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Digital Media and Learning

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Young People, the Internet, and Civic Participation

There has been widespread concern in contemporary Western societies about declining engagement in civic life; people are less inclined to vote, to join political parties, to campaign for social causes, or to trust political processes. Young people in particular are frequently described as alienated or apathetic. Some have looked optimistically to new media—and particularly the Internet—as a means of revitalizing civic life and democracy. Governments, political parties, charities, NGOs, activists, religious and ethnic groups, and grassroots organizations have created a range of youth-oriented websites that encourage widely divergent forms of civic engagement and use varying degrees of interactivity. But are young people really apathetic and lacking in motivation? Does the Internet have the power to re-engage those disenchanted with politics and civic life?

Based on a major research project funded by the European Commission, this book attempts to understand the role of the Internet in promoting young people’s participation. Examples are drawn from Hungary, the Netherlands, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Turkey, and the United Kingdom—countries offering contrasting political systems and cultural contexts. The book also addresses broader questions about the meaning of civic engagement, the nature of new forms of participation, and their implications for the future of civic life.

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 Cultural History of Children's Software

Today, computers are part of kids’ everyday lives, used both for play and for learning. We envy children’s natural affinity for computers, the ease with which they click in and out of digital worlds. Thirty years ago, however, the computer belonged almost exclusively to business, the military, and academia. In Engineering Play, Mizuko Ito describes the transformation of the computer from a tool associated with adults and work to one linked to children, learning, and play. Ito gives an account of a pivotal period in the 1980s and 1990s, which saw the rise of a new category of consumer software designed specifically for elementary school–aged children. “Edutainment” software sought to blend various educational philosophies with interactive gaming and entertainment, and included such titles as Number Munchers, Oregon Trail, KidPix, and Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego?.

The children’s software boom (and the bust that followed), says Ito, can be seen as a microcosm of the negotiations surrounding new technology, children, and education. The story she tells is both a testimonial to the transformative power of innovation and a cautionary tale about its limitations.

Research and Design of Mobile Educational Games

New technology has brought with it new tools for learning, and research has shown that the educational potential of video games resonates with scholars, teachers, and students alike. In Augmented Learning, Eric Klopfer describes the largely untapped potential of mobile learning games--games played on such handheld devices as cell phones, Game Boys, and Sony PSPs--to make a substantial impact on learning. Examining mobile games from both educational and gaming perspectives, Klopfer argues that the strengths of the mobile platform--its portability, context sensitivity, connectivity, and ubiquity--make it ideal for learning games in elementary, secondary, university, and lifelong education. Klopfer begins by exploring the past and present of education, educational technology, “edutainment,” and mobile games, and then offers a series of case studies of mobile educational games that have been developed and implemented in recent years. These games--either participatory (which require interaction with other players) or augmented reality (which augment the real world with virtual information)--can be produced at lower cost than PC or full-size console games. They use social dynamics and real-world context to enhance game play, they can be integrated into the natural flow of instruction more easily than their big-screen counterparts, and they can create compelling educational and engaging environments for learners. They are especially well-suited for helping learners at every level develop twenty-first century skills--including the ability to tackle complex problems and acquire information in “just-in-time” fashion. All of this, Klopfer argues, puts mobile learning games in a unique and powerful position within educational technology. Eric Klopfer is Associate Professor of Education at MIT, Director of MIT’s Scheller Teacher Education Program (TEP), with a joint appointment at the MIT Media Lab. [title from author 7/25/07]

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. It investigates how these three varieties of youth-serving organizations have incorporated technological infrastructure and digital practices into their programs; what types of participation and learning digital practices support; and how research in digital media and learning can contribute to better integration of technology within and across these organizations. The authors review a range of programs (including the long-running Computer Clubhouse movement, established in 1993 in partnership with MIT’s Media Lab), and then use the idea of “media ecologies” to investigate the role that digital media play (or could play) in these “intermediary spaces for learning.” They call for less anecdotal, more empirical and methodologically sound studies to help us understand the affordances of digital media for learning within and across these programs; for research focused on the relationship between digital media and the effectiveness of youth-serving organizations; and for further study of schools within childhood media ecologies.

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. Content is not treated as dry information but as a living resource; students are encouraged to interact with the larger world in ways that feel relevant, exciting, and empowering. Quest to Learn opened in the fall of 2009 with 76 sixth graders. In their first semester, these students learned—among other things—to convert fractions into decimals in order to break a piece of code found in a library book; to use atlases and read maps to create a location guide for a reality television series; and to create video tutorials for a hapless group of fictional inventors. This research and development document outlines the learning framework for the school, making the original design available to others in the field. Elements in development include a detailed curriculum map, a budget, and samples of student and teacher handbooks.

The Collective Advancement of Education through Open Technology, Open Content, and Open Knowledge

Given the abundance of open education initiatives that aim to make educational assets freely available online, the time seems ripe to explore the potential of open education to transform the economics and ecology of education. Despite the diversity of tools and resources already available—from well-packaged course materials to simple games, for students, self-learners, faculty, and educational institutions—we have yet to take full advantage of shared knowledge about how these are being used, what local innovations are emerging, and how to learn from and build on the experiences of others. Opening Up Education argues that we must develop not only the technical capability but also the intellectual capacity for transforming tacit pedagogical knowledge into commonly usable and visible knowledge: by providing incentives for faculty to use (and contribute to) open education goods, and by looking beyond institutional boundaries to connect a variety of settings and open source entrepreneurs.

These essays by leaders in open education describe successes, challenges, and opportunities they have found in a range of open education initiatives. They approach—from both macro and micro perspectives—the central question of how open education tools, resources, and knowledge can improve the quality of education. The contributors (from leading foundations, academic institutions, associations, and projects) discuss the strategic underpinnings of their efforts first in terms of technology, then content, and finally knowledge. They also address the impact of their projects, and how close they come to achieving a vision of sustainable, transformative educational opportunities that amounts to much more than pervasive technology.

Contributors: Richard Baraniuk, Randy Bass, Trent Batson, Dan Bernstein, John Seely Brown, Barbara Cambridge, Tom Carey, Catherine Casserly, James Dalziel, Bernadine Chuck Fong, Richard Gale, Gerard Hanley, Diane Harley, Mary Huber, Pat Hutchings, Toru Iiyoshi, David Kahle, M. S. Vijay Kumar, Andy Lane, Diana Laurillard, Stuart Lee, Steve Lerman, Marilyn Lombardi, Phil Long, Clifford Lynch, Christopher Mackie, Anne Margulies, Owen McGrath, Flora McMartin, Shigeru Miyagawa, Diana Oblinger, Neeru Paharia, Cheryl Richardson, Marshall Smith, Candace Thille, Edward Walker, and David Wiley

Through the support of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, an electronic version of this book is openly available under a Creative Commons license on The MIT Press website.

Designs for Everyday Learning

The perpetual connectivity made possible by twenty-first-century technology has profoundly affected instruction and learning. Emerging technologies that upend traditional notions of communication and community also influence the ways we design and evaluate instruction and how we understand learning and learning environments. In Instruction and Technology, Brad Mehlenbacher offers a detailed, multidisciplinary analysis of the dynamic relationship between technology and learning. Mehlenbacher describes how today’s ubiquitous technology conflates our once separated learning worlds--work, leisure, and higher educational spaces. He reviews the ongoing cross-disciplinary conversation about learning with technology and distance education and examines a dozen models of instruction and learning with technology drawn from peer-reviewed research. Taking an integrative perspective toward design, Mehlenbacher offers a framework for everyday instructional situations, describing five interdependent dimensions: learner background and knowledge, learner tasks and activities, social dynamics, instructor activities, and learning environment and artifacts. The technologies that distribute today’s classroom across time and space call for a new discussion about what we value in the traditional classroom. [Rather than simply offering recipes for creating online instruction,] with Instruction and Technology Mehlenbacher lays the groundwork for the long-term multidisciplinary investigation that will be required as researchers and practitioners shape and extend the boundaries of this emerging field.

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. This Web-based survey of 2,747 children, ages 11 to 18 (and their parents), confirms children’s heavy reliance on the Internet. They are concerned about the credibility of online information, but 89 percent believe that “some” to “a lot” of it is believable; and, choosing among several options, they rate the Internet as the most believable information source for entertainment, commercial products, and schoolwork (more credible than books for papers or projects). Most have more faith information found on Wikipedia more than they say others should; and they consider an article on the Web site of Encyclopedia Britannica more believable than the identical article found on Wikipedia. Other findings show that children are appropriately skeptical of trusting strangers they meet online, but not skeptical enough about entertainment and health information found online. Older kids are more rigorous in their assessment of online information than younger ones; younger children are less analytical and more likely to be fooled.

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. In this MacArthur Foundation Report, David Booth examines the Mozilla Foundation’s success at organizing large-scale participation in the development of its software and considers whether Mozilla’s approach can be transferred to government and civil society. Booth finds parallels between Mozilla’s collaboration with Firefox users and the Obama administration’s philosophy of participatory governance (which itself amplifies the much older Jeffersonian ideal of democratic participation). Mozilla’s success at engendering part-time, volunteer participation that produces real marketplace innovation suggests strategies for organizing civic participation in communities and government. Mozilla’s model could not only show us how to encourage the technical community to participate in civic life but also teach us something about how to create successful political democracy.

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