DML 2012: Building the Movement for the "Entrepreneurial Learner"

Entrepreneurial Learners Speak Out at DML 2012

How do you know when you are part of a movement? That is the question posed by Diana Rhoten at this year’s 2012 Digital Media and Learning Conference, “Beyond Educational Technology.” As a veteran in this field, Rhoten remarked at the jam-packed conference that, “We have now arrived. We are a movement.”

Rhoten explained futher, “Five years ago, the amount of education professionals interested in using technology for innovative learning purposes fit in one small hotel meeting room. Today, now look at us. There are people all over the world working to make the promise of digital media and learning a reality.”

This year’s conference focused on scaling innovations in digital media and learning. John Seely Brown, the conference plenary speaker, brought attention to the need to not only scale the use of technology for learning, but to also scale learning systems and institutional structures. To do this, we need to think about the needs of the “entrepreneurial learner.”

What is the “Entrepreneurial Learner”?

In today’s fast moving information economy, Brown says we should consider the “half-life of a skill.” According to Brown, most skills today last about 5 years before they become irrelevant. So, education systems should move from a “fixed-asset” approach to a participatory approach that equips students to learn within a flow of information. In short, we should think of learning less like “moving on a steamship” and more like “white water rafting.”

What About the Systemic Constraints to the Entrepreneurial Learner?

The conference also featured students who are involved in projects that foster this type of learning. One group of students from Los Angeles Unified School District talked about their real-world experiences. As students who have participated in programs that foster “anytime learning,” they now have skills that help them navigate the information terrain for learning purposes. However, without wider institutional buy-in, these skills can actually get them in trouble.

One student mentioned his predicament. “If I have a question in class and the teacher is busy, I cannot just pull out my phone and do my own research. That would put me in serious trouble because we cannot use our phones for any purpose in class. But I know the answer is right in my pocket. It is a frustrating situation.”

Communicating DML to Build the Movement

The FrameWorks Institute is working with DML experts and advocates to help communicate this new conception of learning that enables the public and the education field to understand the wider benefits.

To this end, we have two new reports that speak directly to this need. One report, entitled “The Stories We Tell Ourselves: How DML is Communicated by Ed Reformers,” examines how learning and technology issues are understood by the wider education reform field. The other report, “Valuing Digital Media and Learning,” presents the findings of our prescriptive research that finds the use of two values, Pragmatism and Progress, to be particularly successful in building public support for DML programs.

We will be posting these new reports soon on our website. Stay tuned!


Can Video Games Help Young People Understand Social Issues?

Can video games be used for good? Can video games expand student’s capacities for learning and help them understand social issues?

This is the aim of the many who gathered recently in New York City for the 8th Annual Games for Change Festival.

I attended this festival because one of the mobile apps I created for race awareness (prior to joining FrameWorks) was nominated for the Knight News Game Award. All the nominated games were set up in the lobby of the Festival site for attendees to play. Of course, I played them all.

Most of the games nominated for awards were simulation games. For example, a game might send you to the future where you could see the effects of climate change or policies that infringe on civil liberties.

My app is different in two main ways. First, it is not a traditional “game.” It’s more like a learning tool where the user sees a photograph of a real person and has to guess how that person answered the question, “What race are you?” But the game deliberately makes the categories confusing or even outrageous so as to shake people out of comfortable ways of thinking about race. Hopefully after taking the quizzes, reading the quotes from the people in the photographs, and reading little cultural and historical tidbits, users begin to think more like cultural anthropologists in seeing the cultural construction of race.

Second, my game is designed to improve the public discourse on race and diversity in short bursts of time. That is, as a mobile app, I envision both students using the app in classrooms and adults using the app on the subway or in playtime with their younger children. Happily, there is evidence that the app is engaging people in these contexts and more.

In the end, my app did not win the Award at the Festival. Nonetheless, the fact that a mobile app was included among the nominees was a promising sign that the definition of a “serious game” is expanding.

While it seems that the digital media and learning movement is gaining significant momentum (there were double the attendees from last year and a keynote speech given by Al Gore), the American public may be still lagging behind.

How can we help the American public conceive of digital media games as an integral part of student learning? FrameWorks is actively working with digital media and learning advocates, educators, and scientists on this very question. Our research thus far confirms that the public and the media largely do not understand the value of digital media tools for student learning. The good news is that this research also points to some productive cultural models that can be used in order to help the public see how digital media can enhance the learning experience. Those include connecting digital media tools to notions of interactive learning, hands-on learning, and learning through play to build support for the educational use of these exciting innovations.

Do you see a place for fun and games in framing? How might Framers develop “games” to successfully communicate about a wide variety of issues?


FrameWorks Helps Ocean Scientists Communicate on Climate Change

We depend upon our oceans for life on this planet. Our oceans not only provide food that we eat, but they also regulate the air that we breathe. However, climate change is disrupting the ocean’s ecosystem and its abilities to provide these services.

How can scientists communicate effectively to the public about the effects of climate change in the ocean?

The FrameWorks Institute was at the Woods Hole Ocean Institute in Massachusetts recently to guide science practitioners in this important endeavor.

On the first day of our engagement, we heard a presentation from Dr. Anne Cohen about the latest research on ocean acidification. She explained how carbon dioxide released from the burning of petroleum and coal for energy and transportation is absorbed by the oceans, which acts as a carbon sink. This carbon dioxide combines with water to form carbonic acid. The increase of carbonic acid in the ocean makes it difficult for marine organisms and animals to thrive. This is leading to an ecosystem collapse for marine animals such as plankton, coral, and shellfish – all of whom play an important role in the marine foodchain.

We then heard from the FrameWorks Institute President, Susan Bales, on how scientists and aquarium interpreters can best share this knowledge with the public. She spoke about the importance of starting this message with values, such as interdependence, to frame this topic in a way that connects the public to our relationship with the ocean. Bales also spoke at length about how to integrate simplifying models, causal chains, and community level solutions into an effective story on ocean warming and ocean acidification.

Afterwards, I led a workshop during our working lunch called “Learning By Seeing: Spokesperson Scientists Speak on Ocean Acidification.” In this part of the presentation, I showed a series of ocean scientist interviews to our audience so that participants could learn the “do’s and don’ts” of framing on this issue.

We spent the rest of the afternoon working one-on-one with WHOI scientists to help them better communicate their research and its importance to the media.

Our second day with the aquarium interpreters in our study circle focused entirely on how to tell the core story of climate change and the ocean in a way that establishes why the public should care, what the science tells us, and what are the most feasible solutions. Alexis Bunten and Suzanne Lo led the group in a series of exercises so participants can integrate this knowledge into their communications practice.

Finally, Dr. Susan Avery, the Director of WHOI, visited our group towards the end of our engagement. She mentioned to participants that the oceans are a place where climate change effects are immediate and measurable. She encouraged participants to apply their best communicative skills so that we have public support of initiatives that restore balance and vitality to the marine ecosystems of the world.




Can Hollywood Spark An Education Revolution?

The entertainment industry is often blamed for promoting ideas and images that hinder children’s educational development. This week, however, we were introduced to a new way of thinking about Hollywood at a Cooney Center Leadership Forum entitled: “Learning From Hollywood: Can entertainment media spark an education revolution?

Much of the first day of the event focused on how the education field can borrow from the engaging storytelling practices of the entertainment industry. On the second day, the FrameWorks Institute shared our insights on how Hollywood can tell better stories when it comes to children, education, and digital media usage.

From the Hollywood contingency, Betty Cohen (Former President of the Cartoon Network and Lifetime) cited an anthropological study that found that sixty-percent of what humans learn is through storytelling. Marcy Carsey (Producer of the “Cosby Show”) brought attention to the importance of telling stories in a way that respects the audience and is true to reality. Don Hahn (Producer of the Lion King) spoke of the need to translate the enthusiasm for popular film stories into teachable segments in the classroom. Each of these speakers mentioned the benefits of using digital tools to connect popular culture to education for more engaged learning.

From the research side, the FrameWorks Institute had the opportunity to share what we know about how Hollywood can contribute towards a more productive image of children and their use of digital media. Frank Gilliam, Senior Fellow at FrameWorks, presented the findings of our studies on public and media perceptions of digital media for learning. The main communication challenge in this field is how to overcome the dominant conception of digital media as a “danger and distraction” for children. It is difficult for the public and the media to view digital media as having educational applications, given the predominance of these types of negative associations.

Gilliam argued that Hollywood can help the field overcome this challenge by portraying children in learning situations where they are engaged and contributing to society. He mentioned insights from previous FrameWorks research on the negative depictions of adolescents in television. By portraying situations in which students are interacting and learning from the use of digital media, Hollywood can do a great service in building public support for its use in the classroom.

Two big questions remain, however. When it comes to the commercial impetus of Hollywood, how much can actually be devoted to advancing the educational capacity of storytelling? How can the education field and Hollywood work more closely to make that happen?