Blog Post

The Culture of Digital Teaching and Learning

For the past few months I have been attempting to catch up with the rest of the media world by watching the HBO series The Wire.  Currently I have watched through the fourth season and I have gladly joined the ranks of people who love the show.  During the 4th season the focus of the show shifts to the issue of education.  One of the characters leaves the police force to become a math teacher for "at risk" 8th graders.  The classroom that he faces resembles many depictions of inner-city education cultures including, Dangerous Minds and Blackboard Jungle.  Like many of the fictional teachers in these movies, the character in the Wire attempts to reach the students by adapting part of their culture to teach his cirriculum.  He teaches mathmatic probablity by allowing the kids to play craps in the classroom.  The scene made me feel uneasy, not only because I was worried about the reaction of the administration to this unorthodox teaching strategy but because this teaching philosophy has become a convention of education centered media.  It occurs to me that there are two poles to media depictions of education for the inner city; there is the charitable euro-centric character who enriches the lives of under-priveleged youth by extolling the virtues of the arts (think Antonio Banderas in Take the Lead) or there is the teacher that adapts urban culture for the purposes of the classroom.  Talking with my fiancee and her mother, both teachers, I was struck by how the latter strategy has become a staple of education.  I began to wonder where digital learning, social networking and distance learning fit within this spectrum of teaching. 

What is the culture of online learning?  Do education programs that feature computers attempt to reflect the cultures of digital natives (myspace, facebook, blogs) or do they resemble a more colonial approach (business computing culture)? 

In considering these questions I have reflected on a digital learning project that is being organized by the Center that I work for, the Carsey-Wolf Center at UCSB.  Their Sampling the Sea program encourages classrooms around the country to participate in an online science education game that uses children's skills doing web searches to contribute to a database of information about ocean science.  Games seem to be a central feature of online education.  As this area is not my speciality (I work with the Carsey-Wolf Center on their Media Industries Project, not the Sampling the Sea program) I am not familiar with all of the literature on the way that games relate to education.  I will be reading more in the next few months as I suspect it has something to do with a culture of video games that is increasingly a part of childrens lives.  I would be interested, however, in any thoughts from the HASTAC community concerning the status of digital learning in relation to the media representation spectrum that I have attempted to outline in this post.


1 comment

This is a great post that brings up a lot of questions related to education reform. For the most part, American schools are very much stuck in the 1950s. The idea of incorporating game-based learning into the curriculum is very rare---I suspect that most of this sort of integration is happening in private schools, not public schools.

The NCLB and testing laws have taken a lot of the creativity and freedom out of the hands of the teachers. The curriculum is heavily correlated to the state standards. Nearly every bit of everything they do has to be tied to a state standard or test.

The other big issue is that nearly all public schools block access to social networking sites (Facebook, Flickr, YouTube, Twitter....the list goes on) in the school computer labs. There is a real fear that students' may view something "inappropriate" that will result in angry parents. I call it the "Dateline NBC" syndrome. There is a huge disconnect between the ways kids use technology outside of school versus the ways they get to use it at school.

Urban schools, in particular, have very limited access to technology. Their hardware is usually very old (I was recently at a school that was using windows 3.1) and very often *not* connected to the internet. I met with a school librarian who works in San Francisco. She told me about a visit by the Google Teachers team who showed them how she could integrate Google Docs and Google Earth into the classroom. Small problem. The computers are sooooo old, they couldn't run Google Earth, plus they couldn't download the program.

The UK and other parts of Europe are really progressive in the game-based learning research. Here's a couple resources that you might find useful: