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Science Opinion

Digital Play Helps Students Develop Macro-Mindedness

By Jordan Shapiro — March 06, 2018 4 min read

Editor’s Note: In this post, Jordan Shapiro, senior fellow at the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop, explains how digital play can prepare our students for a world that is economically, politically, and technologically connected.

My ten- and twelve-year-old boys both keep track of multiple time zones on their smartphones and laptops. I’d like to think that the hour in faraway places is important to them because I’m often traveling, and they want to know when to video chat with Dad. But the truth is, it has very little to do with my schedule. Instead, it’s because they recognize that if they want to play in a global sandbox, they need to pay attention to when their friends in other countries are sleeping or awake.

When will kids in Mumbai log on to Minecraft? When can they call Greece with Skype? What time will folks in the UK connect to Discord? I barely understood the concept of time zones when I was their age. But in the 21st century, children’s understanding of time is different. They approach time from what I call a macro-minded perspective.

The prefix macro- comes from the ancient Greek μακρο-, which originally meant long or large. In the 20th century, it was often used to mean comprehensive. People spoke of things being macroscopic. And macroeconomics became a general term describing the field of scholarship which looks at large-scale economic factors. I use the term “macro-minded” to denote the habits of mind that are associated with a worldwide outlook. Tomorrow’s global citizens will need to be macro-minded, inclined to consider how extensive international factors shape and contribute to a broad set of issues.

Nowadays, we are all living, learning, and teaching in a connected world. And it’s not just the technology. Yes, digital tools bring us together: they allow us to communicate in spectacular ways. But they represent only one example of the “networked” phenomenon. There’s also globalization, worldwide economic interdependence, faster transportation, migration, urbanization, and more. We have all become global citizens of a connected world. To live and thrive in this new world, today’s children will need to develop a capacity for macro-mindedness.

Another popular term for this is “global competence.” And as Anthony Jackson, Director of the Center for Global Education at the Asia Society, writes, “At the end of the day, it is globally competent individuals who will be able to solve the world’s seemingly intractable problems. And it’s up to our world’s educators to prepare those individuals for their global futures.”

This is why the OECD recently developed a new two-part PISA assessment to evaluate global competence. Their framework has four dimensions:


  • Examine local, global, and intercultural issues. “The ability to combine knowledge about the world with critical reasoning whenever people form their own opinions about a global issue.”
  • Understand and appreciate the perspectives and world views of others. “A willingness and capacity to consider global problems from multiple viewpoints.”
  • Engage in open, appropriate, and effective interactions across cultures. “Engage in respectful dialogue, want to understand the other, and try to include marginalized groups.”
  • Take action for collective well-being and sustainable development. “Individuals’ readiness to respond to a given local, global, or intercultural issue or situation.”

These four dimensions adeptly express what I had in mind when writing the Guide to Digital Play for Global Citizens. I wanted to help grownups prepare kids for a world that’s governed by new technological, economic, and geopolitical paradigms. I wanted to introduce educators, youth development leaders, and parents to innovative tools that can help kids learn about, understand, and engage with our connected world.

I focused on digital play because whenever today’s children are playing in today’s online global sandboxes, they are also learning to be comfortable with a specific technological worldview. They’re developing the confidence to easily operate and experiment with networked tools. They are applying higher order thinking skills within virtual environments. They are also becoming acclimated to subtle social cues and nuanced behaviors. They’re procuring habits of mind for a connected world.

Child development and education experts are always concerned with how young people learn to make use of language, knowledge, and academic content within the context of lived experience. Although we often think of context as if it were some sort of abstract cultural or historical zeitgeist, the reality is much simpler. For humans, context is all about how we use specific sets of tools to intellectually, emotionally, economically, and materially fabricate our world.

Digital tools are the new context and they can be used to 1) help students build awareness of themselves and the world around them, 2) recognize and investigate the history, as well as the complex, systemic causes of contemporary issues ranging from economic inequality to global conflict to cultural diversity and inclusion, and 3) explore questions about climate change and our relationship with the natural world.

The Joan Ganz Cooney Center Guide to Digital Play for Global Citizens shows adults how they can leverage connected tools to create opportunities for macro-minded digital play in a world where we’re all paying a lot more attention to time zones.

Connect with Jordan, Cooney Center, Heather, and Center for Global Education on Twitter.

Image created on Pablo.

The opinions expressed in Global Learning 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.

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