This post is Part 2 of my debrief of the two days I spent at the Learning from Hollywood conference put on by the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop and held at the USC School of Cinematic Arts. I attended representing ConnectEd: The California Center for College and Career. I’ve grouped my thoughts by theme rather than chronology, though please note this post expresses my own opinions and experience not ConnectEd’s. My five themes are:
- Respect Your Audience
- It’s the Participation, Stupid
- Parent Attitudes Matter
- Digital Media to What End?
- Cool Stuff to Check Out
In order to respect my audience’s time, I covered the first two in the previous post and now for the other three. Here we go.
Parent Attitudes Matter
This would be the topic where my own thinking has challenged most. Frank Gilliam, Dean of USC School of Public Affairs, and Linda Burch, Chief Education Officer of Common Sense Media, talked about research on parent attitudes toward digital media.
Gilliam spoke about the mental models parents and the public have around digital media, around learning, and around early childhood education. (Great video clip here on Henry Jenkins blog.)
I’m big on the idea that unconscious mental models shape how we interact with the world. But I didn’t like hearing what his research had to say about the mental models the public – and parents – hold in these areas. To paraphrase…
- For the public, digital media = entertainment, a luxury.
- Entertainment = passive, artificial, dangerous, passive.
- Therefore, don’t bring that stuff into our schools.
I had a visceral negative reaction. I don’t believe that! My fellow parents don’t believe that! We want more technology in our schools!
Ah, but then I recognized my own reaction as a sign that perhaps my conscious beliefs (digital media = good for kids) might be out of sync with my unconscious beliefs and my own actions.
That discord in my own mind has been nagging at me since the conference, and as I’ve been pouring over the copy I picked up of Families Matter: Designing Media for a Digital Age from the Cooney Center, a report being released in June.
Then, a Facebook request popped up for me from a friend of my 10 year old. I was stunned, and didn’t accept it, acting on my own mental models of what’s appropriate for 10 year olds.
Another friend posted on Facebook about talking with a 1st grader in her kid’s class who had an iPhone and she was shocked. The ensuing posts echoed all the research I heard that day at the conference. To paraphrase the posts:
- “Kids who have an iPhone in their hands speak to nobody. Social skills and interaction with humanity is still important.”
- “For most young children an iPhone would be a game tool and a huge temptation for distraction at school.”
- “I’m holding out even though most of my kids peers have phones.”
- “No 1st grader needs an iPhone.”
These are digitally savvy parents who were saying that digital media often replace other important activities (like face to face interaction and “real” learning), that digital media is a luxury, and that it poses a danger that good parents “hold out” to avoid. And I have to admit much of what they said resonated with me, even as I wanted to argue that parents should be the ones embracing digital media and even mobile phones as learning tools. Most of our schools are doing that, and if we don’t, kids will learn on their own or from peers. Sort of akin to challenges of sex eductation! Besides, as parents we were all on Facebook interacting with each other about this important topic. Digital media can support personal connection and conversations not simply replace them.
I think part of the problem with smartphones in particular is that parents see them as phones/game playing devices – which they don’t think appropriate for young children – and not as the mini-computers that they can be.
My 10 year old was home with two friends the other day doing homework and needing a dictionary. We no longer have a hard copy dictionary in the house, but I was working on the computer they needed to access a dictionary online. In a flash of brilliance, I downloaded the Merriam Webster Dictionary App to my iPhone, switched it to airplane mode and handed it to them. They spent the next hour looking up words, etymology, and having the app play back pronunciations. That’s the type of use that makes most techno-enthusiasts say that mobile devices have huge potential to transform learning.
But parent attitudes matter and will be a barrier to that transformation unless we find ways to bring parents in and shift their (I mean my) mental models along the way.
P.S. Parents, one great resource for us is Common Sense Media, a nonprofit that rates entertainment. Linda Burch, from Common Sense Media spoke along with Gilliam and announced that CSM later this year will launch “a new education ratings and review program for digital media designed to help parents and educators assess the learning value of digital media products.” They also have tons of posts and resources for parents to help us with online safety, digital citizenship and managing media in general.
Digital Media to What End?
One question I’m left with after the conference. Digital media to what end?
It was clear the participants didn’t think of digital media as an end in itself, and the conference articulated three challenges for conversation.
- Digital media in support of early literacy
- Digital media in support of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math)
- Digital literacy for all that supports lifelong learning and civic participation
A fourth conversational strand ran strong and that was:
- Digital media and entertainment to tell stories to raise awareness about public education and the need for digital media skills.
I think the field would be well served to articulate an overarching student outcome driving the need for digital media. While I think early literacy can and will benefit from digital media, that call to action is not inclusive enough. Families whose children read and write by third grade won’t be invested in the effort.
I’m partial to using an outcome of college and career readiness for all students and not only because I was there representing the California Center for College and Career. I think it is an inclusive goal and speaks to the need for all students to graduate with 21st century skills that they simply cannot get without the help of digital media.
No matter what it is, I felt the need for a compelling, student outcome related goal to translate all the existing energy and practice into an impactful movement.
Cool Stuff to Check Out
And finally, here’s a short list of cool stuff I learned about at the conference to check out.
- Story Pirates Their performance was a highlight. One part theater, one part improve, one part writing/storytelling workshop for kids. These performers help kids write stories and then come back and perform a few of the stories live. My kid would make a great Story Pirate.
- Adventures in Learning with Indiana Jones Mission is to provide educators with teacher-tested, standards-based lesson plans and resources that will allow them to integrate everyone’s favorite archaeologist into classrooms across the curriculum.
- Sifteo Wow, interactive, motion sensitive cubes that wirelessly link to your computer to support learning games. See video. Price point was a bit too high for me to spring for a starter set on the spot but I was tempted. Apparently they have sold out of first run.
- Harry Potter Alliance A nonprofit that takes an outside-of-the-box approach to civic engagement by using parallels from the Harry Potter books to educate and mobilize young people across the world toward issues of literacy, equality, and human rights. Our mission is to empower our members to act like the heroes that they love by acting for a better world.
- Google App Inventor Still in beta, create apps for Android phones. Amazing potential for kids learning programming.
- Learning from Hollywood: Voices from the Joan Ganz Cooney Center Conference Conference blog post from Henry Jenkins from USC that includes video clip highlights.
- Learning from Learning from Hollywood Meryl Alper, live Cooney Center blogger for the forum, posts her post-conference thoughts.
Coming Soon! The Cooney Center intends to post much more – videos, PowerPoint slides etc. and when they do I’ll post it here.