This year’s Digital Media and Learning Conference is just over a month away, and I am really getting excited about it! There are so many great presentations and panels lined up so far: everything from digital tools for “civic learning” to creating learning activities with games like Minecraft (and that’s not all; browse all of the offerings here). In short, the conference promises to provide an amazing weekend of learning, sharing and connecting with others who work at the intersection of civic engagement, education and technology.
While all of the presentations look worthwhile, there are two in particular that are heavily on my radar. The first is a “featured session” on day one of the conference titled, “This is Not an Orientation: Gameful Layers for the Freshman Experience,” which will provide the results of two case studies in which college freshmen participated in “gaming” their freshman year. From the presentation description:
Just Press Play, from the Rochester Institute of Technology, … is an achievement-based system that encourages students to think of the obstacles in their path as part of a narrative of their educational development. Reality Ends Here, from the University of Southern California, is …[s]tructured as an alternate reality game [that] introduces students to the culture and history of the school, encouraging them to become part of that tradition from day one.
I am so very interested in what those involved learned about the role of technology in the “freshman experience,” particularly as it pertains to involving students in the community of their campus, as the USC experiment seems to have done. As instructors, we know how important it is to create community in our classrooms in order for students to learn, grow and participate; often, though, that sense of community can get lost outside of our individual classrooms, particularly at a place like San Francisco State (the large public university where I taught), where many students do not live on campus, and often commute to school from jobs where they work full or part time. The need for such a gaming experience might be even more pressing at a community college, where none of the students are living on campus, and they might not have obvious connectors–like similarity in age or life stage–to help them bond with one another. I read an article recently about a site called Alumn.us that seeks to be a way for public schools to develop “a strong alumni network” that donates back to the school in the way that private school alumni often do. What struck me as I read the article was that in order to have a strong alumni network, you need to first have a strong student community; students who do not identify with their school will likely not become alumni who can’t wait to “give back” after they graduate. The challenge, then, is to create that strong community so that all students feel connected to their school in a way that enhances their learning and social development while they are there, and exists as a lasting part of their identity when they leave. Can games that upend the traditional freshman orientation by focusing on fostering community-building and strong school ties help begin creating this community? I’m excited to find out at “This Is Not an Orientation.”
The second presentation I can’t wait to attend is the symposium titled, ”Democratizing Computer Science through Culturally Relevant Pedagogy in Urban Schools: Building on Students‚ Funds of Knowledge and Community Cultural Wealth.” From the description:
While those using computer science(CS)-developed tools are extremely diverse, those studying and working in CS-related fields are not. By limiting the production of new technology to a homogenous group, much of our digital world is being dictated by a shrinking sphere of influence.
CS’s lack of diversity can be traced back to secondary education where women, Blacks, and Latino/as are routinely denied access to high-level computing classes due to tracking, a lack of teacher preparedness, differential curricula, and the absence of culturally relevant CS curricula. Deficit ideologies rationalizing CS’s lack of diversity to an inability to learn or disinterest further exacerbate this divide.
We devote a lot of attention to the “achievement gap” as it relates to math, English and science, but just as worrisome is the digital divide and how the underlying assumptions that contribute to its growth create a profound lack of diversity in tech-heavy jobs; this divide is even more worrisome when you consider how rarely we measure computer skills in school, and how much of the workforce–indeed, even just “regular life”–will require increasing degrees of technological savvy (many could argue–and I would join them–that we are already living in such a space). I’m excited to learn about what concrete things people are doing to erase this divide, and I’m eager to hear the results of their efforts.
Those are my “big picks” for the upcoming Digital Media and Learning Conference. What are yours? And what’s missing from the schedule? What issues do you think are pressing but are still not being addressed by those working in education and technology?