Many Stories, One Scotland

My favourite aunt, now living in Houston Texas, has been researching our family tree for a number of years, and in September last year I discovered, thanks to her efforts, that my great, great, great, great, great grandfather was the parish minister who christened Robert Burns. There is nothing quite so powerful as finding another piece in that great jigsaw which is the bigger picture of yourself and your place in the world. Which is why I was delighted when I was approached by the Scottish Council on Archives Education Working Group earlier this year and asked if I would help them to develop a National Plan for Learning 2012-2015. The end result is Many Stories, One Scotland, which I hope will provide the SCA with a platform from which to achieve the twin aims of raising awareness of the national archives and bringing together teachers and archivists to make sure the archives have a central role in the formal education system in Scotland. As a former English teacher of many years, and a firm believer in the power of storytelling to transform the learning experience of young people, I wish that I had been more aware of the vast store of fascinating resources which the archives provide, both locally and nationally. Advances in technology have made it possible for us to create and tell stories in so many inventive ways, but it is the raw material of the archives which gives us that rich content to bring the stories alive.

You can download a free copy of the final document by clicking on the title, Many Stories, One Scotland here.

Scotland stands yet again at a critical time in its history, and never has there been more interest in personal or national identity. This is reflected both in the Scottish Government’s commitment to develop the concept of ‘Learning about Scotland’ – including the promotion of the use of Gaelic and Scots languages –  in our educational establishments, and in the increasing number of Scottish adults engaged in researching their own family histories. Scotland’s archives have a major role to play in both of these objectives, as The Scottish Council on Archives publication ‘Scotland’s Archives Matter’ describes in some detail, while also putting it more succinctly:
‘Taken together the individual documents found in the archives provide a comprehensive picture of what over the centuries has created the Scottish nation. They give an insight into the nation’s contacts with other peoples and cultures. Archives matter because they tell the story of Scotland, but they also tell my story, your story and the stories of our families and communities.’
It would be wrong, however, to assume that Scotland’s archives are simply about recording history and the past. They are equally important in informing the present and securing the future development and prosperity of the nation and its citizens, helping to meet the Scottish Government’s strategic objectives of a wealthier and fairer, smarter, healthier, safer and stronger, greener Scotland, within which its young people are empowered to become successful learners, confident individuals, responsible citizens and effective contributors.

Many Stories, One Scotland June 2012

Books – Designing the Future

I’d like to thank my friend Yatra for bringing this to my attention, and John at I Love Typography for posting it first, as well as having the most elegant, unique and beautiful blog. I make no apologies for bringing it to a wider audience.

As someone who still reads only paper books for now (not that I have any sentimental moral objections to eReaders, I just haven’t got round to buying one), I am intrigued by what it is that makes us hang on to books, literally and metaphorically. In this fascinating account, the writer, designer and publisher Craig Mod examines our emotional relationship with books and looks at how we might preserve this relationship into the digital age.

Transmedia and Education – Living Lab Madrid 2012

Just catching my breath after a great conference in Madrid where I had the privilege of sharing a platform with some very impressive speakers and activists from the emerging world of transmedia, including a truly inspirational masterclass from the master of transmedia himself, Henry Jenkins. The three-day event was perhaps the most professional and well-organised event I have ever attended, thanks to the tireless efforts of the organiser Fernando Carrion, and the sponsors Fundacion Telefonica of Spain, who hosted the conference in their new state-of-the-art auditorium in central Madrid. One of the key themes of the conference was of course literacy, and the implications for formal systems of education of the developing culture of transmedia.

You can watch all the presentations from the conference, including Henry Jenkins, here.

“What skills do children need to become full participants in convergence culture? Across this book, we have identified a number – the ability to pool knowledge with others in a collaborative enterprise (as in Survivor spoiling), the ability to share and compare value systems by evaluating ethical dramas (as occurs in the gossip surrounding reality television), the ability to make connections across scattered pieces of information (as occurs when we consume The Matrix, 1999, or Pokemon, 1998), the ability to express your interpretations and feelings toward popular fictions through your own folk culture (as occurs in Star Wars fan cinema), and the ability to circulate what you create via the Internet so that it can be shared with others (again as in fan cinema). The example of The Daily Prophet (a web-based ‘school newspaper’ for the fictional Hogwarts) suggests yet another cultural competency: role-playing both as a means of exploring a fictional realm and as a means of developing a richer understanding of yourself and the culture around you. These kids come to understand Harry Potter by occupying a space within Hogwarts; occupying such a space helped them to map more fully the rules of this fictional world and the roles that various characters played within it. Much as an actor builds up a character by combining things discovered through research with things learned through personal introspection, these kids were drawing on their own experiences to flesh out various aspects of Rowling’s fiction. This is a kind of intellectual mastery that comes only through active participation. At the same time, role-playing was providing an inspiration for them to expand other kinds of literacy skills – those already valued within traditional education.”

HenryJenkins, Convergence Culture, 2006

The American-inspired Telefonica building on Madrid’s Gran Via

It strikes me that if schooling is to continue to be relevant in the modern world some fundamental changes have to be made. We need to have a much broader approach to literacy and literacy development than we do at the moment. In Scotland, as in many other countries, the curriculum narrows as young people develop into their mid-teens, and their formal education ends with the study of perhaps five or six subjects, one of which is English, which consists of the analysis of printed text (usually prose) and the ‘critical evaluation’ of one or two works of ‘literature’ (usually historic and too often repeating long-established interpretations of the text). The students’ success or failure in this endeavour often determines their future career pathway, as Higher English or its equivalent is the benchmark of acceptable intelligence. I have in fact often heard it referred to, with some affection in educational establishments, as ‘the gold standard’.

But think about it for a moment. Wouldn’t a more appropriate measure of literacy for the mainstream school leaver be an awareness of popular cultural media and an ability to make critical comment on their creation, distribution and effect? And shouldn’t a key aspect of that assessment be of the student’s ability to create and share such texts? Let’s call it Transmedia Studies.

See my photos from the Living Lab Conference here.

See previous post on Henry Jenkins and Convergence Culture here.