Kits for Open Access

The Big Picture Statement

Posted by David N. Wright on November 2, 2017

Kits for Open Access: The Big Picture Statement

What follows here is a big-picture statement about what the kits in the open access series are meant to encourage. In general, the kits are meant to be used in a first or second-year college / university classroom by students and educators or, by individuals who might want to kickstart their research or critical thinking practices–a larger community that could extend outside institutions of higher education.

This project borrows from many critical currents swirling around innovative teaching and research practices underway in academic circles that foreground collisions between making, technology, and social themes. Notable examples include, but are not limited to, Garnet Hertz and his concept of “Critical Making” in conjunction with Mark Ratto and the Critical Making Lab at the University of Toronto; the work of Jentery Sayers and others at the University of Victoria’s “Maker Lab” in the Humanities, Kari M. Kraus is a big influence, as are Lori Emerson and Mark Sample. This is a limited list to reduce a torrent of name-dropping; there are, as always, many others offering valuable contributions not named here, but the individuals named above are the key markers on the map of my thinking and its application.

As well, the project extends the work of many groups, sanctioned or otherwise, who think about humanistic study in ways that leverage the impact of technology and the social fractures it might create to think differently about critical analysis. I’ll name a few here: The Scholar’s Lab, Maryland Institution for Technology in the Humanities (MITH), The Media Archeology Lab, The Electronic Textual Cultures Lab at The University of Victoria and the closely related Implementing New Knowledge Environments (INKE) research group and Digital Humanities Summer Institute. There are many, many, many others who have influenced and impacted this project who are not listed here, but this is a start, and serves as a broadly-stated sweep of sources as they currently stand.

There’s lots of stuff out there on the Internets about this stuff. If you’re interested, go seek it out; one of the names above in a search engine will take you down innumerable rabbit-holes. As far as the kits are concerned, they are meant to fill a need for all-in-one packages that are repeatable across disciplines and that bring forward some examples of innovative teaching and learning practices. It’s essential that the kits work “out-of-the-box” so-to-speak, without a lot of set up time, and that they are cross-disciplinary enough to be housed in a library so that anyone, from any discipline or division, could access the kits and use them. To this end, the kits must be comprised of “everyday” parts so that any institution, faculty member, student, or individual could put one together. The kits make access, transmission, transmutability, disruption, and repeatability a priority in their design.

Now, let’s breakdown some of the principles, or over-arching conceptual concepts, that govern how the kits are put together:

  1. Collaborative and Individualized: The kits should work in both group and individual learning situations. The kits could be used as part of a group event or activity, but also be used by an individual, alone.
  2. Encourage Play and Indeterminate Spaces: The kits should reveal their potential thematic structures (i.e.: gender, sex, race, culture, economies of labour, structure of power, social relationships, etc.,) through play and by emphasizing ambiguity. There should be no “right way” to use, or build, the kit.
  3. Questions and Arguments: The kits should engage individuals by being a catalyst for questions, research, and argument. They should encourage and provoke discussions about process, choices, preconceptions, and established ideas or ways of doing.
  4. Organizing and Cataloguing: The kits must teach critical skills in organization and cataloguing. Using the kits should provide a way of interrogating how objects, themes, ideas, structures, are organized and situated–they should reveal the inherent biases in grouping anything.
  5. Prototyping and Fabrication: The kits must involve making, or trying to make, something–no matter the medium. They must also emphasize critique about the processes for making–materials, infrastructure, labour structures, appropriation–and not making–failure, starting over, unrepresenting.
  6. Exhibition and Outreach: The kits must yield some kind of display or exhibition that will encourage conversation with others and the sharing of the kit’s core outcomes. They must also encourage critique and discussion around the process for developing the exhibition–media, audience, reception.
  7. Budget and Access: The kits should feature materials readily available through collection and donation or low-cost purchases at major retailers–not discrete custom parts. As well, the kits should model open access as part of their employment in learning situations.

The entanglements inherent in the discussions and provocations listed above are a key marker for the kits. And, there is every impetus to disrupt the kits themselves, by adding new materials, by removing others, by building off-shoots. The kits are a starting point for larger conversations and for more sharing–they are not the final stop, but the first. All the rules that govern the over-arching principles are meant to be broken. If one has access to a prototyping facility, then perhaps the kits could be manipulated to feature discrete hand-made kits. At the same time, if there is no access to any infrastructure, the kits might be transmuted with materials collected from local donors, of indeed the individual re-making the kit. I know it’s all very meta, but one of the roles for the kits is to be a prototype to build upon–as an idea for how to organize, model, and distribute materials and practices, questions and arguments.

The kits are, at their root, both a toolbox and a model for the principles that govern how we fill the toolbox. Both the toolbox and the methodologies its contents represent are subject for interrogation and disruption; and, even more importantly, open dispute.

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