At a Saturday panel session at the Education Writers Association conference here in Chicago, MIT professor Henry Jenkins insisted online networked learning communities are not an ‘add-on’ subject: This is a paradigm shift in education. Jenkins spoke enthusiastically about kids writing fan fiction and other original stories, outside of school, not for a grade, but for the joy of it. Online communities provide peer feedback and other educational benefits that are especially important for homeschooled students and unschooled students.
In this participatory online culture, Jenkins says, students are motivated to problem-solve in new ways. They adopt technologies used by social scientists at advanced levels. They become deeply invested in each other. They construct social hierarchies based on who knows the most.
Noting the ‘gross unevenness’ in students’ access to technology, Jenkins said some students are not digital natives. Schools often block access to these networks, denying students these creative tools and opportunities. Not a good practice in general Jenkins says, but an absolutely inequitable practice for students lacking internet access at home. Access to online social and learning communities has become the new ‘hidden curriculum,’ a term once reserved for having home access to a good encyclopedia and robust dinnertime conversations.
In a Q&A session Jenkins said online learning environments change the ways students learn, how they choose their careers, and who they will associate with in the future. No wonder students are bored by having to memorize the names of 12 Greek gods, he said, when Pokemon encourages them to learn at least 250 characters, all with multiple states of being, and with changing relationships.
He recommended the John Beck & Mitchell Wade book “Got Game: How the Gamer Generation Is Reshaping Business Forever.” It portrays the mindset of adults who grew up playing computer games as having more skills in collaboration and other skills that companies hire for. Jenkins can envision companies hiring entire Quake brigades.