Last semester the Digital Ethnography Research Team of 2011 released the Visions of Students Today: a “video collage” about student life created by students themselves and presented using the wonders of HTML5, allowing us to “cite” books and videos that are being presented in the remix as they are being shown.
Since the call for submissions went out in January we have received hundreds of submissions. The remix in the middle of the screen is in many ways a video of my own experience viewing these videos, shot from my own point of view. You see me sifting through videos, putting them in piles, checking resources, reading and re-reading the lines that have informed and inspired me. It took me 3 months to sift through these materials; you get to race through them in 5 minutes.
But stick around. There is so much more than what can be seen in my little 5 minute remix. Each of my students (“the Diggies”) has been working for months to put together their own vision, and each one is remarkable in its own way.
In the upper left-hand corner, Caitlin Reynolds starts us off with a 5 minute remix of “found footage” demonstrating the industrial age mentality of efficiency and production from which our schools were born. Derek Schneweis then brilliantly demonstrates that this mentality is still with us today, built right into the structures (physical, social, and mental) of our school system.
And what about the students themselves? Lindsey Iman uses statistics from Twenge’s Generation Me to bring us her beautiful and stirring vision of today’s generation, showing us that most students are primarily concerned with “finding themselves” … searching for identity and recognition in a world in which identity and recognition are not givens. Nate Bozarth courageously lets us into the depths of his questioning mind, taking us through his own existential journey. Rebecca Norman follows with a story of her own transformation (sparked by her favorite professor warning her that she was going to end up “a toothless hooker in South America”). And then there is the story of Maria Snyder, a non-traditional student in the full sense of the word (a 30-something lesbian grandmother of “what ethnicity are you anyway?” descent) . Joseph Savage, our class philosopher, reflects on the broader implications of these stories, mining the works of Charles Taylor, Thomas de Zengotita, Brene Brown, and others, and coming to some stirring insights like:
The artificial environment steers us to learn to meet artificial requirements and bureaucratic regulations. It isn’t an option to read or do homework. But we always have options- that’s how we understand the world. So we “read” and “do homework.” We couldn’t get rid of the words so we put them in scare quotes, scaring away all the meaning with irony. Students, mediated and inauthentic and numb and invulnerable, put course requirements in scare quotes and laugh a hollow laugh of an impossibly pyrrhic victory- not as a joke, but as a lifestyle.
There is a wide gulf between the static stale world of traditional education and the visceral emotional worlds of our students, and there is no shortage of revolutionary ideas now being pursued to close this gulf. Haley Marceau explores a couple of the more radical visions, reporting on her own studies of North Star, Unschooling, Big Picture Learning including interviews with Kenny Rodriquez, Ken Dadford, and others. As she reports from her interview with Kenny Rodriguez, “Traditional education needs to die. It needs to go away.” But as Steven Kelly points out while calling forth Dewey, Friere, Illich, Postman, Weingartner, and others: “These revolutionary ideas, they’re not so new.”
Bringing this all together and providing the stirring conclusion is Blake Hallinan’s “Cracks and Fissures,” a slam poem set to video:
in the awkward silence following a teacher’s simple question
answered only by the blank stares of students too afraid to speak,
meet the boy who finds his voice through hiphop and poetry,
lyrical liberation, salvation
a success story not measured with an a, b, c, or d,
but rather with every continued heart beat
let’s go towards a world where we can meet citizens sisters & scholar brothers in the public paradigm
let’s construct libraries among sofas, turns homes into hand built-schools
lets speak a community into existence as we teach vocations with our hands
lets watch the pages of books flutter like birds wings scrawled with incantations of knowledge
let’s play games, exercises patterned entirely on principles & metaphors,
let’s stream podcasts crafted by us, for us, with tools stolen from hands of gods
let’s read blogs, words, written daily, by people like you, like me, that have no other choice but to share what they know with someone, anyone, everyone…
to complain of over-determination gives power to the walls that did not exist before we believed in them
why should we submit to an explanation that denies agency?
look around and see ways to make things work, to subvert imposed expectations.
The Birth of the Project
Last October I started a talk at the Open Video Conference by pointing out that the very issues we were discussing, while of tremendous importance to people’s basic freedoms of expression, were virtually unknown among college-educated youth. A quick survey of my own class of 400 students at Kansas State revealed that fewer than 5% were familiar with terms such as “Fair Use,” “Open Video,” “Royalty-Free Codec,” “Device Freedom,” or even “Net Neutrality.” As we race toward an increasingly digital future, where “code is law”(*) many of the basic freedoms we have become accustomed to while speaking or writing may be stripped away without the public even noticing.
After the talk, Mark Surman of Mozilla approached me, wondering if I might have some ideas about how we might “move the needle” a bit on new media literacy. His challenge left me thinking for some time. I kept searching for the spark that could ignite change, the societal injection that could heal our malaise, the magic beans that would sprout a new media literacy revolution … but none were coming. I came to the conclusion that the only way to create new media literacy is to go the way that all learning goes … the hard way. New media literacy, like all learning, requires an intellectual throw-down in the mind, a challenge of taken-for-granted assumptions, and a transformation of the self from a passive recipient to an active creator of new information, knowledge, and of the world itself.
The best I can do … the best any of us can do … is try to inspire one another and share what we know from our own journey, hence the call for students everywhere to share their own visions, and the collection of those key texts and ideas that have inspired me.
How we did it
HTML5 adds a “video” element, allowing video to be shown on a website without the use of Flash. Leveraging the new possibilities, an event framework called Popcorn.js has been developed, creating a simple API for synchronizing interactive content with video events.
Our lead developer, Garrett Pennington, used Popcorn.js to create the basic framework, and then provided me with two data files where I could enter the thumbnails to be used, their links, where they should be placed, and a timecode for when they should appear. If you are interested in doing something like this yourself, feel free to download any of the source code from our own project, and visit Popcorn.js for more code and ideas.
We are grateful for all of the submissions. Some professors also need to be thanked for encouraging their students to contribute. We received multiple submissions from courses taught by Stephanie Jo Kent at Umass Amherst, Antonio Vantaggiato at Universidad del Sagrado Corazón in Puerto Rico, the Social Media Computing class at De La Salle University in the Philippines and from another class at the University of the Philippines Diliman.
As soon as the vision for the project came to my mind I knew I would want to team up with some of the talent at K-State’s very own Office of Mediated Education, (home of Axio, a Blackboard alternative). They did not disappoint. Under Scott Finkeldei’s leadership, Kate Erdozain provided a visionary design while Garrett Pennington took the lead on the project and delivered far beyond expectations, continuously brainstorming and implementing new features.
None of this would have been possible without the global collaboration that is bringing together the popcorn.js library that was essential to this project. Brett Gaylor is an inspiring leader of the project, and all video creators should be sure to check out the amazing potential of creating Open Video with some Popcorn and Butter.
And finally, a special thanks to the MacArthur Foundation and the Mozilla Foundation for financial support, and to National Geographic for providing the “collaboratory” space in which we work.