Centre for Internet & Society

The Researchers at Work (RAW) programme at the Centre for Internet and Society organised a consultation on ‘Figures of Learning in the Digital Context’ on September 22, 2014 in Bangalore.


Conducted as part of its ‘Making Methods for Digital Humanities’ project, the discussion was an attempt to examine changes in the learning environment with the advent of digital technologies and new modes of knowledge production by mapping concepts and changes around a set of figures of learning, old and new, to understand the discursive shifts that produce and locate them in the contemporary moment. (See the concept note here).

The Making Methods project seeks to make specific interventions in structures of learning, methods of storing and documenting information, and processes of interaction and interface design, in an effort to describe and queer the contours of what we understand as the field of Digital Humanities today.

The consultation brought together a small but diverse set of people from different fields. Participants presented on figures of learning drawn from their own fields of research and practice. Archana Prasad, artist and founder of JAAGA, Bangalore spoke about the organisation and its growth as an alternative space for learning through collaborative processes in art, design and technology – the studio space made of pallet racks, its various projects and groups that converge at JAAGA reflect this diversity and interdisciplinarity. She spoke about changes in her own role from being a facilitator for diverse groups to come together, to becoming more of a mentor in the later years, the problems of sustainability of such a space and the efforts made through different projects in emphasising learning though peer-to-peer methods. Interesting projects in focus were the participatory artwork and reality game called Investmentzone which is an effort to collaboratively work and transform public spaces and the JAAGA residential study programme. The discussions were useful in understanding processes that can be used to foster alternative and participatory learning environments.

Asim Siddiqui, Ph.D. student at the Manipal Centre for Philosophy and Humanities, used the figure of the ‘performer’ to talk about his research enquiry into the philosophy of performative art traditions and the role of the body, performance and practice in learning. He spoke about the relative passivity of the body in the classroom, and the predominance of certain normative discourses within which teaching-learning practices operate and therefore produce a sort of instrumental form of knowledge, which he found problematic. He drew from examples of embodied action in dance, theatre and music to look at how some of these nuances and conflicts may be brought into classroom pedagogy to make it more illustrative and inclusive. This led to an interesting discussion around problems with current teaching-learning practices and the lack of adequate measures to make them contextual and relevant to students’ lived experience. The digital now bringing in a different dimension to learning and the lack of an understanding of the body in the digital space as preventing the possibility of a somatic element to knowledge was also discussed. The problem of disciplinary constraints and the separation of humanities and social sciences came up with reference to technology becoming more prominent in classrooms.

Bitasta Das, instructor and coordinator of the UG Humanities programme at the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore spoke further on this issue of separation of the disciplines from her experience of teaching in the UG programme. Her presentation on the ‘distracted inventor’ focussed on the role of technology in the classroom, and how there is a need for teachers to constantly innovate to keep students engaged, particularly in a course such as this. The notion of distraction was a useful contrast to the attention economy debates that have become increasingly prevalent. The possibility of distraction as serendipitous and productive, particularly in science which is also a space of invention and discovery was discussed as one way of taking the idea forward. Some of the work done by students in the programme, under the larger rubric of integration of disciplines, was also presented in the consultation.

Nishant Shah presented on the idea of the production of error in computing, which is also the result of a deliberate and long process or history which can be traced from scribes copying texts to print culture and now to the machine itself, which also produces or re-produces error. He spoke about the gap between the interface and the information that a person consumes in the digital context, which is contrary to what is understood by abbreviations such as Garbage In Garbage Out (GIGO). He sought to critically examine this notion of transparency that the digital supposedly provides, when in effect the notion of error is as much present, but is being effectively effaced in various ways. The production of error therefore is an interesting process in signifying the limits of knowledge, and he proposed the idea of using the figure of the hipster to further explore this process of error or the glitch as a productive one.

Ekta Mittal , media practitioner and one of the founder-members of the media and arts collective Maraa presented on the figure of the worker, drawing on her research and work on a film on the Bangalore Metro construction workers. The attempt was to break through the existing discourse and simple binaries to present multiple meanings of the city, migrant labour, development, and new narratives of freedom and pleasure. Through documentation of the lives of labourers who belong to different parts of the country and their stories of migration, some of them illegal, and the question of identity and livelihood the film tries to dislocate the figure of the worker from a certain predominant discourse of the marginalised and invisible. The figure of the worker as a ghost, poet, wanderer, and now a lurker who often favours his condition of anonymity and invisibility is something that the presentation also focussed on as a way to take these ideas forward.

The consultation brought together a small but interesting set of people and ideas, this time specifically looking at diverse art and classroom teaching - learning practices. It also brought to the fore several unconventional processes of learning such as gamification, distraction, performance and embodied action that are outside the traditional notion of learning in the context of digital technologies. These ideas would contribute to further initiatives in engaging with larger questions about technology and processes of knowledge production.

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