Friday, October 02, 2009

Extra-Curricular Curriculars

The connection between Stanford's Andrea Lunsford and USC/MIT's Henry Jenkins may not appear entirely obvious at first, given their theoretical orientations around feminism and fan cultures respectively. But both have risen to national prominence as advocate for "new literacies." Recently Lunsford held forth on the new literacy for Wired magazine, and Jenkins continues to head up outreach efforts to promote new media literacies in academic classrooms and beyond. Both have also been important speakers on behalf of learning that takes place outside of the classroom, particularly as digital content-creators. In higher education Lunsford's study of Stanford students shows how their writing outside of academic coursework is often more critical for their authorial identities, and Jenkins' research on K-12 participatory culture reaches similar conclusions.

Today, I listened to them both give talks, in two very different contexts. Lunsford was our guest at the Humanities Core Course, where she gave a talk to a lecture hall of undergraduates and then chatted over lunch with our instructors. Then I heard Jenkins talk at IndieCade, where he participated in "A Conversation About Expression and Game Literacy."

Jenkins argued that unfortunately the most conservative parent always determines school policy when it comes to digital access, participation, and play. He also claimed that the Hogwarts school represented a kind of pedagogical ideal in which autonomous learners would work to the benefit of the school and its cultures and values. He noted that far too often collaboration was interpreted as cheating and that schools also needed to understand the "learning ecology" of "knowledge production outside school."

Although known as a promoter of educational games, Jenkins also tempered the enthusiasm of some for games that deny subcultural spaces and justify their existence on the grounds of being "good for you." As he said, "Art enhances our experiences in ways that we can't prescribe or describe," and he compared independent game makers to the endeavors of his own wife, a glassblower devoted to creating experiences and objects that are "beautiful, sensuous, exciting, and playful" rather than only able to be appreciated for their "utilitarian function."

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