Leveraging your “Why?”, in answer to Mike Wesch.

Mike Wesch gave a great opening talk for the Connected Courses workshop and in that he asked us to think about our “Why?” , why we teach. This kind of framed the thinking for the design of the course from there on in and it made me re-write my talk completely. In fact the reason I am look more than a little dishevelled is because I didn’t finish this until 3am that morning. Anyway, its my “Why?” and I’m greatful to Mike for pushing us out there.


Transcription download

Originally I was going to run this like a Phonar class, so I ask, or in fact dictate that everybody do their notes via Twitter and then at the end we aggregated it and storified all these nodes to make a meta-set of nodes. But of course in a Phonar class, we rely on a bigger meta-class to add in, and there really isn’t the sort of… I don’t know, are we broadcasting on radio? Anyway if you want to, we can do that, especially if people have never have used Twitter to teach. Because I’m going to do three things. I’m going to do a short talk, then I’m going to look at and pick apart the Phonar class; just go through it very quickly, and then as I said originally when we first introduced ourselves, I’m going to show a third thing that I’m hoping you’re  going to help me break and take apart before we do anything else with it. So there are the three things. Cards on the table, I’ve been completely terrified about speaking to you lot since this began, when Howard and Mimi asked me to be involved. And I’ve kind of thought myself into an impasse really about what to talk about. I have a sort of grander narrative of Phonar and then it occurred to me that most of the people know anyway or you may have seen some of it and then it would be really boring. So I thought ‘’that that isn’t really what I should be doing’’; so *Garner* said yesterday that A) they’re looking forward to me giving the talk; which is again terrifying, and B) that I should just talk about what is most urgent and so there is one thing that I really cant stop not thinking about. It’s the thing that’s informing everything that I do. As I look back at the key learning moments, then it is the thing, the thing that’s driven me. Now, I’m also going to have to talk in response to how I’ve framed the course so I will be doing that, and thank you to Mike for that. I pitched in with a ‘’why’’?. I have two why’s that I started out with. It’s the reason why I, well I’ll talk to you about it in a minute. I have two why’s. What’re you going to do? So I have two why’s and I’m going to talk about those, but I’m going to talk about trust, so if I have one takeaway question and I thought what is ‘the thing’ then one takeaway question is in todays quantum learning environments, how do we propagate and sustain interest driven learning? That is my thing that I think about a lot.

I’m going to jump around; so Tracy walked into the children’s house of fun, and she picked up her children and she was clearly upset, she was clearly in shock, she was crying and I was there and I thought about her kids and I thought, I was trying to get away. She walked in and she said “My dad’s had a stroke”. That was difficult to deal with.

So this is why. As I said I’m going to jump around. This is my most recent ‘why’ and this is driving everything. How many people here have already seen this picture? If you’ve heard me talk you may have seen this, you may have not. Quick show of hands. This picture, this is my ‘why’ right now and I’m going to talk about that at the end. That’s my answer for my questions ‘why’.

So I’m going to talk about now, about Bernard Timpson. So this is Bernard. Bernard lives in the Midlands and he lives a couple of miles away from where I live, and he worked his whole life in industry, in a factory putting cars together. In the weekend he would sell shoes. It’s a bit woolly how this all started but at some point he made contact with a family business in Hampshire which started supplying him with these boots, these shoes. And at night he would sell them after the pub, sell them from his garage, and at the weekends he would sell them from the market. Now these boots were useful because they could be used in the factory. They had a sole which was chemically resistant and they had an air cushion.

Now one day when I was just starting out with the classes Bernard had a stroke and a car accident. So he woke up and one side of his body wouldn’t work, and the other side had been hit by a car and was all crushed. So it was very difficult for him.

So now I want to talk about this photographer. So you may have seen me talk about my photography before, and there is a key moment in my business as a photographer where I had to rethink exactly what it was that I did. I used to think my product was photographs. I used to supply these photographs to magazines and newspapers. And my business was pretty solid and I was a relatively successful photographer. I had a studio on New York, I had worked in London, I was working for these newspapers and magazines. But with digital, with digital my business model had to change quite fundamentally. I realised in retrospect that people paid for the mode of delivery, never the mode of information. People used to buy magazines and newspapers they never actually bought my photography. I never let people buy my photography. When people stopped paying for my mode of delivery – digital, the internet, my business model collapsed. Now at this point I had an economics 1.0 head on and what I was seeing was that my images are suddenly abundant. My photographs were suddenly abundant and I couldn’t make the supply of my images scarce in order to control the price, and so what I would do, I would go online and I would hunt down where these images were and this is the sort of key moment for me. That light bulb moment, where after a shoot with Heith Ledger, his image was everywhere and I hunted down the one where they seemed to be coming from and I sort of attacked this person. I attacked this person; I sort of said they were stealing my stuff, that this was morally wrong, this was ethically wrong. You know, you wouldn’t steal my car and I really bought everything that I could to really understand this moment to what this what turned out to be a 14-year-old girl who was just this huge Heith Ledger fan. So you know, I never wanted to be this person. We had tears, she was crying. I got emails backwards and forwards and so I started to send her stuff. I apologised. I sent her my out takes so as a photographer this is my gold dust. This is the stuff that I would make money off. Just to be clear how broken my business model is, when I shoot a cover for the New York Times, I get paid $250 all in. No matter how famous they are. So I don’t make money on the shoot. What I make money on is re-selling the pictures afterwards and I’ve just given these away. And so I felt better about this. This was a point where I didn’t know where I was going to go, so I’m retrofitting a narrative to this but something sort of had to change. Now what I noticed at this point was that I started to get a lot of traffic to my blog. Now this talk is about trust. It turned out that she wasn’t any sort of 14-year-old girl. She was the go to girl for Heath Ledger. Her website wasn’t just a blog, it was a hub. It’s where you went to to find all the best stuff about Heath Ledger. Where the newest stuff was, where the outtakes were. Now I had reinforced this whole thing, and what she’d done is she pointed at me and said that I was credible, and that I was trusted and that you should go and see this stuff from Jonathan. I didn’t know how to capitalise this. I’m still not selling my pictures at this point, I’m still moaning about how my business model is crashing.

So I’m going to talk about a writer now. So lots of you will know who this is, and some of you may know this story, but I was commissioned to photograph this guy. This guy is Corey Doctorow; he’s a science fiction author. I was commissioned to photograph him for Popular Science Magazine. I did this, then two years after photographing I had made no money by syndicating the images, the traditional way of doing it. And I remained friendly with Corey, and I was seeing what he was doing and I was like “dude, you are giving your books away for free” and yet your making money from it. I am also apparently giving all my stuff away for free, but not intentionally and not making money from it. How can I do this? How can I do something about this? And so we devised this little trial. We devised this little trial and then this image we put it online. It’s a metre by a metre; you can still download this image for free. And then I printed out one hundred and eleven images and signed the back of them all, and Corey gave me every page from a photocopied manuscript and he signed every page and we put them together. We numbered these pages. Now bearing in mind that each of these images numbered is exactly the same and that you can download a high-resolution version for free. We put them on the market and we put them on sale. Now again this has been well documented and a lot of you might already know about this. The takeaway from this is not the fact that all of the cheap ones went, and that there was a fight for the most expensive one, and that one person bought most of two to six. That was interesting in itself, but the key takeaway at this point is that how on earth would I have reached those people had Corey not directed them to me? Had he not said to the people who were most interested in him and his product that Jonathan Worth is credible and you can trust him, these are of me, this is my manuscript, and this is how your going to buy them. He pointed them at me and made me credible at that moment.

So I’m going to talk a little bit about the class now. I said I would jump around a little bit. Now I’m a photographer, and photography is going through a second paradigm shit at the moment. Teaching is going through a paradigm shift; of course lots of things are. The first paradigm shift for photography was when it broke away from painting and became a medium in its own right. Currently, well where it became a medium in its own right, and a photograph, look at what photography does. Photography makes an artefact, and this artefact is used to prove something. It means for the last hundred years that seeing is believing and photography really sort of reinforced that; proved it if anything.

This next paradigm shift is where the image is breaking away from the photograph. We’re still using the same language to describe these things and this is very very confusing. As Mark Maguire says, and I repeat this endlessly, “If you want to change the world you have to start describing it differently”. So I’m trying now to talk about images. The image is not about evidence; the image is about experience, its experiential.

Snapchat is a great example of this. Snapchat is a piece of software; as we know, where you send an image to somebody and it vaporises very quickly. That’s anathema to a photographer. I have all of my images. I own them. They’re in boxes. They’re logged. I know exactly where they are and I can go and get them. This is not what I do, so how do I teach that? How do I teach it when there is an abundant supply of images? How do I teach this practice? I’m going to talk about that a little bit more in the class, but the takeaway from this moment is that the problem is no longer that seeing is believing. When this many people are making images, when there is this many supply of narratives, the issue is that you have to be believed in order to be heard. You have to be believed in order to be seen as a photographer. How do we get to be believed? How do we get trusted? This is the issue.

So my first class was trying to deal with all these things. The first class was called Picbod; Picturing the Body. What it essentially dealt with was ‘what can I do that a mobile phone can’t do’? There must be something that I can do as a craftsman, as an artisan that nobody else can. Just on the side, somebody talked about yesterday about mentoring, about how do we bring people on, I did the first class on my own and then my teaching assistant back then Matt Johnston he came on and started to work with me and everything that I did it went 200% faster and we went 200% further. I handed this class over to him, which was a very painful moment for me. I’ve only got two classes in the entire degree that I actually wrote, and they’re both small classes not worth many credits but handing this over to him was very difficult. Last night was the first time I’ve looked at this class since he’s been teaching it and it was great. It was great to see a lot of my old lectures in there, a lot of the tasks in there that I set, and its great to see that he’s not using Twitter as much, he’s got onto Google+ and he’s using that. It has currently 279 members and its not running at the moment, which is great. So Picbod, Picturing the Body was about what your mobile phone cant do, so that was about building an artefact. Students went on spontaneously to produce an exhibition. This was in their second year, and it’s a really big deal to do that in their second year; to hire a space, fill it with stuff, and fill it with people.

Phonar; Photography and Narrative,: that tried to do the other two things that I could see were the three things you need to understand as a visual storyteller. One, I need to make something that you couldn’t make with a mobile phone. I could make a print that lasts 200 years for instance. Number two, I needed to be trusted and credible. And number three, I needed to be heard. I needed to be a publisher, and not a publisher in the old sense but I need to reach out to people directly.

So I didn’t know how to teach that. I open sourced the problem; I asked everyone else “how can I teach this”? I wasn’t a teacher at this point. I had never taught a class before, so for me it seemed natural to put this on a blog and ask how do I teach this? Not only how do I teach this? But what do I teach? I knew what the problem is, I had a very very clear ‘why?’  My old job does not exist. The course that I learnt, I cannot teach; it’s inappropriate. So I had a very clear ‘why’, I just didn’t know how. Now when I did put this online the nine people in the room; this was the first year it was run, there were only nine students and everybody who applied had been accepted because they only advertised the course in the local newspaper. Nine people turned to nine hundred. That was in ten weeks on a blog. There were nine hundred people who really wanted to know how do we teach this stuff and what should we be teaching? Twenty weeks later there were just shy of ten thousand and thirty weeks later there were just shy of thirty thousand people who dropped by to work this stuff out. Now with that many people the class changed and I saw in the guardian yesterday one of Martin Hawks’s Twitter visualisations. This has changed the way I understand the class that I teach.

So now my classes, yes they’re still about doing something that can’t be done on the internet, being trusted, and being believed and being heard, they’re also about locating yourself on the internet, so what Martin said here I find quite interesting. “Open classes can be quite solitary experiences. By visualising networks we help to show participants how their conversations connect the community providing opportunities for situation awareness”. What I heard when I read that was that this is how you can locate yourself within the network and be empowered by it rather than being anonomysed by it. Five years later, the course is number one in the country. It’s also the youngest course on this list from the guardian newspaper. And it’s noticeably the only course on there that has open classes. It’s also noticeably the only course at the university I teach at that has open classes.

So back to the shoe story. So Bernard had got this weekly delivery of shoes that were arriving at his house; these boots. And after his accident, Tracy; who is not a student of mine. (None of this is about students so far; she’s a neighbour). She came to me and said, “I need you to help me”. She had a mountain, at this point almost a warehouse of shoes that she couldn’t sell on eBay at £35 per pair. And I said ‘’well you don’t want me to photograph them?’’ I mean her husband is a photographer and we know each other, so she said, “no, I want you to do what you did for the class. How did you do that?” I said “I don’t know, it’s a photography class, tell me the story of the boots”. She told me “my dad got these boots, its from this company down in Northamptonshire. It has this air cushioned sole on it”. Now the story is that when he started to do this there were two companies. One across the road from the other and the company that he got these shoes from; a family run company, had perfected this sole, but they weren’t very good at putting the tops on the boots. Now the company across the road was very good at putting the tops on the boots but they weren’t very good at doing the sole, so the company over the road bought the company with the sole. When they bought it they had one person they were supplying to on a weekly basis. They had a really close relationship with Bernard, and so they wrote into the contract that Bernard continued to receive these boots as long as he wanted them; which he did.

Now, this boot company, the one that Bernard was working with was I think called Air Cushioned Boots, or Solovair. Yeah, Solovair this is it. The company across the road was called Dr Martins, so I said hold on a minute, you’re telling me that you’ve got a single supply of the original DocMartin boots, which are made on the original machines at the original factory, still been made by the original workers who made them when they were been made in the UK; because they’re all made in China now.? She said yes, so I said ‘’yes, I can help you’’. You can do something that can’t be done on the internet. They can’t be reproduced digitally. You have something there that is unique, generative; it has to be built. What you need to do is to be trusted, and to be heard. So the first thing we’re going to do is work on you getting trusted, tell me about the boots. So she tells me about the boots, and it turns out that hanging around her dad, she’s got this collateral knowledge that she’s completely unaware of. She knows the difference between oxblood and cherry red. She knows how many stiches there should be that go around the sole of the boots. Which laces go on which boots and when they were first worn. So we began to unpick, who is going to value this information? Fashion, students love it! Music, of course there is a big music scene that follows it. Films, politics; the far right in the UK, the national front crowd they wear it. And any sort of macho culture, it gets quickly adopted by the gay culture, so there’s a big gay scene that wears these boots as well. So how do we tap into all of these? Where are the fish swimming? So what I said is, ‘’you go on the blogs and the only condition is you don’t sell shoes. You talk about shoes’’. She did this for six months, and for those six months her husband built a website. We agreed that the website had to be red, white, and blue. It had to draw on all that culture; it had to draw on all those references.

To cut the long story short, twelve months later it was one hundred and forty five pounds a pair for the boots and there was a twelve-week wait. She couldn’t get them quick enough and she couldn’t get them fast enough. Two years from then, the company bought her company as their sole distributor. She made the networks for them.

So we looked a little bit a minute ago, this is back to the class. So this is what the class looks like, this is Martin Malts’s Twitter visualisation again. Audience member shouts out “it’s the death star”. Jonathan responds “it is the death star”. So when I show this to the students and we sort of talk about locating yourself within the network I say, “what do you think this thing is here? What is this thing?” And of course they begin to unpick themselves and find their names in it. And that’s a room on the ground floor of a converted cinema in Coventry; that’s the class at the centre of this network, which all these people swim around in. But most of the people who are in the class are not in the class, so how do we reach those people? Everything so far has been about the people in the class. That network is awesome, it augments their experience. It internationalises it, it enriches it, it amplifies everything they do and say for better and for worse. But what about them? Most of my students it turns out weren’t in the room, and I began to have quite close relationships with a number of them. I had a group of single mums in the north of England who were never going to go to college. They had kids way to early; they were never going to go. And the tragic thing was they thought they couldn’t go, that they wouldn’t be able to. The reality was of course; as you can imagine; they bought a whole new level of conversation. One of them is a particularly good photographer. They bought a whole new level of conversation to the class from the original conversation, but I was failing them. So this is the second project of three. This is aimed at the meta-class. This summer its aimed at at-risk children, at-risk youth. Twelve to seventeen year olds in America, but what’s interesting, I think, about this class is that as far as I’m aware it’s the first class that’s been built on a mobile, for a mobile user, for a mobile teacher to a mobile user. To a mobile audience. I don’t think the majority of them were going to be accessing the internet via laptops, via desktops, via things that are plugged into cables. I think that this speaks to that meta-class.

This is the third step in that project. The class moves out of the classroom. Then the class moves out into the meta-class. Now, in the first one we were looking to build a network for the students and a network happened. The second one is thinking about really moving out of that network a little more, but still have the class as a reference point. What happens when we take a really thriving network, an established network, a trusted network and we infiltrate it with our class content, and our teaching? So for those of you who aren’t aware of the World Press, it’s like a Pulitzer Prize for photography. These are some of the winning images. Images of Tiananmen Square and so on. People who for whatever reason can’t go to school. This network has 11 million people coming to its show each year. Its had an academy since the 1990’s but it only taught eight people at a time, and it ran it like a competition. When I put Phonar in front of them and said actually its not going to cost you any more and if your raison d’être is in fact to put something back, to generally raise the bar of citizen journalism, then it wont cost you any more, and you can turn eight into eight million and more. So this class, this runs on for the first time this year on Facebook so anyone can do this class, and these are the best photographers in the world. Not only can you listen to their lectures, you can talk to them and you can submit your work. At the end of this course that ran in South Africa they picked winning students from the people in the class but also from the people outside the class. Now this again speaks to this idea of trust; and I think again this is the most interesting part of this, and this is the part I’m going to take forward next year and work on this project again. How do you build trust in communities where trust is face to face, where it’s a handshake, or a kiss, or a hug, when you’ve only got the internet? So I think this is North Africa, these are largely Arab countries so I started to investigate that. I looked back at Corey, what was Corey? He was trusted, and there is this thing called transitive trust where you can ‘borrow’ from other peoples trust. Trust by proxy. I looked at the Heith Ledger moment, the fourteen-year-old girl who pointed her trust at me and I borrowed from it. So I said right, who are the cultural influences here? Who are the people within these communities that we should draw into this; but draw into the process of building it, not sell the product but draw into the process of building it. Who knew that it was graffiti artists in Egypt and poets in Algeria, and its street artists in Tunisia I think it was. So now we had this list of people and we were drawing those people in to the next phase of this project.

So this brings me back to, this is my ‘why?’ So this image is the winning image from the World Press Photo this year, by a photographer called John Stanmeyer, and this is why it annoys me so much. Because it’s by a photographer called John Stanmeyer. These are African immigrants standing on a beach, trying to get a phone signal before they jump in the water. Let me just get this right, “on the shore of Djibouti City at night raising their phones in an attempt to capture an inexpensive signal from neighbouring Somalia”. These are the people that aren’t in my class. They’re holding these smart devices which can all take pictures, and yet it takes a photographer from New York to bring it back and we can now talk about it.  What these people need is to be able to be trusted and to be heard, and these are the people that aren’t in the class. So this is my why, and this is my way marker, so this is definitely the best and most exciting thing that’s come out of my classes. All of the open classes since whenever it was, 2009. Its not that good, there’s loads of better stuff on Jim’s classes or on dedicated multimedia courses. The sound is a bit rough I suppose. But this was done in response to a week two class in Phonar, and a 16-year-old girl on a mobile phone with a flashlight did it. That’s all I’ve got to say about that.



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Phonar - [fo-'när] is a free and open undergraduate photography class run by Jonathan Worth

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