A Glitch Pedagogy

Exquisite Error and the Appeal of the Accidental [Abridged]

In most contexts, glitches are not desirable events. The word glitch is usually equated to mistake or error. Granted, the first use of the word refers to these phenomena as electronic problems, but it also suggests lack of control over the outcome of a process. For glitch artists, it is precisely this lack of control, this unexpectedness, what give glitches part of their aesthetic appeal (Rosa M☵☲nkmɐn’s Glitch Studies Manifesto is an obligatory reference). But glitches do way more than that. Glitches reveal otherwise undisturbed automated processes by interrupting them, giving rare opportunities to understand them. Glitches enable teachable moments.

Glitch it, glitch it good

According to John Dewey, for education to become a truly “consummatory experience”, an interplay between means and ends, processes and products, is necessary. This interplay is easy to imagine in a historical moment in which the idea of the workshop meant direct contact with physical materials. One could argue that the efforts to promote coding in elementary schools would bring back some of that interplay, but the truth is that most of the contact that students in schools have with technology and media is through proprietary tools, many of them circumstantially committed to prevent the understanding of the underlying processes. But what can we do if we only have iPads? We glitch them. I know what you are thinking: “Sure, why don’t you glitch yours?”. I am not suggesting you to break things, I am suggesting to disobey your devices, to feed them with unexpected input to see if the output reveals something about the process.

“Glitchy dragon” by my son Emiliano, intervened by yours truly.

Ignore the instructions, or even better, do exactly the opposite. Try this: open the panorama photo app in your device and try to take a picture not following the on-screen instructions, it is not only hilarious, it really tells you something about what the software does to give you a perfect panorama. Play with your translation software, mess with the close caption option on YouTube, try to interrupt any automatic process. I assure you, you’ll learn something.

Since late 2016, Dr. Kedrick James and I have been investigating the concept of glitch and its implications for education and pedagogy. In May 2016, we presented at the Canadian Society for the Study of Education (CSSE) — along with Liam Doherty and the Digital Literacy Centre — a conference paper titled Towards a Pedagogy of Glitch Disruptive meaning-making and the revaluation of error. This text is an abridged version of a paper published in the Journal of the Canadian Association for Curriculum Studies. The full paper can be found here.

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