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Fast times at online high

by Elena on Nov 11th, 2009

In researching stories about the effects of the recession on higher education, earlier this year, we looked into the spread of college courses taught online. Because students can take online courses from home, they are often cheaper. According to a new study from the Department of Education, they might also be better.

onlinelearningThe study, an “Evaluation of Evidence-Based Practices in Online Learning”, includes research from 1996 to 2008, and focuses mostly on online courses for adults in continuing education programs. For years, continuing education has been where the bulk of online learning has happened. According to the New York Times:

Until fairly recently, online education amounted to little more than electronic versions of the old-line correspondence courses. That has really changed with arrival of Web-based video, instant messaging and collaboration tools.

In other words, online learning has been and will continue to be transformed by its ability to bring people together. The Times quotes Philip Regier, the dean of Arizona State’s Online and Extended Campus program:

“People are correct when they say online education will take things out of the classroom. But they are wrong, I think, when they assume it will make learning an independent, personal activity. Learning has to occur in a community.”

Last week, John Merrow wrote about the potential uses of technology in the classroom, and the resistance to innovation that exists in some public school communities. If online learning can truly “take things out of the classroom,” though, one wonders whether it will be possible to integrate an online classroom with its real-life counterpart. And how will these new learning communities affect the kind of “hands-on” (for lack of a better term) learning that traditional school fosters? Play, classroom discussion, and verbal communication all seem to be at stake.

Study Finds That Online Education Beats the Classroom [NY Times, 8/19/09]

Technology in Schools: Problems & Possibilities [Taking Note, 11/3/09]

categories: Ed Beat, blog~technology


New Media Literacy: An interview with Hillary Kolos

by Elena on Nov 10th, 2009

kolos-thumb-100x100Last week, when John Merrow’s post on technology in schools generated a long discussion in its comments section, we learned just how important this issue is to educators and students.  This week we spoke with Hillary Kolos, who worked with Learning Matters from 2002-2005, and is now a graduate student in MIT’s Comparative Media Studies program.  She’s a research assistant for a project we’ve mentioned here before–Project New Media Literacies–which is attempting to explore what media literacy means in the 21st Century, and how students–and their schools–can learn to do it well.

Where and who did the idea for this project come from?

Project New Media Literacies
was started by Henry Jenkins while he was co-director of the Comparative Media Studies (CMS) program at MIT, and is now housed at USC.  The research grew out of Jenkins’ previous work on fan practices and participatory culture in his books Textual Poachers and Convergence Culture. His use of the phrase “participatory culture” is meant to describe the shift from viewing media audiences as passive spectators to active participants who are part of a community where the line between media consumer and producer is blurred.   Participatory culture didn’t start with Web 2.0, but we are finding a lot more communities embrace participatory practices because of the networked nature of the web and the ability to quickly and easily translate media and communicate with others online.

In 2006, Jenkins and his team at the time published a white paper called Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century.  This paper was the reason why I decided to apply to the CMS program at MIT because it so fundamentally changed my view of the relationship between technology and education. I had been teaching video for a couple years in day and after school programs in NYC public schools, and I was finding myself frustrated by my students’ obsession with social networks and video games.  I came across the whitepaper and realized that they were “obsessed” because these new media both engaged them and allowed them to be a part of a community inside and outside of the school walls that was relevant to their lives.
social media
What are the New Media Literacies?  What are a few of your favorites, and why?

The New Media Literacies are a set of social skills and cultural competencies that we believe are necessary for students to participate fully in society - this includes being a good student, a successful worker, and an engaged citizen.  The whitepaper, which you can access here, explains the conditions that are necessary for a participatory culture to exist.  It also outlines three major challenges we must deal with moving forward.  First, while we are making strides in the digital divide by putting computers and broadband in most schools, we are now facing a participation gap, which is “the unequal access to the opportunities, experiences, skills, and knowledge that will prepare youth for full participation in the world of tomorrow.”  Second, there is a transparency problem, which means that young people are unable to see the ways that media is shaping their perceptions of the world.  And third, there is an ethics challenge, stemming from “the breakdown of traditional forms of professional training and socialization that might prepare young people for their increasingly public roles as media makers and community participants.”

With these three challenges in mind, Jenkins and NML created a list of 11 (now 12) social skills and cultural competencies that broaden the idea of what it means to be literate today.  (Read the full list here.)

We all go back and forth about which skill we think is most important because they so often overlap and interconnect, it’s hard to just choose one.  That being said since I’m currently doing research around using digital games in education, I am a little partial to the benefits of play.

Tell me a little about what the project “does” and why you think it is important.

I’ll answer the second part of your question first.  Academics get some flack for never leaving the university and thinking up new ideas, but NML makes sure it grounds its research in practice.  We learn a lot developing our resources, but we probably learn even more when we take them into educational settings and see how teachers and students use them.

Over my past year at NML we’ve been very busy.  Since the publication of the whitepaper, NML has created several resources that are putting the new media literacies into action.  NML developed a web-based activity center called the Learning Library, that introduces users to skills through what we call challenges.  These challenges are interactive multimedia lessons that pull in elements from the web, such as videos, images, or audio.  The Learning Library is a tool that encourages educators and students to participate in learning, allowing both to create, remix, or share a challenge.  You can check it out here, and see some of the challenges the NML team created or even make your own challenge, if you like.

NML, working under the idea that media literacy should be incorporated across the curriculum, has also been working on Teacher Strategy Guides for use in formal education.  The first one, Reading in a Participatory Culture, was piloted in several schools last year.  It is a modular curriculum that  consists of four units, each of which focuses on a handful of skills.  While the idea was that the guide could be used with many different texts, our example uses as source texts, Moby-Dick and a contemporary theater adaptation by Ricardo Pitts-Wiley called Moby-Dick: Then and Now.  As Jenkins often says, we wanted to “be conservative in content, and transformative in method.”

Our website has more information about these resources, and others like our Digital Ethics Casebook collaboration with Howard Gardner’s GoodPlay project.  We also presented much of our research in Threshold magazine’s spring ‘09 issue which you can find here.

I’m interested in the fact that appropriation is one of the literacies–this one seems particularly specific to internet culture and is something that all internet journalists grapple with all the time.  How do we learn to successfully “sample and remix” content generated by others?

We’ve found that appropriation is a particularly complex skill when it comes to schools.  Teachers are concerned with the apparent ease of plagiarism and confusions around copyright and fair use.   We tend to talk about appropriation in terms of remix culture because most young people are more familiar with it.  In the Teachers’ Strategy Guide, we even talk about Herman Melville as a remixer because of the way he incorporated elements from many sources, including the Bible and scientific texts, with a classic story of revenge in his novel Moby-Dick.  With remixes we don’t just mean a creative work that borrows pieces from others, but a creative work that builds on and transforms the meaning of the original source or sources.  We see in the process of making remixes a way for students to think about media critically, become an author, and understand their audience.

That being said we understand educators and students want to know more about their rights around copyright and fair use.  NML made several required challenges in the Learning Library that explore real-world situations and provoke discussion around the state of copyright and how our use of new media is challenging it.

On John Merrow’s blog and in general at Learning Matters, we’ve been thinking a lot about access to technology in schools and whether traditional public schools, especially, will be resistant to the flow of technology into the classroom.  What do you think?  What–if anything–has your work with NML shown you about the disparities in access across lines of race, class, etc?

As I mentioned above, NML is very concerned with the participation gap.  Many schools today have computers and broadband internet access, but these are not useful to teachers or students if they don’t know how to use them as full participants. A growing trend seems to be that schools ban access to YouTube and social networks because they are distractions or liabilities, but these are also resources that students will need to learn how to navigate and use once they are out of school.  Students with access to these resources at home usually have ample time to become proficient in using them.  Students who are not able to engage with new media resources at school or only for a limited amount of time could be less likely to develop the skills, knowledge, opportunities and experiences that are required for students to fully participate in our increasingly digital society.

Do you think you are new media literate?

I am lucky that I was able to learn video production in high school, go to film school, work in documentaries at LMI, and now study media at MIT.   After all that, though, with the pace of technology innovation increasing, I still find it hard to keep up with the latest gadget, app, or social network.  Above any technical skills I’ve acquired though, I think I most value the skills I’ve learned that help me navigate across a range of media, evaluate and synthesize the information I find, and express my point of view in a variety of ways.


Media Monday: The Future of Learning

by Learning Matters on Oct 26th, 2009

The average student spends two million minutes in high school. What do they do with all that time? How do they spend it?

Bob Compton, a venture capitalist and entrepreneur, set out to find the answers in his documentary film, 2 Million Minutes.  The film takes a look at how six high school students from three different countries–U.S., China and India–spend their high school years.

The film argues that America is losing its competitive educational edge and therefore is at risk of losing its global and economic power, too. The idea that America is the center of innovation has increasingly been questioned and with the global economy in such flux, the rules of the game seem to be changing daily.

As Shirley Ann Jackson, Physicist and President of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, succinctly states in the film, “Brains are everywhere. Discoveries can be made everywhere. And industries built on those discoveries also can be made anywhere.”

The film’s focus seems to be on creating a student population that will help secure a nation’s economic and global power. And while I understand that educated citizens are ideal, something seems to be missing from the analysis: the students’ needs and educators’ responsibility to fulfill them. How can the U.S. engage and invigorate students’ capacity to learn in ways that will encourage a lifelong commitment to curiosity and learning? Wouldn’t it be great if all students were hungry for knowledge, building tools that would improve our lives and world, creating smart and thoughtful policy and more?

The central question of 2 Million Minutes is, “How will these students spend their 2 million minutes in high school?” Maybe a more appropriate question would be “How can educators make sure those two million minutes are worthwhile?”

On Ed Beat and beyond, there’s been a ton of conversation around digital learning, using technology more effectively in schools and increasing access to technology globally. There are emerging projects that aim to empower youth-directed learning by valuing non-traditional learning–learning that happens socially but is valuable for students and their prospective employers. I am thinking specifically of Barry Joseph’s write-up of a project his organization, Global Kids, is currently working on.

He, Bob Compton and dozens of other education innovators will gather tomorrow and Wednesday at Google Headquarters for a conference called “Breakthrough Learning in a Digital Age.” The forum is a mixture of panels (some moderated by our very own John Merrow!), exhibits and discussions meant to “help refresh and reboot American global leadership in education.” You can tune in via webcast here or stay tuned for a report back from us.

In the meantime, watch the 2 Million Minutes trailer and share your thoughts in the comments.

2 Million Minutes [Official website]

Barry Joseph on “Using Alternative Assessment Models to Empower Youth-directed Learning” [10/23/09]

Breakthrough Learning in a Digital Age [Official website with agenda, speakers, and more]

Podcast: Bob Compton has education advice for the next president [LMtv, 9/16/08]


Friday Fun: Youth Speak & Arts Education

by Learning Matters on Oct 9th, 2009

We’re off for a long weekend (Happy Columbus Day, everyone!), but we wanted to leave with some ideas that could get you thinking (they did for us).  It’s all about activism, art, and fun.  Enjoy!

Young people often have the enthusiasm and creativity that can help solve big problems, but they’re often left out of the decision-making process. Youth from the Bronx and Brooklyn aren’t accepting that as reality and have begun confronting neighborhood planning challenges head on. Listen to them talk about what they’re doing to make change in their neighborhoods–there’s no way you’ll leave feeling uninspired.
[When Young People Talk ... People Listen]

Arts education has long been underfunded, and money for the arts doesn’t seem to be flooding in anytime soon. Which begs the question: how can schools be more resourceful about teaching arts? Last month we talked with Jenny Hartman, a musician who goes to classes and leads singalongs based on books. It’s a way to jumpstart creativity as well as teach reading. We recently found out about an online resource that could just be a way to teach kids about music:  The Virtual Piano. You can learn about notes, keys, sounds, or brush up on your skills all while sitting at your computer. It would be a great tool in any classroom (and it’s free!). [The Virtual Piano]

A great PSA for arts education (it’s an oldie but a goodie):


The Children of the Future: Literate and Edible

by Elena on Oct 8th, 2009

edible-schoolyard-1Learning Matters has had the 21st-century classroom on the brain this week. In his weekly blog post, John Merrow shared his thoughts on the importance of access to technology in education, and his choice of topic stirred up a good deal of discussion, as you’ll see if you check out the readers’ comments. As Merrow points out, the question of how we produce technologically literate students–who’ll become technologically literate adult citizens–is “not just a matter of who has broadband and who doesn’t.” President Obama and his education staff have been enthusiastic about adopting “globally benchmarked” national standards of learning. But how can we keep standards and curricula fresh and relevant in this era of new media and changing technological landscapes?

According to Project New Media Literacies, a research initiative run through MIT’s Comparative Media Studies program, there is a lot more to technological literacy than learning how to best use Internet search engines or setting up RSS feeds. On their website, you can watch a short clip featuring a few of their young researchers talking about the project’s mission: to figure out “how to interact with information, with culture…with just…the pace of life, which is very different than it was twenty years ago.” Their research has produced a list of twelve skills, or “literacies,” for the what they call our newly “participatory” culture, where everyone is both a consumer and producer of media, on a daily basis. Far from being just a bastion of ideas, Project New Media Literacies produces teacher strategy guides to help ease their work into the classroom.

Of course, as we develop our ability to interact with virtual spaces and vast electronic networks, some of our basic survival skills are bound to drop off. The Edible Schoolyard Project has been around since 1995 in the home of all things Alice Waters—Berkeley, CA–but this week marks the launch of its Brooklyn affiliate’s new website, which is well worth a look. At P.S. 216 in Gravesend, Brooklyn, the Edible Schoolyard Project will coach kids in agricultural skills they would otherwise have little access to. Students–whose neighborhood has “the lowest percentage of green, open space in Brooklyn”–will cultivate a quarter-acre organic farm and a four-season greenhouse, on their school grounds. Particularly for urban kids without the means to leave their cities, nutritional and agricultural literacy are crucial.

Stay tuned for more on both of these projects on Ed Beat in the coming weeks.

Project New Media Literacies
Edible Schoolyard New York
“Geography is Destiny” [Learning Matters, 10/6/09]

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