The simple yet far-reaching ambition of this collection is to discover how to use digital media for learning on campus and off. It offers a rich selection of methodologies, social practices, and hands-on assignments by leading educators who acknowledge the opportunities created by the confluence of mobile technologies, the World Wide Web, film, video games, TV, comics, and software while also acknowledging recurring challenges.
In their work, academics build on the research of their peers, but when it comes to pedagogy, this is not always so. This selection of essays hopes to contribute to changing that by exploring how we learn through digital media; the authors ask how both ready-at-hand proprietary platforms and open-source tools can be used to create situations in which all learners actively engage each other and the teacher to become more proficient, think in more complex ways, gain better judgment, become more principled and curious, and lead distinctive and productive lives. Today, learning is at least as much about access to other people as it is about access to information. Such participatory learning cannot be exclusively about “career readiness” or vocational training but must also assist learners to reflect on social justice, love, history and ethics.
Changing Role Models
Where, when, how, and even what we are learning is changing. Teachers need to consider how to engage learners with content by connecting to their current interests as well as their technological habits and dependencies. Learning with digital media isn’t solely about using this or that software package or cloud computing service. The altered roles of the teacher and the student substantially change teaching itself. Learning with digital media isn’t about giving our well-worn teaching practices a hip appearance; it is, more fundamentally, about exploring radically new approaches to instruction. The future of learning will not be determined by tools but by the re-organization of power relationships and institutional protocols. Digital media, however, can play a positive role in this process of transformation.
For professor Brad Mehlenbacher, digital learning undergirds constructivist visions of radical change in how teachers approach learners (237), challenging traditional power relationships and emphasizing student-centered learning. We can try to imagine how cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead, artist and Bauhaus professor Paul Klee, or Russian philosopher Mikhail Bakhtin would use digital media to take their students on intellectual adventures. Today, such innovative approaches to learning also matter to game designer and educator Katie Salen who, in Re-Imagining Learning in the 21st Century, described good contemporary teachers as learning experts, mentors, motivators, technology integrators, and diagnosticians.
Angry Birds, YouTube, and the Importance of Deutero Learning
In Steps to an Ecology of Mind, American anthropologist Gregory Bateson formulates his concept of Deutero-Learning, meaning “learning to learn,” the extraction of implicit rules in learning (159–176). While learning is an activity that is taking place all around the clock and in many different en- vironments, it doesn’t automatically come about when the iPad, the Angry Birds Game, FormSpring, or Twitter are introduced. Learning must not be simply about consumer choices.
Today, learning to learn through digital media implies that it simply isn’t enough to have access to Wikipedia or YouTube or syllabi by MIT faculty and others; the urgent question becomes how we meaningfully and effectively learn with these tools, repositories, platforms and all open educational materials. How do we ignite student engagement, political and creative imagination, intellectual quest, and the desire for lifelong learning?
Attitudes for the 21st Century: Beyond Remixed Promises and Cycles of Obsolescence
From the telegraph to the radio and television, exaggerated promises and unyielding skepticism can be seen at the core of the historical cycles that accompany the adaptation of technology to education. The most burning problem for digital learning is technological obsolescence and the attendant need to learn and readapt to new technological milieus and cycles of transformation. Openness, flexibility, playfulness, persistence, and the ability to work well with others on-the-fly are at the heart of an attitude that allows learners to cope with the unrelenting velocity of technological change in the 21st century. Digital media fluency also requires an understanding of the moment when technological interfaces hinder learning and become distracting. Competent learners know when and how to block social online services and power down their cell phones. They understand that open access to the Internet and web-based tools is not enough.
Tools will never outshine a brilliant teacher, but over the past fifteen years many tools, services, and platforms have become easier to adapt for learning purposes, to help command and hold the attention of learners for whom email is no more than an easy way to talk to “the man.” This includes a repertoire of social networking services like BuddyPress, Diaspora, Crabgrass, or Facebook, electronics prototyping platforms like Arduino, media sharing sites like Vimeo or YouTube, social bookmarking services like Diigo and Delicious, research tools like Zotero, Citeulike, or Mendeley, as well as microblogging services like Identi.ca or Tumblr, and plat-forms like 4Chan and Omeka. Equally part of the contemporary media mosaic are streaming services like Ustream, and organizational helpers like Doodle, TextExpander, Anti-Social, or Google Moderator. We cannot ignore that these are some of the media environments that play a leading role for young middle-class learners in rich countries. They are like dance moves that teachers can learn to choreograph.
It goes without saying that this collection cannot offer a complete palette; it is a considered selection. Some of the tools explored here will be obsolete in a few years or even months but the methodologies, attitudes, and social practices of experimentation will remain valuable.
In the face of quickly proliferating techno-educational services, many teachers (and students) don’t feel they are entirely with-the-times. Today, however, we are all laggards. Some teachers wonder if they can simply hunker down and learn a handful of instructional software applications on a rainy weekend and then be done for the next five years. Regrettably, that will not work. Technological skills have never had a shorter shelf life. Learning to learn with digital media is about conducting continual small experiments. MIT professor and director of the Lifelong Kindergarten project, Mitchel Resnick, argued that “the point isn’t to provide a few classes to teach a few skills; the goal is for participants to learn to express themselves fluently with new technology” (Herr-Stephenson et al. 25). Empowering today’s learners, and undergraduates in particular, should not be about “just-in-time-knowledge”  and hyper- specialized competencies but about the ability to learn.
No doubt, digital media place both teachers and students outside of their comfort zone. While numerous contributors to this publication argued that they experienced this discomfort as productive, many felt that preparatory time, the ability to integrate and learn a new platform, and the sheer number of choices was overwhelming. Other instructors feel discouraged by bad experiences. We found that when teachers imposed the tools-du-jour on near-at-hand students, their experiments were likely to fail if there wasn’t enough consideration for pedagogy.
Digital learning not only takes place online or in the university classroom but is also situated in high schools, museums, after school programs, home schoolers’ living rooms, public libraries, and peer-to-peer universities. Learners do not learn exclusively in the university where “master-teachers” impart their insights under the tree of knowledge. In 1971, Austrian philosopher Ivan Illich even claimed that “we have all learned most of what we know outside school” (Illich 20) and in 2010 American literacy scholar and professor Jim Gee argued that “Americans and residents of any developing country need to think of education as not just schools by the system of 24-7 learning.” Along the same lines, in her study “Hanging Out, Messing Around, and Geeking Out,” American scholar Mizuko Ito emphasized that learning is taking place in informal learning networks through “friendship-driven and interest-based participation” and that such networks stretch beyond institutional boundaries. Like Illich, Gee, and Ito, we think that learning situations are located both inside and outside of institutions.
In 1915, one of the founders of The New School, John Dewey, emphasized that education does not only take place in schools and that it ought to prepare learners for democratic citizenship. Institutional learning should not foster individual- ism but rather emphasize community development, which is the basis for the improvement of society. Informal social networks are crucial in that process, connecting students with their peers and with teachers. For Freire, pedagogy was deeply connected to social change; it “was a project and provo- cation that challenged students to critically engage with the world so they could act on it” (Giroux). Digital media can help learners to become more active participants in public life and, moreover, can facilitate subversive, radical pedagogy and civic engagement. This also means that we need to stop ignoring the ways in which we teach behind closed doors and radically focus on media pedagogy as an urgent topic on which we should work together.
 By just-in-time knowledge, we are referring to Nintendo’s university in Washington State that delivers students with “just-in-time-knowledge” while outright ignoring the humanities. All that is needed from the student/prospective worker is a particular set of skills necessary for an upcoming project.
Bateson, George. Steps to an Ecology of Mind. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1972.
Dewey, John. The School and Society & the Child and the Curriculum. Mineola, NY: Dover.  2001.
Giroux, Henry A. “Lessons to Be Learned From Paulo Freire as Education Is Being Taken Over by the Mega Rich “ t r u t h o u t. 23 November 2010. Web. November 27 2010. <http://www.truth-out.org/lessons-be-learned-from-paulo-freire-education-is-being-taken-over-mega-rich65363>.
Herr-Stephenson, Becky et al. Digital Media and Technology in Afterschool Programs, Libraries, and Museums. Chicago: The MacArthur Foundation, 2010.
Iiyoshi, Toru. Opening Up Education: The Collective Advancement of Education through Open Technology, Open Content, and Open Knowledge. Cambridge: MIT Press. 2009.
Illich, Ivan. Deschooling Society, London: Marion Boyars Publishers. 1971.
Ito, Mizuko, Sonja Baumer, Matteo Bittanti, Danah Boyd, Rachel Cody, Becky Herr-Stephenson et al. Hanging Out, Messing Around, Geeking Out: Living and Learning with New Media. Cambridge: MIT Press. 2009.
Ito, Mizuko et al. “Kids’ Informal Learning with Digital Media: An Ethnographic Investigation of Innovative Knowledge Cultures.” November 2008. Web. November 24 2010. <http://digitalyouth.ischool.berkeley.edu/report>.
James, Carrie et al. Young People, Ethics, and the New Digital Media: A Synthesis from the GoodPlay Project. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. 2009.
Jenkins, Henry. et al. Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century. Chicago: The MacArthur Foundation, 2007.
John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. ReImagining Learning in the 21st Century. Chicago: The MacArthur Foundation. 2010.
Mehlenbacher, Brad. Instruction and Technology. Cambridge: MIT. 2010.
Willinsky, John. The Access Principle: The Case for Open Access to Research and Scholarship. Cambridge: MIT Press. 2006.