Friday, September 23, 2011

 Project NML has been involved in some exciting new endeavors since our move to the University of Southern California last year. As a part of USC’s Annenberg Innovation Lab, the new media literacy play (the capacity to experiment with one’s surroundings as a form of problem-solving) has become central to our current work in the field of digital media and learning. After partnering with the non-profit RFK Legacy in Action (RFK-LA) last fall, we began piloting a series of programs at the new Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools in Los Angeles under the umbrella of PLAY!, which in addition to being an nml, is also an acronym for 'participatory learning and you'!
NML’s guiding principal for a participant-centric approach to learning maintains providing ample opportunities for gaining expertise in the new media literacy skills and competencies. However, since branching out from working with individual educators and schools into the larger realm of professional development (starting with our early adopters program with the NH Dept. of Education in 2009), we've recognized the value of giving teachers permission to play the role of “participant-learner” (as opposed to "expert") before asking them to try new approaches with their students. By examining the ways educators took-up this challenge, our team was able to identify five characteristics of participatory learning that have come to frame our current research for PLAY!. Please take a moment to click on the link above to read more about them.
To get a sense of the direction we are taking with our current work on the ground, I will outline the programs we are piloting with the Los Angeles Unified School District below, which explore participatory learning practices, new models of professional development and the Playground tool.
PLAY! Projects
Our pilot PLAY! project, Explore Locally, Excel Digitally (ELED), was an after-school program for students that deeply explored themes around identity and community. Utilizing practices around mapping and other visualization tools, lessons culminated in digital representations of students’ perceptions on these themes. Since we know learning extends beyond the walls of classrooms and after-school programs to home, community and world – the program aimed to provide experiences that held a holistic view of the learner, and allowed for students to be full agents in their learning.
This past summer we ran a professional development called The Summer Sandbox. During these two week-long sessions, students from the ELED program modeled what they had learned for teachers and joined them as co-learners throughout the week. During these sessions we introduced a prototype for our new online collaborative learning tool, called the Playground. 
The Playground is an open-content, open-knowledge online system that encourages both adults and youth alike to discover, learn and teach each other. You will be able to use this transmedia platform to develop and take online "challenges", much like the Learning Library, only with improved capability for assessment, reflection, and a higher level participation. We are currently testing it with local educators and students and will announce when it is ready for a larger audience next spring.
As of now, we are in phase two of the PLAY! PD called Playing Outside the Box, where teachers will implement what they started during the Summer Sandbox and design a plan for sustainability. Students from RFK Community Schools will continue working with teachers in after-school settings for a series of workshops developed by our partnering organizations here in LA.
As you can see, we've been a bit busy but we're having fun because I work with an amazing team! Please take a few moments to visit our PLAY! wiki for more detailed information about these projects, and access new curriculum and resources.