2. Working on the Edge
The Edge Project is a Global Kids initiative funded by the MacArthur Foundation. Its goal is to expand the capacity of civic and cultural institutions to use new media as innovative educational platforms that engage youth in learning and promote youth civic participation. More specifically, the Edge Project is interested in civic and cultural institutions bringing cutting-edge digital media into their youth educational programs. It is equally interested in where this type of programming is a disruptive force challenging the educators and/or the institutional cultural to work on the edge of their comfort level. There is a balancing act these institutions must undertake, being receptive to how new media challenges their current educational culture and practice while, in turn, challenging the educational potential of new media through interacting with that very culture and practice. At the end of the day, we want to better understand the following questions: How do institutions find their balance working on this edge? Do different types of institutions respond in different ways?
When writers considering innovation speak about an “edge,” they often mean the periphery -- the outer ring of a circle. The edge is the only space where reform can begin, as in John Hagel and John Seely Brown's assertion: "To transform the core, start at the edge.” We, however, are using the word “edge” to paint a different picture. In this project, the “edge” is the meeting point between two forces. Picture the edge where the ocean meets the beach, a line between two forces. It is an edge that is never the same from one moment to the next but is clearly defined and continually in play as forces press from either side. In our work, the ocean is the vast potential of digital media for learning, while the beach is the hard but ever shifting cultural practices and norms of institutions.
In his book Disrupting Class, Clayton Christianson contrasts “disruptive innovations” with “sustaining innovations." Disruptive innovations create new markets and redefine the measure of success. Early social networking tools such as Friendster were “disruptive”, creating a demand for new ways to connect online. Sustaining innovations build on existing innovations to meet the needs of and expand current markets. Facebook was a sustaining innovation, building on and expanding the success of Friendster and MySpace. The Edge Project is most interested in supporting the former, attempting to introduce "disruptive innovations" into civic and cultural institutions, using digital media to create new relationships between youth and sites of informal learning.
While there is a wide range of new media practice within civic and cultural institutions, the Edge Project has deliberately selected a common set of criteria for its programs which may distinguish it from other initiatives and contextualize findings. The primary site of learning will not be online but in person, facilitated by an adult within the institution. The programs will be informed by youth development and youth media pedagogies. Finally, the program designs will focus less on scale and breadth and more on innovation and depth with the understanding that developing good theory through iterative practice is just the first step towards scalable designs.
The Edge Project explores these questions over two years (2009-2011) through a series of short-term educational projects developed and implemented in partnership with a variety of national civic and cultural institutions that are exemplars within their communities of practice. These demonstration projects are designed to challenge institutions to incorporate one specific form of digital media into their ongoing youth programs and to do so in a way that builds upon the organization's existing strengths and interests. In addition, the program designs are geared towards addressing the specific needs of the organization and its constituencies, and to highlight how the organization serves as a leader within their professional networks whose work in this area can provide a model from which others can learn. Rather than wait two or more years to report on the work with all of the Edge Project partners, each project will conclude with a Worked Example, such as this, to explore aspects of the project in its use of digital media to work on their “edge”.
This Worked Example explores the Edge Project partnership between The Noguchi Museum in New York City and Global Kids, which brought an in-depth digital media project, intended for public use, into their Teen Advisory Board.
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