“Give yourselves and your students permission to play,” says Henry Jenkins. “Schools often see play as disrupting educational activities, but in fact, play is at the heart of learning. In a hunting society, youth learn by playing with bows and arrows. In an information society, they play with information. A more playful attitude lowers the risks associated with failure and frees us to think in innovative and creative ways. Through play, we lower the hierarchies and learn to respect the contributions of all community members. And besides, it is fun and helps us get through the day.”
As a world-renowned expert on participatory culture and new media literacies, Henry Jenkins truly understands how participatory media affects society, politics, culture – and learning. Jenkins wrote a white paper for the launch of the MacArthur Foundation’s Digital Media and Learning program, which described the core challenges and opportunities for preparing students to become fuller participants in the new media landscape. “We have been translating the ideas of that white paper into curricular materials, after school programs, professional development courses, and now, a new digital platform, the PLAYground, which supports the creation and sharing of multimedia challenges,” adds Jenkins.
“I am also leading the Civic Paths team, which is seeking to research innovative networks (online and off), such as the Harry Potter Alliance, the Nerdfighters, or the Dream Activists, that are helping young people move from participatory culture to civic engagement.”
Jenkins talked with us about bringing participatory learning into the classroom, and why we must embrace our networked society to benefit our youth.
What has changed in education as a result of your work?
As part of the Digital Media and Learning Network, we have been able to help educators all over the world to better appreciate the rich learning cultures which some youth enter through their recreational lives outside of school, and to use these insights to inform the redesign of core public institutions – schools, libraries, museums, churches, political organizations – which most directly touch their lives.
How can other educators implement what you’ve learned through this project?
Embrace core principles of participatory learning:
* Heightened motivation and new forms of engagement through meaningful play and experimentation;
* Learning that feels relevant to students’ identities and interests;
* Opportunities for creating and solving problems using a variety of media, tools and practices;
* Co-configured expertise where educators and students pool their skills and knowledge and share in the tasks of teaching and learning;
* And an integrated system of learning where connections between home, school, community and world are enabled and encouraged.
Teachers need to apply these framing concepts in their own context, for their own students, taking ownership over those new media literacy skills and practices that are most appropriate for their discipline. New media literacies cannot be an option (meaning new media shouldn’t be set aside for the end of the week if the students have been “good”). It has to be a paradigm shift which impacts the entire school curriculum, and for that to happen, each discipline and grade level has to rethink their teaching practices for a world where some young people are becoming active members of online communities and producers and circulators of their own media.
What is the biggest obstacle you have had to overcome?
We’ve wired the classroom and disabled the computer. Responding, often, to federal mandates, schools are locking students off from access to social media, blogging tools, YouTube, Wikipedia, games, and a range of other important platforms we associate with participatory culture. This decision further expands both the digital divide (in terms of access to technology) and the participation gap (in terms of access to skills, knowledge, and experiences).
Those with the greatest access to technology and skills outside of school are stripped of their most powerful means of learning, while those who do not are left even further behind.
What is your country doing right now to support education?
What’s working in American education right now is fueled by the passion, energy, and commitment of its teachers, who often have to buck the system and put their job at risk to meaningfully engage with their students about the media changes transforming every aspect of their society.
What conditions must change to better support education?
Schools need to embrace openly – rather than retreat in fear from – the opportunities and risks of living in a networked culture, especially the potential that new media platforms and practices hold for lifelong learning, collective and personal expression, and civic engagement.
What is the best opportunity for innovation in education?
I don’t think we have the option to “blow up the schools” and start from scratch, so we need to find ways to foster innovation, one teacher and one classroom at a time.
I believe that the MacArthur Foundation’s long-standing commitment to connected learning is helping to create a larger community of researchers, policy makers, and educators who share a common vision of what we need to do to foster a more participatory culture. Out of these conversations, experiments are coming at all scales, which are making a difference in the lives of children across the country.
If you could give one educational tool to every child in the world, what would it be?
My team is developing the PLAYground as a platform which we hope will inspire a community of educators and learners to challenge each other to learn in new ways and to share what they discover in forms which can be easily adapted and remixed by others. But, ultimately, I don’t think the changes we need have to do with tools and technologies. They have to do with changing the culture of schools to encourage more experimentation, more collaboration, more creativity, and more play. We believe the core skills required for participating in a networked culture can be taught in no tech or low tech ways, and if we wait for every school to get all the technology they dream about, many kids will be left waiting a very long time before they begin to acquire skills that they will depend upon for all aspects of their future lives.
About Henry Jenkins
Provost’s Professor of Communications, Journalism, Cinematic Arts, and Education,
University of Southern California – USA
Henry Jenkins III (born June 4, 1958 in Atlanta, Georgia) is an American media scholar and currently a Provost’s Professor of Communication, Journalism, Cinematic Arts, and Education. Cinematic Arts is a joint professorship at the USC Annenberg School for Communication, the Rossier School of Education and the USC School of Cinematic Arts.
Previously, he was the Peter de Florez Professor of Humanities and Co-Director
of the MIT Comparative Media Studies program with William Uricchio.
He is also author of several books, including Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide, Textual Poachers: Television Fans and Participatory Culture and What Made Pistachio Nuts?:Early Sound Comedy and the Vaudeville Aesthetic.
More on Henry Jenkins from his blog: http://henryjenkins.org/aboutme.html
Birthplace: Atlanta, Georgia
Current residence: Los Angeles, California
Education: PhD Communication Arts University of Wisconsin-Madison; MA Communication Studies University of Iowa; BA Political Science and Journalism Georgia State University
Website I check every day: i09
Person who inspires me most: African-American educator, playwrite, and director Ricardo Pitz-Wiley; young activist and community organizer Andrew Slack from the Harry Potter Alliance and Imagine Better
Favorite childhood memory: participating in the monster movie fan culture of the 1960s
Next travel destination (work or pleasure): Europe – All of It! I am about to head out on a 20-city lecture tour over two months.
Favorite book: Gabriel Ba and Fabio Moon’s Daytripper
Favorite music: Raymond Scott
More inspiring websites:
The MacArthur Foundation
The Harry Potter Alliance
More information about Henry Jenkins: