Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Convergence culture & the rise of visual intelligence

Finally finished this post! Over the mid-year break, I caught up with a couple of interesting books. I travelled across the ditch, first to Perth to catch up with family and then to Alice Springs for the annual NCVER conference on vocational education research.

Serendipitously, both the books I took along had a common thread. This being that technology is changing our society in the way people, organisations, governments etc. behave, relate to each other, go about with their lives etc.

The first book was Convergence culture :- where old and new media collide by Henry Jenkins. A good read too. The first chapter is quite hilarious in places. It covers how hard core fans of the TV programme Survivor, go to extreme lengths to try to find out who is left as the final survivor in each series. The fans, known as ‘spoilers’ post their detective work (which is often very sophisticated) on a web site / discussion forum. This forms the collective knowledge that all the fans registered on the website are able to access and build on. The goal of the intelligence gathering is to be able to work out who the last survivor is, before the end of the series. What caught me was the engagement the fans had with this process. If only we are able to replicate this with online learning!

Chapter five on media literacy and the Harry Potter Wars was also another chapter full of insightful findings for the educationalist. This chapter centres on a homeschooled13 year old who started up a web based ‘school newsletter’ for the fictional Hogwarts called the Daily Prophet. This publication has a staff of 102 children from all over the world! The website became an ‘affinity space’ whereby children could immerse themselves wholeheartedly into the Harry Potter universe.

The other book, is In a Mind’s Eye: Visual thinkers, gifted people with dyslexia and other difficulties, computer images and the ironies of creativity by Thomas G. West. A bit heavier reading, but worth the effort. The book looks at why gifted people like Einstein, Rodin, Lewis Carroll, Edison, Patton etc. had learning difficulties. The author argues that even though these people have made major contributions to science, art etc. they usually struggled at school and yet they blossomed in their careers, going on to become leaders in their field. For instance, Einstein struggled with arithmetic but excelled at the higher levels of maths.

The book then goes on to explore the ‘new’ literacy, that of ‘visual literacy’ that the information age has brought about. This ‘visual literacy’ advantages the lateral thinkers who do not fit into the factory schooling model. This is especially important now that we are on the cusp of the ‘knowledge revolution’, we need people who are able to find out, intuit about and learn things that were never known before.

From a tertiary teaching point of view, we need to provide advantages for all potential students into our programmes. When re-documenting our one year full time programme, we were asked to look at raising our entry requirements. I resisted this because from experience, school results bore little correlation to future success in baking. What mattered most was aptitude for the trade and an interest in learning about baking. I have learnt from many experiences, NEVER to write off a student at the start of the programme (or at the end of it!). Making a change during the programme is something I continually work at but sometimes, that change in an individual comes later in life. We therefore need to continue sowing the seeds so that when the time is right those seeds will germinate.

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