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The Future of Learning in a Connected World

photo of Franco Iacomella

Franco Iacomella
6th February 2012


SOURCE: Digital Media and Learning Research Hub

How must learning and education adapt to digital society? That’s the
question hundreds of technologists, futurists, researchers, and
educators will take on in the “Beyond
Educational Technology: Learning Innovations in a Connected World”
conference, Mar. 1-3, in San Francisco.

With provocative talks, inspiring case studies, and panel conversations
featuring global thought leaders, scholars, and leading practitioners,
the conference will address rapidly-escalating concerns about the urgent
need to reimagine education, learning, and school for the present
generation and beyond.

At the heart of the conference lies a challenge that is drawing the
attention of activists, policymakers and social innovators everywhere:
At this historical moment, people, cultures, and knowledge are coming
together in unprecedented ways via the internet, digital technology, and
social media — how should learners and learning institutions change?

The conference, to be held at the Wyndham Parc 55 Hotel in the Union
Square district, will spotlight
scores of examples of next-generation learning and innovation,
including:


The exploding sector of international online social learning networks.


How YouTube is being used by youth across the world to teach other
specialized subject matter.


How a group of Muslim girls is using digital media to tell the world
what their lives are like.


Youth who are designing and using videogames to explore critical
social issues like climate change and human rights.


Ways in which social media is being used in local communities to push
back on the destructive dynamics of gangs and ethnic rivalries.


A school in northern California where teachers let go of the reigns
and let youth learn by designing solutions to real-world issues they
care about.

The conference will be dedicated to illuminating big-picture questions
but also everyday ones, such as: What happens when a group of 15
teenagers from an underprivileged community in Texas are given regular
access to computers and the internet? Are skills like multimedia
production and credibility assessment just as important now as reading,
writing, and arithmetic? Is the use of social media a
classroom-essential?

The first day of the conference will feature a special briefing during
which researchers will outline a new model of learning especially geared
to digital society. Called ‘Connected Learning’, it is a new
vision of learning suited to the complexity, connectivity, and velocity
of the new knowledge society and today’s economic and political
realities. A fresh approach to education, connected learning is anchored
in research and the best of traditional standards, but also designed to
mine the learning potential of the new social- and digital media domain.
The press briefing and reception, including cocktails, will take place
Thursday, Mar. 1, from 5:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. Members of the news media
interested in attending the briefing can get more information by
emailing Whitney Burke at the Digital
Media and Learning Research Hub, wburke@hri.uci.edu.

The conference also will feature a Science Fair, produced by the Mozilla
Foundation, a nonprofit organization that created the Firefox web
browser and advocates worldwide for internet freedom. Mozilla’s science
fair will spotlight many exciting new learning-related undertakings,
including: Hive
Learning Networks, open, connected communities in New York and
Chicago dedicated to transforming the learning landscape for youth; Mozilla
Popcorn, a classroom tool for youth to produce video book reports,
interactive essays, and digital-age storytelling; Peer
2 Peer University, a grassroots open education project that
organizes learning outside of institutional walls; and Mozilla
Open Badges, an effort to create a new way of recognizing skills and
achievements for 21st century learners. The Science Fair will take place
Thursday, Mar. 1, from 6:00 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. It’s a casual event and
cocktails and snacks will be served.

The opening night of the conference will also see the naming of the 2011
award winners for the MacArthur Foundation-supported fourth annual Digital
Media & Learning Competition. Winners will receive awards of up
to $200,000. This year’s competition has been designed to encourage
individuals and organizations to create new forms of recognition —
digital badges that identify, recognize, and account for new skills,
competencies, knowledge, and achievements for 21st century learners
regardless of where and when learning takes place.

The conference theme, “Beyond
Educational Technology: Learning Innovations in a Connected World,”
refers to a dramatic shift that has taken place even in the last few
years: the realization that a renaissance in learning is not tied to any
specific tool or platform or individual technology, but to the impact of
the widespread creation and acquisition of knowledge that is now
possible through observing, interacting and collaborating with others
anywhere, anytime. The headline speakers include John
Seely Brown, an expert in radical innovation, digital culture and
ubiquitous computing; and conference chair Diana
Rhoten, digital learning entrepreneur and senior vice president for
strategy in the new education division at News Corp.

Rhoten believes the conference topic, timing, and location (so near
Silicon Valley) will be an unusual opportunity for critical, diverse
voices to challenge assumptions and status quo thinking about
reimagining education in the 21st century — and to take on the
compelling if controversial role of digital technology, the internet and
social media in that task.

“Technology is just a tool to be put in the hands of the users,” Rhoten
says. “So before we start talking about what technology can do to
innovate education, we must back up the conversation and really
understand what the primary practices and purposes of learning are.
There’s no other market in which products are built without significant
user input. If we don’t start doing that in this sector, we are failing
the teachers, students, and parents who are intended to be the direct
beneficiaries of entrepreneurial activity.”

This is the third annual conference produced by the Digital
Media and Learning Research Hub, which organizes the gathering to
explore what next-generation learning looks like in a world being remade
by innovation, technology, and social networks. Located physically at
the University of California, Irvine, and situated within the UC
system’s Humanities
Research Institute, the Research Hub is dedicated to analyzing and
interpreting the impact of the internet and digital media on education,
politics, and youth.

“Bringing together thought leaders, major technology developers,
prominent researchers, and innovative practitioners nationally and
internationally, this is a ‘must attend’ experience for anyone wanting
to figure out where learning practices are headed, leading research in
the field, and best practices in technologically-enabled learning,” says
David Theo Goldberg, director of the UC Humanities
Research Institute and executive director of the Digital Media and
Learning Research Hub. “The Digital Media and Learning Conference is a
key forum for discovering leading thought and developments regarding
digital media’s impact on the innovation and transformation of learning
and educational practice.”

The work of the DML Research Hub, which includes original research,
websites, publications, workshops, and the conference, is funded by the
John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. The Gates Foundation, the
Mozilla Foundation, and Microsoft Research have also contributed to this
year’s conference.

About the MacArthur Foundation and the Digital Media & Learning
Initiative The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation
supports creative people and effective institutions committed to
building a more just, verdant, and peaceful world. In addition to
selecting the MacArthur Fellows, the Foundation works to defend human
rights, advance global conservation and security, make cities better
places, and understand how technology is affecting children and society.
The MacArthur Foundation launched its digital media and learning
initiative in 2006 to explore how digital media are changing the way
young people learn, play, socialize and participate in civic life, and
what that means for their learning in the 21st century. More information
on the digital media and learning initiative is available at
www.macfound.org/education .

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