Erin E. Reilly is co-founder and served on the board of directors at Platform Shoes Forum, a nonprofit that helps young women pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). She is co-creator of PSF’s model program Zoey’s Room, a national online community for 10-14 year-old girls, encouraging their creativity in STEM subjects that won her a Leaders in Learning Award from Cable in the Classroom. Currently, Reilly is the research director for Project New Media Literacies of MIT’s Comparative Media Studies Department, an initiative that supports research and innovative teaching methods to engage today’s digital kids.
T&L contributing editor Matt Bolch spoke with Reilly about her views on teaching and active learning in the multi-media age.
What's the most promising initiative from Project New Media Literacies that will aid K-12 classroom instruction?
I think the most promising initiative NML is developing to aid K-12 classroom instruction is PLAY! (Participatory Learning and You!). Teachers play a monumental role in facilitating opportunities for students to become critical thinkers, proactive citizens and creative contributors to the world. In our rapidly shifting digital and social landscape, unequal access to experiences that help build the skills and knowledge necessary to contribute in these evolving environments can prevent youth from meaningful participation in them. This “participation gap,” we believe, cannot be wholly addressed when teachers themselves are not afforded these same opportunities to grow and learn.
The new media literacies allow us to think in very different ways about the processes of learning, because they acknowledge a shift from the top-down model to one that invokes all voices and all means of thinking and creating to build new knowledge. For many educators, however, integrating participatory culture into the classroom raises issues of maintaining control, building trust and providing an open-source culture of learning that allows students to share their own expertise in the classroom. At the same time, the mindsets and skill sets of the new media literacies are changing the discipline itself. In effect, we are teaching an outdated version of literacy if we do not address the sorts of practices that new media and new technologies support.
Our goal for PLAY! is to model and encourage educators to adopt a participatory learning environment for their own context, while fostering a deeper understanding of the new media literacies in their own context. By modeling a participatory learning environment, PLAY! shifts the discussion of multimodality away from questions of implementation to those of ways of thinking about participation, facilitation and pedagogy as fluid and interdependent in and beyond the digital environs.
Explain the current focus of Platform Shoes Forum.
In April of this year, I stepped off the board of Platform Shoes Forum in order to focus on other advisory roles that I felt aligned more with my current goals. Some of them include being a board member of NAMLE (National Association for Media Literacy Educators) and serve on advisory boards, such as Gulf of Maine Research Institute’s Vital Signs, and Everloop, a new class of social networking that brings the best in online privacy protection, content sharing, collaboration and virtual economy to tweens worldwide. I also consult with companies such as PBS Kids Go! and the National Assessment of Educational Progress.
Name two non-technology activities that you do for fun.
I love to travel! My family often just jumps in the car looking for our next adventure. I also am totally immersed right now in reading the Harry Potter book series to my 7-year old son, Ocean.