Connecting and Connected at the DML Conference

By Marsha L. Semmel (
IMLS Director of Strategic Partnerships

I’ve just returned from the third annual Digital Media and Learning Conference hosted by the DML Research Hub at UCHRI with support from the MacArthur Foundation, Microsoft Research, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and the Mozilla Foundation.  The conference theme was “Beyond Educational Technology,” and the meeting brought together hundreds of scholars, practitioners, technologists, media specialists, funders, and policy makers from schools, museums, libraries, universities, government agencies, foundations, and corporations.  Sessions offered opportunities for debate and discussion around the intersections of research, technology, policy, and practice vis-à-vis education and learning.

One case-study session (“A Youth –Centered Design Framework in San Francisco”) featured team members from one of the first twelve IMLS-MacArthur Foundation-funded Learning Lab grants.  Led by the San Francisco Public Library, this partnership to create a teen space includes the California Academy of Natural Sciences, the Bay Area Video Coalition, and KQED (with a long list of informal community partners that includes three local high schools in the San Francisco Unified School District). We learned about the community-oriented design process (and heard, via video, from some teens who had participated in the design charrette) and about the complex yet thoughtful dynamics of this multi-institutional partnership.

Other DML highlights were John Seely Brown’s keynote on “Cultivating the Entrepreneurial Learner in the 21st Century” and the awarding of 30 grants in the highly competitive, Badges for Lifelong Learning competition held in collaboration with Mozilla, supported by the MacArthur Foundation, and administered by HASTAC. These grants, ranging from $25,000 to $175,000, will support the building of digital badge systems and explore ways badges can be used to help people learn; demonstrate skills and knowledge; and unlock job, educational, and civic opportunities.  Among the winners was the American Library Association’s Young Adult Library Services (YALSA) Badge Program that will support professional skills training for meeting the needs of today’s teens.

During the conference, the MacArthur-supported “Connected Learning” approach was introduced. This model of learning promotes the potential of the entire learning ecosystem (in and out of school) and recognizes the links between content, technology, peers, and various learning venues, traditional and digital. To find out more about the connected learning principles, the emerging community, and ongoing research, you can follow the link above as well as the Connected Learning Research Network website.

As MacArthur Foundation’s Director of Education Constance Yowell put it in one of the DML plenary sessions, this approach begins “with questions about learning” and a focus on the learner. It addresses the “extraordinary fragmentation” of today’s learning ecosystem, a fragmentation that currently puts the burden on youth and families to connect its many pieces. Connie noted that the creators of the United States’ education system saw it fulfilling three principal purposes–workforce development, democracy, and lifelong learning—with schools only part of a broader configuration of organizations and places where learning takes place. “Our Founding Fathers got it right,” she said, and our challenge is to define workforce development, civic participation, and lifelong learning for today and tomorrow.

Many sessions at DML explored the challenges of “scaling up” what works. Connie Yowell suggested that our focus should not be on “replication,” but on “iteration,” “remixing,” sharing effective design principles, and leveraging our professional networks more effectively. And she noted that many of our “informal” learning spaces, like libraries and museums, have the potential to be more flexible and innovative than the “high-stakes” environment of today’s classroom.  We at IMLS are counting on our co-funded learning labs to be those innovative spaces for teens in our libraries and museums!

2012 Digital Media and Learning Conference

Participants in the 2012 Digital Media and Learning Conference. Credit: DML Central



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One Response to Connecting and Connected at the DML Conference

  1. Cheryl McCallum says:

    Thanks Marsha! I felt very “connected” by reading your post… even though I wasn’t able to attend the conference. Have signed up through many of the links that you gave!