I have been appointed visiting professor at The Playful Learning Centre, University of Helsinki, Finland. The Centre will provide a ‘living lab’ interdisciplinary approach to the making and testing of a range of playful and educational products and experiences. It is also committed to investigate the theoretical and conceptual developments in our changing understanding of the nature of learning itself and therefore deeply interested in how we might define and use the idea of playful learning both in the Academy, the marketplace and in popular discussions with families, children and young people.
‘Playful learning’ is a banner, a provocation and a heuristic. Whilst the education system of Finland has an international reputation, its practices are rooted in a particular set of attitudes towards childhood and preschool learning within a special emphasis on the nature of play as well as approaches to formal education which include a highly educated teacher workforce capable of articulating and mediating play with education.
The centre aims to bring together a diverse set of internationally renowned theorists and practitioners in order to understand more deeply what a phrase like playful learning might mean in the context of changes in childhood, developments in the education market place and theoretical understanding about the agency of young people themselves.
I am beginning a piece of work exploring how young people become filmmakers. I will be focusing on young people who are reaching the end of their school careers through periods of other kinds of training and formal study and into the early years of employment and/or work in filmmaking. I am interested in young filmmakers who have accessed organisations and projects, which support young people from disadvantaged backgrounds to enter the creative workforce; and I am particularly interested in young people from minority communities, who learning in interest-led communities enter the labour market via non-traditional routes and often without conventional qualifications.
This project is based at the LSE and is part of the second stage of work associated with the Connected Learning Research Network and aims to find out:
- what kind of support and structure needs to be available during these more protracted periods of instability and part-time employment?
- how can young people learn about and take advantage of progressions between and across these different forms of social structure, qualifications infrastructure and institution to be able to develop organised careers in this kind of economic landscape?
- how and in what ways do the generic properties of ‘digital creativity’ create different kinds of opportunity for employment and movement across traditional work roles?
- what notions of learning identity and continuous ‘professional’ development support or hinder entry into work?
I will produce a series of ‘creative biographies’ drawing on interviews I have already conducted with students of the BfI’s Film Academy and comparing the trajectories of young filmmakers with the digital creative I mapped in the Catalysts & Disconnects projects both from last year.
I am presenting a paper called ” The demise of ‘folk learning’ and the rise of the totally pedagogicized society”at this conference in Barcelona. The conference is address learner agency across formal and informal contexts. I am using data from “The Class” project to speculate how common sense and ‘folk’ theories of mind, learning and pedagogy are threatened by the penetration of instrumental definitions of learning promulgated by the audit-driven, digital new corporate state.
The report I have co-written with Lucy Brown, Mapping learner progression into digital creativity – catalysts and disconnects for Nominet Trust is now available. The report describes our research which led to over 40 biographical maps. These offer a diagrammatic representation of young people’s reflections about their progression into the field of digital creativity. The maps drew on a series of interviews we conducted with a range of young people at different stages in their academic careers. Key questions we asked focused on how young people made decisions about their careers; the sorts of support mechanisms they could access (whether family support, teacher or mentoring advice etc.); and they identity work they put into crafting an idea of themself as a digital creative.
We carried out this work because whilst we know that young people engage in a wide range of forms of digital creativity – defined broadly as working creatively within a digital medium – we know that such engagement is frequently episodic and intense. Research indicates that young people often engage in digital creativity in haphazard ways, and expertise in these fields often bears little relationship to the academic stage the young person has reached within the education system. Irrespective of age, the manner and extent to which young people participate in digital activities varies greatly – from informal out of school play to serious hobbies, or from GCSE and A Level through to vocational, undergraduate and postgraduate qualifications.
However, we have very little knowledge how capabilities, skills, interest and knowledge of possible vocational goals might intersect to determine pathways for further study. We do not know why decisions to progress in certain directions are made or rejected, nor do we know whether external circumstances or key demographics have any particular influence on pathway decisions in the digital creativity field.
Our conclusions suggest that:
- School is not enough. Mechanisms to create stronger and more integrated links between school and non-school digital making activities need to be devised, trailed and made available. School alone will not prepare young people to be successful digital makers, and we need to privilege and support non-formal and informal digital making experiences if we are to ensure young people benefit from the social, personal and economic values of digital making.
- The link between learning to code and employability is unproven and unclear. We need to create stronger examples (for young people and policy makers) that demonstrate the links between digital making and employability. These case studies should offer clarity about the types of jobs expected to be available and the sorts of skills required. This shifts from an unhelpful and complacent equation between coding and jobs (which is not supported by evidence) and helps to highlight:
(a) The variety of skills (both technical and ‘soft’) that are required for future employability
(b) The variety of jobs available including those that are more mundane to those that are highly autonomous and ‘creative’.
- We need to avoid a narrow view of ‘skill progression’. We need a language of learning that moves beyond a narrow view of skill progression and demands that we create a diverse range of learning experiences, which encompass skill progression, social networks, access to informed teachers and mentors, and purposeful engaged learning activities.
- Digital making needs to take place across the curriculum. It should not be confined to a single subject. This means helping specialist teachers explore the role of digital making within their domain; facilitating in-school collaboration between teachers; and a shared understanding of ‘digital’ pursuits as valid creative and economic acts which should be encouraged. A wider theorisation and understanding of digital creativity would help enable this process.
- Understanding learning lives. Educators, parents and young people themselves would benefit from understanding the range of factors that can come into play in facilitating progressions in the digital creative field. Having access to diagnostic and comparative ways of ‘mapping’ learning progressions and experiences would be useful and practical way to be able to work out possible futures and contextualise individual learning against common patterns and norms.
A new book, oo-edited with Jennifer Rowsell called Learning and Literacy over Time is just out. It bring together studies offering longitudinal perspectives on learners and the trajectory of their learning lives inside and outside of school, and studies revealing how past experiences with literacy and learning inform future experiences and practices. We have brought together researchers who revisited subjects of their initial research conducted over the past 10-20 years with people whom they encountered through ethnographic or classroom-based investigations and are the subjects of previous published accounts.
The chapters offer at times quite an emotive interpretation of the effects of long-term social change in the UK, the US, Australia and Canada; the claims and aspirations made by and for certain kinds of educational interventions; how research subjects reflect on and learn from the processes of being co-opted into classroom research as well as how they make sense of school experiences; some of the widespread changes in literacy practices as a result of our move into the digital era; and above all, how academic research can learn from these life stories raising a number of challenges about methodology and our claims to ‘know’ the people we research. In many cases the process of revisiting led to important reconceptualizations of the earlier work and a sense of ‘seeing with new eyes’ what was missed in the past.
I have edited a special issue of the international Journal of Learning and Media about the need to pay attention to innovative methodologies that could be used to research emerging forms of connected learning as a useful and important way of working out what is new about these kinds of educational settlements and what we do and do not know about the changing nature of learning. This special issue makes the case that bringing together the disciplines of media studies and education is a necessary way to approach any differences that might accrue from the digital—as medium and object of research. International comparative perspectives can play an important role in developing perspectives in social scientific research into these matters.
The journal is free online and can be found here.
The website describing this project is now available. It is about the signature pedagogies of creative practitioners in schools and presents the results of a research project which examined twelve artists at work. Through our research, we came to see that there was something as distinctive about their creative practices as a handwritten signature.
This project will map the interest-led, educational, training and vocational routes and trajectories taken by young people as they navigate pathway choices into specialisation, career choice and employment in digital creativity. It is funded for 10 months beginning September 2013.
It is funded by Nominet Trust.
We know that many young people engage in forms of digital creativity (defined broadly both as working with computers and as a dimension of other creative disciplines), such engagement is frequently episodic and intense. We also know that many young people exhibit seemingly haphazard erratic interests and engage with digital creativity at various stages of their early academic life and, often irrespective of age, they go through different levels of participation from informal out-of-school play to serious hobbies, to GCSE, ‘A‘ levels/BTEC and into undergraduate and postgraduate courses and even professional certification. However, we have very little knowledge about how capabilities (including skills and knowledge), interest and knowledge of possible vocational goals might intersect to determine pathways for further study and how decisions to progress in certain directions are made or rejected. We do not know specifically whether external circumstances or key demographics have any particular influence on pathway decisions in the digital creativity field. We do not know how learning progression are developed with in- and out-of-school/college knowledge and experiences.
The project will identify the key determining influences on study/interest –led choices and how young people mediate these push factors with the pull of market and career opportunities. It will pay particular attention to unpicking the mix of interest-led informal activities and opportunities for formal training/education.
This pathways analysis is necessary to underpin social, educational and vocational progressions in digital creativity and has implications for the recruitment and development of the creative labour force, as well as for curriculum debate.
There are two key areas of enquiry:
- To map the progressions in skill and interest in all forms of digital creativity,
- focusing in particular on the interconnections (or lack of) between informal, peer sustained and directed activities and the opportunities and developments provided by formal courses of study and accreditation;
- and leading to understanding of the role of the particular ‘social routes’ in individual learning.
- To understand better how capability in digital creativity relates to domain specific expertise (i.e. Art or Music) and cross-disciplinary generic competence and imagination through tracing the growth of individual creative mastery over time.
The project will track individual’s learning and creative episodes over relatively short and intense periods of time. Through interview and detailed biographical study we will capture key episodes and situate them within the individual’s longer-term career or interest trajectory as the individual reflects on the experience and its interrelationship (or not) with formal and other kinds of educational experience. We are interested in how digital creativity either conforms to or transgresses traditional disciplinary boundaries.
As the project gets going we will be blogging out thoughts and findings here.
I have an article on this topic in the Bankstreet Occasional Papers. I show how a number of families—the subjects of The Class research Project —adopt and use folk “theories of learning,” and I consider, in particular, how such theories relate to dominant discourses around learning in school. Second, I explore how media technologies—and in particular, how the ways that they are purchased and how they are located in the home—also contribute to dominant conceptualizations of learning and at times almost seem to stand for a proxy measure of it. Third, I draw on observations and accounts of how learning is enacted as a discipline and as a habit within the ebb and flow of family life.