Blog posts in English

ABCD system is too rigid for grading the quality of meat – why is it still used in education?

(A selection of radical thoughts about learning and education from Mobilityshifts event – Part 3)

“What happens if we don’t believe the only way of giving credit is the way we have inherited?”

Cathy Davidson’s presentation was related to her book ’Now You See It: How the Brain Science of Attention Will Transform the Way We Live, Work, and Learn’. The presentation included two amazing historical anecdotes:


Mount Holyoke College was the first university in America to give ABCD grades, in year 1897. The second institution to start using this system was the American Meatpackers Association – for grading the quality of meat. Soon afterwards the association gave up the system, since they found it too inflexible to grade the quality of meat.


Frederick J. Kelly was the person who proposed using multiple choice tests for large scale assessment in education. This happened in 1914, during wartime when hundreds of thousands of immigrants were arriving in the country. A new law was passed that required 2 years of secondary education for everyone and this created a crisis: the existing education system could not cope with this. Mr. Kelly proposed multiple choice tests to deal with this emergency, but he thought that this would only be a temporary solution. After the war he was hired as the director of University of Idaho where he established an education programme which emphasised general, critical thinking (“College is a place to learn how to educate oneself rather than a place in which to be educated”). He was fired from the job after only two years – the university faculty protested against his reforms, they had not expected such from the guy who invented the multiple choice test. (A longer article about this can be found here)

Cathy (as well as many others at Mobilityshifts) mentioned Mozilla Open Badges as a promising initiative to change the way learning is evaluated (more information here:


‘We need to refuse anonymous peer review’

(A selection of radical thoughts about learning and education from Mobilityshifts event – Part 2)

‘We need to refuse anonymous peer review’

Geert Lovink gave a presentation about the different publication methods that Institute of Network Cultures has been using so far (Studies in Network Culture, INC Readers, Network Notebooks and Theory on Demand. He also made some general remarks about ‘Do-It-Together Publishing’. I especially appreciate the idea that one of the aims of the publishing process is to further radicalize both the content and style.

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INC Principles of Do-It-Together Publishing

  • Collective decision making over the choice of format, length and deadline
  • Promotion of the concept/essay style
  • Regular support, both content-based and emotional assistance in writing process
  • Intense copy editing, in particular in the case of non-native English writers, with the aim to further radicalize both the content and style
  • Dealing together with the digital delivery

Larger Agenda of D.i.T Publishing

  • Refuse peer review and disassociate from IP-driven publishers (common exodus)
  • Conversion to a system of mutual aid
  • Critical engagement with open access standards (incl. software and typography)
  • Engagement in dialogue, discussion, comment cultures (social reading)
  • Networks to share experiences how best to distribute titles through multiple platforms

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Video recording of Geert’s presentation can be found online:

Here are a couple of quotes (at approx 25:00 in the presentation):

‘The peer review system as it exists in the academic world is  is corrupt to its core’ -

‘In particular of course anonymous peer reviewing, which is so largely used to bring down the self-esteem of many many people, it’s a very humiliating form of discussion’ – ‘it’s the most nasty form of contemporary debate we have’

Related links:

How to Make Your Own Volcanoes? (Timelab Springcamp 2012)

Twelve artists spent a week in Timelab / Ghent, Belgium to work on new artworks (or prototypes of new works) related to theme ‘In times of crisis, artists take a stand’.

Here is a glimpse to some of my favourites:

Gosie Vervloessem (BE) has created ‘recipes for disasters’ – instructions of how one can create miniature versions of natural disasters in one’s own kitchen. These experiments are related to Gosie’s longer term interest in ‘subliminal’ – whether we can achieve a sense of wonder or fear when a phenomenon is scaled to a miniature scale.

Here are a couple of making-of-a-volcano photos:

And here are some of Gosie’s recipes (she encouraged me to spread these as widely as possible): More

‘We can teach what we don’t know’

(A selection of radical thoughts about learning and education from Mobilityshifts event – Part 1)


The Ignorant Schoolmaster: Five Lessons in Intellectual Emancipation (a book by Jacques Rancière) tells the story of Joseph Jacotot, a French teacher and educational philosopher (born in 1770).

A key experience for Jacotot was the occasion when he had to teach French language to students who only understood Dutch, a language he could not speak himself. He gave the students a book with the same text in two languages (French and Dutch) and asked them to compare the texts in order to learn. To his surprise, the students learned French in a similar pace as the students that he was able to teach in a conventional way. He had to admit that his ability to teach was not based on knowledge, but on something else.

The key elements of Jacotot’s teaching manifesto are:

1. All men have equal intelligence;
2. Every man has received from God the faculty of being able to instruct himself;
3. We can teach what we don’t know;
4. Everything is in everything.

(Related to ‘Rancière: Ignorance Will Have Learned’ presentation by Jairo Moreno, University of Pennsylvania, Department of Music:

Creating counter-narratives: Alastair Fuad-Luke on design activism

I met up with Alastair Fuad-Luke early on a Sunday morning to talk about design activism.

Alastair is currently based in Helsinki as Professor of Practice in Emerging Design Practices at Aalto University School of Arts, Design and Architecture (that’s a long title!). Alastair will stay in Finland until December 2014 (at least) and is dividing his time between Aalto University in Helsinki and City of Lahti / Lahti University of Applied Sciences.

Alastair – could you introduce yourself briefly?

I was trained as an inter-disciplinarian and graduated as an environmental scientist in late 70s. I then started my doctoral research in applied biology in Cambridge, but this research was never completed since I set up a consultancy on ecological design – to repair industrial environments. I specialised in ecology and systems thinking and was working with planners, geologists, computer scientists, municipalities, etc. The consultancy soon evolved into an ecological landscape design and build company which is still functioning today, although I have not personally been involved since 1990.

I started to teach design in late 90s, I gave my first lecture on ‘eco-design’ in 1998.

Your most recent book is titled ‘Design activism’. How would you define design activism?

The preliminary definition can be found from the page 27 (this was written in 2009):

Design activism is ‘design thinking, imagination and practice applied knowingly or unknowingly to create a counter-narrative aimed at generating and balancing positive social, institutional, environmental and/or economic change’.

Lovely, blossoming Helsinki!

Carpe diem! Fishermen on Baltic sea, 29 Feb 2012

A snapshot of the grassroot arts, culture and democracy action in Helsinki – if I could clone myself, I could participate in all these events today, on 29 February 2012:

# 9:30 am – workshop & code-camp day of Avoin ministeriö
Avoin ministeriö (‘open ministry’) is a grassroot project that aims to offer help for Finnish citizens to make proposals for changes in Finnish legislation (starting on 1 March 2012, any proposal that can gather 50 000 supporters will be taken into consideration)

# 2 pm – Launch of a new independent think-tank & online media Laitos

# 4 pm – Opening event of ‘Sosiaalinen Hub’
A temporary, open, collective workspace in central Helsinki for grassroot actors – an experiment that will last for a couple of weeks:

# 6 pm – Mushrooming studio network
Brainstorming ideas for how independent artist / designer / cultural worker studios could collaborate:

# 6 pm -Brainstorming neighbourhood democracy

# 5:30 pm (-until late) – The afterparty of Avoin ministeriö + celebration of the new citizen initiative law

# 6 pm – Utopian realities
Performing arts collective Todellisuuden tutkimuskeskus (‘Reality research center’) will kick off ‘Utopian realities’, their main project for next two years:

# 7 pm – Maailmanpoliittiset Diplo-iltamat
Celebrating the latest issue of the translated Finnish version of Le Monde Diplomatique, thinktank Laitos, the day of social rights, etc.:

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…and these are just the events that I happen to be aware of, there are probably many other related events going on as well.

It’s great to be here and participate in all this flourishing energy! ;)

Debtocracy: how big part of the Greek national debt is illegitimate?

If you are not familiar with the term ‘odious debt’ then I would recommend for you to watch the Debtocracy documentary film. The first part of the film gives a general introduction to the credit-driven global economy and the accumulation of Greek debt. Things get more interesting at approx 33:00 when the concept of odious debt is introduced, followed by examples of how countries like Equador have been able to write down most of their national debt.


The new era of ‘non-disciplinarity’?

Slush 2011: Shut up and grow – Mark Zuckerberg

A quick summary: this rather long blog posting deals with structural changes that are currently going on in cultural funding organisations and other institutions, how they are trying to get rid of different specific disciplines in the name of ‘innovation’.

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The decision to name the new Aalto University School as ‘Aalto University School of Arts and Creativity’ came as a shock for many people. This new university is a combination of University of Art and Design and the architecture department of University of Technology. According to press release, the new name was needed since “the concept ’art and design’ in the current name has strong associations with the past”.

The petition to reconsider the name bring up some of the grave problems that arise from choosing such a vague name for a university. This blog posting tries to deal with this one: “A degree/research with an ‘arts & creativity’ school does not point out to any specific skill or knowledge in any specific discipline”.

One could say that ‘it’s just a name’ – that having a new name for the university should not cause any significant problems for the art, design and architecture community associated with Aalto University. But there is more at stake here than just the name – as stated in the Aalto press, the name symbolises the “amalgamation and the multi-disciplinary nature of Aalto University”.

The transformation that is going on in Aalto University resembles the process that already took place in Nordic art/culture scene and the on-going process to change the structure of Art Council of Finland. These ambitious endeavors try to deal with genuine problems and respond to changing times, but it seems that the captains of this process are not sure about how this new ship should be navigated. In fact, a key aspect seems to be that the captains should let go of their control – that academic and cultural institutions should eagerly respond to the whims of darwinistic forces such as trends in international business. If this is the case, then my prediction is that instead of becoming more innovative and competitive, the institutions will just focus on short-term goals and try to imitate what others are doing.

The Nordic ‘utveckling’

In the Nordic region, there used to be four organisations dedicated for specific forms of art – Nifca (contemporary art), NordScen (performing arts), Nomus (music) and Nordbok (literature). In the end of 2006 these organisations were closed down and replaced by Nordic Culture Point, an organisation which administers several funding programmes. The ones who were lobbying for shutting down the old organisations had the opinion that in today’s world the barriers between disciplines have become so blurry that they should no longer be enforced by administration.

The biggest one of the funding programmes is the Culture and Art Programme which in 2011 will give out 2 032 930 EUR of funding. The keyword of this funding programme is ‘utveckling’ – ‘innovation’ or ‘development’. Projects which are new (have not been started yet) and have some innovative quality (the applicants can themselves explain how they are innovative) can receive funding. I know this programme pretty well since I was a member of the Art and Culture Programme Expert Committee between 2007-2009.

This new system has two clear benefits. Since many organisations were closed down, the money that used to go to salaries of people can now be used to support individual projects. Also, a larger variety of organisations can receive financial support, as long as they create a project that does some ‘utveckling’.

But there are also downsides. Previously, there used to be organisations which were lead by experts of a specific discipline. These people were active contributors to their own fields. If you had an idea you could go and have a chat with these people and similarly if there was a problem, it was clear who was in charge.

In the new system all this is different. Nordic Culture Point is made up of administrators who just have to focus on administration – they have specifically been denied any comments or contributions to the funding decisions. Also the members of the Expert Committees cannot take any active role – they are not supposed to be in touch with the applicants and it’s not possible to appeal against individual decisions. So, in terms of an agenda related to a specific discipline, there is no one who you could talk to. This is understandable since the new system is not supposed to have any such agendas. It’s all about ‘utveckling’ and a few other concepts such as ‘communication’ and ‘Världen i Norden – Norden i Världen’ (‘The Nordic Region in the World – the World in the Nordic Region’).

The other problem is that there is no longer any support for longer term processes. If you manage to get support to realise a project and it turns out the be a success, it is not possible to get support for the continuation – it’s no longer new and thus no longer about ‘utveckling’. There is another Nordic culture foundation – the Nordic Culture Fund – but they also only support individual, one-off projects.

One could say that a third problem is that the expert committee does not have expertise to handle applications coming from many diverse disciplines of art and culture. The current expert committee seems to have strong biases – out of 8 people there are two theatre directors and two people focused on music. But in the logic of the new system this is not a problem – since knowledge of a specific discipline is no longer necessary for making decisions.