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MacArthur Foundation To Commit $50 Million

MacArthur Foundation To Commit $50 Million
In Digital Media Learning and Research

The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation announced late last month that it is committing $50 million over the next five years to support the emerging field of digital media and learning. The foundation will fund research and cutting-edge projects that provide understanding on how the widespread use of digital media affects youth and their learning. 

“This is the first generation to grow up digital — coming of age in a world where computers, the Internet, video games and cell phones are common, and where expressing themselves through these tools is the norm,” says MacArthur president Jonathan F. Fanton.

“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,” he says.

The foundation’s approach promises to be comprehensive, going beyond the classroom to assess how digital technology may transform youth in their formal and informal learning environments. The research will test the theory that today’s youth are different because they use digital tools to learn, play and communicate. Currently, 83 percent of children between the ages of eight and 18 play video games regularly, and nearly three-quarters use instant messaging. Daily, more than half of U.S. teenagers use a computer and more than 40 percent play a video game. 

Colleges and universities, as well as K-12 public school systems, businesses and nonprofit organizations, will be involved in carrying out the research and collaborative projects, according to MacArthur officials. In 2007, the foundation will publish six books, online and in print, documenting the leading research and ideas 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. 

Also in 2007, the foundation will allocate $2 million annually for competitive research, writing and demonstration projects. At www.digitallearning.mac, information on digital media and learning will be presented. Web site viewers can learn more about the field and this initiative, share opinions and interact with bloggers.

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