Digital Media and Learning Competition Announced

I've written here often about the MacArthur Foundation's Digital Media and Learning initiative, which has funded our Project nml. The Foundation has made a 50 million dollar commitment over the next five years to help foster a field devoted to understanding "the way young people learn, play, socialize, and participate in civic life" through their use of new and emerging media technologies. So far, the Foundation has tended to hand select researchers and community leaders to participate in the initiative, but earlier this month, they announced an open competition designed to identify innovative projects which might make a difference in this space. What follows are some excerpts from the press release announcing this competition:

"An open competition is an excellent way to identify and hopefully inspire new ideas about learning in an increasingly digital world," MacArthur Foundation President Jonathan Fanton said. "We do not yet know how much people are changing because of digital media, but we hope that this competition will help support the most innovative thinking about learning, the formation of ethical judgments, peer mentoring, creativity, and civic participation, all of which are increasingly conducted online."

Awards will be given in two categories:

* Innovation Awards will support learning pioneers, entrepreneurs, and builders of new digital learning environments for formal and informal learning. These innovations might range from a teacher add-on for MySpace that allows for safe assigning of a class group discussion, to a platform co-developed by teachers and students to facilitate digital literacy and peer-mentoring between college students and high-school drop-outs earning their GED degrees, to a digital learning festival for the leaders of a worldwide youth environmental campaign.

* Knowledge Networking Awards will support communicators in connecting, mobilizing, circulating or translating new ideas around digital media and learning. For example, a team of teacher bloggers who already reach hundreds of thousands of readers may now seek to provide multimedia coverage and translation of MIT Professor Henry Jenkins' recent white paper on media literacy.

The open competition will be administered by a network of educators and digital innovators called "HASTAC" (the Humanities, Arts, Science and Technology Advanced Collaboratory). HASTAC was founded and is primarily operated at two university centers, the University of California Humanities Research Institute and the John Hope Franklin Center at Duke University. HASTAC has a network reaching more than 80 institutions globally. The choice of HASTAC, one of a new breed of "virtual institutions," reflects MacArthur's goals in promoting next-generation learning.

"We are already teaching a generation of students who do not remember a time before they were online," said Cathy N. Davidson, John Hope Franklin Humanities Institute Professor of Interdisciplinary Studies at Duke University and co-founder of HASTAC. "Their social life and informal learning are interconnected. They don't just consume media, they customize it. These students bring fascinating new skills to our classrooms, but they also bring an urgent need for critical thinking about the digital world they have inherited and are shaping."

As part of their prize, awardees will receive special consultation support on everything from technology development to management training. Winners will be invited to showcase their work at a conference that will include venture capitalists, entrepreneurs, educators and policy makers seeking the best ideas about digital learning. Applications are due Oct. 15, 2007, and prizewinners will be announced in January. Detailed information on the competition is available online at

"With the digital media and learning initiative, the MacArthur Foundation is playing a leading role in reshaping both institutional and informal learning practices," said David Theo Goldberg, HASTAC co-founder and director of the University of California's Humanities Research Institute. "Traditional learning practices are being supplemented and supplanted by new digital media, which both enable and extend their reach through virtual institutions like HASTAC. This is a natural partnership."

I know many of my readers are doing interested work in this space. I'd like to personally encourage you to pull together a proposal for this competition. Many of us have been frustrated by the climate of fear which so often clouds public policy as it relates to young people and new technologies. MacArthur is offering us another model -- one which is governed by reason and research rather than sparked by fear and ignorance, one which puts theory into practice to redesign public institutions and practices which touch the lives of children and youth.