The teachers and researchers in Digital Education at the University of Edinburgh (which I hope to be joining very soon) had the scandalous and rather amazing if not even hilarious and dead serious idea to come up with a manifesto. (The manifesto being one of many fascinating things Dr. Macleod pointed out to me when I had the fortune to talk to him.) Now manifesti seem somewhat out of fashion today, yet I love both the basic idea and the very specific version, which you can find here.
So, me being an old play kid, I decided to create some poster art for the text. I did so because I wanted to. And I did so trying to remember what I have learned in the course of my Bachelor of Education degree and back in the days when I was inventing and producing TV shows.
The text below will now function as some sort of „liner notes“, so that you all see that there is, if you look really really close, some serious thought behind the shiny facade… (Yes, I was trying to think while having fun!)
I only made five pics so far. Partly because I did not get round to doing more. Partly I did not have enough ideas. Partly because I did not really understand all parts of the manifesto. Partly because I would love to hear others and their feedback and ideas. So please, your feedback is not only welcome, it is urgently needed. Drop me a line, pitch me an idea, say what you do not like about the bits. And I will try to incorporate it all.
(If you find giving feedback hard, maybe try to answer one of these questions: What do you like about the pictures? What aspects of the pictures do not really work? Are they helpful? How could you use them? What should be done do make them useable? Will Freiburg qualify for Eurpa League next season?)
The main objective of the pictures is to entertain. Entertainment might catch your interest, which will make you stick around, which enables me to deliver information, wrapped up in entertainment. This is how I proceeded when producing news or documentary programmes. You have to make sure you got the attention of your audience. This audience awareness is the basis for delivering information. And I found out the same is true for education. Entertainment is emotion and emotion is involvement, all making the product relevant for consumers, viewers, pupils. If it is relevant for you, you will engage in it. This is some sort of intrinsic motivation being provoked and I am frankly trying to trick you into learning. Of course you can also force someone to learn, it happens all the tome and it works. Being forced to go to school is being forced to learn. But learning voluntarily is not only much nicer, it is also more effective.
The medium: I combined the text of the manifesto with pictures, thus combining two distinct literacies, two different modes of conveying information. Visual information sticks easier than plain words. In TV, 70-90% (depending on the study) we remember from a show are pictures. The spoken word gets largely lost, which is a major problem for news formats. Not every piece of news has pictures, so you have to use pictures which are often misleading. But this is how our brains work, which brings us to education. If we use multiple sources of input, various stimuli, we increase the possibility to learn. This is what these pictures here try to do.
The pictures themselves are not a 1:1 transformation of the text, but rather an interpretation. They add a second layer, which serves multiple purposes. Trying to figure out how text and pictures match and where maybe they do not is already a process of learning. Our brains interpret, always, immediately. The more active our conscious and non-conscious interpretations, the more we engage with the media, the better our chances of retaining information. Text and picture are to distinct entities which we try to match.
Trying to understand the pictures might also lead to your very own interpretation. One might easily be thinking: No, this is not what the manifesto meant! If so: Fantastic! Something new learned. Yet another remix. You have actively participated. This is what happens every time we consume media. Far from what common believe tells us, media consumption is not a passive but an active process, a continuous flow of interpretations. What do I see? How does it fit into what I have seen before? How does it fit into what I know? What does it mean for me? All this is happening, if we consciously realize it or not.
Some of the pictures try to have hidden bits, easter eggs as they are called in computer games or films. These are all propably very obvious. Whoever finds them will nevertheless feel a little proud, feel like an insider, will automatically create a bond between themself and the image. Thus you make the picute a part of yourself, it becomes more relevant and you might want to look at the other pictures, trying to find out what is hidden there. So the longer and the more concentrated you engage, the more you are likely to learn. I used this method frequently for TV. Over time you can create some sort of fanbase, a group of those, who not only know the lyrics to the song, but also why the singer wrote it (figuratively speaking). Believing to be among the chosen few feels good, even if actually everybody is in this group.
The images I used are partly derived from pop culture. So people will know them, can relate to them and again might feel part of the team. Pop culture is a logic partner for everything digital, it is young not in a sense of age but of openness. It can be a means of diminishong the gap between educater and those being educated.
All pictures feature the same main character. This is the (rather pittyful?) attempt to create a hero. Everything of relevance is tight to a person. This is how we as a species work. Germany was interested in Formula 1, because of Michael Schumacher. Once he stopped driving, people stopped caring. People watched tennis because of Boris Becker. Nobody here watches tennis anymore. We watch films because we love the actors or characters (Bond, Rocky, you name it). We vote for political parties because of their leaders. And yes, the same is true for schools. The character of the teacher is highly influential on the learning performance. So what ever we want to bring across and how ever frustrating this might be for introverted hiding people like me: It is a people business. All of it. We see someone and we can relate. The character we watch does something for us, because we can’t or we do not want to or whatever. We always learn from others. We always need others. Every success in music or TV is tied to individual characters. So we have to deliver. The fact that I used myself as a model for this character is of course pretty vain, but hey, at least I make myself look like a bit of a farting fool… And if I put out an animated version of myself, I might not habe to go out myself. Oh so clever! ^^
I used a basic design idea for the pictures, I used it for all the pictures. Hence they are presented as individual pieces of the same group. This way the viewer encounters something new in a familiar context. This sense of safety is another basis for learning. It can be applied to little lion kids learning while playing while being watched by their strong parents; it can be applied to a TV audience watching their favourite series; and it can be applied to learners, being in a familiar context, relaxing, being open for something new. This might sound a little far fetched for a small series of pictures, but it is nevertheless the underlying idea behind the creation of a repetitive theme. I learned this at TV: People will always tell you they want something new and that they are bored with TV only showing the same things over and over again. But although they keep telling you this and although they believe this to be true – it is not. People prefer watching the same things over and over again. New things scare them. So you have to sneak in new things covered up in familiar stuff. Again, risking to sound exagerating, this is a tendency found in many shapes and colours. People like certainty, they create habbits, they chose the same holiday location again and again, they settle with people who are just like them, they are even label-loyal. And they are scared of new things. (Yes, the whole refugee crisis is a very crass example of this tendency.) So if teaching means delivering new „things“, it might be wise to wrap up the news in something familiar. I call this the Trojan Horse Method, which is basically a trick. (Oh and there is a lot of white space in the pics, the pics are not cluttered but almost empty. Think of the white space as space for thoughts, free areas for you and your ideas to occupy.)
Another aspect of the pictures is the attempt to be diverse. So the main character is male, fair enough. But the other character we can see is female and of a different skin colour. Obviously this is like the beginner’s class of heteroginity, but at least this is something and it is a starting point for further ideas. Speaking from a media perspective however, diversity can be tricky. As pointed out again and again in this text, people like familiar things. So how can you be diverse without alienating your audience? This is tricky, but I believe it can and must be done.
A rather technical aspect of the pictures is their adjustability. I believe that education must not be a business model. Education is by definition something everybody needs and everybody has a right to. (United Nations are only one instance stating this.) So when it comes to the pictures, you can (1) use them as they are, (2) modify them easily or (3) use the idea and change it altogether. My bet what most people are gonna do? Just take it as it is. Not only in my own experience but also looking at statistics, the vast majority of people prefer consuming to creating. This can be seen on Youtube or Facebook, but also in book shops: people prefer reading to writing. This is ok. And it would be wrong to force people to engage. After all this is what happens in classrooms around the world. What we have to consider though is how we could, kindly, softly invite everybody to join in the creative process. Hands-on experiences are a good way to learn – but by no means the only way. So with these illustrations, anybody is free to use them and remix them. I would simple ask for being credited.
Speaking of adjustability: When creating the images, I only used very basic and easy tools. I am no graphic designer, I have no trained skills whatsoever. But I have an iPad and a handful of apps. So everyone can do what I did – and probably much better. I used the app Glint to design the characters. I used Typorama for the texts. I used Pixelmator to blend text and picture. I used MasterFX for the surfboard and palmtree pic. This is all very basic stuff, which I think is an advisable approach. Teachers should not show off their skils, they should come up with ideas, hoping for others to copy and improve them. As I said before: Teaching is not a business model.
Having written about all these ideas and concepts which I hope will work, I am aware of some of the dangers of it all. Concrete visualizations can be concrete interpretations, making it hard or impossible for some to (spontaneously) come up with their own interpretation. Pictures can limit your creativity, your chances of creating your own truth.
Lastly: You might think all this is too funny, not academical enough, not serious enough and the whole post is nothing but a vain mumbling about common knowledge. Well that’s fair enough. And you would clearly have a point there. Yet if academia does not allow for humour and enjoying yourself and what you are doing, it is risking to be lost. Humour is a tool to connect, to get people involved in something and to make them learn. Humour is not only fun, humour is also educational. And stating the obvious does not make the obvious false. Maybe our common knowledge of media and hiw it works is so profound that most of what I wrote in this post is obvious and obviously known. I actually believe it is. I believe that most of us are very aware of how they consume and ehat they consume. We are professional media consumers, because consuming media is what we have been doing from day one. So if this is true, this is our common starting position from which we can move on.
But whatever you make of the whole affair of manifesti, education, digitalism and media, what it all comes down to at the end of the day is this:
If you don’t like the style
If it doesn’t make you smile
It’s just not worth the while