Kids, You have Another World to Create
Clarissa is a 17-year-old aspiring screenwriter, growing up in a working-class household in the San Francisco Bay Area. Her passion is fantasy fiction. When friends introduced her to an online role-playing site that involved writing fiction interactively, she jumped at the chance to connect with others who shared her interest. Online, she found a community of like-minded peers who shared her interests, and who collaboratively wrote stories and critiqued each other’s work. Clarissa made great strides in her writing, engaging with it in ways that felt more authentic, and more motivating than her writing classes at school. In the end, she was proud enough of her work to use it in class assignments and in her college applications. She was admitted to two competitive liberal arts colleges, Emerson and Chapman, and attributes her success to the writing skills she developed in the role-playing world.
Tal is a 6th grader at Quest to Learn who likes to write and draw, and who socializes with a close-knit group of cousins about her same age. Tal started playing Minecraft at her cousin’s house. They decided to help form a Minecraft club at school, and soon many more students had joined. Lunchtime was spent sharing building tips, playing each other’s levels, and talking about what they were going to do in the game when they got home. The adult who had originally told them about the game set up a school Minecraft server that the club could access, and the community of players continued to grow and diversify to include younger and older siblings, friends from other schools, parents, and even some teachers. Tal got the idea to write scripts for her and her friends to film as animated plays in the game from a post on a Minecraft online forum. She got support for doing so from her social studies teacher, who had noticed Tal’s interest in creative writing. While the teacher wasn’t a Minecraft player herself, she did recognize that the game created a socially rich and creatively driven context for nurturing Tal’s writing interests. Tal was allowed to share her Minecraft inspired stories during class and was interviewed by other students as part of an online newspaper club. The status and recognition she gained from these outlets fed her confidence and supported her burgeoning identity as a creative writer. Tal started writing more frequently and found that the practice paid off in her writing for class assignments, mostly because her teacher challenged her to develop her own voice, no matter what the topic. She still went to the Minecraft club at school, but usually spent the sessions working on her scripts and getting ideas for new stories from the levels created by other players on the server. By the end of the school year, Tal was writing every day and sharing her work with teachers, family, and peers in the community that had developed around the school’s Minecraft server. She also became interested in enrolling in a summer program for writers so that she could continue to write with support over break.
The Harry Potter Alliance (HPA) is a nonprofit organization, established in 2005 by activist Andrew Slack. Inspired by the student activist organization “Dumbledore’s Army” in the Harry Potter narratives, the HPA uses parallels from the fictional content world as an impetus for civic action. It mobilizes young people across the U.S. around issues of literacy, equality, and human rights, and in support of charitable causes. Participants are predominantly, but not exclusively, Harry Potter Fans. Building mostly on volunteer staff members and a widely dispersed network of local chapters, the HPA has run a diverse set of its own campaigns, as well as supporting the campaigns of other organizations. An example of an ongoing HPA campaign is the annual Accio book drive, where members have donated over 87,000 books to local and international communities. Another successful campaign was Wizard Rock the Vote (Wrock the Vote), where HPA members registered 1100 voters in Harry Potter-themed “Wizard Rock” concerts across the country. An example of a successful partnership was when HPA raised over $123,000 for Partners in Health in Haiti in two weeks, as part of the Helping Haiti Heal campaign, enabling them to send five cargo planes full of medical supplies.
Are you interested in learning more about how these stories are possible? How to enable this kind of opportunities? A group of American and British researchers have put together “Connected Learning: An Agenda for Research and Design“(published by the Connected Learning Research Network, the above 3 stories are from the case studies among others in the report) This report is a synthesis of ongoing research, design, and implementation of an approach to education called “connected learning.” It advocates for broadened access to learning that is socially embedded, interest-driven, and oriented toward educational, economic, or political opportunity. Connected learning is realized when a young person is able to pursue a personal interest or passion with the support of friends and caring adults, and is in turn able to link this learning and interest to academic achievement, career success or civic engagement. This model is based on evidence that the most resilient, adaptive, and effective learning involves individual interest as well as social support to overcome adversity and provide recognition.
A full-text PDF of this report is available as a free download from: www.dmlhub.net/publications
Ito, Mizuko, Kris Gutiérrez, Sonia Livingstone, Bill Penuel, Jean Rhodes, Katie Salen, Juliet Schor, Julian Sefton-Green, S. Craig Watkins. 2013. Connected Learning: An Agenda for Research and Design. Irvine, CA: Digital Media and Learning Research Hub.