January 17, 2014

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A new year and a new book

Cross posted from the Connected Learning Research Network Leveling Up project blog

It’s the start of a new year and time to take stock. It’s been three years since the launch of the Connected Learning Research Network and the Leveling Up project, and a year and a half since the launch of this blog. Along the way, we’ve delved into stories of knitters, boy band and wrestling fans, fashionistas, eSports enthusiasts, and game makers, as well as how the online world is supporting their learning, sharing, and civic engagement. The cases we’ve developed over these years have both confirmed many of the core values and principles of the connected learning model, as well as challenged them in some unexpected ways.

Following from the digital youth project, we’ve found that the online world, even as it has expanded into more diverse areas of interests, platforms, and mobile devices, continues to be a rich source of not only social connection, but of peer learning. We’ve also confirmed that while interest-specific learning flourishes online, it takes a unique and uncommon confluence of factors for that learning to connect to academic, career, or civic realms. We continue to puzzle over a core problematic of the connected learning research: what are ways in which we can more actively support these connections for diverse youth and their interests?

The cases have given us glimpses into how to answer that question in ways that deserve further investigation, and are the focus of a new round of research that we will be kicking off this year. In addition to continuing to observe the salience of peer sharing, reputation, and self-directed learning in online communities, some of the fashion and Starcraft work has shown us the kinds of roles that parents can play in supporting connected learning. When educators engage with youth interests, we also see them mediating between fan activity, gaming interest, and school. We were also delighted that we were around to observe interest groups activate around shared purpose and problems that can be mathematical or political in nature when the opportunity presents itself. Some members of the team have dived into an online experiment to support our own connected learning moments through a new web platform.

The diversity of cases that we’ve delved into have given us a new opportunity to interrogate what the barriers and challenges are to getting youth interests connected to adult-facing opportunities. We’ve seen that the winding pathways through which interests are cultivated, abandoned, altered, and revisited create challenges for researchers who are working to document that outcome of interest-driven learning and educators who seek to support it. Further, the specific nature of the interest, and the culture and identity associated with it have a strongly determinist effect on whether that interest can be productively connected to schools, careers, and civic engagement. For example, gamers and boy band fans may be learning a tremendous amount through their interest-driven engagements, but both the youth participants and the parents and teachers in their lives may be resistant to seeing these activities as academically relevant. The cases also demonstrate how the devil is in the details of how particular communities and programs are organized, and creating a high-functioning connected learning environment requires constant tending and adaptation.

These are examples of the kinds of topics and themes that have emerged as salient in our analysis. As we continue to mine our cases and data, we will transition the focus of this blog from reports from the field to analysis that sets the stage for the collectively authored book that we are writing over the next few months. The book will provide an overview of the cases and how they map a divergent field of youth interests, and focus on cross-cutting themes and dynamics that are illuminated by these different examples. We will look at the specific characteristics of interest-centered learning environments that support practices of help and feedback, reputation building, and shared purpose. Stories of individual learners and pathways will describe the varied trajectories we have observed of young people’s developing and changing interests and learning. We will also take a look at outcomes that are academic, career, and civic in nature. We are excited to be able to share the next phase of our work in this fresh new year!

Posted by Mizuko Ito at 4:17 PM

May 30, 2013

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The Geek-Boy Irony Behind Mark Zuckerberg’s Tech Lobby

Citing a critical shortage, Silicon Valley heavyweights have been lobbying for immigration reform that will allow high-tech firms to hire more workers under H-1B visas. How is this possible, given our glut of job-seeking college grads? One fundamental problem is the narrowness of the demographic that the high-tech sector draws from--especially the lack of women and minorities.

Read more at Fast Company

Posted by Mizuko Ito at 2:36 PM

March 8, 2013

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What Teens Get About the Internet That Parents Don't

My 15-year-old daughter has been playing the viola since the fourth grade at school and she's been encouraged by her teachers to keep at it since, among other things, it's marketable for college. She has been contemplating a new instrument, guitar, more in line with her interests and what she listens to with her peers.

This is how the conversation goes about the guitar. Me: "Do you really want to add a new activity?" Her: "We already have a guitar. I can learn on my own and with my friends." Me: "It seems like you should get lessons for the basics." Her: "Mom, that's what the Internet is for." It turns out she's already been practicing with the help of YouTube tutorials.

Read more at the Atlantic

Posted by Mizuko Ito at 2:32 PM

January 15, 2013

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New Research Report on Connected Learning

Reblogged from the Connected Learning Research Network

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It has been almost a year since the release of the connected learning principles in March 2012 on connectedlearning.tv. For those of us who are part of the Connected Learning Research Network, this has been a year of digging into our research agenda for connected learning, and testing our hypotheses with ethnographic case studies, design experiments, and the deployment of a national survey. In tandem with these new research activities, we have also been involved in the collaborative writing of a report which synthesizes what we see as the current state of theory and empirical research underlying the connected learning model. We are very pleased to announce the publication of the report as a freely-available pdf. The report is also the first in a new Connected Learning Report series, edited by Ellen Seiter.

The connected learning principles were developed as a collaborative endeavor, cutting across research and practice, coordinated by the Digital Media and Learning Initiative. The research report represents the effort of our network to develop a research program tuned to these principles. As a model of learning, connected learning emerges from a wide range of existing research and practice, and is a work in progress, requiring ongoing refinement and testing through research and experimentation. It is both evidence-driven and visionary in its aspirations, and research plays a central role in its ongoing development.

It has been quite a learning journey pulling together this report with a group of interdisciplinary scholars and with the support of our network advisors and the team at the DML Hub. Our research network meets four times a year, and for two years, the writing of the report became a focal object for us to learn from our varied perspectives and expertise, and hash out our differences and disagreements. I have survived more than my share of collaborative writing projects, some much heftier than this report, but the depth of engagement, stretching, and learning that I had to do for this synthesis eclipsed my prior collaborative writing efforts to date. We were working across vast differences in methodology (humanistic, clinical, design-based, qualitative, and quantitative), disciplines (psychology, sociology, anthropology, learning sciences, communications, design), in addition to being physically dispersed and all having demanding day jobs.

Though not without compromises, I am proud of the fact that the debates, epiphanies,and give-and-take between the nine authors resulted in greater refinement and clarity about our common ground, rather than a watered-down consensus document. The integration of a socio-economic framework with educational research and design represents what I believe is a unique synthesis that mirrors the cross-sector model of connected learning and both a macro and micro learning agenda. Unless we keep in view broader questions of equity and the quality of our shared culture and civic institutions, learning techniques and approaches more often than not reproduce existing structural inequity. Put differently, a learning agenda needs to be part of a social change agenda, a commitment deeply shared by all the report authors.

As we stress in the report, the connected learning model builds on a robust body of existing research and practice, and we see the work of the network as one component of this broader conversation and growing evidence base. The writing captures a moment in time in our shared understandings; understandings that we hope and expect will evolve as the model gets tested, challenged, and reworked. The report represents the starting hypotheses that will guide the research of the network in the years to come, and we hope will provide a sounding board for a broader conversation around connected learning.

Posted by Mizuko Ito at 9:54 AM

March 1, 2012

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Connected Learning

A few years ago, I conducted a study with a large team of researchers on how young people were learning through electronic games, social media, and digital media production. We saw many reasons to be hopeful as to how the online world could support learning that is social, participatory, and driven by the personal needs and interests of the learner. We were inspired by young people who were taking to the online world to learn complex technical skills, create and share sophisticated media works, engage in social causes, and pursue specialized knowledge. At same time, we found reasons for concern. While highly activated and motivated youth were mining the learning riches of the Internet, these young people were a decided minority, and tended to be those who were already technologically and educationally privileged. Were we in fact seeing a new kind of equity gap, an emerging digital learning elite? Why weren’t the majority of young people taking advantage of the opportunities that new media offered for learning?

This concern has led me on a journey over the past three years, in trying to understand not only how new media can support highly engaged, geeked out, and self-directed forms of learning, but also how it can make this kind of learning available to all young people. Together with a committed group of colleagues and partners that are part of the MacArthur Foundation’s Digital Media and Learning Initiative, I’ve been engaged in an effort to address this challenge, seeking to enlist a diverse constituency of educators, parents, technology makers, and young people in a new vision of learning in the digital age.

Today we are proud to announce a new research network, community site, and a set of learning and design principles that seeks to promote dialog and experimentation around a model we are calling “connected learning.” In a nutshell, connected learning is learning that is socially connected, interest-driven, and oriented towards educational and economic opportunity. Connected learning is when you’re pursuing knowledge and expertise around something you care deeply about, and you’re supported by friends and institutions who share and recognize this common passion or purpose.

The Essence of Connected Learning from DML Research Hub on Vimeo.

This path towards connected learning is both personal and professional for me. I grew up with a connected learner, my brother, who tended to have a troubled relationship to formal education but was always geeking out on a hobby with the support of caring adult mentors. Although he never graduated from college, he has gone on to be a successful Internet entrepreneur and the director of the MIT Media Lab. I’ve seen connected learning when my son’s teacher invites him to do a school assignment about his favorite electronic game that he plays with his closest friends and expert mentors, or when my daughter is able to direct her passion for sewing into making costumes for her friends in a school dance performance. And I’ve experienced it when I’ve been able to connect the social causes I care about to my career ambitions. These kinds of experiences shouldn’t be the province of the 1% of connected learners or learning moments, any more than economic wealth should be concentrated in the hands of the few.

We don't need to think of education as pushing scarce and static knowledge from center to periphery and of educational opportunity as being able to do better on standardized tests. We have the opportunity to tap into a much more dynamic, distributed, participatory, networked knowledge universe to capture the attention of diverse learners.

We believe we can harness the power of social media, online knowledge, and digital production tools to make this kind of learning accessible and ubiquitous. The power of digital networks is in the ability to connect learners and teachers across space and institutional boundaries, to build linkages between school, home and community, and to make information and learning resources highly accessible and personalized. Our challenge is in guiding more young people to take advantage of these opportunities. We need an expansive and diverse network of people and institutions to develop, improve, refine, and take up a vision of 21st Century learning, and our hope is to support this process of network building through our connected learning approach and principles.

Posted by Mizuko Ito at 2:50 PM