Learning through play. In a sense, it’s a central part of “Why Heather Can Write,” the fifth chapter of Convergence Culture by Henry Jenkins. New media doesn’t belong just to publishing companies or communication theorists; it’s also available to anyone, no matter how old or young, who can take its forms and put them to use. As the text shows, cooperative creation online not only serves as an outlet for children’s imagination, but also helps them to develop and apply real-world ideas. Naturally, such new media projects are becoming fertile ground for education.So, where to begin? Reading projects are naturally gaining in popularity, particularly given the enhanced emphasis on systematic approaches to reading in most of today’s educational standards. Through online literature circles, students in diverse locations can read the same selected text and share their insights about the book, predictions about what may happen next, and ideas about how the story relates to issues in real life. Computer-based math instruction, though potentially tedious, also flourishes online using approaches ranging from competitive drills to more inventive projects based on gamification. The intersection of technology and math, in fact, has flourished at least since the days of Davidson’s Math Blaster series in the 1980s and 1990s.
Perhaps some of the most stimulating fields for online collaboration, however, are in fields like history. Many students tend to tune out conventional methods of teaching history, particularly those emphasizing rote memorization. An online program could help engage students as they learn important principles that not only further their intellectual growth but also build traits needed for effective citizenship. For this project, I would propose a program for high school history and civics dealing with the development of the Constitution and its application to American life today. Some educators have already installed similar programs; for example, this PBS Constitution Day lesson, though not intended for online usage, could be adapted to illustrate the challenges and compromises involved in drafting the document. This program could use a combination of online discussions, simulations, and collaborative projects to bring the foundations of American government to life for the modern student.Within carefully constructed online communities, with trained educators supervising students online, high school students from diverse American locations and differing backgrounds could discuss the decisions and ideas that shaped the foundation of the United States government. They could collaborate on discussions about past (why we have the Third Amendment), present (what freedoms are specifically guaranteed by the First Amendment) and future (how the Fourth Amendment could apply to future technologies). They would also participate in realistic simulations examining how these principles shape institutions in modern life, ranging from free speech in the online world to the steps involved in passing laws. Many primary source resources (such as, obviously, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution itself) are in the public domain, an undoubted plus.
Projects that link schools and classes across geographical distance would need a secure, moderated corner of cyberspace for students to connect. These programs also require online platforms enabling educators to collaborate among themselves to gather feedback and refine approaches. Among the most established of these platforms is Cyberbee, which has been used since the 1990s for online projects. For example, I have seen Cyberbee used to connect elementary classes in an online simulation of the pioneer experience that incorporated debate sessions within classrooms – as well as among different classrooms – to shape the story’s progress. Though the concepts involved are relatively advanced and would likely be reserved for AP American history and government classes, the process would help to enrich the learning process about the ideals and processes that ultimately affect every American, training informed and responsible citizens. That’s how converged communications can make a lasting impact.