Learning through Creating Content with Digital Media

The MacArthur Foundation continues to lead impressive efforts that explore how digital media is changing the way young people learn, as well as establish provocative examples of next generation learning institutions.  Now, in response to President Obama’s “Educate to Innovate,” they’re teaming up with the Institute of Museum and Library Science (IMLS) to create 30 new youth learning labs across the nation, leveraging a $4 million grant.  The lab locations will be identified after a competitive application process is initiated in 2011.  The model is inspired by a hot new learning space at Chicago Public Library called YOUmedia which transforms young people into content creators, using digital media tools as their palette.  Digital photography, video, and music become critical thinking vehicles and opportunities for expression and exploration of personal interests and passions.  In the process, 21st century skills are fostered.

Robert Gallucci, President of the MacArthur Foundation, says,

“With digital media, learning takes place anywhere, anytime. So we must break free of the old-fashioned notion that schools are the only places for learning and provide young people with engaging and diverse opportunities beyond the classroom. “YOUmedia is an excellent example of 21st Century learning. Bringing the model to other cities will mark an important step in motivating young people to learn and preparing them for a globally competitive workforce.”

Bravo, MacArthur Foundation!  Your innovative ideas continue to bring light to the legitimacy and criticality of engaging our students in learning through digital media, as well as reshaping our vision of what a “learning institution” is.  

A Model for Community Colleges?

What I’m left with are thoughts and wonderment about how this model could be woven into community colleges, as a method of engaging non-traditional, high risk students in the learning process, as well as situating visual arts departments within a relevant 21st century discourse. 

As a former community college art history professor, I have always imagined ways to bring ‘the history of art’ out of the dusty, marginalized corners of art departments and situate it as the ‘history of images,’ providing students with essential visual literacy skills for 21st century success.  Our students, taking on the role of content creators, need to understand how to read, analyze, and recontextualize visual information to convey their ideas.  “The history of art” is one discipline that plays directly into this sharpening these skills.  The MacArthur model, to me, implicitly positions the visual arts, typically at high risk for cuts in traditional institutions, as a top priority in the circles of cutting edge learning innovations.  The YOUmedia lab concept also taps directly into a dynamic learning model for the diverse student audience supported by community colleges around our nation.

It will be interesting to see where this goes in 2011.

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