New Additions

Jay Lemke is Professor Emeritus at the City University of New York. He has also been Professor in the PhD Programs in Science Education, Learning Technologies, and Literacy Language and Culture at the University of Michigan (Ann Arbor) and most recently adjunct Professor in Communication at the University of California - San Diego and Senior Research Scientist in the Laboratory for Comparative Human Cognition (LCHC). Professor Lemke's research investigates multimedia communication, learning, and emotion in the context of social and cultural change.

Innovation Research: From Here to Where?

Traditional Research seeks to understand how things are, but we also need research that explores how things might be, and especially how things might be better: Innovation Research.

 The theoretical and experimental natural sciences search for fundamental, unvarying, universal principles and relationships, and where they exist all future possibilities are already included in generalizations from the way things are now. But when the social and applied sciences take on this natural science paradigm they too easily focus only on understanding what is and fail to pursue research into how things could be.

 Literature, art, design, and engineering more naturally seek to go beyond the actual and construct visions and prototypes of the possible. Their constructions depend on deep knowledge of the actual, both what has been historically and what currently is. But they much more often point us toward what could be and in fact take steps toward bringing new possibilities into being.

 In the image above, we see a "convivium" at an outdoor local produce market, part of a design of the Nutrire Milano (Feeding Milan) project of a group of Italian social service designers. They imagined, designed, and prototyped a better future (see their design planning image below).

 It may not be true that whatever we can imagine we can eventually do, but it is certainly the case that we are not likely to produce better futures that we have not first imagined. Imagination, conceptualization, envisioning, and design are the first steps. Beyond that we need to build prototypes and experimental systems and explore their workings in real contexts of use, because the complexity of our interactions with anything does not allow adequate purely theoretical prediction of all the entailments of our innovations.

 The relatively new field of Design Research has been exploring these issues for some time now (e.g. Koskinen et al., Design Research through Practice, 2011), bringing together insights from the natural sciences and engineering, industrial and interaction design, and the arts. A key contribution has been the development and refinement of tools for Innovation Research, and I believe that the further development of such tools, including the use of video and multimedia, sketches and narratives, computer and role-play simulations, virtual worlds and scenario gaming, and the construction and deployment of prototypes not only of artifacts, but of systems and activities, can be the foundation of productive Innovation Research.

 Contemporary society is producing new technologies at an unprecedented rate, but our ageing social institutions, from schools and universities to governments and corporations are rapidly becoming obsolete, unable to perform the functions we expect of them. Innovation Research needs to address such critical problems as alternative modes of learning and education beyond the old-fashioned classroom and lecture-hall models; more effective ways of apportioning decision-making among different levels of government; more flexible networks of small-scale enterprises to replace behemoth global mega-corporations. Our healthcare systems are not becoming more effective in promoting positive health, they are just becoming bigger and more expensive. Our schools and universities are not helping students learn to think and create, they are just mass-producing more and more credentials that mean less and less. Our governments are centralizing power in larger and more numerous bureaucracies which are unable to perceive much less help solve the everyday problems that actually matter to people’s lives. Global corporations are producing unprecedented concentrations of wealth in fewer and fewer hands while offering us gaudy beads and trinkets and deceptive investments instead of goods and services that would really make our lives better.

 Yes, there is innovation already, but there is no systematic enterprise of innovation research for the betterment of life that addresses the need to re-design basic social institutions as well as add new technologies to our collection of social tools.

 Traditional research will continue to help us understand how things are and how they have been in the past, and innovative engineering makes great contributions to the techniques of getting us from here to there.

What we need is systematic and creative Innovation Research to help us answer the more basic question: From here to Where?



Re-Engineering the Research University

The large American research university used to be a model for excellence in higher education. Today it's collapsing under the unsustainable weight of an obsolete business model, and it's not doing its job.

This happens to be Singapore, but it's emblematic of the problem. To give faculty time to do the research that brings in the grant money that keeps under-funded universities alive, we cheat undergraduates of any genuine educational contact with them by packing students into large lecture courses where the instructor is at best only a distant presence.

No one in higher education believes this is what teaching and learning should look like. Students are left to fend for themselves and many who could succeed drop out. Many leave fields such as the sciences, where lecture courses leave them to sink or swim on their own, for other fields where it's easier to teach yourself the subject. Students in these lecture courses are either bored or confused. There is no chance for meaningful interaction or dialogue with someone who knows the subject well. When there is contact with a graduate student assistant, it's rare to find one with the time, teaching experience, and deep knowledge of the subject that is needed for serious seminar teaching.

Universities expect less and less of students: minimal writing skills, discussion skills, critical thinking skills. Employers in technical fields spend billions re-training university graduates to be able to do anything with their knowledge. Degrees say little more than that some books were read, some standard textbook problems solved. Faculty are happy with their Satisfactory student ratings as teachers. Students are accustomed to getting good grades without being seriously challenged.

And there is no incentive in the system to make things any better.

The first nation to radically transform its system of higher education will remain a global leader for a long time to come. While all pay lip service to innovation, creativity, and the knowledge economy, none are working to re-engineer higher education.
Lecture courses need to be abandoned in favor of seminar-scale teaching by full-time faculty, at all levels in all subjects. That means that universities need to be funded not by tuition or maximizing student numbers, but by funding faculty positions and admitting only as many students as the number of faculty hired can support. It means full financial support for all well-qualified undergraduate and graduate students, to a maximum of six years of higher education. It means an end to 4-year degrees and to non-specialist education in elite universities. [See more details: Changing Higher Education]

It means the creation and gradual expansion of a system of National Universities on this model, beginning with federal funding of the best existing public research universities. They will be smaller. Their graduates will be the best in the world. They will not serve every need or every citizen. General and liberal education should be done in secondary schools, themselves urgently in need of radical reform. Other institutions will provide different kinds of higher education access for most of the population.

The old model is broken, and it's time to say so.

Making Trouble

I have a new home and now a new website and blog.

Having moved from New York to the University of Michigan, and now to the University of California in San Diego, it was time to re-do a website whose design goes back 15 years and make it independent of any of my academic homes. With a new blog, re-located from Blogspot, I'm looking to make trouble more than ever!

This new website re-packages most of the content from Jay Lemke's Online Office, my old website at the University of Michigan, including popular features like the New Researchers Guide, and adds pdfs of many of my papers on New Media and Learning, Science Education, Discourse Analysis, Multimedia Semiotics, Digital Games, etc. It also includes new work since the end of 2007.

In my new home at LCHC, the Laboratory for Comparative Human Cognition, at UC San Diego, I'm working on some new research projects on integrated approaches to studying feeling and meaning (aka affect and cognition) and on play and learning with new media.

Already in my blog are short discussions of the emotional side of scientific images, why remix culture trumps intellectual property rights, going beyond schooling as a form of education, the future of democracy as a political ideal, and the moral dimensions of learning. New postings will make trouble around issues of emotion in learning and science, new media cultures, social dynamics, and education, sexuality, and policy.

Welcome! Explore the whole site, scroll down the blog, and come back for new additions appearing here soon.


The Leader of the Stable World??

So, "the Leader of the Free World" is obsolete, a relic of the old Cold War. But the US used to stand for something. Our international support among people used to come from the belief that we stood for freedom and democracy (whether we actually did or not).

Now, with a supposedly liberal President, we hemmed and hawed on Egypt until the last minute, we almost saw a total massacre in Libya, we have in fact given tacit backing to violent suppression of pro-democracy movements in Bahrain, Yemen, and who knows where else (Saudi Arabia?). We have defended "stability", not democracy. Not the Free World, but the Stable World.

Even in the first Gulf War, it was all about not allowing the status quo to change. Iraq had a legitimate historical claim to Kuwait, which was taken away from them and made an independent sheikdom by the British to protect their naval bases and later the oil. The US was horrified that anybody might try to change the sacred order of things. Anybody other than us, that is.

The Iran hostage crisis came about mostly because Carter listened to Kissinger's advice that we had to give sanctuary to a dictator (the Shah), because he was OUR dictator (one of many). Mubarak in Egypt was another one of OUR dictators. My taxpayer dollars have been going to dictators all over the world, to equip their armies to use against pro-democracy movements.

We're not really interested in democracy in Iraq now, or Afghanistan (obviously), or (Allah forbid!) Saudi Arabia. We tut-tut about democracy in China. We have no credibility at all when we talk today about freedom and democracy in Cuba, or Russia, or North Korea, because no one believes we are looking out for anything except our own interests. Correction: the global financial interests based here.

Why do so many Islamic people hate the US? (1) Because we continued to support Israel no matter how brutal or illegal their actions toward the Palestinians, and (2) because we continued to support oppressive dictatorships from Egypt (until now) and Saudi Arabia (and the Gulf States) to Pakistan. Because we are allied with their enemies all around the world. The World Trade Center fell because it symbolized US-backed oppression all across the Islamic world.

We just missed a rare opportunity to prove otherwise. If we (i.e. Obama) had spoken out early, clearly, and impressively in support of the Egyptian revolution, the Libyan revolution, and the movement in Bahrain (at least), a lot of Moslems might have had second thoughts about donating money to Osama bin Laden.

ALL our leaders believe that US longterm strategic interests require that we support dictatorships and maintain "stability". They are all wrong. And they are putting all of us on the wrong side of history.

Feeling Science

How does it feel to engage with Science?

20 years ago I wrote a book called Talking Science: how we use the language of science to describe, explain, design, investigate, teach, learn, reason, read, and write. Later on, I also wrote about how science integrates language with mathematics and graphs, tables, charts, maps, diagrams, and images.

But all that was about the meanings we make with words, images, and equations. It left out how we feel about them, how we feel about doing science and using its tools. Feelings are important in themselves, but also because they guide our judgments: about what research to do, what solution or design to try, whether an idea seems likely or not, a fact important or not, a procedure comfortable or not, an approach attractive or not.

At a recent conference on the Learning Sciences in Chicago, I tried to deal with just one part of the role of feelings in science: how we feel about images, equations, and a wide range of representations in science. I began by recalling that a lot of us got interested in science early on because of the feelings we had for dinosaurs and galaxies – things we experienced through awe-inspiring reconstructions and computer-enhanced photographs.

Most scientific images today are products of both data and human esthetic choices about to render that data in ways that highlight it meanings, but also in ways that engage our feelings. This is nothing new in science, as the famous drawings of bird species by Audubon easily remind us.

Not all the feelings we have about scientific images are pleasant ones, but they can certainly be very powerful ones:

We have feelings for and about the modes of representation (e.g. visual vs. mathematical), the media (diagrams vs 3D models), the technologies (print vs. video), the genres (topographic maps, star charts, chemical formulas, etc.), and even the individual styles in which these are rendered. Usually in science these come as packages, so it does not make sense to try to separate out our feelings for say a medium or a technology in the abstract. We don’t feel in the abstract; we feel as we experience real, concrete instances.

How we feel about scientific images or scientific tools, how we feeling in using them (comfortable or not? pleasurable or not? appropriate? proud? inspired? mystified? frustrated?) is part of our identity as a scientist or just as a person who encounters these images, tools, and ideas. What do we identify with? What do we distance ourselves from? Learning science, even in school, is not just about learning to reason like a scientist, it is also about learning to feel like one, even if only in some limited ways.

Feelings, which may also be called more elegantly affects or just emotions, are generally ignored, denied, or pushed to the side in the teaching of science (and mathematics) and in school curricula. But they are fundamentally important for motivation, for long-term memory, for developing attitudes, for career choice, for decision-making, and in fact for scientific reasoning itself. All reasoning requires choices, choices depend on values, values are grounded in or appear to us as feelings. Judgment and evaluation are fundamental to science, and both depend critically on feelings.

Feelings are not animal instincts; in human beings, at least, they are also learned and cultured. Feelings of appropriateness and moral rightness, of guilt or pride, are learned, built on top of whatever basic capacity for emotional response our biology gives us. So also with “a feeling for the organism” in biology (in the famous phrase of Nobel geneticist Barbara McClintock), or a feeling for the pathways of complex organic chemistry reactions, or for the world of quantum physics.

Feelings, like meanings, usually come to us through our engagement with words, images, sounds, and hands-on experiences. A famous chemist once told me that I couldn’t understand chemistry just by manipulating equations; I had to “smell” it and see it in the laboratory. I needed, in other words, to get a feel for it. No less obviously, we have feelings about meanings (ideas, proposals, explanations). Maybe we ought to say that how we feel when we make sense of something is an inseparable part of the meaning we make, of the activity of making that meaning?

And so feeling is also fundamental to learning, to development, to education. And not just in science. Why do we so often try to pretend that it isn’t? Well, that’s another story.