Opinion
Education Opinion

Building a More Inclusive Digital Media and Learning Movement

By Justin Reich — March 17, 2013 4 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

The good news is that digital tools are letting kids hack their learning, communities, and world in all kinds of awesome new ways. The bad news is that these opportunities are not evenly distributed, and they may be accelerating inequalities between more and less affluent youth.

Expanding opportunity is a necessary but not sufficient condition for reducing inequality. This is the heart of the argument I made in my Ignite talk at the Digital Media and Learning conference in Chicago this past weekend.

To make the aforementioned good news better than just good news, to make it awesome news, we need to build the digital media and learning movement to be as inclusive as possible, perhaps even to be more than inclusive, to disproportionately benefit those learners who start life a step behind the privileged.

This is happening.

My favorite talk of the weekend was done by a fellow Igniter, Meryl Alper, who made an impassioned plea for Mixed-Ability Maker Spaces. This is a guaranteed multiple win. First, many people with disabilities need to hack their interface with the world, so including them in maker spaces will have distinctly great benefits for them (like the custom 3-d printed prosthetics that Alper describes). But then, when we design maker spaces for the margins we’ll find that adaptations that support populations with various disabilities will end up serving all sorts of people.

Take, for example, squishy circuits, which was one of my favorite discoveries of the conference. These are recipes for “modeling dough” (such as PlayDoh) that include conductive and insulating recipes, which can be used to make circuits. Lots of people lack the dexterity to use soldering irons, like nearly everyone under the age of 8 and plenty of people with various kinds of disabilities. Maker spaces that are thinking creatively about how to incorporate these kinds of materials are opening possibilities for the disabled, the young, the elderly, as well as all kinds of people imagining crazy projects where dough might work better than wires.

Intentional inclusivity also means ensuring that interventions reach students from all different kinds of backgrounds. One of the most provocative talks of the weekend came from Karen Brennan, a new assistant professor at Harvard University and the architect of the ScratchEd community. Scratch is a visual programming language, where young people can program all kinds of things in a drag and drop editor.

Brennan described how part of her motivation for creating ScratchED emerged from the realization that many of the early adopters of Scratch were children whose parents were programmers and engineers. When Scratch was just distributed through a Web portal, the opportunities afforded by Scratch tended to benefit the already-advantaged. ScratchEd is an effort to engage and build community among educators, to try to reach more diverse audiences that can be found within school systems.

The interesting tension here is that what teachers and educators asked for was “training” on how to incorporate Scratch into the curriculum. And the whole philosophy of Scratch (emerging from Mitch Resnick’s Lifelong Kindergarten Lab, itself a descendant of the ideas of Seymour Papert) doesn’t align well with “training.” Giving a 3-hour in-service with handouts and rubrics for grading Scratch projects fits uncomfortably with ethos of Scratch. So Karen has drawn insights from groups like EdCamp and tried to innovate with more open, flexible “Meetup"-style learning sessions, that mirror the kind of open, experiential learning environments that Scratch is designed for.

The most efficient way to scale Scratch usage in schools would be to create some kind of highly-structured, train-the-trainer model, with canned curriculum, scripted lesson plans and so forth. The part of me that wants Scratch-like experiences available to students from all backgrounds is interested in these kinds of ideas. But the Scratch-education promoted by those structured interventions might not be truly aligned to the Scratch ethos, so Brennan is navigating a pathway that’s trying to scale community rather than scaling distribution. She’s seeking models of expanding inclusivity through the school system, without adopting models that would overly compromise the pedagogical principles inherent in Scratch.

These tensions between maximizing awesomeness in creative learning environments and maximizing wide accessibility of those learning environments are real and daunting. But the awesome that is emerging from the Digital Media and Learning community is too great not to be available to everyone.

Special thanks to the organizers of the DML conference for putting on a great show, and thanks to the community for being warm, friendly, provocative, civically-minded, and caring about the welfare of young people.

For regular updates, follow me on Twitter at @bjfr and for my papers, presentations and so forth, visit EdTechResearcher.

The opinions expressed in EdTech Researcher are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.


Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Teaching Webinar
6 Key Trends in Teaching and Learning
As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and a return to the classroom for many—we come better prepared, but questions remain. How will the last year impact teaching and learning this school
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Leadership for Racial Equity in Schools and Beyond
While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to reveal systemic racial disparities in educational opportunity, there are revelations to which we can and must respond. Through conscientious efforts, using an intentional focus on race, school leaders can
Content provided by Corwin
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Evaluating Equity to Drive District-Wide Action this School Year
Educational leaders are charged with ensuring all students receive equitable access to a high-quality education. Yet equity is more than an action. It is a lens through which we continuously review instructional practices and student
Content provided by BetterLesson

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education Schools Get the Brunt of Latest COVID Wave in South Carolina
In the past few weeks, South Carolina has set records for COVID-19 hospitalizations and new cases have approached peak levels of last winter.
4 min read
Two Camden Elementary School students in masks listen as South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster talks about steps the school is taking to fight COVID-19, Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2021, in Camden, S.C. McMaster has adamantly and repeatedly come out against requiring masks in schools even as the average number of daily COVID-19 cases in the state has risen since early June. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Collins)
Education More States Are Requiring Schools to Teach Native American History and Culture
Advocates say their efforts have gained some momentum with the nation’s reckoning over racial injustice since the killing of George Floyd.
3 min read
A dancer participates in an intertribal dance at Schemitzun on the Mashantucket Pequot Reservation in Mashantucket, Conn., Saturday, Aug. 28, 2021. Connecticut and a handful of other states have recently decided to mandate students be taught about Native American culture and history. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)
Education Judge's Temporary Order Allows Iowa Schools to Mandate Masks
A federal judge ordered the state to immediately halt enforcement of a law that prevents school boards from ordering masks to be worn.
4 min read
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds speaks to reporters following a news conference, Thursday, Aug. 19, 2021, in West Des Moines, Iowa. Reynolds lashed out at President Joe Biden Thursday after he ordered his education secretary to explore possible legal action against states that have blocked school mask mandates and other public health measures meant to protect students against COVID-19. Reynolds, a Republican, has signed a bill into law that prohibits school officials from requiring masks, raising concerns as delta variant virus cases climb across the state and schools resume classes soon. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Education Hurricane Ida Deals New Blow to Louisiana Schools Struggling to Reopen
The opening of the school year offered teachers a chance to fully assess the pandemic's effects, only to have students forced out again.
8 min read
Six-year-old Mary-Louise Lacobon sits on a fallen tree beside the remnants of her family's home destroyed by Hurricane Ida, in Dulac, La., on Sept. 4, 2021. Louisiana students, who were back in class after a year and a half of COVID-19 disruptions kept many of them at home, are now missing school again after Hurricane Ida. A quarter-million public school students statewide have no school to report to, though top educators are promising a return is, at most, weeks away, not months.
Six-year-old Mary-Louise Lacobon sits on a fallen tree beside the remnants of her family's home destroyed by Hurricane Ida, in Dulac, La., on Sept. 4, 2021.
John Locher/AP