William R. Penuel, University of Colorado
The National Educational Technology Plan lays out a vision of learning as life-long, and life-wide. But most technology-supported innovations focus on promoting learning in a single setting (usually schools), and researchers focus their efforts on gathering evidence of short-term impacts on end-of-year accountability tests.
It’s important also to consider innovations that reach young people in multiple sites as well (including as part of online communities) and to develop evidence about how such innovations shape outcomes. One such innovation is YouMedia, which occupies a physical space at the Harold Washington Library Center in downtown Chicago, as well as a virtual place—a website—dedicated to YouMedia users. In YouMedia, teens learn by creating digital artifacts, including songs, video, photography, and blogs. With help from formal and informal mentors in the space, they can learn complex media production and collaboration skills. YouMedia receives funding from the MacArthur Foundation, the City of Chicago, the Pearson Foundation, and the Chicago Public Library Foundation.
Studying and developing evidence for cross-setting innovations is challenging, because young people’s participation is voluntary, and because it is difficult to capture interactions that happen off-line, including those between mentors and learners. But as we think about evidence, we need to think carefully about all the sites where young people may be using digital media to support learning. We’ll need especially to think about new methods for gathering and analyzing evidence about the potentially significant social interactions that happen “in room” rather than “online” and how to combine “in room” and “online” evidence in ways that give us a fuller picture of intellectual growth.