Innovation Ecotones

An ecotone — literally, a place where ecologies are in tension — is a transitional area between different biomes, such as the boundary between grassland and forest or between different kinds of forests. Such places are sites for evolutionary dynamism, conflict, and experimentation. Ann Pendleton-Jullian, Director of the Knowlton School of Architecture at Ohio State University, draws on the ecotone as analogy and inspiration in her provocative essay regarding the future of design education and other institutional systems, Innovation Ecotones (.pdf).

Here, Pendleton-Jullian outlines the continuum between linear (“twentieth century”) and elastic/non-hierarchical (“twenty-first century”) learning and innovation models:

The left side of this continuum corresponds to models, methods, and mechanisms associated with twentieth century learning and the right side corresponds to how we are beginning to conceive of knowledge construction for the twenty-first century. A twentieth-century approach to education holds fast to the notion of teaching as a systematic delivery of knowledge—knowledge that is vetted and sanctioned and delivered in discipline-based packages from expert teachers to students. It is education in which one learns about specific stuff and how to do specific things.

In contrast, twenty-first century learning environments are about learning that extends far beyond the classroom (it scales), which in turn promotes elasticity and agency. The assumption is that we need to prepare for futures in which the specific things we will be doing, and specific stuff we will need to know, do not yet exist. Implicated in an education for the twenty-first century are all sorts of new mechanisms—cultural, social, and intellectual mechanisms—that are either directly or indirectly affiliated with the digital age as a global phenomenon.

Intuitively, we understand that a twenty-first century approach to learning is radically different from education that focuses on the accumulation of information and the simplistic transfer of culture and ideas associated with this information. But what is it more precisely? I would suggest that it begins with an epistemological shift in which learning how to learn and act (learning to be), in a highly situated manner, replaces learning about something. And then it is about how this scales, so as to create elasticity and agency.

Agency is the key word here. In the staid and siloed ecologies of traditional education, everyone has their place. Agency is reduced to choosing which silo you’re going to set yourself into — a choice which can drastically scale back your exposure to what’s going on in other silos. As a result, your world — your learning ecology — becomes smaller and less diverse over time. And the less diverse a given ecology becomes, the slower its pace of evolution and innovation.

In an “ecotone culture,” what once was siloed begins to collide, mix, and cross-pollinate, opening new vectors for discovery and collaboration. The results are unpredictable, but rich:

Because the students of the ecotone culture share the space and their work with others unlike themselves – with diverse species – there will be those cases in which one enters as one thing and evolves into something else: an architect, for instance, evolves into a musician/architect; or an astronomer evolves into an astronomer/environmentalist. Like the Greenbul [a bird whose song pitch and aeronautical capabilities adapt in response to its environment], though, it is not a change of song but a new tonality that honors both the song structure and the new context. This means that this new talent will acquire the ability to contribute in more than one field and maintain a key presence in multiple camps.

The ecotone analogy is extensive and highly productive. Diversity of species, new species development, keystone species as engineers, distribution of nutrients, corridors for transfer of creatures and stuff—even the idea of microhabitats (smaller habitats within larger habitats, like a tidal pool)—are all intensely relevant in terms of conceiving, designing, and implementing organizational structures and mechanisms for this innovation ecology model. Each component might independently have an impact and add value to the system, but the fact that the ecotone is a system, rather than a collection of components, means that their collective impact scale.

It should be noted that establishing an innovation ecotone in an institutional setting does not mean that one must completely change the entire system overnight. As I’ve observed over the past few months, a lightweight and entirely opt-in pervasive game geared around peer discovery and collaborative production can have transformative effects on an otherwise siloed educational environment. Once the channels for agency and disciplinary elasticity have been opened, it’s hard to close them again. After all, young media artists, theorists, and designers (among many others) are eager to find their niche in the world, to discover their identities, and to make a contribution — and in diversity, there is opportunity.

Download the complete text: Innovation Ecotones (.pdf)

Video: Indiecade 2011 “No Screens” Panel

Featuring Mathieu Castelli, Nathalie Pozzi, Greg Trefry, Chris Weed, and me. Moderated by Colleen Macklin.

This is a free-range session about games that go beyond the confines of the polygonal frame. In other words big games, street games, args, playful disobedience, analog games or whatever you’d like to call them! Panelists will discuss design considerations, new approaches and what’s next in the genre. (IndieCade 2011)

Using location data to predict where people will be, when they will be there, and who they will be there with

Never mind the increasingly ubiquitous surveillance-by-smartphone of where people are. Next up is keeping track of where they will be. University of Illinois researchers Long Vu, Quang Do, and Klara Nahrstedt have prototyped a system that analyzes the movements of people on the U of Illinois campus, then makes predictions about their future movements and social contacts:

The constructed model is able to answer three fundamental questions: (1) where the person will stay, (2) how long she will stay at the location, and (3) who she will meet.

In order to construct the predictive model, Jyotish includes an efficient clustering algorithm to cluster Wifi access point information in the Wifi trace into locations. Then, we construct a Naive Bayesian classifier to assign these locations to records in the Bluetooth trace and obtain a fine granularity of people movement. Next, the fine grain movement trace is used to construct the predictive model including location predictor, stay duration predictor, and contact predictor to provide answers for three questions above. Finally, we evaluate the constructed predictive model over the real Wifi/Bluetooth trace collected by 50 participants in University of Illinois campus from March to August 2010. Evaluation results show that Jyotish successfully constructs a predictive model, which provides a considerably high prediction accuracy of people movement. (ScienceDirect)

Full paper here.

Via New Scientist.

“Mathews argues that Chungking Mansions provides a fascinating insight into “low-end” globalization:…”

“Mathews argues that Chungking Mansions provides a fascinating insight into “low-end” globalization: not the slick operations of multi-national corporations, but traders schlepping goods around the world in suitcases. Most come from sub-Saharan Africa, tempted here by the cheap products made in mainland China and the fact that Hong Kong has a largely open border, admitting asylum seekers and merchants alike without too much fuss. Mobile phones are what traders are mostly looking for. Mathews estimates that at least 20% of the mobile phones now in use in sub-Saharan Africa have passed through Chungking Mansions. Some 19 million phones are sold here each year, including China-made branded and unbranded phones, Chinese knock-offs (with names such as “Sory-Ericssen” or “Nokla”), illegal copy phones and used ones returned from Europe. One trader from Tanzania regularly carries home 700 phones in his luggage, making US$500 profit per trip. These African traders are “the Marco Polos of developing-world globalisation”.”

P.D. Smith – Ghetto at the Center of the World

"I think the idea of a star developer having his or her name on the box is just subscribing to the…"

“I think the idea of a star developer having his or her name on the box is just subscribing to the same floundering cultural models that the Platform Holders and Publishers have necessarily bought into and staked their futures on. It’s about upholding and participating in the culture of brand, personality and celebrity that is the central driver of the author-centric broadcast culture we’re ultimately in the process of tearing down whether we realize it or not. In some ways, the very idea of the ‘name on the box’, or ‘getting top billing’ is emblematic of what I am calling broadcast culture. An Artist has something to say, He creates a work of Art with a Message, He puts His Name on it and we all consume it. That’s what a painting and a poem and a novel and a play and a film and an album are. But that’s not what a game is.”

Click Nothing – The Dominant Cultural Form of the 21st Century

"The ink was hardly dry on the Citizens United decision when the Chamber of Commerce organized a…"

“The ink was hardly dry on the Citizens United decision when the Chamber of Commerce organized a covertly funded front and rained cash into the 2010 campaigns. According to the Sunlight Foundation, corporate front groups spent
$126 million in the fall of 2010 while hiding the identities of the donors. Another corporate cover group—the American Action Network—spent more than $26 million of undisclosed corporate money in just six Senate races and twenty-six House elections. And Karl Rove’s groups, American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS, seized on Citizens United to raise and spend at least $38 million, which NBC News said came from “a small circle of extremely wealthy Wall Street hedge fund and private equity moguls”—all determined to water down financial reforms that might prevent another collapse of the financial system.”

Bill Moyers – How Wall Street Occupied America