Digital Media-New Learners of the 21st Century

A while ago, Bob sent out a link to a PBS Frontline series titled, Digital Media—New Learners of the 21st Century.

I finally had a chance earlier this summer to watch the program in its entirety, and I think it’s an excellent overview of some of the opportunities and challenges facing students and teachers.

The program is 1 hour long, and worth every second.

I’d like to use the comments in this post to discuss this video—what ideas resonated with you? What questions or concerns do you have?

As I was watching the video, I came up with the following questions I would like to explore further. Please feel free to respond to these, or simply add your own thoughts and questions in the comments below.

  • How might the ideas of game design, or children growing up in a gaming culture affect your teaching?
  • What was your take on Media Scholar Henry Jenkin’s assertion (~12 min in) that the term “addiction” is used to police culture—children who stay up all night playing world of warcraft is addicted, while a child staying up all night reading Harry Potter is dedicated or rewarded? Is there a double standard? (
  • How can we incorporate more digital media creation into our curriculum? What value, if any would this have?
  • James Gee makes the assertion that education should be about helping kids to develop a passion, which teaches them how to learn. How can technology and digital tools make this easier?
  • Gee goes on to claim that digital media isn’t killing reading and writing, it is transforming the practice of these skills—kids are reading and writing more than they ever did. Do you agree with this statement? How do we leverage the new reading and writing mediums that students are using? How do we help students to see the value of more traditional forms of reading and writing?
  • How do we incorporate place-based learning and mobile media into our curriculum? What value would this bring?
  • In the section on museums, the museum director says (paraphrasing) “We’re trying to ask Museums to be in the center of kids lives, rather than ask students to be in the center of the museum’s life.” Meaningless platitude, or does this quote have meaning for schools?
  • “How do you move from the notion of individual expertise to collective expertise?” What does this mean for our classrooms?
  • Nicole Pinkard, founder of the Digital Youth Movement, talks about having students produced work that will be viewed beyond their classroom and teacher engages them more. Do you have examples of this in your own teaching? How can we leverage this more?
  • Chris Lehmann, principal of SLA says technology needs to be ubiquitous, necessary, and invisible. Do you agree with this vision? If so, how do we make it happen?
  • How do we stop worrying about “one thing going wrong” as Chris Lehmann states, and instead anticipate failure?
  • How is the practice of teaching changing?
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About John Burk

The ramblings of a physics teacher.
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3 Responses to Digital Media-New Learners of the 21st Century

  1. John, thanks for re-posting “Digital Media-New Learners for the 21st Century.” I find it provocative on a numbers of levels and am challenged by Nicole Pinkard’s assertion that “literacy has been always defined by the available technology.” I think she’s right, and her insight raised a compelling and perhaps somewhat troubling question for me: If Shakespeare were born in 2011, would he have wound up writing and producing his theater in the context of game design? Would Macbeth have premiered on XBox as opposed to at The Globe Theatre? If so, would he have been able to use this medium to encourage his game players’ catharsis? While a video game can help students learn to “solve problems” and “win,” can it offer characters and a narrative compelling enough to lend profound insight into the tragic condition? Can a video game really teach us what it means to be human? If so, I haven’t seen it yet. Perhaps we need only wait for the 21st Century’s Shakespeare to design it?

    Another issue: Much of the emphasis in this documentary and in the 21st Century Ed. discourse in general centers on pre-professional skills, market needs, and new economies. Does this mean that we are moving away from the broader values of the liberal arts education? Should all education be geared towards the skills that matter to our economy? Is there still room and time in schools to pursue deeper human truths in the tradition of the Akademia that contributed so mightily to the establishment of Western Civilization? Can you be considered educated without skills that are necessarily “marketable?” Or is the entire notion of the modern “liberal arts education” a luxury and mythology of the social elite? In other words, were the affluent of the Etons, Andovers, and Exeters able to spend their prep school years romanticizing the traditions of the Akademia because their privileged social status assured job placement anyway? Or were they able to achieve in the marketplace precisely because of that liberal arts background that had little or no emphasis on “preparation for new economies?”

    • Bart, I think that your second paragraph is REALLY interesting.

      So many of the philosophies that are often espoused by proponents of major, sudden change in 21st century education seem to come from commercial, corporate business models. Although we may be able to learn a great deal from those ideas, they appear (in some instances) to have questionable relevance to our (educators) ideals and goals. In some cases, they may even have origins and motivations that are COUNTER to our own. That’s bothersome to me.

      As for the ‘meaningless platitudes’ to which John refers, from my vantage point, the debate swirling around 21st century education seems a pretty fertile ground for that particular brand of comment!

    • John Burk says:

      Bart,
      Your point about Shakespeare in the 21st century is fascinating. Did you see Roger Ebert’s criticism that Video Games can never be Art? It drew a wave of online criticism, including this very interesting interview from On the Media, where Journalist Tom Bissell discussed Why Video Games Matter. Here’s a quote where he tries to explain the unique power of games:

      GLADSTONE: It’s very hard to have a strong narrative structure when the experience is created both by the designers of the game and the gamer. You make a point of saying, you know that what books allow you to do is to inhabit the consciousness of another person and experience a kind of visceral empathy with a stranger. Is that getting better in today’s game?

      TOM BISSELL: Well, no. And I, I don’t think it really can. I really think if you work in a medium your point is to bring out what the medium does best. As a fiction writer, what I seek to achieve is that sense that you, the reader, has entered into another human being who is suddenly a living person, and you are getting a guided tour of their mind. And that is the thing that I love about fiction, and that’s the thing that only fiction can give you. And so, all of the juice of video game storytelling comes from those moments in which — for instance, at the end of Grand Theft Auto Niko has this run-in with someone who betrayed him, and Niko’s been looking for him the whole game – it’s the moment of recognition and this man is like a pathetic drug-addicted wretch. And Niko has the gun to his head and suddenly the game gives control back to you, and you have to decide what to do with this guy. Do you walk away or do you kill him? Your impulse is to show him mercy because you’re a human being but, at the same time, you can’t forget what Niko has sort of suffered because of this guy. That is the kind of storytelling that I love about games. It actually gives you this unbelievably scary and weird and often very troubling kind of agency. And fiction can’t do that, movies can’t do that. That’s the kind of things that I love about games, is those moments of just jaw-dropping scary freedom.

      Just today, I was listening to James Glick discuss his new book, The Information, a History, A Flood, and he cited a major theme of his work that every era worries that they are somehow drowning in information, and that the new media promise to destroy culture as we know it. The printing press saw much of its early use printing papal indulgences, and Leibnitz complained that there were too many books and it would be the death of philosophy. And yet, Gliek concludes by saying this history doesn’t necassarily mean this time isn’t different than all the previous times.

      I think it was you that pointed me to the New Yorker Article on the Vale of College in America (on Twitter, of course), and I really enjoyed the article. I hope we haven’t gotten to the point where a true liberal arts education is an option only for the elite, and I definitely don’t think the point of education should be to simply churn out more workers (of any kind) to serve the economy. But I think this may be more of a factor of the voices in the education and 21st century debate that the media choose to highlight and decision makers choose to listen too. There are many educators who advocate for 21st century educational reform with much higher aspirations—Chris Lehmann is a great example.

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