Read & Repair feat. Minimal Viable Learning
Sunday, 13th December 2020. 11:00-13:00 CET

The guests for this Read & Repair are a subgroup of Varia (Manetta Berends, Luke Murphy, Joana Chicau, Cristina Cochior and occasionally Silvio Lorusso) who are currently doing a School of Commons residency <> where they consider the question: How can minimal technologies maximise a learning experience?

Welcome to our *pad* , aka Etherpad, an open-source, web-based collaborative real-time editor, that allows authors to simultaneously edit a text document, and see all of the participants' edits in real-time. As you may be noticing it also displays each author's text in their own color. Etherpads typically also have a chat box as another form of communication between editors.

» Be supportive and curious. Consider that nobody knows you besides what you write. Meaning, be extra nice with your words. 
» If you have a question, ask. This is an experiment in doing a workshop together textually from a distance.
» Don't delete text from other people, you can add your thoughts next to their sentences or even in between.

The text message below is what you would usually encounter when making a new Etherpad on the Varia server. It tells you about the conditions of using this particular Etherpad version:
     v _____ v  _____    _   _  v _____ v   ____      ____       _      ____
     \| ___"|/ |_ " _|  |'| |'| \| ___"|/v |  _"\ v v|  _"\ vv  /"\  v |  _"\
      |  _|"  V  | |   /| |_| |\ |  _|" R \| |_) |/ \| |_) |/ \/ _ \/ /| | | |
      | |___    /| |\  v|  A  |v | |___    |  _ <  I |  __/   / ___ \ v| |_| |\
      |_____|  v |_|v   |_| |_|  |_____|   |_| \_\   |_|    A/_/   \_\ |____/ v
       <<   >>  _// \\_  //   \\  <<   >>   //   \\_  ||>>_    \\    >>  |||_
       (_V_) (_A_)(_R_) (_I_)(_A_) ("_)(__) (__) (__)  (_P_)(_A_)_D_)  (__)  (__)

  Welcome to the etherpad-lite instance hosted by Varia! 
  You are most welcome to use it but please take note of the following things: 

  - The pads are not indexed by search engines, but anyone that knows its URL is welcome to read and edit it.

  - The contents of the pads are not encrypted, meaning that they are not private. 
  - Anyone with access to the server has the possibility to see the content of your pads. 

  - We make our own backups, meaning the the contents of all pads sit on our harddrives potentially indefinitely.
  - Because the identity of a pad author cannot be confirmed, we don't respond to pad retrieval requests.

  - If you rely on the content of these pads, please remember to make your own backups.
  - The availability of the pads is subject to cosmic events, spilled drinks and personal energies.

  - Both the physical and digital spaces of Varia are subject to our Code of Conduct <>

  If you wish to publish a pad to the Varia etherdump <> add the magic word __ PUBLISH __ (remove the spaces between the word and __) to your pad.

Welcome to this pad. To begin with, we will do a few warm up exercises to get acquainted with the place we are in.
→ Who is in the pad? Fill in one line of the pad with your preferred (nick)name, your pronouns, and anything else you would like to share with the group about yourself.
Danny / he-him/ having a coffee :D there is no webcam staring, so I can turn on music.
Micaela / she-her / experiencing real sunshine for the first time in months 
Silvio / he-him / having coffee, slow start of  the day for me :) glad there is no camera 
Witold / he-him / covfefe
Michael / he-his / drinking nescafé ;)
Joana / she-her / at Varia feeling the morning sun
Cristina / she her, currently at my second cup of coffee today, enjoyed a sunny bike ride this morning
Rallou/she-her/having first coffe of the day and cold pizza from last night:)
Doi / he-him / 
Manetta / she her / connecting from an unstable wifi point in the south of NL :)
Cat /she-her/coffee & music 2 here
Valentina / she-her / very groggy can confirm uffa!
decentral1se / he-him / coffee vibes also, bitta sun out there, ASCII excitement
arc / she-her / 
Jasmin/she-her/joining late after reading a text 
Jasmine/She-her/joining after having a walk outside while thinking the session started at 12 (and not an hour earlier when I joined)
Item / he-him / Sunday-po-punday, late + just lurking :)

→ What is your screen's width? Fill one entire line with your colour. You can press space or use any other key.
       howrude (ratelimitedindeed)                                      s     l      o      w                           

                                          o_o                               ^_^                                                   

                                                                       </3           ******                                      

→ Activate your keyboard: Select the keyboard keys 'Ctrl+F' (Windows, Linux) or 'Command+F' (MacOS). Type in the word 'pad' in the search input field. Then press Enter to navigate through the Etherpad by following the trace left by the search term. You can determine your own speed.

Now that we have warmed up, we want to speak a little bit about what Minimal Viable Learning might mean. As part of our residency at the School Of Commons, we've been diving into the Etherpad as a learning environment, as a place for collective learning with/from each other. If you have participated in other Read & Repair sessions, you will be familiar with this space. The Etherpad is close to Varia, it being the place where we take notes from meetings, write emails together, generate applications from, create indexes for various tools, hold workshops in it and so on. The Etherpad is a space for variability: this text we are writing now together can be exported in multiple formats. It doesn't only sit in a database. The engagements of Varia and our friends (Constant who created and uses the Etherdump, Relearn with the function the Etherpads can have in self-organised education, Amy Pickles with welcoming people in Etherpads) with it made us want to continue the exploration further. In this session, we'll be attempting to consider the following questions:

How can minimal technologies such as the Etherpad maximise a learning experience?
How could minimal and viable tools shape collective learning?
How could collective learning shape minimal and viable tools?

*    .  *      .        .  *   
  ..    *    .      *  .  ..  *
 *    *            .      *   *
.     *  Magic Words       *    
   .        .        .   *    .
 .      .        .            *
   .     *      *        *    .

Magic Words were brought into the software ecology of Etherpad by Michael Murtaugh, a member of the Brussels-based arts organisation Constant.

Magic Words are used by this collaborative text editor to enact certain commands; using __PUBLISH__ on this pad indexes it on this page:

They are little spells that can be used anywhere on the pad to indicate how we want to interact with the text. We would like to think together with you what kind of social incantations magic words can evoke. What kind of relations between text & reader, reader & reader, place & text, place & text & reader could the magic words provoke? If we see magic words like small instructions that can be activated during a collective reading experience, how would that affect our being together?

We will be adding, using and reusing new magic words during the reading time that will follow. 

.  -    * Spellbook for Reading through Magic Words .  -  * ..  

Here are a few examples of what the magic words could look like. Think of them as launching a specific kind of interaction with the text fragment that it sits next to. This will be our collective spellbook that everyone can add, edit or use at will.

__CANWEDISCUSS__ If a sentence or paragraph is raising questions or you would like to know what others think about it, we can use this incantation to take it with us into discussion.

__ALOUD__ This magic word is used to encourage those encountering it to read aloud the text fragment that it sits next to.

__REUSE__ This magic word invites the reuse of the text fragment that it sits next to in an unexpected context.

__VANDALIZE__ This magic word invites the creative alteration and/or destruction of the text fragment it sits next to

__???__ This magic word invites another reader to rephrase the sentence it marks.

__NOFILTER__ This magic word indicates and/or encourages stream-of-consciousness writing

__(G)HOST__ This magic word invites the participants to reflect on their physical state in conjunction to the text at hand <3

__REMINDSMEOF__ This magic word is meant to connect the paragraph to other pads or highlight mental connections

__TOOTABLE__ This magic word indicates parts of the text that fit social-media sharing, esp. Mastodon <3

__TRANSLATEME__ This magic word invites others in the room to translate the word/phrase into other languages

__BOILING__ this magic word can be used when something is in the process of 'cooking'; when a word is heated to its boiling point inviting other for a heated discussion.

__CABALISTA__ invites furious and passionate feelings for political organising

__Q*__ this magic word invites for reformulating/multiplying/complexifying a question

__FILLIN__ This magic word emphasizes gaps in the text and invite readers to fill them in

__COUNTERFOIL__ the chance to consider we've gone too far

__TL;DR__ short summary of the text

__DAE__ invites other members to share their personal experiences relating to a particular text fragment

__putonyourdancingshoes__an invite to get up do a small dance and return to your chair

__OST__ Invites the reader to suggest a soundtrack for that part of the text (love this! frank zappa here we come) :>)

__((̲̅ ̲̅(̲̅C̲̅r̲̅a̲̅y̲̅o̲̅l̲̲̅̅a̲̅( ̲̅((>__ a childs tool used for drawing/crossig out or highlighting. (maybe same as Vandallize)

__?CONTRADICTION?__ marks a contradiction, and invites for unpacking

Take 5 minutes to think about other possible __MAGICWORDS__ you could add to the spellbook. You can continue doing this at any point of this session. While reading, you can use these magic words to insert into the texts that we will introoduce shortly. Feel free to use any of them.

We will be reading together extracts from two texts.

They are written in the context of the Minimal Computing workgroup of the GO::DH. GO::DH stands for Global Outlook::Digital Humanities. It is an initiative that promotes collaboration between digital humanities scholars from over the world.

We will read two texts from their Minimal Computing blog. We will give you the links to these projects at the end of the session.

The User, the Learner and the Machines We Make __OST__ <3

The first text is called The User, the Learner and the Machines We Make and is written by Alex Gil. It has been posted in 2015 as the first post on the Minimal Computing blog and gives a nice introduction to minimal computing and what it could be. It is written from the perspective of digital humanities scholars, but if you replace all mentions of 'digital humanities' with 'pedagogical environments', it immediately speaks back to online learning.

Alex Gil is Digital Scholarship Coordinator for Humanities and History at Columbia University. His research focuses on Aimé Césaire, global digital humanities, and experimental humanities. At Columbia he is one of the founders of the Studio@Butler and the Group for Experimental Methods in the Humanities (xpmethods), which focuses on minimal computing. He currently serves as co-chair of the Global Outlook::Digital Humanities (GO::DH) initiative and is actively engaged in several digital humanities projects at Columbia and around the world.

After this text, we will read a bit from another post on the blog, but we will tell you more about that later. :)



The second text that we will read now is titled Minimal Definitions, written by Jentery Sayers. The text is written in response to the previous one we read. It unpacks the notion of Minimal Computing into short proposals of how the term could be interpreted and applied to computational, design and programming practices.

We will not read the whole text, but instead go through a couple of snippets, through which we can start gathering multiple understandings of "minimalism".

A short note about the author: Jentery Sayers is Assistant Professor of English and Director of the Maker Lab in the Humanities at the University of Victoria. His interests in minimal computing include media history, physical computing, experimental media, and technologies and social justice. At the Digital Humanities Summer Institute, he co-teaches a course on physical computing and fabrication in the humanities. He has also published and given various talks on physical computing and computational culture. With John Simpson, he co-chairs GO:DH’s Minimal Computing Working Group.
... } While
 a given pr
oject may r
equire some
 (e.g., in 
Ruby), tech
nical detail
s and confi
gurations are rendered less significant than the 
message or s
ubstance of
 composition __BOILING__ {woops, my slow internet connection is causing merge conflicts in the text i think :) } conflict away!
: “just you
r content.”
It's also a bit of an ideology; have you ever tried updating your Jekyll/Ruby installation after years? Extremely difficult. I think "fetishizes" catches the gesture well. What is minimal will depend on who is using something, and how it integrates with their prior experience and context. BTW: that part about Jekyll above turned beige, although I didn't write it (it was white before), seems a "glitch in the pad" :)

Before we go into discussion mode, let's take 5 minutes to look at the different magic words in the pad that others have contributed. You can choose a specific magic word and follow it through the text using Ctrl+F or Command+F search command.

For the MAPP project of the School of Commons, we explored how we could stretch the potentials of magic words. As they carry the legacy of software ecologies such as the Mediawiki software, they are scripted operators. During the residency we wondered how we could use magic words as annotation and/or learning tools. 

How could __MAGICWORDS__ become triggers for different kinds of programmable operations? A structuring tool? A marker tool? An annotation tool? What could they do? We tried to consider some of these questions through the interface that we mentioned earlier: Etherpump. 

Etherpump is a friendly fork of Etherdump (from dumping to pumping), which makes magic words visible. This work is still in progress. We introduce it only at the end because we don't want to constrict the imagination of what Magic Words can be, while we are ourselves still trying to figure this out. We will keep working on the magic words as scripted operators. Currently we're thinking how they could play a role in the Etherpump index page, as navigation tools, as reading tools across a page, or as activators of executable pieces of code. 

Simmering these ideas together is something we enjoy a lot. And the etherpump is a very open ended tool, we can think of all sorts of other usages and creative magical hacks :).

Have a look at the Etherpump here:
And particularly at how this pad is rendered by the Etherpump here:

[Discussion — 20min]

in the beginning we introduced these questions, wondering what your thoughts are on them:
How can minimal technologies such as the Etherpad maximise a learning experience?
How could minimal and viable tools shape collective learning?
How could collective learning shape minimal and viable tools?

i really liked using the magic words! they seem to function as interesting prompts to stimulate different kinds of discussion / thinking approaches. it is also very playful. you don't just debate ideas. but there is also room for all the quirky stuff in your brain.

also a fan of these magic words, which also provide interesting syntactical challenges!

being a fan of footnotes, magic words allow not only to insert links but make differentiations to the additional thoughts that occur during interaction with texts. 
yes this is lovely indeed, also to see that there is no social hierarchy between different magic word interventions (iow: traditional footnotes are not appreciated more as a link to a song :))

Interested in the way MAGIC WORDS lead to different emotional response to a text. differences between BOILING and CABALISTA are small but definitely there.
Allows also for different reactions to texts that can't be expressed in writing. Suchs as OST
it's funny. working together on a text like this, with room for the expression of emotions and 'non-substantial' responses, makes it easier to process a text for me. especially when it's not entirely within my comfort zone. i wouldn't really have cared to read this by myself. but as a collective process, it's much less daunting. (nice)

so rarely get a chance to just free form blast thoughts on a text with a group - if you try this with speaking you run all over each other - and it feel nice. it allowed for equal participation but also random tangents and deep dives etc. there are multiple "stages" so no one person sucks up all the air ;)

re: introvert-friendly, feel somehow that when i speak out loud, i kinda already thought what i would say before so it is not so vulnerable but with typing i am not really thinking about it so then i just blast something out and it is totally half baked and not well worded according to what i would like - so somewhat exposing in that way ;)
maybeee. but anonymity also might help with this right?
oh yeah totally and largely agree with you but i dislike when the extroverts relegate the mode of operating as "introvert" and then it can be dismissed haha i really liked this, anyway ambivert life

By keeping it minimal (pad only, text only) I felt my Sunday was much more my own. (beautiful!) No need to worry about active participation, camera angles, sounds  (+1, totally agree) __AGREE__ 

yes, it's a very introvert-friendly form of collective learning. i've always preferred being able to think a little bit about the way i want to formulate my thoughts before having to SPEAK UP OR LOSE THE MOMENT like in live settings

We were wondering what kinds of 'MINIMALISM' start to resonate?

The "music on" comment at the very beginning was revelatory to me: minimal learning can be rich, because you can retain control towards your environment without being trapped in the maximalist camera mode (no music, no distraction, no zoning out). IN other words: minimal constriction, maximal autonomy (cool!)

I was also wondering how much work goes in the "social backend"__TOOTABLE :P__ to make this a smooth experience (moderation, palimsest, etc.). You did a great job btw <3 <3__OST{}__
Yes we did prepare writing the different "snippets" of welcome texts, exercises, pre-reading the texts and questions etc. Much of this style of working we learned from our friends, shout out to Amy <3<3!!!!
we have a back-channel pad and a back-back-channel xmpp chat too as well as a few server side terminals running

I am wondering if there would be a way to collectively organise such moment in the moment. Just as an experiment :). 
Or another version: doing this over a longer period of time asynchronously. > It would be really interesting to try something like this asynchronously

while the interface is very simple and plain, i wonder if this way of working was actually that _minimalist_ - there was a lot going on at the same time, some of it much more eccentric than the average zoom convo. what resonated was the reduction of sensory overload (no camera, no sound, etc) allowing for different thoughts and processes to take place instead of the usual self-consciousness. the  MAGIC WORDS give you a wider range of options to engage with the text and each other than you might otherwise have. 

We would like to take a short moment for a 'cool-down' exercise. To rest you eyes, and stretch your body, activate your joints and muscles.

While looking at this pad, read the instructions below:

[Links Pool]

<> - Minimal Computing Blog
<> - The User, the Learner and the Machines We Make
<> - Minimal Definitions
<> - Minimal Definitions (tl;dr version)
<> - Etherpump
<> - Etherpump Git Repository
<> - Magic Words in the Mediawiki software
<> - Plain Text - The Poetics of Computation, by Dennis Tenen (the 1st text referred to this book a couple of times)
<> - School of Commons