Archive for May, 2008

New Paradigms for Learning in the Digital Age

Wednesday, May 14th, 2008

A Presentation by Connie Yowell at the First Annual Symposium of the Joan Ganz Cooney Center

May 9, 2008

Connie Yowell of the MacArthur Foundation photo [Background: The presentation that left the strongest impression on me during the Joan Ganz Cooney Center’s Symposium was the four minute speech delivered by Connie Yowell, the Director of Education for the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Before Connie Yowell spoke, the symposium’s keynote speaker Bing Gordon, the Chief Creative Officer of Electronic Arts, discussed his experience developing video games for EA. He gave an enlightening presentation about the successful video game franchise Madden Football. What was most impressive about Bing’s presentation was the amount of mathematics, statistics and probability that are an integral part of the game’s experience. To hear the recording of Bing Gordon or Connie Yowell’s presentation, please refer to my prior blog post.]

“Good afternoon everyone. I’m Connie Yowell, the Director of Education at the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. I want to start off by saying that we do a lot more than give out “genius awards” even though that’s how Bing Gordon of EA referred to us in his introduction. One of the things we do at the Foundation is award a fair amount of education grants.

Two years ago the MacArthur Foundation began to question how effective our grant making was. We were really focused on district reform, school reform, and instructional improvement. It was suggested to me that I begin to look at the digital world. I did so kicking and screaming. My heart has always been in social justice and in civil rights. I understand that education is the pathway to that result.

I had a lucky opportunity one morning to meet with Will Wright, the video game visionary behind The Sims, SimCity and SimEarth. Will was kind enough to have breakfast with me and I spent two and a half hours listening to him talk about how he creates a game. I distinctly remember leaving that meeting and emailing my boss immediately thereafter to say “I just met John Dewey.” There was no question in my mind that game developers and the folks who are working on some of these new technologies are the pedagogical theorists of the 21st century. They are the folks who are developing curriculum for our young people.

I have just one point to make and that being my greatest concern is with who we are as adults. My concern is with the paradigms we bring to this work. My concern is that we are at a time where we need dramatic changes and shifts in how we think about learning. My concern is the paradigms we bring to this conversation.

I’m curious, of those of you here in the room, how many of you, prior to or even after seeing Bing Gordon’s presentation, could watch somebody play a Madden Football video game and recognize where learning is happening in that game? [About 12 hands go up in the crowded room of more than 150 people.] I see a few of you could. If you can’t understand where learning is happening through the Madden game, then we’re in the wrong paradigm. If you’re stuck in conversations about whether or not the Encyclopedia Britannica is better than Wikipedia, then we’re in the old paradigm.

What matters dramatically at this moment, for me and for the Foundation, is that we ask the right questions. You can’t get to the solution and you can’t understand what direction to move in unless you’re asking the right questions. So if you look at Encyclopedia Britannica and you look at Wikipedia and your questions are about credibility, then you’re probably more concerned about something from the 20th century. If you look at Wikipedia and you say “Oh my God, this is going to teach my kid how to be a historian!” it’s then that you’ll see this is an incredibly different kind of learning opportunity and a fundamentally different kind of reading practice that our young kids are engaged in when they’re looking at Wikis and blogs and other things on the Internet. We cannot measure what they’re doing or understand the learning that is happening in context with our old measures – our old paradigms for learning, and frankly, our old understandings of learning that are based on models of consumption.

We’re in a time of participation. We’re in a time of production. And as important as participation and production are, we’re in a time of networked learning. I want to say that over and over again; We’re in a time of networked learning, – where kids are communicating and collaborating with each other in ways that fundamentally shift the role of the teacher and fundamentally shift the role of the adult. If anyone thinks a classroom of 25 kids with a teacher at the front is the paradigm that will result in the most effective use of digital media, that result is not going to happen. We can’t be using the same kinds of standards and measures or think that we’re simply going to move digital media into schools as they currently exist. We will only find that they have no impact. And then we’ll miss one of the most important opportunities for advancing our kids’ learning that we have had in over a century. I can’t express this with enough emotion and importance; we are in a moment, and if we ask the wrong questions, if we stick with our questions from the 20th century, and hold the new digital media accountable to things we’ve been holding accountable in the same ways for decades, we’re going to miss this opportunity.

I would also like to point out that commercial industry is driving learning. They are fundamentally driving learning. They have outstripped anything the textbook industry is doing or anyone else. What has to shift in a significant way is the relationship with and our understanding of the relationship between public and private, and I think that’s a good thing. Thank you.”

Kids, Technology and Learning:
The First Annual Joan Ganz Cooney Symposium

Wednesday, May 14th, 2008

On May 9th, the first ever Joan Ganz Cooney Center Symposium was kicked off at the McGraw-Hill offices located in New York City. The Joan Ganz Cooney Center is the newest addition to the Sesame Workshop enterprise. Its mission is to offer guidance, research and insight into how children can learn through emerging media. The symposium itself was an amazing event. A stellar list of speakers and influential attendees from diverse areas of education, broadcast, gaming and the toy world came together to discuss the future of learning and technology for children in the 21st century. This jam-packed event included presentations from over 34 different industry insiders. Over 150 invited guests filled the room. Included on the guest list was Congressman George Miller (D-CA) who is the chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee.

All of the presentations offered many important perspectives and voices that are shaping the learning and technology conversation today. A number of speakers served up new research and valuable insights to chew on long after the event concluded. While there was significant take-away from all of the speakers, I would like to call out two specific presentations. These include the presentations of Connie Yowell of the MacArthur Foundation and Jennifer Kotler of Sesame Workshop.

First and foremost, Connie Yowell‘s presentation on new learning paradigms was simply amazing, passionately delivered, and has given many folks the most food for thought about the future of new media and learning. Connie expressed the importance of seeking out the right questions to ask at the beginning of our journey, stating that in order for us to realize the opportunity in front of us, we must be ready for a significant paradigm shift in the existing learning conversation. I heard many attendees echo the importance of Connie’s words at the conclusion of the event. In the matrix below, I have included an audio recording of Connie’s presentation. A transcription of her comments can also be found in my next blog article.

During this part of the symposium, both Ellen Wartella (of UC Riverside) and Connie Yowell’s words were offered in succession and both speakers expressed a great need for more research and a significant rethinking of our current approach to education and learning. Their comments were vital ones to be heard by policy makers, and while Representative George Miller attended the event for most of the day, sadly he left just before Ellen and Connie took the stage.

The next presentation I’d like to call attention to was that delivered by Jennifer Kotler. Jennifer presented two reports, but one in particular has an important story to be told. This report gathered information from interviews conducted with children ages 6 to 9. It asked them about their favorite games and websites. Included within this report was a very clever validity check that, when its findings were presented, calls into question any other self-reported findings from other organizations asking similar questions about kids and online preferences.

In the study, kids were asked about their technology preferences. Included within the interview question sets were six non-existent website and game names. That’s right, online products that were completely fictitious and do not exist. What this report revealed was that 56% of those surveyed claimed to have played these non-existent games and websites. How could this be?

What the research suggests is that kids may be more likely to exaggerate their actual use of technology because of the apparent “cool factor” and/or the aspirational aspect of these technologies. How does this cool/aspirational factor play out within the data? Here are just a couple of examples: When kids were asked if they have ever visited a MySpace page, the “clean” data suggests that only 19% of those surveyed have visited the popular online destination whereas the non-valid data states the number is 54%. When asked about posting video on YouTube, the numbers are 7% (valid data) vs 42% (non-valid data).

These findings suggest that similar studies conducted by other organizations would benefit greatly by the inclusion of a validity test in their research. If not, the numbers reported could be significantly skewed from what they should be. Now that we’re all armed with this information, go back and look at all the claims regarding other popular children’s destinations, like Club Penguin, Webkinz, and the like. Hmmmmm.

I would also like to call out presentations made by Bernie Trilling of Oracle Education Foundation about 21st Century Learning Skills, Allison Druin for her work with the International Children’s Digital Library project, Krista Marks of Kerpoof, James Paul Gee and his report on Getting Over the Slump, and Jim Styer of Common Sense Media for his report on how parents and educators view the educational potential of new media.

The matrix below offers audio recordings, papers, and related websites collected from the event. Friends and colleagues who know me well will tell you that I’m rarely without a camera or recording device at such events. I believe it’s important to capture and share such information with everyone so that industries can move forward together. The list below includes audio recordings from most of the speakers. However, my apologies go out to the last 8 or so speakers, mostly from Warren Buckleitner’s Dust or Magic panel, for by the end of the day my recording device lost power.

All of the audio clips can be downloaded as a single zipped file here.


Audio PDF Site Speaker or Description
Yes Opening video (audio recording only)
Yes William Oldsey – EVP, McGraw-Hill Education
Yes Gary E. Knell – President and CEO, Sesame Workshop
Yes Joan Ganz Cooney – Co-Founder, Sesame Workshop
Yes Yes Michael Levine – Executive Director, Joan Ganz Cooney Center
Yes Yes Jim Steyer – Founder & CEO, Common Sense Media
Yes Yes James Paul Gee – Mary Lou Fulton Presidential Professor of Literacy Studies, Arizona State University
Yes Questions and Answers
Yes Claudia Wallis – TIME Magazine
Yes Buwon Tran – Director of Consumer Research, Casual Entertainment, Electronic Arts
Yes Jennifer Kotler – Assistant VP of Domestic Research, Education, Research and Outreach Department, Sesame Workshop
Yes Susan Neuman – Professor of Educational Studies, University of Michigan
Yes Francie Alexander – SVP of Scholastic Education and Chief Academic Officer, Scholastic
Yes Questions and Answers
Yes Lisa Guernsey – journalist, author of Into the Minds of Babes
Yes Marilyn Jager Adams – Research Professor of Cognitive and Linguistic Sciences, Brown University
Yes Yes Bernie Trilling – Global Director, Oracle Education Foundation
Yes Nichole Pinkard – Senior Research Associate & Assistant Professor, University of Chicago
Yes Margaret Honey – SVP, Strategic Initiatives & Research, Wireless Generation
Yes Lesli Rotenberg – SVP, PBS KIDS Next Generation Media Initiative
Yes Jayne James – Executive Director, Ready to Learn, Corporation for Public Broadcasting
Yes Questions and Answers
Yes U.S. Rep. George Miller (D-CA) – Chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee
Yes Gabriel Zalzman – SVP and General Manager, Fisher-Price
Yes Bing Gordon – Chief Creative Officer, Electronic Arts
Yes Linda Roberts – Former Director, Office of Educational Technology, US Department of Education
Yes Rob Lippincott – SVP, Education, PBS
Yes Ellen Wartella – Executive Vice Chancellor & Provost, UC Riverside
Yes Connie Yowell – Director of Education, MacArthur Foundation
Delia Pompa – VP for Education, National Council of La Raza
Yes Warren Buckleitner – Editor, Children’s Technology Review
Yes Allison Druin – Director, Human-Computer Interaction Lab, University of Maryland
Michael T. Jones – Chief Technology Advocate, Google, Inc.
Yes Krista Marks – CEO & Co-Founder, Kerpoof
Yes David Rose – Chief Scientist, CAST
Kathy Shirley – Technology and Media Services Director, Escondido Union School District
Michael Levine – Executive Director, Joan Ganz Cooney Center