Catching Up on Project NML

I am currently in New York City participating in a range of sessions at the American Educational Research Associaton conference designed to showcase the work which we are doing on New Media Literacies. Yesterday I participated in a panel discussion with James Paul Gee, Nichole Pinkard, Howard Gardner, and Connie Yowell. Last night, at a MacArthur Foundation reception, our team showcased some of the work we’ve been doing on the NML Learning Library (see below). Today, we are showcasing our collaboration with Harvard University’s Good Play Project (Under the supervision of Howard Gardner) which is designed to encourage reflection on the ethical challenges young people face as they navigate through the complexities of the online world. All of this is part of an effort by the MacArthur Foundation to publicize the creation of a national network of researchers, scholars, educators, and activists who are focusing their attention on Digital Media and Learning. This has been one of the most exciting collaborations of my academic career. I love working with all of these people. Individually, collectively, we are starting to make a difference in the conversations that impact young people’s relations to new media technology and participatory culture.

Project NML recently launched a new blog designed to create greater “transparency” around the development of curricular materials and activities supporting the teaching of new media literacies. An early highlight is a post by Jenna McWilliams, our outreach coordinator, talking about how working on a teachers strategy guide designed to support the teaching of Moby Dick has forced her to reconsider this great American novel. She writes:

Before I came to NML, I had long lived among the multitudes who for many reasons–actually, for me it was mainly out of guilt and the heavy weight of cultural duty–keep a copy of Moby-Dick on a bookshelf with the really truly honest intention of getting through it some day. My guilt was compounded by my personal history as first an English major and then a student-writer in an MFA program. Every time I looked over at that fat little book sitting plumply on my bookshelf, I got just a little miserable all over again. But then I thought, you know, it’s a very long novel. And hard. And word on the street is that it’s kind of…boring. But then I joined NML and started in on this teacher’s guide and I figured, okay, it’s time to end the shame. And I took a deep breath and I jumped in….

There’s no doubt that reading Moby-Dick is not the same kind of rollicking good time as, for example, reading Harry Potter. I won’t argue about the degree of concentration, deliberation, and discipline required to make it through…

When I started the book, I prepared myself for serious tedium, determined to charge through for the good of the project (good-hearted team player that I am). But–I promise you I’m telling the truth–I actually had a really good time. I think this is mainly because as I started to read, I was surrounded by some very smart people (Henry Jenkins and Melville Scholar and MIT professor Wyn Kelley) who framed the novel for me as the work of a kind of proto-fan–a writer who channeled a lifelong love of literature, science, mythology, and the tiniest details of whaling culture into the classic text we engage with today. I couldn’t help but imagine Melville as a sort of geeky fanboy, running around from library to museum to shoreline to dock and collecting information that he couldn’t wait to share with readers…. When you picture Melville like that, and when you think about the book as evidence of his fandom, it starts to get really fun. You can even slog your way through the pages and pages of whaling history and lore, because you understand that Melville has collected all the information he could possibly find and is presenting it to you, the reader, because he thinks it’s really, really neat.

McWilliam’s post captures beautifully the excitement we are all experiencing reading Moby Dick through the lens of participatory culture.

I have long argued that the New Media Literacies should not be conceptualized as an add on subject or as something teachers do on Friday afternoon if the students have been good all week. It requires a paradigm shift on the same order as the ways schools have started to confront the challenges of multiculturalism and globalization. It impacts everything schools teach. In this project, we are focusing on Literature and Language Arts. Our hopes is to provide a model for how we teach authorship and classic literature differently in an era of remix culture. For more of my thoughts on this project, see earlier blog posts — The Whiteness of the Whale (Revisited) and

href="http://henryjenkins.org/2007/09/was_herman_melville_a_protofan.html">Was

Herman Melville a Protofan?

MIT’s Tech TV site is also showcasing some of the materials Project nml is producing for its forthcoming learning library. As Erin Reilly explains in the blog:

The Exemplar Library that was once documentary videos highlighting best practices of participatory culture is now an integration of learning activities embedded into multimedia material. In addition to videos, the Exemplar Library now has animated data visualization, flash movies, and other motion media as launching points. The learning activities are a combination of online activities that teens can do on their own to group activities that can happen both in and out of the classroom. This new informal approach to learning through the Exemplar Library encourages teens from passive viewing into interactive participation… and we saw just that in our first focus group of the semester.

The featured videos include several segments focused on what young people are learning through their participation in cosplay, some thoughts about the value of simulations and visualizations including a segment dealing with animation.

We welcome your feedback on these works in progress — especially from Educators (whether based in schools or after school programs) or Librarians.

I will be giving two talks next week focused on these materials — on Weds. as part of a webcast for Association of College and Research Libraries and on Friday before the New England Educational Media Association. Hope to see some of my regular readers there.