Curriculum

Funder Seeding Work in the Emerging Field of ‘Digital Learning’

By Rhea R. Borja — November 14, 2006 3 min read

At a time when technology has changed how K-12 students learn, create, and interact with others, schools are behind the curve in teaching the skills they need to be savvy consumers and producers of digital media.

That’s the conclusion of a study commissioned by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation to kick off a five-year, $50 million “digital learning” initiative announced last month.

The broad-ranging project will support projects to research technology’s effects on students; use social networking and other online tools to help students learn; design and develop online games; and create media-literacy curricula for a digital age.

One of the initiative’s main goals is to figure out what and how students are learning through podcasting, blogging, video games, and other Web-based activities in an online environment, said Jonathan Fanton, the president of the Chicago-based foundation.

Learn more about the MacArthur Foundation’s digital-learning Web site.

“Given how present these technologies are in their lives, do young people act, think, and learn differently today?” he asked in a statement. “And what are the implications for education and for society?”

One implication is that educators need to recognize the power of the Web’s “participatory culture,” in which anyone can critique student work and offer advice, said Henry Jenkins, the director of the comparative-media-studies program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in Cambridge, Mass.

Mr. Jenkins, the lead researcher for “Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century,” the MacArthur-supported study, said that the virtual worlds that students move around in are unlike anything resembling the traditional learning environment.

Those online communities include the 3-D virtual world assembled on the Web site known as Second Life, at http://secondlife.com. More than 1.3 million people worldwide use the site, where “residents” can buy land with virtual dollars, “attend” live audio-streamed town hall meetings, watch live concerts, and talk to one another via Skype, an Internet phone service.

The MacArthur Foundation simulcast its Oct. 19 event in New York City announcing its digital-learning initiative on Second Life, garnering about 80 online attendees.

But not all students have equal access to the Web or other technology tools, Mr. Jenkins said. In addition, the students who are online have limited analytical skills to assess what they see, read, and create. And no established guidelines govern what personal information students should post online about themselves or their friends, Mr. Jenkins added.

“Kids don’t have a critical vocabulary on the effect of media in their own lives,” he said. “If [students] play a [video] game about history, that’s how history was.”

Given those gaps, educators should integrate media-literacy skills into core academic subjects, Mr. Jenkins said.

For example, he said, teachers can use online robotics simulations to help explain algebraic concepts and introduce students to physics.

“This is about a paradigm shift,” Mr. Jenkins said. “These are skills that can be integrated across the curriculum.”

Considering Trade-Offs

As part of its digital-learning initiative, the MacArthur Foundation has given grants to 18 organizations, some of which had received previous support from the foundation for their work on digital learning.

See Also

Read the accompanying story,

Grants for R&D

See also a related story,

The foundation has also set up a Web site to house the project, and next year it will publish six books, online and in print, on innovative uses of digital learning and its relationship to such issues as civic engagement, identity, race, and ethnicity.

“Just as the printing press … changed how knowledge works, we have hypothesized that these new digital media will have the same effect,” said Connie Yowell, the director of education grantmaking for the MacArthur Foundation. “It’s critical that we understand [digital media’s] benefits and its unintended consequences. There are implications for both of those for schools.”

The unintended consequences, she said, could include less physical play and less time to think and explore offline.

“What may be lost?” said Ms. Yowell. “Does something happen to daydreaming? Creativity?”

A version of this article appeared in the November 15, 2006 edition of Education Week as Funder Seeding Work In the Emerging Field Of ‘Digital Learning’

Events

School & District Management Live Event Education Week Leadership Symposium
Education Week's Premier Leadership Event for K12 School & District Leaders.
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
Law & Courts Webinar
The Future of Criminal Justice Reform: A Sphere Education Initiative Conversation
America’s criminal justice system is in crisis and calls for reform are dominating the national debate. Join Cato’s Sphere Education Initiative and Education Week for a webinar on criminal justice and policing featuring the nation’s
Content provided by Cato Institute
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
Student Well-Being Webinar
Equity, Care and Connection: New SEL Tools and Practices to Support Students and Adults
As school districts plan to welcome students back into buildings for the upcoming school year, this is the perfect time to take a hard look at both our practices and our systems to build a
Content provided by Panorama Education

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

Curriculum Opinion Introducing Primary Sources to Students
Five educators share strategies for introducing primary sources to students, including English-language learners.
12 min read
Images shows colorful speech bubbles that say "Q," "&," and "A."
iStock/Getty
Curriculum Opinion Eight Ways to Teach With Primary Sources
Four educators share ways they use primary sources with students, including a strategy called "Zoom."
13 min read
Images shows colorful speech bubbles that say "Q," "&," and "A."
iStock/Getty
Curriculum The Dr. Seuss Controversy: What Educators Need to Know
The business that manages Dr. Seuss' work and legacy will cease publishing six books due to racist stereotypes and offensive content.
5 min read
A copy of the book "And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street," by Dr. Seuss, rests in a chair on March 1, 2021, in Walpole, Mass. Dr. Seuss Enterprises, the business that preserves and protects the author and illustrator's legacy, announced on his birthday, Tuesday, March 2, 2021, that it would cease publication of several children's titles including "And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street" and "If I Ran the Zoo," because of insensitive and racist imagery.
Dr. Seuss Enterprises announced it would cease publication of several of the author's children's titles because of insensitive and racist imagery.
Steven Senne/AP
Curriculum Opinion The Overlooked Support Teachers Are Missing: A Coherent Curriculum
Here’s the research on how districts can improve instructional systems—which was already a challenge in the best of times.
Morgan Polikoff, Elaine Wang & Julia Kaufman
5 min read
A team of people work together to build a block structure.
Imam Fathoni/iStock<br/>