In the wake of the quake: Teaching the emergency

A new article by Stephen and me in Educational Philosophy and Theory:

The university today finds itself in a global state of emergency, at once financial, military and ecological. Teaching must assume this emergency as premise and responsibility: it must consider the grounds of the classroom, both figurative and literal, and generate emergent lines of inquiry that address the pressing global and local situation. For us, that means that teaching must take the university’s grounds of supposedly universal knowledge to be constitutively unstable and to require a reflexive teaching method that puts in question disciplinary fields and discursive modalities of knowledge. And it must take in the physical grounds of the university too—because local space is increasingly articulated by technocapital interests that are fully implicated in this global state of emergency. Thus, we do not seek stability amidst such turbulence, but rather a seismotic overturning of the grounds of the university or, rather, a returning to its ground, through the deepened sense of purpose and place that ‘teaching the emergency’ provides.

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New article on online learning ecologies with Susan Carter

Download here.

E-learning is not just a learning and teaching innovation; it also signals a shift in human cognition and communication. The lexicon of e-learning borrows from the barren lexicon of information science: of users, usage and usability, or of information-seeking and affordances. Deep e-learning requires a more fecund idiom, a new myth: of the digital agora, an e-learning ‘trading zone’. Here we reflect on the process of shaping an electronic version of our generic doctoral skills sessions, during which it occurred to us that, to match the benefits of interactivity in face-to-face teaching and learning and to be transformative of academic subjectivity, e-learning must be truly performative, rather than merely informative; e-learners (and e-teachers too) must enact the skills they hope to learn (or teach).

New article by Stephen and me rereading NZ creative educationalist Elwyn Richardson

Sturm, S., & Turner, S.F. (2015). The tyre-child in the early world. Educational Philosophy and Theory: Incorporating ACCESS.

In the Early World

The abstract:

This article considers the ‘creative education’ of influential Aotearoa/New Zealand art educator Elwyn Richardson, which is based on what he calls the ‘discovery method’: the ‘concentrated study of material from [students’] own surroundings’. Through a game that his students play with tyres, we explore the role that tools play in Richardson’s classroom and in the imaginary ‘worlding’ of his students’ play. By taking the ‘early world’ of the children’s development to be a product of the tools through which they describe it, we reveal Richardson’s educative process to be essentially technological. His idea of the whole child who emerges through a process of experience and observation – of ‘emotion recollected in tranquillity’, in the well-known phrase of Wordsworth cited by Richardson – conflates the nature of the child and nature of the ‘natural’ world. By this act of ‘natural settlement’ not untypical of settler narratives in Aotearoa/New Zealand, the child’s – and, by implication, other settlers’ – relation to the world of nature is naturalized. Instead, we would argue that the child’s relation to nature is altogether unnatural: it is imprinted by the technological means through which she explores the world and makes it her own – and by which she is made over. The ‘tyre-child’ is no child of nature, but a child of technology (as every settler is a technological settler), for whom creative errors – acts of ‘mis-taking’ like the ones Richardson’s children make in playing with tyres – reveal an imaginary capacity at once theoretical and unsettling.

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Digital Caricature

A new article by Stephen Turner and me about the digitas published in DHQ: Digital Humanities Quarterly (link):

For Vilém Flusser, philosopher of technology, the advent of photography heralded the return of the image from its subjection to the linearity of written language. Here we extend his concept of the “techno-image” (successor of the pre-historical hand-drawn image and the historical printed word), to consider the digital image-text that today dominates reading and writing. Our question: Can we reader-writers think the digitas, or are we doomed to perform its functions in an “automati[c]” or “robotiz[ed]” fashion, as Flusser put it, so that, if anything, the digitas now “thinks” us? The short answer to our question is as follows: we can think the digitas, but only if we consider it, firstly, as a kind of writing (“digital orthography”) and, secondly, as a caricature of thinking, both impoverished and, dare we say it, funny (“digital caricature”).

Sommer, E. "Portrait Vilém Flusser". Vilém Flusser Archive. 2012. Reproduced by permission of Ed Sommer.

Sommer, E. “Portrait Vilém Flusser”. Vilém Flusser Archive. 2012. Reproduced by permission of Ed Sommer.

“Off with their Heads!”: Un-Mastering the Masters of the University

An abstract for an upcoming talkfest on Lacan and the Discourse of Capitalism at Massey University in Wellington . . .

The matheme-atics of Jacques Lacan’s four — or more — discourses can enable us to account for changes in the university, and the place of dissent within (or outside) it. If, to misapply Lacan, we take the discourse of the university to represent the University 1.0 (the national university that exists to create good citizens), his fifth discourse, that of capitalism, can represent the University 2.0 (the transnational university that exists to generate transcendental, or global, capital).[1]

Discourses of the University and Capitalism

Both discourses, Lacan might say, serve the hidden truth of the master: the mathemes that occupy the position of agency (top left on the quadripode) are “fake masters,” to use Slavoj Žižek’s term,[2] namely,

  1. in the University 1.0, knowledge (S2) — or learning, embodied in the professorate, and
  2. in the University 2.0, the subject ($) — or consumers, including managers and academics as well as students.

The shift from a ruling discourse that produces a certain subjectivity (learning producing learned subjects) to one that is driven by a certain subjectivity (consumers producing profit) can account for changes in the university.

How are we, then, to understand the place of dissent within the university (or outside it, given that the university is now taken to be captive to and of a piece with capitalism)? The discourses of the hysteric and the analyst can be read as dissenting: the hysteric questions the hidden masters of university and capitalist discourse to protest against them;[3] the analyst works with the subjectivities that are produced in university discourse and drive capitalist discourse to transform them. But it struck me, when reading Alice and the Cheshire Cat’s ripostes to the Queen of Hearts in Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (link), that I might instead construct a sixth discourse: of dissent, or dissensus, to use Jacques Rancière’s term.[4] (The Cheshire Cat hystericises and analyses the Queen; Alice dissents.)

Discourse of Dissent

Dissent takes the discourse of the university as its starting point, but swaps the “covert” mathemes (the bottom two mathemes) $ and S1, such that its truth becomes the subject and its product, a new kind of mastery. It is a “subjectification” of the university and a re-mastering of its universe; how so, my talk will explore.[5]

[1] Before Lacan added a fifth discourse, of capitalism (“On Psychoanalytic Discourse,” 1972/1978), he took the discourse of the university, the historical successor to the discourse of the master, to represent capitalism (The Other Side of Psychoanalysis, 1968/2007).

[2] Slavoj Žižek, Iraq: The Borrowed Kettle, 2004.

[3] For this reason, Lacan came to take the discourse of the hysteric to represent science, which offers — or ought to offer — an implicit critique of the status quo of knowledge (e.g., in Television, 1974; 1990).

[4] Jacques Rancière, “The Thinking of Dissensus: Politics and Aesthetics,” 2003.

[5] Note that Alain Badiou (Philosophy for Militants, 2012) argues by way of Lacan’s discourses for a re-mastering of philosophy: for him, philosophy has for the most part been co-opted by the discourse of the university (it has become antiphilosophy); to find its rightful place, it must re-appropriate the discourse of the master.

Neuronal Modelling (One Step on from Neuronal Mirroring?)

With a big dose of hmmm . . .

Kirsten Winkler, “Learning with Video Is as Effective as the Classroom — And That’s a Problem,” Disrupt EducationBig Think, 2 Oct. 2011 [link] (slightly edited):

Scientists of the RUB [Ruhr-University Bochum] Department for Neurophysiology have proven that we don’t need to actively explore new environments in order to learn but that passively watching new information on a computer screen leads to the same sustained changes in the strengths of nerve cell connections in the brain.

Simulations of situations are as good for learning as the real thing?

In the experiment [1], one group of rats was actively exploring new spatial environments and another group was watching the new environment on a screen. Both formed new lasting connections in the hippocampus which is important for long term memory.

Prof. Dr. Denise Manahan-Vaughan points out that these findings are essential to understand how digital learning competes with learning in a physical environment, e.g. the classroom, in the brain of the students.


On the one hand, the research can be the basis for new strategies in the classroom to fight against “the apathy in children towards the traditional teaching methods.” [. . .]

[. . .] On the other hand, it also explains the observations of teachers that each new generation of school children seems to have increasingly shorter attention spans.

According to Manahan-Vaughan, children are using an increasing amount of digital media throughout the day. If the findings in the experiment are correct, the information that children learn by playing games or watching videos is simply competing with the information they received and learned during class.

While this is, of course, a problem when the information consumed by children after school are games and TV shows, the research is really good news for Khan Academy and the model of the flipped classroom. [. . .]

See Jeff Dunn, “How a Flipped Classroom Actually Works,” Edudemic, 20 Dec. 2011 [link]; check the infographic and the Youtube vid (other resources). In the flipped classroom, students learn online outside the classroom and do “homework” in class.

[. . .] In this model, children watch Khan’s or other educational videos at home to learn the essentials and then do experiments and homework in the classroom with the teacher and their peers. If the findings of Manahan-Vaughan are correct, the effect of watching a lecture at home would be of the same quality as learning the topic in class.

This, of course, implies a transmission (instruction), rather than a transaction or transformation, model of teaching and learning. It’s classic information literacy download, i.e. data-dump (interpassive), model — unless it’s done very well (interactively).

However, we need to take Dr. Derek Muller’s findings on the effectiveness of science videos into consideration which I discussed last week [2]. Though the effect on the nerve cells might be the same we don’t know what students are learning. As Muller points out in his research, it might be that students just get confident in what they think they already know, which is in most cases not correct [= confirmation bias]. Students need to bring up mental effort in order to learn, just passively watching the right information does not seem to work.

I’d agree.

Hence, a combination of both research results might be a big step forward when discussing how to address today’s learners best.

Aha, the old additive solution: doing more must be better, no?


What is interesting is what this neuronal modeling model of learning adds to recent thinking about neuronal mirroring as the basis of empathy (see Virno [3]). More later . . .

1. “Two-Dimensional Learning: Viewing Computer Images Causes Long-Term Changes in Nerve Cell Connections,” Medical Express, 26 Sep. 2011 [link], reporting on Anna Kemp and Denise Manahan-Vaughan, “Passive Spatial Perception Facilitates the Expression of Persistent Hippocampal Long-Term Depression, Cerebral Cortex, 13 Sep. 2011 [link].

2. Kirsten Winkler, “Only Getting the Right Answers is Wrong,” Big Think, 25 Sep. 2011 [link].

3. Paolo Virno, “Mirror Neurons, Linguistic Negation, Reciprocal Recognition,” Multitude: Between Innovation and Negation (Los Angeles, CA: Semiotext[e], 2008) 175–90 [link]. After Vittorio Gallese and Alvin Goldman, “Mirror Neurons and the Simulation Theory of Mind-Reading,” Trends in Cognitive Sciences 2.12 (1 Dec. 1998): 493-501 [link].