Remix artist Pogo’s Disney remix “Alice”
In 2009, I came across the inspiring work of self-taught Australian remix musician Nick Bertke (aka “Pogo”). As a media teacher doing remix in my own media production classes, I was interested in learning more about Pogo and his creative process. So I interviewed him about it.
What I learned from Pogo, beyond his inspirations and process, is the central role of the philosophies that inform remix. Philosophies that come into direct conflict with the policies and practices of institutional learning. This distinction is one of many that got me thinking about the differences between the real creative production process (i.e, the world I worked in as an early adopter and new media creator prior to teaching), what we’re permitted to do in school. This post isn’t so much about remix but how remix constitutes a site of struggle (and insight) between formal and informal learning.
While many educators have since adopted some of the practices of remix as a component of education (a wonderful thing), the acceptable remix products produced in a classroom are still mediated by explicit and implicit rules and expectations, many of which “nullify” the kind of authentic artistic expression that exists within real affinity spaces of maker culture and transmedia. As Henry Jenkins points out:
“It is not clear that the successes of affinity spaces can be duplicated by simply incorporating similar activities into the classroom. Schools impose a fixed leadership hierarchy (including very different roles for adults and teens); it is unlikely that someone like [maker artist] or [maker artist] would have had the same editorial opportunities they have found through fandom. … Even the most progressive schools set limits on what students can write compared to the freedom they enjoy on their own” (Henry Jenkins, Convergence Culture)
As well, truly situated cultures are rarely authorized within education unless they are unpacked by a teacher “expert” (i.e,. one with extensive “teaching” background v. lived experience with the tool or practice) or else reified by novel classroom projects that reflect the teacher’s interests, values or priorities rather than those of the learners.
My lived experiences of these differences – as a learner, adopter, maker and teacher – speak to much larger questions about what is really possible within institutional learning at a time of unprecedented access to the figures, communities and tools that allow learners an alternative means of learning that doesn’t involve “qualified” teachers, institutional spaces or curriculum selected on their behalf. As I see it, we can choose to deny this reality or attempt to find our place with in it.
CONTINUE READING [below]
Real learning in action is a form of (praxis). It is embodied, experienced and known in ways that are often social, physical and tangible. I knew this as a student and as cultural producer, but had to relocate these instincts when I went to teacher’s college, where I learned about the externally defined and institutionally inscribed processes of teaching and learning (pedagogy).
Getting back to remix, and drawing on the contrast between my lived experiences of media production and those of the classroom variety, I was stuck by several null, hidden or explicit curriculum variables that limited or negated what the students and I were able to do. These are just a few I observed:
1) School doesn’t encourage breaking the law: We can view a movie or hear about a remix artist who breaks the law. We can discuss and debate and reflect on these things. But when it comes to openly and honestly sharing our own positions on subjects that involve transgression, how much agency do we have in a context of assessment and evaluation – that is mediated by an assessor whose own beliefs or positions may be explicitly or implicitly known via their disposition, identity or expressed affinities?
2) Neutered production (de-contextualized simulation): We can use some of the practices and tools of a real remix artist but what about their materials (i.e., we cannot take images, music, content that is meaningful to us if it is copyrighted). The choice and selection and use of particular content is as integral to remix as the act of editing and changing the meaning of those materials.
3) Using “original” v. copyrighted material: Often, teachers are encouraged to have students create “original” material of their own in order to create remix content. This is perfectly valid (Pogo did so … with pro tools that aren’t available to students in most schools). Unfortunately, this is also held up as an ideal, situating the use of copyrighted material as somehow less “creative” than making our own. We need to stop fibbing, and be honest about why we can and cannot do things in school. Only then can we say our students are “empowered” to do or think anything.
4) The public domain is not the same as the stuff they want to use: I love the public domain content. And as a consequence of my school board’s policies on creating works from copyrighted material, I had students use the internet archive as the source for their remixes. The reaction was: “this sucks. The music/video/etc I want to use is not here.” While I’m not allowed to encourage students to break the law I am permitted to tell them what they can and cannot do at school versus what they may or may not do with their own tools, in their own homes, with their own internet providers – and share with them the potential consequences of doing so. If, after viewing the consequences they choose to break the law it is not because I have encouraged them to do so but they have chosen to enact their own political and civic identities outside of school. But, again, what we do in the classroom is mediated by the law. It is a far cry from what is happening outside of school. And they know it.
Rather than rationalizing, defending or avoiding this problem (a disempowered position that most of my colleagues have felt forced accept), I’ve chosen to address it via contrasts with situated learning and transgressive/critical pedagogy — in hopes that we can: A) illuminate it for what it is; and B) start asking questions about what’s really missing from learning experiences in school and the ways we can address this. Some if it will likely involve establishing a network between formal and informal learning spaces – where null curriculum is permitted and encouraged and some of it will interrogate the policies and practices that presently define professional pedagogy and practice.
Showandtellagogy v. situated exploration
If the classroom and school serve to hinder authentic self-directed exploration, then we need to find new ways to acknowledge or accredit the learning that is happening outside of school (though not necessarily via schooly assessment processes) or else find ways for situated and formal learning to coexist in a meaningful way that also validates lived experience. A travelogue is not the same as traveling.
Real innovation has little to do with software or technology – though these tools can certainly be employed in the process. Innovation is really about thinking, disposition and motivating utopia. Reggio Emilia, Ivan Illich, Paulo Freire and others promoted the ideas I’m relocating here long before any of the so-called revolutionary tech emerged. So why don’t we hear anything about this kind of pedagogy in Twitter or at educational conferences? It’s partly because of the belief that we can use new tools while maintaining old power laws. Unfortunately, new tools don’t transform a normative disposition into a transgressive one or conventional pedagogy into situated learning. But this may be difficult for some: As bell hooks argues:
“We found, again and again, that almost everyone, especially the old guard, were more disturbed by the explicit recognition of the role our political perspectives play in shaping pedagogy than by their passive acceptance of ways of teaching and learning that reflect biases” (hooks, Teaching to Transgress)
At some point, we need to get beyond teacher-directed showandtellagogy and actually go places, meet new people and do things that may not increase our social or professional capital or be validated via qualifications or professional status. This isn’t so much about teachers “dipping in” to cultures unlike their own (we already do enough of that – it’s called tokenism). It’s about acknowledging their existence, respecting the existing knowledge, values and skills within those spaces and seeking the expertise of those within those cultures rather than attempting to colonize and reify these spaces for use in our classrooms.
One way of doing this is to actually go to these spaces and take part in them – authentically. Another way is to listen to and engage those who already teach and learn there and think about how our learners can situate their learning within those spaces (co-op, etc). The learning that happens in these situated spaces is messy. It’s sometimes unfriendly. You might even get hurt. You will be and feel like a noob. And it doesn’t come with catering. Just ask Gever Tulley, who proposes REAL tools, in REAL spaces learning. Tulley’s 5 Dangerous Things TED talk helps to articulate the problem with inauthenticity as a mode of learning and challenges us to explore the difference:
QUESTIONS FOR TEACHERS:
Given some of the context and examples above – null curriculum, reification, situated learning – I’m interested in asking teachers how they are either transgressing or reinforcing the issues above. The questions below are intended as a provocative prompt to get us (myself included) thinking about the environment in which we teach and how that environment reinforces and hinders authentic learning or expression. It’s also intended as a prompt to start thinking about just how empowered our students are to truly speak their minds in the school environment if we ourselves are not permitted to do so.
Q: Learning culture: How often do you solicit ideas or questions or examples from your students about curriculum or culture prior to or during the planning of your units? (daily, hourly, monthly) How much of what you’re doing strongly reflects your students identities, cultures or lived experiences (versus your own interests, preferred tools, communities)? What are your students teaching you (or their peers) about media cultures? What opportunities do students have for ‘scaffolding’ ‘showing’ ‘articulating’ ‘sharing’ ‘instructing’ or ‘empowering’ your/their peers learning, skills or knowledge [note: these words are typically applied to the things we “give” /”provide” for students, situating us as the source and origin of their empowerment (empty cup thinking). What is your advice for teachers who wish to engage their students cultures or lived experiences in a meaningful way?
Q: Content policy: What are your school’s policies on the presence of provocative content (i.e., violence, nudity or other “inappropriate” stuff) in your own curriculum and your students spoken, performed, written or produced expressions? What words and/or images are not permitted in their works? What are the consequences of the presence of inappropriate material in their expression or your choices of curriculum (that contains this material)? How does the absence or presence of particular cultural forms, texts or subjects limit or empower what students learn in your classroom? If you teach in an alternative school, what are your recommendations for teachers in mainstream schools – in relation to “transgressive” or inappropriate content?
Q: Tools and Technology: How much agency do you have as a teacher to select specific tools and software for your classroom – how long does a request take to process? How many open source tools do you presently use in your classroom? If you are without the tools and technology you need, how does this mediate the options you provide for the students? Do you encourage students to use their own personal tools or resources and how do you support those who cannot afford their own technology or tools? What is your advice for teachers who would like a more agile process of obtaining the tools they need?
Q: Ideology and self expression: Is your school administration, culture or local community ideologically, socially or culturally diverse? Are students, staff, administration or parents supportive of the free expression or inquiry into diverse, radical or transgressive? Do you model, embody or promote empowerment (or conformity/assimilation)? How much freedom do students in your school/classes to express diverse identities or beliefs within the dominant culture of your school/community? What are the conditions required of a truly empowered classroom where creative works may contain ideas or expression that challenges the status quo? Those of you who do enjoy this freedom, please explain how or why your school culture does so and how you would recommend other teachers cultivate the same kinds of freedoms in their schools/classrooms.
Q: Situated learning: What creative communities of practice (groups, communities, spaces or forums) are you presently exploring that are outside of your existing social, educational or professional capital? What kinds of things did you learn about learning (in that space)? How are these spaces different from institutional learning settings in terms of what you can say, do or create within? If you are a media teacher, what investment are you currently making into the media cultures or sectors you teach? How do you scaffold these explorations and practices among your students?