Thursday, February 08, 2018

Remembering John Perry Barlow

Long before the time when I first read him speaking good sense about what was then becoming known as cyberspace (in the early 90s), I first heard John Perry Barlow 'speak' through his lyrics for songs written in collaboration with Bob Weir. Cassidy remains one of my all time favourite songs. While Weir's melody is hauntingly beautiful, it is the way the lyric renders the lives of people who were deeply significant to Barlow that has always stood out most for me. The way he cuts to the core of deep things so clearly and economically, blending force and beauty.

Chris Bigum pointed Michele and me to Barlow's 1995 interview with Nat Tunbridge in Australian Personal Computer when we were all working together on the idea of mindsets in relation to the uptake of new technologies in education. In this interview Barlow makes what we believe to be the original reference to a distinction between "natives" and "immigrants" with respect to understanding the internet and life online. [Prefiguring Justin Trudeau, Chris and Michele and I opted for "insiders" and "newcomers" in place of "natives" and "immigrants" as ways to distinguish the mindsets; but the distinction itself was pure Barlow.] Barlow was arguing that to think about virtual space/internet space/information space in the ways we have become accustomed to thinking about physical space is a fundamental misconception.

If what Barlow was arguing back then, almost 25 years ago, is a little better and a little more widely understood today than it was then, it is nonetheless still inadequately understood and applied within such important spheres as law, commerce and education. For the sake of posterity, and for expressing our appreciation of John Perry Barlow and our sense of loss at his passing, we will recall here a couple of gems from 1995.

Within the paradigm of physical or material space, said Barlow, controlled economics increases value by regulating scarcity. In the economy of virtual space, however, the opposite holds. To quote Barlow, with information it is familiarity, not scarcity, that has value. With information, "it's dispersion that has the value, and it's not a commodity it's a relationship and, as in any relationship, the more that's going back and forth the higher the value of the relationship".

He said that several years before talk of "relationship technologies" got any traction.

And with respect to pornography on the internet, a hot topic in 1995, Barlow simply rejected the strategy of trying to apply gross filters. Filters would not work, he said, because "Netspace" cannot be controlled that way. The more elaborate the filter, the more elaborate will be the search to find ways around it, and the more powerful these resistances become. He advocated more local and individualized filters that work on the principle of people taking responsibility for their choices. "If you have concerns about your children looking at pornography, the answer is not to eliminate pornography from the world, which will never happen; the answer is to raise them to find it as distasteful as you do".

Pornography may be yesterday's issue, but Barlow's principle holds for a raft of parallel issues today. It's not Barlow's fault we've learned next to nothing of importance about such matters over the past quarter century.

He gave it his best shot, and it could not be expressed any better today than he expressed it way back then: in the beginning.

Rest in peace, John Perry Barlow. You were truly special and your wisdom will be greatly missed.

Lyric to "Cassidy"

I have seen where the wolf has slept by the silver stream
I can tell by the mark he left, you were in his dream
Ah child of countless trees
Ah child of boundless seas
What you are, what you're meant to be
Speaks his name, though you were born to me
Born to me, Cassidy

Lost now on the country miles in his Cadillac
I can tell by the way you smile, he is rolling back
Come wash the night-time clean
Come grow the scorched ground green
Blow the horn, tap the tambourine
Close the gap of the dark years in between
You and me, Cassidy

Quick beats in an icy heart
Catch colt draws a coffin cart
There he goes and now here she starts
Hear her cry

Flight of the seabirds
Scattered like lost words
Wheel to the storm and fly

Faring thee well now
Let your life proceed by its own designs
Nothing to tell now
Let the words be yours, I'm done with mine


Monday, January 22, 2018

New book in our series--congrats again, Matt Farber!

Matt Farber (of Gamify Your Classroom fame) has just published another lovely book in our New Literacies & Digital Epistemologies series with Peter Lang. Game-Based Learning in Action: How an Expert Affinity Group Teaches with Games (foreword by James Paul Gee) focusses on concrete ways to develop games-based learning in classrooms. From the back cover:


"How are expert educators using games in their classrooms to give students agency, while also teaching twenty-first century skills, like empathy, systems thinking, and design thinking? This question has motivated Matthew Farber’s Game-Based Learning in Action: How an Expert Affinity Group Teaches With Games showcasing how one affinity group of K12 educators—known as "The Tribe"—teaches with games. They are transformational leaders outside the classroom, in communities of practice. They mentor and lead newcomers to game-based learning, as well as advise game developers, academics, and policymakers.
Teachers in "The Tribe" do not teach in isolation—they share, support, and mentor each other in a community of practice. Farber shares his findings about the social practices of these educators. Game-Based Learning in Action details how the classrooms of expert game-based learning teachers function, from how they rollout games to how they assess learning outcomes.
There are plenty of lessons to be learned from the best practices of expert educators. These teachers use games to provide a shared meaningful experience for students. Games are often the focal point of instruction. Featuring a foreword from James Paul Gee (Mary Lou Fulton Presidential Professor of Literacy Studies, and Regents’ Professor), this book comments on promises and challenges of game-based learning in twenty-first century classrooms. If you are looking to innovate your classroom with playful and gameful learning practices, then Game-Based Learning in Action is for you!"

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We're so pleased to have another dynamic book from Matt!




Monday, June 26, 2017

Writing

Right now I'm smiling my way through a delightfully irreverent and waspish account of fear and loathing in Silicon Valley's startup culture. Antonio Garcia Martinez's Chaos Monkeys: Obscene Fortune and Random Failure in Silicon Valley has the kind of bite that can make long haul international plane flights seem like a rewarding experience.

Among many unexpected bonuses flying in from left field is this gem of a perspective on writing in which, of course, I have a more than passing interest, thanks to my own line of professional misadventures over the years.

As he begins to recount the process by which he and his two colleagues set out to create their startup pitch to prospective investors, our author take a paragraph out to address his question "What is writing?" With the politically incorrect candor that typifies his book as a whole, Garcia Martinez responds:

"It is me, the author, taking the state inside my mind and, via the gift of language, grafting it onto yours. But man invented language in order to better deceive, not inform. That state I'm transmitting is often a false one, but you judge it not by the depth of its emotion in my mind, but by the beauty and pungency of the thought in yours. Thus the best deceivers are called articulate, as they make listeners and readers fall in love with the thoughts projected into their heads. It's the essential step in getting men to write you large checks, women to takeoff their clothes, and the crowd to read and repeat what you've thought. All with mere words: memes of meaning strung together according to grammar and good taste. Astonishing when you think about it."

Small wonder literacy educators find the challenges so demanding.

Small wonder the theory can often seem so precious.

Small wonder the research can often seem to fall so short.

Write on.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Vale Brian Street

Along with many others in the literacy research and scholarship world, we are today mourning the untimely death of Brian Street. Brian was a pioneer in the English speaking world of a sociocultural approach to understanding literacy. In many ways he said it all in the opening sentence of his 1984 book, when he wrote that 'Literacy' is best understood as a shorthand for the social practices and conceptions of reading and writing.

Happily, he want on to say a lot more and to do a lot more over the next 30 plus years to help establish a robust area of academic interest and activity. It is easy enough to locate and appreciate his written contributions. But many of us were also fortunate to have Brian impact on our lives in more embodied and hands-on ways. He was generous to a fault with his time and energy whenever there was an opportunity for him to provide encouragement and support.

During 1986 I was working on my first literacy book and was searching for works that would support the kind of 'non psychological' line on literacy that I had been fumbling toward since wrestling with Freire's pedagogy of the oppressed. Harvey Graff's wonderful book "The Literacy Myth" gelled with what my gut told me -- that literacy as mere encoding and decoding was hopelessly over-rated and, in many cases, could actually be as much of an impediment as a support in 'making one's way in life'. But how to get beyond encoding and decoding, in ways that augmented Freire's literacy as praxis approach, was proving elusive. That was when I found Brian's book "Literacy in Theory and Practice" in the Auckland University library. (Remember the library?)

It gelled. It absolutely gelled.

This was before there were computers on New Zealand academics' desks. Writing meant banging out text on at best an electric typewriter. No email either .... (well, outside of the Computer Studies department, of course, and -- of course -- they were keeping it to themselves). But bang out words I did; banging away con mucho gusto with some reliable guides to help me along.

When 40 the conceptual chapter on literacy had been banged out I wondered if I'd got my head around what these guides were saying. Forty plus pages were jammed into an A4 envelope and snail mailed to one Dr Brian Street at the University of Sussex. I'd never met him, and he'd surely never met me. I should probably have written a letter first to ask if it would be OK to burden his post box. But book contracts pressed very hard in those days, when it would take maybe 10 days for an airmail envelope to get from the Antipodes to Mother England.

I could make this a long story, as you well know, but to cut it short, guess what happened. A few weeks later an even bulkier envelope arrived in my pigeon hole from the University of Sussex. Brian had returned the original typescript, with comments hand written throughout the text, PLUS a few sheets of his own written thoughts. He basically said "Yep, you've got what I am trying to say and you've used it in a way I believe is sound, and I want to encourage you to keep writing".

Needless to say, I was over the moon. We all have to start somewhere, and where we usually start from is a place that is more or less naive. What we most need is encouragement and some gentle nudges in a productive direction. Brian was simultaneously encouraging and gentle in his nudging.

The book I wrote was the beginning of everything that followed for me in my academic life, and I know that many other people in our shared area of endeavour can say exactly the same thing: without Brian's support and encouragement we would have lived much leaner and more arid academic lives.

Vale, Brian Street. Rest in peace and, while your example and your work live on, we are already missing you and your boundless collegiality and goodwill with deep aches in our hearts.

Saturday, May 06, 2017

A charming and magical evening with Roger McGuinn

It's funny how things go around. When Sam was one month old we were at Auckland airport seeing my mother off on a flight. This guy, with a distinctively US accent just asks out of nowhere "How old's the baby?". I tell him Sam's a month old and ask where he's from. He says "From Los Angeles, but we're flying to Sydney". I say -- because I had already bought a front row seat ticket -- "Oh what a shame you're not staying on a little longer, cos next week a fabulous Los Angeles band is playing here; the Byrd's are doing a show". He replies "I know, we're them" as he gestured with a hand. I looked in the direction of the hand and immediately registered Chris Hillman. But I hadn't recognised the speaker, which puzzled me. I wondered in an instant, silently, is he road crew? So I said "I'm Colin". He said "I'm George Grantham, from Poco, drumming for them on this tour". I said "Hey, Poco, Richie Furay's band". He says, "Yes". It was all family: After all: Souther Hillman Furay. Why *wouldn't* Poco's drummer be playing with the Byrds on a short tour?

"C'mon over", says George, "come say hello to the boys". So we did. They all looked tired and like they wanted to be somewhere else. Anywhere else. Notwithstanding, Roger McGuinn not only said hello, but sounded like he meant it.

I stored that away. That, and the fact that while he had his own project in mind he put that to one side to let a precocious upstart called Gram Parsons call the bigger shots on what the test of time allowed decades later to be recognised as one of the landmark albums of all time: "Sweetheart of the Rodeo". The music ruled, the music was bigger than the individual ego. It's true, ask Keef.

In short, Roger McGuinn is someone I have always loved as a favourite favourite musician. The real deal. A good man. I just kind of knew it.

A year or so back Michele was coming back from the airport with Caesar, the man with the limo she always uses. This night Caesar asks if it's OK to double up because someone is going nearby. Michele is fine with that. The fellow traveller turned out to be Warren Zanes, a one time muso whose band once opened for Tom Petty. More recently, Mr Zanes has written a superb biography of Tom Petty, amongst doing many other good things around the world of rock music. I read the book at home in Mexico. At one point I was much taken by a story about Petty once berating a record company official for giving McGuinn a lousy song to record. Good stuff, I thought.

Then I thought "But hang on a minute here, I wonder if Roger McGuinn is still playing gigs". It's easy to get out of some loops when living a full life in Mexico. I did the google thing, and to my unspeakable delight quickly discovered that he was playing a concert on 4 May within a few short miles of our place in New Jersey. Michele found tickets and a couple of nights ago we grabbed a diner meal and walked across the road to the venue.

The show began, as scheduled, at 7.30pm. Just after we'd bought the CD and DVD version of what was to be in store. Good call. For the next 2 hours and some, punctuated by just a brief intermission, we were treated to an illustrated partial biography of the musical life and times of Roger McGuinn: from his early guitar and banjo lessons at the Old Town music school in Chicago and his first work with the Limelighters, to his current work in American folk music preservation. There were short demonstrations of guitar picking styles, accounts of how Byrds' versions of other people's songs were put together, memories of moments shared with peers and friends that were part of shaping a musical heritage. It was beautiful.

One of the first things I noticed about his Martin 6 string guitar was that he had modified it in the exact same way that my long time ago friend, Jae Renaut, had modified his Martin -- which my friend Jean and I bought a long time ago, and which stayed with Jean as her treasured lifelong guitar companion. The procedure involved inserting an extra string -- a high G -- alongside the conventional G. My eyes fixed on the guitar and I was telling Michele in whispers between songs how I'd only ever seen one other Martin guitar that had been modified that way. I had barely finished relating that resonance when McGuinn wove the story of the signature McGuinn Martin 7 string into his evening's narrative.

In the days and weeks leading up to the show I found myself wondering how he was going to do the show, since it looked like it was going to be a solo gig in an intimate venue. Would he perform "Chestnut Mare"? Surely not, because just how could he do *that* solo. That and other mysteries were all explained. He did what, for me, ahead of the show, seemed beyond daungting. He did it with ease. From start to finish it was somewhere north of sublime. My cup overflowed.

I'd taken a camera thinking I could get some photos without using the flash. But we were told before the show, no photographing; no recording; all phones to be off throughout. And then came the magic words: "But you can take photos in the encore". I thought "how perfect and how fair". Just like that "hello" at the airport so many years earlier, there'd be something precious to be had from a musician with a bankable sense of proportion.

And, as luck would have it, having bought the CD/DVD pack before the show, I was able to get the last poster of the close up photo of the man's face when the show was done. The perfect finale to a perfect evening.









Saturday, April 29, 2017

Spanish language edition of of New Literacies and Teacher Learning

La edición en español de New Literacies and Teacher Learning: Professional Development and the Digital Turn acaba de ser publicada en México por Ediciones SM en México. 



El contenido del libro es el siguiente:

Para ver el contenido más claramente, haga clic en las imágenes.


Tuesday, April 25, 2017

We have a new edited collection out!

We're both very happy to announce that Researching New Literacies: Design, Theory and Data in Sociocultural Investigation is now out. This is a collection that addresses a number of themes that we feel rather strongly about; including the importance of demystifying the qualitative research process, recognizing the messiness of conducting research--especially in relation to new literacies, and the need for how-to accounts grounded in practice and that target newbie researchers.  We are deeply grateful to our contributing authors for dealing with all of these things in their rich accounts of their research processes!

From the back cover:
This book provides an expansive guide for designing and conducting robust qualitative research across a diverse range of purposes concerned with understanding new literacies in theory and in practice. It is based on the idea that one of the best ways of learning how to do good research is by closely following the approaches taken by excellent researchers. This volume brings together a group of internationally reputed qualitative researchers who have investigated new literacies from a sociocultural perspective. These contributors offer "under the hood" accounts of how they have adapted existing research approaches and, where appropriate, developed new ones to frame their research theoretically and conceptually, collected and analyzed their data, and discussed their analytic results in order to achieve their research purposes. Each chapter, based on a substantial and successful study undertaken by the researchers, addresses the research process from one or more of the following emphases: theory and design, data collection, and data analysis and interpretation. Core elements discussed in each chapter include research purposes and questions; theoretical and conceptual framing; data collection and analysis; research findings and implications; and limitations, glitches, and difficulties experienced in the research process.
Contents and authors:





And the cover:


The only thing we're sad about is the nose bleed cost of the book...  This was a visceral shock for us.

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