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The Citizen Recommends: Mimi Ito

The cultural anthropologist, speaking next week as part of a Drexel series on rethinking learning, wants adults to stop bemoaning kids’ use of technology

The cultural anthropologist, speaking next week as part of a Drexel series on rethinking learning, wants adults to stop bemoaning kids’ use of technology

Youngmoo Kim, the director of Drexel’s ExCITe Center and organizer of its Learning Innovation Conversation Series, is particularly excited to question Mimi Ito, next Tuesday night. “I have a third grader at home,” he says. “We’re navigating these issues every day.”

It’s commonplace to hear parents admonish their kids to get their heads out of their screens: “Go outside and play!” But Ito says that what might look to adults as mindless fun is actually learning in progress. Ito, Professor in Residence and John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Chair in Digital Media and Learning at the University of California, studies youth culture and its changing relationship to media and communications—and she finds a lot of educational promise in what parents might dismiss as simple entertainment.

“New media is a positive force in the life of our kids,” she told me last week when I caught up with her and Kim, who will moderate the discussion. “We have a responsibility as parents and educators to meet kids where they are.”

Take Minecraft, the groundbreaking, second best-selling video game of all time, behind Tetris. Through it, Ito watched her teenage son help build virtual civilizations. “He learned advanced tech skills and digital citizenship,” she says. “He learned how to connect with new people in productive ways. It’s an online training ground that teaches community organizing and social interaction. Lessons from Minecraft become the tools for real-world activism. It’s small ‘p’ politics.” No wonder, Ito says, that research finds that those who are active in online communities tend to be more civically engaged as they age.

Ito’s son’s experience led her to co-found Connected Camps, a B Corporation that provides online creative learning in Minecraft for kids in all walks of life. And her son? He found himself thanks to a computer screen, and now teaches coding at Connected Camps. How is that not learning?

Header photo by Paolo Sacchi of Meet the Media Guru

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