This morning I attended the MacArthur Foundation Digital Learning briefing that was taking place at the Natural History Museum in NYC. It was the ultimate digital media multi-tasking experience.
From my office in the Boston, I teleported myself into the Virtual World of Second Life and headed straight for the New Media Consortium virtual campus where I joined about 65 other avatars representing educators from all over the world (even Austrailia where it was 3:00 a.m. local time). I also had a web browser window open so I could watch the videocast of event. While the speakers were talking, the avatars in Second Life were carrying on a lively debate in chat about the points raised, suggesting questions to be asked in the room in New York City, and passing along urls/resources related to the discussion at hand.
Several avatars were also in "real life" in New York City. In fact, my colleague Rik Riel IM me and asked for a teleport into the location. He was also in NYC and live blogging the event as was Danah Boyd - the official MacArthur Foundation live blogger. At the end, when asked what it was like to be live blogging the event, Danah observed that she took a lot of notes that no one would want to read unless they put into context. "As a blogger, one issue is 'who is reading?' and I have to put this into context for people who were not at this event and may have only heard of the MacArthur Foundation on NPR."
This was a rich conversation and was not able to capture all the details as my audio faded in and out and was multi-tasking in a major way, so here is what I as able to capture...
- The MacArthur Foundation announced that it will be funding a five-year $50 million initiative, mostly for research, to try to understand how young people are using digital media and its impact learning. As the president of the MacArthur Foundation noted, "It is the beginning of a new cross interdisciplinary field and we all feel it." At that comment, all the avatars started clapping, cheering, and agreeing with quips like "Wow, MacArthur Foundation really gets it. They are walking the walk, talking the talk."
- Some statistics about how many young people are using various social media tools. But it was pointed out that there is a lot known about the numbers and less is known about how they are using, the role it plays, and what it means to them. The environment for learning is no longer in the classroom and its online, and outside of school. MacArthur wants to know: How is digital media changing the way that children learn and develop and what are the implications?
- Digital media is being shaped by the private sector (YouTube, MySpace, etc). These social networking spaces are becoming the place where a lot of (informal) learning by young people is taking place. Educators need to intervene and make creative alliances.
- There is a huge gap in understanding between what young people are doing with social media spaces and what adults perceive.(The opening presentation showed kids talking about how they social media and adults misconceptions ..) It isn't entertainment. These are complex learning environments where young people are making decisions, learning and collaborating with peers, etc. Learning is happening outside of school and it needs to be understood better.
- Henry Jenkins notes that it isn't about the tools and that it was more about the culture growing up around the technology. "We are in a moment of time where 57% of teens produce and share media. Media isn't just happening to kids. We should be more concerned with what our kids are doing with media. Also, not all kids are digital natives."
- He described a new digital divide that wasn't about having access to computers. Young people have access to computers in schools and libraries, but there is a difference in the quality of experience. There is a gap in social skills, experience, and knowledge when you only have 10-15 minutes of access in library versus 24/7 access at home. The young people who don't have pervasive access will fall behind in terms of skills.
- He warned that parents and educators do not need to be looking over the shoulders of young people and that we shouldn't be leading by fear and anxiety, but my knowledge and information. He noted that media literacy has to be integrated as a skill set in all places. It starts in the home. Parents are facing challenges. Parents have an opportunity to spend time with kids and learn about the media they're consuming. The only advice out there is to limit screen time. He suggests developing a dialogue with your child about media.
- Media literacy and creation skills can't be add-ons in schools, but have to be integrated across the curriculum in all subjects.
- Dr. Mizuko Ito made the point that digital learning is happening primarily outside fo the classroom and in more of a social and play context. "We know very little about the learning that is happening outside of classrooms." She mentioned that learning is being initiated by young people on their own terms and by having a better understanding of these online environments, it will give some hints about how to harness the technology for formal learning in the classroom.
- Jenkins from MIT described something called "convergence culture." He used the example of Harry Potter books - not just reading them, but young people working on collaborative writing projects via the Web -- writing and getting feedback from peers around the world. He also described the educational projects in Second Life where young people are constructing their own worlds and are teaching other programming skills as well as social, economic, and cultural interaction. "What are the things that kids need to know to be rich participants in these spaces?"
- Dr. Mizuko described some findings in their research about informal learning and using games, even simple games like card trading games. "It is important to recongize that these are complex learning environments and information systems. The design of media is for more activist and personal interaction. We need to understand the properties of how knowledge is exchanged and developed in these peer-based online networks. There is no question that these are robust learning environments."
Dr. Nichole Pinkard identified three implications:
-rethink what we mean by learning environments
"Learning is happening outside of school and in informal ways."
-rethink who are educators - who do kids learn from - not just adults
"Kids are learning from each other."
-rethink what counts as traditional forms of evidence of learning
"All our kids have laptops, when we go to museum - kids take their laptops and cameras with them. They focus on the media creation of what they learned. They document their learning."
Later in the conversation, it was noted that change will come, but slowly.
It was opened up for question and answer both in New York and in Second Life. I'm picking out two questions that were interesting to me.
- Someone from PBS asked a question about how TV might be part of the future of the world that was being envisioned? Jenkins answered, "What does the next generation of Blues Clues look like? How does social networking/web2.0 get embedded in PBS programming? It has to be governed by Web2.0 - kids will be making media. It can't just teach them to think about media, but making it on your own terms." Media literacy is a paradigm shift - not an add-in subject.
The other question was about mult-tasking and how it impacted learning experience.
- Dr. Mizuko mentioned some research they were doing on continuous partial attention of young people's media and mobile phone use. "Kids are inhabiting multiple worlds with 26 IRC and IM windows open. She alluded to the upside and downside to continuous partial attention.
This inspired quite a lot of comments in the backchannel chat on Second Life.
- yes, getting people to really concentrate on one thing, and think deeply about it
- That sounds like me right now
- I don't think that "inhabiting multiple worlds" is the same as multitasking.
- I think sdhe meant that they have these many windows open all simultaneously on the screen
- Is multitasking is a myth? It seems more like rapid attention shifting
- Lstening to one conversation while talking about the same conversation in a separate space counts as multi-tasking to me
- It crosses devices and time and not just one screen is the reality Rapid attention shifting is not the same as continuous partial attention, in my view.
- We are having a conversation here, listening to this presentation, and I for one am exploring linkspeople have posted all relatively simultaneously, is that multitasking?
- Is there any literature on that conceptual distinction? Very interesting...
- This chat is gettign pretty good! Love the backchannel!!
- I think that rapid attention shifting is one way of thinking about "critical thinking"
- This is a very interesting discussion about multitasking. What are the NY folks talking about.
- But isn't rapid attention shifting one mode of sophisticated and responsive awareness?Nothing wrong with it (imo) - just v. different than what goes on in many schools now
- I have a piece in the Sept./Oct. Change magazine that tries to get at it ... clumsily at times. :)
META REFLECTION as it Relates to Nonprofits:
-One of the points mentions that this is a new field - digital learning and media and that it was a cross disciplinary field. Given all this potential change in education, what do we need to think about how all this applies to nonprofit sector? How does media creation and social networking skills change the way we work in nonprofits?
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