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Wrapping Up the DML 2012 Conference

This year's Digital Media and Learning Conference wrapped up on Saturday, concluding three days of ed-tech discussions, panels, and research presentations with a strong focus on digital equity and access throughout.

Saturday's opening plenary session was no exception.

Vicki Phillips, the director of education in the college ready department for the BIll & Melinda Gates Foundation, talked about the SLC, which stands for shared learning collaborative. (The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation provides support for Digital Directions and Education Week.) Phillips described the SLC as a "big app store for teachers" that will provide an infrastructure in different states for teachers who are looking for learning materials aligned to the common core state standards. The SLC also provides a framework for ranking the learning materials so teachers can see which ones are most effective across different student populations.

"We wanted to have a more robust, higher quality education market out there for teachers," she said. "Rarely have [curriculum decisions] been put in the direct hands of teachers. But digital resources are going to become so prevalent and accessible that it's going to allow teachers to make those decisions for themselves."

Allowing teachers a way to evaluate the resources was an essential piece of the SLC, said Phillips. "We wanted to do it in a way that makes sure what [teachers] have access to is high quality," she said.

In addition to the plenary session, I also attended a short talk panel that featured four researchers presenting their research about various issues in education technology. The first researcher, Chelsey Hauge, from the University of British Columbia, presented her findings on engaging youth through media by analyzing a case study of a group of youths in a Nicaraguan community. Hauge's research focused on parsing out the actual effects of youth-created media initiatives versus researchers' and educators' hopes for the effects of such an initiative.

Negin Dahya, a researcher from York University in Toronto, presented her preliminary findings on using digital media to evaluate the complexities of the school and community divide for Muslim girls. And Gerarado Sanchez, a researcher from the faculty of humanities at the University of Copenhagen, talked about his work in rural Veracruz, Mexico, where vans equipped with 15 computers and a digital screen drive into remote areas in that part of the country to teach adults and children digital literacy. In these communities, this is often the first time that the citizens have an opportunity to interact with computers. Sanchez noted that while children are often excited and engaged by the computers, adults are more skeptical, although they did report positive experiences after going through instruction.

Lastly, Anuj Tewari, a computer science doctoral candidate at the University of California, Berkeley, talked about his work with language-learning games. He presented findings on a project that worked with children in rural northern and southern India to help them learn English through games on mobile phones. He found that basing the games around traditional games that the students were already familiar with helped them learn more from the experience.

Tewari also talked about a game his team created to help English-language-learners in the U.S. perfect their pronunciation. He presented results from a 3-month period of working with Hispanic students in California. They developed two games—one based on Mario and the other on Guitar Hero. In each of the games, students would encounter an obstacle where a word would pop up. The computer will pronounce it three times, then the student is prompted to record themselves saying the word. The computer then analyzes their pronunciation, and if they pass, the obstacle is overcome.

Overall, many sessions here blurred the lines between learning in school and out of school, allowing for a new environment of "connected learning" to arise. As digital learning opportunities expand for everyone, including students, there is a place for philanthropy, government, as well as the private sector to get involved and help expand those opportunities for students, with emphasis on equity and accessibility for less privileged communities.

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