16 March 2016

Artistic Thinking

A few months ago I attended a new media arts forum at RMIT. This triggered ideas in me to explore art thinking as a framework for educational development. Last week I flew up to Brisbane to meet the Ars Electronic people who are partnering with Queensland University of Technology on a range of projects.

I met Gerfried Stocker the Artistic Director to Ars Electronica. He was in Brisbane to give a presentation to Queensland University of Technology executives about artistic perspectives and approaches in science and innovation.

Gerfried makes the case that artists can help ensure more humanistic determinants on technology, to help counter technological determinism and its unintended consequences. Gerfried was in Brisbane to support their Future Lab's exhibition Shared Space Bots at the World Science Festival, as well as the growing relations Ars Electronica is forming with QUT.

The Shared Space Bots exhibition was a performative presentation delivered by the Future Lab's Director of Research and Engineering, Christopher Lindinger, who's team has been working with Mercedes Benz and their Driverless Car Project.

Mercedes Benz commissioned AE's Future Lab to explore different cultural responses to the ideas and questions of the Driverless Car project. Specifically, 'how are humans going to communicate with the self driving car of tomorrow?'

At the exhibition opening was Lubi Thomas, a digital and new media arts curator who has been working with AEs Peter Holzkorn and QUT's Jared Donovan from the Creative Industries Faculty to develop educational programs about artistic approaches to innovation. Our conversations centered around art thinking, and I'm looking forward to recording these conversations, as I did recently with Kris Minski - also working at the Future Lab.

The conversation turned to how expensive it was to facilitate physical educational arrangements between Australia and Europe. We discussed whether more emphasis on the online interaction would be viable. Initially, the discussion agreed that face to face interaction was critical for the beginning and end of the program, but we challenged that presumption a little longer. We considered how many people we each knew who had met and married someone that they had met and got to know online. With that in mind, could we conceive of such online connectivity in an educational arrangement? And if it was a stretch, why was it.

As an aside, I met a fascinating fella named Nathan Hayes earlier in the day, who threw out a verbal manifesto at the Shared Space Bots performance earlier that afternoon. Nathan had this remarkably optimistic outlook for the future, but not a futurist I had experienced before. His main website is http://alphainfinityfoundation.com/ its stimulating reading. I rate his work as a type of artistic imagining, and it would be very interesting to apply his conversational priorities into a technological project. On Nathan's site he embedded this Shots of Awe video: Hacking the Flow State. Its a video talking about that mental zone we sometimes feel ourselves in, where barriers dissolve and synchronicity seems to take hold in an effortless flow of action... art thinking.

Back to the dinner conversation and the challenges around online learning, we discussed each of our experiences in networked learning, observing that our most notable experiences were informal and not within a university experience. We decided that we have not yet seen a good example of online educational experiences from the university sector. Furthermore, we discussed the apparent blindspot universities generally have toward significant knowledge creation projects like Wikipedia, and other similar work that follows over arching principles of open source governance, research and development. I mentioned my open research project, Defining Networked Learning

The discussion seemed to be of interest to the group, and I like to think it was an example of art thinking on a micro scale. Counter ideas, alternative perspectives, being pushed into a conversation space to see what might emerge. It risks offending people, particularly in cross cultural discourse, so such efforts probably need to be overt, if maintaining collaborative relations is important.

I've started compiling a video playlist for Art Thinking, and for now, will attach the longer discussions I record with people to that playlist.

02 February 2016

Walking the plank of platforms - into a sea of learning

We've been looking at Kannu - a relatively new addition to the new wave in the crowded space of learning management systems (although we're noticing some are leaving). It's strange that new comers are still trying to come into this market, dominated by a few providers servicing frigid contracts for a mostly illiterate user base.  Perhaps Kannu knows what everyone knows - that no-one is satisfied with the current crop of LMS, or the quality of service from the suppliers, or with the conditions in which we are obliged to use them.

No LMS is inevitable

But they may not have considered the idea that no-one is satisfied because the very concept of a learning management system is flawed. That it is possible, indeed natural, to imagine and conduct education without an LMS. #bringyourownaccount is a key word concept we're trying to grow here in RMIT, which is linked to #adomainofonesown and #studentasproducer. Applying these ideas to an LMS design creates something very different.

The LMS is really a flawed concept, it has been this way for me for a very long time. The title is more than an oxymoron - the idea that people manage their learning all in the same location, formats, folder structures, using the same types of 'pens and paper' (browsers and devices), within the same platform, behind lock and key, with a brand new useless email address to boot, according to an instructional design, all of which is switched off when all is said and done... well, it doesn't make any sense.

Many people working in the space of digital and online education in the early 2000s were terribly frustrated by the encroachments the LMS was making on people's practice, and with the associated paradoxical ideas of reusable learning object theories and related content standards. This discontent only became compounded when the socially connected Internet started to rise in 2004. (It's interesting to observe that same frustration at a larger scale today, as many more people have come online and who's experiences and expectations have been shaped by a corporately controlled, socially connected Internet.

The Internet is the Platform

In 2004 D'Arcy Norman and his network put up a concept called Small Pieces Loosely Joined. I don't recall them acknowledging it at the time, but it was certainly channeling David Weinberger's earlier 2002 book of the same name. This long predicted socially connected web was perfectly encapsulated by the Cluetrain Manifesto of 1996, and the mind boggled with what was coming when Sloan put out the Evolving Personal Information Construct (EPIC2014) in 2005.

Small pieces loosely joined - a connected online learning experience where the whole Internet was the platform, was looking like becoming a solid argument and a broad trend that would dislodge the LMS from its institutional stranglehold.

I would love to go back to 2004, and be in that room in Vancouver when Alan, Brian and D'Arcy did their thing:
The plan is to take the folks in Vancouver, and split them into 3 groups. We'll assign each group to a role. They'll become either "Centralists ( bent on global domination with the One True Application ), "Decentralists (complete anarchists, with bits and pieces scattered across and off the 'net), or the more conservative "Fence Sitters (who will try whatever works, but aren't religious about it).

Web - ism

In the years that followed, not a small network had gathered around these general Webist ideas. Some of the crew went Edupunk, buoyed by the success of the original MOOCs. Stephen Downes did, and still does, a wonderful job leading and representing many of the ideas in the network, and drawing new voices out of the Long Tail. George Siemens even published a learning theory to represent the thinking, Connectivism. Yochai Benkler wrote Wealth of Networks. Wikipedia went from strength to strength, and it seemed as if everything might be crowd sourced. I new paradigm open network was upon us and everything was going to be disrupted.

But then a Nothing began to take over...

Facebook, Twitter and Google interrupted the open connectivity of the web by obscuring and all but killing off the glue that bound the connections in these early days (RSS, embed code and widgets). Xenophobic instincts took over and openness began to close off before it had a chance of being realised.

Andrew Keane popped up in 2007 with The Cult of the Amateur and was a formidable force of skepticism on the web2 hoo ha. I destroyed the sense of connectedness I had with my own network by publishing some confrontational posts with ambiguous meaning relating to cult of personality. Adam Curtis added his long view analysis with All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace. Sherry Turkle wrote Alone Together, and MOOCs got the big corporate white wash of 2011 where openness lost all meaning. A dark cloud seemed to loom over the idea of open and networked learning. Those with their heads in the LMS sand could be forgiven for not knowing a thing about it!

The open web seemed lost...

We didn't do enough

What seems to have come out of this folding is a realisation that, while a corporate neoliberal element in education has persisted and maybe even renewed its poor vision for education, and we may lament the loss of the potential of the Internet and any relevance we thought Webism had to the education agenda, we ourselves did not do our work thoroughly enough to ensure impact. The deep problems that Illich highlighted in the 70s with Deschooling Society and Tools for Conviviality were VERY relevant to our Webist ideas, but we didn't confront them. Mike NearyJoss Winn and Richard Hall attempted to connect and offer their Marxist academic analysis to at least one of our network gatherings but I barely see a reference to their work by the A-listers. We didn't edit the Wikipedia pages, or publish content that Wikipedia editors could cite. Had we considered these and more properly, we would have realised the inevitable future for our revolution. History repeated its acidic taste.


But don't mistake me for being defeated. The point I'm trying to make is that it doesn't have to be this way and I think things like Kannu are a sign that the fundamental problem of the LMS is gradually being realised. Its an opportunity to restate the noLMS position and to attempt once again to re-calibrate the terms of reference for the discussion.

Kannu offers a customisation for creative arts education. It's a realisation that one platform doesn't fit across all of an institution. The next realisation perhaps is that one platform doesn't fit across one program, let alone one Faculty, or across a diversity of teachers and learners. Real learning environments are simple, loose pieces that are all around us, and quickly adaptable. Anything that is not that or heavily designed, is doomed to frustrate more than enable people trying to learn a thing or two. It may well be that educational institutions will never accommodate this wisdom. As Illich said way back in 1971:

"Universal education through schooling is not feasible. It would be no more feasible if it were attempted by means of alternative institutions built on the style of present schools. Neither new attitudes of teachers toward their pupils nor the proliferation of educational hardware or software (in classroom or bedroom), nor finally the attempt to expand the pedagogue's responsibility until it engulfs his pupils' lifetimes will deliver universal education. The current search for new educational funnels must be reversed into the search for their institutional inverse: educational webs which heighten the opportunity for each one to transform each moment of his living into one of learning, sharing, and caring. We hope to contribute concepts needed by those who conduct such counterfoil research on education – and also to those who seek alternatives to other established service industries."

How we might follow that principle was articulated soon after in 1976 with A Pattern Language, listing a "Network of Learning" as its 18th pattern:

"...work in piecemeal ways to decentralize the process of learning and enrich it through contact with many places and people all over the city: workshops, teachers at home or walking through the city, professionals willing to take on the young as helpers, older children teaching younger children, museums, youth groups travelling, scholarly seminars, industrial workshops, old people, and so on. Conceive of all these situations as forming the backbone of the learning process; survey all these situations, describe them, and publish them as the city's "curriculum"; then let students, children, their families and neighborhoods weave together for themselves the situations that comprise their "school" paying as they go with standard vouchers, raised by community tax. Build new educational facilities in a way which extends and enriches this network."


We can let that LMS world go and let something like what Illich wrote be a guiding principle for what takes its place. We could start by looking at the Student Management System (and other core systems) for ways to meet more of the governmental requirements and obligations that we've let the LMS stand in poorly for. We could instigate a Bring Your Own Device, Bring Your Own Account, A Domain of One's OwnStudent as Producer, maybe even a Cities of Learning approach to education - carefully checking in with Illich's principle to approximate the 18th Pattern of a Network of Learning. We might then focus resources on a network of simple venues, cafes, rooms, a strong stable Internet connection for them all with a maximum distributed bandwidth, community hotspots, mesh networks, discounted 3 and 4G, a position on questions about data and power and the many other issues about the Internet that our community needs us to no longer ignore. Establish more appropriate policies around Intellectual Property. You get the idea - I'm ready for discussion around the practicalities.

20 January 2016

The hateful professionals and the great unwashed

I was watching TV the other night. Rare thing - as I value my mental well being. I noticed an ad for "Elite Singles" a dating site that I assume somehow filters out low class people so as to give some sort of class assurance to the database.

A disturbing development along side the growth of other class based services and demand. First class and business class travel is something I particularly loath.

I started wondering where this is all heading, whether or not by design. The tendency of our culture to view others through the lense of the great unwashed. And for many of those in the great unwashed to sometimes behave in the most basic of ways. Aussie bogans come to mind, as do the tasteless "new money" people found throughout suburban Australia, and behind the handlebar of every jetski on the water.

The "great democratic leveling" that was so promising about the Internet and particularly social media, has taken a turn for the worse. About the same time as the hateful and disparaging professional class finally came online, bringing their institutions, dogmatic establishment, stereotyped cultural narratives and disproportionate access to resources.

There was a time when those disabling professionals chose to ignore the Internet and social media, and in that time we had a chance at a cultural awakening that I would've called Webism. Pity, because the hateful professions have gain direct access to the data of the great unwashed, and will all too easily use it to reinforce their pre - existing notions and destroy the hope for that awakening. At the same time the social mobility that used to give members of the unwashed an opportunity to infiltrate and re orientate the professional and cultural disablers, have closed up.

Extreme division on access, privilege and class is our future, for many generations to come.

10 December 2015

COURT Re: payment notices. Was: New summons? Was: payment invoices. Was: Court hearing date?

I've been winning my court hearings over unpaid road tolls that have escalated into the thousands of dollars. 

My explanation is being accepted at each hearing:

I bought a car and the transfer of registration had my correct address on it. Vicroads did not update their records for my address, so I did not receive the toll way invoices throughout that year of registration. 

However, the saga to work all this out has been epic, and continues. While the court hearings are pretty straight forward, the administration around them is a nightmare! Incomprehensible, inconsistent and full of errors. If you don't keep on top of it and study each and every aspect, you easily come a cropper. 

Just a quick review of the timeline so far:

  1. March 2015: When I discover there might be a problem looming
  2. April 2015: I confirm there is a very big problem looming
  3. Starting to understand the extent of the problem
  4. Attempting to make the problem manageable
  5. Realising there very little I can do to make the problem manageable
  6. 30 August 2015: Dandenong Court hearing, explanation accepted, case dismissed.Ordered to pay original fees but not the escalated fines. Payment by monthly instalments is arranged
  7. 27 October 2015: Receive summons to Melbourne Court for another tollway, but this one in the Melbourne area. Email correspondence does not accept my attempts to have it reconsidered in light of the Dandenong hearing
  8. 7 December 2015: Melbourne Court hearing, explanation accepted, case dismissed. Ordered to pay $40 costs only! But not the original toll. Court administration of this hearing was very poor, see below. 
  9. 10 December 2015: Receive 2 payment notices in the mail. One relating to the Melbourne hearing on the 7 December, the other relating to an apparent hearing at Melbourne on 2 December that I knew nothing about!

Below is my latest email to the "customer assistance" of the Magistrates' Court of Victoria. [Don't you just love the corporate speak weaselling its way into every corner of the public service?]

Hello Customer Assistance,

This email has two parts and requires senior and experienced oversight:

  1. An account of my experience of very poor administration of a recent hearing.
  2. Clarification on payment notices, a probable error by the Court, possibly stemming from the poor administration.
  1. Poor administration
    1. I recently attended Melbourne Magistrates Court on the 7 December 2015, obeying a Summons received by mail on 27 October. 
    2. Please refer to past email correspondence where I sought clarification on this summons and was effectively advised to wait for further instructions
    3. When I presented my summons to the reception of the Melbourne Magistrates Court, the receptionist was not able to locate a corresponding briefing for a court hearing. She sent me to level 2 to clarify the matter
    4. The receptionist on Level 2 apparently corrected the Court's records and sent me to Court Room 17
    5. The Clerk in Courtroom 17 did not have my briefing. She sent me to Level 3 to check with the Prosecutors.
    6. A sergeant at Prosecution found my briefing and escorted me back to Courtroom 17 and assisted the Clerk and the Prosecutor in that court to locate my brief
    7. I sat in that court from 930 to 1230, my case apparently being the last heard this morning
    8. The magistrate accepted my explanation, being the same explanation I gave to the Dandenong Magistrates Court some months earlier for the same series of charges. The case was dismissed and I was instructed to pay an administration fee only.

  1. Payment notices
    1. Since the recent hearing on the 7 December, I have received 2 separate payment notices, on two different letterheads, for apparently 2 different hearings at Melbourne Court
      1. A white sheet with no insignias, but for a title "PAYMENT NOTICE". Referring to Case Number F14023394 and a date of hearing being 7 December 2015. Amount due: Costs of $40
      2. A blue sheet with Magistrates' Court Victoria, a title "STATEMENT OF FINES AND PENALTIES IMPOSED". Referring to a case number F13811262 and a date of hearing being 2 December 2015. Amount due: Total fines $20 + Costs of $40 = $60 total
    2. I did not receive a summons for a hearing on 2 December 2015, and I did not attend a hearing on that date either. What is this about?
In light of the extremely confusing process of having to deal with a grouping of same matters (unpaid toll-ways) across 2 separate courts; the poor administration at Melbourne Court that has frustrated my dealings with these matters; and the unexpected payment notice referring to a mysterious hearing on 2 December, I am most concerned that I will not see the end of these matters (all related to each other, explained and accepted to each magistrate that hears them) This is costing me a significant amount of time and inconvenience.

I request that you escalate my matter to the most senior and experienced administrator possible, to bring the Dandeong records together with the Melbourne records, and ensure that my cases are dealt with properly and reasonably. I would like to advise that my level of frustration on ALL aspects of these matters, starting with VicRoads and resulting in these cases that are being dismissed by the Magistrate, is now very high. A believe the bureaucratic handling here to be unreasonable and unjust. I am taking the time to write out these matters in this way in preparation for any possible further action on my part.
I hope you are able to help resolve these issues as thoroughly and quickly as possible.

Leigh Blackall 

05 December 2015

"How Not to Be Seen: A F**king Didactic Educational .MOV File"

The Eventbright page for the event, and the only web presence for it, so far,

I attended an open forum at RMIT called Contemporary Art and the Mediasphere. It was a thoroughly interesting day full of presentations and some discussion. I was disappointed that the event didn't have a website, hashtag for similar forum for ongoing discussions, a list of the speakers or their summaries. For me, an outsider to their world, I really felt like I needed this, as I madly Googled all the interesting things that were being mentioned and discussed. An audio recording of the day was made, I guess for archival purposes, but I don't know where it will go.

I went along because I am curious about art, and I was hoping to find new ideas, possible methods and connections for work in education. Similar to when I found ideas around situated art and situated learning back in 2011

Soda Jerk's Carousal is a performance art presentation about time, nostalgia and death

The prevailing topic being discussed this day seemed to be, what is "new media art" today? There was a dissatisfaction with the apparent need to fit the forms into the gallery or museum frame, and discussion revolved around all the compromises and losses in that transference. There was the provocation that "new media art" was not engaging with its "natural" space - the Internet, and the set up for this forum seemed to demonstrate that entirely. 

It seemed to me that the problems being discussed at this forum were primarily around categorisation, and the creation of conceptual frameworks that make audience and reception possible. There was an anxiety about the political, institutional and corporate establishments, removing what little audience had been developed, and limiting the prospects of it growing any further. This tone was set by an early presenter looking at the statements of the current Federal Minister for the Arts and his withdrawal of key sources of income from the Australia Council for the arts. 

George Brandis quoted in The Australian 2014.
Not hard to connect this statement up with fascist sentiment toward art historically.
Included with this concern was some discussion of the corporate ideology that is relentlessly sweeping the university sector - institutions that play a significant role in nurturing, harbouring and propelling contemporary art practice and audience in Australia. 

While I agree it is disappointing that the Minister and the Council are shunning expressions of contemporary art and that academic capitalism is eroding the grounds on which contemporary art as a discipline may currently stand, what is more disappointing to me is that contemporary artists struggle to categorise their work at all, and allow themselves to become reliant on an audience and infrastructure that is shaped by government and institutional dogmas. It is obvious to me that art, real art, exists nowhere near these venues.

What if we reconsider art as object. What if we recount the idea that art is not a thing, a profession, a category or location. What if we held it to be entirely a frame of mind? Aesthetic, theoretical, critical, philosophical, divergent. As a mental state, it potentially exists everywhere. It can be taken into any situation, projected onto anything? Yes it's a 100 year old idea, credited to Duchamp, but readymades are still a fixation on an object or material thing. 

With artistic thinking, anything and everything is potentially art. New media art, contemporary art, art objects or even categories of art become insignificant as art becomes metaphysical. 

If an object, situation or event is created or considered with artistic intent, over time it's moment of relevance or significance changes. It may simply become an historic object with perhaps little or no artistic resonance to the now. It may re-emerge with an entirely new artistic meaning, as does happen. What is consistently present is art thinking.

A definition I can't really fault, from Understanding Comics

It's akin, or even made up of other types of thinking, used at different levels in different situations and contexts. Design thinking, musical thinking, business thinking, strategic thinking, critical thinking and so on. Artistic thinking is valuable in many different settings and is across all other ways of thinking, as each other is across all others. Most obviously artistic thinking is prime in "the art world" - that being the institutions and gatherings that concentrate on artistic thinking above others. But it can be less obviously found in the corporate world, educational world, family life, politics, and other possible categories of being. 

Someone who has been afforded some time and support to develop an artistic appreciation of the world, can use this frame of mind in any number of settings. Their ability to think artistically may help generate ideas, innovation, solve problems, uncover problems, communicate, create value, think otherwise or to challenge preconceived notions, be different or make apparent things that are difficult to recognise. They may even find a way to exist as an artist in their own right.

This way of understanding and approaching art - as a way of thinking, seems resilient to me. Resilient to the problems and issues discussed in the forum, resilient to the fickle government funding, relentless corporatism, and dogmatic institutions. Once developed, artistic thinking survives unemployment, family life, retirement and any other situation in life that presently confounds the professional artist. It can now exist and be valued in all aspects of life and circumstances. Art becomes necessary to everything.

Below are some of the browser tabs I had open by the end of the day, with notes to try and stitch them together in some sort of semi coherence. 

Ian Haig organised the forum

Technologism - A physical exhibition, but with no online presence or experience beyond a mention! Strnagely, it has a catalogue - that can't be accessed other than by attending the gallery.

In Haunted Media Jeffrey Sconce examines American culture's persistent association of new electronic media—from the invention of the telegraph to the introduction of television and computers—with paranormal or spiritual phenomena. By offering a historical analysis of the relation between communication technologies, discourses of modernity, and metaphysical preoccupations, Sconce demonstrates how accounts of “electronic presence” have gradually changed over the decades from a fascination with the boundaries of space and time to a more generalized anxiety over the seeming sovereignty of technology.

Bruce Nauman (born December 6, 1941) is an American artist. His practice spans a broad range of media including sculpture, photography, neon, video, drawing, printmaking, and performance. Nauman lives near Galisteo, New Mexico.

Sorry to see Tim Burns not getting a mention.
This veteran was alive and well and very much engaged when I bumped into him at a Sydney uni conference on national security of all things! He was dressed in camo and really sticking it to the cops in the room.

I met Ceri Hann, a conceptually wide and deeply thoughtful artist and teacher working at RMIT. He and I hit it off with all sorts of talk about "conspiracy", power, hegemony, the role of artist and art education in an unequal singularity, and where the new aesthetic might lead us. Ceri recommended an over whelming number of sources, HEXEN 2.0 drawings for a start. He pursues some of his ideas through the Public Assembly projects.

Tara Elizabeth Cook graced the stage with the ominous yet impressive presence that I imagine Ayn Rand may have had in the mid 20 century. Tara offered a manifesto of sorts, a rapidly read and extremely dense speech called The New New Media, and referencing the phrase New Aesthetic. I was very attracted to her proposition, forward thinking and adventuresome, destructive yet nurturing. Of course, it didn't take long for the older audience to assert some sort of dominance through their questioning - all respect to their wisdom and insight, but I do wish they would let the vigour last a little longer, maybe even just join in for some fun if nothing else. There is a new-ness in the Internet, and there's nothing wrong with borrowing on past ideas to try and find a way through bewilderment. Just because Marxism "didn't work" before (did it not? I thought it was still too early to say), doesn't make it a useless framework with which to see and understand the world today.

Korean group Heavy Industry

The Death of the Author

22 October 2015

Google Cardboard, spherical photos and new creative potential

A day exploring beyond #lakemountain
A 2D view of a spherical image. View it in a spherical viewer

I was initially skeptical, but curious about Cardboard. I’m skeptical of immersive and virtual reality in education generally, but I do like the approach Google brings to many things. With a name like Cardboard, it undermines the techno wonderment of its competitors, and offers up a product that almost anyone can access and even copy and appropriate.

What excited me most though, was the Google Camera app and it's ability to take spherical photos, for viewing in Cardboard, Google Maps and Google+. I’d seen these photos and videos before, but it wasn’t until I shot my first spherical photo that I realised some creative potential. 

A 2D image exported from a spherical image
after composing it in the spherical image viewer, screen capturing it, 

and then passing it through an image filter

I could see the additions I would make to Google Streetview for example, loading spherical photos of my favourite lookouts, parks and buildings, even interiors. I could see useful applications in journalism, where a scene was no longer composed into a frame - being the first editorial decision, but captured in a spherical image that encompasses much more contextual information of a scene or event. Similarly, I could see applications in some forms of evidence gathering, monitoring and surveillance, body worn cameras, and traffic cameras, where the extra contextual information could be of use, or vision on a full environment is necessary. 

But for me, exporting 2D frames from a screen viewed spherical image has opened up new ways of composing 2D images.

A 2D image exported from a spherical image 
after composing it in the spherical image viewer on a mobile phone 
and then screen capturing it
These images capture scale, such as trees and waterfalls that a normal 2D struggles to represent. And interesting distortions in the exported image give new compositional potential, similar but different to fisheye effects. 

And finally, I enjoy bringing home spherical photos for the kids to look at through the Cardboard viewer - it’s brought back the long lost family slide night.

09 October 2015

Open Badges, Social Capital, Advertising and Extra Curricular Activity

I've been involved in a very interesting project investigating how open badges might work in the profession of advertising, so as to better position RMIT graduates seeking to enter the profession.

Our project has just completed its research phase, where we've been focused on discussions with people about the project, the concept of badges and how it might be applied. From this we're developing a concept to pilot.

Open Badges are a tool looking for a job

The slogan, "it's not about the technology" has never really sat well with me. In my experience, it has always been about the technology. The Internet, software and Internet enabled devices enter our space absent any apparent need, yet they're compelling enough for some of us to want to look for something to do with it. I guess this is what is meant by the phrase, "disruptive technology", or even "technological determinism". I realise their is a deeper layer to this, relating to the ideology in the technology.

Open Badges seem to be like this. It's a technology that carries with it a certain ideology and proposes a way of doing and thinking about things. It isn't immediately obvious how badges might be used, but they have a proposal in them that is compelling enough for us to look for ways to use them. The technology embodies an ideology, makes a conceptional proposal, which can then cause a functional disruption. With badges, we find ourselves wondering the corridors showing the tool, making the conceptual proposals, to the point of engaging in the functional disruption. It might be that we suddenly realise something that we hadn't recognised before. The tool found the job.

Social Capital needs some light

In the case of professional advertising and the formal education of it as an industry entry point, it has been a very interesting space to test the proposal of badging. Aside from the initial degree and some early career professional development courses, the profession is not negotiated so much by structured accreditation, but more with social capital. There is a crude concept of professional development described with terms like "junior, midweight and senior" or "foundational, advanced and expert", but what really counts is your record of achievement, typically expressed in a portfolio, and more by those you have worked with.

Our discussions with industry representatives and practitioners have all expressed an almost prejudicial attitude toward recent graduates of a degree in advertising, generally believing them to be not even junior or foundational in their status. When pressed to explain how they come to this general perception, these same people show that they are not entirely aware of the sorts of work and projects the graduates have done in their studies.

Take for example the course taught by Kerin Elsum: Advertising Professional Practice 2. Students effectively operate as professional advertisers, of real campaign projects, in real advertising agencies. Kerin has also established a number of extra curricular activities that her students take on, namely Pitch Night and Hungry Talks. These events involve activities that are essentially real-world professional practice, involving budgets and large audience. They have evolved into branded events in their own right, quite distinct from being simply an RMIT student activity.

It is curious to us, why these and other activities don't count as professional experience to the industry representatives we've spoken to. Perhaps if the detail and evidence of these activities were made more apparent, our emerging professionals would be better received into the industry than if they were to simply say, "I have a degree with transcript attached".

Advertising a symbiotic relationship

It becomes apparent to us that badging real professional activities should be thought of as a symbiotic advertising arrangement between the individual and the agency they have worked with.

To explain: an individual's profile that features the visual brand of a well known agency, and linking that listing to any examples of the work they did with that agency, is obviously a strong display of that individual's work experience. If that agency's brand is widely recognised, then all the more so for the individual claiming it as their work experience.

Likewise in the other direction. If an individual displays an agency's brand in their work experience, then that is a reinforcement of that agency's status in the profession. If the individual is widely recognised for their talent, then all the more for the agency that has associated with that individual.

The same can be said for specific projects, events or campaigns. Many people use LinkedIn exactly this way.

Think of Google's accreditation program. With an Adwords Certificate an individual is displaying the brand-verified skill they have with that brand's product. Likewise, Google's brand and product is gaining value as people display it and thus give it value.

Extra Curricular Activity and how we advertise social capital using badges

So this is how we're thinking badges would work in advertising, especially for those entering the profession. For those who do real work, inside a recognised agency, project, event or campaign, they will be given a badge that displays the branding of that agency, project, event or campaign. It won't come from their educational provider, as this must be recognised as real and legitimate work. By coming from the agency, project, event or campaign, we're aiming to support a symbiotic relationship around social capital.

But it's not as if we are wanting to leave this entirely up to the agency, project, event or campaign. We believe this system will need a broker, someone to manage the issuing and verification. And there is no better person in this instance than the teacher who coordinates the course in which the agency placements, projects, events and campaigns take place.

Our teacher is now working to convince the agencies and project coordinators that badging is a symbiotic advertising relationship between them and the individuals receiving the badges. For her students the value should be self evident - it is an opportunity to use the visual brand of the agency, project, event or campaign in their CVs, and to link to those symbols the evidence that shows exactly what it is they did and why it was of value. This will help to articulate in significantly more detail their professional experience over and beyond their degree and transcript. The goal is to foreground the real and valid professional work they have done.

By making herself the broker, Kerin will evidence the significant social capital she herself has accumulated - having been able to bring all these agencies and events together so as to offer her students the opportunities that her courses provide. By issuing badges on behalf of the agencies, projects, events and campaigns, she is building a database of professional talent, complete with a record of their achievements and the evidence of that. There is potential here for her role to develop into something additional to teacher... and here we have a motivation to engage in Massive Open Online Course development.