ScratchEd MeetUp @ MIT Media Lab ☆

| June 23, 2012

The Scratch Cat!

ScratchEd Meetup @ MIT Media Lab

June 2, 2012

  • Erol Gunduz, 3D Artist, Ceramics
  • Sean Justice, Media Art, Photography, Code
  • Razia Sadik, Art & Research
  • Hong Wan Tham, Sculpture, Cross Media

On Saturday, June 2, four of us went to Boston to join a ScratchEd Meetup at the MIT Media Lab.


Media Lab @ MIT

Scratch is two things: 1) a visual programming language that young people (and adults!) use to make interactive web-based games, stories, and other imaginative digital objects; and 2) a networked community of Scratch makers who share, remix, and comment on the universe of Scratch projects that are added to the network every day. Learn more about Scratch here: http://scratch.mit.edu/.

Media Lab @ MIT

ScratchEd is a network of educators who are exploring how Scratch might be best used in classrooms and other learning environments. Learn about ScratchEd here: http://scratched.media.mit.edu/. See the Meetup summary on the ScratchEd site here: http://bit.ly/LpEfFC.

The purpose of our trip to MIT was to explore the conversation around Scratch with other educators. From our various positions at TC, and from our various positions in material media, we want to ask how technology affects our work and opens us to new questions—that is, to new ways of knowing and wondering about art and art education. For us, the process of learning about Scratch, and about programming in general, is itself the reason to ask about it. That is, the purpose is the process. If that sounds circular, it is—or perhaps it’s a spiral rather than a closed circle: because as we travel our experience of the path means that we see the world differently even as we pass by the same spot again and again. As artists we think the greatest learning often happens in the exploration itself, not necessarily in the results or end-point of that exploration. Yes, the journey might take us somewhere new, or exotic, but it might not, or it might bring us right back home again, too. And that’s okay, because the journey itself is the reason we keep exploring.

Break-out session.

On the drive to Boston early that Saturday morning, in the endless rain, we wandered through conversations about culture, art, code, history, and teaching, focusing and unfocusing our attention on the sweep of relationships between our work and our ideas. At the Media Lab we broke our circle apart to include the conversation of the other educators we met there. Then, on the drive back to New York, still in the rain, we surfed new currents of thought and imagination that the day had opened to us. I’m not sure that any of us have yet worked out an answer to how or why Scratch has a place in the art classroom. At this point just asking the question is the place to start. Scratch, as a network and as an application, opens a window to a way of knowing and making that might not be accessible by other means. How wide the window opens, or what comes in (or goes out) the window, is the question we’re beginning to explore.

Agenda Discussion

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The trip to MIT was an adventure in discussion—during the event, as well as during the ride up. The experience of talking with fellow educators about education, art practice, and life in general was important. This was also a great opportunity to share ideas and responses to various critical issues surrounding educational practice in balance with personal perspectives. The Meetup agenda focused on topics of community and social engagement. Because the break-out sessions were facilitated in an organic and emergent manner, I felt much more connected to my fellow Scratch enthusiasts, which echoed the communal aspects of the Scratch software learning platform. Leaving the event, I felt excited about the role of programing as a framework for thinking rather than simply a reduction to a function of vocational agency. Much like drawing, the exploratory and cognitive aspects of programing can really benefit the creative thinking skills of learners. It’s like seeing through another cognitive/exploratory lens.

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When we were asked to share our “Aha!” moment after lunch at the end of the Meetup, the activities of the previous hours flashed through my mind. Seriously, I hadn’t known what to expect until about twenty minutes into the event. Everything turned out to be a surprise. I was and still am glad that I came all the way up to Boston. I was very intrigued by the icebreakers that made me ask if technology

Media Lab @ MIT > Scratch Educators MeetUp

was more important than health, and whether there is really THE WAY to teach: no answers to these questions still. Then, I was really amazed by the way the agenda of the day began to unfold. Michelle, the host, actually got us, the participants, to determine the content of the meeting on the spot. Lastly, I was thrilled to see in the execution of the agenda and the sharing on pedagogy from the group discussions echoed somewhat with the way I teach. I am bothered by the “Old Master’s Way” of teaching; I still prefer reciprocal/peer learning.

Lunch!

In the gathering, I sensed that many participants were eager to know more about the newer version of Scratch. I believe that the software is an excellent tool for getting students to design their own computer games and/or animated pictures. However, we might be advised to be mindful that Scratch is not only a tool to learn new technology and skills, but also a platform to explore unchartered territories and to actualize imagination. We should try to see within and beyond those animated images something more than just simply ‘cool’ moving pictures or computer games.

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The spirit of sharing was indeed great, but despite the openness I felt somewhat at cross-purposes with the focus on learning how to do things with a tool, rather than on thinking about what happens to us as we use it.

And yes the icebreakers were great, too. But there wasn’t enough time to discuss all the issues that emerged from the Pandora’s box they opened up.

Working on a game project

Regarding the use of Scratch as a productive tool and/or as an exploratory process, I would reinforce the questioning of approach and attitude toward technology that veers too close to being for its own sake. I don’t mean to be a cynic, and I am simplifying a bit, but while we were talking about educating with Scratch, the dominant paradigm did not seem to be education and learning, and its human aspects, but rather how great the software was. So I came away thinking about the use of technology in a cautionary way—a feeling that was somewhat surprising to me. All in all it was an exercise in the value of reflective and reflexive thinking about one’s practice (of art, teaching, learning, or whichever discipline or material, and practically everything else one does in life).

Media Lab @ MIT

We’d like to talk about Scratch as an iterative, democratic, and qualitative practice that reinforces learning and teaching, and as a disruption of hierarchical notions that separate disciplines, skills, materials, innovation and much more—as GS would put it, as a practice that “goes from the known to the unknown.”