Technology Conference 2012

Technology Conference 2012 was a whirlwind, especially given that I spent much of it trying to deal with jetlag. Happily, it was well-worth the trip (and the exhaustion). This post doesn’t go into great detail about any of the presentations, but hopefully will provide a bit of a signpost to researchers you might be interested in reading more from (as well as serving as a reminder to me to check out their papers once the journal is published).

Different electronic devices from a student's bag
Image courtesy of Flickr user Monica Pinheiro

Given how much teaching I do online, I appreciated that there were a number of presentations on technology and education. Cruz Medina‘s Tweeting Latinidad: Constructing Knowledge with Latin@ Students on Twitter was particularly interesting. Medina placed his research and teaching practice within the context of the racism and marginalisation that Latin@ communities face in Arizona, and drew on Guillermo Gómez-Peña‘s performance art as a way of critiquing the assumption that marginalised communities cannot effectively use digital technologies. Medina pointed out that sites like Twitter are already part of Latin@ youth’s digital practices, and are therefore useful tools to build community and provide support to students. Whereas I tend to see Twitter as an open space (rather than a purely academic environment) when using it in teaching, Medina talked about using specific strategies to guide students’ participation and encourage study-related tweets: I’m thinking of trying out some of these ideas myself as a way of providing more scaffolding and direction for student use of Twitter. (Feel free to share your thoughts on this, students!) The technology and education stream sessions that I attended also covered evaluations of policies for mobile technology in class, planning for the large-scale shifts that universities will undergo in response to digital technologies, and evaluations of the use of laptops in primary schools.

There were also quite a few sessions that intersected with my research interests and important political trends. Henry Jenkins discussed SOPA and PIPAin his plenary, as well as talking about the links between ‘spreadability’ and the Occupy Movement. Jenkins tied this to the idea that we are seeing a shift from a system of distribution to a more participatory and non-hierarchical system of circulation, arguing that Occupy can be seen as “a complex set of communications practices,” with participants using adaptations of pop culture to effectively ensure that ideas and information about inequality are now being discussed widely. Christiane Paul’s plenary also raised some useful points about the links between power structures and the Internet, using the distinction between connectivity and collectivity to question whether ‘Web 2.0’ is as progressive as we often assume.

Image of a small drone hovering in front of a classroom of students
Image courtesy of Flickr user Charles McCain

Marcus Breen’s Killing the Thing You Love focused on the worrying link between the Internet and drone warfare, arguing that the Internet has been partly responsible for a shift in warfare beyond the point where we have the language to capably discuss the moral and ethical issues involved. Emmett Gillen’s research was also quite concerning to me, because his work with the Department of Homeland security highlights surveillance of activists linked to the left and (rather misleadingly) classed as ‘anarchists’.

There were also plenty of talks which didn’t intersect with my current work, but which were nevertheless fascinating. The panel on using collaborative geomatics to support remote and isolated communities in Ontario was particularly notable because it described several long-running collaborative projects that were guided by local communities’ needs. Many of these were aimed at managing data around land use, but there were also others relating to sharing intergenerational knowledge, meeting health needs, and preventing encounters with polar bears. (I’m hoping that they’ll end up connecting with Isuma TV on some of these projects, since there seems to be plenty of crossovers in their work.) I also liked Joseph Thompson’s work on Games, Glitches, Ghosts, which looked at the ways in which agency is played out in computer games, arguing that glitches are the voice of the machine, and Simon Downs’ The Gordian Knot and the Invisible Hand. Downs argued that designers can reconcile modernist and post-modernist approaches to design by recognising the ways in which complexity and emergence shape symbolic meaning.

As always, there were a heap of presentations that I would have liked to go to but couldn’t because of scheduling. I’m especially interested in looking up Sue Thomas’ work on the connections between nature and cyberspace, given my current research project. And, as always, some of the best and most interesting parts of the conference weren’t the presentations. As Simon Downs’ has written,

conferences allow us to meet with people who give a damn. More than that people who are qualified by education and experience to give a damn about the things that get you hot. Not necessarily in agreement with you, but with whom you share enough commonality of comprehension that the terms of the dispute can be agreed…

So now I’ll take a little time to assimilate all of this new learning, and all of the debates at the edges, and work out what I can do with it.

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