Dec. 7, 2006
Vol. 26 No. 6

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    Center for Urban School Improvement receives funds to study after-school media literacy programs

    By William Harms
    News Office

    A new project to better understand how youths who are living in a digital world can use technology for deeper and broader learning experiences is being funded by a $1.6 million John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation grant.

    The University’s Center for Urban School Improvement, which has been awarded the grant, will develop and study media literacy after-school programs at the Woodlawn High School and North Kenwood/Oakland campuses of the University of Chicago Charter School.

    “Our interest is to understand how to use technology to catalyze deeper student learning whether in school, in the community or at home,” said Timothy Knowles, Executive Director of the Center for Urban School Improvement.

    Nichole Pinkard, Chief Technology Officer for the Center for Urban School Improvement, will serve as principal investigator for the project, leading the effort to enable students to use and critique new digital media.

    In the program, students will be able to access digital media resources from almost anywhere and at almost any time. They will learn how to produce video documentaries, podcasts and music videos—the same technical skills that documentary filmmakers, engineers, music producers, graphic artists and video game developers use for creative design work.

    The grant is part of the MacArthur foundation’s plans to support the emerging field of digital media and learning by committing over a five-year period $50 million to the effort. The foundation will fund research and innovative projects focused on understanding the impact of widespread use of digital media on youths and how they can use it for learning.

    “This is the first generation to grow up digital—coming of age in a world where computers, the Internet, video games and cell phones are common and where expressing themselves through these tools is the norm,” said MacArthur Foundation president Jonathan Fanton.

    “Given how present these technologies are in their lives, do young people act, think and learn differently today? And what are the implications for education and for society? The MacArthur Foundation will encourage this discussion, fund research, support innovation and engage those who can make judgments about these difficult but critical questions,” Fanton added.

    The foundation’s approach is comprehensive, extending beyond the classroom to assess how digital technology may transform youths’ lives in both formal and informal learning environments.

    The research component of the project, a collaboration with Stanford University and the University of Illinois at Chicago, will test the theory that today’s “digital youths” are different because they use digital tools to assimilate knowledge, play, communicate and create social networks in new and different ways.

    The foundation’s efforts will connect people across a variety of academic, education, commercial and nonprofit fields to assess implications and seed new collaborative projects.

    According to statistics gathered by the MacArthur Foundation, 83 percent of young people between the ages of 8 and 18 play video games regularly; nearly three-quarters use instant messaging technology. On a typical day, more than half of U.S. teen-agers use a computer and more than 40 percent play video games.