IML 2018 – Eine familiäre Konferenz zum information und media literacy

HINWEIS: Diesen Beitrag habe ich eigentlich schon letztes Jahr getippt, aber dann offenbar vergessen ihn zu veröffentlichen.

Jüngst hatte ich die Freude einen Vortrag auf der IML Konferenz in Passau halten zu dürfen, quasi eine weitere Wendung meines mcluhanistischen Blicks auf digitale Medialität (Jörissen 2014) in der Kontinuität der Strukturalen Medienbildung. Da ich ja nun schon einige Konferenzen unterschiedlicher Disziplinen besucht habe, kann ich den Veranstaltern nur gratulieren zu einer überaus gelungenen Veranstaltung. Eine bunte disziplinäre Mischung, mit Theoretikern, Empirikern und Praktikern und drei sehr pointierte Keynotes von Andrew Whitworth, Sarah Gretter und Benjamin Jörissen waren aufgerufen das weite Feld der Information und media literacy zu beackern. Dabei sind spannende und auch herausfordernde Blickwinkel deutlich geworden. Auch und besonders erwähnenswert war auch das Rahmenprogramm in dem künstlerische digitale Installationen von der Ars Electronica, externer Künstler und nicht zu letzt auch von Studierendenprojekten aus dem Kreis der IML Gruppe in Passau dargeboten wurden. Überhaupt wurde schnell deutlich, dass eine geradezu familiäre Verbundenheit des Organisationsteams stark zum Erfolg der Tagung und sicherlich auch zum Projekt insgesamt beigetragen hat.Passau selbst ist auch überaus lauschig, leider konnte ich von der Stadt nicht so viel sehen, wie sicherlich sehenswert gewesen wäre. Kulinarisch (das ist auf Tagungen immer eine der wichtigsten Kategorien) kann man eine breite Auswahl erwarten, unser Besuch im Max und Muh (einem Slow-Food-Burgertempel mit regionalen Produkten) und mein Besuch bei Farmstead am Samstag vor meiner Abreise (Salate und Sandwiches, ebenfalls mit regionaler Herkunft und dem Nachhaltigkeitsgedankem verpflichtet) haben auf jeden Fall nur gute Eindrücke hinterlassen. Das kann man auch bei diesem Tagungsbericht nochmal nachlesen.
Die Folien zu meinem Vortrag findet man übrigens hier zum Download. Für das laufende Jahr war das auch die letzte Konferenz, mal schauen was 2019 so anzubieten hat.

Frühjahrstagung Sektion Medienpädagogik d. DGfE 2019

Am 21. und 22. März fand in Paderborn die Frühjahrstagung der Sektion Medienpädagogik der Deutschen Gesellschaft für Erziehungswissenschaft statt und ich war mit einem Vortrag zu einem meiner Lieblingsthemen dabei. Der Vortrag war eigentlich als Fortsetzung meiner beiden Vorträge aus dem letzten Jahr gedacht, in denen ich den Medienbegriff Marshall McLuhans und seine Relevanz für Medienbildung herausgearbeitet hatte. Einige Kernthesen dieser Vorträge auf der ECER 2018 und der IML-Tagung in Passau habe ich für diesen Vortrag verdichtet und mit Beispielen für Strukturanalysen verknüpft, die wir bei uns in Magdeburg im Rahmen des Studiengangs Medienbildung schon lange (seit 15 Jahren, dieses Jahr ist Jubiläum!) praktizieren. Die Folien zum Vortrag finden sich hier, eine Aufzeichnung gibt es leider nicht, aber dafür das Abstract zum Vortrag (hier auf der Tagungswebsite, unten einzeln zum Herunterladen).

There is no content! – A plea to see media creators as what they are

In the collection of jobs that digital media and the digital revolution have helped creating (although you can of course argue that some version of it have existed much longer) the influencer seems to be the most intriguing. Not only is it mostly mysterious what exactly the term means as it refers to an actual profession, which seems to be set in between the work of a digital media designer, PR departments and social media or community managers. It is also a highly individualistic profession (if at all), as it centers around one person (or persona) in communication with a group of followers that are not only interested in some kind of objective subject matter but also the person itself, their lifestyle, worldview or even biography. Thus the influencer is bound to try to be authentic, or rather to stage him- or herself in a manner that creates an aura of authenticity. Losing that means losing influence.
I’ve been doing some preliminary research on influencers during the last few weeks mainly looking at the Top 10 German YouTube creators. It strikes me that those creators often are referred to and refer to themselves as ‚content creators‘. With my background in Marshall McLuhan’s media concept I feel like this doesn’t sound right. In fact I have been pondering whether this term may be some kind of group delusion. Or it might be an attempt by whomever came up with it to cover up the fact how deeply powerful those ‚content creators‘ really can be. Because it seems clear to me that every single one of those creators creates media and not content. And here is why:

As McLuhan points out in Understanding Media, the content of every medium is another medium. In the digital age this has created some very deeply nested and complex media architectures. For example the YouTube-video is a digital video (live or recorded) nested within a social network site which is nested inside the world wide web which is itself part of the medium we call the Internet. And because of the nature of digital video, it can contain other fragments of digital video, text and hypertext elements (like links or subtitles) and thus can hold several layers of reference to other media artifacts. On the layer of the social network site there can be additional textual information, like comments or even a chat for live streams.
Now all those elements are structurally implicit to the website of YouTube, but they only become actualized if someone uploads and publishes a video file. This video can itself contain(!) elements of the television medium, the film medium or any kind of audio-visual medium really that we are able to digitally represent.
Ultimately there exists only one medium without medium as content and that is speech because as McLuhan says „If it is asked, ‚What is the content of speech?,‘ it is necessary to say, ‚It is an actual process of thought, which is in itself nonverbal.‘“ (Actually he suggests that the electric light is the second medium without content, but that’s not relevant here…)
Now media creators are half right when referring to themselves as content creators, as they do indeed create content for the platform they are creating for. But at the same time this content is media and it changes the media it interrelates with. There may of course be some effort put into any kind of message, subject matter or theme, which is what probably seems most apparent to an audience at first glance. But even more time and effort is spent on the form or aesthetic which manifests this message and is then connected to the additional form implicit in the platform. It creates a media hybrid. So I would argue (and I assume McLuhan would too) that the act of creation is more about creating and co-creating a specific media form than it is about creating a message. In fact the message doesn’t need to be original while the medium still can be and this seems to be true for most of the modern media. The idea of media as a bucket that doesn’t change whatever message is placed inside them to be mediated is an old one, and it is very obviously wrong. Delivering the story of Romeo & Juliet as a play on stage has a very different effect on an audience than watching a movie (even of the very same play) or reading the novel. So shouldn’t we acknowledge the fact, that content creators are really creating media? They are creating an artifact for a specific format and platform with great focus on the presentation and using a toolkit of conventions that has been established for that medium or rather hybrid of media. Which is why it’s not surprising that Instagram photos by different influencers have created a common aesthetic or language just as it has for Hollywood cinema or certain genres of digital games. Focusing solely on what the message might be tends to cover up what the medium really is. Hence McLuhan’s most famous aphorism „The medium is the message“.

Referring to complex media artifacts as content (unless there is an explicit understanding on McLuhans idea of media as content of media I guess) thus falls way short of what is actually being created. Which might be one reason there is a certain naiveté amongst creators and platforms when it comes to aspects like hidden or visible advertising, fake news, hate speech, censorship etc. Even giants like Facebook are in the process of learning that what seemed to be an easy project based on a simple mission statement of collecting and sharing lots of data across the globe and a set of deterministic algorithms, is actually a complex and complicated task with a lot of snares. And while influencers may be in it for any number of reasons, they too share a responsibility in shaping the very medium they create. It’s not that the thought doesn’t matter, it’s that whatever the nature of the thought, the media environment will have an impact on the way it becomes manifest in the world. We should be interested to understand what this impact is. Our view of the world may depend on it.

When McLuhan in the 1960s was on a mission to explain to executives what their company’s actual business was and to the greater public that „the medium is the message“ he gained massive popularity that vanished almost complete during the late 70s, even before he died in 1980. Back then very few were creating the media (or its contents). This balance is slowly shifting beneath our feet, and has been for decades. The responsibility to create media is spread broader than ever before and so should be the need to understand it. McLuhan suggested that it is the artist who helps to make visible our media surroundings and the way it impacts our perception, so we can then be aware of and deal with it. The first step should be to be aware of what it is we actually do and call things by their actual names. Content creation is just a cover-up, media creation is what actually happens. And it’s a thing you have to learn to do responsibly, nothing anybody is just magically able to do. And so influencers should wonder how and why it is they can influence anybody. And how they are influenced in return by the very medium they create.

ECER 2018 in Bolzano

ECER 2018 is happening during this week, and I am there (well, here actually) to present on two different subjects. One talk will be about maker culture and maker spaces in context of educational institutions („Making, Hacking, Teaching“), the other will be about McLuhan’s concept of media and if or how it applies to the digital age („Digital is the new Electric“). I will probably update this post during or after the conference with some more info, but right now you can find the slides to accompany both of the presentations as pdf files.

Update October 10th: For my presentation in McLuhan’s media concept I cut together a mashup of Youtube videos (this and this video to be exact) which both refer to a quote from McLuhan’s book The Medium is the Massage and an interview taken from this 1960’s documentary. With both already being mashups themselves I chose to do this deliberately to illustrate the concepts of hybrid media and media as content of media, that are at the core of McLuhan’s angle on Understanding Media. For copyright purposes I haven’t included the video with the slides or uploaded it anywhere, but I’ll try to do that in the future. Although not explicitly stated in the slides themselves, they are available under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

I can say that visiting ECER 2018 was a very successful and fun endeavor, not only because the hosts at Bolzano did their very best to make us feel welcome but also because several talks and conversations during breaks made for interesting exchanges of ideas and perspectives. One interesting project I was made aware of is the European Research Project MakEY which strives to promote Maker Spaces and Maker Culture in several European Countries and creating a network amongst those efforts. This seemed especially exciting to me because the projects focus on extra-school activities, although they were sometimes attached to educational institutions. With Making being a set of self-motivated activities to create any kind of artifact, often digitally enhanced or connected to practices that include digital media, it fits very well with our effort to promote a concept of Strukturelle Medienbildung as a basis to dealing with changes in the digital age. 

There seemed to be a sizable number of empirical projects in presentations that were focused on school related research though, be it the ever present attempt to create learning platforms or to include digital media in any form of classes. While all of them seemed to be very serious approaches I was struck by mostly pragmatic arguments for why or how those projects came to be, while theoretical frameworks seem to be based on somewhat dated instructional ideas of education or more recent spin offs of the those set of ideas. I’d argue that there is a lot of uncoordinated efforts and poorly substantiated assumptions at play, combined with heaps of money coming from commercial learning companies who don’t want to see their business model challenged too much. On the other hand it makes me optimistic that a more theory-based approach like we try to provide is indeed needed. I still believe we need to start with the assumption that we do not know what the digital age is and then carefully watch and analyze what has happened so far instead of just blindly carrying over old concepts or blind discarding them for no reason.

Vortrag auf der Europäischen Lernwerkstättentagung 2018 in Halle

Am Samstag hatte ich die große Freude einen Impulsvortrag zur Frage von Lernen mit Dinge in der digitalen Welt auf der europäischen Lernwerkstättentagung in Halle an der Saale zu halten. Die Veranstalter, das Team der Lernwerkstatt Erziehungswissenschaft an der Martin-Luther-Universität, hatten Organisatoren von Lernwerkstätten zu einer 4-tägigen Konferenz eingeladen um sich im Rahmen eines ausgesprochen breit gestalteten Programms mit Workshops, Vorträgen und anderen Formaten dem Lernen mit Gegenständen insbesondere im Bereich der Neuen oder digitalen Medien zu nähern.

Mein Impulsvortrag zielte darauf ab, digitale Medialität als komplexes zusammenhängendes gesellschaftliches Phänomen zu modellieren, das alle Medienarchitekturen beeinflusst und als solches nicht als Alternativwelt – einer wie auch immer gearteten analogen Realität – verstanden werden sollte, sondern als umfassender transformierender Prozess, der an das Konzept der Mediatisierung nach Krotz anschlussfähig ist. Die Folien zum Vortrag finden sich hier zum Download (Irgendwas mit Medien machen – Digitale Welt zum Anfassen, CC-BY 2.0-Lizenz) und unten eingebunden auf Slideshare. Leider konnte ich mir nur einen knappen Eindruck der Veranstaltung machen, aber die Reise nach Halle hat sich zweifellos gelohnt und ich hatte den Eindruck, dass der Vortrag als Auslöser für Diskussionen und das Hinterfragen des eigenen pädagogischen Handelns gut funktioniert hat. Die Lernwerkstatt ist definitiv ein interessantes pädagogisches Konzept und vor dem Hintergrund von Aktiver Medienarbeit und einem konstruktivistischen Lernmodell eine spannende Alternative zu traditionellen Lerninstitutionen, die insbesondere an unser Verständnis von Medienbildung anschlussfähig zu sein scheint. Ich danke an dieser Stelle nochmal den Organisatoren um Dietlinde Rumpf und Kathrin Kramer für die Einladung!