Wednesday 3 October 2018

Supporting education for 'digitally enfranchised' visual arts students?

Written for visual arts policy makers, educators and those visually creative who just may be interested...

As a genre closely aligned with the Modern take on aesthetic distinction, the visual arts school genre is very distant from postmodern approaches, let alone meta-modern ones. There are large gaps between school art and what occurs in contemporary art (Faucher, 2016), creative industry and screen-based visual culture. The national syllabus' emphasis on the institutional artist (as mostly an observational drawer and painter) ignore many other roles that young people might pursue for becoming successful visual creatives. Likewise, the visual arts syllabus does not explicitly address the existence of multiple visual creative hierarchies (i.e. observational drawing versus Manga illustrations) whose genres may compete in prioritising very different aesthetic and creative values (e.g. detailed realism versus imaginative graphic abstraction) for their creative communities. There is an opportunity for visual arts policy makers and educators to consider how visual arts teaching might address such competition and support young peoples' exploration of contemporary visual creative roles outside the traditional gallery path.

Within this opportunity lies the challenge of considering how the visual arts syllabus might respond to the growing role of digital media in contemporary life and art? In particular, what new academic and technical cultural capital should aspirant visual creatives be taught for supporting their
development of artistic identities and access to opportunities, whether in art worlds, creative industry or elsewhere... Here arts educators and policy-makers can turn to media studies educators and researchers who have explored young adults' creative digital productions and associated development of new media literacies (Coiro, Knobel, Lankshear, and Leu, 2014; Ito et al. 2009, 2010; Jenkins, 2006; Jenkins and Ito, 2015; Gauntlett, 2000, 2007, 2011; Lankshear and Knobel, 2006).

Young people who develop new media literacies arguably enjoy a form of digital enfranchisement through developing a level of visibility through personal presences in digital environments through which they exercise their voices. This may feature roles that range from prosumption (i.e. liking, commenting on and re-sharing YouTube videos) to produsage (editing and sharing videos via videos on a YouTube channel) (Bruns, 2008). By contrast, individuals and groups who choose not to participate or cannot surmount gatekeepers are disenfranchised through being invisible in digital environments. As the online and offline environments become increasingly interlinked, individuals who enjoy high visibility online are potentially advantaged. Their digital symbolic capital serves to generate further interest and opportunities versus the proverbial 'people of no account/sans digital personas'.

Case studies for South African aspirant design students (Venter, 2018), visual arts students (Noakes, 2018) and media studies students (Brown, Czerniewicz and Noakes, 2016) suggest that young creatives are deriving benefits similar to those identified in the global North's media studies research. That said, there are large contrasts between the affluent research contexts of the Global North (in which most media studies research with teens is done) and under-served ones in the Global South. Educational ideas and media studies research from the Global North may translate very poorly for educators in South African classrooms who typically have minimal, if any, digital infrastructure, and may have to teach large class sizes. It is important to use educational sociology for scoping the many challenges involved when creatively appropriating digital literacies into the South African visual arts syllabus, as well as who benefits from such changes, or not.

It also important to understand how the digital media repertoires of young content producers mark new forms of social distinction (Noakes, 2018) or have even shifted to become commonplace. As part of 'Generation C'(ontent), elite groups of creatives in varied communities (Brake, 2013) enjoy the rare privilege (Schradie, 2011) of assuming roles with digital media that distinguish them from their peers. For example, presenting a qualified self (Humphreys, 2018) as a visual creative with an overall online identity spanning varied digital portfolios serves to mark social distinction (Noakes, 2018). In schools, art students' digital repertoires may signify distinction for both schools and students through requiring extraordinary development of technical cultural capital and access to resources for the development of digital personas and aesthetics. By contrast, such repertoires may seem unremarkable in creative industries where communicating via digital imagery is an everyday part of professionals' work in ephemeral screen culture (Grainge, 2011). At some tertiary institutions in Cape Town, digital portfolios are now required for evaluation before admission is granted (Noakes, 2018). This points to the changing status and use of digital repertoires over time {from rare to commonplace and expected for aspirant arts students after they leave school} in different fields {tertiary fine arts and design education} by particular groups. Assessment was not a key focus of my research, but it would be interesting for researchers to describe whether academic institutions have also shifted to screening students' overall online presences in evaluating admissions!

As introduced in my opening paragraph, the doxa of a highbrow Modernist taste in South African visual arts education contributes to its many blindspots. Foregrounding the institutionalised artist as its (only?) hero distances the school art genre from many learning opportunities. These span artistic media and genres (i.e. mobile phone photography for self-portraiture and perspective), creative processes (e.g. not handmade and crafted by others) and approaches to contemporary art (i.e pseudonyms) and creative industry (e.g. writing creative briefs). Educators could support students with considering decolonisation and its arguments against implicitly foregrounding only highbrow/high status cultural capital as "the legitimate one". Educators could also draw on indigenous repertoires {beadwork and other patterns} and the energy of African artists' identities as exemplified via the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa and Norval Foundation's Art Museum's collections. Multiple platform, creative entrepreneurs could also be positioned as heroes by visual art educators who choose to address the fields of creative industry, fandoms and craft. 

How new content on this blogsite might help young visual creatives and their educators
Describing concerns related to cultural stratification and infrastructural resourcing (in that order!) are important in my role as a scholar. Challenges in these two areas suggest how difficult it would be for secondary school visual arts curricular advisers to promote systematic change. It is simply impossible that South Africa's visual arts syllabus and educators could support all visual arts students with becoming digitally enfranchised. For the foreseeable future, three major obstacles will remain in place: arts education will continue to be under-served with poor digital infrastructure (1); there will be a dearth of support for arts educators to develop their own digital media literacies, let alone teach them (2), the Modern aesthetic hierarchy will continue to be reproduced in art history lessons and via arts studio practices (3).

In my roles as design steward and techné mentor, I am interested in an ongoing contribution towards digital enfranchisement for emergent/young artists beyond the e-portfolio syllabus. I would like to support their informal andragogical /  heutagogical experiences via this blogsite by continuing to develop its links to educational content. Below is a table that lists potential lessons that could support digital enfranchisement. Its content is ordered from closest links to the established literacies in the visual arts. Such content will be written for students and arts educators may repurpose the content with appropriate attribution.

Digital enfranchisement lesson ideas
Table 1. Lesson ideas that may be close to existing literacies in the visual arts syllabus
1   Folksonomies through social bookmarking Independent school syllabus
2   Search engine syntax for researching art, etc.(See this Google cheat sheet)
3   Using artists' blogs, portfolios and digital affinity space for visual creative learningOnline portfolios such as DeviantArt and Behance, online art galleries
4   How to curate your inspirationDr Potter and Ass Prof Gilje who propose digital curation to be a new literacy
5   Developing digital portfoliosBaron on developing a digital portfolio
 E-portfolio: digital curation and self-presentationVisual arts showase e-portfolio syllabus
 Becoming an artist Dr Hansson's research into university art students' online portfolios
 Emojis II Trollz (designing pixel art)Emojipedia and online trolls
9   Medias and mediums: expressive potentialities of modalities and mediaSocial semiotic researchers using multimodal an analysis for studying transduction 
10  The creative briefWriting numerous briefs as a brand manager
11  Protecting your work's copyright and selling your work onlineProf Haupt on creative copyright and Prof Gauntlett on Making is Connecting
12  Prosumption practices for online audience engagementLankshear and Knobel on New Literacies

Developing these lessons should provide helpful content that creatives can use for developing new media literacies. Hopefully visual arts and design educators can explore how such lessons might be integrated into their syllabi. In developing these lessons, I will also be learning as I use different combinations of platforms (perhaps Slideshare for a local Trolls II Emojis syllabus, but wikiversity for a global version).

If you can suggest further inspiration, please make a comment, ta. Or to collaborate, get in touch.

Brake, D. R. (2013). Are We All Online Content Creators Now? Web 2.0 and Digital Divides. Journal of Computer‐Mediated Communication, 19(3), 609.
Brown, C., Czerniewicz, L., & Noakes, T. (2016). Online content creation: looking at students’ social media practices through a Connected Learning lens. Learning, Media and Technology, 41(1), 140-159. doi:10.1080/17439884.2015.1107097
Bruns, A. (2008). Blogs, Wikipedia, Second Life, and beyond: From production to produsage (1st ed.). Bern, Switzerland: Peter Lang.
Coiro, J., Knobel, M., Lankshear, C., & Leu, D. J. (2014). Handbook of research on new literacies (1st ed.). New York, NY: Routledge.
Cronin, B., & Shaw, D. (2002). Banking (on) different forms of symbolic capital. Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, 53(14), 1267-1270.
Faucher, C. (2016). Informal youth cultural practices: Blurring the distinction between high and low. Visual Arts Research, 42(1), 56-70.
Gauntlett, D. (2000). Web. studies: Rewiring media studies for the digital age. London, England, UK: Arnold, Edward.
Gauntlett, D. (2007). Creative Explorations: New approaches to identities and audiences. Oxon, England, UK: Routledge.
Gauntlett, D. (2011). Making is Connecting. The social meaning of creativity, from DIY and knitting to YouTube and Web 2.0. Cambridge, England, UK: Polity.
Grainge, P. (2011). Ephemeral media: Transitory screen culture from television to YouTube (1st ed.). London, England, UK: Palgrave Macmillan.
Humphreys, L. (2018). The Qualified Self: Social Media and the Accounting of Everyday Life (1st ed.). Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.
Ito et al. (2009). Living and Learning with New Media. Massachusettes, USA: Massachusettes Institute of Technology.
Ito et al. (2010). Hanging Out, Messing Around, and Geeking Out. Massachusettes, USA: Massachusettes Institute of Technology.
Jenkins, H. (2006). Convergence culture: Where old and new media collide (1st ed.). New York, NY: NYU press.
Jenkins, H., & Ito, M. (2015). Participatory Culture in a Networked Era: A Conversation on Youth, Learning, Commerce, and Politics John Wiley & Sons.
Lankshear, C., & Knobel, M. (2006a). New literacies : changing knowledge and classroom learning (1st ed.). Berkshire, England, UK: Open University Press, McGraw-Hill Education.
Lankshear, C., & Knobel, M. (2006b). New literacies: Everyday practices and classroom learning (2nd ed.). Berkshire, England, UK: Open University Press.
Noakes, T. (2018). Inequality in Digital Personas- e-portfolio curricula, cultural repertoires and social media, (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). University of Cape Town, Cape Town, RSA.
Venter, M. A. (2018). Patchworked creative practice and mobile ecologies. (Doctoral dissertation). University of Cape Town, Cape Town, RSA. Retrieved from

Monday 1 October 2018

Knowledge gaps in African design for my Post-doc research to address

Written for readers interested in the directions that my future Post-doctoral research will take (and won't!)

Doing a PhD helps one understand that there are many gaps in human knowledge. It helps clarify the existence of important gaps and challenges one to do appropriate research that help with closing them. As part of writing Post-doctoral Fellowship applications, it became important to reflect on what my inter-disciplinary media studies research contributions have been so far and how I might build on them, and move onto new topics, in the future:

In working for UCT's 'ICT Access and Use' project (2011/12), I explored how media students followed a form of connected learning for developing identities linked to creative industry as undergrads. Together with Associate Professors Cheryl Brown and Laura Czerniewicz, we addressed a gap in the literature regarding university students’ extramural creative production with varied online services. Three case studies illustrated how Connected Learning can be empowering: each student provided a vivid example of digital practices embedded within social contexts, exemplifying the processes students undertake when constructing meaning and knowledge in the digital world. Such cases have been lacking in the literature, especially from developing country contexts (GAP1). Future research can build on ours by exploring how Connected Learning is experienced in other South  African contexts and more broadly in the global South.

My PhD thesis contributed to closing a research gap concerning digital inequality. Its research described how the e-portfolios of young Cape Town visual arts students at two secondary schools were shaped by their privileged or marginalised circumstances. There is an opportunity to extend this pathfinder project by looking at completely underserved schooling environments. For example, what digital repertoires are young visual creatives in Cape Town's marginalised settings (poor suburbs in schools without support for visual art or design) developing (GAP2)? This focus also suggests an opportunity to combine research interests in connected learning and participatory culture for exploring the visual creative productions that occur in underserved contexts outside formal academic settings in Cape Town and how these repertoires link to academic cultural capital, or not (GAP3). Multimodal researchers could also explore the longitudinal changes to visual creatives' e-portfolios (GAP4). For example, how students change their e-portfolio styles after leaving school and preparing to apprentice in creative industries or helping justify future study).

I would like to continue developing longitudinal studies that range from young adult creatives in Cape Town that are heavily involved with online content creation to those that are scarcely involved. There are many related gaps for local researchers to explore:

  1. What are the advantages and pitfalls of young online content creators developing their technical cultural capital plus digital symbolic capital?
  2. How are social networks and technical cultural capital becoming more important as determinants of opportunity (see Jenkins, Ito and boyd, 2016).
  3. How are people being included, or excluded, in participatory culture based on their cultural, ethnic, gender or racial affiliation? 
  4. How might such differences be echoed or different in the global South? 
  5. How are inequalities of opportunity reproduced via schooling and how might this be or challenged? 
  6. How does cultural taste impact on what is valorised or dismissed and which identities and communities of practice are permissable in different creative contexts? 
  7. What novel forms of creative production result from new media literacies and how do creators perceive them to be successful, or failures?

I am currently preparing Post-doctoral Fellowship applications for Cape Town universities and the positions that might support research contributions to (1- 7) and tackling GAPS1-4 are very scarce.
A further challenge is that justifying a Post-doctoral fellowship position requires a narrow focus on the type of gap selected. One's post-doc work is required to develop knowledge that moves one's 'field' forward by addressing its 'critical knowledge gaps'. As an interdisciplinary researcher, whose PhD has spanned disciplines ranging from media studies to cultural sociology, the academic field I must contribute to seems blurred and difficult to address. Which 'field' and what 'gaps' must my interdisciplinary focus prioritise? Which unrelated threads of work can I link that might change current research? What concepts and approaches can be extended to address critical knowledge gaps in my field?

African design is an understudied and emergent field, which could benefit from more scholarship documenting its existing practices (Venter, 2018)}. After lengthy consideration, I have decided to develop an inter-disciplinary proposal for this field that addresses three distinct, but overlapping, concerns related to bitmap design, digital access and collaborative software design:

The first concern is what bitmap designs are marginalised young creatives producing and sharing online? This online content analysis will serve as a starting point for exploring the second concern- what does 'access' to digital design really mean in under-served contexts. For example: How accessible are apps and open source software to mobile-centric designers in highly constrained circumstances? What role does English as a 'global language' play in shaping Xhosa mother-tongue creatives' access and use to bitmap software? What cultural repertoires (i.e. fashion, gaming) seem to motivate interest in being a bitmap designer? The final concern is to contrast what happens when design thinking and design strategy approaches are used for collaborative software design focussed on localisation. I will describe the benefits and limitations of both, using workshops for aspirant, but under-resourced, visual creatives. They will be  consulted for understanding how Create With's new functional specifications for might provide better access for young South Africans.

By addressing these three concerns, my Post-doc research should make a solid contribution to the field of African design. It addition to its novel exploration of bitmap designers' content and circumstances, it should also generate interesting findings concerning the meanings of 'access', plus the differences between two design approaches' outcomes for collaborative software localisation.

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