Last week, I jetted up to San Francisco to attend the 3rd annual Digital Media and Learning (DML) Conference.
The Digital Media and Learning Conference is an annual event supported by the MacArthur Foundation and organized by the Digital Media and Learning Research Hub located at the UC Humanities Research Institute, University of California, Irvine. The conference is meant to be an inclusive, international and annual gathering of scholars and practitioners in the field, focused on fostering interdisciplinary and participatory dialog and linking theory, empirical study, policy, and practice.
Themed “Beyond Educational Technology: Learning Innovations in a Connected World,” DML 2012 focused on the following categories:
Making, Tinkering and Remixing // MTR: To become full and active participants in 21st century society, young
people must learn to design, create, and invent with new technologies, not simply interact with them. What
are the pathways for becoming a maker and not just a user in a world of Connected Learning? What social and
technical infrastructures provide the best support for young people as they learn to tinker with materials, remix
one another’s work, and iteratively refine their creations?
The goal of this track is to explore the tensions between the design of emerging platforms and the practices that
unfold on them, with specific attention given to the policy challenges that emerge. How does the technology
respond practice and how do users repurpose technology? Who gets to set the community norms and how are
these norms negotiated? How are values— like privacy, safety, and transparency—embedded in the technology
and how does this shape socio-technical practices? What happens when conflicts emerge between the users and
the creators? How does the tension between technical design and personal practices configure these spaces?
Re-imagining Media for Learning // RML: What does it mean to think of media and games in the service of
diverse educational goals and within a broad ecology of learning? In particular, how can we balance the needs
of multi-stakeholder alliances against the challenges of designing engaging, playful and truly innovative media
experiences? Especially those that go beyond implementations of technologies and platforms to create real
communities of playful learning and rich opportunities for individual discovery and growth.
Democratizing Learning Innovation // DLI: Looking to the groundswell for massively collaborative innovation
and change, what does it take to pull from a participatory and networked ecology to push innovation from the
bottom up and from the outside in versus top down and inside out?
Innovations for Public Education // IPE: Too often cutting edge technology innovations serve the interests
of the already privileged “creative class.” What can we do to ensure that the most innovative forms of
learning are accessible to all educators and young people relying on public education infrastructures?
How can digital innovation directly impact disparities in achievement of students based on race and class?
The conference opened with an inspiring talk from USC visiting scholar John Seely Brown; several arguments and examples were drawn from his useful 2011 book (co-authored with USC’s Douglas Thomas) A New Culture of Learning: Cultivating the Imagination for a World of Constant Change:
I had the privilege of presenting on two panels, both in the Innovations for Public Education division. Kicking off the first session of Day 1, we colleagues (Henry Jenkins, Erin Reilly, Laurel Felt, Kirsten Carthew, Vanessa Vartabedian, Akifa Khan, Isabel Morales, Greta Enszer) from the PLAY! (Participatory Learning And You!) initiative offered a hands-on workshop entitled “Challenge-based Learning and the PLAYground: What is challenge-based learning and how can we use an online platform to explore it?” At least 100 individuals crammed into our wee conference room and spilled into the hallway…
This hands-on workshop will explore challenge-based learning opportunities using Project New Media Literacies’/PLAY!’s PLAYground on-line platform. Teachers, students and researchers will facilitate an exploration of challenges
created by our pilot program and demonstrate opportunities for workshop participants to create action-oriented curriculum for student participation/engagement in both formal (classroom) and informal learning environments.
In 2009, the New Media Consortium collaborated with Apple to define a new pedagogical framework called
challenge-based learning. This combines project-based learning, problem-based learning and the importance of taking action in solving real-world problems to share with the world. With information and sharing with others at the tips of our fingers, challenges encourage participants to search, synthesize, collaboratively remix and disseminate information central to questions that are open-ended and serve as a framework for student-centered learning and inquiry on specific topics that they are passionate about (Johnson, Smith, Smythe, & Varon, 2009).
The PLAYground is an online platform for the curation, creation and circulation of user-generated challenges, where the majority of participants are teachers and students from various disciplines and ages. It is designed to cultivate and promote challenge-based learning experiences. In large and small groups, participants are able to: design and participate in learning-rich activities; identify these activities’ potential contributions to teaching and learning; reflect upon their own pedagogical practices; and discover intersections and practical take-aways.
The innovation of the PLAYground is embedded in both its content and design as a technological tool that serves teachers and students within the learning eco-system. The platform is free, user friendly, and has been piloted with Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) public school teachers and students from a range of disciplines (e.g., special needs, math and sciences, health, literacy, social studies, etc). Every teacher who participated in the pilot phase testing of the PLAYground derived benefit, regardless of classroom access to technology. Those who lacked digital tools utilized the challenge content within the PLAYground to create dynamic lessons off-line using the 21st century skill sets implicit to challenge-based learning.
1) Introduction to Challenge-Based Learning in the context of PLAY!: PLAY! framework; Working Definition of “Challenge-based learning” – What key nuances distinguish it from other types of learning?; Introduction to the PLAYground
2) Playful polling — How recently and often have you used play as a vehicle for learning? How, if at all, does co-learning appear in your practice?
3) Challenge Creation — Each group, divided by the foci of the conference + key interest areas, creates a paper prototype of a challenge
4) Share out — Group discussion/presentation of the challenges: How can this be used in the classroom and beyond?
Here is our presentation. Participants’ brilliant and unique creations illustrated the value (even the imperativeness) of flexibility in education. When we provide open-ended means for accessing learning goals, as well as support learners with tools for pursuing passions, the richness of their products is inestimable.
After lunch, I joined USC colleagues (Zoe Corwin, Elizabeth Swensen, Sean Bouchard, Jenna Sablan,
Tracy Fullerton, Vanessa Vartabedian, Laurel Felt, Vanessa Monterosa) to present “Divide and Conquer: Examining and Confronting the Digital Divide.”
The “digital divide” creates an additional layer of challenge for students already facing inadequate services in their schools. But what does the digital divide look like? And what strategies are being employed to provide greater access to meaningful technologies?
The intent of this panel is to bolster understandings of how students from low-income backgrounds use technology and explore what digital and game innovations are being developed for under-served students. Panelists hail from education, communications, interactive media and sociology programs and all are currently working with game and social media projects designed to provide high quality digital resources to low-income communities. The panelists will: 1) share quantitative and qualitative research findings that describe the digital divide and 2) discuss how researchers and game designers are addressing the digital divide through innovative programs. A moderator will facilitate a questions and answer segment with the aim of stimulating discussion among audience and panelists about what we know about the digital divide and how we are confronting it.
1: Digital snapshot of urban high school students
This paper describes digital profiles of students at three urban Los Angeles area schools. Data derive from focus groups, questionnaires, and observations. Study findings outline what types of technology students use at school and at home, ease and speed of Internet access, social networking behaviors, mobile device usage, influence of technology on interactions with peers and family members, and students’ willingness and ability to learn about college through technology.
2: Serious problem, seriously fun game
Through the Collegeology Games project, researchers and game designers from the University of Southern California have utilized new media forms, such as digital and tabletop games, to boost college aspirations and promote college-going strategies for underserved students. The focus of the presentation will be on identifying potential aspects of a problem space, and adapting educational games for different platforms and audiences.
3: After-school digital literacy, Part 1: Explore Locally, Excel Digitally
How one negotiates digital tools and norms impacts citizenship on and offline. USC Annenberg’s Participatory Learning And You! (PLAY!) initiative’s after-school program “Explore Locally, Excel Digitally” (ELED) used hardware, software, and team-building activities to investigate ethics, mapping, and their intersections. Students examined their own communities and the nature of their participation within these networks, looking at ELED, their friendship circles, schools, and neighborhood. Ethnographic fieldnotes, video footage, student-generated multimedia content, and survey measures demonstrated that this pedagogical framework supported a participatory learning culture and facilitated students’ development of self- and collective efficacy.
4: After-school digital literacy, Part 2: Laughter for a Change
Play On! Workshops are a series of after-school programs facilitated by USC Annenberg’s PLAY! initiative, operated out of RFK-LA’s MediaLab at the Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools. Among these workshops, improvisational theater-focused Laughter for a Change provided its high school-aged participants with opportunities to develop performance skills, boost self-confidence, practice collaboration, and co-learn in a trusting, multi-aged community of practice.
While I had prepared an elaborate PowerPoint presentation, I opted to breeze past most of it in favor of practicing what I preached. Climbing atop a chair, I exhorted the (post-lunch lethargic) audience to find a partner and risk public silliness. Each pair’s “A” individual (who self-identified by raising the roof while whooping “Whoo whoo!”) kicked off a mirror exercise, slowly moving arms, legs, torso, and face while his/her “B” mate (who self-identified by pressing it down while grunting “Whoa whoa!”) moved in synchrony. I called out “B!” and the “B” individual took the lead while “A” followed. They passed control back and forth according to my command, striving for eye contact (an intimate, uncomfortable, and valuable connection) and monitoring action.
Reflecting on the exercise, participants commented on their varying levels of engagement and comfort and identified the utility of play/games as a context for learning and community-building. Dr. Sarah Vaala, a fellow member of the International Communication Association (ICA)’s Children, Adolescents, and Media division and Research Fellow at the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop, included my presentation in her recap of Day One at DML:
“…In one panel, Laurel Felt of USC Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism described how LA high school students boosted their self-confidence and communication skills through an afterschool improv class. “Laughter for a cause” [sic], she claimed, gave kids the space they needed to look silly, goof around, fail, and have fun. The students essentially were given permission to play, free of peer pressure, societal expectations, and academic assessment, all while building trust with each other and co-learning the basics of improv comedy” (Vaala, 2012, para 7).
Throughout the conference, in an uncharacteristic move, I Tweeted! It seemed the thing to do — when in Rome and all that — and this backchannel provided access to super note-taking and rich interrogation, annotation, and reflection.
In DML’s aftermath, several participants have penned sense-making essays, Mimi Ito‘s of particular note. Action and continued community-building must follow. With USC Impact Games colleagues Zoe Corwin and Tracy Fullerton, I will gather USC’S DML attendees and interested/like-minded individuals to debrief, identify, and innovate. Specifically, we will: reflect on DML 2012; list out our projects to increase transparency and synergy across the university; support the development of conversations and working groups; and take over the world!
Wednesday, March 21, 2-3 pm, Game Innovation Lab (GIL), located on the second floor at Robert Zemeckis Center for Digital Arts (RZC), 3131 S. Figueroa
USC’s DML attendees (in no particular order):
Bill Tierney (Education)
Sean Bouchard (Cinema)
Elizabeth Swensen (Cinema)
Jeff Watson (Cinema)
Henry Jenkins (Communication, Journalism, Cinema, Education)
Ben Stokes (Communication)
Alex Leavitt (Communication)
John Seely Brown (at-large)
Brendesha Tynes (Education)
John Pascarella (Education)
Otto Khera (Education)
Erin Reilly (Communication)
Vanessa Vartabedian (Communication)
Jenna Sablan (Education)
Vanessa Monterosa (Education)
Melissa Brough (Communication)
Meryl Alper (Communication)
George Villanueva (Communication)
Ronan Hallowell (Education)
Akifa Khan (Communication)
Kirsten Carthew (Communication)
Francois Bar (Communication)
Gabriel Peters-Lazaro (Cinema)
Tracy Fullerton (Cinema)
Zoe Corwin (Education)
Laurel Felt (Communication)
An old activist adage encourages us to “think globally, act locally.” Riffing on this, my colleagues and I developed an after-school program called “explore locally, excel digitally.” I’d like to think that our USC-based, digital media & learning-oriented coalition combines both complementary values. With the goal of impacting the wider world on- and off-line, we disparate denizens of a single institution will cross the quad for face-to-face encounters, asynchronous cyber conversations, and collective intelligence-enriched innovation. The question is, If we build it, will they come?