I had the honor of being among a small of incredibly smart, dedicated researchers and practitioners who are all supported by the Digital Media and Learning Initiative of the MacArthur Foundation. About 70 of us gathered from Thursday to Friday at USC to talk about issues of common concern, share progress on our respective projects, and help MacArthur chart a course forward in this new field of work.
It was amazing being in the same room with such leading lights in the area of digital learning such as Henry Jenkins, Mimi Ito and James Paul Gee. As someone on the practitioner side, I was often way over my head in the theoretical and academic discussions in this area. But I got many new insights about our own work, and a better picture of the larger trajectory that hopefully all of these projects are building towards.
I’m continually impressed by the spirit of experimentation and innovation being fostered by MacArthur among its grantees. These are largely uncharted waters — exploring how children learn in this digital media environment and how to re-cast learning environments and institutions to best prepare young people for the challenges ahead. We’ll need venues like these to check-in with each other and help ensure that we continue to collaborate and coordinate effectively.
A common refrain from the meeting was that this was an iterative
process that should allow for failure, as long as there was learning
that resulted from that failure. Fostering this sort of environment is tough
since most groups are uncomfortable with reporting to their colleagues
and funders anything that isn’t completely positive. Who wants to say
that they failed to accomplish what they said they would do?
But creating ground-breaking projects that incorporate new technologies
and media for education is a high-risk venture. The new widget you are
trying to create may not work. The young people you are working with
may not learn what you expected them to learn. The timeline you
guesstimated about may be wildly optimistic.
On the other hand, no project is a failure if some kind of important
lesson can be drawn from it. Even if that lesson is this technology or
approach has no effect on learning.
I have certainly been involved with my share of projects that failed,
or that didn’t perform as expected. I’ve launched several websites
that never got off the ground. I attempted to create a working group on
e-government at the UN that bombed dramatically. I’ve been involved
with various lost causes too numerous to mention. From all of these experiences I’ve learned
valuable things that I think make me a
On the macro-level, creating this kind of digital learning "sandbox" where groups can
experiment, take calculated risks, and be honest about approaches that
don’t work is a refreshing change. I look forward to more failure,
learning and innovation in the future.
As my breakdance instructor says, "I don’t care if you make mistakes. That’s how you learn. I just want you to make different mistakes each time."