The organizers of 2012’s Digital Media & Learning (DML) conference handed out thumb drives and showcased real-time Twitter feeds. Their panelists presented cutting-edge software and repurposed hardware. Their contest applicants imagined new ways to conceptualize digital proficiencies and to showcase them online.
Yet the high-tech faltered at times. The conference hotel’s WiFi network was painfully sluggish if not downright impenetrable, most sessions were not videotaped, and none were streamed live. While badging can facilitate appreciation for formerly unrecognized skills and possibly lead the way to more democratic modes of accreditation, it also risks the syndrome of pouring old wine into new bottles, which is to say changing the vessel rather than the mindset and/or the material.
In the end, however, none of that mattered—neither the digital conference program nor the JumboTrons, Wifi, or video. In the end, what mattered was people. Oldest story in the book. What always matters is people.
My DML 2012
Let me back up. I had the privilege of appearing on two panels at DML 2012. First, my colleagues and I from the PLAY! (Participatory Learning And You!) project at USC’s Annenberg Innovation Lab introduced attendees to our online platform for the curation, creation, and circulation of user-generated learning—the PLAYground. From inviting small groups to design their own learning challenges, each and every one of them brilliant and unique, we re-appreciated the value—even the imperativeness!—of flexibility in education. Simply, when we provide open-ended means for accessing learning goals, as well as support learners with tools for pursuing passions, the richness of their products is inestimable.
I also joined colleagues from USC’s Game Innovation Lab in examining and confronting the digital divide. We capitalized on attendees’ early arrival by asking everyone in the room to introduce themselves. It was fascinating! When it was my turn to step up to the PowerPoint, I jettisoned my presentation in favor of practicing what I preached. In addition to explaining PLAY!‘s support for Laughter for a Change, an after-school improvisational theater workshop for urban high school students, I urged partners to do some improv themselves! Reflecting on the exercise, participants commented on their varying levels of engagement and comfort, and identified the utility of play and games as contexts for learning and community-building.
The Synergy of We
The most meaningful, productive moments of the conference occurred when we allowed DML attendees to pool their collective intelligence and creativity; invited their interactivity, play, relationship-building, and reflection; and offered students the opportunity to present their own work in their own words (with teenaged critical researchers trailblazing this path). We know the ingredients of powerful pedagogy. It’s time for us to implement them in our own conference proceedings.
Expanding the We
Our synergistic “we” needs to get blown even wider. Where are the classroom teachers, administrators, students, and parents in our brigade? Where are the policymakers and social service providers? Enough singing to the (albeit brilliant) choir. Multi-part harmony will enrich our tune.
Honoring Our Humanity
In the digital shuffle, we can’t forget the power of the face-to-face and corporeal. There’s intimacy in looking another person in the eye. There’s comfort in snuggling with a grandparent and diving into a book. Time and distance sometimes may preclude such physicality; it is in this vacuum when technology, which game designer Tracy Fullerton likens to a can opener, can sing. The point is the people.
Accommodating Our Limits
A yearly reunion is also inadequate for making and sustaining change. So too, perhaps, are the smaller, monthly meetings I co-organize for USC Impact Games. How can we harness the tech tools we love(/hate) in order to move forward? Do we pipe every Impact Games member’s Tweets into a homepage feed? Do we create a quick, casual game that allows for simple service? And, at the same time, how do we avoid irrelevance by appearing like so much noise? In an age of bursting inboxes and information overload, how much is too much and how much is just right?
On March 21, 2012, my colleagues and I invited the 26+ USC-based attendees of DML 2012 to reflect on the conference with like-minded colleagues from USC Impact Games. We have decided to identify ourselves as a cohort of interdisciplinary peers who share dissimilar methodologies and a common interest in tapping high-tech, low-tech, and no-tech tools for improving teaching and learning. Drafting a letter to the USC administration and visualizing our various interests and expertise are our current tasks. Broadly, we seek to build bridges between: departments at USC, USC and our community, USC and neighboring universities, and DML and the world.
If you’re in Southern California, contact me in order to join our DML chapter. If you attended DML 2012, complete DML Hub’s post-conference evaluation. And if you’re interested in how to communicate the importance of digital media and learning to general audiences, check out FrameWorks Institute.
Digital media need people-power. Power to the people.
About the author
Laurel Felt is a Ph.D. candidate, researcher, and curriculum designer focused on nurturing youths’ social and emotional competence, critical thinking, and communicative capacities. She is currently investigating participatory learning with USC’s Annenberg Innovation Lab via the PLAY! project, and emotional regulation with GameDesk via biofeedback-enhanced impact game Dojo.