Play and learning in the digital age

My chapter in a new book published by OECD in their series on Digital childhood examines the cultural history and discursive construction of play and learning, drawing attention to the way that both human activities have been differentiated but are now becoming ever more blurred. This is analysed in the context of changes brought about both by the technical affordances of digital technologies and the political economy of digital culture which has focused on turning learning into a commodity purchased and used in the home as much as in the school. The existential open-ended nature of play itself has been significantly influenced by video gaming and the turn to playfulness in public culture more generally. The chapter argues that it is important not to subordinate play as an instrumental developmental function of learning and that learning itself should not be conflated with the outcomes of the formal education system.

I conclude by arguing that learning is not the binary opposite of play and that making learning not serious, or strengthening its intrinsically playful nature, has helped the commodification of learning and thus its marketability into the home and consequential datafication of learners, teachers and families. I suggest that rather than simply being a natural process of conceptual progress, the specific cultural values that now pertain to both play and learning have been part of the political economy of digital culture. It serves a particular set of interests and therefore the chapter will end with a series of questions challenging the ways that current definitions of play and learning could or should be addressed by policy, families, young people and schools.

  1. What is lost and gained, if:
    1. play is interpreted as being in the service of learning?
    2. what schooling counts as learning is not constantly challenged?
  2. Whose interests might be served by:
    1. conflating play with learning?
    2. broadening the reach and range of digital play as a proportion of all play?
  3. How can we evaluate:
    1. the relationship between the quality of the playified learning experience and school outcomes?
    2. what counts as “good” play or “better” learning?
  4. Given that the option of de-digitalising social life is not available, what can or should other institutions (schools, families, childcare, early childhood centres, kindergarten, and museums and galleries) do to ensure that the global trend to playify learning or learnify play remains varied and diverse?
  5. How important is understanding the changing relationship between play and learning to the future purposes of education systems?
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COVID-19 shows the flawed ways societies use education to address inequality

A thought piece exploring how COVID-19 has intensified and exaggerated fault lines in contemporary societies revealing back to us the ways of dealing with inequality that our societies have consistently disguised and ignored for the UNESCO ideas LAB here.

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Will mass schooling-at-home lead to the death of schools?

See my April 2020 post on EduResearch Matters here.

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Educating for Democracy in the Digital Age

My contributions to the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Education on this topic has been published here.

I suggest that digital technologies pose a threat to the post-Deweyian visions of how schools educate for democracy and civic participation at a number of levels. The datafication of interpersonal interactions (as the private individual self is surveilled and commodified by supra-national global technology companies) has enormous consequences for what we want young people to learn and how they ought to behave as citizens in the reconfigured power relations between the individual, the state, and the market. Indeed, questions surrounding what it means to be a citizen and what comprises the new polis in a digitalized global economy have created a distinct new challenge for the purposes of education.

The digital reconfigures the nature of agency, understood as being an intrinsic right of the liberal individual person. In addition there are political dangers for democracy, for these technologies can be mobilized and exploited as the neoliberal state fragments and loses regulatory authority (exemplified by the Cambridge Analytica and “fake news” fiasco). At the same time, the accepted paradigms of the civic, juridical, and identitarian self that traditionally comprised the democratic “citizen” are being rewritten as changing privacy practices reconfigure these models of identity.

What vision of educating for democracy is necessary in the early 21st century? One answer has been to focus on “critical pedagogy,” but that model of educating for full participation in democracy needs to be reworked for the digital age—especially in terms of how schools themselves need to develop an institutional and communal form of digital-social life.

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The Final Report from the Connected Learning Research Network: Reflections on a Decade of Engaged Scholarship

I am one of the co-authors of the final report of  The Connected Learning Research Network: Reflections on a Decade of Engaged Scholarship. We report on a decade’s work of MacArthur Foundation Connected Learning Research Network.

The new report describes the connected learning approach and research in the context of broader social, economic, and technological changes. Here, we have the benefit of drawing from a number of research studies conducted over the life of the network, learning from partners putting connected learning into practice, as well as dialogue and debate in the network meetings that took place four times a year for nearly ten years. Readers can find substantial updates to the connected learning model and design principles, a new synthesis of research evidence relevant to connected learning, and an overview of the studies conducted by the network.  

In a blog, the lead author of the report, Mimi Ito summarises the connected learning approach as follows:

  • We focus on how to support the interests and development of diverse learners rather than center our work on organizational goals, considering how learning and pursuits span settings such as home, school, community, and online. The focus is not on reforming a particular institution, such as schools or libraries, but on situating these institutions within a broader set of supports for youth pursuits.
  • We conceptualize learning and development as a process of network building, in which building social capital, contributing to collective goals, and belonging to communities is essential. This view is in contrast to approaches to learning that center on individual knowledge and skill acquisition and see education as a linear pipeline and progression.
  • Designing for connected learning takes an ecological and systemic approach, which emphasizes partnerships across sites of learning. It is not about implementing a particular technology or technique. 
  • Rather than see research standing apart, we believe in community-engaged scholarship. The stakeholders we study and seek to benefit have essential knowledge and perspectives that must be at the table in research and design that aims for equity and positive learning outcomes.

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The social utility of ‘data literacy’

This co-authored article examines the social utility of the concept,‘data literacy’. Recent developments in the processes of datafication challenge long-held assumptions about privacy and the role of both state and commerce in individual lives. Typically, these have been addressed through:regulatory legal constraints underwritten by the nation state but are difficult to enforce at a global level; tactical resistance through forms of self-regulation and technical innovations, and; educational interventions, typically as ‘literacy’, which brings understanding of the new forms of digital control. The article considers the benefit of theorising digital data as a‘text’ and reviews current educational models of data literacy, categorised here as formal, personal and folk pedagogies of data. The article concludes that while the analogy between print and data has many inconsistencies, the term has rhetorical benefits. However, to become a meaningful strategy ‘data literacy’ requires both a more complete theorisation and complex practical development

The article can be found here.

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From the personal to the societal – the challenge of moving from everyday ‘interpersonal’ digital literacies to deeper social understandings

I am presenting on this topic at a conference on Media Information Literacy in Seoul, funded by the Ministry of Education and jointly organized by the Korean National Commission for UNESCO (KNCU), the Korea Press Foundation (KPF), the Korea Education and Research Information Service (KERIS), the National Information Society Agency (NIA), the Korean Community Media Foundation (KCMF), and the National Association of Community Mediacenters of Korea (NACM).

The talk argues that in a context of digital transformations in social relationships and arrangements and the ways that they now mediate what we know about the world, and how that knowledge constitutes and legitimates forms of authority, forms of power and contemporary politics, we need a changed version of media or digital literacy. My argument first of all is that while forms of media literacy or digital literacy have taken their time in becoming an acceptable part of both the school curriculum and, just as importantly what it means to be a responsible citizen, there is now a greater urgency in adapting these kinds of media and digital literacy frameworks for the current situation. Secondly, I talk about the differences between everyday, common sense ‘interpersonal’ digital literacies – that is the kinds of understandings people make up as they learn to live with these technologies – and the more formal critical literacies that we usually encounter in the school or university curriculum. I challenge how people can travel from the everyday to the more formal and who should take responsibility for this, how we might measure it and above all what will happen to our societies if we don’t take on this responsibility.

A full PDF of the talk can be found here. A video of the talk can be found here.

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Research on Educational Platforms in Public School Classrooms: A Call to Action

This short co-authored commentary published in the Teachers College Record here, examines the growth of new digital platforms that link families, children, and teachers through the well-known example of ClassDojo. We argue that the ubiquity of platform use is a relatively new phenomenon in schools, that it is not driven by findings from empirical research, but rather the result of a perfect storm of popular psychology and market forces.

These platforms allow for communication between teachers and families in real time and across many languages. Teachers can send pictures of children, comment about student behavior, achievements, or activities, share information about upcoming programs, and more, all via a self-contained online platform or app on a phone. Parents in turn may message the teacher (usually via smart phone), but not other parents. Although they build on seemingly established and normed forms of communication between teachers and parents, we challenge how platforms like ClassDojo create and shape behavioral norms for families and teachers. For example, what impact does the digital footprint of a student’s classroom behavior have on how their parents treat them at home? And to what extent might casual family conversations become centered on the concerted calculation of ClassDojo avatar points, akin to how our daily “steps” (vis-à-vis the Fitbit) have come to stand for how far we have walked in a given day?

We put forward this commentary as part of a broader call to action for the field to consider how interactions via platforms may be shaping family relations with schools and to continue to foreground in our collective studies the more general ways that the “datafication” of education is transforming teaching and learning practice. 

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What future for children’s agency, rights and pleasures? beyond the limits of literacy in the platform media-multiverse

I just gave this talk at the children’s media symposium at the University of the Sunshine Coast. I reflected on how  living in a digital society affects debates about the  purposes and reception of children’s media culture and literacy, and examined how debates about children’s media have been challenged by the advent of datafication and platformization. I concluded by arguing that”digital literacy” is a fragile concept relying on individualised instrumental cognitive attributes and that we need to think of literacy more as a set of social relationships involving partnerships between publishers, regulation, rights and social norms as much as we need to focus on supporting and developing individual capabilities.

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Harnessing the Transformative Power of Education

I have a short afterward in this book, exploring intrinsic and extrinsic values attributed to what it means to being educated. The book offers a series of practical, local but system wide and socially responsible practices, policies and analyses to support the ways that education can work at its best.

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