The Last Mile: Remaking the Pathways to Opportunity

I participated in a webinar, discussing  how to think about the world that young people are transitioning into, how we might begin to develop a research agenda and conversation that addresses the challenges posed by the ongoing shifts in our society and economy?  The CLRN has framed this challenges as the “Last Mile”, a reference to the ongoing struggle to connect learning (wherever it happens) and schooling to real world opportunity, especially among youth from resource-constrained schools and communities.

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From validating subaltern cultures to pedagogicizing everyday life: the dilemmas of researching out-of-school learning

I gave this talk at North Western, Chicago 9th April. For over 25 years I have been interested in bringing together students’ out of school cultures and academic learning. Starting in media education classrooms the challenge was to find ways to build upon students  every day consumption of popular media in order to build critical  and political understanding of the role of mass media in  their lives. I then followed through studies of emerging digital technology exploring how domestic  and amateur  technologies may or may not support forms of creativity. I have examined semi-organised community-based out-of-school learning  institutions as well as ethnographic investigations of everyday making and learning.

At the same time, the politics of education have changed radically with their emphasis on outcomes driven standardised testing and a drive to colonise children’s lifewolrds as in some ways  ” educational”.

Drawing on this range of experience and concluding with details from  informal music  playing from a recent year-long ethnography of 13 to 14-year-olds, I  reflected on why we are interested in learning out-of-school: what’s at stake in our investigations and in whose interests such endeavours take place in order to tease out  some of the pitfalls in the current focus on out-of-school learning experiences.

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Mapping & Evaluating Research on Young People as Visual Culture Producers

This book is available in Spanish and English and brings together a range of international contributions exploring a critical approach to young people as producers in the digital age. It includes my piece “What (and Where) Is the “Learning” When We Talk About Learning in the Home?”

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Cultural Pedagogies and Human Conduct

I have a chapter in this book, which has just been published. My chapter is entitled “Negotiating the pedagogicisation of everyday life; the art of learning”, and explores the often contradictory and tense relationship between pedagogy in the home and pedagogy at school as a way of investigating whether the idea of ‘cultural pedagogy’ can be considered distinct from dominant notions of pedagogy as fundamentally residing in forms of schooling.

I describe a discussion between two young people about the way that they ‘do’ art out of school and offer a series of possible interpretations of their differing attitudes to these practices. I am interested in how their differing understandings of the nature of the learning involved in these practices might indicate the creeping pedagogicisation of their everyday lives. The chapter concludes by reflecting on how claims made about pedagogy and its effects need to be considered over longer timescales and contexts.

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Playful Learning

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.

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Becoming a Filmmaker

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.

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Blurring Educational Boundaries

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.

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Mapping Learner Progression into Digital Creativity – research report out

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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’.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.



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Learning and Literacy over Time – book out

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.

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Innovative Methods for Researching Connected Learning

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.

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