Blog Post


This is a reblog from the MacArthur Foundation's Spotlight blog,including videos and lots of URL's for digital tinkering, brought to usby one of the most imaginative and thoughtful explorers of thetechnological imagination,USC's Anne Balsamo. Here's the url, and seethe reblog below:





Reblogged from the MacArthur Foundation's Spotlight Blog: 


A professor at USC shares video from a recent meeting thatbrought together artists, educators, researchers, and technologyexperts to discuss ?tinkering? for learning in the digital age.

The Maker?s Movement, the return of ?handicrafts,? tinkering?these are some of the most fascinating cultural practices making the news recently. In early 2008, an article in the New York Times described the Bay Area Maker?s Faireas a gathering of ?folks from all walks of life who blend science,technology, craft and art to make things both goofy and grand.? InNovember 2008, the Los Angeles Times published a pieceabout the rise of ?craft-making? among young artisans, noting that theburgeoning growth of ?craft websites have fostered a global networkbased on cooperation rather than competition.? Even as these culturalpractices gather steam to take form as new cultural movements?DIY, forexample?they also point out an important under-theorized considerationin discussions about the relationship between digital media andlearning: the role of the hand and of the body in the process oflearning and making culture.

My interest in the corporeal (body-based) dimension of digitally mediated learning was an early inspiration for the grant proposalI submitted to the MacArthur Foundation to explore the development ofthe technological imagination as a 21st century literacy. Tinkering, Iargued, is an important set of practices for developing thetechnological imagination. As I became more familiar with the otherprojects in the Digital Media and Learning Initiative, I focused myattention the role of ?tinkering? in museums and libraries. While thebroader aim of the grant is to discuss the specific role that museumsand libraries can perform within distributed networked learningenvironments, one set of possibilities that we are investigatingfocuses on the development of creative making spaces and tinkeringprotocols within these cultural institutions. The argument, in brief,is that as specialized ?nodes? within networked distributed learningenvironments, museums (especially science/technology centers) andcommunity based libraries offer specific ?learning affordances? thatare not (currently) offered by formal schools or institutional learningprograms. The ?learning affordances? made possible by museums andlibraries include 1) the possibility of creating physical spaces forface-to-face social interactions that are based in communal ?tinkering?practices, 2) the possibility of providing a community-level physicalspace for the development of embodied learning relationships betweenmembers of different generations (youth and adults); and 3) thepossibility of serving as the context where digital creative practices(graphics production, video-making, etc.) are connected to theproduction of physical objects (i.e., through the acts of tinkeringwith various materials).

In late October 2008, as one of the research activities supported bythe MacArthur funding, I convened a meeting on the topic of ?Tinkeringas a Mode of Knowledge Production in a Digital Age.? The purpose ofthis meeting was to bring together people from different culturalinstitutions (museums, libraries, university research centers) and fromdifferent sites of informal education (community arts programs,galleries, technology centers) to initiate a cross-domain discussionabout the concept of ?tinkering? as a paradigm for knowledgeconstruction. I began the meeting by presenting an overview of theaims of the Digital Media and Learning initiative in order to situatethe discussion of tinkering within a context of learning in a digitalage. There were several questions I asked the group to consider intheir discussions throughout the meeting:

1) Why is tinkering and ?hand-making? important at this historical juncture?
2) What are the key sensibilities of a tinkerer?
3) How is an interest in tinkering stimulated or provoked?
4) What new tinkering practices are emerging in contemporary culture, especially in light of the rise of makers? culture?
5) What is the relationship between tinkering and knowledge formation?
6) What research has already been done on tinkering as a mode oflearning? What research might be needed to understand it better?
7) How should we rethink the notion of tinkering in light of digital media?

In addition to my research team who are part of the Tangible Culture Investigation ProjectI run at University of Southern California, twenty-eight peopleparticipated in the day and half meeting. The participants werespecially invited because they each have experience and insight intothese questions. Several participants were asked to make presentationsto the group on their research or programs. For example:

Mitch Resnick presented a talk on the topic of ?designing for tinkering? in which he described the work of his Lifelong Kindergarten research group at the MIT Media Lab. Resnick and his research team recently developed a new programming environment called ?Scratch,"which makes it easier for kids to create their own animated stories,video games, and interactive art. He presented the design rationalethat guided the creation of Scratch as a robust tinkering environmentthat would encourage youth and other users to develop the social habitsof collaborative co-creation of digital experiences.

Sean Dockray and Fiona Whitten, the co-founders of Telic Arts Exchangein LA, presented their ?Public School? project that links people whohave a specific learning interest with other people who have thewillingness and expertise to address that learning interest. To dothis act of community learning matchmaking, Telic supports a socialnetworking application called The Public School that in effect provides a model of community-driven participatory education.

Every participant had important insights to contribute to the discussions. Staff at the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teachinginterviewed five participants to record their thoughts on tinkering,public education, creativity and technology. (In a recent Spotlight post, Foundation President Anthony Bryk and Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation President Arthur Levine describe the role of both organizations in convening meetings on the topic of Digital Media and Learning.)

John Seely Brown provided a nuanced description of the relationship of tinkering to creativity and learning.


Alison Clark,from the University of Illinois Urbana Champaign, described her projectcalled HITT: Hip Hop Information Technology Tour?which is a project tocreate a mobile learning lab that engages African American youth in theproduction of music and sound.


Jaime Cortez,an arts educator based in San Francisco, discusses the real politicalimpact of various technology initiatives that focus on under-servedpopulations.


One of the two most gifted science/technology informal education designers in the country, Mike Petrichdescribed the rationale behind the Exploratorium?s Learning Studio thatbrings artists, scientists, and educators together to collaborate onplayful learning activities.


Eric Siegelis the director of education and community programs at the New YorkHall of Science in Queens, New York. He emphasizes the role of peopleand the involvement of peer instructors in inspiring museum visitors toengage in new technology activities.


A fuller discussion of the meeting, its conversations, and suggestedresearch efforts will be included in a forthcoming MacArthur reportthat will include a section on ?Tinkering as a Mode of KnowledgeProduction in a Digital Age.?


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