Dataspace/Teaching space/Learning space

Dataspace/Teaching space/Learning space

Wired UK last issue carried a thinkpiece by Negroponte on the idea that learning
might be a more interesting term than browsing for what we are doing on the net.
This is a great idea, but it still needs some thinking through, of course. In
between the chaotic paperchases involved in completing the old year, I am
designing a course in digital cultures for students in media and cultural
studies in Liverpool, and these things are in my mind:

- what can be taught about digital culture?
- what can be learned about it?
- what should be taught or learned?

These are academic students mainly, not practitioners. I want them to have some
sense of what it is to make something, so we will be designing and building a
fairly unambitious website in html. I can tell my bosses that this is a valuable
skill, but like everyone else I am pretty sure that the days of html are
numbered […] But I can't help feeling that there is still a point to this exercise.
The course is largely about the cultural aspects of the new media – sociology of
the information society, globalisation, cyberfeminism, digital aestehtics,
surveillance and power, that kind of thing.

In the UK, where media education now forms part of the statutory National Curriculum,
what most students learn is basically historical and theoretical. All the skills-based
learning is undertaken one way or another under the banner of professional and
vocational training, and the industry is generally unsympathetic to the idea of
training more people than can safely be handled: the more cheap graduates appear
ready to work for peanuts, the less viable it becomes to pay for their training.

On the other hand, it is ferociously difficult to teach editing or sound design
as aesthetic practices if students cannot get their hands on an edit deck or a
dubbing suite… You learn through making.


I guess that is pretty much what I want these students to come away with: at the
very least an informed idea of how these media work (and of the contexts in
which they come to look and react they way they do), and it is not too much to
hope that some at least will come away with a hobby that can entertain and
enlighten them for a lifetime, much as my literature degree has left me with a
lasting delight in poetry from which I gain no part of my living.

There are two reasons for wanting to raise these issues in Rhizome.

I would imagine several contributors are teachers as well as artists, curators,
critics and so forth, and pretty much all of us have been students. I think this
is a good time to discuss what grounding the next generation should get from us,
especially given the pace of alteration in the hard and software environments.
What can we give them? What can they learn from us?

The other goes more to the heart of the discussions ongoing here. Some of us are
into the medium as medium: most of us are to the extent that we are online in
the first place, as opposed to working in some other medium. But there is also a
sense I get that most of us have something to say, something to communicate.

But communication is a two way process. When you are done teaching,and you get
the essays back that have started from what you thought you were communicating,
you get an enormous and bewildering diaspora of results. Things over whose
clarity you laboured are become murky and indecipherable, Throwaway remarks have
become gospels. And tangential quips have turned into the springboards for
utterly new intelligences.

I wonder whether art, as it has been constituted for the last five hundred years
of the Western world, has not become to interested in transmitting knowledge,
meaning, information.

And whether the time is come, in the discussion of the death of art and the
birth of some indecipherably other mode of communication, to think of cultural
practices less as teaching than as learning; to see them from the other side of
the screen.