The digital age: Kids learn differently

At a Saturday panel session during the Education Writers Association conference here in Chicago, Mimi Ito, Henry Jenkins, and Connie Yowell discussed how digital tools for making, remaking, mashing, and tinkering are part of students’ everyday lives.

Mimi Ito is a cultural anthropologist studying new media use, particularly among young people in Japan and the US. Her research has demonstrated that kids are often learning more, and more engaged, at home online than while in school. They share their digital works in the context of public visibility. They live in a world of networked micro-publics built around special interests. Their learning and participation are friendship-driven, as evidenced by their Myspace and Facebook pages, gossiping and flirting, their private talking and public performance. Their participation is interest-driven as they learn in a context of social reciprocity.

Students find communities of interest online that they can’t find in school. What they make is tied to who they make it for. Like 17-year-old Clarissa, they learn to take and give constructive criticism. They write fiction pieces not for a grade but out of genuine interest. Like Lantis, they feel good when they produce something that their peers value.

In a Q&A Ito said that online learning communities encourage active civic participation, and producing one’s voice and vision. Games like Runescape and other multiple player onlne environments encourage the development of leadership and political skills. Kids organize groups around getting things done and achieving things politically and economically.

Out-of-school learning environments provide opportunities for peer validation, success, and risk-taking that is not a zero-sum game. Kids can achieve fame within their own communities.

Read Cathy Grimes’s post on the EWA conference blog

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