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The New School

Building on the momentum of Mozilla's Drumbeat Festival in Barcelona and MacArthur's Digital Media and Learning conference in Los Angeles, The New School now presents MobilityShifts. Reflecting The New School's focus on disciplinary mobility between design, art, and the social sciences, this week-long international summit is comprised of a conference, project demonstrations, workshops, exhibitions and a theater performance. MobilityShifts joins more than 260 media scholars, students, artists, web developers, policy makers, technologists, teachers, librarians, and learning activists from 22 countries. 

MobilityShifts carries forward some of the questions discussed at the preceding two events: How can we dispel the myth of the digital native? What are the limitations of the “digital literacies” paradigm and its first world/third world assumptions? 

Other queries emerged out of debates leading up to MobilityShifts when some 80 New School students, staff, and faculty convened last fall for a series of workshops:

What are new pedagogical approaches for learning with mobile platforms? How can global participants use mobile media to create rich social contexts around important learning tasks? What are new pedagogical approaches for real-time mobile learning that make full use of the potential of mobile phones, iPods, laptops, PDAs, smart phones, Tablet PCs, and netbooks in informal contexts? How can we expand our definition of digital learning to include a diversity of practices that might include social networking among migrants, witness journalism and computer hacking? What are the effects of certifying new self-directed types of study considering the widespread defunding of public higher education for the non-rich? 

Today, universities are increasingly exposed to the unforgiving logic of the profit imperative. It comes at no surprise that the University of California raised tuition by 18% in 2011. The cost of education is rising and students seeking a formal degree are increasingly caught in a "debt trap." More and more people wish to gain access to higher education but over the next decade, institutions for higher learning will simply not be able to accommodate them. In response, Governor Tim Pawlenty, on the Daily Show last year, called for the complete privatization of education. Downloadable courseware is central to his vision, part of the widespread battle against public education. For-profits like the Apollo Group and Kaplan, supported by enormous sums of public money, are part of a rapidly growing sector of the education industry, largely aiming to offer a stripped, low-cost version of education that often more closely resembles training.

This combination of educational and technological changes provides a stark incentive for students to step outside the academy to meet their learning goals. They find that more information is available outside of the classroom than inside but, of course, this does not mean that learning is taking place. MobilityShifts explores the changing locales for learning, from libraries, after school programs, and museums to abandoned barbershops. Some Do-It-Yourself learning projects, mostly small and temporary, include The Free Slow University of Warzaw, Edu-Factory, The School of Everything, The Public School, Bruce High Quality Foundation, Cybermohalla in India, SuperCool School, Universidad Experimental, P2P U, Khan Academy, Border Academies, Conecta2 in Mexico, Universidad Nómada, The University of the People, Citilab in Spain, or EscueLab in Peru. 

To explore the meaning of these new structures of learning for higher education, MobilityShifts brings together projects ranging from pragmatic, degree-granting learning platforms to those developed by artists. Blake Stimson cautions that the Do-It-Yourself approach to education cuts as easily to the right as it does to the left. Some projects explore democratic access to knowledge and foster alternative, peer-to-peer revenue models but there are also countless ventures that offer an increasingly individualized and consumerist understanding of the value of education. 

Unsurprisingly, deinstitutionalized, self-directed learning is not new. In 1915, one of the founders of The New School, John Dewey, emphasized that education does not only take place in schools and that it ought to prepare learners for democratic citizenship. Austrian philosopher Ivan Illich wanted to de-school society following his belief that students learn without and often despite their teachers. Or, think of Jacques Rancière’s notion of emancipated learning and Joseph Beuys' concept of the social sculpture. Both aim to create situations in which all learners actively engage with each other and the teacher, think in more complex ways, gain better judgment, become more principled and curious, and lead distinctive and productive lives. 

Today, the 1970s model of the free, anti-institutional “university” meets  new learning opportunities provided by digital media. Since 2001, MIT, Rice University and many others have released educational resources online and, in this world of informational plenty, instructors have been learning how to mobilize these “open resources.” John Willinsky presciently argued that open access to educational resources is about turning knowledge into a greater vehicle for public education.    

Institutions of higher learning have changed far more slowly than the modes of participatory learning offered by the Internet. Davidson and Goldberg argue that in our schools too little has changed in terms of how we teach, where we teach, what we teach, who teaches, who administers and who services. What kind of insertions, rearrangements and revamping within existing institutional frameworks can we imagine? Schools should acknowledge the opportunities created by the confluence of mobile technologies, the World Wide Web, film, video games, TV, comics, and software while, of course, not sliding into techno-utopianism, acknowledging recurring challenges. The future of learning will not be solely determined by digital culture but by the re-organization of power relationships and institutional protocols. Digital media, however, can play a pivotal role in this process of transformation.

Trebor Scholz

Chair, MobilityShifts Summit

The New School

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