Guelph Postmetropolis talk

These are notes—an essay really—toward a workshop presentation at the Transcanada Institute (Guelph U). The workshop was a meeting for member of the Postmetropolis project (La Laguna U, Spain).

There are three main areas of focus for this talk.

  1. Arts-based research, a context for an emergent scholarly practice;
  2. Bruno Latour’s ideas of assembly, epistemology, and the shifting ground of critical practice;
  3. Erin Mouré writing as way into CanLit as a “matter of concern.”

I. An Arts-based research in a new university

For 7 years, I have been employed in an “Art School.” Participating in Emily Carr’s transformation from Institute to University, I have witnessed the power of a new research agenda and its link to the growing popularity of post-secondary Art and Design education. As researcher, cultural theorist, faculty member, graduate supervisor, and member of an inaugural Research Ethics Board, I have seen remarkable shifts in critical perspectives and an emergent concern with creative practice-based research.

My work at Emily Carr builds on my doctoral research around the “spatial turn” in contemporary culture; it also draws on involvement in cultural production. Post graduation, I was uncomfortable with the division of labour between scholarship and creative production, and I looked for opportunities to work on the production-side of CanLit.

Roy Miki, my PhD supervisor was an excellent role model. I soon found my way into editing and publishing.The city I was studying and working in, together with significant changes to the nature of scholarly and creative practice, played a dramatic part in defining or redefining the conditions or this professional transformation. As seems to be the case with many of my Vancouver-based colleagues and associates, involvement with creative writing led to working with curators, visual artists and other cultural producers (Clint Burnham, Jeff Derksen, Larissa Lai, Ashok Mathur, Lisa Robertson, Fred Wah, Rita Wong, among others).

Yet, despite the progressive politics that underwrites these types of collaborations between academics and artist, I am worried about the way that creative production tends to be co-opted by neoliberal forces.

As critics suggest, neoliberal policy and practice reshapes the university in key ways: 1/ a marked drive by universities to secure external research funding, across disciplines and faculties; 2/ growing interest in monetizing research and pedagogy (e.g. through online delivery, lifelong learning programs, “cost recovery” degrees); 3/ emphasis on internationalization or a strong international profile; 4/ collaborations with industry or “community partnerships.

In the push toward the neoliberal university and a normalization of the new knowledge economy, including creative industries, we need to think about how practice-based art and design research might resist dominant modalities. This, I argue, means thinking about how we do culture differently.

II. Bruno Latour

Thus, I enter a discussion on Contemporary Canadian urban writing with a reservations about the present and future of literary studies. In a climate of neoliberalization, how to do we reclaim interdisciplinarity, internationalization, or (even) the concept of accountability? How do we maintain a vital interest in Canadian writing in this epoque of media convergence (Jenkins)? Can CanLit survive the end of the book? Should it?

Crossing between creative and critical practice is gratifying and challenging. On the one hand, there are the pitfalls of dilettantism or amateurism. On the other hand, there are professional concerns. For example, how does one fit creative methods in a scholarly CV? What mechanism are in place to value and evaluate gallery exhibitions, curation, artist talks, project development, or web design among standard research outcomes. How are these other practices recognized by tenure and promotion committees?

These material concerns point to an crucial aporia in thinking about contemporary scholarship and the reorganization of disciplinary practices, especially as inter-/transdisciplinarity—linked as they are to knowledge translation (KT), knowledge mobilization (KM), and accounting for research outcomes.

I am indebted to Simon Levin for introducing me to Bruno Latour’s work, and for helping me, through our collaborative teaching and research, to understand ANTs potential for coming to terms with public art and creative practice more generally. I’m particularly drawn to Latour’s critique of critical theory, which he sees as a set of 20th century methods that are ill-equipped to deal with contemporary, 21st century problems—war and global warming / ecological devastation.

Latour attempts to re-articulate the association of Science and politics. His work provides a useful way into discussions of about links between knowledge and culture or a framework with which to come to terms with epistemological change. For my purposes, it helps us to how literary studies might be resituated in relation dramatic shifts in contemporary cultural production (and consumption), especially for emerging publics.

Source: via Glen on Pinterest

The image above is from an 2005 exhibition put together by Latour and Peter Weibel at ZKM in Karlsruhe. The weighty catalogue for which provides an important way into cultural production from a perspective Latour identifies as Dingpolitik. Focusing on the idea of thing as (social) assembly, Latour, with reference to Heidegger’s What is a thing, follows etymological links back through Old English, German to Ding, “‘meeting’ and ‘matter’, ‘concern’ as well as ‘inanimate objects’.”

Latour draws attention to the Icelandic althingi or parliament, which ran from 930 to 1789 at Þingvellir, a site in the rift valley marking the crest of the mid-Atlantic ridge, or meeting point of North American and Eurasian plates.

Source: via Glen on Pinterest

Developing a link between this place and the act of public assembly, Latour spatializes objects. Key aspect of this move, involves his reading of the 2003 explosion of NASA’s Columbia Shuttle. Latour argues that when the shuttle explodes it is transformed from an object, a mere “matter of fact” and becomes an assembly of not just parts but complex social processes and highly specialized responsibilities. As the rocket scientist reassembled the bits of the explode craft in a hangar they provide something of a diagram of how things have come together.

Matter of Concern

This transformation from the smooth to tangled or exploded object is linked to Latour’s distinction between “matters of fact” and “matters of concern.”

Each piece of the shuttle is a “matter of concern”—the product or work of vast assemblage of actors, which for Latour includes human and nonhumans. This example provides a way into thinking about how objects become real, or how scientists produce knowledge that results in what we might commonly think of as real things. It is as if, to quote Latour from another context, one of the “smooth objects to which we had been accustomed to up to now, [is] giving way to risky attachments, tangled objects” (Politics of Nature, 23).

For Latour, matters of fact have four essential characteristics: 1/ they have “clear boundaries, a well-defined essence,” 2/ “the researchers, engineers, entrepreneurs, and technicians who conceived and produced these objects and brought them to market become invisible“; 3/ the “‘risk-free object’ brought with it … consequences … always conceived in the form of an impact on a different universe, composed of entities less easy to delimit, and which were designated by vague names such as ‘ social factors,’ ‘political dimensions,’ or ‘irrational aspects”; 4/ when these objects did produce unexpected consequences, sometimes “catastrophic,” these were seen to come from outside and “never had an impact on the initial definition of the object, with its boundaries and its essence” (22-23).

Matters of concern, however, are of an entirely different order: 1/ “they have no clear boundaries, no well-defined essences, no sharp separation between own hard kernel and their environment…. they take on the aspects of tangled beings, forming rhizomes and networks”; 2/ there producers are visible, “they appear in broad daylight, embarrassed, controversial, complicated, implicated, with all their instruments, laboratories, workshops and factories”; 3/ “these quasi objects have no impact, properly speaking,” having instead “numerous connections, tentacles, and pseudopods”; 4/ they are expected to produce unexpected consequences “that properly belong to them, for which they accept responsibility, from which they draw lessons, according to a quite a visible process of apprenticeship” (Latour 24).

III. Erin Moure, urban writing as a matter of concern

This lengthy set up leads me to Erin Mouré writing as a matter of concern. Her unique approach to literary text and context make it difficult to disentangle her writing from other tangled beings. As such, I want to suggest that Mouré’s writing provides a key way into thinking about Canadian literary studies as a matter of concern. It is a complex model of sorts, and one that I might argue helps to re-situate CanLit within a network of associations or concatenations. Her writing take us back to its earliest moments—reworking links that radically challenge the geo-political function of the discipline.

The three texts I propose to look at—Search Procedures, A Frame of the Book, and O’Cidadan—pose the question of writing as an open proposition or problem, without proposing answers, or at least those that can be easily abstracted from the reading process.  This is not to suggest that these textss refuse referentiality—they do of course. Nor do I want to allow them to swing in the breeze of an easy relativism. Instead, I would argue that they propose an ethics of reading that help map a terrain for engagement.

Mouré’s poetic texts are distinct ways of knowing—sets of questions and systematic re-evaluation of the literary object / objective. As each text provides detailed acknowledgments of the people, places, texts (actors: human and non-human) that provide the conditions of composition, they might work somewhat like a map, blueprint or exploded diagram of contemporary urban writing.

Mouré’s trilogy take us across the millenium and through a range of geo-political stops, moving through languages and complex philosophical discourses in a manner that excites and challenges readers. Thus, a central concern in the writing is between the writer/narrator and her reader/s—and her readings.

These through texts and the critical and cultural concerns they raise provide a platform for my ongoing investigation of the limits of literary studies as a contemporary media practice.

Presentation Notes

Mobile Subjects in the Work of Ashok Mathur, Jin-me Yoon, Henry Tsang, and Ali Kazimi

The following images, media links are pointers for a paper I delivered at the 2012 International Council of Canadian Studies conference, at Ottawa U.

Henry Tsang: Orange County

2003-04, video installation with 4 projectors, 4 DVD players. 4 minute loop.

“Orange County was shot in gated communities in Orange County, California, and Orange County, Beijing, where architects and interior designers from Orange County, CA, were hired by a Chinese developer to create an “authentic” American-style gated community near the site of the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. Orange County evokes questions about the confluence of urban design, politics and global capital. What does it mean for the Chinese to earnestly replicate authentic southern California residential architecture when the housing design styles offered are defined as “Spanish,” “Italian,” and “French?” What happens when the American Dream is translated into Chinese?” (project description for artist’s website)

Jin-me Yoon: “The Dreaming Collective Knows No History”:

The dreaming collective knows no history (U.S. Embassy to Japanese Embassy, Seoul)
Single channel HD video, 2008

The dreaming collective knows no history (U.S. Embassy to Japanese Embassy, Seoul) extends my interest in the interrelationship between the built environment of the city, history and the body. The first part of the title makes reference to Walter Benjamin’s suggestion that modernity and the flows of history are phantasmagoric. The second part of the title refers to my performance for the video on the street crawling from the U.S. Embassy to the Japanese Embassy in Seoul. Formally tipping the vertical city of skyscrapers and bipedal humans onto a horizontal plane, I allude to the simultaneously submissive and subversive possibilities of this inversion. Rife with historical and contemporary references and associations, the smooth flows of progress and power as well as the frantic pace of production and consumption are interrupted.” (from

Jin-me Yoon: “As It Is Becoming (Beppu, Japan)”

As It Is Becoming (Beppu, Japan): Kannawa District Single channel HD video, 2008

Ali Kazimi: Continuous Passage

Ashok Mathur: A Little Distillery in Nowgong

The full discussion or paper will appear in print, and is available from me. In the meantime, the following are the key points raised in my attempt to outline what I refer to as “emergent aspects of a description” of a transurban approach to contemporary Vancouver culture.

1/ a concern for and resistance to the urban as a privileged site of national or international political will;

2/ a consequent remapping or re-spatialization of nationalist culture and its spheres of influence beyond the bounds of soil-bound chronotopes,

3/ an interest exploring and representing mobility (movement and motion) instead of the apparent fixities of departure and arrival;

4/ a focus on artists as a mediator  who is situated in the midst of an ongoing process knowledge production/translation—i.e. rather than as the artist as genius interpreter decoding complex “matters of fact.”;

5/ an expanding network of associations (Latour’s human and non-human actors) that opens beyond the bounds of predetermined social categories—imagined communities, political groups, social roles (artist, professor, organizer), cultural identities (gendered, sexed, raced), and disciplinary boundaries or practices.

Five Reasons Why I’m teaching on TV?

1. It remains an incredibly powerful mode of communication accessed by millions, despite tendencies by some of the more erudite cognoscenti to dismiss it as too low brow.

2. Convergence/Distribution: Not only is it easier than ever before to access TV programs for teaching and learning purposes, the opportunity to study TV allows us a key point of focus for understanding the rapid transformation of culture / cultural production: convergence.

3. Good Material: the production values of new television programming rivals those of large budget films. Often the quality of the scripts and acting are better than what you get with block-buster films. The Wire, the Sopranos, Six Feet Under, Sherlock—these are arguably the new novels of the digital age.

4. Hollywood North: Televisual culture is of particular interest here because Vancouver was a hub of North American TV and Film production, and it remains an important node in the network. As a result, TV is one of the few places Vancouverites might see ourselves reflected on the world stage—albeit unnamed or tagged with Oregon plates. (Until we get better and more arts galleries, concert halls, hip bars etc, TV will remain way up there as a form of entertainment in this sleepy provisional outpost.)

5. It’s addictive.

What’s On? Teaching and Learning New TV

This semester at Emily Carr I am teaching two courses “on TV”—one figuratively, one literally.

what’s left from xmas CC, Some rights reserved by atrox_atrox

Social Sciences 300: The New Art of Association

With M. Simon Levin, I’m co-teaching SOCS 300: Network/Connect/Collaborate: The New Art of Association. This course is distributed across sites at Emily Carr and North Island College, and it links students from the external BFA with students at the main campus through High Definition audio-video feeds.

For this pilot course, Simon and I will move back and forth between Comox and Vancouver, working with the students to take the new gear through its paces while we interrogate the televisual platform conceptually and practically.

We’re taking our classes on TV, to see how it works to rethink distance education in an era of distributed learning.

Art History 333: Adventures in New TV

Harry Killas and I are co-teaching AHIS 333: Up on the Wire and Down on Madmen: Adventures in New TV. This is an Interdisciplinary Forums Course based around a collaboration between Emily Carr’s studio faculty and academic faculty, and much of the critical material is provided by guest lecturers, invited critics and makers who will share their expertise/interests in new directions in TV: Zoe Druick, Tom Scholte, Ron Burnett, Peg Campbell, David Paperny, Donald MacPherson, Lisa Coultard have all agreed to participate.

This course hinges on the question of what TV means here and now: in a west coast “Art School” in an age “convergence.” Our course proposal offers a provocation: “If you are not watching TV, what are you looking at?”

QR_U Shareworker Presentation / Image notes

Play Along Culture: “Cathedral,” Rec Room, Home Studio

rec room r.i.p.

Do rumpus rooms even exist anymore? Been awhile since I was hanging suburban basements, but I wonder if the once popular rec room (or rumpus room) has gone the way of the dodo, usurped by the home office or studio and a whole new set of expectation about how and why we recreate.

Frequenting online music sites, as I sometimes do, I notice numerous references to the “home studio”—as in for sale: mint condition Les Paul, only ever used in the “home studio.”  Following the links back to YouTube, there is evidence that new hybrid, prosumer (blended consumption and production) spaces are flourishing. The rec rooms of yesteryear seem to be giving way to these “studios”—spare bedrooms and basement living spaces that are fitted out with all the gear (instruments, amps, mics, mixers, recorders, and cameras wired up to a laptop or PC) needed to play along with your favourite performers, and in so doing, to produce DIY audio-video recordings as you do.

These home office/studio spaces offer haphazard collections of gear and furniture that are reminiscent of older rec rooms; yet, they are designed to function in a categorically different way. These studios are not the spaces of active consumption we grew up with: they do not seem to be well equipped for rowdy TV watching, loud partying, or general rough housing. Instead, these spaces seem to favour relatively passive forms of production: individualized recording rehearsal sessions in which one plays along with a favourite track.

Rock and roll, it seems, has left the garage for the youtube channel.

play along

In this week’s ENGL 100 lecture, I talked about “play along culture.” I lit on the idea as was looking for a way of unpacking Raymond Carver’s “Cathedral,” and thinking about the text in relation a chapter from John Seabrook’s Nobrow: The Culture of Marketing, The Marketing of Culture.

Surfing the web, I was looking for video clips for Thelonius Monk and Glenn Gould, two artists who exemplify a productive approach to the tension between performance and recording. To me, their very different mystiques rest on an uncanny ability to flout the grid, to produce recordings that seem to fly beyond it. In the process, I stumbled across the video of the young man playing bass along with Third World’s “Reggae Ambassador.”

Initially, I was struck by the uncool way this performer uses his t-shirt or pillow case as a buffer between his naked torso and bass. As I listened, however, I was taken by his ability to more or less insert himself into the groove. He’s not bad, I found myself thinking. I started to enjoy the track, almost in spite of myself. The other aspect of the video that struck me was the number of associated videos linked to it. I have seen hours of instructional videos on youtube, and am aware of numerous amateur players uploading videos. Usually, however, these videos mingle with those of the “real performers”—the amateurs’ DIY recordings intermingle with live footage and music videos from the pros. Next to this, this play-along artist’s offering, there was a full stream of amateur bass player sharing their own interpretations, or rather recreations, of famous reggae bass lines.

In the context of thinking about my lecture and Carver and Seabrook texts, the notion of playing along took on new meaning.


Carver’s now canonical  “Cathedral,” the title story of his 1983 collection, offers an exquisite representation of late 20th century life, which culminates in a trenchant critique of the hyper-mediation North American culture. The story revolves around the relationship between an unnamed narrator and a “blind man,” Robert.  Robert is a friend of the narrator’s (also unnamed) wife, and he comes to visit the couple for an evening.

After dinner and copious amounts of alcohol, the narrator and Robert retire to the living room where they watch television and share “some cannabis” (104). The wife joins the two men on the sofa, but soon falls asleep.  When she goes to bed, the men stay up watching TV: “Something about the church and the Middle Ages” (105).

In the silence between voice overs, Robert asks the narrator to describe the documentary and what he sees on screen. It is apparent that the narrator understand little about what he is watching. When asked, he is unable to relate anything more than the information provided in the voice over. He confesses, “I’m not doing so good, am I.” And when Robert encourages him, the narrator relates that “he tried to think of what else to say.’They are really big,’ I said. ‘They’re massive. They’re built of stone. Marble, too, sometimes.'”

The narrator is frustrated that he can’t do much better than this: “‘The Truth is, cathedrals don’t mean anything special to me. Nothing. Catherdrals. They’re something to look at on late-night TV. That’s all they are.'” Robert responds, “I get it, bub. It’s okay. It happens. Don’t worry about it.” And then he asks the narrator to get a heavy piece of paper and a pen and the two work together to draw a cathedral. Getting down onto the carpet the “blind man . . . found my hand, the had with the pen. He closed his had over my hand. ‘Go ahead, bub, draw.”Hand in hand on the carpet the two men work toward a deeper (spiritual?) understanding of their subject matter.

Carver’s narrative ends on a deeply ambivalent note, and yet in so doing, it sets out a paradigm that seems to be increasingly familiar and relevant today. Making the shift from passive consumers to active producers, the narrator and Robert effectively transform the living room. Off the sofa, they play together; sharing the controls, they redraw the catherdral’s sacred seat in the midst of the narrator’s mundane, deeply secular living space.

Deep Ambiguity, Serious Play

Trying to make sense of this play along paradigm and its potentially applicability to Carver “Cathedral,” I came across the work of Kiri Miller, an ethnomusicologist whose research looks at new forms of game play: Guitar Hero and Grand Theft Auto. Miller’s blog playing along and recent Oxford UP publication Playing Along: Digital Games, YouTube, and Virtual Performance trace a link been multi-user games and online music lessons as important forms of embodied learning.

As a gloss on Carver’s wonderfully ironic, erotically charged ending, Miller’s work seems to add an interesting angle on thinking about the transformation of literary studies. If Carver’s narrative encapsulates the demise of literary culture, it does so in a way that foregrounds reading as a physical, material, embodied practice. Superseded by television, and perhaps Robert’s audio books, the printed literary text may have ceased to play a vital roll in the social or personal lives of these characters. Like the cathedral, the printed word has come to take on historical, rather than immediate relevance. And yet, it is as writer and reader that the two men embrace. In the glow of this late night documentary, their awkward connection hangs. Uncertain of the different meanings each character might take from the event, uncertain who will remember what in the morning, Carver’s readers are taken to the un/comfortable edge of voyeurism, to this place between watching and doing.

Seeing their shared pen as a prototypical joy stick (phallic pun intact), I’m tempted to say the story takes us up to the historical beginnings of video gaming. Working together, the efforts of narrator and Robert in someways prefigure the radical transformation of living room or rumpus room into new kind of play space—in which the consumption and production of culture converge.

The trick is to enter this space with a kind of critical openness. To this end, Miller throws herself into her research, playing along with the millions of gamers and performers she seeks to study and learn from. In this way, she finds personal meaning in what might seem on first blush to be fairly lowbrow culture. In  a blog post from her fieldwork as student of the online program, Miller writes that

the total absence of performance anxiety is one major difference between this learning experience and the private piano and voice lessons of my teenage years: after all, I’m alone in my living room. Except that I’m also not alone, because at any moment I can click over to the NextLevelGuitar forum and seek advice and encouragement from other students, or send David a question, or do a YouTube search to see how other guitarists hold the instrument or the pick. And if I want an audience, I can post a video of my playing to the NextLevelGuitar “Audio/Video Showcase”

At the time she posted this blog, Miller tells us that there are “1,894 posts in that section so far, and a wealth of crowd-sourced feedback.” I could get to like this “real guitar” thing.


Mobile Media / Changing Educational Landscapes (An Overview)

As a synopsis of Mobile Media: Changing Educational Landscape (Parts I, II, III), I would like to highlight:

5 Things to Consider in Changing Educational Landscapes

1. Changing (verb transitive)

Changing is both an adjective and a verb. The imperative facing educators is to figure out how we engage with this change in positive, meaningful ways. Within an art and design context, how might we actively transform educational spaces?

2. Outside is In: Multi-sited Teaching and Learning 

Mobile media push the impetus for teaching and learning beyond the confines of a single “brick and mortar” classroom, lecture theatre, studio, or lab. To respond to changing economic realities and social situations, learning spaces need to be conversant with the movements of students (and faculty) across multiple (local, national and international) sites. Consider how our classrooms work withor includes the bus, train, airport lounge, or coffee shop.

3. Learning Cross-Platform:

Moodle, WordPress, Buddypress,, Youtube,tumblr,, wikipedia, to name a few platforms among many others—are instrumental in changing educational landscapes. However, they were not all created equal. Educators need to consider how / why / when we work with different proprietary and non-proprietary (open source) solutions.  Effective eLearning requires a knowledge of multiple platforms (and of the potential strengths / weaknesses of each), often within the auspices of a single course. There are seldom single solutions.

4. Co-Create:

The changing landscape is dramatic and involves many actors. Too often, we approach the situation from the top down, using technology solve simple problems. We need a variety of approaches to complex solutions. While they may not be the mythic Digital Natives we often hear about, students have extremely valuable ideas, insights, and skills that can help radically transform the educational paradigm. We need to follow the lead of Mike Wesch, who uses and student produced video to teach “subjectivities,” rather than “subjects.” Or Jon Beasley Murray who, rather than restricting their use of the internet, had his 300-level literature students produce their written work on wikipedia (link).

5. Go Live: Teaching Out Loud

This is a time of great social change and rather than hiding ourselves away while we try and figure out the answers, as scholars have done historically, educators need to think (blog, podcast, document) their transformational research in public venues. This is not instead of academic publication but part of it. Part of the co-creational approach is sharing our thinking with our collaborators: students, colleagues, community members, the broader public.

This is an overview of my longer, rabbling posts on the subject. For more details and useful links, please read the following:

Mobile Media: Changing Educational Landscapes (Part I)

Mobile Media: Changing Educational Landscapes (Part II)

Mobile Media: Changing Educational Landscapes (Part III)

Mobile Media: Changing Educational Landscapes (Part III)

Part III of three part series on Educational Landscapes (Overview) looks at some of the new strategies I call on in my teaching. Many of these approaches are mediated by recent advances in mobile and social media.

III. Beyond Participation: Engagement

To help focus discussion on active, positive change, I’d like to draw on Eric Gordon’ thinking on engagement (Emerson College faculty page, personal website). Gordon brings the principles of game design to his research in civic engagement. I’m particularly interested in how this work undertakes a shift from participation to engagement. The difference between the two, as Gordon describes it, is that participation can be relatively passive and may not require much thought or action (beyond clicking a mouse, say), whereas engagement require a level of intellectual, emotional, or creative investment, and ideally action over time.

Think about “liking” something on Facebook as basic form of participation, not to say that these types of simple gestures lack important social potential. Liking (or not liking) can depend on snap judgements, blink. Meaningful social events—learning or interaction with an art work, for example—usually require significantly longer forms of engagement. Engagement involves returning to a situation or problem, and is what is need when we want individuals to actively undertake civic duties or other kinds of social actions—for example, helping to clean up a municipal park or to contribute to discussions about educational reform (check out PlanIt).

From his work on using social media to create meaningful social situation, Gordon offers Six Principles of Designing for Engagement.

  1. What is the Reason for Engagement?
  2. Who is Listening?
  3. People Comprise Locations; Locations Don’t Comprise People.
  4. Design for the Community you Want, not the one you know.
  5. Face-to-Face Matters
  6. Design for Distraction

These ideas may be fairly obvious for people who have done community-based learning or art projects, but they are also important in helping us to break away from the habit of depending on technology to solve our problems. Gordon’s work makes use of mobile and social media, but it does so in ways that actively seek meaningful involvement from different groups.

For me the question is how do we creating engaging teaching and learning situations, whether we are in a university, a gallery, or studio. To this end, I have begun to seek teaching and learning opportunities that build on the following:

The Multi-sited Classroom: students carry on their learn across a number of sites and are often in motion between these sites. As educators we need to provide them with better opportunities to get the most of their situation. For me this, involves thinking of the classroom extending beyond a single place, or set time. The classroom—or better space of learning—can more effectively engagement if it is approached as a series of opportunities to connect with course materials and to participate in an extend conversation around and through these materials. Think of the lecture hall or studio expanding to include the bus, the ipod, the library, the coffee shop, the job site. This is not to say that we can replace our studios, lecture halls, classrooms with ipod or mobile phones, only that these and other devices, practices, software allow us to make better use of students time and energies between scheduled classes.

Help students find affinities: Mimi Ito’s research with digital youth culture suggests that there are key differences among youth when it comes to connecting online. She suggests that

Facebook = Friends you had in Highschool

tumblr = Friends you wished you’d had

The students who have figured out how to thrive and to develop useful professional skills are those who search affinities and affinity groups. How do we do this in the classroom? How can I learn to work with or activate various social groups networks in the classroom.

Understand when and where students listen: in lecture the students may be asleep, but there are other times and places they are fully awake. How do we/I bridge this gap? Putting more course materials into mobile formats helps with this. I am consciously building a mobile media archive.

Informal Learning Matters: Seek out opportunities for students to draw on their prior knowledge and social engagements. Without diluting course materials or outcomes, it is possible to build assignments that encourage students to connect their “outside” interests with the core material. This is particularly useful in process-based or skills-based courses and assignments.

Learning is Co-creative: Mike Wesch’s work with his media students at Kansas State is inspirational here. Wesch talks about teaching “subjectivities” rather than subjects and creates courses in which his student participate in the creation of content: for example, youtube videos about social media. I’m also inspired by Jon Beasley Murray’s use of wikipedia to activate a 300-level Spanish Lit course “Murder, Madness, and Mayhem,” in which he had his student write their assignments in wikipedia and made there grades contingent on the level of uptake their writing received. There are plenty of opportunities to use new and social media to work with students, rather than simply trying to teach to them.

Go Live: Historically, academic thinking has happened in highly protected, exclusive spaces and has circulated across specialized groups. This is type of professional practice is import; however, the affordances of digital and social media mean that a lot of our work can be shared. Linking online discussions and research to teaching and learning situations allow students to understand where we our coming from and may in some instance find useful affinities with our interests. While I understand the history and importance of Academic Freedom and the crucial role universities play, I don’t think that it becomes us to obfuscate intentional. Sharing twitter feeds and delicious links are relatively easy steps toward maintaining a level of transparency and accountability. This blog and its various feeds are vital aspect of my research, teaching, and learning.

Part I: Mobile Media Changing Educational Landscapes

Part II: Mobile Media Changing Educational Landscapes

Mobile Media: Changing Educational Landscapes (Part II)

This is a continuation of a discussion presented in Mobile Media: Changing Educational Landscapes (Overview and Part I). For a synopsis, see this overview.

Myth of the Digital Native: put it to rest

Before I discuss mobile affordances, I thought I’d touch on the idea of the digital native. This is a topic others have discussed, but I think it is crucial to how we approach the problem of changing landscapes.

This term is troubling–culturally, ethnographically, and pragmatically. While our students may have grown up using computers, many lack sophistication, few are capable of critical self-reflection. They need opportunities to think through complex issues of identity formation, knowledge creation/validation. and network building.

The idea of the Digital Native is often based on a misappropriation of Marc Prensky’s 2001 argument about the divide between “Digital Native, Digital Immigrant” (pdf). The reification of the Digital Native not only risks dubious essentialisms around questions of demographics and language acquisition by asserting an analogy between those born before the 1960s and second language learners from immigrant families—Prensky suggests both share an “accent” of sorts. It also avoids difficult questions about the social differences that mark digital culture across age, gender, race, and class distinctions.

Experts are beginning to come to terms with the magnitude of cultural changes created by a shift in communications technologies. 10, 20 200, 500 years(?) How long until we understand the scope of the social impact of these new technologies. After all, we’re still grappling with effect of the printing press.

The study of digital culture and mobile media studies are growing and contested fields of research. Careful consideration of their importance to teaching and teaching is beyond this scope of these posts, even though they do influence my thinking. My main concern with is that we need to understand the disparate, often contradictory skill sets students bring to bear on post-secondary education.

On a pragmatic level, as Prensky (along with a host of others) suggests, we need to aware of the shifting cultural space of education and the dramatic impact of new media on the classroom. This a point Cathy Davidson makes clearly in her discussions on rethinking education beyond the confines of industrial learning.


My concern is that too often we make assumption about the students abilities and facilities and in so doing, fail to carefully consider the deeper pedagogical implications of teaching in this networked and mediated age. To wit, I like to recommend to students that they check out the digital tattoo, a website/tool set up at UBC to help students understand their digital identity and to protect themselves.

It is incumbent on educators, artists, curators, and other cultural theorists to be vigilant to the actors and networks changing around us. I invoke Bruno Latour’s ANT (actor-network theory) (reference), because it helps me to think about the landscape of education in a very broad sense and to new configurations of  human and non-human actors and the myriad links between us.

The increasing diversity of students can not be thought of or approached separately from the proliferation of hardware and software that is reshaping our teaching and learning environment, our lives. The laptop, cellphone, ipad, digital projector, ipod, as well as moodle,, wordpress, buddypress,,, need to thoughtfully and carefully understood in terms of a web of intricate association.

II Looking for Affordances

To move this discussion back into the realm of the practical and pragmatic, I’d like discuss Mobility Shifts, a recent conference at the New School in New York. This conference brought together digital educators and innovators to discuss mobile media and open access to education. The organizers said, the conference was motivated by a crisis in the US system of post-secondary education (higher tuition costs, escalating student debt, and a struggle for universities to remain relevant).

To highlight the main ideas, I would like to quote from John Belshaw’s blog post:

5 key trends for the future of education

  1. Openness – This has been going on for a while, but there’s a real drive towards open access for academic research in particular.There is a feeling that education and public services should be open and transparent.
  2. Greater insight into the knowledge creation process – This is similar to openness but pertains to the creation of articles, books and other material. It’s not just the output that should be shared, but the context of how it was put together.
  3. Mobile learning. – The big movement at the moment outside the conference is BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) but the focus at Mobility Shifts was upon mobile for ubiquitous learning. It’s not so much about the mobility of the device but the multiple ways in which the learner is mobile.
  4. Alternative forms of assessment – This is a big one with Mozilla’s Open Badges leading the way. Because assessment often drives the structure of learning, this is key.
  5. Rethinking the classroom environment – This goes hand-in-hand with the curricula redesign necessitated by alternative forms of assessment. How should we build new (or reorganise existing) classrooms?

Without going into a play-by-play of the different conversations presented at Mobility Shifts, I’d like to point to a number of people / projects helping in thinking about making positive changes to the landscapes of education.

This is not an exhaustive list, but it suggests a few interesting and, for me, watershed projects.

Trebor Scholz: Mobility Shifts organizer,, and editor of Learning Through Digital Media: Experiments in Technology and Pedagogy (online)

Shin Mizukoshi: Mobile Media theorist and specialist at the Univ of Tokyo (Hastac link)

John Willinsky: Standford Professor (link) and advocate for open source academic publishing, involved with the Public Knowledge Project.

Bob Stein and the future of the book are radically transforming the way we think about and experience books.

Mimi Ito: Cultural Anthropologist and author of Hanging Out, Messing Around, and Geeking Out: Kids Living and Learning with New Media (pdf). Ito’s work helps us to understand the diverse experience shaping young peoples use of social media.

Mike Wesch: Prof of Anthropology at Kansas State University (see digital ethnography). Wesch is well known for his youtube channel and ground breaking (co-creative) work with students.

Cathy Davidson: Duke English Prof, author, geek, educational mover and shaker (fast company article). Check out. Now You See It: How the Brain Science of Attention Will Transform the Way We Live, Work, and Learn (Viking Press June 2011 publication date). 2010. [web]

Matthew Gold: One of the creatives of the CUNY Commons, a buddy press built multiuser blog the multiple campuses of the City University of New York.

Geert Lovink: digital editor, publisher, activist (see Institute of Network Cultures). Lovink’s understanding of the need to support writers on the level of content while respecting the human/emotional side of academic publishing is important.

Eric Gordon: Professor of Media Studies at Emerson and Director of Engagement Game Lab. Gordon’s approach to engagement vs. participation is extremely useful and will be more fully discussed in Part III of this series.

Closer to Home, I should also mention

Brian Lamb (blog) and BCCampus. Both have had an important influence on eLearning in BC and on my own teaching and learning directly.

Part I: Mobile Media Changing Educational Landscapes

Part III: Mobile Media Changing Educational Landscapes 

Mobile Media: Changing Educational Landscapes (Part I)

This three-part series (Overview) looks at the impact of mobile media and social media on post-secondary teaching and learning.

Joy James invited me to the UWO to talk about my research at Emily Carr University of Art + Design, and my discussion draws heavily, a conference I recently attended at the New School in Oct. 2011.

  1. Part I looks at my thoughts changing landscapes of education.
  2. Part II discusses mobile media affordances—key projects, people.
  3. Part III focuses on engagement and the potential for reshaping our teaching and learning.


A modal thing: When Joy James invited me to present, we talked about focus and possible titles. She suggested Changing Educational Landscapes, and I really liked the modality of “changing.” I liked changing as adjective and verb. In the context of mobile media—or media mobilities—I like the imperative mood, the command to change educational landscapes.

I also like that the various senses of these changes—adjective and verb—require collaborations that bring together educators, artists, curators, community organizers , and other professional communicators.

Background / Experiment:

This talk comes out of a pedagogical experiment Joy and I began at Emily Carr two and a half years ago. We were interested in trying to activate a “back channel” in an English 101 lecture and wanted to complement Moodle (Course Management Software) by adding a social media channel.

Deqq is a proprietary application developed by Vancouver-based digital agency Work at Play for the entertainment industry. Joy and I understood Moodle to be an integral part of our course delivery, and we reasoned that this extra open channel might allow students to offer a different form of feedback.

Deqq, which allows students to log on using twitter and Facebook, is based on channeling discussions from social networks back to a central site; we wanted to use it to facilitate a sharing (microblogging) of ideas and media in and between lectures, more or less on the fly. The experience of tweeting a youtube link, spontaneous thought, or request for clarification of terminology is very different from posting to a closed Moodle forum. Joy and I strongly believed that the Deqq channel would shift the lecture dynamic in positive ways.

Our pedagogical intervention failed. Students liked Moodle, but that they didn’t want or need another social media platform. We had a few positive adapters; however, the majority of the ENGL 100 students were either vociferously opposed to being “guinea pigs” (their term) or entirely non-plussed.

As research, as a scientific experiment, our project did work. It worked very well to demonstrated key limitations in our own thinking about student needs. It taught us valuable lessons about how or how not to build student involvement.

Without going to far into this research project, I might say that the problem was one of execution: our hearts/minds were in the right place, but we weren’t prepared or didn’t understand how to engage with the students. Nor did the students understand the change in relation to the expectations they brought to the course, particularly about the nature and space of a university lecture.

My UWO presentation represents a continuation of this research. It set in motion a larger, vital dialogue around the problems of more fully engaging students in shifting the educational paradigm. How we can work together—students and teachers—to create new spaces of teaching and learning that reflect the world/s we live in.

(If you want to read about this experiment in a larger context of social media in the university classroom, Pieta Wolley’s Georgia Straight Article might be helpful. It draws heavily on an interview I did with her).

I. Landscape

A teaching studio without walls: the ideal spaces presented to us are increasingly hybrid spaces of old and new technology—formal and/or informal teaching studios with lots of shiny tech and moveable walls. La gaîté lyrique in Paris is my favourite examples of this—based on images and ideas presented by its Managing and Artistic Director, Jérôme Delormas.


These idealized media spaces have the potential to dramatically reshape our teaching and learning environments. There is little doubt they are changing our imaginary landscapes. The Media Lab at MIT, the Critical Media Lab at Waterloo, Simon Fraser University’s School of Interactive Art and Technology, Emily Carr Intersections Digital Studios, Western’s ArtLab—all impact our understanding of what is possible in terms of a new office/classroom/studio space.

Nevertheless, as much as I like the idea of la Gaîté lyrique, I understand that my attraction to it is tied to a hybrid, digitized brick and mortar fetish. The multipurpose teaching, learning, exhibition, screening, dance environment and media library, as exciting as the possibilities it presents are, runs the risk of becoming a quaint aspiration in the not-so-distant future.  Without long-term support, funding for people as well as spaces and machines, and a well-developed sense of programming or research potentials, there is a danger that these spaces will stagnate—remaining fixed within a particular, outmoded sense of utopia.

mobile media change landscapes

The great potential of mobile media has less to do with things and buildings (though these are both important) and much more to do with a cultural shift. The real question is not how are we going to construct new buildings—new classrooms, new lecture theatres, new galleries, new university. Instead we need to ask how we are going to adapt our expectations and practices to embrace  multi-sited learning.

What can we do here and now, with relatively little spending to engage the student on a bus—in the coffee shop, or between shifts at Starbucks or the Keg.

The social and economic reality facing most post-secondary students, particularly in an art school, is that they do not have a lot of down time. For better and worse, they are “jacked in” to the net. If we expect to compete with the barrage of tweets, txts, status updates—forget about email, its irrelevant research tells us—in any sort of meaningful way we need to change the way we think about teaching and learning.

Part II: Mobile Media Changing Educational Landscapes

Part III: Mobile Media Changing Educational Landscapes