Graffiti – abundant content for lifelong learning. Lessons from Anderson, Banksy, and Weller.

Leigh and Sue’s reflection, Activity 5.
(Photos used with permission.)

The history of graffiti stretches all the way back to the days when humans lived in caves. People are constantly making meaning in our everyday lives. Graffiti is often perceived simply as a form of vandalism rather than art or a form of communication about social issues. In choosing this topic, we wanted to provide information that sheds light on the purpose of graffiti, its artists, and possibly, address the stigma associated with it. There is an enormous amount of information available about graffiti, however, the overall interpretation tends to be biased, presenting graffiti in a negative connotation, even as a criminal act, while ignoring the underlying process of communication (Alonso, 1998). Graffiti’s strong association with hip-hop culture in the later part of the 20th century influenced part of this lack of mainstream acceptance  or negative connotations (Thompson, 2009, p. 9).

So. What can graffiti teach us? Basquiat, Haring, and Banksy began their careers ‘writing’ or ‘tagging’ New York City subway cars in the 70s and 80s. The social commentary that graffiti artists, such as Banksy and other engage in, illustrates the power that graffiti as a source of communication that provides a platform for those whose voices could remain unheard is powerful. Questions and debates about graffiti as art or vandalism continue to colour public spaces (Baird & Taylor, 2010; Thompson, 2009). In any event, graffiti and ‘street art’ are free, open, and accessible. Weller and Anderson try to help us as educators make sense of the learning theories and pedagogy to manage and negotiate the open spaces that create at pedagogy of abundance. Banksy is all about accessible art that is open and belongs to the people. Banksy’s picture of “Girl with Balloon”, auctioned by Sothebys for 1.4 million dollars, was  promptly shredded before the horrified eyes of all present at the exclusive art auction. Banksy had a built-in shredder to destroy his work as a statement of taking back control of his street art, where the artist is a medium for the voices of marginalized communities. As Banksy states, “This is the first time the essentially bourgeois world of art has belonged to the people. We need to make it count”(Ellsworth-Jones, 2013, para. 3).

In exploring graffiti, the abundance of information on the Internet made learning about the topic very accessible. Even overwhelming. As a team of two, we decided before we started our  research that we would stay focused on three subtopics: history, culture, and graffiti as a form of communication and education. Weller states that educators “firstly [need to decide] how they can best take advantage of abundance in their own teaching practice, and secondly how do we best equip learners to make use of it?”(Weller, 2011). Anderson (2016) agree that the second challenge, is the most pressing and central to theories for learning and for teaching in the digital era. Anderson posits that “as important as scaling content is the power of effective search and retrieval methods” (2016, p.41).

Lessons from Weller (2011) and Anderson (2016) armed us with strategies to negotiate the wealth of information on graffiti and to contemplate how we would best equip learners to make use of the information on the topic. Graffiti, like technology, is everywhere and a powerful communication and learning tool. According to Banksy, “As soon as I cut my first stencil I could feel the power there. I also like the political edge. All graffiti is low-level dissent, but stencils have an extra history. They’ve been used to start revolutions and to stop wars” (Ellsworth-Jones, 2013, para. 5). With such power, comes responsibility, which leads to discussion on the objectivity and reliability of sources. This is something that is pertinent to educators and learners alike: how do we discern what we are reading on the Internet, as we research any given topic, is reliable? “Exploring pedagogies of abundance will be essential for educators to meet this challenge and equip their learners with the skills they need in an age of digital abundance”(Weller, 2011).


Alonso, A. (1998). Urban scribblings on the city landscape. Retrieved from

Anderson, T. (2016). Chapter 3: Theories for Learning with Emerging Technologies. In Veletsianos, G. (Ed). Emergence and Innovation in Digital Learning: Foundations and Applications. Edmonton, AB: Athabasca University Press. Retrieved from

Baird, J., & Taylor, C. (Eds.). (2010). Ancient graffiti in context. Retrieved from

Banksy (nd). Girl with balloon [digital image]. Retrieved from

Banky (nd). Extinction and rebellion [digital image]. Retrieved from

Ellsworth-Jones, W. (2013). The Story Behind Banksy. Retrieved from

Weller, M. (2011). A pedagogy of abundance. Spanish Journal of Pedagogy, 249, pp. 223-236. Retrieved from


6 Replies to “Graffiti – abundant content for lifelong learning. Lessons from Anderson, Banksy, and Weller.”

  1. Sue,
    Thanks to Leigh and you. Interesting topic. I wanted to comment on you remarks…”Weller states that educators “firstly [need to decide] how they can best take advantage of abundance in their own teaching practice, and secondly how do we best equip learners to make use of it?” I think that this need to narrow down the scope of what you are looking for and the purpose of your exploration is becoming more and more important even in our everyday life. There is just so much information on so many topics that even the layman needs to scope his-her search in order not to get overwhelmed. This weekend I was at my parents home and they had just bought an actifryer. My elderly mother was disappointed that the actifryer had not come with ani instructors manual or recipes. So she told me she had gone on the internet to try to source a owners manual. She quickly became as you say overwhelmed by the numbers of entries, advertisements, and together we had to sort out some filters to get the write information. It can be daunting and now with very sophisticated algorithms at play determining what displays in what order it can be misleading to those who are more akin to scarce resourcing. In the end we were able to source the right model, source some recipes and enjoyed crispy wings… Respectfully,

    1. Thanks for your comments Arv. Absolutely agree with the sheer amount of information available on the Internet it’s daunting to find what you need. But I’m glad you were able to help your mom out 🙂
      And below, some thoughts from Leigh too.
      Thanks for your comment, Arv. Yes “narrowing the scope” of our search for info today seems all the more important and necessary. I can empathize with your mother’s disappointment in a missing manual, hence the need to do an Internet search. I was thinking just this morning, that when I needed to learn or research about a new topic as a young person in the 70s and 80s, I went to the library (public or school library) and took books off of the shelf. The amount of information available made research a much less overwhelming task.. I constantly think about the cognitive overload (more the negative aspects) that the digital era has wrought on our brains. I LOVE learning, and the Internet highlights just how little I know, and the need to jump onto it with a strategy in mind, and a commitment to stay focused!

      Glad you got to enjoy some nice fried wings as a result of your effective search methods!


  2. Really good post!
    Following up on Arv’s response, and recognizing that since Weller’s writing we have gained a better understanding of how algorithms shape what we see and don’t see online, what may be some steps that individuals (and others, such as search engines, social meia platforms, governments, etc) may take to help people find the ‘right’ content?

    1. Thanks George. That’s a really good question. And a BIG one! Interestingly, I just read a post on Twitter about edtech resistance. Here’s the URL for those who may want to read it.
      I’m not sure that there’s an easy answer. I would suggest it’s really about building awareness by educating ourselves and each other, and holding organizations accountable for the data they collect and its use. Of course, the work of people like Audrey Watters, who we’ve all become aware of through this course, is instrumental in communicating the issues.

  3. No surprise… My response to George’s question was very similar to your response, Sue — from a different angle… 🙂

    Thanks for the great links that speak to edtech resistance (I live with it…) and to Audrey Watters’ thoughts.

    Here is my response:
    I can speak to this as a K-12 educator… As teachers, we need to start teaching students how to narrow their research topics on search engines, even through basic strategies like using key words and commas! I recently taught a Grade 12 class who had trouble doing research on the Internet due to the absence of these basic skills and strategies. More importantly is the constant dialogue that we need to engage in with students AND society about really questioning the “credibility” and potential “implicit bias” of different sources that are so accessible on the Internet. Similarly, the importance of researching using VARIOUS sources is more important today than ever, also in connection with questioning the credibility of sources. I try to provide my older students with some key websites or authors to start their research with, scaffolding their research experience. With younger students, I will share or “push” a specific educational site, perhaps model how I got there, and speak to “why” I chose it and why I trust its content to help us to learn.

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