American Educational Research Conference

A couple of weeks ago, Julia Davies, Guy Merchant and I made it all the way to Vancouver to the American Educational Research Association annual conference.  Despite the 12,000 attendees and many many symposia, I couldn’t find any evidence of research related to OERs. Maybe this is interesting in terms of general awareness of OERs: of educators’ understandings about what they can be or of how they could be used.  I did attend some symposia however which were relevant to our focus on digital literacies and which seemed to resonate with some of the DEFT case studies.

Ricarose Roque, Deborah Fields, Joanna Siegel, David Low and Yasmin Kafai described how young people had engaged with the online Scratch community in their paper: ‘A Clubhouse of Their Own: A Role-Playing Game Society in Scratch Programming Community’. They described how teenage girls had used Scratch to program their own digital artefacts – about Warrior Cats– which they then shared and discussed within the Scratch online forum. The team noted how the girls used this site to construct gender identities that differed from those they felt were available to them in other contexts. Scratch had been developed at MIT to provide easy access to programming – of digital stories, games, art, music- and a social space for young people to share what they had created. I was interested in how these young people had appropriated Scratch- the programming opportunities and the site. For me this was another example of how young people recruit available resources to their own purposes and it raised questions about how such resources are mediated in school environments: how can children and young people make resources ‘work’ for them if opportunities are ‘closed’ due to time constraints, restricted access, prescribed tasks, etc? In another symposium – ‘Beyond Words: Action and Animation in Young Children’s Reading, Writing and Playing’- Karen Wohlwend’s presentation considered the closed nature of many Apps designed for children; she emphasised the need for open-ness to enable children to follow multiple pathways- positing the idea of ‘play as a counter-practice’ and giving Sissy’s Magical Ponicorn Adventure as an example of an App designed by a 5 year old child.

On the other end, how do we frame students’ engagement with digital media as educators?  Erica Halverson -in her presentation, ‘What makes a youth-produced film good? A youth audience perspective’    cited  Julian Sefton-Green’s argument (in ‘Evaluating Creativity: Making and Learning by Young People’)-that we romanticise what we see as students’ creativity and consequently side-step evaluation and critique. Suggesting that we lack criteria to evaluate new media and keen to devise criteria that were firmly located in notions of audience, Erica Halverson described how she asked students to watch and rate a series of short films. She then used their reasons for their ratings to arrive at criteria to be used for future evaluation. Of course, as she recognised, the resulting criteria for what makes a ‘good’ film are situated – resting on established notions of genre and narrative –  but she argued that this very situatedness was valuable in generating evaluative discussions.  Two of her evaluative criteria related specifically to ways in which films seemed to fit with expectations. She distinguished between films which for students were ‘deal-breakers’ (they went so far away from what was expected/hoped for that they didn’t want to watch) and ‘rule-breakers’ (which departed from usual conventions but were still intriguing in some way). Erica Halversand suggested that these evaluative criteria might provide useful starting points for discussions with young people about their own films.

Another symposium built on the work of the Space2Cre8 project at the University of California and New York University, led by Glynda Hull.  (Here she is on New Literacies). Space2Cre8.com is an enclosed social networking site designed to connect young people from around the world. At the moment, young people from various countries are participating including England as well as India, Norway, Australia, England, South Africa, Taiwan, the U.S.A.  The project has enabled young people to engage in a variety of digital production activities- including  video making, music making, animation- and in sharing what they produce within an online international community. The project is raising interesting questions about the different kinds of resources- cultural as well as technological- available to young people in different locations and about how young people make sense of what their peers in other countries have produced. Tracey Wallace’s presentation- ‘ “We Put Our Swag All Over It”: Negotiating Local and Global Identity Online and Offline’ – explored how participating students constructed who they were – both on and offline- in relation to their local neighbourhood and described how these identities ‘thickened’ when invited to engage with others through Space2Cre8.com .

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