PLAYBACK: Getting Involved in a Digital World—Changing Methods and Mindsets


1.21.11 | Pew finds internet users are social people; Dan Gilmor on digital media literacy and becoming media creators; Henry Jenkins talks with John Seely Brown and Douglas Thomas; an upcoming webinar with Karen Cator, and more.


Digital Engagement I: A new survey from the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project finds that 80 percent of internet users participate in some kind of voluntary group or organization, compared to just 56 percent of non-internet users. And if you use social media, the percentages are even higher: 85 percent of Twitter users, for example, are group participants.

Audrey Watters at ReadWriteWeb provides a nice summary of the data—which breaks down, in fascinating ways, what type of groups and what type of issues the internet has most affected.

Digital Engagment II: Levi Sumagaysay of Good Morning Silicon Valley talks with journalist Dan Gilmor, director of the Knight Center for Digital Media Entrepreneurship at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, about his new project, Mediactive—“a book as well as an ongoing effort to encourage active digital-media literacy in this world of endless information at our fingertips.”

Gilmor also did a Q&A with Dan Kennedy at Media Nation. Here, Gilmor discusses what it means to be a media creator:

For me, being a media creator also includes having one’s own home base on the Internet — not just a Facebook page, or a blog on a hosted blogging site, or a YouTube video channel, but rather a site you own and control, where you create the reference point for who you are as opposed to the person other people think you are. There are a lot of reasons to do this, but one of the most important is to define yourself and not be subject to the whims of third-party services that can choose to use your information in ways you don’t approve of, or even delete your information altogether.

The other major part of upgrading ourselves, or at least my view of it, is to understand the macro trends and issues in our society that affect our ability to get the most out of the media we consume and create. So I thought it was important to discuss issues surrounding such things law, network neutrality, norms and customs. I also wanted to make a pitch for all of us — parents, schools, journalists, everyone — to help teach principles of media literacy to our children and to each other. Finally, I wanted to look forward a bit, and imagine some of the things we still need to get to the future I’m hoping for, and how these things might happen.

Related: In a previous post on the lessons from the WikiLeaks controversy, we referenced the comments of Susan Moeller, a professor of journalism and public policy at the University of Maryland and Megan E. Fromm, a publications adviser at the Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School in Maryland, who argued that creating and maintaining a 21st-century journalism curriculum in every high school is essential to “teaching students about their responsibilities and their rights as citizens” in a digital world.


The “New Pedogogical Paradigm”: Of course, changing (or adapting) age-old curriculum is not easy. To explore how to make that transformation, Henry Jenkins interviews fellow University of Southern California researchers John Seely Brown and Douglas Thomas, authors of “A New Culture of Learning: Cultivating the Imagination for a World of Constant Change,” a book that Jenkins believes “may be for the Digital Media and Learning movement what Thomas Paine’s Common Sense provided for the American Revolution—a straight forward, direct explanation of what we are fighting for and what we are fighting against.” 

In the interview, the authors address the teacher’s anxiety about their role in this “new pedagogical paradigm”:

The fear is easy to understand. What we are essentially doing when we move to student-directed learning is undermining our own relatively stable (though I would argue obsolete) notions of expertise and replacing them something new and different.

That doesn’t mean there is no role for teachers and educators. Quite the opposite. One of the key arguments we are making is that the role of educators needs to shift away from being expert in a particular area of knowledge, to becoming expert in the ability to create and shape new learning environments. In a way, that is a much more challenging, but also much more rewarding, role.

The Politics of Pedagogical Change: To better understand how this pedagogical transformation is happening on a national level, you might want to attend an interactive webinar with Karen Cator, director of the Office of Education Technology. She will discuss the National Education Technology Plan with Steve Hargadon, the social learning consultant for Elluminate/Blackboard Collaborate and founder of the Classroom 2.0 social network.

Related: In case you missed it, see Karen Cator’s intriguing four-part interview at Mind/Shift.

The Creative Boom: Practical considerations might be fueling this transformation as much as pedagogical idealism. According the UK government’s Annual Business Survey, jobs in the “creative industries”—everything from music and fashion to software and design—are growing at 1.5 percent annually, while most of the rest of the UK economy is shedding jobs during the economic downturn.

Julie Nightingale of The Guardian uses that fact as a provocative starting point to revisit the age-old question: Can creativity be taught? She explores the role of schools in preparing students for these new creative opportunities and discusses a number of low-cost or free resources available online, including some open-source tools.

Included is this example from The Chalfonts community college:

As part of an “enrichment curriculum” all key stage three students spend whole days learning how to use video, animation and digital imaging with industry professionals as part of the school’s push to develop creativity across all subjects.

“The aim is to develop personal, learning and thinking skills (PLTS), creative thinkers and team workers,” says Greg Hodgson, a senior leader at Chalfonts who also mentors students in the arts.

Digital technology such as digital imaging, film, animation, graphics and game-making is also a critical element in the school’s GCSE art curriculum where it has, says Hodgson, enabled otherwise under-achieving students and apparently non-creative students to blossom by harnessing their fascination with gaming.

One student, one of the lowest ability boys I’ve ever taught, couldn’t really read and write properly and staff spent more time talking to him about his behaviour than his work. He particularly flourished when I gave him control of the tools and told him that he could actually teach himself.

“He was coding and writing action scripts using interactive Adobe Flash animation, which is a really high-level skill. One lovely piece of work featured moral dilemmas with the story of a girl who had the opportunity to steal. An angel and a devil both appear in the ether around this girl’s head and the reader/viewer has to choose: does she steal a chocolate bar or not? In fact, this is the first stage of gaming: the interactive viewer clicks and decides which line of a story to follow.”

Overcoming the New Stereotypes: Newly created obstacles might be getting in the way of change, though. We have discussed the problems with the term “digital natives” before (see Trebor Scholz). The term—which refers to a younger generation that has grown up with technology and that supposedly processes information fundamentally differently than older generations (“digital immigrants”) who have merely adopted the technology as it has emerged—is a deceptive metaphor, according to Henry Jenkins, and a intimidating obstacle for teachers, according to Susan Zvacek, director of instructional development at the University of Kansas.

Despite these corrective voices, however, the term seems as popular as ever—and verging on conventional wisdom. That’s why it’s worth reading Zoe Handley at the English Language Teaching blog. She offers a needed reminder of why the concept of a digital generation gap might just be plain wrong.

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