Education Opinion

The Common Denominator Between Sesame Street and the Internet? Learning

By Contributing Blogger — May 25, 2017 3 min read
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This post is by Sana N. Jafri, a program officer with the Hive Chicago Fund for Connected Learning at The Chicago Community Trust.

Elmo, Big Bird, and the other residents of Sesame Street remain household names, even after 40-plus years on the air. Several weeks ago I watched an episode of “Sesame Street” with my niece, Aisha, and I was reminded that this prolific television program offers vital learning opportunities for kids.

In 1966, “Sesame Street’s” founders Joan Ganz Cooney and Lloyd Morrisett asked the question: Could television be used to teach young people? In other words, they wondered if television--an advent in technology at the time--could be used as a tool for learning.

Those that would become the first “Sesame Street” funders, including the Carnegie Corporation, U.S. Office of Education, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and the Ford Foundation, took a risk in exploring that question. Forty years later, we know the answer is yes: Television--and present-day technology--can absolutely be used as tools for learning.

Today, the Hive Chicago Fund for Connected Learning at The Chicago Community Trust, in partnership with the Hive Chicago Learning Network at the Mozilla Foundation, are asking a similar question: How can the internet, digital media, and technology be leveraged for learning?

The debate on how much technology and screen time is beneficial in a young person’s life persists. However, research indiciates that digital media and technology tools can be leveraged not only to transcend the traditional school day, but also to improve educational attitudes and outcomes that include persistence, increased attendance, and an improved GPA. Additionally, studies show that it’s not just about technology tools; it’s about incorporating learning that resonates with a learner’s life. This is known as connected learning.

While the idea of connected learning is not new, it is still an area of interest that remains a topic of research and study, and the findings are clear: Connected learning leads to better learning. A 2012 report produced by the Digital Media and Learning Research Hub at the University of California, Irvine, and the Connected Learning Research Network states, “From the connected learning perspective, focusing educational attention on the links between different spheres of learning can better support interest-driven and meaningful learning. This requires social, cultural, and technological supports to enable learners to link, integrate, and translate their interests and knowledge(s) across academic, civic, and career-relevant domains.”

The Hive Chicago Fund for Connected Learning at The Chicago Community Trust, a funder that empowers educators to use connected learning principles, is thrilled to support and promote Chicago nonprofits that seek to be innovators like the founders of “Sesame Street.”

With our support, we see programs that are leveraging digital media and technology for learning. They are shifting the paradigm from seat-time education to competency and project-based learning; teachers are moving from instructors to trusted facilitators. For example, Northwestern University’s FUSE program creates K-12 studios that create interest-driven science, technology, engineering, arts/design, and mathematics (STEAM) learning challenges. Similarly, the Chicago Architecture Foundation, in partnership with Civic Artworks, hosted a Minecraft Design Jam to teach young people about architecture and design through videogames. Both of these wonderful programs received support from Hive Chicago Fund for Connected Learning, and we are proud to report that they have served over 20,000 young people, both in Chicago and beyond.

As stated in the Mozilla Foundation’s white paper, Web Literacy 2.0, “Knowing how to read, write, and participate in the digital world has become the 4th basic foundational skill next to the three Rs--reading, writing, and arithmetic--in a rapidly evolving, networked world.” Of course, the examples of Chicago teens utilizing the digital media, techonology, and the internet for better learning goes on - See more examples on Hive Chicago’s portfolio pages.)

Forty years ago the original funders of “Sesame Street” didn’t know where their interest in television and learning would lead. But they took a chance. At the Hive Chicago Fund for Connected Learning, we are willing to take a risk and invite others to as well.

The Hive Chicago Fund for Connected Learning was seeded through generous support from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation (MacArthur) as part of its Digital Media & Learning program. Current contributors to the Fund include the Illinois Science & Energy Innovation Foundation, MacArthur Foundation, Mozilla Foundation, SCE, and The Chicago Community Trust.

The opinions expressed in Learning Deeply 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.