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Posted by on Oct 4, 2010

Carpenter and Boundary (and Knowledge) Negotiations

After reading Carpenter’s article on “Boundary Negotiations: Electronic Environments as Interface”, I felt myself revisiting a conversation I had throughout the semester spent in IDEL about hypertext, form, and structure and how that offers great power to the designer. Carpenter seems to be revisiting this notion in this article, but there were some particular sections that I wanted to discuss in a little more depth.

“Students read and construe meaning from cultural products in complex, nuanced ways, employing a wealth of strategies gained from years of immersion in media-rich environments. What is more, today’s “convergence culture” (Jenkins, 2006) encourages students to become active participants in their culture. They are circulating, transforming, and creating products as new technologies continue to diminish conventional distinctions between producer and consumer”.
I would certainly agree with many aspects of the above, that students do make associations with content in complex, nuanced ways, and are actively creating and socially mediating knowledge at incredibly high levels. This knowledge circulates, transforms, and creates at unparalleled speed and size. I do also believe that the distinctions between producer and consumer are blurring, not unlike the distinctions between academic and popular cultures. We are truly in the thick of it, in this digital culture, constantly reorganizing and connecting schemas with other schemas. What does this mean for these modern learners? Are they adrift, marooned on the island of self? Years of customized interfaces and individualization leading to idiosyncratic context? Is anything we learn applicable to anyone else?
Ah, yes. That socially mediated part. The group saves us yet again by providing a context outside of self. If we thought digital culture promoted complex and nuanced associations and knowledge construction, imagine the scale this would occur on the community level, a collection of spirited individuals self-associating with a larger group (and associated culture). Generally, I am pleased that Carpenter steers clear of falling back on “digital native” diatribes about this learning being unique; it is implied, however. And certainly mediated by technology.

“Objects, as well as ideas, are no longer fixed, no longer tangible. . .. In this space, stories are written that change with each new reader; new material can be added, and old material deleted. Nothing is permanent” (p.76). Kleinman’s observations about texts written in electronic environments point to the general nature of these texts as dialogic, interactive, fluid, non-linear, context-specific, intertextual, and dynamic—in other words, as social. But then, all literacies are social (Lemke, 1998).” (140)

All literacies are indeed social and that is the moral authority bestowed to collaborative learning. Literacy is a collaborative enterprise, a mediation between information and mutual understanding. What I do generally applaud Carpenter on (yet would like to stress to him that this is not novel, just augmented in digital spaces) is his focus on the ephemeral nature of digital content and understanding. In essence, he introduces time as a variable. By introducing time into the equation of validity (this understanding is valid here and now), he acknowledges that knowledge construction is not a fixed goal, but rather an endless negotiation, one that digital culture actually promotes.

Objects are not fixed, pages are deleted, links don’t always resolve. Narratives evolve with each successive viewpoint, and nothing is important. Philosophically, nothing is permanent, it never has been; digital culture just brings that to the fore by demonstrating that location is relative to time and place. Does this promote a certain agility in the learner? A more nuanced understanding of knowledge? Perhaps. Nothing is indeed permanent, except the endless negotiation.

I am reminded of a book that Sian recommended to me last year, The Economics of Attention, a rather brilliant look at how form transforms meaning. What interested me most was the analysis of the work of Christo, the artist famous for wrapping buildings in different materials. His art is installed temporarily, offering a glimpse of a representation of time and space. For one moment, we are afforded a completely different take on understanding and then that glimpse is removed and knowledge is reconstructed. Not only does Christo acknowledge that nothing is permanent, he embraces it, makes it a central variable in his work. I see great application to learning here, that our true purpose is to stimulate lifelong negotiation of knowledge, of inquiry.

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  1. Hi Michael,

    The Aaron Koblin visuals are great, I added a clip of Mr Koblin demonstrating these at DLD conference in Munich, not sure if you have seen this one. Interesting explanation of visual meaning (of course from the creator not the observer!):

    Fascinating to consider this as visualisation of the previously invisible. We are able to see movement and flow regardless of space and time. Perhaps viewing the circulation and transformation of knowledge itself would be valuable.

    You make an interesting link between personalisation and isolation, and I think there is value in shared challenges and learning obstacles. How could we as learners interact if we were each given a unique, personalised set of core readings?

    To use a visual metaphor, I see Carpenter (and the other Core readings to an extent) as a discussion of ‘widening the angle’ on learner activity. Using a wide-angle lens, rather than a zoom lens, includes many of the other factors in a learning situation: connection and relation to diverse subjects, social influence, history etc. Rather than solely the text, one should consider the desk that the text is on, what is on the shelf next to it, and what is on the screen in front, the social context of the reader, the social context of the writer etc (Thomas et al). As Carpenter alludes to towards the end, this should perhaps be the focus for education, to make the wide-angle lens conscious in the minds of learners. Nice post, I can’t help but like Christo…he always thinks big…

    • Koblin is fantastic, there is no doubt Jeremy. I love what you said there visualizing the previously invisible. I have this very ambiguous idea in my head of layers of context and meaning, something that Koblin gets at with these visualizations, as you said visualizing the invisible. Imagine learning from this construct. Immediately visualize all the layer of a “thing”, say, for example a work of art. I think most academic perception has been based on the notion of the fixed object, studying a thing with less regard for time than space. That is why what we are doing here is so exciting. We add time as an element, an understanding that the combination of time and space dictate what truth is, a real mediation.

      So, you can visualize the layers of this work of art, a painting maybe. You can see

      Color layers
      Edits (including the original sketch drawing underneath the painting)
      Position in museum (over a course of time, has it been moved?)
      Audience numbers (thinking a Koblin-esque visualization of crowd movements for this particular object)
      History (the history occuring when the object was painted, speaks to inspiration)
      School (mapped with other representative examples of a genre)

      So, the learner can experience the sheer complexity of a thing in its entirety or strip it away layer by layer. Or start with a single layer and add layers. Constructing and deconstructing understanding. As you said, “widening the angle” on learner activity. Technology can enable this process, certainly.

      On a vaguely related note, I loved what IBM did with the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg like six-seven years ago, technology that Google uses to some degree now. It allowed you to search for paintings, not textually but through layout and composition. It gives you a palette and allows you to search strictly by color and objects, or by drawing a rudimentary picture and saying show me more like that. Absolutely brilliant for interactivity and understanding. The picture the learner would draw could be a virtual artefact, evidence of perception. What a world we live in, Jeremy.

      On a side

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