I am sitting here watching John Mayer and his "Waiting on the World to Change" during the Live Earth broadcast...and reading online. Seems quite serendipitous and "fitting" to stumble upon something change-oriented with some traction to it! Somewhere in the past year I lost track of this foundation that was doing some inspiring work in the area of digital learning: The MacArthur Foundation. In 2006, this Chicago-based foundation announced:
...a five-year, $50 million digital media and learning initiative to help determine how digital technologies are changing the way young people learn, play, socialize, and participate in civic life. Answers are critical to developing educational and other social institutions that can meet the needs of this and future generations. The initiative is both marshaling what is already known about the field and seeding innovation for continued growth.
A cursory review of their initiative's web site, Building the Field of Digital Media and Learning, is inspiring because "they get it" and they are using their resources to research, blog, fund a after-school project in Chicago (for example), study and participate in Second Life, and build their own social network focused on knowledge-sharing.
The foundation president, Jonathan Fanton, wrote an op-ed piece in advance of the National Media Education Conference in St. Louis last month. Titled New Generations, New Media Challenges Fanton says the central issue we call "digital divide" isn't any longer access to technology. Rather, he writes:
The real gap between tomorrow's digital haves and have-nots will be a lag in competence and confidence in the fast-paced variegated digital universe building and breeding outside schoolhouse walls...Henry Jenkins, director of the media studies program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, calls this a new "participatory culture," one that presents low barriers to artistic expression and social engagement that suggests that a richer environment for learning may lie outside the classroom. ...Online and after school, youths in this new participatory culture are assimilating new languages and rules, vast troves of research and perspectives on the nature of order and community that vault across traditional boundaries of race or creed or culture.
And, what does this mean for education? He closes the piece with a "call":
The downside may be that in the sunset of the old information culture, we are not understanding this new media literacy soon enough. Those who have no opportunity or desire to be part of these revolutionary digital communities may be deprived of vital virtual skills that would prepare them for full participation in the real world of tomorrow.
In this new media age, the ability to negotiate and evaluate information online, to recognize manipulation and propaganda and to assimilate ethical values is becoming as basic to education as reading and writing. The children who truly will be left behind in the evolving digital culture are those who fail to bridge this participation gap.
Our challenge is to develop these educational forces, opening up our classrooms to the learning in which children now engage largely outside of school. In the end, we may find that the best way to institutionalize and encourage this new media literacy is to understand and harness what our young digital culture seems to be doing pretty well on its own.
Although I believe we have short-term access issues, I agree that the central issue is about participation and "opening up the classroom".