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The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Reports on Digital Media and Learning

Today educational activities take place not only in school but also in after-school programs, community centers, museums, and online communities and forums. The success and expansion of these out-of-school initiatives depends on our ability to document and assess what works and what doesn’t in informal learning, but learning outcomes in these settings are often unpredictable. Goals are open-ended; participation is voluntary; and relationships, means, and ends are complex.

Most research on media use by young people with disabilities focuses on the therapeutic and rehabilitative uses of technology; less attention has been paid to their day-to-day encounters with media and technology—the mundane, sometimes pleasurable and sometimes frustrating experiences of “hanging out, messing around, and geeking out.” In this report, Meryl Alper attempts to repair this omission, examining how school-aged children with disabilities use media for social and recreational purposes, with a focus on media use at home.

Benefits and Challenges for Learning and Assessment

Professional and amateur musicians alike use social media as a platform for showcasing and promoting their music. Social media evaluation practices—rating, ranking, voting, “liking,” and “friending” by ordinary users, peers, and critics—have become essential promotional tools for musicians. In this report, H. Cecilia Suhr examines one recent development in online music evaluation: the use of digital badges to aid in assessment and evaluation. Digital badges have emerged in recent years as a potential credentialing method in informal learning environments.

Next-Generation Tactics to Remake Public Spheres

Although they may disavow politics as such, civic-minded young people use every means and media at their disposal to carry out the basic tasks of citizenship. Through a mix of face-to-face and digital methods, they deliberate on important issues and debate with peers and powerbrokers, redefining some key dynamics that govern civic life in the process. In Participatory Politics, Elisabeth Soep examines the specific tactics used by young people as they experiment with civic engagement.

Choice-Based Assessments for the Digital Age

If a fundamental goal of education is to prepare students to act independently in the world—in other words, to make good choices—an ideal educational assessment would measure how well we are preparing students to do so. Current assessments, however, focus almost exclusively on how much knowledge students have accrued and can retrieve. In Measuring What Matters Most, Daniel Schwartz and Dylan Arena argue that choice should be the interpretive framework within which learning assessments are organized.

Digital media and technology have become culturally and economically powerful parts of contemporary middle-class American childhoods. Immersed in various forms of digital media as well as mobile and Web-based technologies, young people today appear to develop knowledge and skills through participation in media. This MacArthur Report examines the ways in which afterschool programs, libraries, and museums use digital media to support extracurricular learning.

Developing the School for Digital Kids

Quest to Learn, an innovative school for grades 6 to 12 in New York City, grew out of the idea that gaming and game design offer a promising new paradigm for curriculum and learning. The designers of Quest to Learn developed an approach to learning that draws from what games do best: drop kids into inquiry-based, complex problem spaces that are built to help players understand how they are doing, what they need to work on, and where to go next.

An Empirical Examination of Youth, Digital Media Use, and Information Credibility

How well do children navigate the ocean of information that is available online? The enormous variety of Web-based resources represents both opportunities and challenges for Internet-savvy kids, offering extraordinary potential for learning and social connection but little guidance on assessing the reliability of online information. This book reports on the first large-scale survey to examine children’s online information-seeking strategies and their beliefs about the credibility of that information.

What Mozilla Has to Teach Government

Firefox, a free Web browser developed by the Mozilla Foundation, is used by an estimated 270 million people worldwide. To maintain and improve the Firefox browser, Mozilla depends not only on its team of professional programmers and managers but also on a network of volunteer technologists and enthusiasts--free/libre and open source software (FLOSS) developers--who contribute their expertise. This kind of peer production is unique, not only for its vast scale but also for its combination of structured, hierarchical management with open, collaborative volunteer participation.

Learning Institutions in a Digital Age

Over the past two decades, the way we learn has changed dramatically. We have new sources of information and new ways to exchange and to interact with information. But our schools and the way we teach have remained largely the same for years, even centuries. What happens to traditional educational institutions when learning also takes place on a vast range of Internet sites, from Pokemon Web pages to Wikipedia? This report investigates how traditional learning institutions can become as innovative, flexible, robust, and collaborative as the best social networking sites.

In this report, noted scholar James Paul Gee discusses the evolution of digital media and learning (DMAL) from its infancy as an “academic area” into a more organized field or coherent discipline. Distinguishing among academic areas, fields, disciplinary specializations, and thematic disciplines, Gee describes other academic areas that have fallen into these categories or developed into established disciplines. He argues that DMAL will not evolve until a real coherence develops through collaboration and the accumulation of shared knowledge.

This report focuses on the civic aspects of video game play among youth. According to a 2006 survey, 58 percent of young people aged 15 to 25 were civically "disengaged," meaning that they participated in fewer than two types of either electoral activities (defined as voting, campaigning, etc.) or civic activities (for example, volunteering). Kahne and his coauthors are interested in what role video games may or may not play in this disengagement.Until now, most research in the field has considered how video games relate to children's aggression and to academic learning.

Measuring and Supporting Learning in Video Games

To succeed in today’s interconnected and complex world, workers need to be able to think systemically, creatively, and critically. Equipping K-16 students with these twenty-first-century competencies requires new thinking not only about what should be taught in school but also about how to develop valid assessments to measure and support these competencies. In Stealth Assessment, Valerie Shute and Matthew Ventura investigate an approach that embeds performance-based assessments in digital games.

Summary of Findings from the Digital Youth Project

This report summarizes the results of an ambitious three-year ethnographic study, funded by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, into how young people are living and learning with new media in varied settings—at home, in after school programs, and in online spaces. It offers a condensed version of a longer treatment provided in the book Hanging Out, Messing Around, and Geeking Out (MIT Press, 2009). The authors present empirical data on new media in the lives of American youth in order to reflect upon the relationship between new media and learning.

School Knowledge in the Digital Age

Although ideas about digital media and learning have become an important area for educational research, little attention has been given to the practical and conceptual implications for the school curriculum. In this book, Ben Williamson examines a series of contemporary curriculum innovations in the United States, Great Britain, and Australia that reflect the social and technological changes of the digital age.

Media Education for the 21st Century

Many teens today who use the Internet are actively involved in participatory cultures—joining online communities (Facebook, message boards, game clans), producing creative work in new forms (digital sampling, modding, fan videomaking, fan fiction), working in teams to complete tasks and develop new knowledge (as in Wikipedia), and shaping the flow of media (as in blogging or podcasting).

A Review of Study, Theory, and Advocacy for Education in Non-Formal Settings

Schools do not define education, and they are not the only institutions in which learning takes place. After-school programs, music lessons, Scouts, summer camps, on-the-job training, and home activities all offer out-of-school educational experiences. In Learning at Not-School, Julian Sefton-Green explores studies and scholarly research on out-of-school learning, investigating just what it is that is distinctive about the quality of learning in these “not-school” settings.

A Synthesis from the GoodPlay Project

Social networking, blogging, vlogging, gaming, instant messaging, downloading music and other content, uploading and sharing their own creative work: these activities made possible by the new digital media are rich with opportunities and risks for young people. This report, part of the GoodPlay Project, undertaken by researchers at Harvard Graduate School of Education's Project Zero, investigates the ethical fault lines of such digital pursuits. The authors argue that five key issues are at stake in the new media: identity, privacy, ownership and authorship, credibility, and participation.

In this report, Cathy Davidson and David Theo Goldberg focus on the potential for shared and interactive learning made possible by the Internet. They argue that the single most important characteristic of the Internet is its capacity for world-wide community and the limitless exchange of ideas. The Internet brings about a way of learning that is not new or revolutionary but is now the norm for today’s graduating high school and college classes.