After roughly two years of planning, one of the largest events in the history of The New School, the Mobility Shifts Summit, opened its doors on October 10 to an international community of scholars, activists, artists and professionals.
The week-long summit was part of a biennial conference series at The New School called “The Politics of Digital Culture,” which explores the socio-economic impacts of modern technology. Mobility Shifts featured seminars, lectures, and exhibitions aimed toward exposing the roots of digital culture and developing new approaches to digital media and education.
“This is an historic moment for the university,” said Trebor Scholz, Mobility Shifts summit chair and associate professor of social media at Lang. “Clearly, people are just fed up with education and its spiraling costs, so this is a sign that things are changing and that society is beginning to place an even greater value on the idea of self-learning.”
Throughout the course of the week, international academics and representatives from groups such as the Ghana Think Tank and Storybuilders added their own thoughts and experiences to Scholz’s idea of digital learning.
Professor Zvezdana Stojmirovic and MFA candidate Aggie Toppins, from the Maryland Institute College of Art’s graphic design program, led “Out of My Hands,” a workshop that attempted to simulate the creation of information superhighways such as the Internet.
Participants passed around a sheet of paper and a pen, each one writing down a different word or sentence. By the time the sheet reached the end of the line, it consisted of diverse contributions from every person in the room, thereby representing the ways that personalized actions have changed the way people access ideas through the digital world.
“We need to see that digital culture is changing the way we do things,” said Stojmirovic. “The traditional classroom setting of students learning passively is no longer valid.”
Lisa Dush, a professor of new media at DePaul University, took that idea one step further. At the “Developing a Tablet-Based Course to Train International Advocates for Social Change” seminar, she described her work with Storybuilders, a Boston-based workshop that teaches slideshow and montage-making techniques to low-income residents.
“Digital storytelling creates a means for advocacy, a voice to all members of communities of every kind,” said Dush, who has since expanded her program into nations like India and Kenya. “With tablets like the iPad, cameras, and apps like iMovie, getting people to share what they know and what they’ve done is getting simpler to do both inside and outside the classroom.”
For the summit’s duration, representatives from the Ghana Think Tank, an organization focused on “outsourcing America’s problems,” operated a digitally-equipped cart — featuring computers, TVs, and webcams — outside of 66 W. 12 St. They asked students, faculty, and other passersby to record or write about their everyday problems; in exchange, they would get the opportunity to receive advice from citizens of developing nations.
Since 2006, the Ghana Think Tank has held similar campaigns in cities throughout the Western world, asking citizens from all social and economic backgrounds to exchange their thoughts and curiosities through digital media. By attracting the attention of New School students and faculty, those involved with the program believe that digital media can turn the idea of collective action into a more globalized reality.
“It’s a reversal of transferring problems and resolutions,” said Amanda Ghanooni, a graduate student in The New School For Public Engagement’s international affairs program, who assisted with the summit. “Just by getting new perspectives, we are opening ourselves up to a world of answers that people might not have thought of before.”
New School President David Van Zandt said he hopes that Mobility Shifts’ vast exchange of ideas will allow the university to play a prominent role in the discourse over the state of education, technology and media in the modern world.
“Education is at a crossroads,” Van Zandt told The Free Press via email. “Mobility Shifts offers students a great opportunity to meet the people — non-profit leaders, educators, developers and writers — who are leading this effort. Being able to not only participate in a conversation like this, but also lead it, is an important role for The New School to play.”