Category Archives: Blog

The urgency of digital technology

the urgency of digital technology
Photo by Ashkan Forouzani on Unsplash

One of the many consequences of the increasingly digital world in which we live is the impending sense of urgency. Email, for example, has been long regarded as an additional source of work that can create pressures to respond outside of “regular” work hours particularly for matters that are “urgent.” It used to be that more immediate forms of digital communication, such as texting or instant messaging, were restricted to either one’s personal life or, at very least, a subset of curated colleagues with whom you could establish some sort of communication norms and expectations.

As a result of the global pandemic, however, more people are using affordances focused on instant messaging, such as MS Teams or Slack, in work environments. The privacy implications are significant as many people tend to either be more casual with instant messaging or to expect a faster reply than via email. There is also the risk, of course, of the chat message to alert someone to an email that is waiting for them. Double urgency!

I have been thinking a lot recently about how maker pedagogy might encourage us to be somewhat less urgent in our expectations–not only in our communications but in how we develop our ideas in relation to the demands of digital technologies. As I have mentioned elsewhere (in publication and in an interview), one of the most interesting findings of my research has been that participants report on the value of having time and space to engage in professional dialogue supported by the act of “making a thing.”

I was reminded of this result over the weekend when I began reading William Davies’ (2018) book. Early in the introduction, he contrasts the promise of digital computing with the promise of traditions of reason in the following way:

“The promise of digital computing, by contrast [to the promise of reason], is to maximize sensitivity to a changing environment. Timing becomes everything. Experts produce facts; Google and Twitter offer trends. As the objective view of the world recedes it is replaced by intuition as to which way things are heading now.”

(Davies, 2018, p. xvi)

Davies’ comments helped me to make some links between some of my concerns about social media and the expectations of urgency often created by technology, particularly digital technology. Although he uses a search engine and a social media network as examples, I think it is worth remembering that much of current digital technologies seem particularly focused on, to paraphrase Davies, maximum sensitivity to a changing environment. It is true that Google and Twitter offer trends, but it is also true that Amazon makes recommendations based on recent purchases, YouTube recommends based on videos you have watched, and so on. There are mysterious, opaque algorithms underpinning all of these trends and recommendations.

I have argued for putting hacking at the centre of maker pedagogy. It is difficult to hack–that is, to know a system really well–unless there is some way of critically examining what that system entails. One thing seems certain, though: Many technological affordances seem designed to increase our sense of the urgency of digital technology, with the possible result of making increasingly impulsive decisions. I believe we would do well to try to find ways to decrease the sense of urgency surrounding many digital technologies. Perhaps one way to do so might be to focus on what we might make as a result of engaging with digital technology. Focusing on creating an artefact (material or virtual) instead of just consuming a “trend” or the results of an “algorithm”, for example, may encourage a slower form of thinking that can act as a bulwark against increasing demands from digital technologies.

/SMB

Davies, W. (2018). Nervous states: Democracy and the decline of reason. New York: W. W. Norton & Company.

Hacking, functional autonomy, and maker pedagogy

Photo by Sucrebrut on Unsplash

A recent article by Söderberg and Maxigas (2021) made me think about the roles of autonomy and hacking in maker pedagogy. At the outset I should specify that I delineate between “hacking,” “hacker,” and “hacker communities.” One might hack without necessarily identifying as a hacker, or being a part of a hacker community. Recall that in my earlier post I suggested that hacking might be thought of in the following way:

Hacking is about knowing something as well as you can possibly know it. It’s about knowing the rules for a particular system or device and understanding the full suite of possibilities. It’s about taking whatever issue you’re interested in, approaching it from as many angles as possible, constructing it, reconstructing it, and making mistakes.

– Bullock (2021), Asturias4STEAM Interview

Söderberg and Maxigas (2021) argue, in part, that the DIY ethos and community spirit that characterises many hacker communities can be subsumed by larger systems of capitalism and the modern nation state. Drawing heavily from French sociologists  Luc Boltanski and Eve Chiapello’s book The New Spirit of Capitalism, the authors encourage us to think about a process known as recuperation:

Recuperation operates by replacing the goals and values that were initially professed by a community of hackers (users, citizen scientists, etc.) with new ones, which are better aligned with the needs of capital accumulation and state control. As a direct consequence, the collective endeavour of the hackers is pulled in the direction of market demand and the constraints of mass production. Recuperation processes are often resisted by hackers, although typically in the form of infighting between different factions within the community. While one faction asserts its attachment to the original values and design goals of the project, another faction strives to accommodate that design to the external pressures, and considers this to be a criterion for the project’s (technical and commercial) success.

(Söderberg & Maxigas, 2021, p. 44)

Describing some of the tensions between hacking communities, capitalism, and the actions of the modern state as a process of recuperation seems productive to me. It also seems relevant to the tension I have long noted between bottom-up approaches to making in education and the industry that has emerged around selling devices, kits, and components for “maker labs”. In the past, I have differentiated between these two approaches as by referring to the the industry around making in education as capital-M Making. It strikes me that the tension between making and Making is well-described by recuperation–particularly when I take note of the number of times I have been asked about the importance of buying specific equipment to engage with maker pedagogy. I have tried, to the best of my ability, to focus on making processes within maker pedagogy rather than learning how to use any particular products.

Söderberg and Maxigas (2021) offer the concept of functional autonomy as a way of thinking about how hacking communities might develop critical practices in spite of a symbiotic relationship with industry. Functional autonomy pushes back on recuperation and understanding this tension may help to explain the complex interrelationships between hacker communities and capitalist / state actors. The authors offer three pillars of functional autonomy:

1. Expertise: Hackers’ ability to understand and engage with technology.

2. Shared values and cultural references

3. An historical horizon encompassing familiarity with older generations of the same technology.

(Söderberg & Maxigas, 2021, p. 48)

Söderberg and Maxigas offer three case studies to support their claims: Internet Relay Chat (Expertise), Personal Manufacturing (Values), and Hacklabs and Hackerspaces (Memory).

I need to think more about the ways in which the concept of functional autonomy might play a role in maker pedagogy – particularly given the “hacking turn” that I have recently articulated. If hacking is to be placed at the centre of maker pedagogy, then I need to think carefully about how those embracing maker pedagogy might develop higher degrees of personal functional autonomy. I also need to be mindful of the different levels of autonomy that teachers may or may not have in their particular environment–the modern nation state always exerts some degree of control over teachers at all levels. My initial thought is that those interested in making and education might most easily come together around shared values and cultural references, at least initially. Perhaps experiences with maker pedagogy might help to augment expertise whilst capturing some of the potential of developing a shared historical horizon. Citing Söderberg and Maxigas (2021) again:

The strategic importance of historical memory is revealed when one observes the discourse around hackerspaces. Hackerspaces are routinely perceived as the authentic, politicised alternative to other types of shared machine shops, such as makerspaces, FabLabs, media labs, and startup incubators . . . The non-profit hackerspaces constitute the front line in the resistance to recuperation, while a decade ago they benefited from the recuperation of anti-capitalist hacklabs. The role of historical memory is highlighted in this case as setting the baseline for calculating recuperation, which may inform tactics, demands, practices, and perceptions

(Söderberg & Maxigas, 2021, p. 53)

I accept the premise that maker pedagogy is at least somewhat implicated in the tension between recuperation and functional autonomy used by Söderberg and Maxigas (2021). I would also argue that maker pedagogy is under recuperative forces that come from educational stakeholders, which include but are not limited to government and corporate interests. As Lortie (1975) pointed out, everyone who has been to school has undergone an apprenticeship of observation and thus has strongly formed opinions of what schools and teaching should look like. Perhaps the concept of functional autonomy offers a way forward.

/SMB

h/t to Iván Diego for alerting me to this article

Reference

Söderberg, J., & Maxigas. (2021). The Three Pillars of Functional Autonomy of HackersNanoethics 1543–56.

Placing “hacking” at the centre of maker pedagogy

hacking maker pedagogy

What does it mean to think about hacking in the context of maker pedagogy?

As a result of my recent presentation in the CRESTEM series at KCL, I was invited to give an interview to Iván Diego of Asturias4STEAM. The Asturias4STEAM program is a part of the 2018-2022 Science, Technology and Innovation Plan of the Government of the Principality of Asturias, Spain. Asturias4STEAM was created with the aim of promoting scientific-technological vocations in all stages of the educational system. The website aims to (1) support and make visible to work of teachers and educational centres, (2) disseminate and generate knowledge about STEAM education, and (3) learn about STEAM education from other interested parties.

We had a excellent and far-ranging conversation, on topics ranging from how I became formally interested in the idea of using ideas about “making” in education to some of my concerns about the potential for educational inequity to be introduced as a result of STEAM–and making–initiatives. I am grateful for Iván’s thoughtful questions. His ideas and prompts provided me with an opportunity to move beyond some of my initial thinking about maker pedagogy to place hacking at the centre of maker pedagogy. Here is an excerpt from the interview:

In his book Permanent Record (2019) Edward Snowden talks about his journey learning about computers and offers an interesting definition of hacking. It’s about knowing something as well as you can possibly know it. It’s about knowing the rules for a particular system or device and understanding the full suite of possibilities. It’s about taking whatever issue you’re interested in, approaching it from as many angles as possible, constructing it, reconstructing it, and making mistakes. And that  gave me the metaphor for thinking about where I might like to take Maker Pedagogy.

– Bullock (2021), Asturias4STEAM Interview

I recommend that you read the article in its entirety. There is both an English version and a Spanish version. My sincere thanks to Iván for a great discussion- I look forward to staying in touch!

/SMB

Making, Maker Pedagogy, and Education: Lessons Learned and Future Directions

It was my pleasure to present in the CRESTEM Seminar Series at King’s College, London. I enjoyed having the opportunity to think back on some of the results of the multi-year project on maker pedagogy that I led. It seems like an appropriate time to consider future directions for maker pedagogy given the recent enthusiasm for, and critiques of, the power and possibilities of educational technology in the years to come. I have noticed quite a few popular articles, for example, focusing on the limitations of technology to support students’ learning. I think that, unfortunately, ideas from the “maker movement” are often equated with having the latest and greatest equipment. In this presentation I reflected on the importance of the dialogue that can develop around a shared enterprise of making something.

The abstract for my presentation follows:

In this presentation I will share some of the results of a three-year inquiry into the nature and potential of what I define as “maker pedagogy.” I will begin with my initial assumptions about how making might inform approaches to learning—drawn from the history of art and the history of technology—before sharing some surprising findings from my work with primary trainee teachers who were interested in exploring making in their developing practices. I will then focus on the knowledge and practices developed in tandem with my research collaborator around researching maker pedagogy. Finally, I will share some of the reasons that I felt it necessary to step away from thinking about making and education for a few years, and what my hopes are for re-engaging with this work.

Many thanks to those who attended for their thoughtful engagement and questions.

/SMB

Definitions, slogans, and making

definitions, slogans, and making
Photo by JESHOOTS.COM on Unsplash

Some of the most common things I hear from people who are interested in my work on making and maker pedagogy:

“That’s great! I’m a maker too”

“I do crafts such as . . . ”

“I have an engineering background and I’ve always thought . . .,”

“I do [Insert name of thing or process here], does that count?”

My response: It doesn’t matter what I think, it matters how you want to identify, and what part(s) of maker, tinkerer, craft, and arts cultures you wish to identify with. I am of course happy when someone finds resonance with my work on maker pedagogy, but it is always important to remember that I am but one of many voices interested in these matters.

My response changes a little bit, however, when it comes to the academic literature on making (and its links to “STEM”, a term that I don’t particularly care for–but that’s for another post). When terms or phrases such as making, maker, makerpedagogy, maker spaces, or maker classrooms are used in a research paper, an opinion piece, or as a part of professional development, they often assume that the reader will understand what is meant by each term.

I urge you to define what you mean by terms that you use for writing about your work in making. My enthusiasm for definitions is not because I think that there is a “correct” definition, or because I think that my definitions are an all-encompassing way forward. There are any number of ways that terms commonly used in the maker literatures and cultures can be defined and understood, and so I think we ignore definitions at our collective peril–we risk talking across purposes and misunderstanding one another. 

An interesting case study comes from the idea of science literacy. Relatively few people are aware that the term had its origins in a 1958 issue of Educational Leadership; it was a call to action for science education in the United States after the perceived humiliation of the Soviet Union’s launch of Sputnik a year prior (see Hurd, 1958). The concept of science literacy started, in my view, as a slogan. Noted science education professor Doug Roberts, writing 25 years later, noted that science literacy had come to be nearly synonymous with just about every idea in science education; it meant everything and so it meant nothing (Roberts, 1983). Fast-forwarding slightly, we find similar confusion about science literacy and scientific literacy. STEM debates share similar features–if you don’t agree, I challenge you to do a quick search for the term STEM online and consider the conflicting concepts you encounter.

My point is not to suggest that there isn’t useful research within the domains of science literacy, scientific literacy, and STEM. Of course there is. My purpose is to call attention to the danger of what is known as shallow consensus around anything that has become reified as a slogan. Precise definitions, stated clearly, can help us steer these turbulent waters. At the very least, definitions help the reader to situate their understanding relative to what the author is trying to communicate.

The way I use the term maker is probably different from the way you use the term maker. In fact, I’m still trying to work out what I mean by the term. Some of my current thinking is being informed by both the history of hacking and the history of the Arts and Crafts movement. Again, you don’t have to agree–but hopefully you’ll know what my starting points are when you read my work. 

/SMB

References

Hurd, P. D. (1958). Science literacy: Its meaning for American schools. Educational Leadership, 16(1), 13-52.

Roberts, D. A. (1983). Scientific literacy: Towards balance in setting goals for school science programs: A discussion paper. Ottawa, Ontario: Science Council of Canada.

Sharing some news

Dear all,

Effective  1 September, 2017, Dr. Shawn Bullock will be taking up an academic position at the University of Cambridge, U. K. Shawn is looking forward to this opportunity, and is grateful for the experiences he has had over the last five years at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, Canada.

Shawn will be largely unavailable over email for the month of August, 2017. The best way to reach me continues to be : shawn(at)shawnbullock(dot)ca.

Do you think about the materiality you ascribe to objects in the world around you? For example, do you work with objects in the ways that they were designed, or do you feel that you can shape your use of objects in different ways that they were intended to be used? The materiality you attribute to objects implies that you have a philosophical assumption about the way the world works.  Your philosophical position influences how you learn, how you teach, your conceptions of knowledge, and how you study the world around you.

Four major philosophical assumptions about how people see the world (reality) can give us some insight into how people view the materiality of making.  As you read the short oversimplified snippets below, think about where you situate yourself and where making may be positioned.

  1. Objectivist and realist views of the world are constituted by a reality that exists independently of human conception and understanding. The assumption is that reality exists through properties and relations between objects. For education, this means that learning is the recreation of correct behaviors expected in the world and the focal point is on the mastery of knowledge.
  2. Idealists and rationalists define reality as shaped by the mind. Kant would suggest that ideas are the only certainty. There is an emphasis on reasoning over sensing things when aiming to understand the world, and intellect and deduction are important criteria. For education, this means that changes in thinking, not changes in behavior, are the focal points of learning.
  3. Relativists disapprove of absolute reality and subscribes to the belief of socially and culturally constructed truths. For education, this means that learners’ opinions and experiences support the development of their reality and meaning is dependent on experiential contexts.
  4. Pragmatists discard dualist thought and reject notions of rationalism over empiricism or objectivity over subjectivity. Pragmatists operate in the middle ground and are interested in how philosophical orientations can support a situation of interest. Reality is viewed as dynamic and dependent, and knowledge has practical significance in the place and moment of use. For education, this means that knowledge serves as an action plan for the types of practical uses it aims to achieve.

The materiality of making is a worthwhile consideration when embracing a maker pedagogy approach in teaching and learning. The materiality of making, essentially its distinct principles as described by Bullock (2016) are:

  1. Ethical hacking: Deconstructing existing technology for the purpose of creating knowledge (e.g., taking an old computer apart to learn about hardware, and applying that knowledge to work with small hobby computer kids such as Raspberry Pi).
  2. Adapting: Using technology for purposes other than what it was originally intended for (e.g., using an old smartphone to learn elements of computer programming).
  3. Designing: Selecting and using technological artefacts and ideas to solve problems (e.g., using conductive tape, batteries, and LEDs to design decorative circuits that can be integrated into clothing).
  4. Creating: Archiving contextual knowledge obtained through engaging in the process of making (e.g., creating a wiki that documents how particular projects were accomplished) and, of course, enjoying the actual tangible products that come from making (e.g., playing a video game that was designed within a maker space) (p. 12).

I would suggest that the philosophical perspectives of relativism and pragmatism are useful ways to think about the materiality of making. This suggests a belief in having a deep understanding of the objects in the world through knowing how they work so that you can change and shape them for future uses.

What does this mean for education? From a teaching and learning perspective this translates to giving students agency, wherein their capacity to act on objects and technologies rests in the belief that the relationship between learning and the objects are malleable. In this way, the design of objects is not deterministic, but shaped by the environment, which offers potential for different uses of objects and diverse learning opportunities.

Reference

Bullock, S. M. (2016). Digital technologies in teacher education: From mythologies to making. In C. Kosnik, S. White, C. Beck, B. Marshall, A. L. Goodwin, & J. Murray (Eds.), Building bridges: Rethinking literacy teacher education in a digital era (pp. 3–16). Rotterdam, The Netherlands: Sense Publishers.

/AJS

“Making” as a catalyst for reflective practice

We are pleased to announce to publication of ‘Making’ as a catalyst for reflective practice, published in the journal Reflective Practice. The results present data from teacher candidates who participated in a several maker experiences in our Maker Pedagogy Lab (MPL).

The abstract:

Within the research and teaching program of maker pedagogy(TM), this study analyzes how teacher candidates construct knowledge about teaching and teaching with technology. The study applies an experiential-intuitive framework of reflective practice and takes cues from critical thinking to analyze the participants’ interactions in a maker pedagogy lab. Schön’s conception of reflection drove the data collection and analysis of participants who were asked to reflect on their experiences gained in the maker pedagogy lab. The researchers argue that the maker pedagogy lab provides participants with a way to understand their teaching practice. The results demonstrate that the maker projects enabled teacher candidates to engage in exploratory and hypothetical talk about how they are thinking about teaching and learning, particularly with technology. Furthermore, the researchers uncovered that teacher candidates’ prior knowledge and frames of reference affect their making experiences and their developing identities as science and technology teachers.

A special note and thank you to Andrea J. Sator, a current doctoral student in SFU’s Educational Technology and Learning Design program, who led the development of this article.

http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/14623943.2016.1268118

Citation information:

Sator, A. J., & Bullock, S. M. (2017). Making’ as a catalyst for reflective practice. Reflective Practice. Online first edition: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/14623943.2016.1268118

Digital technologies in teacher education: From mythologies to making

building-bridgesI am pleased to announce the publication of a new book edited by Clare Kosnik, Simone White, Clive Beck, Bethan Marshall, A. Lin Goodwin, and Jean Murray entitled Building bridges: Rethinking literacy teacher education in a digital era.

This book emerged from presentations made at a working conference in London in 2014. I was honoured to be a part of both the conference and this book. My own chapter provides a conceptual overview of some of the tensions and challenges of the concept of digital technologies in teacher education. It concludes with some ideas from my Maker Pedagogy project.

Sense Publishers always provides a free preview of the first chapter of books that it publishes, and that means anyone can download my chapter for free by clicking here.

My sincere thanks to the editorial team for their hard work and particularly to Clare Kosnik for inviting me to be a part of her research into digital technologies several years ago, even before this project started. You should check out her blog at: https://literacyteaching.net/

Bullock, S. M. (2016). Digital technologies in teacher education: From mythologies to making. In C. Kosnik, S. White, C. Beck, B. Marshall, A. L. Goodwin, & J. Murray (Eds.), Building bridges: Rethinking literacy teacher education in a digital era (pp. 3–16). Rotterdam, The Netherlands: Sense Publishers.

/smb

Maker Pedagogy at CSSE 2016

We were pleased to present some early results regarding data from teacher candidates who participated in the Maker Pedagogy at CSSE 2016 in Calgary, AB.

We presented in a session sponsored by the the Canadian Association for Teacher Education (CATE) and are grateful to all who attended. Our abstract:

The study applies experiential-intuitive frameworks on reflective practice to analyze the participants’ interactions in a maker lab. Schön’s (1983, 1987) conception of reflection drove the data collection and analysis of participants who were asked to analyse their experiences gained in our maker lab. We argue that the maker lab provides participants with a way to understand their teaching practice by enabling teacher candidates to engage in exploratory and hypothetical talk about how they are thinking about teaching and learning, particularly with technology. Furthermore, we uncovered that teacher candidates’ prior knowledge and frames of reference affect their making experiences and their shifting identities as developing science and technology teachers.

/SMB