On October 14, the New Learning Institute Held a Leadership Summit at the Taper Auditorium in the Downtown Branch of the Los Angeles Public Library.
The summit, hosted by the Pearson Foundation and Nokia, gave educators a chance to hear and meet with digital media practitioners and researchers to explore new ways to introduce and integrate new media into the classroom.
Educators, especially in large public school systems, are grappling daily with how best to take advantage of the enthusiasm that young people have for their mobile devices, social networking sites, and other new forms of communication. Can the untapped potential of these new technologies be harnessed in a way that reenergizes students’ interest in learning? How can these new forms of communication unleash students’ creativity and give greater control over their own education? The speakers at the Leadership Summit addressed these and other questions. Participants also had the opportunity for hands-on experience with activities that utilized cell phone computers, for demonstrations of project-based learning in and out of the classroom and to view several short videos that showcased educators’ best practices and NLI programs.
Larry Rosenstock — Keynote Speech
The Summit's keynote speech was delivered by High Tech High’s CEO and founder, Larry Rosenstock. High Tech High is actually a cluster of schools — one elementary school, two middle schools, and three high schools — that Rosenstock refers to as a village. Students and teachers at the HTH village are part of a project-based, collaborative learning model where it is understood that what you do with your hands is as critical as what you do with your mind.
Rosenstock believes that one key to the success of these schools is the integration of students of different academic aptitudes and social backgrounds. At the same time, each school is integrated into the larger community. Teachers are partnered with other teachers in different subject areas and are encouraged to exploit commonalities between disciplines. Student work is celebrated in the public spaces of the schools; glass separates classrooms from common spaces; and students are taught to take responsibility for their work and their work ethic. The atmosphere is collegial and joyful.
In his remarks, Rosenstock insisted that making change in public schooling is simply a matter of will. He reminded Summit attendees, "Everybody knows that education is the one intervention that can most elevate you above social disadvantage more than anything else, and yet it is the least changed public institution in American society. That’s the paradox that we deal with." Rosenstock ended with a quotation from Thomas Jefferson: "The purpose of public education isn’t to serve the public; the purpose of public education is to create a public."
Becky Herr-Stephenson — the Digital Youth Project
Becky Herr-Stephenson spoke about what our kids are doing today with their devices, social networks, video and online games, and other new forms of communicating and collaborating. Herr-Stephenson participated in a three-year, MacArthur Foundation—funded ethnographic study called the Digital Youth Project. The study was motivated by two primary research questions: How is new media being integrated into youth practices and agendas? How do these practices change the dynamics of youth-adult negotiations over literacy, learning, and authoritative knowledge?
Herr-Stephenson believes that young people engage with new media in three broad categories of activity: hanging out, messing around, and geeking out. In the most informal mode, hanging out, young people are texting, instant messaging, and using mobile phones and Internet connections. Their public communications take place on social network sites such as MySpace and Facebook. With these "friendship-driven" practices, youth are almost always associating with people they already know in their ofï¬ine lives.
During their casual interactions with peers or others who share similar interests, young people develop new capacities and hone media literacy skills by exploring new interests. This "messing around" could involve tinkering with online creativity tools, exploring online gaming, or publishing their own media on photo sites or YouTube.
Still other young people "geek out" and dive more deeply into a topic or area of expertise. Geeking out describes the more dedicated activity of searching for specialized knowledge or developing new self-taught skills in media production.
Herr-Stephenson suggested that educators have a critical opportunity to harness young people’s natural affinity and actual practice with new media and can benefit by being more open to new forms of experimentation and social exploration. She also pointed to the opportunity that new media brings in the effort to broaden what we might traditionally think of as educational and civic institutions.
Akili Lee — Social Networking and Remix World
Chicago’s Digital Youth Network was represented at the Los Angeles summit by the organization’s director, Akili Lee. Digital Youth Network is an after-school program that employs a customized social learning network called Remix World. Like other social networking sites, Remix world can house all of the digital media products that students create including music, videos, podcasts, and blogs. But Remix World is designed specifically to encourage students to participate and to reward them for that participation. Users earn points for posting work and for collaborating with others. They are rewarded for commenting on or critiquing work on the site. And within Remix World there is an online store where students can use points they’ve earned to make purchases of iPods, headphones, and other gear.
Remix World is monitored by adults; kids are guided to ways they can participate by mentors, and an explicit code of behavior is maintained and reinforced. Lee was clear to point out that while the use of social networks as forums for posting, presenting, and critiquing media work has huge educational potential, these networks are controversial in traditional educational settings. Some Summit attendees wondered about the new opportunities for students to bully online or otherwise misuse the sites. Lee responded by reminding attendees that every new technological platform carries with it a new responsibility to establish rules for use and reinforce a culture of respect and propriety.
After lunch, Summit attendees moved between four stations that demonstrated digital media practices. At one station, the New Learning Institute showed participants how to use phones to Twitter and take a poll, the results of which could be viewed in real time. At another station, guests from Alas Media, a Los Angeles—based digital media professional development organization, showed how they use simple digital devices like camcorders, smart phones, and off-the-shelf editing software to make digital videos and stories. Akili Lee demonstrated in more detail the inner workings of Remix World and shared ideas about how to introduce social networking into after-school environments. High Tech High was represented by eight engineering students, who brought helicopters, cars, and other projects they built themselves, all of which operate remotely with controllers and software.
Final Q & A
The day ended with a group discussion of next steps. Many participants were eager to know more about how teachers could get access to additional information and resources. Some expressed continued concern about how much flexibility they had within the Los Angeles Unified system to execute programs that might clash with district policies. Most, however — regardless of whether they were willing or able to integrate more digital media activities into the classroom — recognized that the use of cellphone computers, social networks, and other web 2.0 resources is inevitable in educational settings.