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Tweens in a Virtual World

Millions of children visit virtual worlds every day. In such virtual play spaces as Habbo Hotel, Toontown, and Whyville, kids chat with friends from school, meet new people, construct avatars, and earn and spend virtual currency. In Connected Play, Yasmin Kafai and Deborah Fields investigate what happens when kids play in virtual worlds, how this matters for their offline lives, and what this means for the design of educational opportunities in digital worlds.

Play is fundamentally important for kids’ development, but, Kafai and Fields argue, to understand play in virtual worlds, we need to connect concerns of development and culture with those of digital media and learning. Kafai and Fields do this through a detailed study of kids’ play in Whyville, a massive, informal virtual world with educational content for tween players. Combining ethnographic accounts with analysis of logfile data, they present rich portraits and overviews of how kids learn to play in a digital domain, developing certain technological competencies; how kids learn to play well—responsibly, respectfully, and safely; and how kids learn to play creatively, creating content that becomes a part of the virtual world itself.

Stories and Strategies for Transformation

In colleges and universities across the United States, students, faculty, and staff are forging new paths to sustainability. From private liberal arts colleges to major research institutions to community colleges, sustainability concerns are being integrated into curricula, policies, and programs. New divisions, degree programs, and courses of study cross traditional disciplinary boundaries; Sustainability Councils become part of campus governance; and new sustainability issues link to historic social and educational missions. In this book, leaders from twenty-four colleges and universities offer their stories of institutional and personal transformation.

These stories document both the power of leadership—whether by college presidents, faculty, staff, or student activists—and the potential for institutions to redefine themselves. Chapters recount, among other things, how inclusive campus governance helped mobilize students at the University of South Carolina; how a course at the Menominee Nation’s tribal college linked sustainability and traditional knowledge; how the president of Furman University convinced a conservative campus community to make sustainability a strategic priority; how students at San Diego State University built sustainability into future governance while financing a LEED platinum-certified student center; and how sustainability transformed pedagogy in a lecture class at Penn State. As this book makes clear, there are many paths to sustainability in higher education. These stories offer a snapshot of what has been accomplished and a roadmap to what is possible.

Colleges and Universities covered include
Arizona State University • Central College, Iowa • College of the Menominee Nation, Wisconsin • Curriculum for the Bio-region Project, Pacific Northwest • Drury University, Missouri • Emory University, Georgia • Florida A&M University • Furman University, South Carolina • Green Mountain College, Vermont • Kap’olani Community College, Honolulu, Hawaii • Pennsylvania State University •
San Diego State University • Santa Clara University, California • Slippery Rock State University, Pennsylvania •
Spelman College, Georgia • Unity College, Maine • University of Hawaii–Manoa • University of Michigan • University of South Carolina • University of South Florida • University of Wisconsin–Oshkosh • Warren Wilson College, North Carolina • Yale University

In Giving Kids a Fair Chance, Nobel Prize-winning economist James Heckman argues that the accident of birth is the greatest source of inequality in America today. Children born into disadvantage are, by the time they start kindergarten, already at risk of dropping out of school, teen pregnancy, crime, and a lifetime of low-wage work. This is bad for all those born into disadvantage and bad for American society.

Current social and education policies directed toward children focus on improving cognition, yet success in life requires more than smarts. Heckman calls for a refocus of social policy toward early childhood interventions designed to enhance both cognitive abilities and such non-cognitive skills as confidence and perseverance. This new focus on preschool intervention would emphasize improving the early environments of disadvantaged children and increasing the quality of parenting while respecting the primacy of the family and America’s cultural diversity.

Heckman shows that acting early has much greater positive economic and social impact than later interventions—which range from reduced pupil-teacher ratios to adult literacy programs to expenditures on police—that draw the most attention in the public policy debate. At a time when state and local budgets for early interventions are being cut, Heckman issues an urgent call for action and offers some practical steps for how to design and pay for new programs.

The debate that follows delves deeply into some of the most fraught questions of our time: the sources of inequality, the role of schools in solving social problems, and how to invest public resources most effectively. Mike Rose, Geoffrey Canada, Charles Murray, Carol Dweck, Annette Lareau, and other prominent experts participate.

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. They argue that using well-designed games as vehicles to assess and support learning will help combat students’ growing disengagement from school, provide dynamic and ongoing measures of learning processes and outcomes, and offer students opportunities to apply such complex competencies as creativity, problem solving, persistence, and collaboration. Embedding assessments within games provides a way to monitor players’ progress toward targeted competencies and to use that information to support learning.

Shute and Ventura discuss problems with such traditional assessment methods as multiple-choice questions, review evidence relating to digital games and learning, and illustrate the stealth-assessment approach with a set of assessments they are developing and embedding in the digital game Newton’s Playground. These stealth assessments are intended to measure levels of creativity, persistence, and conceptual understanding of Newtonian physics during game play. Finally, they consider future research directions related to stealth assessment in education.

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. Arguing that the curriculum is always both forward- and rearward-looking, Williamson considers how each of these innovations represents a certain way of understanding the past while also promoting a particular vision of the future.

The curriculum initiatives are all examples of what Williamson calls “centrifugal schooling,” expressing a vision of education and learning that is decentered, distributed, and dispersed, emphasizing networks and connections. In centrifugal schooling, a curriculum is actively assembled and improvised from a heterogeneous mix of people, groups, coalitions, and institutional structures. Participants in curriculum design and planning include local governments, corporations, foundations, charities, and nongovernmental organizations.

Among the curriculum innovations Williamson examines are High Tech High, a charter school network in San Diego that integrates technical and academic education; Opening Minds, a “competence-based” curriculum used in 200 British secondary schools; and Quest to Learn, a “school for digital kids” in New York City (with a sister school in Chicago). He also describes two major partnerships: the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, which advocates for “21st century readiness” for American students; and the Whole Education Alliance in Britain, a network of “third sector” educational organizations.

The Fate of American Colleges and Universities

The vast majority of American college students attend two thousand or so private and public institutions that might be described as the Middle--reputable educational institutions, but not considered equal to the elite and entrenched upper echelon of the Ivy League and other prestigious schools. Richard DeMillo has a warning for these colleges and universities in the Middle: If you do not change, you are heading for irrelevance and marginalization. In Abelard to Apple, DeMillo argues that these institutions, clinging precariously to a centuries-old model of higher education, are ignoring the social, historical, and economic forces at work in today’s world. In the age of iTunes, open source software, and for-profit online universities, there are new rules for higher education.

DeMillo, who has spent years in both academia andin industry, explains how higher education arrived at its current parlous state and offers a road map for the twenty-first century. He describes the evolving model for higher education, from European universities based on a medieval model to American land-grant colleges to Apple’s iTunes U and MIT’s OpenCourseWare. He offers ten rules to help colleges reinvent themselves (including “Don’t romanticize your weaknesses”) and argues for a focus on teaching undergraduates.

DeMillo’s message--for colleges and universities, students, alumni, parents, employers, and politicians--is that any college or university can change course if it defines a compelling value proposition (one not based in “institutional envy” of Harvard and Berkeley) and imagines an institution that delivers it.

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 technologies, they suggest, make this possible; interactive assessments can evaluate students in a context of choosing whether, what, how, and when to learn.

Schwartz and Arena view choice not as an instructional ingredient to improve learning but as the outcome of learning. Because assessments shape public perception about what is useful and valued in education, choice-based assessments would provide a powerful lever in this reorientation in how people think about learning.
Schwartz and Arena consider both theoretical and practical matters. They provide an anchoring example of a computerized, choice-based assessment, argue that knowledge-based assessments are a mismatch for our educational aims, offer concrete examples of choice-based assessments that reveal what knowledge-based assessments cannot, and analyze the practice of designing assessments. Because high variability leads to innovation, they suggest democratizing assessment design to generate as many instances as possible. Finally, they consider the most difficult aspect of assessment: fairness. Choice-based assessments, they argue, shed helpful light on fairness considerations.

Kids Living and Learning with New Media

Conventional wisdom about young people’s use of digital technology often equates generational identity with technology identity: today’s teens seem constantly plugged in to video games, social networking sites, and text messaging. Yet there is little actual research that investigates the intricate dynamics of youths’ social and recreational use of digital media. Hanging Out, Messing Around, and Geeking Out fills this gap, reporting on an ambitious three-year ethnographic investigation into how young people are living and learning with new media in varied settings—at home, in after-school programs, and in online spaces.

Integrating twenty-three case studies—which include Harry Potter podcasting, video-game playing, music sharing, and online romantic breakups—in a unique collaborative authorship style, Hanging Out, Messing Around, and Geeking Out is distinctive for its combination of in-depth description of specific group dynamics with conceptual analysis.

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.

Sefton-Green focuses on those organizations and institutions that have developed parallel to public schooling and have emerged as complements, supplements, or attempts to remediate the alleged failures of schools. He reviews salient principles, landmark studies, and theoretical approaches to learning in not-school environments, reporting on the latest scholarship in the field. He examines studies of creative media production and considers ideas of “learning-to learn”-that relate to analyses of language and technology. And he considers other forms of in-formal learning--in the home and in leisure activities--in terms of not-school experiences. Where possible, he compares the findings of US-based studies with those of non-US-based studies, highlighting core conceptual issues and identifying what we often take for granted.

Many not-school organizations and institutions set out to be different from schools, embodying different conceptions of community and educational values. Sefton-Green’s careful consideration of these learning environments in pedagogical terms offers a crucial way to understand how they work.

NBC News, Educational Innovation, and Learning from Failure

In 2006, young people were flocking to MySpace, discovering the joys of watching videos of cute animals on YouTube, and playing online games. Not many of them were watching network news on television; they got most of their information online. So when NBC and MIT launched iCue, an interactive learning venture that combined social networking, online video, and gaming in one multimedia educational site, it was perfectly in tune with the times. iCue was a surefire way for NBC to reach younger viewers and for MIT to test innovative educational methods in the real world. But iCue was a failure: it never developed an audience and was canceled as if it were a sitcom with bad ratings. In The More We Know, Eric Klopfer and Jason Haas, both part of the MIT development team, describe the rise and fall of iCue and what it can teach us about new media, old media, education, and the challenges of innovating in educational media.

Klopfer and Haas show that iCue was hampered by, among other things, an educational establishment focused on “teaching to the test,” television producers uncomfortable with participatory media, and confusion about the market. But this is not just a cautionary tale; sometimes more can be learned from an interesting failure than a string of successes. Today’s educational technology visionaries (iPads for everyone!) might keep this lesson in mind.

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