Wednesday, March 21, 2012

My Takeaways from the 2012 Digital Learning and Media Conference

On March 2 and 3, I attended the third annual Digital Media and Learning Conference in my home city of San Francisco. Though I missed the first day of the conference, I got so much out of days two and three, connecting with educators and thinkers and other folks who are passionate about how we can use technology in smart ways to improve education and expand elearning beyond the classroom.

I won’t summarize all the panels I went to and the conversations I had, but instead will talk about two panels in particular that I found especially inspiring and that highlighted a concept frequently at play throughout the conference: Learning partnerships do not have to begin in the classroom to affect what happens there, and learning partnerships will be integral to the future of education.

The first of these panels, DML: Case Study in Digital Media and Learning Partnerships: A Youth-Centered Design Framework in San Francisco, featured Jill Bourne, Deputy City Librarian for San Francisco; Elizabeth Babcock, Chief Education and Digital Strategy Officer at California Academy of Sciences; Ingrid Dahl, Director of Next Gen Programs at Bay Area Video Coalition; and Matthew Williams, Educational Technologist at KQED. These four individuals, and the institutions with which they are affiliated, have come together to contribute the room, the resources and the expertise required to train youth to create digital media. Bourne explained that San Francisco’s main library would be allotting some 5,000 square feet to develop a teen-friendly space for young people to learn all manner of media production under the guidance of instructors from Bay Area Video Coalition. Cal Academy is hoping some of what the students will produce will be interesting multi-media productions aimed at helping children and teens get excited about science. And by airing the content the teens create, KQED can help bring these productions to a broader audience.

Here’s what I love about this partnership: First, each group brings something to the collaboration, and they each get something from it as well. And second, the partnership fills a need. Most schools do not have the money to buy and maintain the kinds of equipment necessary to do high-quality video and audio production, and they also lack the staff with the expertise required to teach these skills to students. This collaboration among various parts of the community helps to fill a void in “traditional” education. Jill Bourne, the Deputy Librarian, told me that she has recently formed working relationships with three different public high schools in San Francisco. I’m excited to track the progress of this partnership and see what the teens produce and how the teachers work with the group to incorporate media projects into their curricula.

The second panel discussion that had me feeling all fired up was Short Talk Panel: Playful interventions: libraries, college access, after school and media arts, which focused on creating richer learning experiences through games. “Gamification” (“Is that seriously a word?” a friend asked, when I was telling her about the conference. “Yes it is,” I replied) was a popular theme at DML2012, and I’ll be honest when I say people might be a little too game-crazy right now, for my taste. Learning activities need more than just badges to be innovative. Still, I also subscribe to the Alfred Mercier notion that, “What we learn with pleasure we never forget.” And I’ve been know to create games in my own classes when teaching elements of syntax and sentence style, and I’ve found those games to be quite effective in reinforcing the “nuts and bolts” of solid sentence structure. So I was down to hear what the folks on this panel had to say about the role of games in teaching and learning.

Adam Rogers, Emerging Technology Services Librarian at North Carolina State University, gave a lively and interesting presentation about how he and his colleagues redesigned freshman library orientation at NC State by using iPods with the Evernote app installed. Freshman Composition instructors singed up their classes for orientation, and the students in the classes were broken up into teams of four or five students each, with one iPod per team. The students were also given maps of the library and a list of scavenger hunt questions to answer and activities to complete. They logged their answers using Evernote, which allowed them to do things like capture pictures of themselves with a librarian and make note of information contained in certain volumes in the library. It was a fun, engaging way to introduce the students to the library, its staff, and even each other, as they worked together to complete the scavenger hunt. I told Adam that I thought his game had potential to be reworked throughout the year to help students become really good at research. Teachers in various disciplines could work with the librarians to craft a similar game that results in the students collecting preliminary research on a specific topic, further helping them internalize where various kinds of information are to be found in the library, and where to turn if they need help finding better information than what their own search yields.

What both of these panels highlighted for me is the idea brought up at one of the plenary sessions–that education is moving from a one-to-many model to a many-to-many model. That is to say, it really does take a village to raise our youth and educate them and give them the skills they’ll need to survive and succeed in this rapidly changing world. Districts can and should capitalize on the potential of this “many-to-many” model by evolving traditional professional development days into learning partnership days. Teachers often have very little time or space for networking with others–inside and outside of their schools–and yet building relationships with other educators and with those who could contribute to education beyond the school walls helps to make the educational experience for both faculty and students so much richer. I left DML2012 full of hope for the future of teaching and learning and fully ready to be part of that future. My hope is that schools will embrace this future by thinking outside the classroom to find innovative ways to help the village contribute resources and expertise to the educating of our youth.

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