Academic journal article Curriculum and Teaching Dialogue

Digital Progressive Learning Environments for Elementary Children

Academic journal article Curriculum and Teaching Dialogue

Digital Progressive Learning Environments for Elementary Children

Article excerpt

Children increasingly engage in digital media learning environments during personal time away from school (Blanchard & Moore, 2010). The available scholarship in the area of interest-driven curriculum and digital media has focused mainly on the experiences of teens and adults in formal or informal learning environments. Users of digital media are on the rise across all ages, income levels, and community programs (Gutnick, Robb, Takeuchi, & Kotler, 2011). Given the increase use and access of digital media technologies among younger age groups (Plowman, 2013), it was necessary to conduct a study that explored informal use of digital media among this population. The study took place at Saturday Studio, a digital progressive learning environment (DPLE) that I have defined as a nonformal, interest-driven, and digitally mediated setting where children of mix ages gathered to explore, play, and create digital artifacts. Children were encouraged to engage in personally meaningful digital projects. To better support children's interests with digital media, examining how children engage in digital activities promises insights as how to foster children's interests through personal experiences. The purpose of this exploratory study was to examine how children engaged with digital media in Saturday Studio. In particular, I examined how they engaged as they created an interest-driven project using various digital programs and technologies.

BACKGROUND

The workshops called, Saturday Studio: Digital Design and Creative Exploration were offered in a Midwestern community where no other digital design program for younger children was offered. The goals of the studio-styled workshops were similar to programs like Computer Clubhouse where the space encouraged mixed ages of children to explore their interests (Rusk, Resnick, & Cooke, 2009) where play was the norm. Such programs seek to cultivate hands-on experiences, collaboration, and a community of learning with peers and adults. The workshop offered access to resources, time, and space to explore children's curiosities and interests in digital media. The studio presented young children (6 to 12 years old) the opportunity to design digital projects using professional software: animation software, video editing software, photo editing programs, game design platforms, and other design programs. In addition, children had access to conventional art materials such as clay, pencils, markers, pastels, paper, beads, and other art supplies. Other materials such as Legos were available for building 3D physical structures when creating stop motion animation.

Relevant Literature

Digitally mediated informal and nonformal learning environments have been sites for research focusing on youth and leadership skills (Rusk, Resnick, & Cooke, 2009), children as producers rather than consumers (Kafai, 1995), quality of learning out of school (Sefton-Green, 2013), creative production skills with digital media (Peppler, 2014), development of identity (Gee, 2007) and of social identities and communities (Buckingham, 2008). Often activities in nonformal arts learning environments may be misunderstood or not fully valued (Lackey, 2009, 1994). Sefton-Green (2004) suggest that informal learning can happen in formal or nonformal learning environments but is usually not highly planned or expected. At the same time, a nonformal learning environment may be more open to foster exploration and discovery because of its flexible structure. Nonformal education has been defined as organized learning (curriculum, facilitators, and purpose to learn something) absent of formal structures and systems (Eaton, 2010). Specifically, nonformal education has often been defined as short-term, intentional, and voluntary (Eraut, 2000; European Commission, 2001; Eaton, 2010). This chapter defines a "nonformal" learning environment as a space where children engage in activities casually, freely, and by choice. …

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