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Digital Media and Learning

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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. This report charts the state of the art for learning assessment in informal settings, offering an extensive review of the literature, expert discussion on key topics, a suggested model for comprehensive assessment, and recommendations for good assessment practices.

Drawing on analysis of the literature and expert opinion, the proposed model, the Outcomes-by-Levels Model for Documentation and Assessment, identifies at least ten types of valued outcomes, to be assessed in terms of learning at the project, group, and individual levels. The cases described in the literature under review, which range from promoting girls’ identification with STEM practices to providing online resources for learning programming and networking, illustrate the usefulness of the assessment model.

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. Suhr explores online music communities’ use of digital badges as a reward for both casual music evaluators and musicians.

Suhr examines the intersection of evaluation and gamification in Spotify’s “Hit or Not” game, in which players assess a song’s hit potential and receive digital badges as rewards, and considers the implications of turning music evaluation into a game. She then explores in detail the development of peer and professional critics on Indaba Music, a cloud-based collaboration platform where musicians earn badges through participating in contests. Suhr considers the emerging challenges and shortcomings of contest-based virtual communities and the value of badges, as perceived by Indaba musicians. She investigates to what extent digital badges can effectively represent and credit musicians’ accomplishments and merits; describes the challenges, benefits, and shortcomings of digital badges as an evaluation mechanism; and compares the use of digital badges in assessing creativity to their use in learning and credentialing institutions.

Music Videos and Creative Literacy

Music videos were once something broadcast by MTV and received on our TV screens. Today, music videos are searched for, downloaded, and viewed on our computer screens—or produced in our living rooms and uploaded to social media. In We Used to Wait, Rebecca Kinskey examines this shift. She investigates music video as a form, originally a product created by professionals to be consumed by nonprofessionals; as a practice, increasingly taken up by amateurs; and as a literacy, to be experimented with and mastered.

Kinskey offers a short history of the music video as a communicative, cultural form, describing the rise and fall of MTV’s Total Request Live and the music video’s resurgence on YouTube. She examines recent shifts in viewing and production practice, tracing the trajectory of music video director Hiro Murai from film student and dedicated amateur in the 1990s to music video professional in the 2000s. Investigating music video as a literacy, she looks at OMG! Cameras Everywhere, a nonprofit filmmaking summer camp run by a group of young music video directors. The OMG! campers and counselors provide a case study in how cultural producers across several generations have blurred the line between professional and amateur. Their everyday practices remake the notion of literacy, not only by their collaborative and often informal efforts to impart and achieve literacy but also by expanding the definition of what is considered a valuable activity, worthy of dedicated, pleasurable pursuit.

Youth, New Media, and the Ethics Gap

Fresh from a party, a teen posts a photo on Facebook of a friend drinking a beer. A college student repurposes an article from Wikipedia for a paper. A group of players in a multiplayer online game routinely cheat new players by selling them worthless virtual accessories for high prices. In Disconnected, Carrie James examines how young people and the adults in their lives think about these sorts of online dilemmas, describing ethical blind spots and disconnects.

Drawing on extensive interviews with young people between the ages of 10 and 25, James describes the nature of their thinking about privacy, property, and participation online. She identifies three ways that young people approach online activities. A teen might practice self-focused thinking, concerned mostly about consequences for herself; moral thinking, concerned about the consequences for people he knows; or ethical thinking, concerned about unknown individuals and larger communities. James finds, among other things, that youth are often blind to moral or ethical concerns about privacy; that attitudes toward property range from “what’s theirs is theirs” to “free for all”; that hostile speech can be met with a belief that online content is “just a joke”; and that adults who are consulted about such dilemmas often emphasize personal safety issues over online ethics and citizenship.

Considering ways to address the digital ethics gap, James offers a vision of conscientious connectivity, which involves ethical thinking skills but, perhaps more important, is marked by sensitivity to the dilemmas posed by online life, a motivation to wrestle with them, and a sense of moral agency that supports socially positive online actions.

The New York Times declared 2012 to be “The Year of the MOOC” as millions of students enrolled in massive open online courses (known as MOOCs), millions of investment dollars flowed to the companies making them, and the media declared MOOCs to be earth-shaking game-changers in higher education. During the inevitable backlash that followed, critics highlighted MOOCs’ high dropout rate, the low chance of earning back initial investments, and the potential for any earth-shaking game change to make things worse instead of better. In this volume in the Essential Knowledge series, Jonathan Haber offers an account of MOOCs that avoids both hype and doomsaying. Instead, he provides an engaging, straightforward explanation of a rare phenomenon: an education innovation that captures the imagination of the public while moving at the speed of an Internet startup.

Haber explains the origins of MOOCs, what they consist of, the controversies surrounding them, and their possible future role in education. He proposes a new definition of MOOCs based on the culture of experimentation from which they emerged, and adds a student perspective—missing in most MOOC discussion. Haber’s unique Degree of Freedom experiment, during which he attempted to learn the equivalent of a four-year liberal arts degree in one year using only MOOCs and other forms of free education, informs his discussion.

Haber urges us to avoid the fallacy of thinking that because MOOCs cannot solve all educational challenges they are not worth pursuing, and he helps us understand what MOOCs—despite their limitations—still offer the world. His book is required reading for anyone trying to sort out the competing claims, aspirations, and accusations that color the MOOC debate.

Cultivating Digital Media Citizenship in Urban Communities

The popular image of the “digital native”—usually depicted as a technically savvy and digitally empowered teen—is based on the assumption that all young people are equally equipped to become innovators and entrepreneurs. Yet young people in low-income communities often lack access to the learning opportunities, tools, and collaborators (at school and elsewhere) that help digital natives develop the necessary expertise. This book describes one approach to address this disparity: the Digital Youth Network (DYN), an ambitious project to help economically disadvantaged middle-school students in Chicago develop technical, creative, and analytical skills across a learning ecology that spans school, community, home, and online.

The book reports findings from a pioneering mixed-method three-year study of DYN and how it nurtured imaginative production, expertise with digital media tools, and the propensity to share these creative capacities with others. Through DYN, students, despite differing interests and identities—the gamer, the poet, the activist—were able to find some aspect of DYN that engaged them individually and connected them to one another. Finally, the authors offer generative suggestions for designers of similar informal learning spaces.

Gaining Ground in the Digital University

Behind the lectern stands the professor, deploying course management systems, online quizzes, wireless clickers, PowerPoint slides, podcasts, and plagiarism-detection software. In the seats are the students, armed with smartphones, laptops, tablets, music players, and social networking. Although these two forces seem poised to do battle with each other, they are really both taking part in a war on learning itself. In this book, Elizabeth Losh examines current efforts to “reform” higher education by applying technological solutions to problems in teaching and learning. She finds that many of these initiatives fail because they treat education as a product rather than a process. Highly touted schemes—video games for the classroom, for example, or the distribution of iPads—let students down because they promote consumption rather than intellectual development.

Losh analyzes recent trends in postsecondary education and the rhetoric around them, often drawing on first-person accounts. In an effort to identify educational technologies that might actually work, she looks at strategies including MOOCs (massive open online courses), the gamification of subject matter, remix pedagogy, video lectures (from Randy Pausch to “the Baked Professor”), and educational virtual worlds. Finally, Losh outlines six basic principles of digital learning and describes several successful university-based initiatives. Her book will be essential reading for campus decision makers—and for anyone who cares about education and technology.

Critical Making and Social Media
Edited by Matt Ratto and Megan Boler

Today, DIY—do-it-yourself—describes more than self-taught carpentry. Social media enables DIY citizens to organize and protest in new ways (as in Egypt’s “Twitter revolution” of 2011) and to repurpose corporate content (or create new user-generated content) in order to offer political counternarratives. This book examines the usefulness and limits of DIY citizenship, exploring the diverse forms of political participation and “critical making” that have emerged in recent years. The authors and artists in this collection describe DIY citizens whose activities range from activist fan blogging and video production to knitting and the creation of community gardens.

Contributors examine DIY activism, describing new modes of civic engagement that include Harry Potter fan activism and the activities of the Yes Men. They consider DIY making in learning, culture, hacking, and the arts, including do-it-yourself media production and collaborative documentary making. They discuss DIY and design and how citizens can unlock the black box of technological infrastructures to engage and innovate open and participatory critical making. And they explore DIY and media, describing activists’ efforts to remake and reimagine media and the public sphere. As these chapters make clear, DIY is characterized by its emphasis on “doing” and making rather than passive consumption. DIY citizens assume active roles as interventionists, makers, hackers, modders, and tinkerers, in pursuit of new forms of engaged and participatory democracy.

Contributors
Mike Ananny, Chris Atton, Alexandra Bal, Megan Boler, Catherine Burwell, Red Chidgey, Andrew Clement, Negin Dahya, Suzanne de Castell, Carl DiSalvo, Kevin Driscoll, Christina Dunbar-Hester, Joseph Ferenbok, Stephanie Fisher, Miki Foster, Stephen Gilbert, Henry Jenkins, Jennifer Jenson, Yasmin B. Kafai, Ann Light, Steve Mann, Joel McKim, Brenda McPhail, Owen McSwiney, Joshua McVeigh-Schultz, Graham Meikle, Emily Rose Michaud, Kate Milberry, Michael Murphy, Jason Nolan, Kate Orton-Johnson, Kylie A. Peppler, David J. Phillips, Karen Pollock, Matt Ratto, Ian Reilly, Rosa Reitsamer, Mandy Rose, Daniela K. Rosner, Yukari Seko, Karen Louise Smith, Lana Swartz, Alex Tichine, Jennette Weber, Elke Zobl

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.

Drawing on her scholarly research and on her work as a media producer and educator, Soep identifies five tactics that are part of effective, equitable participatory politics among young people: Pivot Your Public (mobilizing civic capacity within popular culture engagements); Create Content Worlds (using inventive and interactive storytelling that sparks sharing); Forage for Information in public data archives; Code Up (using computational thinking to design tools, platforms, and spaces for public good); and Hide and Seek (protecting privacy and information sources). After describing these tactics as they manifest themselves in a range of youth-driven activities—from the runaway spread of the video Kony 2012 to community hackathons—Soep discusses concrete ideas for cultivating the new literacies that will enable young people to participate in public life. She goes on to consider some risks associated with these participatory tactics, including simplification and sensationalism, and ways to avoid them, and concludes with implications for future research and practice.

An Approach to Imagination, Computation, and Expression

In Phantasmal Media, D. Fox Harrell considers the expressive power of computational media. He argues, forcefully and persuasively, that the great expressive potential of computational media comes from the ability to construct and reveal phantasms—blends of cultural ideas and sensory imagination. These ubiquitous and often-unseen phantasms—cognitive phenomena that include sense of self, metaphors, social categories, narrative, and poetic thinking—influence almost all our everyday experiences. Harrell offers an approach for understanding and designing computational systems that have the power to evoke these phantasms, paying special attention to the exposure of oppressive phantasms and the creation of empowering ones. He argues for the importance of cultural content, diverse worldviews, and social values in computing. The expressive power of phantasms is not purely aesthetic, he contends; phantasmal media can express and construct the types of meaning central to the human condition.

Harrell discusses, among other topics, the phantasm as an orienting perspective for developers; expressive epistemologies, or data structures based on subjective human worldviews; morphic semiotics (building on the computer scientist Joseph Goguen’s theory of algebraic semiotics); cultural phantasms that influence consensus and reveal other perspectives; computing systems based on cultural models; interaction and expression; and the ways that real-world information is mapped onto, and instantiated by, computational data structures.

The concept of phantasmal media, Harrell argues, offers new possibilities for using the computer to understand and improve the human condition through the human capacity to imagine.

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