$2 Million Competition Seeks Ideas to Transform Learning

Today, in conjunction with an announcement by President Obama calling for new efforts to reimagine and improve education in science and math, we are announcing a $2 million open competition supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation for ideas to transform learning using digital media. The competition seeks designers, inventors, entrepreneurs, researchers, and others to build digital media experiences – the learning labs of the 21st Century – that help young people interact, share, build, tinker, and explore in new and innovative ways. Supported by a grant to the University of California Humanities Research Institute, the competition was planned and announced in partnership with National Lab Day, a movement to revitalize science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) in schools that was highlighted at a White House event this morning.

Sony Computer Entertainment America (SCEA), in cooperation with the Entertainment Software Association and the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation, will team with MacArthur to support Game Changers, a new component of the competition. Game Changers will provide awards for the creation of new game experiences using PlayStation’s popular video game, LittleBigPlanet™. SCEA will also donate 1000 PlayStation®3 (PS3™) systems and copies of the LittleBigPlanet™ game to libraries and community-based organizations in low-income communities.

“Lifting American students from the middle to the top of the pack in STEM achievement over the next decade will not be attained by government alone,” said President Obama. “I applaud the substantial commitments made today by the leaders of companies, universities, foundations, non-profits and organizations representing millions of scientists, engineers, and teachers from across the country.”

Connie Yowell, who is MacArthur’s Director of Education (and one of DMLcentral’s featured bloggers), attended the White House event, and said: “MacArthur is pleased to team with Sony and National Lab Day to encourage the next generation of innovators to focus on science, technology, engineering and math. Digital media, including games, are the learning labs of the future and this open competition encourages people to consider creative new ways to use digital media to create learning environments that are engaging, immersive and participatory. This competition will help ensure that the new and highly engaging approaches to science, technology, engineering, and math find their way into schools, libraries, museums, and other spaces for learning.”

“This challenge truly embodies what’s possible when you place the learning tools and the opportunity into the hands of creative and imaginative minds,” said Jack Tretton, president and CEO of Sony Computer Entertainment America. “When leveraging the innovative technology of LittleBigPlanet and the PS3 system, both advanced and novice gamers have access to an open canvas to learn, build, and explore entirely new kinds of gaming experiences. They can also share their creations with millions of gamers around the world to play, rate, and review their levels. There’s no better training ground for anyone interested in digital media.”

The competition is designed to promote “participatory learning,” the notion that young people often learn best through sharing and involvement. Participatory learning, as defined by the competition, is a form of learning connected to individual interests and passions, inherently social in nature, and occurring during hands-on, creative activities. Successful learning labs and games will exploit all of these elements. Awards will be made in two categories: 21st Century Learning Lab Designers and Game Changers.

The competition includes three rounds of submissions, with public comment at each stage. The public will also be invited to judge the final candidates, including the selection of People’s Choice awards in each category.

“Learning labs represent the learning institutions of the future,” said David Theo Goldberg, Director of the University of California Humanities Research Institute and Executive Director of the Digital Media and Learning Research Hub.  “They are sites of participatory learning, which is often facilitated through digital media because they significantly lower the barriers to production and distribution, invite social engagement and interaction, promote the possibility of contribution, and challenge traditional notions of authority and expertise.”

Competition winners will join an existing community of 36 awardees from 2007 and 2008, including a video blogging project for young women in Mumbai, India; a cutting-edge mobile phone application that lets children conduct digital wildlife spotting and share that information with friends; a project that leverages low-cost laptops to help indigenous children in Chiapas, Mexico learn by producing and sharing their own media creations; and an online platform for 200 classrooms around the world that allows young people to monitor, analyze, and share information about the declining global fish population.

The competition is funded by a MacArthur grant to the University of California Humanities Research Institute and is administered by the Humanities, Arts, Science and Technology Advanced Collaboratory (HASTAC), a virtual network of learning institutions led by UCHRI and Duke University. The competition is part of MacArthur’s digital media and learning initiative, which is designed to help determine how digital technologies are changing the way young people learn, play, socialize and participate in civic life. Answers are critical to education and other social institutions that must meet the needs of this and future generations.

Information about the competition, which will begin officially on Dec. 14 is available at www.dmlcompetition.net