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01.26 Elizabeth Goodman, Nathalie Jeremijenko

Avocational Training: Teaching New Media In Old Institutions

  • Introduction:

Graduate and undergraduate art schools are beginning to include classes and programs focused on "new" media (getting older every day) as an accepted - not experimental - part of their curricula. Yet in the seeming absence of an established pedagogical tradition, these programs must negotiate an appropriate balance between skill development and conceptual exploration. The situation is complicated by the new emphasis on students-as-consumers and the financial pressures on both students and institutions. We cannot productively address these tensions (and defuse some common frustrations) without respecting the legitimate needs, concerns, and positions of the constituencies involved - students, administrators, and teachers alike.

Liz_goodman_1About Elizabeth Goodman:

Elizabeth Goodman's design, writing, and research focuses on critical thinking and creative exploration at the intersections of new digital technologies, social life and urban spaces. She has a master's degree from New York University's Interactive Telecommunications Program and has spent this fall as a visiting lecturer on site specific art and wireless networks at the San Francisco Art Institute (download course bibliography, .pdf) . More examples of Elizabeth's work in urban gaming and cellphone interfaces can be found at www.confectious.net.


Schmedagogy: Changing Structures of Participation In New Media Education

  • Introduction:

What opportunities do new technologies provide to transform and improve pedagogy, particularly in the context of digital and technology based curricula? I will discuss four experiments in two distinct arenas.
Firstly in the realm of internet-based, or asynchronous and cumulative learning context I will present two projects-- SCAPE: a friendster/ napster hybrid that facilitates file-sharing through social networks; and HSIM: a wiki-based visual encyclopedia that  documents labor conditions and manufacturing processes. The former focuses on group forming and, the latter builds interaction between industry and academia. Both develop evidence that the way we structure participation changes what information is produced, who produces it, and how it circulates. Both provide material to question what these changes may mean for learning.
In the 2nd realm I will discuss the opportunity presented by synchronous and co-present contexts. In two projects I explore the potential of a) computer labs and b) outdoor public space for effective participation in interpretive learning. Computer lab spaces are still new spaces, the first to have appeared in educational institutions in decades. They present the opportunity to facilitate the sort of learning that is under achieved in other institutionalized learning spaces (lecture hall, classrooms, bench labs, library). In the last 15 years many different computer lab designs have been implemented, in particular in engineering and new media education, and in institutions of informal learning (museums and galleries). These have produced some insights in how physical and social resources effect interactions therein--and I will present empirical results from an extensive ethnographic analysis and design propositions. In contrast to lab space inside institutions, taking and facilitate learning into outdoor public space can also change who participates in the learning activity. Using mobile computational platforms 'in the wild' provides a study of how people exchange information and interpret results that are rendered for the diverse participants that come with public sites.
Each of these projects suggest that the structure of participation is a primary pedagogical effect that can be changed, and potentially improved with the introduction of computation.

Natalie_jeremijenko

  • About Natalie Jeremijenko:

Natalie Jeremijenko, is an Assistant Professor in Visual Art, UCSD, the McPherson Visiting Professor in the Public Understanding of Science at Michigan State University, and the 2005 holder of the Mildred C. Brinn Endowed Chair at Skowhegan. She is known to work with the Bureau of Inverse Technology.

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Teaching for the Wireless Commons

Interview with Elizabeth Goodman
As part of WebCamTalk1.0
http://www.newmediaeducation.org

Trebor Scholz: Please present your thoughts on new media education, in particular your course "Site-Specific: Wireless Networks and Urban Art Practice.”

EG: This course was a mixed graduate-undergraduate seminar I taught at the San Francisco Art Institute with Alison Sant. The course examined radio signal as a medium for expression in its own right, with its own aesthetic qualities and cultural significance. It was a diverse class, with undergraduate and graduate students. The class focused specifically on sensing and representing wireless signals; we did not intend it as a technical class centered around any one tool. Using whatever medium they preferred, students were to create their own interventions into what Fiona Raby and Tony Dunne have called the ‘Hertzian space’ of San Francisco. Final projects included a game, a proposal for a video installation, and a GPS-coordinated city tour. There have only been a few classes on wireless networks as art medium thus far, so there weren’t many models to draw from.

TS: What did you learn from the experience of teaching a course with so little precedence?

EG: Learning from the experience of this course and from my own experience in school, I'd like to point to some larger issues about the state of interactive art education:

1) Art education: training for what?
2) The importance of historical perspective
3) Defining core curriculum
4) Moving the computing arts away from the computer

TS: Please describe the course more in detail.

EG: The Art Institute in San Francisco, for those of you who might not be familiar with it, is well known for its historical emphasis on conceptual art. Alison and I found that, as so often happens, our students were more comfortable with the conceptual. Partly, this is because it’s easier to talk than build. But the greater issue was unfamiliarity with the underlying technologies of wireless networks – the physics of radio waves, the proliferating transceivers, the logging programs and the graphic interfaces – not to mention the pervasive fear of the unfamiliar. Even with the loan of wifi- , Bluetooth-, and GPS-enabled iPaqs from the Exploratorium, some were reluctant to experiment. And those that did were often daunted by the amount of time they had to spend troubleshooting the devices. An increasing number of people comes to courses such as ours with some knowledge of computers, but only few are comfortable with code.

Indeed, some of our students came in with far less knowledge of the tools of new media artists than we had expected. “New media” stretches from video and sound editing, to image manipulation, to animation, to interaction design, and code. The question of documenting and presenting a new media project gets complicated when you’ve never used a digital camera or created a web page. In addition, students were dismayed by the seemingly endless list of expensive equipment that visiting artists recommended. Laptops, GPS devices, PocketPCs, wifi-cards, specialized radio receivers… Some felt that the medium was simply unaffordable on a student budget, and the school was not planning on picking up the bills.

TS: This is a phenomenon that you also find with much of recent location-based cultural practices that require a whole set of hardware that it still unaffordable to most city dwellers.

EG: There’s an interesting and common phenomenon that happens when students – anyone, really – attempts a new medium. You called it “techno-determinism,” and I agree. It’s a kind of blindness. The sheer difficulty of making any headway with unfamiliar and imperfect technologies such as PocketPCs running an interface to a Bluetooth GPS module, or a Flash animation, leads to the mistaken belief that the technologies themselves are the most interesting part of a project.

TS: How do you approach the confluence of art, theory and technology?

EG: Given students’s understandable fears of new, unfamiliar, and un-user-friendly technologies, we need to actively reward exploration, experimentation, and sheer determination. However, the class as a whole suffers when the focus of discussion and critique moves from developing and expressing concepts to solving technical problems. Steering a course between technophobia and techno-obsession is harder than it sounds. One of the great challenges, I learned, of teaching ‘new media’ classes that are not designed to be technical workshops is keeping promising concepts (that are often technologically interesting as well) from derailing into technological minutia. Throughout the class, Alison and I developed some strategies in response to techno-phobia, techno-obsession, and the sheer expensiveness of electronic equipment.

TS: How do you link these emerging cultural practices to their backgrounds in the history of technology, and culture at large.

EG: There is a tendency among the techno-obsessed to think that ‘new media’ is somehow the product of a catastrophic, unbridgeable break with older tools and practices. Alison and I tried to locate the class within a longer history of site specific art and urban engagement. We started by asking students to think critically about the notion of “site,” drawing on Robert Smithson’s work, the notion of ‘non-sites’ and on Gordon Matta - Clark’s building deconstruction projects. We also used sources from urban theory, the Situationists and asked students to think about how we come to know a city – how we travel through it, how we map it, how we remember it. We found that bridging the old and the new produced richer conversations in new students – which is no surprise – but also created a comfort zone for San Francisco Art Institute students who were already familiar with mid-twentieth century art movements.

TS: You mentioned that a few weeks into the class you asked students to switch off their computers and go to the drawing board.

EG: Yes, drawing and sketching also proved a useful introduction to the ideas and methods of the class. One of our most successful class exercises required students to create a map of the campus using only mobile phones, paper, and pencils. Working in teams, students had to both agree on how to represent mobile phone signal strength but also what areas they found most significant. The resulting critiques allowed us to talk about some core issues: the representation of temporality, definitions of site, and visualization of the invisible.

In fact, mobile phones became a cheap and accessible medium for students daunted by the expense or unfamiliarity of wifi-enabled laptops and GPS devices. For those of us who think in terms of code, it can be useful to step back and see mobile phones as a platform for development but also simple sensors in their own right. One student even used his mobile phone as a kind of game wheel, dynamically ‘spinning’ paths through the city based on signal strength.

I would have loved to have my students build applications for mobile phones. But because the class blended art theory and practice, we had to think realistically about time management. We simply did not have enough time to both introduce key concepts and teach programming. As well, showing a project in a gallery is very different than supporting it on a city-wide level. Moving from the university lab to the streets means asking students to simplify their technical needs as much as possible.

TS: Could you come back to the four main issues that you introduced earlier?
You started off with "Art education: training for what?"

EG: One of the subtexts running through in-class discussion was the desire to be taught specific tools – Photoshop or Flash, for example. There is a lot of fear about the high cost of education in North America, about getting jobs, and that is reflected in these demands for vocational training. I think many will agree with me when I say that undergraduate art courses should not focus on software. Defining education by the tools currently in vogue reduces learning to a set of instruction manuals. As we have all discovered, learning is often more a changing set of practices than abstract, static data.

Which brings me to my second point: defining a new media core curriculum.
I think student calls for software-based training indicate a deep insecurity. Many students are not sure what they are supposed to know and how they are supposed to learn it. That is a very disconcerting situation. And part of the role of a faculty member is to answer those questions through curriculum development.

A curriculum is – or should be – the articulation of a community’s understanding of disciplinary boundaries: what they value, what they exclude, what they require. I had a fairly traditional undergraduate art education, based around a choice of prerequisite classes: drawing, sculpture, photography, graphic design. Drawing was mandatory. As a master’s student at New York University, I had another core curriculum: programming, basic electrical engineering, visual design, and communications. Everything was mandatory. Communications included training in Photoshop, video editing, etc – but it came wrapped in a larger conversation about the social significance of technologies.

I personally believe digital media core curricula should include programming and drawing. But I’m not the deciding factor in discipline-wide curriculum development. The faculty of every school has the responsibility to decide what their students should learn. I don’t think we’d see wildly divergent curricula. But internal conversations need to happen so that consensus can emerge and students get consistent messages about what they need to succeed.

TS: An additional starting point was your emphasis of moving the computing arts away from the computer. Please elaborate.

EG: To me, this is perhaps the most important point: moving the computing arts away from the computer. One of our greatest struggles during the class was the fixation on the technical at the expense of the conceptual. We suggested refocusing projects, but more than once we found that students did not believe that sketching ‘counted’ as part of their work as digital artists. Yet in retrospect, it’s significant that the semester’s most successful exercise was based on drawing.

For us, the lesson was that teaching the digital arts should not be confined to digital media. Many institutions without the budget for expensive equipment can use diagrams and formal logic as a proxy for circuitry. Nothing can totally replace learning by doing, but teaching the underlying principles of computing still helps students. As Casey Reas points out, code creates the tools we use – it’s an important medium in itself. I think that teaching drawing can serve as an important bulwark against the fixation on technology, and it can remind students to focus on the underlying ideas that they strive to communicate.

So, I see several issues: I feel conflicted about the perception of the teaching of "new media" as something that is completely new. Another issue is thinking solely of what we produce as solely a function of ‘media.’
I think we’ll do ourselves and our students a service if we think less about newness, less about a specific media, and more about continuing art practices based around the implications of computing.

About:

Elizabeth Goodman's design, writing, and research focuses on critical thinking and creative exploration at the intersections of new digital technologies, social life and urban spaces. She has a master's degree from New York University's Interactive Telecommunications Program and has spent this fall as a visiting lecturer on site specific art and wireless networks at the San Francisco Art Institute. For a course bibliography visit www.molodiez.org/biblio_goodman.pdf. More examples of Elizabeth's work in urban gaming and cellphone interfaces can be found at www.confectious.net.

Posted by: ts | 2005-02-13 7:29:23 AM

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