Feb 15 2013

January Meet-Up: Looking Back, Planning Ahead

Teaching Resources

Date: January 17th, 2013 (third Thursday of the month as usual!)
Location: Parsons The New School for Design

Each month, we set aside two hours to convene our membership (usually around 35 attendees) and provide a platform and community for members to share their work and learn from one another. Each meet-up is hosted by a different member organization, which usually leads off with an activity or info session on a topic of its own choosing. For the past few months, we’ve worked to evolve these monthly member meet-ups to be more participatory and more akin to professional development workshops, where attendees have an opportunity to do, make and learn something together.

In January, we hacked our own system, combining a brief Hive NYC historical overview with a planning and sharing activity facilitated by Hive HQ. The result was a retro-futurist meet-up that took us down memory lane and gave us a glimpse of what lies ahead.

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To help situate our focus on Hive NYC past and future, we asked one of the founding members of Hive NYC, Parsons The New School for Design, to help us understand the genesis of the network. They did that and more, reflecting on some of the early intentions and goals of the proto-Hive NYC, then known as New Youth City Learning Network (NYCLN), and its design-based approach. Louisa Campbell, adjunct professor in the Design + Technology program at Parsons led us through a bit of the history.

Part One: Set The Way Back Machine to 2009, New Youth City Learning Network

A few years into the Digital Media & Learning initiative, Connie Yowell from MacArthur Foundation asked three principal investigators to write a proposal for starting a learning network:

  • Diana Rhoten, an organizational sociologist, a researcher in edtech and currently Chief Strategy Officer at Amplify
  • Phoenix Wang, entrepreneur and strategist who worked with The Hewlett Foundation and iVillage and is currently Director of Strategic Investments at William Penn Foundation
  • Colleen Macklin, Associate Professor in the Department of Communication Design and Technology at Parsons The New School for Design in New York City and Director of PETLab (Prototyping Education and Technology Lab)

The reality that the Learning Network was designed to recognize was that kids were pursuing their own interests and paving their own learning pathways by piecing together multiple sources of information and sites of interaction largely on their own—both in physical and virtual spaces.

Here’s some of what they heard straight from the youth they interviewed during the discovery and proposal writing phase:

“I explore the outside world to learn the things I can’t learn in school”

“I can learn from the media and the Internet”… but I “need resources” and “need people too.”

“But museums and all those institutions are controlled environments that only teach you what they want you to learn and what they decide to teach.”

In 2006, Mimi Ito published “Hanging Out, Messing Around, Geeking Out,” the result of a three-year ethnographic study of how youth engaged with technology. One important development it revealed was that kid-driven digital activity was often messy, chaotic and socially-driven. In terms of actual knowledge acquisition, it was largely the responsibility of the individual learner. The really motivated learners, or geeks, stood out for their stamina and investigatory skills—they found the physical or virtual sites that spoke to their interests and made connections between them, either on their own or with the help of a peer, mentor, parent or guardian.

Rhoten, Wang and Macklin proposed that a network with a focus on learning could help more kids make these vital, “geeky” connections. In return, a coalition of institutions that recognized the impact of digital media, could distribute and partner on the creation of content and programs to enable hands-on learning with kids in their digital and physical lives. Inspired by the porous movement of kids across boundaries, content providers, and brick and mortar divisions, the investigation suggested that institutions operate in a similar manner—collaborating, sharing resources, distributing best practices—with the goal to connect to the learning pathways of youth.

Along with MacArthur, this group of investigators curated six NYC-based, youth-serving organizations to become the founding members of The New Youth City Learning Network:

Parsons was identified as the design and technology production node, established to assist the other organizations in creating new, relevant learning products for a connected and networked environment. Manahatta: The Game, was a pilot project developed by PETLab which aimed to recreate the ecology of NYC in 1889. The design process started with paper prototyping with New Youth City Learning Network members, then moved to a digital prototype. Through this process, the PETLab designers and network collaborators also prototyped the process of a networked learning and distribution space. They explored how the network could not only help bring youth together, but also nurture new identities—as citizen scientists, citizen journalists and designers.

Several design charrettes were held to discuss and dissect some larger questions: How does learning differ from education? How does digital media differ from technology? What do we mean by the terms youth-centered and interest-driven? The network focused on four core competencies: geo-literacies, system thinking, spatial orientation, data interpretation and presentation, and stewardship.

After a formal request for proposals, three initial projects were chosen. The projects were asked to adhere to the following guidelines.

  • At least three organizations serving as collaborators
  • A commitment to the Citizen Scientist, Designer, Journalist paradigm
  • A readiness to leverage ideas about neighborhoods and local, situated learning

The team was especially proud of how the organizations came together to understand the value of collaboration—even institutions once considered rivals put aside some of their differences to explore the networked learning approach.

A 2010 article in Spotlight on Digital Media and Learning noted:

“The NYCLN is promoting a new form of collaboration among New York City cultural institutions that do the vital work of extending learning beyond the classroom. Rather than a “build it and they will come” approach to youth programming, the NYCLN is encouraging these institutions to start where kids are at—because kids learn best when they follow their own noses. NYCLN is creating a platform that helps youth explore their own interests and, at the same time, taps the insight and mentoring skills of the city’s leading scientists, designers and artists.”

After her presentation, Louisa went on to share her own reflections, noting that the biggest difference she sees between the proto-Hive and its current incarnation is its relatively flat, fluid, and collaborative nature. Other members from the early days chimed in too, commenting on the marked shift from an earlier perception of the network as a funding opportunity (marked by top-down decision-making), to finding real value in a community of practice that supports a more meaningful association between peers.

Music to our ears.

Part Two: RFP 5 Pre-Game aka Hive NYC Speed-Geek

As we segued back into the present day, our goal was to do a quick charrette to explore how to help foster connections within the network. In advance of the fifth round of the Hive Digital Media Learning Fund RFP, we came up with a process to help members share program ideas, match needs with expertise and identify potential partnerships. Our long-term goal was to seed relationships and build on the commonalities to create richer collaborations that result in meaningful learning innovations.

First we heard from Dave Carroll, associate professor of media design and Director of the MFA Design and Technology graduate program at the School of Art, Media and Technology at Parsons. He talked briefly about the role Parsons might serve as a collaborator for current/future Hive  projects. For instance, Collaboration Studios is a type of studio course within  the AMT curriculum, that pairs teams of students with industry partners  to undertake real-world projects. Mozilla is embarking on creating one of these courses, which we’ll share more details on soon. In addition,  Dave mentioned that Parsons can be a resource for graduate students as mentors for Hive projects, and especially during the summer when students  are seeking engagement opportunities. These students are studying everything from creative coding, physical computing and fashionable technology to game design, data visualization and mobile and web app  development. They can build and make, but also love to teach about the  process of building and making.

Then we moved into a go-round where each person in the room had 60 seconds to share either 1) a program idea (something they were imminently planning to submit for the latest RFP or for sometime in the near future), 2) a need for resources or technology or expertise, or 3) expertise or resources they have to offer.

Some themes emerged: community mapping, portfolio development and career prep, in-school and out-of-school connections, game design, girls in STEM…

Then, each person spent a few minutes writing out their idea on giant Post-its hung around the room, including a top line synopsis, some key features like target audience, technology and program duration, and any specific resources that might enable them to realize their projects fully.

Then out came the thorns! IMAG2422Each person was given a handful of pink (Rose), blue (Thorn) and yellow (Bud) Post-It notes and was asked to provide feedback or identify potential collaborations based on the ideas posted around the room.

  • Rose – to mark solid interest and imminent collaboration opportunities
  • Thorn – to mark questions, suggestions and things to consider
  • Bud – to mark interest in potential discussions around future partnerships, perhaps not directly related to the project idea posted. Something along the lines of “Hey, you seem interesting, I’d like to talk and learn more!”

IMAG2398The room was buzzing (like a good Hive should), many stickies were stuck, conversations were had and we think even a few new partnerships were forged! Insta-feedback told us that it was a valuable activity, that it enabled us to learn more about what everyone else was working on, what organizations and educators care about, and who we might want to work with to build innovative learning experiences together.

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We won’t give away too many details yet, but we fully expect to see the benefits come to fruition when the next round of grantees is announced in the Spring. Until then, we’ll continue exploring new and effective ways for the network to develop its learning laboratory approach and share its progress as it grows.

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