MacArthur Investing $50 Million In Digital Learning
October 19, 2006 | Press Release | Digital Media & Learning, Technology in the Public Interest

MacArthur announced plans to build the emerging field of digital media and learning, committing $50 million over five years to the effort. The Foundation will fund research and innovative projects focused on understanding the impact of the widespread use of digital media on our youth and how they learn.

"This is the first generation to grow up digital - coming of age in a world where computers, the internet, videogames, and cell phones are common, and where expressing themselves through these tools is the norm," said MacArthur President Jonathan Fanton, who announced the new initiative today.  "Given how present these technologies are in their lives, do young people act, think and learn differently today? And what are the implications for education and for society?; MacArthur will encourage this discussion, fund research, support innovation, and engage those who can make judgments about these difficult but critical questions."

MacArthur's approach is comprehensive, extending beyond the classroom to assess how digital technology may transform youth in both their formal and informal learning environments.  The research will test the theory that digital youth are different because they use digital tools to assimilate knowledge, play, communicate, and create social networks in new and different ways.  The Foundation's efforts will connect players across a variety of academic, education, commercial, and nonprofit fields to assess implications and seed new collaborative projects.

Eighty-three percent of young people between the ages of 8 and 18 play video games regularly; nearly three-quarters use instant messaging. On a typical day, more than half of U.S. teenagers use a computer and more than 40 percent play a video game. Using websites like MySpace and Facebook, young people are sharing photos, videos, music, ideas, and opinions online, connecting with a large group of peers in new and sometimes unexpected ways.

Fanton also announced -

  • Beginning in 2007, MacArthur will dedicate $2 million annually for competitive research, writing and demonstration projects.
  •, a new hub for information on digital media and learning, where people can learn more about the field and this initiative, share opinions and interact with guest bloggers.
  • In 2007, MacArthur will publish six books, online and in print, representing leading research and thinking on a range of digital media and learning topics. Topics will include credibility, innovative uses and unexpected outcomes, civic engagement, the ecology of games, race and ethnicity, and identity and digital media. Online public conversations, which have already begun, will help shape the content of these books.
  • The first in an occasional series of papers on digital learning topics, authored by MIT Professor Henry Jenkins, describes a participatory culture for young people and addresses the potential benefits and educational implications.
  • MacArthur has already funded some exploratory grants in the field of digital media and learning:
  • Researchers at the University of California-Berkeley and the University of Southern California are engaged in a large-scale ethnography of young people that will provide a broad portrait of the digital generation: technology's influence on their social networks and peer groups, their family life, how they play, and how they look for information.; It will be one of the most significant attempts yet made to explore the influence of digital media on youth.
  • The Academic Advanced Distributed Learning Co-Laboratory at The University of Wisconsin-Madison is developing "Game Designer," a software application for young people.  As students use it to create games, they learn about ethical judgment, aesthetic design, systemic thinking, and collaborative problem solving.
  • Professor Jenkins is engaged in further research on media literacy, exploring ways to teach it in the classroom and through after-school activities. The aim of the MIT project is to help young people learn how to filter, judge, synthesize, and use information available on the Internet and from other sources. An additional grant to Professor Howard Gardner at Harvard's Graduate School of Education supports research on young people's ethical use of digital media.
  • MacArthur is also funding efforts to engage young people directly in this initiative.  Global Kids, a nonprofit youth development organization, has organized online discussions and run a written essay competition for kids in which they describe their everyday use of digital media. And the University of Chicago is working to expand after-school media literacy programs in Chicago.
  • The Illinois Institute of Technology is examining how digital media and learning may change social institutions and developing new designs for schools and libraries.
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