Educator or Edupunk? Shifting Roles for Museum Educators Embracing Disruptive Technologies

Image courtesy Steve Gemmel, Digital Media Specialist at J. Paul Getty Museum (thanks, Steve)
Fitting that the exhibition, “Nirvana: Taking Punk to the Masses” was on view at the Experience Music Project during the opening reception of Museum Computer Network (MCN)’s conference, “Shifting Perspectives, Evolving Spaces, Disruptive Technologies.” I used this image to introduce the panel the following day. Hollah to Steve Gemmel, Digital Media Specialist at J. Paul Getty Museum, for snapping this for me.

Status Update. New York City, October 2012.

It’s time to set aside my diversion readings and begin amassing a list of 20 things that I must read this. Not all of them are books, but most of them fall into the category of theory and theorizing, online education, disruptive technology, and museum practice.

The sad part is that on the same day that Pierre Bourdieu’s Distinction arrived on my doorstep, so did my long-awaited copy of Trampled Under Foot (2012). Somewhere, there has to be a space to consider overall driving forces behind rabid fan-bases this month, as Art21 also releases its 100 Artists: Box Set, which is the only other box set I really have been amped to get my hands on. Trampled Under Foot: the Power and Excess of Led Zeppelin is a book that is named for a song by the same name on the album Physical Graffiti (1975), and the song was even played in the 2012 Olympics opening ceremony a few weeks back. Powerful. Unobtainable. Unattainable. Really, there just has to be a connection here.

Led Zeppelin was a band that never grows tired on my weary ears. Reading the cover of that book, sitting atop Pierre Bourdieu is rather agonizing in the face of the above list. Reviewer for the Guardian Michael Hann asks why 20 million people applied for tickets in their one-off reunion in 2007, despite no recent albums. Those 20 million ‘bestrode the world like a priapic, all-devouring monster of depravity in the 1970s.’ Why, he asks? The answer is in those albums. He quotes the sinuous, thrilling interplay of instruments in “Nobody’s Fault But Mine“; the preposterous bombast of “Kashmir“; the magnificent idiocy of “The Immigrant Song” (“The hammer of the gods will drive our ships to new lands!”); the brutal combination of 60s freakbeat and proto-metal in “Communication Breakdown“.

There were the songs that made Led Zeppelin the biggest band in the world, he writes, and it was being the biggest band in the world that also made them a horror show.

Here is a stab at the top 20 other things I need to read this fall:

In Theory:

1. Pierre Bourdieu, Distinction: a Social Critique in the Judgement of Taste (1984)

2. Mike Apple, here plus Ideology and Curriculum (1979)

3. Jean Anyon, and Anyon’s notes on both Bourdieu and David Swartz

4. At least one social theory reader like this one

In Disruption:

5. Clay Christensen, The Innovator’s Dilemma: When New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail (2005).

6. Sal Khan, The One World School House (2012).

7. Walter Archer, D. R. Garrison, T. D. Anderson. Adopting Disruptive Technologies in Traditional Universities: Continuing Education as an Incubator for Innovation. University of Alberta  (2000).

8. The Myth of Disruptive Technologies, as Dvorák’s definition of disruptive technology describes the low-cost disruption model, plus overuse of the term – as many disruptive technologies are not truly disruptive.

9. Some other selections from this bibliography, especially as it relates to libraries and higher education

On Learning, In General:

10. Diane Ravitch. Must read more Diane Ravitch.

On Online Learning, In General:

11. Many articles gathered here on about interactive learning and teaching

12. This study from MIT about the power of the “shaky hand” in online learning

13. Something about Agarwal at MIT

Museum and Education Links:

14. This one from yesterday about the Khan Academy

16-19. There are so many readings I should be assigning my students on museums, education and technology that this space is being left intentionally blank

20. How to give a great Ignite talk, since it seems lots of what I will be doing this fall will be a series of five minute peppy-talks in 20 slides or less about research interests I am currently or quietly considering.

It’s not yet a daunting list because most of these are texts on my desk or open in a browser window, and the list is decidedly theory-free, save at the very top. Which means Trampled under Foot will stay trampled under the foot of Bourdieu and field theory, since there really is no way around understanding that all of our judgments of taste are related to social position, or more precisely, are themselves acts of social positioning. My head space is lost in box sets of yore, and at the end of the day, there isn’t that much more time left to delay wading neck deep into theory at this point. So I am going to not lose sight that there will be more fun reading ahead, and soon, and then the rest of it will be fun, too.

“Sending off a glancing kiss, to those who claim they know
Below the streets that steam and hiss, the devil’s in his hole”

– Led Zeppelin on Achilles Last Stand

Disruptive Technology In Education

Today I am preparing for a series of talks I will moderate on disruptive technology in education, and without question my reading list is growing daily. Out there on the web, there are already entire bibliographies that have been inspired by Clayton Christensen’s theory of Disruptive Technology (2005). Quite a few became interested in how his theory of disruptive technology explained events that continually are shaping libraries – academic and otherwise – and higher education in general.

Museums have long-alligned themselves with libraries, especially with respect to funding opportunities available locally, nationally and globally. This article by Andras Szanto warrants a separate blogpost on Groping for Words, stating that “the urgent search is on for a more compelling vocabulary. The challenge is to make a case for the arts without flipping back to utilitarian rhetoric or language that may sound, to some, hopelessly romantic or elitist. It’s not as easy as it sounds.”

If you find anything else along these lines, please let me know — many of us would like to keep growing this bibliography. An entirely comprehensive list can be found in a Zotero library on Christensen in Higher Education, plus Christian’s tag on technorati that leads to more writing by Jack Dorsey, founder of Twitter and Square.

Museums and cultural organizations have lost their way in how to speak about the work that they do, and many of the words to describe passion, or love, or inspiration to shape the argument of the arts falls flat in the face of funders and anyone else. I know that disruptive technologies in museum education, and of course in higher education, figures high here – the question is how.

Someone else I plan to spend some time following is Dick Costolo, interviewed earlier this week by Charlie Rose on September 18, 2012.

It should be noted here that according to a 2008 interview with Dorsey, he has regularly cited that three guiding principles, which are shared by the whole company and throughout its culture at Twitter: simplicity, constraint and craftsmanship.[1]

Simplicity, constraint and craftsmanship – certainly these three guiding principles could be applied to art-making and teaching, as well as innovative ways to assert disruptive technologies in education.


Jack Dorsey is an American software architect that had an interest in making “instant messenger” updates available for friends to see. This was a refined concept that eventually grew into what we now know as Twitter. Three guiding principles of this innovative idea are simplicity, constraint and craftsmanship.

Jack had an early fascination with cities and how they work, so he would always carry maps around with him. His attraction with mass-transit and how cities function led him to taking advantage of public transit databases in Manhattan. He built off of his original idea that gave meaning to his overall concept. His idea make clear though working on dispatch software, programming real-time messaging systems for couriers, taxis, and emergency vehicles.

Jack Dorsey’s experience helped him see his idea in a completely new perspective. Taking his seedling of an idea that would update friends of his status, Dorsey completed several field tests before recognizing that the technology available didn’t support his innovative idea. There are times when putting off a project is irrefutable. Jack Dorsey originally came up with his idea in the year 2000 but wasn’t able to execute effectively until 8 years later. Jack was effective in not letting his idea sit for too long but instead taking action when technology would let it thrive.[2]


I finally did order Bourdieu’s Distinction, which I will be posting about in a week or so.