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PLAY! (Participatory Learning and You!)


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PLAY (Participatory Learning and YOU!) is authored by Erin Reilly, Vanessa Vartabedian, Laurel Felt, and Henry Jenkins. It is an exploration of insights gained from our year-long work with elementary and secondary teachers from the Los Angeles Unified School District as they sought to develop a more participatory environment in their classroom.

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PLAY! (Participatory Learning and You!)

  1. 1. By Erin Reilly, Vanessa Vartabedian, Laurel J. Felt and Henry JenkinsFall 2012
  2. 2. p. 3 Executive Summaryp. 6 The Role of Work and Play in Educationp. 8 Professional Development Programs and Ethnographic Researchp. 10 Principles for Participatory Learningp. 32 Future Researchp. 35 References
  3. 3. Youth urgently need educational experiences that help them to build the skills and knowledge necessary to meaningfully participate in contemporary culture. These experiences are unequally distributed across the culture, putting many youth at a disadvantage in terms of their personal and professional pathways (Jenkins, Purushotma, Clinton, Weigel, & Robison, 2006). We believe that participatory learning offers the pedagogical model most appropriate for fostering these skills and knowledge. Thus, our team at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg Innovation Lab has pursued a multi-faceted research project that we refer to as PLAY! — an acronym for Participatory Learning and You! Participatory Learning and You! PLAY, Play, Play Our goal is to foster a more participatory culture in which every person has the skills, access, knowledge, and support they need in order to meaningfully participate in the new media landscape. Such a culture supports learning not only in school, but also across the ecosystem; it provides the scaffolding that youths and adults need to build creative, rewarding projects not only now, but also for the rest of their lives. PLAY!, play, and play can bring about this cultural shift. At the heart of PLAY! is our appreciation for the new media literacy skill play, defined as “the capacity to experiment with one’s surroundings as a form of problem-solving” (Jenkins et al., 2006, p. 24). As educators are pressured to ruthlessly focus on teaching to closed-ended tests, this sort of critical thinking and open-ended experimentation is too often left by the wayside. We also recognize good old-fashioned play as an outlook on life and learning — a way of seeing oneself and the world through a new, creative lens.PLAY! : Executive Summary p. 3
  4. 4. Five Principles for Participatory Learning PLAY! has identified five core principles for participatory learning: 1. Participants have many chances to exercise creativity through diverse media, tools, and practices; 2. Participants adopt an ethos of co-learning, respecting each person’s skills and knowledge; 3. Participants experience heightened motivation and engagement through meaningful play; 4. Activities feel relevant to learners’ identities and interests; 5. An integrated learning system - or learning ecosystem - honors rich connections between home, school, community and world. This model emerged iteratively over several years as we facilitated various educational programs. In 2009-10 school year, we ran a year-long pilot program aimed at increasing new media literacies proficiency with a national group of educators identified as “early adopters.”1 While the pilot was designed specifically as a distance-learning program focused on the new media literacies, our evaluation showed us that teachers needed first to be grounded in the mindset of a participatory culture of learning. The pilot revealed the importance of the five principles. The following year, we tested the utility of this model by designing and implementing Explore Locally, Excel Digitally (ELED), a 15-week after-school program in Los Angeles. As we helped high school students to build skills in digital tool use, new media literacies, and social and emotional learning, we observed that the five principles for participatory learning character- ized our learning context (Felt, Vartabedian, Literat, & Mehta, 2012). We continued to apply the model through the design and implementation of the Sum- mer Sandbox, two week-long professional develop- Summer Sandbox Recruitment Flyer ment (PD) workshops that explored particitpatory learning with 21 Los Angeles educators of grades 6-12. Finally, the five principles framed PLAYing Out- side the Box (POTB), a Fall 2011 PD extension that 1 This work was funded by a Title II grant from New Hampshire’s Department of Education.PLAY! : Executive Summary p. 4
  5. 5. we designed and deployed in order to support Summer Sandbox graduates’ imple- mentation of new pedagogy (Vartabedian & Felt, 2012).2 Guide to This Report This report elaborates on the Five Principles for Participatory Learning and shares on-the-ground insights from 11 Los Angeles-based teachers who oriented their class- rooms according to the five principles. These teachers’ journeys show what happens when theory meets practice – they describe triumphs and discoveries, identify chal- lenges in implementing these principles within current classrooms, and offer sugges- tions for fostering participatory learning environments. 2 Features of POTB included: one-on-one mentoring, community-based specialized workshops, and continued access to a profes- sional community of practice with whom they could share and reflect.PLAY! : Executive Summary p. 5
  6. 6. Work and play are often posed as opposites that don’t belong together. For young people, school is typically framed as a workplace—a space where there is no time to play and a place where those who do are labeled as “class clowns” and dismissed as disruptive and distracting. Play is typically far removed from school—at best, it is a “free time” activity to enjoy after the requirements of schoolwork have been met. Of course, in the test-driven environment of the contemporary classroom, there is hardly ever any free time. Even in after-school programs, there is a strong push for evaluation, assessment, and continuation of the school day, leaving fewer and fewer opportunities for children to play, explore and use their imaginations. Students in Laughter for a Change’s PLAY On Workshop This apparent opposition between work and play spans all grades from kindergarten through college. Even when college students can align their studies more closely with their passions, their “work ethic” places disciplined training over pleasurable learning. This is how we (un)learn how to play. A key insight from our research is that educators and students need to give themselves and each other permission to play. Researchers talk about the “magic circle” that is created around play experiences, which suspends real world consequences and al- lows participants to take chances. If play supports a process of trial and error, which is believed valuable for learning, then we have to lower the costs of failure, a seemingly unbearable approach in a school setting. Not everything has to be done right or done well the first time around. Learning is a process. We need to embrace the spirit of play in order to step outside our real world challenges and perceive them through “new eyes.” As Albert Einstein famously said, “Problems cannot be solved at the same level of awareness that created them.” Most forms of play are not solitary pastimes; playPLAY! : The Role of Work and Play in Education p. 6
  7. 7. takes place within a community of other participants, and the act of play encourages us to push ourselves and each other to try new things while being open to new experi- ences. Play often requires innovation and encourages creativity as people adapt the materials and spaces around them to new purposes. By fostering a safe space to play, we encourage a participatory learning culture – to experiment creatively and fail productively. Participatory learning offers opportunities to explore knowledge across domains and apply this knowledge in a variety of situations relevant to the learner. In a participatory learning environment, we play and learn from each other where all are encouraged to share in a knowledge exchange, whether it is a teacher, student, administrator, parent or community partner (Papert, 1980; Cole & Engeström, 1993; Greeno, 2006; Duschl & Hamilton, 2010). Learning becomes a “ne- gotiation and collaboration” between these participants (John-Steiner & Mahn, 1996, p. 197), where different perspectives are valued and respected. Such an environment is stimulating and requires learners to critically examine their assumptions (Roth & Lee, 2004; Hodson, 1999). Participatory learning comprises several activities: pursuing inter- ests, facing challenges, asking questions, exchanging feedback, developing passions, building relationships, establishing identities, and constructing products (Felt, 2011). Getting to know educators’ needs and backgrounds is pivotal to meeting them where they are. Earning trust helps ensure participants’ full investment and maintain mutual respect and open communication.PLAY! : The Role of Work and Play in Education p. 7
  8. 8. Our research team at the Annenberg Innovation Lab at the University of Southern Cali- fornia has issued this challenge to educators: PLAY! For us, PLAY not only signals our belief that playful mindsets foster learning, but also stands for Participatory Learning and YOU! Six years ago, Project New Media Literacies started with a goal of helping educators incorporate twelve core media literacies into their teaching. First, the team sought to help educators and youth incorporate new media literacies into their learning by developing a variety of new media literacy resources. From pilot testing these resources both in schools and afterschool programs, the team realized that teachers themselves needed to develop proficiency around new media literacies, equal to students gaining this knowledge. Accordingly, during the 2009-10 school year, Project New Media Literacies designed and facilitated a year-long pilot professional development program oriented towards that end: to support NML com- prehension and application among a national group of early adopter educators. This latter experience crystallized our impression that, when learners’ environment is par- ticipatory, they can develop the social and cultural skills necessary for engaging in a participatory culture more quickly and more robustly (Reilly & Vartabedian, 2010). We continued to refine our ideas the following year and in Spring 2011, we designed and implemented Explore Locally, Excel Digitally (ELED), a 15-week after-school pro- gram that helped high school students build digital literacy skills, new media literacies proficiencies, and social and emotional learning competencies within a participatory learning environment (Felt, Vartabedian, Literat, & Mehta, 2012). Together, we sought to answer the following question tweeted by New York-based educator Karen LeBonte (@ klbz): “I wonder what would happen if we asked students to design PD for us? What would they want us to learn?” We put this question to the ELED students and used their responses to inform our design of the “Summer Sandbox,” a professional development workshop for teachers to explore participatory learning. One principle of participatory learning framed each of the five days’ activities. Over the two Summer Sandbox sessions that we offered, 21 Los Angeles-based educators of grades 6-12 participated in all; four ELED students also joined each Summer Sandbox session for two half-days, variously leading and participating in activities in order to share their expertise and insights. We hoped that participants would experience the rewards of participatory learning and incorporate the five principles into their classroom practice. We offered a Fall 2011 extension, called PLAYing Outside the Box (POTB), to further support Summer Sandbox graduates’PLAY! : Professional Development Programs and Ethnographic Research p. 8
  9. 9. application of participatory learning principles. More a service than a seminar, POTB offered to the 11 teachers who enrolled: one-on-one mentoring, community-based specialized workshops, and continued access to a professional community of practice with whom they could share and reflect (Vartabedian & Felt, 2012). Laurel and students negotiate The Human Knot ActivityPLAY! : Professional Development Programs and Ethnographic Research p. 9
  10. 10. This report defines the Five Principles for Participatory Learning and shares on-the- ground insights from eleven Los Angeles-based teachers who oriented their class- rooms according to the five principles. Each class averaged 25 students, bringing the number of learners reached by the program to 250. These teachers’ journeys show what happens when theory meets practice – they describe triumphs and discoveries, identify challenges in implementing these principles within current classrooms, and of- fer suggestions for fostering participatory learning. PLAY! identified five principles for participatory learning: 1. Participants have many chances to exercise creativity through diverse media, tools, and practices; 2. Participants adopt an ethos of co-learning, respecting each person’s skills and knowledge 3. Participants experience heightened motivation and engagement through meaningful play; 4. Activities feel relevant to learners’ identities and interests; 5. An integrated learning system - or learning ecosystem - forges rich connec- tions between home, school, community and world. The following sections examine each of the principles for participatory learning in turn, providing descriptions of the principle in practice in our research projects, highlighting challenges to bringing these principles into educational environments, and making sug- gestions for future interventions and research. Creativity Creative thinkers exhibit some combination of the following traits: tenacity of purpose, passion, devotion, driving absorption, and persistence (Lumsden, 1999). Sociobiologist Charles Lumsden (1999) defines creativity as “a kind of capacity to think up something new that people find significant” (p. 153). In his view, creativity is “that tantalizing con- stellation of personality and intellectual traits shown by people who, when given a mea- sure of free rein, spend significant amounts of time engaged in the creative process” (p. 153). His view – and he is certainly not alone in this – is that creativity, when appropri- ately situated in cultural context, can lead to innovation. The development of a creative drive is linked to the skill of internal assessment – creative individuals are better able to assess their own work without excessive direction from others.PLAY! : Principles for Participatory Learning p. 10
  11. 11. According to The Pew Center for the Internet & American Life, almost 60 percent of American teens online have produced media content and roughly one-third of them have circulated their productions beyond their immediate friends and family (Lenhart, Purcell, Smith & Zickuhr, 2010). While this statistic suggests that creative expression is becoming integrated into many youth’s everyday lives, it also points to a significant participation gap: 40 percent of American youth do not share their experiences of cre- ating and sharing media. Unfortunately, American schools have not made fostering creativity a central goal, despite a growing body of research that highlights the importance of creativity and as- serts that play fosters a culture of innovation (Dodgson, Gann & Salter, 2005; Thomas & Brown, 2011). Thus, it is our mandate as educators to provide spaces for young people to tinker, experiment and understand that failure is part of the process; to de- velop creative thinking skills, and to use technology with a mindset of “What else can we use this for?” and “Who else may be empowered to use these tools?” Schools rarely provide chances for students to create or to apply skills developed through their informal out-of-school activities to formal education. Especially at a time when many arts programs have been defunded, creativity should be encouraged across all content areas. (Reilly, Jenkins, Felt & Vartabedian, 2012). Tina Seelig, neuroscientist and Executive Director of the Stanford Technology Ventures Program, refers to our brains as “creativity machines,” and blames the education sys- tem for devaluing creativity as a part of intelligence (Seelig, 2012). For the most part, schools still focus on solving problems that have only one correct answer, often of the kind students choose on a multiple-choice exam. Creative problem solving reinforces a deep respect for cultural diversity: each participant brings a new perspective to bear on shared problems. Educational researchers are calling for more time and space for young people to learn through tinkering and making (Resnick, 2009; Ito, 2012; Santo 2012) rather than simply absorbing information from books and lectures. Our emphasis on creative practices in education is linked to a constructionist approach which be- lieves that effective learning comes out of building things that have either personal or social meaning and offer a means for creators to contextualize their knowledge (Bruck- man, 2006; Papert, 1980).PLAY! : Principles for Participatory Learning p. 11
  12. 12. Experiments in Practice Teachers who took part in the Summer Sandbox and PLAYing Outside the Box profes- sional development overwhelmingly favored PLAY!’s pedagogical approach from the start. Yet, in order to adopt it as their own, they needed to challenge their current ap- proaches and experiment with new processes, practices and mindsets. Some teach- ers struggled with practical problems, such as time, money and lack of support, while others feared unfamiliar technologies. In honoring a creative approach, their first activity was to produce a 54-second “how- to video.” Our goal was to introduce the 4C’s of Participation: creating (making media); circulating (spreading media); collaborating (working with others); and connecting (forming both formal and informal affiliations) (Reilly, Jenkins, Felt & Vartabedian, 2012). Using iPod Touches, participants had 20 minutes to complete the assignment. Small teams collaborated to create instructional videos sharing participants’ skills and exper- tise. Groups uploaded their videos to a designated cloud space and connected online to watch and give feedback on each other’s work. Participants enjoyed the 54-second length restriction for the final product and the 20-minute time limit for accomplishing it. Such boundaries alleviated pressure for groups to produce technically perfect projects while still providing a structure for the collaboration process. This, in turn, gave participants permission to adopt a more playful approach. During a post-activity reflection, most of the teachers appreciated the “how-to video” project’s hands-on approach and the ease with which it could be appropriated across disciplines, and concluded they might give students too much time for class projects and could likely increase engagement by setting tighter time limits. Seelig (2012) maintains that working with forced constraints in creative processes leads to better products. A core challenge of the program was to help teacher’s shift from the technology-centric approach they often brought into the program towards a new emphasis on participa- tion. Our approach started with identifying pedagogical goals and then determining which tools could best aid students to meet those goals. For example, one night for homework during the Summer Sandbox, each participant was asked to bring a ‘tool’ or ‘toy’ with no knowledge of its intended use. The day’s first challenge used a self- directed, collaborative problem-solving approach. Here, participants worked in disci- pline-based teams to collectively identify something they agreed was difficult to teach. The team mapped various ways of approaching the learning goal – with the caveat of using their group’s “tool/toy box” collection as potential resources.PLAY! : Principles for Participatory Learning p. 12
  13. 13. There was a similar need to encourage teachers to include opportunities for unintended learning out- comes. The activity’s second iteration used an open- learning approach. Teachers were asked to play with the tools and toys within the mindset of their disci- pline, but with no specific learning goals. What did play mean in their domain? For example: What does it mean to play as a chemist? What can I, the chem- ist, do with this origami paper and cell phone? This was actually one teams questions and they explored how they could use origami to teach the basic con- cepts of monomers, polymers and water molecules. PD teachers explore high-tech skills In another scenario, participants used cell phones as timers, connected research tools and communica- tion devices. Here students would partner for a timed test; each received different test questions. Taking turns, teams would exchange questions via text messaging, work on the problem they received and then text their partner what they found. Such activi- ties encouraged resourcefulness, multitasking, collaborative problem solving and ad- dressed differentiated learning. Challenges The school where we ran the Summer Sandbox, like many other schools, has Inter- net firewalls to “protect” students; these firewalls also block teachers from employing activities, such as our “how-to-video” projects, in their classrooms. Learners might not be allowed to share their videos online or circulate them beyond the school. Child protection laws are in place for obvious reason to safe guard students but often over- filtering occurs due to fear of losing federal funding by not abiding by the Children’s Internet Protection Act required by K-12 schools and libraries to block or filter minors’ access to “materials harmful to them” (FCC, 2001). By shutting out access or being overly cautious, schools have often passed up opportunities to more effectively edu- cate and mentor youth around the ethical and behavioral considerations for participat- ing in networked, public spaces. Many of the PLAY! teachers had explored ways of working around such blockages to enable bringing enriching materials and activities to their students, but most acknowledged they felt inhibited from trying many new technologies given the challenges of getting them to function properly within a school setting. These barriers make it harder for schools to address the participation gap while also making it harder for more “wired” students to draw on the powerful ways they were learning through informal communities of practice when tackling school work. Ultimately, educational policies are going to need to change if teachers are going to bePLAY! : Principles for Participatory Learning p. 13
  14. 14. able to embrace a more creative, holistic approach to curriculum design that honors their students’ skills, practices, and interests. Students and teachers, alike, are at a dis- advantage when educators are placed in the role of “regulator” or “censor” rather than “mentor” or “mediator.” Suggestions The PLAY! teachers noted that encouraging creative play within the classroom often required shedding traditional forms of authority. They needed to embrace creative chaos, as students deployed tools they knew and their teachers did not or, as class- room projects became more open-ended and less results-driven. When they did let go, teachers found students to be both more motivated and resourceful than they had anticipated. Students often exceeded their expectations when they were allowed to meet new challenges head-on. When Natalie, a middle school language arts specialist, asked groups of 7th and 8th graders to create public service announcements (PSAs), she did not limit them to a pre-determined topic or curriculum. Students discovered their own topics by research- ing online or talking with their families and communities. Natalie explained: “One group tackled the sensitive topic of depression and shared vulnerable scenarios while work- ing through their process. I know that the topic they chose resonated with them per- sonally, and it’s been inspiring to see their motivation.” Natalie had a solid grasp of the pre-production skills (research, writing) her students would need to develop their PSAs, but she had a more limited understanding of the technologies they would be using. Natalie’s fear of “losing control” caused her to change the assignment to emphasize tools she knew better. PLAY! mentors encouraged her to practice “letting go” of spe- cific expectations for just one class period. Students engaged in peer-to-peer mentor- ing and self-selected teams based on strengths and skill. Regardless of her own limited technical prowess, Natalie’s mentorship inspired results everyone could be proud of. Once the students had completed researching, writing, shooting, and editing, Natalie and the class hosted a screening in the library. In reflecting on her process, Natalie shared, “My challenges were meant to empower and motivate students to give back and make a change in them and in the lives of others. These are big themes that can be transferred across many disciplines. They could both be used in conjunction with a class novel, or during an expository research unit.”PLAY! : Principles for Participatory Learning p. 14
  15. 15. Co-Learning The Digital Youth Project (Ito, Horst, Bittanti, boyd, Herr-Stephenson, Lange, Pascoe, & Robinson, 2008) suggests that adults need to adopt and practice emerging literacy skills in the same ways and in simi- lar environments as youth in order to facilitate new modes of learning. Many teachers do not understand what co-learning looks like because they have not experienced the kinds of peer-to-peer exchanges that characterize the most productive forms of par- ticipatory culture and so, they reproduce much more traditional and hierarchical relationships in their Working in teams to complete a project classroom. Too often, in traditional educational set- tings, students are the passive recipients of teacher’s knowledge. Famed Brazilian educator Paulo Freire (1970) describes a transition from this “banking concept of education” to a dynamic where “the teacher is no longer merely the-one-who-teaches, but one who is him- self taught in dialogue with the students, who in turn, while being taught, also teach” (p. 61). From this view, new knowledge is produced through meaningful transactions amongst those who share a classroom. This kind of distributed expertise or what we refer to as, co-learning, contrasts with the expert paradigm that has traditionally seen teachers as “the sage on the stage” impart- ing knowledge to students. The expert paradigm assumes a static, bounded body of knowledge. According to Walsh (2003), the expert paradigm assumes a static, bound- ed body of knowledge (cited in Jenkins, 2006, p. 52). In this model, expertise is hier- archical and generally brokered by credentialed authorities. Co-learning, in contrast, is often distributed over diverse areas of learning that bridge between the formal and informal spaces. Furthermore, with a distributed expertise paradigm, networked culture assumes that nobody knows everything, everyone knows something, and individuals are encouraged to share what they know with each other in the process of pursuing shared goals. Increasingly, information and expertise are spread across a broad net- work of people, platforms and tools. In a networked culture, participants need to know how to find, process, and exchange already-accessible information and how to work together to generate new knowledge. Educators can foster co-learning by organizing their classroom as a participatory apprenticeship, where the content to be learned is vitally connected to learning to think, react, debate, deliberate, problem-solve, inno- vate, and collaborate in a networked society. Successful collaboration requires negoti- ating the time commitment, the level of participation and the responsibility participants’PLAY! : Principles for Participatory Learning p. 15
  16. 16. share with each other. This practice works best when both teacher and student have a comfort level with the material and a sense of ownership over the experience. We can take cues from Reggio Emilia approaches to early childhood education (Edwards, Gandini & Forman, 1993). Focused on the “whole child,” this teaching style encour- ages teachers to collaborate within student-originated inquiries and to forge multi-year relationships with students. Experiments in Practice Frank, a middle school science teacher, experimented with a new activity that required ‘letting go’: rather than leading his students to a solution, he allowed for unexpected outcomes as his students used their collective knowledge to engage in the problem. Frank gave students an array of artifacts, such as plastic tubing, paper and tape, and asked them to create a physical representation of what they had learned about how the digestive system functions. Frank wanted to use this opportunity to explore assess- ment in collaborative learning settings, and to examine how peer-to-peer processes could foster deep learning. Despite decades of calls for inquiry-based learning, many teachers find they have less and less time to experiment with open-learning practices. Here, the goal to help learn- ers develop 21st century skills is in direct opposition to the expectation that they teach to the test. The later almost always wins in a world where teachers are under enormous pressure to protect their school’s rankings. Frank mentioned his fear of losing control of the learning process and a concern that a more open-ended, less prescriptive ap- proach might be less efficient at achieving the desired results. Frank decided to invite the technical administrators and other school personnel to observe the process unfold. One of his students made a comment referring to the large intestine as the ‘stomach’. Just as Frank was about to correct him, several other stu- dents beat him to the punch, “No, no. Don’t you remember the song? It goes like this,” and they sang it. (Frank had played a song call “Digestive Remix” in class several times over the course of the unit.) Not only was the principal impressed, but so was Frank, “I didn’t think they were really going to be able to reference that media. So it was really interesting.” Using the model the students created as a prompt, Frank also implemented a tradi- tional written test, asking them to sequentially identify how the digestive system works. Over 98 percent scored well. “They used the time order transitional words correctly.... And that is actually a California Standards Test question that they have to take at the end of this year.”PLAY! : Principles for Participatory Learning p. 16
  17. 17. From that point forward, Frank shared with us how students suggested ways of ap- plying the tools and resources around them to creatively and collaboratively engage in their assignments. For both Frank and his students, teaching and learning shifted from one of teacher control and passive consumption to co-learning and ownership. Ken, a high school government and economics teacher, shared his most “significant change” as a result of his five months with PLAY! …The actual most significant change that I experienced [during the PD] did not take place in my classroom with my students, but it was more of a change in my attitude and expanding my thinking about what can occur with my students in the future. And that is to give them more of an opportunity to have co-learning experiences, not only with other students in their classrooms, but with students in different classrooms as well as even perhaps with students in different schools... [It’s] more of my attitude and my willingness to go beyond what I’ve normally done and kept things in my classroom and move to more co-learning in a broader sense. Like so many of his colleagues, Ken also mentioned letting go. Rather than identifying control issues as his barrier, though, Ken spoke about his fear of technology. “I’m will- ing to be much more brave in using activities such as VoiceThread in my classrooms, whereas before I was much more timid about those types of new technology and their uses and applications in my classroom.” Challenges Over the past several decades, many, including teachers, have called for new, more accurate measures for evaluating teacher effectiveness. More commonly, such evalua- tions were used to justify firing teachers, rather than helping them improve their perfor- mance (New Teacher Project, 2010). Reformers argue that student progress should be a key factor in evaluating teacher effectiveness. But, the need for an objective mea- surement has placed the emphasis on how well students perform on state tests dur- ing a specific exam period, rather than measuring gains made across the school year. Standardized testing values individual excellence over collective intelligence, memo- rization over in-depth understanding, and learning outcomes rather than the problem solving process.PLAY! : Principles for Participatory Learning p. 17
  18. 18. Often, the current testing regime places added pressures on teachers without giving them space to innovate and experiment based on their own passions and expertise. In an era of budget cuts, teachers report feeling more vulnerable to firings and pressured to accept approaches they do not necessarily feel serve their student’s best interests. Not surprisingly, such fears surface when teachers contemplate the risks of “letting go” of even more of their control over what happens in their classes. They want to work in a creative environment, but they also want to keep their jobs. As one educator stated early on in the PD to a roomful of unanimous nodding, “teaching is not for wimps.” Suggestions Several of our educators came into the PLAY! PD having recently participated in another one focused on project-based learning. Project-based learning (PBL) starts with a specific problem or challenge, using a driving question to pull students through a research process resulting in a presentation. Students acquire knowledge from readings and lectures “just in time” or on a “need-to-know” basis as they work on their project. PBL emphasizes relevant, interdisciplinary, student-centered inquiry with assessment riding on the final artifact or presentation. While this focus on PBL over time differs from more traditional ways of imparting knowledge to students, both approaches return to the same assessment methods. PLAY! promotes a problem-based approach to learning. Unlike project-based learning, which is attached to specific learning goals, problem-based learning is equally inter- ested in the social and analytical skills that emerge as people collaborate to address a problem. We wanted educators to examine their pedagogy from the inside out; to experience learning in a way that stimulated them to look at problems differently and empowered them to deploy their prior knowledge within a collaborative setting. Such an approach works best where students have acquired some shared knowledge (often information fundamental to the problem they seek to solve) as well as having individu- alized skills and knowledge to contribute to the process. Participatory assessment aligns with PLAY’s problem-based approach to learning. Learning scientists Daniel Hickey and Rebecca C. Itow (2012) suggest that participatory assessment drives the learning, and not vice versa. Participatory assessment examines how tacit knowledge is learned through situating both summative and formative as- sessment within the teaching and learning experience. By embedding assessment in participatory learning, rather thaan creating assessment bookends with learning in the middle, participatory assessment helps to identify how the social and cultural dimen- sions of learning support behavior and cognition development in any subject.PLAY! : Principles for Participatory Learning p. 18
  19. 19. Motivation and Engagement We believe meaningful play can foster motivation and engagement. Motives for en- gagement can vary, from being intent on the content to participating because of social connections with others. Educational researchers propose that engagement is a mul- tidimensional construct including behavioral engagement (actively performing learning activities), cognitive engagement (using cognitive strategies to foster deep learning), and affective engagement (expressing enjoyment about learning) (Fredericks, Blumen- feld & Paris, 2004). Schools have traditionally relied on systems of extrinsic motivation (such as grades) to force student compliance to their goals, where-as such means are rarely required in informal learning activities, which often depend on participants’ emo- tional connection with the task to carry them through the learning process. Play is not simply something we do; it also describes the mental attitude we bring with us to that activity. We’ve all seen the determined face of a child playing a game. Games are not simply fun; they require engagement; they can be demanding. Take, for exam- ple, Lego’s Minotaurus game where you move your little figure heroes through a maze, while avoiding the beastly Minotaur, trying to be the first to enter the center temple. This and many of the other Lego games are all designed on a flexible Lego board. Each comes with a simple rule set that can easily be remixed, whether it is making your own rules, modding the maze or changing the sides of the dice. Players are encouraged to build, make increasingly harder challenges and create new rules together. This game invites players to conceptualize and create their shared play experiences. Such a game offers some autonomy for players to direct how it’s played. When they are motivated, they spend more time thinking through alternative possibilities and thus learn more through their play (Pintrich, Schunk, & Meese, 2008). When we talk about incorporating PLAY into learning, we are not talking about “enter- taining” the students, but rather motivating them to engage more actively in their own learning process. Games are not always fun: they are often grinding and repetitive, yet, students spend lots of time and effort in part because they feel a strong motivation to master the challenges games present them. Games are engaging for young people in much the same ways that teachers find themselves engaged with their favorite content: they may work long hours without feeling restless or bored, because they recognize the value of what they are doing. In part, this is because games clearly define roles and rules for their contributions, helping them to understand what they need to do and why it matters. When game designers work with teachers to develop resources for games- based learning, the first step is to translate knowledge in a book into activities withinPLAY! : Principles for Participatory Learning p. 19
  20. 20. the game, and thus, the core question is what does this knowledge allow us to do. Yet, more recent digital games also offer multiple paths and goals, much like the Lego game described earlier, allowing multiple routes to success and thus allowing players more agency in determining what they are doing when they are playing a game. Such freedom, however, is often not part of the extrinsic motivation structures of formal edu- cation. Experiments in Practice During the 2011 Digital Media and Learning conference, we conducted a workshop to test the preliminary list of PLAY! principles. The small group of educators in the break- out group who explored motivation and engagement questioned whether any pre-fab- ricated lesson could effectively foster this characteristic. In their view, a contextualized learning goal and array of helpful tools is all that a facilitator should bring to the table; the rest—how to achieve that goal, with what, and for what purpose—should be deter- mined by the learner. This approach moves us away from teachers focusing first on textbooks and favorite lessons that are taught year after year, towards greater flexibility in constructing and guiding an emergent learning culture. On the first day of the Summer Sandbox, we had the PD participants form small groups and circulate among different stations where they explored the new media literacies (NMLs). Each station was led by one of the PLAY! facilitators and offered an op- portunity for groups to engage in activities and with tools that contextualize the skills in different learning scenarios. Erin Reilly led the session that introduced the new media literacies, simulation and visualiza- tion. Rather than start with discussion or a defini- tion of these two skills, Erin asked the teachers to sit on the floor with her and play Fair Housing Mo- Used to teach Fair Housing nopoly, a remixed version of the original game. With three quick rounds of the Monopoly board, some teachers were able to buy only certain properties and others were able to buy more or move freely across the board. By simulating this real-world scenario, teachers were quickly able to interpret and construct meaning on why civil rights legislation is necessary for things like fair housing. The teachers were motivated through the performed roles and became emotionally tied to the outcomes of their situation. This embodied learning experience provided a personal connection to the situation and gave them something concrete to reflect on in regards to the unfair- ness of engaging in a process governed by rules that are different for different people.PLAY! : Principles for Participatory Learning p. 20
  21. 21. After the short exercise, Erin asked the teachers to mod another board game keep- ing in mind one of the learning objectives from their own discipline. Katie modded the Scrabble game to encourage her students to better understand compounds by having student pair elements together to form correct compounds. Neal modded the game Risk, engaging his students in the subject of immigration. The teachers take away from this exercise was to better understand how modding no-tech board games can offer ways to contextualize abstract concepts that may not be apart of your student’s every- day lives. It also encourages personalization through encouraging participants to take on new identities through role-playing but the best part of the experience was when Ziyi shared, “I was intrigued to keep playing when you asked us to sit on the floor with you and play a game. I didn’t know what to expect and was curious to know where this could lead.” Intrinsic motivation can happen when curiosity gets the better of you. Maybe it is not best to always lay all your cards on the table from the beginning but instead offer time for experiences to unfold and learning to come out of conversations through experience instead of always setting the stage. Challenges The current generation of educators has been taught to turn to technology as the all- purpose solution to the problem of student engagement and motivation. Magazines for teachers are filled with advertisements promising that this tool will make the subject matter come alive, but doing a math problem or a reading exercise on the computer does not necessarily make it more engaging to students. Given this situation, it is no surprise that many educators came to the Summer Sandbox expecting to find a focus on specific tools and platforms, and some were disappointed when they discovered otherwise. Whatever initial novelty might have surrounded the use of computers for school work has diminished over the years, making clear what smart educators knew all along: it’s not that you have tools available, but what you do with the tools that mat- ter. The most powerful examples of technology-focused education – for example, MIT’s Scratch and Computer Clubhouse projects (Rusk, Resnick & Cooke, 2009) – work not simply to introduce new tools, but to create a particular social ethos around their use, building a community which supports each other’s learning and where it feels safe to experiment. The PLAY! approach is to shift the focus from the technology to the participatory struc- tures that need to be in place in order to motivate and engage students in a meaningful task. In fact, we often advocate thinking long and hard about whether technology is necessary or desirable for achieving the teacher’s goals, or whether technology will get in the way of meaningful social interactions within the learning community. Often, wePLAY! : Principles for Participatory Learning p. 21
  22. 22. find that no tech or low-tech solutions may work as well and may depend on materials more readily accessible to teachers working in schools whose infrastructure is often inadequate to more high-tech models. Suggestions Again and again, teachers in our interviews said that what they needed, above all else, was more time. As teacher Ziyi asked, “Why can’t we add more hours to our day? That’s what I need.” Offering free time during the workweek would allow teachers to embrace new learning opportunities in their classrooms. Outside school walls, compa- nies are helping to motivate their employees through non-monetary benefits. The 3M Corporation has embraced a 15 percent program since 1948, which in turn led to the invention of Post-It notes. Following in 3M’s footsteps, Google offers the 20 percent work-week program. In this program, Google allows its employees to use up to 20 percent of their workweek to pursue special projects. For every standard work-week, employees can take a full day to work on a project unrelated to their normal workload. Google claims that many of their best products began as pet projects in the 20 percent time program. This type of engagement provides Google employees with an inspiring place to work and a sense of purpose: they can deploy skills and expertise beyond their job description. Too bad, our schools can’t offer teachers the same chance to stretch and grow. Relevance “Who cares?” “What’s the point of this?” “How does this matter in the real world?” Stu- dents utter such questions far too often. Rather than individual attitude issues, these questions indicate systemic concerns about relevance– they often signal a curriculum that is disconnected from students’ realities. Current research suggests more students drop out of school because they are bored than because they cannot perform at an ap- propriate level (Bridgeland, Dilulio, & Morison, 2006, p. iii). Curriculum often ignores students’ cultural and geographical worlds, and tend to prefer research, production, and communication that occurs within the classroom’s physical walls. Opportunities for both substantive collaboration and participatory engagement are often minimized in favor of more traditional, top-down approaches. While educators might appreciate the importance of social and emotional competence and community connectedness, institutions rarely prioritize these values in resource allocation. As a result, students suffer from de-motivation and disengagement.PLAY! : Principles for Participatory Learning p. 22
  23. 23. Much like the learning that takes place within friendship-driven and interest-driven net- works (Ito, 2011) or “affinity spaces” (Gee, 2007), a relevant school curriculum honors learners’ identities and interests. An ideal learning cycle incorporates civic engage- ment, meaningful collaboration, and social connection through the following feedback loop: 1. Educators invite “real world” information, skills, and experiences into the class- room. 2. Student’s passions and personalities inform their inquiry processes and inspire their projects. 3. Constructive critique helps students to reflect on their work. 4. Students apply their classroom-based learning in other spaces. New ideas and experiences emerge. 5. Students integrate what they learned into classes to support new projects. Here, students are not simply performing for a grade (extrinsic motivation); they care about what they are learning (intrinsic motivation) (Ryan & Deci, 2000). Because stu- dents are building significant relationships with content, their classroom success ex- tends far beyond the school’s confines. This cycle facilitates students’ identity work (Erikson, 1959), as they develop a stronger sense of who they are as lifelong learners. Experiments in Practice PLAY! participants’ experiences with Open Space Technology (OST - also known as Unconferenced Workshops; Owen, 1994) produced valuable insights into how to make classroom activities relevant for teachers and students. Participants were invited to propose mini-workshops on their interests. As provocation, we inquired: What would you like to get out of this PD that we’ve left out? What expertise would you like to share with the group? What questions would you like to discuss and work through with peers? Each participant had time to reflect, and then briefly pitched two possible work- shops. Next, everyone voted for favorite workshop ideas. The nine workshops with the most votes were scheduled into three, consecutive, 30-minute time blocks, with three workshops running concurrently during each time block. Participants were counseled to “use your two feet to go to where you are learning or contributing” (McCandless & Lipmanowicz, 2012). Referred to as “The Law of Two Feet,” this principle encourages participants to leave or enter workshops according to their interest.PLAY! : Principles for Participatory Learning p. 23
  24. 24. PD participants tended to both pitch and prefer workshops focused on pedagogy – in part because of their common identities as educators, and/or their genuine passion for teaching. Of these workshops, three-quarters utilized the principles for participatory learning: • Co-learning: Natalie’s “Creating a community of tolerance” • Creativity: Katie’s “Teaching core content through art and digital media (tips and ideas for creating engaging, hands-on lessons)” • Motivation and engagement: Neal’s “Pushing students versus allowing them to remain in their comfort zone” • Relevance: Henrietta’s “Learning literature through hip-hop” • Learning ecosystem: Vanessa’s and Henry’s joint session on “Copyright and fair use in the classroom” Others regarded behavioral issues, e.g., middle school teacher Frank’s “Incorporating music in classroom management.” Some sought personal enrichment. English teacher Helen explained how to get National Board certification, social studies teacher Jasmine led a session on free travel opportunities, social studies teacher Jose discussed get- ting grants, and math teacher Frances discussed strategies for earning Salary Points. Whereas the educators had originally sought help learning how to use technology, only three workshops pertained to tools and platforms (e.g., “Create your own wiki page”). This shift from technology to participatory practice suggests how strongly the educa- tors were embracing the mindset we hoped to foster. PD teacher, Diego, Shares his ideasPLAY! : Principles for Participatory Learning p. 24
  25. 25. Three high school-aged participants were interested in teacher-student relations. Dani- elle, a high school junior, suggested “How to make teachers become less exaggerated about school rules during advisory/homeroom.” Sophomore Kalvin offered “How to keep students’/teachers’ attention equal?” Sophomore Neal proposed, “Should cul- tural/ethical backgrounds affect classroom plans?” While only Neal’s session earned enough votes to go forward, the frank conversation was illuminating for all involved. Teachers benefited by exchanging tips and resources, conversing about topics which they had strong investments, and asserting greater control over the workshop’s struc- ture and content. Uma’s greatest takeaway was “Give the students a chance to share. You do not realize what they have to share. This is informative too.” Ken first objected to the riskiness of using OST in his classroom, then turned to the one student in the room: “What do you think, Neal?” Neal smiled, “I think it will be fine.” Some teachers reported back on the relevance-rich activities they facilitated in their classrooms the following fall. After viewing the Chinese documentary Please Vote for Me (Edkins & Chen, 2007), Isabel’s students asked, “Can we have our own election?” Although Isabel hadn’t been planning on it, she agreed, initiating the relevance-sensi- tive learning cycle. “And in there I integrated things about campaigning and media, and so we became a class congress, and so they’re learning how bills get passed but by doing it themselves.” Challenges This approach challenges a lot of conventional wisdom about what kinds of activities should be conducted in the classroom and how they should emerge and evolve. Many of these assumptions turn out to be “myths” when we focus critical attention on them: • MYTH: Engaging with and learning about popular culture is less valuable and more risky than dealing with “high culture.” • MYTH: The teacher and/or some external body should pre-determine all aspects of curriculum, including the means by which students realize learning goals. • MYTH: Students’ interests and identities should not determine curriculum or method of teaching. • MYTH: Welcoming students to pursue their own agendas only leads to chaos. • MYTH: Formal instruction works best and should be preferred over independent exploration and self-learning. • MYTH: Teachers must totally master a tool before they introduce it. Learning alongside or from students is unprofessional and reckless.PLAY! : Principles for Participatory Learning p. 25
  26. 26. PLAY! participants often confronted such assumptions, looking over their shoulders, hoping nothing their students did would get them in trouble with administrators or parents. Even students often balk when they are asked to embrace a new “rule set,” preferring to stick to familiar routines, even as they complain about being bored. Suggestions First, let’s talk. In large and small groups, within and across learning communities, boosting relevance begins with getting to know and trust one another. Let’s suggest and embrace opportunities to connect with peers, administrators, parents and students as people. Let’s share a bit about our backgrounds, values, and passions. Let’s go back to show-and-tell and share beloved photos and meaningful artifacts. It may feel risky to reveal our humanity, but most of the time, this risk reaps rewards. Next, let’s get deliberate about what we talk about. Let’s initiate dialogues with multiple stakeholders on subjects such as “popular culture in the classroom,” “emergent cur- riculum,” “sharing control,” and “learning through play.” For example, middle school teacher Frank declared, “I truly believe that my instruction has to have a connection to my students’ future… I learned that my students need modern interpretations of curric- ulum to engage them in life-long learning.” Nancy testified, “… If you provide students with relevant experiences and ways of learning, they will be engaged active students, …rise to the occasion, and participate fully.” Of course, let’s actively and appreciatively listen to what peers, administrators, parents and students have to say. This can be a golden opportunity to build bridges and debunk myths. Of course, relevance isn’t something we just invented. Case in point: Prior to the PD, Diego used relevance to connect with hard-to-reach student Jack. Diego had no- ticed that Jack was interested in Michael Jackson, so Diego invited Jack to perform a Michael Jackson song for the class and then used the song lyrics to draw the class into fluent reading practice. His performance helped Diego and Jack develop a better relationship, Jack to discover ways to tie his interests to school content, and the class to appreciate what Jack brought to their community. Many creative, attuned teach- ers would do the same; we don’t mean to suggest otherwise. But, if we are going to change the system, individual teacher excellence isn’t enough. A wide coalition is nec- essary, and conversation can help to construct this coalition. Diego vowed to “retain joy in teaching, despite the difficulties.” While the struggle may be difficult, honoring relevance helps to keep that joy alive.PLAY! : Principles for Participatory Learning p. 26
  27. 27. Learning Eco-System Consider the famous Mark Twain expression, “Don’t let schooling get in the way of your education.” Think about the most important things you’ve learned in life. How, where, and from whom did you learn them? In some cases, you learned them from gifted and caring teachers, but others you learned from parents, grandparents, sib- lings, coaches, scoutmasters, and bosses. Some you learned in school, but others you learned in kitchens, libraries, gymnasiums, band rooms, clubhouses, and workplaces. Why restrict ourselves to one self-contained learning environment when our own expe- riences teach us that learning takes place everywhere, and that we can learn from all kinds of people? The term “learning ecosystem” describes a wide, interconnected network of people, places, practices, and processes that support learners across their lifetime. If we want to prepare students for the future, we have to prepare them to learn anywhere and everywhere, from anyone and everyone, at anytime. In an era of dwindling school resources, educators need to depend more heavily on communities around them (Thomas & Seely Brown, 2011). To leverage the Internet’s rich data and perspectives, students need training in search skills and ethical engagement. Similarly, our students interact with neighborhood people and places. To locate potential mentors and produc- tive sites for applied learning, students need to hone judgment skills and social aware- ness. Experiments in Practice In order to create a more powerful learning ecosystem, PLAY! forged partnerships with three community organizations whose socially conscious philosophies and participato- ry practices complemented our own. We invited each to develop a PLAY On! workshop that modeled participatory learning and supported civic engagement through storytell- ing. We asked our PD participants to attend at least eight hours of one of the following: • Laughter for a Change, an after-school improvisational theater workshop open to both educators and high school students, led by seasoned improviser and in- structor Ed Greenberg; • AnimAction, an animation workshop held on Saturdays only for educators, led by experienced animator and instructor Clifford Cohen; or • KCET Departures, a community storytelling workshop held on Saturdays only for educators, led by KCET Education Director and long-time producer Rubi Fregoso.PLAY! : Principles for Participatory Learning p. 27
  28. 28. Middle school biology teacher Katie had entered the PD with some reservations but left inspired thanks to AnimAction. At her end-of-week reflection, Katie confided, “Instead of adding to existing lessons, I want to completely rework my plan by teaching science through the lens of art. This doesn’t change everything but focuses on animation and cartoons to get kids engaged. On days where there isn’t a readily apparent experiment, animation projects would still be hands-on and get kids more inter- ested.” Katie participated in AnimAction’s fall work- shop and wants her students to create animations that demonstrate their learning about topics such as cell division, among others. Katie dreams of further expanding her students’ learning ecosystem by asking local galleries to showcase their science+art. Personal relevance helped spark Katie’s enthusiasm; Katie adores making art and has limited access to computers at school, so AnimAction’s art-based, low- tech approach perfectly fit her. But PLAY! would not have been able to reach Katie, nor would Katie have (re)connected with her passion without the contributions of our com- munity partner. Challenges Safety concerns complicate attempts to expand the learning ecosystem. Many in- stitutions fear that students’ greater public engagement may pose risks, dangers, or liabilities. As responsible wards of vulnerable minors, they must consider worst-case scenarios. What happens if students stumble upon inappropriate content, or behave in unethical ways, or develop relationships with unsavory individuals? These worries are not unfounded. After all, in order to receive certain federal funding, the Children’s Internet Protection Act requires K-12 schools and libraries to block or filter minors’ access to “materials harmful to them” (FCC, 2001). Teens have been prosecuted for digital malfeasance, such as computer hacking (Gissel, 2005) and “sexting” (Mabrey & Perozzi, 2010). And in the state of California, an entire school district can be held liable for an employee’s molestation of a child (Abdollah, 2012). We do not intend to minimize the pressure many educators feel. Educators have chal- lenging enough jobs as it is, and do not need to bear such risks. But, perhaps we should put these concerns into perspective. The odds are quite low that even a hand- ful of students will encounter or perpetrate harm. The vast majority of students’ online engagement will consist of healthy research and productive expression, while most (ifPLAY! : Principles for Participatory Learning p. 28
  29. 29. not all) community partners will be helpful individuals with skills to share. The risks will lower if we prepare students to manage tricky situations (online and off) with mindful- ness and morality. Empowered with the skills to judge credibility, negotiate diversity, and flag threats, our students will make safer choices. We cannot protect them fully in such spaces but we can prepare them to protect themselves. Otherwise, we leave them to confront the risks on their own. Teachers who want to expand the learning ecosystem also face resource shortages. Natalie must reserve her school’s distant computer lab several weeks in advance. Once her class makes the 15-minute journey, Natalie regularly has difficulty “finding enough working computers.” Although she’s been teaching at her school for several years, PD participant Natalie had never met the technology specialist prior to developing her “Voices for Change” curriculum. At their meeting, the technology specialist delivered poor information and bad equipment; many other schools lack any labs, computers, or staff. Some cities have embraced community policing, trying to build strong ties between law enforcement and the people within communities. But, school systems often move teachers randomly, making it harder for them to develop knowledge of their neighbor- hoods or sustain lasting partnerships. Natalie happened to know who to approach and devoted a considerable amount of her own time – reaching out to various community organizations, inviting them to the PSA screening, and following up with logistics. Im- portantly, these folks responded to this outreach and showed up. We can’t take such generosity for granted. Institutional support might also be in short supply. Due to the limitations of the school computer lab, Katie invited her students to use their mobile phones in order to photo- graph microscopic specimens: “I have had some problems with kids using their devic- es in other classes and getting them taken away. I am concerned that the other teach- ers are annoyed that I let them use them. I know that if my administrator found out, he would tell me I couldn’t let them use them at school.” These issues pertain to policy and priorities – how do schools function and what do they value? Katie said, “This pro- cess has made me think a lot about how my class and I can create and enforce class norms in relation to media.” Suggestions While conversation amongst stakeholders can facilitate cultural shifts, sometimes we also need some good old-fashioned action. This is at the heart of Positive Deviance, an approach to social and behavioral change that exhorts “ACT your way into a new wayPLAY! : Principles for Participatory Learning p. 29
  30. 30. of thinking!” (Pascale, Sternin, & Sternin, 2010). Positive Deviance methodology was partly inspired by a village elder in Vietnam, who shook his head at an informational lecturer and observed, “‘A thousand hearings isn’t worth one seeing. And a thousand seeings isn’t worth one doing’” (Singhal, Greiner, & Dura, 2010, p. 27). Play. Experiment. Pilot a project that embraces the learning ecosystem and see what happens. Share your results – better yet, show your results – even better, scaffold your process so others can produce results too. We found that, prior to our summer PD, most teachers wanted a list of high-tech tools and websites to evolve their lessons. After a week of bridging participants’ interactions with the learning ecosystem, and participants delighting in the treasures they discovered, one of our graduates identi- fied “Help in finding more ways to get my students connected with their community” as what he needed most. High school student Neal confessed on our PD’s first morning, “I don’t want to be left behind.” Let’s make sure that doesn’t happen. No single teacher can know everything but our virtual and on-the-ground communities are resource rich. Let’s help students go where the action is, learn from the best, and share their journeys with the rest of us. Social and Emotional Learning Social and emotional skills facilitate learning and enrich quality of life overall. According to the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning, these skills include identifying and managing emotions, understanding and caring about others, maintain- ing positive relationships, negotiating conflict productively, and making responsible decisions (Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning, 2011). It seems rather intuitive that a certain degree of competence in social and emotional learning (SEL) would support participatory learning. But how these variables are related has not yet been established. For example, do learners need to establish a minimum level of SEL competence before they can fruitfully engage in participatory learning or vice versa? Does practicing new media literacies and engaging in participatory learning create the contexts necessary for establishing SEL competence? Perhaps SEL competence leads to playfulness, and playfulness leads to successful participatory learning.PLAY! : Principles for Participatory Learning p. 30
  31. 31. During our PLAY! PD, we asked teachers to identify their teaching-related assets and challenges. In terms of assets, SEL skills figured quite prominently: • Relationship skills: 13 responses (e.g., “communicating with students”; “good listener and genuine interest in student voice”; “I am good at team building strat- egies”) • SEL sensitivity: 5 responses (e.g., “teaching to the ‘whole child’”; “encouraging positive self-talk”; “nurturing self-direction”) Some participants also indicated SEL-related challenges: • Self-management: 4 responses (e.g., “calmness,” “patience”) • Relationship skills, especially vis-à-vis colleagues: 3 responses (e.g., “more out- spoken with colleagues”; “political correctness”; “conforming”) Does leveraging teachers’ SEL competence facilitate their establishment of participa- tory learning contexts? How might addressing a teacher’s SEL challenges affect their classroom’s participatory learning culture? How might we leverage those competences beyond the classroom? For example, does SEL intervention directed at teachers affect participatory learning within teaching teams, departments, or schools? Games A growing body of literature suggests that “serious games” or “impact games” can contribute to sig- nificant learning outcomes (Gee, 2007; Ritterfeld, Cody & Vorderer, 2009; McGonigal, 2011; Squire, 2011). Moreover, games lower the stakes around failure and inspire risk-taking. This is precisely what we encouraged our PD participants to do: regard “failure” as natural and embrace innovation and discovery. Yet games were largely beyond our purview. How might a fuller incorporation of games PLAY! On Workshop Partner – no-tech games, such as the improvisational the- ater exercises developed by our community partner Laughter for a Change, as well as the digital games being explored by other researchers – impact participatory learning in terms of culture, discovery, and creation?PLAY! : Principles for Participatory Learning p. 31
  32. 32. Katie Salen, founder of game-based charter school Quest to Learn, argues that design- ing games fosters systems thinking. “Games work as rule-based learning systems, creating worlds in which players actively participate, use strategic thinking to make choices, solve complex problems, seek content knowledge, receive constant feedback, and consider the point of view of others” (Quest to Learn, n.d.). When educators and/or students design games, how does participatory learning change? New Forms of Assessment The 21st Century Assessment Project, an initiative funded by the MacArthur Founda- tion to “investigate assessment practices that reveal the reasoning, communication and learning needed for economic, social, creative and civic success in a networked 21st century world” (Hickey & Nelson, 2010), is currently modeling more participatory approaches for measuring learning. Such experimentation is important given the ways that standardized testing has reinforced standardized models of teaching and made it more difficult for teachers to embrace a more participatory approach. Often, participa- tory assessment requires complimenting traditional quantitative measures (such as test scores) with more qualitative (cultural-based) measures (Singhal, Dura & Felt, 2011). If all of the data align, then one can feel more confident in the assessment’s validity. In many classrooms, one evaluator (the teacher) uses one indicator (the test or final proj- ect) to determine a student’s learning. If the skill of the evaluator or the quality of the indicator is flawed, the grade will not accurately describe the student’s learning. But what if we used more evaluators, more indicators, or both? For example, teachers might train students to be peer-evaluators and mentors, an approach that also helps foster a more collaborative, less competitive, atmosphere. This approach, sometimes called youth participatory action research (YPAR), trains youth in research and evalua- tion techniques, and integrates advocacy and action into the process of monitoring the class’s performance. Members of the Council of Youth Research at Manual Arts High School sought to better understand whether and how participatory learning was oc- curring (Chatman, Hernandez, Hernandez, Herrera, Odilon & Torres, 2012). As a conse- quence of their investigations, they demanded curriculum that better incorporates such participatory learning characteristics as relevance, co-learning, and motivation and engagement.PLAY! : Future Research p. 32
  33. 33. In a classroom context, participants’ perspectives might take the form of change nar- ratives. As Dan Hickey, associate professor in the Indiana University School of Educa- tion’s Learning Sciences program, has suggested, “Artifacts students create in class- rooms should not be directly evaluated by teachers or peers. Doing so undermines participation and agency. Rather, have students reflect on their process, building on informal reflections that were embedded in the activity” (Hickey & Nelson, 2010) While a test alone might suggest that a student has gleaned nothing, her description of how she has changed might suggest otherwise. Her account could help her teacher to bet- ter understand her initial baseline and detail how this curriculum enriched her learning over time. An overlooked indicator in a classroom could be the amount and nature of student scrawling on whiteboards. This writing and drawing might mean that students are collaborating more frequently and more productively, that they’re thinking more innovatively, that they’re more confident about contributing. Our environments are rich with such clues – all we need to do is open our eyes and ears. Remaining Challenges Our PD participants were enthusiastic about their changed perspectives on their teach- ing and the new practices they wanted to try, but could they sustain those changes over time? When queried as to the type of support they need in order to make lasting changes in their classrooms, responses cohered around three categories: 1. Curricular support, e.g., online support community, lesson plans, models, and examples; 2. Personal support, e.g., administrator buy-in, professional development/training, peers’ endorsement, and classroom assistance; and 3. Financial support, e.g., funds for materials. Educators need paid time outside of the classroom to develop curricula and assess- ments, seek inspiration and reflect on experiences, and engage in mentor relationships (both as teachers and as students). Teachers and students also need more free time inside of the classroom to build community and culture, to explore new processes and pursue emergent opportunities, and to ensure that formal schooling doesn’t prevent true education.PLAY! : Future Research p. 33
  34. 34. Additional sustainability challenges include: • Firewalls and Internet filters commonly installed on school networks that block access to social networking, gaming, and other affinity spaces; • Inadequate bandwidth; • Inadequate digital technology at school; • Unequal access to technology and opportunities outside of school due to fami- lies’ various income levels and purchasing decisions; • Lack of administrator buy-in (to the point of forbidding the use of mobile devices); and • Lack of peer support (other teachers often are critical of experiments which might make them “look bad.”). PLAY! facilitators frequently modeled use of the wiki and participants posted to the wiki during the PD’s tenure; however, neither the space nor the practice has been adopted. Because POTB educators are spread across the sprawling district, they are unlikely to bump into one another regularly. Thus absent from both virtual and physical common grounds, PLAY! PD graduates risk losing touch with each other. Such a fate would dis- appoint Ziyi, who declared at the program’s concluding retreat: I really need us to somehow continue. Because not many people in the district are doing this kind of stuff and it’s difficult to get a group together that’s doing just creative things like everybody else is doing... I just need the opportunity and a place and time for us to have future gatherings like this. Because I’ve gotten a lot out of it and just to see what other people are doing is really inspirational and it gives me ideas about what I could do on my own classroom. So I need more. Please don’t let it stop.PLAY! : Future Research p. 34