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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.