The New Learning Institute Held its First Chicago-Area Leadership Summit on November 5, 2009.
Hosted by the Pearson Foundation and Nokia, the event took place at the YOUmedia Center in the Harold Washington Public Library.
The Summit brought together educators, administrators, and staff members from Chicago’s schools and cultural and community organizations to discuss the growing use of digital media applications in learning. The educators met with digital media practitioners and researchers, saw hands-on demonstrations of innovative technology, and discussed ways to bring content programs up-to-date and to re-energize the young people in their programs.
David T.C. Ellis — Keynote Speech
The keynote speech of the Summit was delivered by David Ellis, founder of the School for Recording Arts (HSRA), or "Hip Hop High." Ellis described the journey that led him from being a youth who disdained school and authority to becoming a school administrator himself. One key stop along that path was his time at the Open School, a small K-12 public school in St. Paul, Minnesota, that practices child-centered, hands-on learning. Ellis credits the faculty at the Open School for allowing him to find his own passions and follow his own interests.
Ellis, who was a childhood friend of recording artist Prince, discovered hip hop music and released some records locally, eventually landing a record deal with Warner Brothers. He started his own production company, Studio 4, where a number of young black artists who had dropped out of high school soon became a permanent presence. These young artists would ask Ellis questions about recording their music, copyrighting and publishing their work, reading and understanding a recording contract, and so on. As he guided them through the creative and business process of the recording industry, Ellis was struck by the way the youth naturally embraced academic subjects that supported their pursuit of music careers. With that realization, and after a two-year pilot program, the High School for Recording Arts was born. It received a charter from the Minnesota Department of Education and emerged as the only public school of its kind in the United States.
Ellis’s personal story is a remarkable foreshadowing of the approach of the HSRA — first find out what motivates young people, then show them how other academic disciplines can help them pursue their goals.
Dr. Heather Horst — the Digital Youth Project
Dr. Heather Horst of the University of California, Irvine, delivered a talk about the findings of the Digital Youth Project, a three-year MacArthur Foundation-funded ethnographic study into the ways young people use new forms of communication technology, including social networks, digital video, and online gaming. The study sought to address two primary research questions: How are 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?
Drawing on the study, Horst told the summit that the ways in which young people engage with new media can be sorted into three broad categories: hanging out, messing around, and geeking out.
The first category, hanging out, is the most informal mode of engaging with media technologies. It includes everyday activities such as texting, instant messaging, talking on mobile phones, and casual use of the Internet. Young people "hang out" 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. The majority of youth use new media to "hang out" and extend existing friendships in these ways.
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.
In her talk, Horst suggested that educators had a critical opportunity to harness young people’s natural affinity and actual practice with new media and could benefit from 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.
Dr. Diana Rhoten — The Learning Networks Project
Dr. Diana Rhoten leads the Learning Networks Project in New York City. The Learning Networks Project uses a design-based methodology to help institutions develop collaborative and interactive ways of crafting digital media and learning activities.
Rhoten described how she modeled the New York Learning Networks on the principles of a design "charrette," a type of collaborative decision-making methodology. With funding from the MacArthur Foundation, the Network brings together 17 New York City institutions, from world-famous museums to small nonprofits. This structure allows the institutions to work together and pool their diverse resources to brainstorm project ideas and build innovative learning infrastructure that stretches the boundaries of traditional learning spaces.
Dr. Nichole Pinkard — Social Networking
Dr. Nichole Pinkard, of the University of Chicago, explained the theory and practice behind an online social network called Remix World. The network is a central part of an after-school program called the Digital Youth Network that gives young people access to digital media tools, hardware, software, and mentoring. As a component of the program, Remix World provides young people with a platform for expression, exchange, and collaboration, as well as the tools to express their ideas in multiple formats and media, including video, music, and text. Pinkard stressed the importance of providing this platform for underserved youth, who often don’t have a point of entry into the creation of digital media.
Dr. Elizabeth Babcock — Using Digital Media with Content Programmers and Providers
The Field Museum’s Dr. Elizabeth Babcock concluded the day’s sessions with a description of how cultural institutions can use digital media projects to enhance existing programming and, in the process, re-energize young people’s interest in it. She noted several media-based approaches the museum has taken, including Whyreef, a water calculator, the I Dig series, and a ThinkQuest project, Animal Adventure.