ETCJ: Dr. Idit Harel Caperton, thank you for making the time to talk with us about Globaloria. Your research at the MIT Media Lab and association with Seymour Papert, as well as numerous awards, have made you a legend in the field of educational technology.
The awards include the 1991 Outstanding Book Award by the American Education Research Association and being honored, in 2002, by MIT and the Network of Educators in Science and Technology “for devotion, innovation, and imagination in science and technology on behalf of children and youth around the world.”
As founder and president of the World Wide Workshop Foundation, you and your team have, since 2006, been pioneering Globaloria, a program to promote digital literacy, especially in areas and with populations that are underserved by current technology. You’ve defined digital literacy as the ability “to use… social media tools as both a reader and writer — that is, as someone who contributes as well as observes.”
Through Globaloria, you’ve fleshed out this definition to six contemporary learning abilities:
- The ability to invent, work through, and complete an original digital project for an educational web game or interactive simulation
- The ability to manage a project online in a wiki-based networked environment
- The ability to create digital media artifacts using wikis, blogs, and websites and to publish and distribute these artifacts online
- The ability for social-based learning, participation, and exchange across age groups and levels of expertise in a networked environment
- The ability to use information as a learning tool, to search for information purposefully, and to explore information
- The ability to surf websites and experiment with web applications and tools
In a nutshell, you’ve described Globaloria’s approach as learning by doing: “Practicing the making of games and simulations, not just playing them, within a virtual design studio embedded in a social network, helps students develop those contemporary learning abilities they need to be successful in today’s global knowledge economy.”
ETCJ: First, why have you decided to concentrate your energies on this problem of digital literacy among students who seem to be on the wrong side of the digital divide? Is there something in your personal background that moves you in this direction?
Dr. Caperton: The “digital divide” has different meanings to different people. There are historical definitions that speak to the problem of the underserved. The digital divide that persists today in Internet use is based on tools, income, education and community, and it means many people are not acquiring the digital fluency that is required to operate in today’s world.
I believe that conquering the digital divide is a moving target based on the development of technology tools. Rahul Tongia states the components as “Awareness, Availability, Accessibility, and Affordability. Others refer to the lack of rural access as the “digital dirt road.”
America is the birthplace of the Internet and home to many of its greatest ideas and innovators. But many millions of Americans still stand on the wrong side of the digital divide at an enormous cost to all of us. I am sure that all of the people need to be connected. I am passionate about delivering the opportunity to all.
My definition for this interview is based in educational use. The digital divide implies more than just the owning of the tools. In education, we describe the use of the tool in meaningful ways for education. It’s not sufficient just to be online; the locations, times, applications, and, of course, the speeds matter. Broadband matters, content matters, appropriate use matters.
Teachers would say technofluency matters. Having the tool is important, but being able to use the tool fluidly in education is just as important. Here is a diagram that teachers use to describe techno fluency:
Teachers often also can identify with Bloom’s Digital Taxonomy, which helps prepare our students for the future and change.
With broadband, we hope to conquer the digital divide that has long separated rural America from the use of technology. We hope to give rural consumers access to the same sorts of high-speed services and opportunities that others have had access to for years.
As FCC Commissioner Michael Copps stated on April 8, 2009, “Broadband can be the great enabler that restores America’s economic well-being and opens doors of opportunity for all Americans to pass through, no matter who they are, where they live, or the particular circumstances of their individual lives” (source).
However, there are regional concerns about the digital divide. The state of West Virginia, where I work, is one of the states with a broadband problem.
ETCJ: What is the origin of the word “Globaloria”? How did it come about? Does it literally refer back to its Latin roots, a global meeting place?
Dr. Caperton: Exactly. Globaloria is a social network for learning web-game design and simulation production. Invented by the World Wide Workshop Foundation in the spring of 2006, it seeks to create technology-based educational opportunities through a flexible set of virtual learning networks for students in developing nations and for communities that are economically disadvantaged and technologically-underserved. Using a network of educational web 2.0 platforms, students develop 21st-century digital literacy, master social media technology, and gain a deeper understanding of curricular areas such as science, mathematics and health. (For Globaloria images, please see “The Best of Globaloria-WV” and “Student Creation Artifacts.”)
Its activities help students sharpen their communication and critical-thinking skills for leadership online and offline, bringing them closer to the participatory and collaborative nature of work in the 21st century.
Globaloria aims to teach youth how to take control of their new-media world. Our teachers are supported along the learning journey by workshops, coaching, help online and collaborative communication with the teaching and learning community.
ETCJ: To begin the Globaloria process, you selected games and simulations as targets for learning, and now you’re branching out into other subject areas or fields of study. This progression seems to underscore your description of Globaloria as a general model for attaining digital literacy. How would you characterize or describe this general model? What are its philosophical roots? Please feel free to explain at length.
Dr. Caperton: We are creating a pathway to help students find professional success in the 21st century workforce.
Students and educators learn how to play and create their own STEM based webi-games, produce wikis, publish blogs, and openly share and exchange ideas, game code, questions and progress using the latest digital communication technology. Our R and D and pedagogical approaches to platforms and tools for cultivating computational thinking and computational inventiveness have their roots in MIT and Harvard research and proven educational theories about the value of project-based, multi-disciplinary, innovative and creative learning (of any subject) through software design and programming (reports).
We have partnerships with school principals and county superintendents to ensure support and to inform and educate those who create learning opportunities for teachers. That is vital for establishing a sustainable and scalable implementation model at each school. We provide hands-on workshops to involve staff and provide learning academies for professional development.
Globaloria is a powerful model for a year-long program on computational creativity, motivating and engaging project-based learning, using broadband and one computer per student.
We require educators who are passionate for new pedagogies, not technology experts. We have a time commitment, and we target middle and high school, alternative education, community college and/or university.
Teachers must have a personal laptop.
School PCs must support high-speed broadband Internet, Flash CS3 software, and photo editing software.
ETCJ: From much of the literature on educational technology, we get the impression that classroom teachers are fearful of technology and wary of change, that they’re simply not equipped, by training or propensity, to use the latest Web 2.0 communication tools and media. Yet, you seem to have succeeded very well with them in Globaloria. What’s your secret?
Dr. Caperton: Well, there’s no secret to it. We use a number of proven best practices, including the following:
- We use the constructionist model for creating leaders.
- We have “hands-on” training sessions.
- We provide professional development through the Globaloria Academy, with three in-person intensive training events.
- We have online mini webinars (web-based workshops).
- There is a Globaloria mentors program in which experienced educators take on a leadership role by supporting other educators.
- There is 24/7 virtual support and guided lessons.
- We provide expert support via wikis, blogs, email and WebEx.
- We create a community of learners who connect and collaborate.
- We compensate teachers for their participation.
We have a learning formula. The Globaloria learning formula is daily, year-long, project based, student-centered, social learning. Its components are:
- Self- led Learning — Student and educatiors learn by doing. They learn through game design and manage their own creative process.
- Learning by Design
- Expert Guided Learning — Professionals from around the country/world help inspire learning and help solve problems on demand on the Globaloria network.
- Learning Just in Time.
- Peer-to-Peer Learning — Students learn from other students and educators learn from other educators (online and offline)
- Learning by Teaching
- Co-learning — Students and educators learn together (online and offline). Educators are co-learners instead of didactic instructors, learning at the same time.
ETCJ: Please tell us more about the teacher professional development that Globaloria provides?
Dr. Caperton: The teacher professional development (TPD) model offered by Globaloria includes several features that a preponderance of scholars in the field agree are necessary to provide high quality TPD that may lead to durable teacher change and improved student outcomes (resource).
- TPD is embedded in the school and in the classroom, as well as across classrooms and school systems across the state.
- TPD provides ongoing support in the school that allows educators to see and share their own and student work reflectively and collaboratively.
- TPD provides support for developing a teacher learning community both online and face to face that creates a safe environment for testing new ideas and new teaching ideas.
ETCJ: How would you respond to critics who say that the students are just playing games and not learning anything that will help them grow and advance in the academic world of schools and colleges?
Dr. Caperton: If you think of the process of learning that we are using, we like to think of it as from instruction to construction, using serious games.
Most people don’t give much thought to all the years and years they spent sitting and listening as children. Most kids are just glad it’s over if they can make it through the process of what we call “school” and not drop out.
We know that children naturally learn as they play. And while most play is good, there is some play that engages the child more strongly. Papert placed a high value on “social learning processes and having children activate their own minds and also make or construct things to shape their learning.”
If we’re trying to educate children who have at their disposal an ever broadening spectrum of consumer technology, even as they contend with ever decreasing attention spans, the time-tested methods of education are no longer sufficient.
I think students learn more effectively by creating and/or building an entity for public consumption and through collaboration, connecting a learning community and using their creativity — learning to problem solve. We are building and growing a program around applying the theory in an active school environment. I am a longtime advocate of 1:1 learning environments in which each student has access to his/her own computer and broadband connection.
I want to bring such opportunities to economically disadvantaged districts. These opportunities should be available to more than just a select few educational communities. Diverse student populations need to be involved. Underserved communities should not be steps away from the information highway with the tools but no facilitating learning environment to make their explorations and learning positive.
In Globaloria, the effect with networked technology is that the staff, teachers and students can easily share their expertise and knowledge across learning contexts. The effect of networked technology is that teaching and learning become visible in ways not possible in non-networked environments.
ETCJ: If you could begin a college’s teacher education program from scratch, what would it look like? How would it be different from the teacher training programs we have today?
Dr. Caperton: Quite often, we teach as we were taught. If we were taught by someone who was a playful, open-minded educator, who was a flexible thinker, we will do/become the same. If we were taught by a “rigid expert” who was only guided by what’s right or wrong, we will tend to do/be the same.
So, I would probably make sure to focus on creating contemporary teacher training programs that are driving constructionist learning among these prospective teachers, and make sure they use computational tools for innovation-centered projects.
All prospective teachers must first re-learn to learn in complex and challenging project-based contexts. To the point that I am not sure that I would even call it a “teacher training” college or program, but rather, a “learning learning program.” In my ideal teachers’ college, training teachers as learners and problem solvers will not be very different than what I want to see in all public school classrooms: long-term, project-based learning environments using networked social media technology and computational tools. The college experience for those future teachers should be as rich as the learning that we want these teachers to foster among their future students. Nothing less.
I would emphasize techno-fluency as a part of the teachers’ learning agenda, and facilitate multiple ways of connecting them personally and meaningfully with content. The teacher doesn’t have to learn/know everything, but rather, learn to know what are the most powerful processes for learning and thinking, and where to find knowledge, skills and expertise by using a variety of methods, materials, tools, media, peers, experts, and people on the Net.
Once again, I will focus on inserting learning through computational thinking, problem solving and construction of ideas and representations for knowledge.
Most important, I would break down the rigid school-subjects silos. Some of the ways in which we instruct teachers are only subject specific. Even that has little depth in many cases.
Maybe I will also add ways in which prospective teachers can learn about how to form learning partnerships, solving problems individually and in teams, and sharing their common work in a transparent networked environment.
Finally, I would cultivate among those future teachers-in-training as much creativity, imagination, and construction as possible. Because if they get hooked on the joy of being creative and imaginative and solving big real problems, and see themselves as learners with internal motivation and innovative minds, they will do what they can to give the gift of such experiences to their future students.
Acknowledgment: Bonnie Bracey Sutton, ETCJ’s editor of policy issues, is the moving force behind this interview. She initiated, conducted, and wrote it, working closely with Dr. Caperton over several weeks in many separate sessions. Once the draft was completed, Bonnie worked with her husband, Vic Sutton, a freelance journalist with extensive international experience and an interest in finding ways to tackle the international digital divide, to produce the final copy. We owe a special debt of gratitude to Dr. Caperton, who made time in her extremely busy schedule to work with Bonnie. -js
Filed under: Uncategorized Tagged: | American Education Research Association, Bloom’s Digital Taxonomy, digital dirt road, Globaloria, Michael Copps, MIT Media Lab, Network of Educators in Science and Technology, Outstanding Book Award, Rahul Tongia, Seymour Papert, teacher professional development, TPD, Vic Sutton, West Virginia, World Wide Workshop Foundation