Blog Post

digital cultures as a way of thinking...

One of my roles at Digital Cultures and Creativity is to create and run structured play sessions for our students.  If you don't yet know of DCC, it is a new 2 year living-learning program in the honors college at University of Maryland. These sessions take place outside of regular class time, without mandatory attendance, and should also be 'fun' - or else why attend?

But what is Structured Play?

I speak here for myself, and not for my cohorts in the program...

I understand these to be workshops which will open up new avenues of thinking within digital cultures, geared towards students with varying interests, knowledges and skills which will provoke thought, creativity and a look at the 'in-between' or the 'underside of things.' By looking at how we interact with the everyday, and how we subvert, in many small ways, the intentions of whatever it is we are using, we can create, think and learn differently than we otherwise would.

I hope that this loose structure will allow students to run in any direction they wish, giving them the ability to understand digital culture as not objects, but as ways of thinking, understanding, and creating the world.

Our students come from a wide range of interests and ways of identifying with technologies and themselves. Therefore, these 'playdates' as they've come to be known in the halls of DCC, are a combination of planned activity and participant exploration, encouraging them to use their own standpoint as a jumping off point into the unknown, while at the same time encouraging collaboration amongst teams of thoughtful people with various skill sets.

Teaching 'outside' of the classroom has challenges of its own. See my post 'digital humanities and teenagers' (on my personal website) for a few lessons learned.

What I want my students to learn through the process of Structured Play (and in my classroom teaching as well) is the following:

1. Do not be afraid. Don't know computer programming?  Never picked up a video camera?   Can't draw, so how can you use graphic design software?  How about algorithms?  It's ok. Just jump in and try it.  The worst thing that can happen is that you don't like it- kinda like when you were forced to eat your peas before you could leave the dinner table, which gave you a permanent gag reflex every time you smell peas for the rest of your life.  Uncomfortable, yes. but you're not afraid of peas anymore are you?

2. Collaborate. What you don't know, someone else does, and you have knowledges that others don't. By working together, you will create better, more interesting work.  Stuck on an idea, but don't know how to articulate it?  get a group of differently-minded folks together and discuss what you're thinking.  The (heated) discussion that ensues will make a better project in the end.

3. Curiosity killed the cat or the cat has 9 lives. It's up to you to decide which type of cat to be- the one who lets things happen, or the one who makes things happen (ok, I know these are untenable binaries, but bear with me here for simplicity's sake). Curiosity about the world, about whatever it is that interests you, whether it is taking apart a motorcycle engine or investigating social constructions and inequalities, will only lead to more ways of understanding the world. If you don't investigate, you'll never know.

4. Theory and (artistic) practice go together. really. When you read/see something interesting, exciting, or thought provoking, you can go beyond thinking, discussing and writing. You can draw, build, design, photograph, film, develop applications that express your thoughts. Having the foundations from other thinkers can help you jump off into your own explorations, even when you think you have no good ideas. Isn't this what learning is all about?

Which leads me to...

5. it is not the tool, it is the underlying idea. Tools, whether it is software or a table saw, are always changing.  There are modifications to make them better, different, and sometimes they are no longer produced.  So don't focus too much on the tool; instead focus on the idea.  Once you know what you want to do, you can figure out how, and with what tools. By this I mean, don't decide you want to 'make a video' - instead decide that you are, say, conflicted about gender roles, and feel that performing gender - and turning it into a video- is how you can work through your conflict.

This is not to say ignore the tools; to a certain extent you do need to know what's out there in order to know what's possible- but that goes back to #2, curiosity. By using digital cultures as a process rather than a tool, we can use the tool as a methodology instead of a means to an end.

With that said, here are a few upcoming Structured Playdates:

  • The Exquisite Corpse A day-long creative project in time based art and crowdsourced storytelling.  We will be creating and finishing a video in 1 day.
  • Drifting the City Spend a day in the city learning about and 'digitalizing' The Situationist concept of the Dérive. 
  • Gamestorming Values-based brainstorming (based on VAP) will result in paper prototypes of innovative games.
  • Soundwalking the City A day-long experience in mapping place and space through sound.



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