Leveling the Landscape
In an era of growing disparities in education and income, it has become increasingly critical to ensure that all children have access to social and relevant learning experiences. “Because of its reach, technology can level the playing field — or raise barriers to opportunity even higher,” says Professor Mizuko Ito, a cultural anthropologist of technology use and author of a series of highly influential books on the topic. Her work at the intersection of computer and social sciences is setting new standards in connected learning — learning that is equitable, social and learner-focused.
“With information and social connection so abundant, it’s heartbreaking that not all young learners have the same access to amazing educational opportunities that are relevant and keyed to their passionate interests,” Professor Ito says. The good news: “Through the smart deployment of new technology, we can begin to turn the tide.” As chair of the MacArthur Foundation-funded Connected Learning Research Network, Professor Ito explores the opportunities and risks of learning afforded by today’s changing media ecology. “People assume education has to take place in the classroom with a teacher,” she says. “Instead, we should be leveraging new media to enhance kids’ learning when they’re engaged in the things that inspire them.”
Geeking Out Meets Hanging Out
For many young people, “hanging out” often means texting or chatting on Facebook or Twitter. Others are more exploratory, surfing the web in search of resources or information. High on Professor Ito’s research agenda is investigating strategies that can motivate adolescents to “geek out” — cultivating interests that improve academic skills or prepare them for careers. “Most impactful experiences with new media don’t happen at school,” she says. “I want to encourage educators and parents to be more creative. Rather than kicking kids off of the computer, they can help them use digital media in pursuit of shared life goals.”