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learning.now: at the crossroads of Internet culture & education with host Andy Carvin

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October232006

A $50 Million Investment in the Future of Learning

One of the things that’s frustrated me about education technology is the limited amount of philanthropic investment focusing on identifying the full potential of information and communication technology to engage youth. Thanks to a new $50 million initiative by the John D. and Catherine C. MacArthur Foundation, though, we may see the development of a whole new generation of online tools dedicated to youth engagement.

The MacArthur Foundation has a long history working with public media, including support for PBS and other public broadcasting entities over the years. Now, they plan to spend $10 million a year for the next five years on Digital Media and Learning. Announced last week at a press conference in New York City, MacArthur will invest in research and programs “focused on understanding the impact of the widespread use of digital media on our youth and how they learn.” Foundation president Jonathan Fanton explained it this way:

This is the first generation to grow up digital—coming of age in a world where computers, the internet, videogames, and cell phones are common, and where expressing themselves through these tools is the norm. Given how present these technologies are in their lives, do young people act, think and learn differently today? And what are the implications for education and for society? MacArthur will encourage this discussion, fund research, support innovation, and engage those who can make judgments about these difficult but critical questions.

One of the major elements of the initiative is publishing scholarly research on the impact of digital media on young people. MacArthur is working with experts in education technology, civic engagement, epistemology and developmental psychology to produce a series of six volumes, each focusing on a different aspect of digital media, learning and youth. For example, as part of the volume on civic engagement, MacArthur recently organized an email discussion list in which experts discussed how young people use the Internet to organize around civic causes. I participated in the discussion, more as a lurker (quite a change for me). Given the caliber of discussion that took place in the group, I am eagerly awaiting to see how they synthesize it and incorporate it into their research.

Beyond their investment in scholarly publishing, MacArthur is embracing the tools they’re investigating as well. The initiative’s website includes a group blog, where they’re invited education and digital media luminaries like Henry Jenkins of MIT and edtech entrepreneur Cathy Davidson, along with blogger/online researcher Danah Boyd. They’re also archiving youth media projects that have received funding from MacArthur. (I’d love to see the two ideas combined and have them produce a video blog of MacArthur-funded youth media.)

Meanwhile, they’ve partnered with the tremendous youth engagement organization Global Kids to encourage youth participation in the dialogue around digital media and learning. Global Kids works closely with youth both in real-world and virtual environments, including an experimental version of the virtual reality environment Second Life dedicated to young people.

For those of you who are little too old to participate in the Global Kids projects, fret not. This spring, MacArthur also plans to roll out its own online social network. Called the Knowledge Network, this community will serve as a policy and research hub for all things related to digital media and learning. Participants will be able to use the tool as share the latest best practices while engaging with experts in the field.

MacArthur has a long history making a positive impact on issues like public media, sustainable development and global security. With their $50 million investment in digital learning, they will undoubtedly make a major contribution to the causes of bridging the digital divide, improving media literacy and developing a new generation of civiclaly engaged youth. And you can involved right now, too. Starting today and running until November 3, MacArthur is inviting educators and students to participate in an online dialogue about digital media and learning. The discussion will attempt to push the envelope about the role of digital media in k-12 education, then ask young people to respond to ideas posited by experts and researchers. I hope to see some of you there. -andy

Filed under : Research

Responses

My wife is Dean of Early College at Georgia Southwestern State University in Americus. Early College attempts to re-ingite a love for learning among teens who are at risk of dropping out of school. If there is any way her school can participate in your digital learning research, I believe you both would benefit.

To whom are you addressing this? If you mean MacArthur, you need to contact them directly as I am not involved in their research.

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