Announcing the MacArthur Foundation’s Digital Media and Learning Initiative

The MacArthur Foundation has been an amazing source of inspiration for me. As many of you know, my dissertation research is funded through a large grant by the MacArthur Foundation to my advisors to investigate Kids’ Informal Learning with Digital Media. Well, the MacArthur Foundation has decided to take it to the next step. On Thursday, i had the fortune to be in New York for the launching of MacArthur’s broader initiative on Digital Media and Learning. All sorts of folks gathered at the launch – press, academics, educators, policy makers, non-profit leaders, corporations, etc. – to celebrate the new $50M launch. The President of the Foundation spoke and then three grantees – Mimi Ito, Henry Jenkins, and Nicole Pinkard – discussed the significance of this research. (I wrote up a synopsis for MacArthur if you’re curious.)

The significance of this is huge. As an academic, getting no-strings grant money is becoming more and more difficult. I’ve been pretty opposed to making moral concessions by applying for grants from DoD, CIA or Homeland Security. There are corporate grants but that complicates things because you have to explain how your work will help them make more money. This inherently clouds research for me. With my research on youth, there’s no doubt that i could get a corporation to sponsor it, but would i have the freedom to study whatever i felt was significant? Could i publish everything that i found? Would i be able to get data from competing companies? Probably not to all of the above. Because the MacArthur Foundation funds my work, no one owns it and i can speak freely.

The work that MacArthur is funding needs to happen and it crosses disciplines and institutions. We need to understand what youth are doing, not just how to control them. We need to understand from youth’s perspectives, not from the perspectives of those who wish to make money off of them. There is no doubt that our research will be used by governments, parents, educators, corporations, etc. but to do the research free from the constraints of those groups is a blessing. Furthermore, by gathering hundreds of researchers investigating these issues from different angles, the Foundation is starting to build a socially conscious field of scholarship.

I can’t thank MacArthur enough for recognizing the importance of this research and moving it forward. I want to publicly acknowledge their contribution and invite you to get involved as well. For those who wish to keep up with what’s happening:

Also, please spread the word about this project to those who are interested in youth, digital media, and (informal) learning.

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3 thoughts on “Announcing the MacArthur Foundation’s Digital Media and Learning Initiative

  1. Beth Kanter

    Hi Danah,

    Great coverage of the event. I was live blogging remotely from Second Life. Alan took a photo of me watching you on the screen when you spoke. I did bullet points because my audio got a little wonky and I was rapidly shifting my attention between listening and watching the audio/video feed and reading the back channel in Second Life – the reactions of the educators/avatars to what was being said in real life. In addition, I had lots of IM windows, including offering a teleport to some folks who came into SL and were at the event.

    My notes are here:

  2. btree


    I thought you might want to see this short piece that came over the AP wire..

    I am posting it here in full because I think it will very likely disappear from that link very soon, leaving it to Lexis-Nexis-wielding researchers to dig out later..

    I also leave the totally misleading and inadequate headline out because I think the editorial decisions that go into headline-writing open up a whole ‘nother can of worms.. but just read, just read this..

    – – – – – –

    WYOMING, Mich. (AP) – A school safety drill that included police officers in riot gear with weapons has caused concern among some parents who say it was too realistic and frightened some students.

    Police in the western Michigan community of Wyoming entered two classrooms at Lee Middle and High School on Thursday and announced there was a threat to the school, The Grand Rapids Press reported.

    Students, who were unaware police were conducting a drill, were taken from the classroom into the halls, patted down by officers and asked what they had in their pockets, the newspaper said.

    “Some of these kids were so scared, they just about wet their pants,” said Marge Bradshaw, a parent with four children in Godfrey-Lee Schools. “I think it’s pure wrong that the students and parents were not informed of this.”

    Officers wore protective gear, including vests and helmets, and carried rifles that were unloaded and marked with colored tape to indicate they were not live weapons, the newspaper said.

    Diana Silva, a parent of an eighth-grade student, said the drill went too far.

    “My child was with his face to the wall in the hallway of the high school,” Silva said. “I certainly don’t want anything like this happening to my child.”

    Principal David Britten said students weren’t told ahead of time to make the drill as realistic as possible. Teachers were informed moments before it took place, he said.

    “I think this is the best way to do it,” Britten said. “We’re not looking to scare anyone, but we want a sense of urgency.”

    But Wyoming Police Chief James Carmody said his officers were not aware students and parents were not told. He said his department will mandate that parents be notified ahead of time in the future.

    “The purpose was to show how we will evacuate the classroom, not to assault the classroom,” Carmody said.

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