Creating Culture (Clash)

Jenkins, H. (2006). Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century. Retrieved September 16, 2009 from

Henry Jenkins, Director of MIT’s Comparative Studies Program, defines a participatory culture by low barriers to entry, social support for participation among peers, informal mentoring, a culture in which contributions matter, and a social connection through participation. Noting the PEW research that showed 50% of teenagers created media, he sees several forms of participatory culture:

  • Affiliations (such as social networks)
  • Expressions (such as SN profiles and blogs)
  • Collaborative problem-solving (such as gaming)

He also enumerated circulations (creating blogs and podcasts) as a form although that form seems indistinguishable from expressions.

Jenkins posits three problems in media literacy:

  1. Participation – this problem is less concerned with the “last mile” issue and more with access and skills
  2. Transparency – this problem is teaching students how to determine the validity of messages
  3. Ethics – this problem deals not only with issues such as intellectual property, but also with the tendency of teenagers to view the online world as one without rules; however, his example–the number of teenagers who lie about their age in order to gain online access to sites–may not indicate a problem with ethics in today’s teenagers nor a problem with ethics in online space, but instead be indicative of typical self-centered teenage desires.

He defines new media literacy skills as traditional textual literacy overlaid with social skills, and he notes, “Social production of meaning is more important than individual interpretation multiplied.” New media literacy involves working within networks; pooling knowledge; negotiating; and resolving conflicting data.

In the major section of the paper, Jenkins lists eleven skills (although some seem duplicative and several overlap) and proposes possible means to teach the skills:

  1. Play as experimentation to solve problems. Play is characterized by focused engagement and should not be confused with fun; although play isfun, it can also be hard work, and thus play does not necessarily equal relaxation. Play lowers the emotional stakes of failing and encourages trial and error.
  2. Simulation as interpreting and constructing dynamic models of real world. The key word is models which means that simulations offer simplified views of the real world. Jenkins notes that understanding the assumptions behind the models (interpretation) is critical.
  3. Performance as adopting alternative identities to improvise and discover.Alternative identities allow multiple perspectives and simulate group heterogeneity. However, performance can also be viewed as the ability to perform which is similarly prized (being able to “walk the walk”).
  4. Appropriate as sampling and remixing media content.Jenkins reminds us that, “Students learn by taking culture apart and putting it back together.” While digital content makes this process easier, appropriation has been a valued and valuable human activity for thousands of years.
  5. Multi-tasking as scanning and shifting focus.information overload impinges on working memory limits, and multi-tasking addresses this issue. Multi-tasking is notworking on tasks simultaneously by facilely switching among tasks.
  6. Distributed cognition as interacting with tools.While describing distributed cognition as tool interaction, Jenkins also acknowledges the description I’ve heard more often: interacting with social institutions and remote experts (which in some sense, could be viewed as tools)
  7. Collective intelligence as knowledge pooling toward a common goal. This focus on teamwork and collaboration parallels modern work, but students are taught to be generalists instead of being taught how to assume different roles.
  8. Judgment as evaluating reliability and credibility. Involves both accuracy and interpreting the producer’s perspective (and possible bias). Jenkins reminds us that the “wisdom of crowds” works best when large numbers participate.
  9. Transmedia navigation as flow across multiple modes. This skill is not only the ability to work on cell phones and computers, but also is the ability to navigate the intersection of real life and virtual life (in social networks like Facebook).
  10. Networks as searching, synthesizing, and disseminating. The role of gatekeepers of information is diminishing as search becomes more powerful; however, students are weak in synthesis skills. Dissemination, typically via social networks, may not require technical skill but certainly requires the exercise of judgment.
  11. Negotiation as traversing diverse communities, discerning and respecting multiple perspectives. Multiple perspectives, just like alternative identities, enables the constructive debate necessary for deep learning.

Jenkins proposes that these skills can be developed in three venues:

  • by schools (not as a course but integrated into every course)
  • by after-school programs (not as school reinforcement but as complement and extension)
  • by parents (although parents themselves need help learning with these skills)

Social Networks and Teens

Pew Internet and American Life Project (2007, January). Social Networking Websites and Teens: An Overview. [Pew Internet Project Data Memo] pp. 1-10. retrieved 09/15/2009 from Lenhart, A. and Madden, M.

This overview from Pew’s ongoing project to examine the intersection of the Internet and American culture confirms the explosive growth of social networking sites among teens (55% of teens who are online use social networks, and 44% of teens visit SN websites at least daily). These social networks provide two primary affordances:

  • a public and often dynamic representation (teens reported that a “profile page is more engaging if it changes frequently”)
  • public and private communications tools (84% of social networking teens post “public” messages to a friend’s page or wall; 82% of social networking teens send private messages to friends using the social networking system)

At the same time, the memo debunks several myths about teen use of social networks like MySpace and Facebook:

  • 91% of social networking teens say they use the sites to stay in touch with friends they see frequently (they are not meeting strangers)
  • 66% of teens who have created profiles limit access to that profile (they are not letting it all hang out–except to people they know)

Learning networks

Christensen’s 5th chapter proposes a valuable (but ultimately incorrect) three-part business model lens through which he proposes we consider education: consulting (services); value-chain (manufacturing); and user networks (black market). The parenthetical examples are mine: Christensen claims that telecommunications is a user network when in fact it’s a service (access to “wires” owned by a telco) as well as a value-chain (resale of bandwidth); consulting could also be viewed as experts providing a service within a user network rather than a distinct type. However, the metaphor of current public schools as a value-chain model is accurate, as is the view of special education as consultative and unscaleable one-to-one education.

The dismal evaluation of and outlook for textbooks is well-supported (although his terms are inaccurate: commercial systems are actually delivery mechanisms; “high fixed costs” are actually “sunk costs” because a business can have continuing high fixed costs whereas sunk costs such as the investment to create a book are one-time). His argument falls apart, though, in the claim tha,t “people will assemble them [learning kernels] together into entire courses.” If this were possible, libraries would have precluded the need for schools. Learners don’t know how to structure the learning they need because they don’t know the end goal. Learning opportunities or situations or problems must be constructed by experts, although not necessarily subject experts who often make unexplainable leaps in problem-solving.

The attempt to equate Web 2.0 technologies with the need for educational reform also falls short. QuickBase is not a replacement for SAPs’s ERP software; it’s an online service from a software company seeking to change its value-chain distribution model. Second Life is not a 3D world “‘created entirely by its residents;'” it’s a hosted software application whose creators charge real dollars for the service afforded by a virtual space. And finally, the idea that learners can self-educate smacks of self-medication and the potential for uninformed abuse. At the same time, the vision of public school education replaced by user networks guided by experts is enticing.

Is connectivism a new learning theory?

Stephen Downes and George Siemens are active bloggers in education. Over the past two years, they have proposed a new theory of learning, connectivism, based on their vision of how the availability of ubiquitous networks have changed the nature of learning. An article by Kop and Hill in the October issue (Volume 9, Number 3) of IRRODL (International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning) considers whether connectivism qualifies as a theory.

On the surface, the argument from Downes and Siemens “feels” intuitively right:

  • since the power law applies to (computers attached to) the Internet, doubling the number of users quadruples the number of connections; therefore, connections are a critical component of knowledge construction;
  • since the rate of change of information is accelerating, the rate of change of our knowledge must accelerate, a feat which can only be accomplished through a power law network rather than our personal cognitive structures

However, a theory must provide more than a feeling. The article states that an emerging theory must be based on scientific research; even a developmental theory must meet certain criteria: describe changes within behavior, describe changes among behaviors, and explain the development that has been described.

Using connectivism to describe changes within learning theory, Siemens argues that:

  • objectivism is realized in behaviorism where knowledge is acquired through experience
  • pragmatism is realized in cognitivism where knowledge is negotiated between reflection and experience
  • interpretivism is realized in constructivism where knowledge is situated within a community
  • distributed knowledge  (from Downes) is realized in connectivism where knowledge is the set of networked connections

The author analyzes this argument and concludes that previous work by Vygotsky, Papert, and Clark already account for the changes connectivism attempts to claim as its own. In addition, Siemens’ argument seems circular: acknowledgement of knowledge as a set of connections (distributed knowledge) is required as a foundation for the theory of connectivism where knowledge is the set of networked connections. And in fact, some implications of the theory sound ludicrous:

  • there is no such thing as building knowledge;
  • our activities and experience form a set of connections, and those connections are knowledge;
  • the learning is the network.

The authors conclude that connectivism fits a pedagogical level rather than a theoretical level. “People still learn in the same way,” but connectivist explanations and solutions can help us deal with the onslaught of information and the enabling power of networked communication.