Yesterday I attended the MacArthur Foundation's press briefing and panel discussion on their efforts to build the field of digital media and learning, held at the American Museum of Natural History in New York (but nowhere near the squid and the whale). The facts on this initiative are impressive: a $50 million commitment over the next five years, six volumes to be penned by an interdisciplinary group of experts and published in 2007, and several exploratory grants for projects already in progress. You can read more about it at the official website for the initiative, and will soon be able to access webcast and podcast versions of the event.
The panel portion of the event featured Mimi Ito of USC, Henry Jenkins of MIT, and Nichole Pinkard of the University of Chicago. The discussion of their research in media literacy and convergence culture (Jenkins), informal learning through new media and technology (Ito), and transforming school and other structured-learning environments (Pinkard) revealed many issues that practitioners in this new field will face, including the continuing lack of internet and technology access among low-income and minority children, how some parents and schools actually stifle a rich and developing online youth culture by barring children?s access to new media under the belief that ?too much is bad for you,? and the benefits of semi-structured learning environments like libraries and museums in digital learning.
The live audience at the Museum and the audience in Second Life (which nearly filled the 50-person virtual ?room? set up for the viewing, according to moderator and MacArthur program officer Connie Yowell) demonstrated the broad implications for this initiative. Representatives from PBS and MTV asked about the future role of television in digital learning; Paul LeClerc, the president of the New York Public Library, reported that digital visitors to the NYPL's website now outnumber physical visitors at their branch locations for the first time; and Larry Grossman, co-chair of the Digital Promise Initiative, engaged MacArthur President Jonathan Fanton in the role of lifelong learning in this initiative. In addition to the formal institutions and tools of education that these voices represent, one audience member pointed out that "it's clear that play is a viable learning context" today and its educational impact is impossible to ignore.
For more information, I encourage you to see the MacArthur Digital Media & Learning website (link provided above), particularly the blog section, to contribute your own thoughts as the initiative moves forward. And, of course, stay tuned to the HASTAC website and my blog as we keep close watch on these topics.