Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Creative Communities 2: Day 1

This week the Griffith Centre for Cultural Research hosted the second annual Creative Communities conference on the Gold Coast at Crowne Plaza. The theme of the conference this year is 'Culture, Identity & Inclusion'. Here are some thoughts and responses to Day 1 of the conference.

Day 1

We began the conference with a keynote presentation from Prof. Les Back (Goldsmiths, UK) who encouraged us to problematise social cohesion within communities. He made the argument that although we often assume cohesion is automatically positive, it can also make communities insular and fiercely exclusive. While not in these words precisely (he was far more elegant!) Les suggested that open, un-scripted configurations of belonging and community (and border-making) may be our best bet for fostering inclusion.

I then attended the new media stream which featured three really interesting papers. The first was from Cali Vandyk-Dunlevy and Jeni Pollard who shared their Penrith community development project which involved getting community members involved in online collaborative story-telling exercises. The second paper was from Dale Patterson who spoke about a quantitative study that looked at the differences between learning online and learning offline. The final paper was from Michael Griffin who discussed his use of blogging to empower the disadvantaged.

The first and third papers in this session had lots of continuities, and essentially were about making the everyday stories and lives of people visible. I found Michael's work particularly impressive and really quite touching. The stories and experiences that his students at Mission Australia were able to share online were obviously a source of great power and affirmation, generated not only by the act of expression and the platform itself but also by the encouraging and empowering feedback from other students and indeed others in Michael's other classes at ACU.

I found the second paper by Dale to be somewhat more challenging for me. Perhaps it was the framework or the research design, but there was something about the separation of online and offline learning here that felt a bit awkward; a perpetuation of the oft-discussed false dichotomy. For one thing, students that we frame as 'offline' (or on-campus) in universities aren't really offline at all. They email their tutors/lecturers, they do their research online, sometimes they submit assignments online, they still download notes from university web-portals and more often than not they're facilitating their own peer-based social interactions through social network sites. I was also somewhat concerned by the way in which Dale's study framed the measurement of creativity, but I did find the underlying argument about the advantages of blended learning to be quite apt. I'd like to read more of his work.

In the final session of the day before a few drinks and dinner we heard about 'festivals, identity and place'. While the papers from Helen Lancaster and Jane Kreis were quite rich and interesting (if not relevant for my own research) I'll single-out my friend and colleague Jodie Taylor who presented some preliminary information on the successful queer youth event she ran in Brisbane recently, Queeriosity. Well done Jodie and I look forward to the remaining two days of the conference!

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