The Keynote Speaker for Day 2 of the iPad Summit is Mimi Ito, Ph.D., a cultural anthropologist with the University of California at Irvine. Her focus is on the changing relationship of youth and new media. I have been following her work for some time, so it’s exciting to be able to see her speak in person! You can see a lot of her work published at Connected Learning.
Mimi argues that we’re at a tipping point in education: we are culturally ready for a student centered, engaged, and social form of learning that thrives in a digital world. We have an unprecedented readiness for this transition in the main stream community. In addition to observing students and children, Mimi is also the mother of two children. This gives her a unique perspective as both an outsider and invested insider.
Mimi starts out by discussing Minecraft, a hugely popular gaming platform. Minecraft has entered schools via various student initiatives. It has evolved in schools in interesting and innovative ways; promoting student self directed learning and exploration.
How can young people make the most of today’s abundance of information and social connection? – Mimi Ito
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The world outside of our classrooms has transformed and evolved, but our schools are taking some time to adapt to these changes. Our educational system evolved in an era of textbooks and chalk boards. Now we live in a world with stronger connections both inside and outside of traditional school learning.
While this vision of learning has been with us for a while, technology has enabled us to implement new methods of teaching learning (project based, student centered, and connected). While these changes may not be easy, we have those tools and opportunities to make changes in our schools and classrooms.
Mimi emphasizes the fact that children are readers. In fact, kids are more likely to read than adults! They aren’t just reading tweets, but longer content. Additionally, they are writers.
“Everyone can be a writer – technology isn’t killing our ability to write, it’s reviving it.” – Andrea Lundsford.
In fact, the writing rate has exploded and the quality of writing has not decreased! Students do know the difference between texting and writing academically.
Other things are changing drastically, especially in terms of media engagement. Additionally, may of them are “multi-tasking” their screen time. Games, additionally, is the entertainment form of the day across gender and age. This is how we engage with one another and entertain ourselves today. Additionally, children are always connected now with access to mobile phones (especially smart phones). Peer to peer communication dominates in the mobile arena.
So what happens when these media connected kids walk into a classroom? The world around the classroom has experienced a massive cultural shift that isn’t reflected in the classroom. This poses a number of unique challenges for educators and educational institutions. Mimi polls the room about our opinions of the role of connectedness in the classroom – most of us are cautiously optimistic!
The fact is that modern technologies have various effects depending on digital practices, the population, and individual dispositions of children. As teachers, it means that it is our job to shape their use and direction, and not allow them to solely evolve on their own. The Connected Learning network and model is her and her community’s research environment and explores how to move forward.
“The future is here, it’s just not evenly distributed.” – Mimi Ito
One of the first elements of Mimi’s and her group’s study is that parents and other adults view these activities as a distraction from learning – even if they see that these have value for themselves. So there is a gap that we need to mediate for in and out of school opportunities for learning. We have to deal with this in our every day practice in
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schools. Additionally, young people are learning a tremendous amount from their online participation and interaction. Some of this learning was friendship driven (Facebook and Text Messaging) and interest driven (what do you want to learn, what are your interests and hobbies). The platforms change (remember Live Journal and MySpace?) but the interactions and objectives are the same; gaining community and building expertise. So peer groups at school are not always the best place for students to build and foster their interests.
Online communities especially help students with outsider interests! One student, “Maria” (name changed), was a 17 year old student that was starting college. She was very interested in WWE (World Women’s Wrestling Entertaining). Her friends and family teased her, so she didn’t communicate this interest with them. However, she found an online community where she was about to write about her passion for more than four years and build her writing skills. She gained a strong online following and was able to expand her influence. Those skills also transferred over to the school newspaper and ultimately “Maria” pursued a career in technical writing. So the abilities that “Maria” developed in her fantasy community transferred over to the “real world” and ultimately her career. So while “fan fiction” may seem frivolous, the reality is that the skills built in this passion driven learning is transferable. This is the core of “connected learning,” using peer and community support that a student has and then linking/connecting that learning into the spaces of opportunity that build positive futures for children. This will ultimately serve students best in the world that we live in, a connected, fast paced environment. These are important underlying skills and dispositions to foster.
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However, in the real world, we need to recognize that these experiences are not the norm. They are reliant on teachers being forward thinking and helping students to navigate these lines. Additionally, we are living in a world with increasing economic inequity – which translates over to access to connected learning resources. You can view the changing enrichment expenditures and its impact on children via the research of Duncan and Murnane here. We are seeing a gap between the children of the wealthy and the poor in terms of access to out of school learning. In addition to hurting under privileged children academically, it also adds increased stress on privileged students who are now exceedingly pressured at all times to perform.
In addition to traditional media, we see greater access to open learning via tools like MOOCs and outlets such as Khan Academy. You can see Justin Reich’s critiques of some of these movements in his article, “We were Promised Jetpacks and we got Lectures.” It’s also important to note that people overestimate the short term impact and underestimate the long term impact. MOOCs have had a significant drop off because they were not immediately and measurably successful. However, we’ve just gotten started! We have yet to see the long term impact of these models.
Meet Learners Where They Area
We have an abundance of access to content. This means that we can legitimately meet young people where they are. We have the opportunity to truly diversify for our students. We are in an era where schools cannot financially support a myriad of options. The online world opens up these avenues to us. Mimi’s research works on investigating students’ interests and how that drives learning. How can we mine these social and student driven avenues and harness it for academic learning? How can we translate a Harry Potter chapter to a University community? How can we use these tools to attract young women and traditionally “non-geeky” communities? Gamification is a great example of meeting kids where they are and building a curriculum on how students learn communally.
Tap the Power of Peer-to-Peer Learning
The goal is to realize the mission of learning on a stage wider than the classroom and connected to the broader world. The online world offers a new set of tools to
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make that happen, especially through the power of social media. Online anyone can be a peer, mentor, or student. While this can create credibility problems, of which we should be mindful, it also presents a great deal of opportunity. While some avenues are not traditionally academic, there are some dedicated learning avenues. All in all, it’s about the skills and the learning.
Build Connected Maker Spaces
The maker culture is a huge new movement picking up speed both within and outside of the academic community! 3D printing has brought new opportunities to individuals in previously unimaginable realm! There are numerous environments set up dedicated to maker culture, the White House has even announced its first ever Maker’s Faire! These cultures exist both in the “real world” as well as online environments.
Seek Recognition in the Wider World
We also have the opportunity to share content out! This is controversial among parents as well as schools. However, it cannot be denied that when students are permitted to take their work to a broader community, they have a greater investment in the product. Kids are motivated by an audience and it can be transformative for their own identities. The Quest to Learn organization encourages a public forum in which students can share their work. However, there are numerous online environments in which students can share their performance and projects. Metrics of achievement via tools like Top Coder reinforce skills and motivate improvement. Displaying achievements and abilities online is going to become more and more prominent, the more we can prepare students for it the better they will be positioned in the future.
There are many different ways to experiment with the online and connected learning environments and no doubt many of them will come and go. Mimi has listed just a few examples of connected learning but ultimately it’s not about particular technologies and techniques, but about reconnecting to effective and powerful learning and teaching. So while there isn’t a specific tool, we do need to enable students to connect with people in the outside community (however that may look). If we see opportunities for students to connect their outside experiences and passions to their educational realm, that is success.