Thursday, March 6, 2014

Thoughts from DML 2014, Day 1

 Today was the first day of the three-day Digital Media and Learning Conference ( This year's theme is "Connecting Practices," which, really, implies a range of ideas, from connecting education research to teaching practices, to connecting students with real-world cultural and professional "practices." Term "practice" itself has been appropriated by a variety of domains, but in education circles, predominantly refers to ways of performing or doing the tasks that most recognizably identify what it means to be a member of a community - a community of teachers, of carpenters, of knitters, of gamers, etc. So in a nutshell, the idea of "connecting practices" is to inform how we structure learning opportunities for our students, by providing them with access to activities (and mentors) in ways that make learning relevant and meaningful. 

Not surprisingly, as a conference on "digital media and learning," there is a pretty large emphasis on technology throughout the sessions, but it is certainly not a conference about technology, or even technology integration. Rather, the overwhelming emphasis (at least after one day) is placed on teaching and learning. Technology's role seemed somewhat secondary in all of the sessions I attended today - and rightly so. 

In the first session I attended, a presentation/discussion on "Equity, Diversity, and Discourses of Change in Participatory Culture," four presenters described various aspects of online communities that demonstrated varying degrees of inclusion and exclusion, sexism and indifference to gender, and mobilized political action. In all four of these presentations, technology was the medium through with communication and social engagement took place, but in a very large way, the affordances of technology were made somewhat invisible by the profound examples of cultural participation that each of the presenters discussed. One example mentioned was the Ravelympics controversy of 2012. Rather than describe all the details of what happened in this post, you can read about it here. In what amounted to one of the fastest, most widespread online social movements witnessed since the Arab Spring, this group mobilized itself into action and gained international notoriety for pressuring the U.S. Olympic Committee into apologizing for its demeaning portrayal of crafting communities. Definitely an interesting read.

Though it was not the point of the discussion, technology (internet-based forums and social media tools) certainly enabled a grand display of social action in this case. The takeaway for us as educators is to understand how technology can be used as a tool to thereby connect our students to real-world events, and to equip them with ways of talking about and analyzing deep issues like hegemony, sexism, and cultural participation. 

I can't wait to see what tomorrow brings!

Nicholas Wilson
Academic Technology and Digital Media Specialist (Upper School)

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