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The First Panel at HASTAC III: Innovations in Participatory Learning, Social Change, and Digital Democracy

Today's first session,  "Innovations in Participatory Learning, Social Change, and Digital Democracy," at HASTAC III started the conference (which, per Cathy Davidson's introduction to the session, is the biggest HASTAC conference yet) with some brief introductions of, and examples from, four 2008 Digital Media and Learning competition winners.  Here, I just want to provide a quick glimpse into each presentation and project and, in light of what was said and shown in the session, list a few questions that I'll be ruminating on for the balance of the conference.  

Craig Wacker, Program Officer for the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, opened the session with the history of the Digital Media and Learning competition, stressing an investment in not only evidence building in digital media projects, but also theory and field building.  Wacker referenced Pew Internet and American Life Project research that suggests that young people tend to play games in a social way---not in isolation, or as a "basement" activity.  He also pointed to the fact that the Digital Media and Learning competition winners and projects span the globe, including countries such as South Africa and Mexico.  

At one point, Wacker raised a question that is unpacked by a number the competition's winning projects: How, if at all, are young people changing because of their experiences with new media?  As an audience member, I appreciated the force of this question, namely because it stresses the experiential character of new media and becomes a gateway into inquiries about media culture and everyday practices, as well as neurology and multimodal learning. 

Next was Timothy Lenoir, who presented on behalf of  "Virtual Peace," a collaboration between the Duke-UNC Rotary Center, Virtual Heroes (a North Carolina game company), and the Visual Studies Initiative at Duke.  Lenoir focused on the Humanitarian Assistance Simulator, which uses a 3D environment to foster adaptive thinking, policy studies, conflict resolution, skill negotiation, challenge navigation, and leadership training simultaneously for up to 32 players.  In this environment, instructors and stakeholders can facilitate after-action review and offer commentary on student interactions.  Lenoir used the line "turning swords into ploughshares" to describe the aims of the project.  

Connecting in a number of ways with today's third session, "Born Digital Scholarship," Lenoir posed the question of how projects like "Virtual Peace" can foster learning by doing.

Following Lenoir was Suzanne Seggerman, who presented on behalf of Games 4 Change (G4C).  Attending to how serious games can enable social change, G4C supports the emerging field of social issue gaming (referred to by ABC Nightly News as video games that do good) by bringing together educators, non-profits, and game developers and providing resources and opportunities for collaboration between them.   Seggerman pointed the audience to a downloadable toolkit featured on the G4C website and demoed it. Of note, the toolkit includes some great video of talks as they relate to six steps---urge, concept, design, production, distribution, and evaluation---toward using digital games for social-issue driven missions and outreach.   

The third presentation, by Jan Reiff, explored an example from Hypercities --- "PDUB Youth Narratives: The Insiders' Guide to HiFi" (or Historic Filipinotown).  Situating her talk in her History 191D course at UCLA, Reiff discussed how Hypercities aims---through creation and re-creation---to blend mapping (both historical and contemporary) with participatory learning, digital video production, collaboration, social technologies, civic engagement, and university-community partnerships.  In this blend, what I found particularly interesting was Reiff's emphasis on "cumulative knowledge" and the "iterative development" of projects.  As the conference progresses, this emphasis on process (over end-product) is coming to the fore.  

The session's final presentation was by Ed Bender, on Follow the Money, which started as a one-year project to digitize and follow money in state politics.  Follow the Money not only compiles data on how state money circulates; it also provides reports and visual analyses.  At one point, Bender referred to the tools that Follow the Money offers as "monetary competitiveness tools" that allow audiences to see who donates funds to political candidates all the way down to the aggregate level.  Bender also demoed ?Sleuth,? an online, video tutorial. In the future, the project hopes to include some user-generated content (composed by, say, high school students) and continue to pressure a fantastic question: 

How does data tell a story?  

More soon...



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