material is a natural outgrowth of a popular trend made possible by increasingly more capable portable tools. From podcasting to video blogging (vlogging), personal broadcasting is already impacting campuses and museum audiences significantly.

The Phones in Their Pockets. A little further out on the horizon, but rapidly approaching, the delivery of educational content and services to cell phones is just around the corner. Among the keys that will unlock the true potential of this technology are improved network speeds, Flash Lite, and video: as new features that take advantage of the capabilities of these appear in phones, barriers to delivery of educational content will vanish.

Educational Gaming. A recent surge in interest in educational gaming has led to increased research into gaming and engagement theory, the effect of using games in practice, and the structure of cooperation in gameplay. The serious implications of gaming are still unfolding, but we are not far away from seeing what games can really teach us.

Augmented Reality and Enhanced Visualization. Currently in use in disciplines such as medicine, engineering, and archaeology, these technologies for bringing large data sets to life have the potential to literally change the way we see the world by creating three-dimensional representations of abstract data.

Context-Aware Environments and Devices. Advancements in context-aware computing are giving rise to devices and rooms that respond to voice, motion, or other subtle signals. In the ultimate application of these technologies, the computing part simply disappears, leaving an environment transparently responsive to its human occupants.

Together, I think these two reports go a long way in illuminating the issues, challenges and vast potential related to technology, media and education in the coming years. Both of these reports are focused on the US, but the issues raised are equally relevant to the Australian context. Perhaps the uptake of certain technologies is further away, but in my opinion the issues raised should be addressed now across all levels of education, both K-12 and tertiary, to ensure that digital literacy is at the core of the Australian student experience.

[Cross-posted from Ponderance.]