Big Thinkers: Henry Jenkins on New Media and Implications for Learning and Teaching

The USC media professor describes the role of digital media in cultural transformation.

The USC media professor describes the role of digital media in cultural transformation.

Release Date: 5/27/09

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Digital native: A person raised in a technological environment who accepts that environment as the norm, and who often has grown up surrounded by digital devices, such as mp3 players and cell phones, and regularly uses these devices to interact with other people and the outside world.

Digital immigrant: A person who has adopted the Internet and related technologies later in life, typically after adolescence and young adulthood. Like a geographical immigrant, this person may adopt some aspects of a digital native while still retaining old habits.

Remixing: The process of taking samples from preexisting materials to combine them into new forms.

Augmented-reality games: Simulation games that combine real-world experiences with additional information supplied by handheld computers.


Discussion Questions

1. How are schools limiting kids' access to digital tools? Do you agree with these policies?

2. Do you see the participation gap in your school and community?

3. How do we create shared learning opportunities across generations?

4. Are schools ready to give up control to kids, families, and communities of learning? What are the opportunities and challenges?

5. What does authorship mean in the digital age? How do we teach it to kids?

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Big Thinkers: Henry Jenkins on New Media and Implications for Learning and Teaching (Transcript)

I think our schools are doubly failing on the one hand those kids who have a rich immersive relationship with the media outside of school are being de-skilled and de-tooled as they walk in the classroom. Their best way of learning are stripped off them. They’re blocked from accessing those platforms which allow them to share information with each other and to learn from each other’s stuff. We’re shutting down the archives on the web which could enrich education. We’re involved with a project around Moby Dick and we’ve discovered that many schools can’t access information about Moby Dick because snigger, snigger it has the word dick in it. So the result is that that’s blocked by many of the filtering technologies. We discover that schools don’t have minimal access to You Tube, which absolutely essential to the work that we’ve been doing because there’s so much rich materials out there. So that’s problem number one, problem number two are those kids who don’t have rich lives online, who don’t have garages where they can do their own green screen and then play around with cameras who really have no access to technology except through schools and public libraries and if we restrict access there and we don’t integrate that into their teaching, then those kids are going to be even doubly left behind and this is what we call the participation gap, it’s not just about access to technology, it’s about access to learning experiences, to social skills and cultural competencies, to a sense of empowerment and entitlement which allow them to fully be participants in this new society that’s emerging.

Like a physician the first statement is above all do no harm. That right now teachers shut down the technology, they frighten parents, they close off avenues for their kids, they tell kids again and again that what they learn outside of school, it doesn’t belong in the school and teachers have to remember every time they do that they’re also saying what I learn in the school has no relationship to all those other things you’re doing outside. So the first thing is to stop hurting, stop the pain, don’t do damage, pull back and have an open minded perspective and be willing to explore and even if you’re not ready to move yet into using new techniques, recognize and value the kinds of learning that’s taking place outside of the school and give a space for kids to share that expertise in the classroom so that they feel better about the things that they’re doing. Now one of the problems is kids devalue the learning that takes place in games and fan communities and online communities because their teachers and parents don’t value it and that leads to a lot of problems. Some of the cyber bullying and ethics stuff may be tied simply to the fact that they don’t see those experiences as being as real or as valid as other things. So let’s first validate that, then figure out what we can learn from it and finally take that learning back and then change our teaching techniques and our content to reflect the reality our students are living in. But the first step is do no harm.

And one thing we’ve got to do is get away from a world where we imagine digital natives and digital immigrant’s right? The most robust communities I’m seeing where learning takes place, adults and young people relate to each other in new roles, with new relationships, based on shared passions. Certainly it’s exciting to see teachers and students shifting roles in the classroom, but our classrooms continue to have very fixed relations between teachers and students and the teachers often say I don’t know anything about technology and I can’t go there because I’m going to lose control of my classroom and we’ve got to sort of create a space where people can learn from each other across the generations. I think tied to that is this idea, we have a world where we’re assuming that everyone’s going to be autonomous learners that everyone’s going to know everything. What we know in a world of collective intelligence of social networks is everyone’s going to know some things and what each member knows is available to the group as needed and that involves developing a new ethics of knowledge production, vetting, taking responsibility for what you know, ensuring the accuracy of information you communicate to others, having to be responsible to share what you know with others and taking accountability for people who share information you know is wrong and correcting it. So that we have a self correcting collaborative environment and that’s a different way of thinking about how knowledge gets produced and shared than the autonomous learning model that shapes most of our schools today.

We’re certainly providing some strategies and some advice for teachers, but also you want to try don’t go it alone right? You want to connect with other teachers who are doing the same things and so I think it’s going to be important to build online communities for teachers to trade information, to be supports for each other. The biggest scary bit is that you’re not going to know everything that’s going on in your classroom. I don’t mean that in the sense of not being able to observe it but you’re not going to be the only expert in the room at that point and that’s terrifying the teachers because suddenly a conversation starts and you don’t know where it’s going to go and frankly I’m not sure our schools are ready fully to allow that free floating exchange. There’s so much accountability and anxiety about saying the wrong things, teaching the wrong things right now that that boxes a lot of very gifted teachers in from being able to fully explore what a more collaborative environment the classroom would look like. So I think it’s getting the support around you, letting the principles know what you’re doing, letting parents know what you’re doing and then figure out what other kinds of support you need, whether they’re local experts that know parts of the story that you don’t know who can be on call, whatever, to connect people up so that they have resources around them that allow them to do it. But it’s again not only is the learner in the classroom moving from being autonomous but the teacher moves from being autonomous to part of a social network and you’ve got to have a social network around you, you trust to be able to fully move in this direction.

We started by trying to identify 12 fundamental skills that we think young people need to acquire to be able to be full participants in this new media landscape and these skills range from play and performance to judgment and negotiation, networking, collective intelligence, appropriation. These are social skills, these are not individual skills, they’re skills that allow people to work together and collaborate meaningfully with each other and the next step was to say how do we translate those into curricular materials? How do we teach literature in the classroom differently? How does Moby Dick get taught differently in the English class? Or has does maps get taught differently in the social science class in a world where we combine these skills with the new technologies. So it’s not about media literacy as an add on subject at the end of the week if the kids have been good, it’s about creating a paradigm shift in the ways we teach everything and similarly we’re developing stuff that are resources for after school programs and individual learners who want to dig deep into the specifics of media.

How do we decide what’s an appropriate use of someone else’s creative work, given that we know that creativity is always involved remixing materials from the cultural reservoir. The great creative work involves taking stories that already exist and retooling them for a new audience. But how do we balance that sense of the culture builds on itself with a recognition of individual authorship, a concern about plagiarism and so forth and we understand as well that we’re in a moment when the norms and law may be going in different directions. So we developed some simple tools that allow kids to map, to look at controversies around ownership and authorship, to map them in terms of social norms and legal standards and to use that as a way in to thinking about what governs their choices.

M1: What Eric Klopfer has been developing are so called augmented reality games. These are games that are played in physical space and they take advantage of both digital information and physical information. So for example environmental detectives is a game you play on the MIT campus and there’s a chemical leak toward the Charles River, you’ve got to find the source of the leak, you’ve got to walk the campus of MIT with your hand held, you get to a specific location, you can drill a virtual well and see fictional data, but GPS enabled that allows you to see what the chemical composition of the soil is. But you’re also looking at the erosion pattern, the distance to the Charles, the slope of the land; you’re comparing notes with other players. So it’s not just in the box. So what he’s done is developed a tool kit which allow kids to take that game-- to teachers to design games specific to the local communities. So one of my students designed a game for Lexington, where you try to figure out who fired the first shot of the American Revolution. You could design it for a local neighborhood and go around and interview the citizens who’ve lived there for a long time and find out about the different houses and what took place there and then use that technology to build something that gets kids to know their own neighborhood better. You could do city planning game where around a problem that’s facing your community. The point is that it’s about enabling problem solving in relation to GPS enabled information that can be framed as a game, but a game that requires people to pool knowledge and information with each other.


Video Credits

Produced and Directed by

  • Ken Ellis

Coordinating Producer

  • Lauren Rosenfeld

Production Support

  • Amy Erin Borovoy

Production Assistant

  • Doug Keely

Camera Crew

  • Sam Painter
  • David Mitlyng

Senior Video Editor

  • Karen Sutherland

This 2009 work by The George Lucas Educational Foundation is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
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Comments (1)

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1. How are schools limiting

Was this helpful?

1. How are schools limiting kids' access to digital tools? Do you agree with these policies?
I think that sometimes it isn't the school's fault. Sometimes schools can not help to limit kids' access to digital tools because of funding. There are schools that can't afford text books, let alone, digital tools.

2. Do you see the participation gap in your school and community?
I am lucky and do not see the participation gap in our school and community. My students come from an affluent background and are immersed in technology at home and at school.

3. How do we create shared learning opportunities across generations?
There are many things you can do. But the most successful way is to teach older generations.

4. Are schools ready to give up control to kids, families, and communities of learning? What are the opportunities and challenges?
I don't think that schools are ready to give up control to kids. I think a lot of schools like discipline and structure. It will be hard for some schools to let go.

Chrysalis School Montana

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