The Digital Magimix

St Kilda Overpass

St Kilda Overpass panorama from my digital Magimix

Artichoke is blogging again! And because I have decided to attempt to write again I am going to comment on her posts here in my own space. Arti has written a post entitled Pedagogical Promiscuity and “Assessment for Learning” where she talks about a number of current issues in modern teaching and learning.

Interesting points that Arti makes are about the continued importance of traditional literacies and how new digital literacies can only be developed on a foundation of knowledge and understanding of how things work. The post takes me back to my brief teaching experience this year when several of the 12 and 13 year old students that I worked with were unable to find their local MPs address in an internet treasure hunt (after we’d spent some time looking at advanced search techniques). The issue wasn’t that they couldn’t use their new found skills. It was because they didn’t know the name of their MP – who happened to also be the Prime Minister of New Zealand, John Key.

During that same teaching experience I spent a lot of time working with the kids looking at different ways to express their learning. We explored websites and blogs, photography, slideshows, audio stuff (I hesitate to say podcasting) and movie making. My brief from the school was to look at ways to help these students become creators. This was all well and good, except that the kids didn’t really want to create. They wanted to consume. If they did want to share something they wanted to be able to feed their photos, videos or music into a digital Magimix and have a product plop out at the end.  Any form of thought or editing was designated boring because they wanted to move onto the next Chuck Norris joke website or Justin Gaga YouTube.

Of course there is nothing wrong with using a food processor. It certainly speeds up the tedious job of chopping vegetables for soup or smooshingup avocado, chili and onions for a guacamole. The thing that the food processor doesn’t do is add the special ingredients – the long simmered ham hock for the soup, the special chili and lime oil that I made last year. The digital Magimix is no different; pulse for too long and you have digital pap, forget to season with judicious editing and it’s same-same and boring.

While we have been holidaying, I have spent a little time (and a lot of my precious mobile bandwith) watching and listening to music mashups like this from DJ Earworm and this MJ piece.

When you examine these clips carefully and think about the skills that are needed, it removes the idea from “something all the kids are doing” to an artform. I couldn’t even start with the beat matching to make a mashup like this. And the video skills – these clips aren’t made on the family computer with MS Movie Maker or on a 13″ MacBook with iMovie 09. These are professionally crafted pieces that have taken hours to complete.

I have been playing with MS ICE software and the photo-stich function of my camera. The results are pleasing but nowhere near the professional results that a “proper” photographer would achieve. I’ve made them for my own amusement and to show to my family and friends. My son brought his little HD video camera to Melbourne and has spent a few minutes compiling his aeroplane taking off clips into a dream sequence. Again, his short video pieces will amuse his family and his friends and maybe garner a few hunderd view on YouTube.

What my pictures and my son’s videos won’t do is display anything much more than the fact we have some nice consumer gear and that we can hold them still occasionally and press the right buttons at the right time. Even if I had a flash new Canon EOS or bought him the latest “proper” video camera, we couldn’t produce more professional material because we haven’t the necessary post-processing equipment or the indepth understanding of how to put pieces together.

I think it’s time that we stopped conflating the ability to throw some pictures, videos and music together with digital literacy. There are a ton of programs and applications out there that allow you to pour digital stuff in one end and then get a manuafactured product out of the other side. All these are is the digital equivalent of a Magimix that is able to turn ingredients into something more easily digested.