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Media in Transition symposium examines 'wiring' K-12 classrooms

MIT faculty, researchers and affiliated staff will meet with teachers from the Boston area to discuss the classroom potential of digital technologies at a day-long symposium at MIT on Saturday, May 1.

The event, titled "Wiring the Classroom: Moving Beyond Access in K-12 Education," is designed to answer the question, "We've wired the classroom -- now what?"

"This is a question that many teachers across the country are asking," said Henry Jenkins (professor of literature and director of the Comparative Media Studies Program), one of the event's organizers. "We are in the midst of a national effort to wire the schools. But sometimes we forget that digital technology is a tool and it is up to educators to determine how to use it to their best advantage."

The conference organizers said the goal is for MIT to provide a space for K-12 educators to learn more about the potential applications of the Internet, game software, simulation programs, databases and other digital resources. They also hope teachers will talk with each other about what has worked and what hasn't in their schools.

A particular focus of the event will be on how computers are enhancing the teaching of traditional subjects in the humanities and social sciences, how they are allowing students to become better writers, how they are increasing access to foreign cultures and how they are enriching the study of canonical literature.

"Teachers are anxious that they may be displaced by machines or that the subjects they have taught all their lives will be marginalized in our rush to embrace the future. But in fact, the computer-enhanced classroom still demands skilled and imaginative instructors. Digital media offer plenty of chances to breathe new life into the classics," Professor Jenkins said.

Harriet Goldin, director of career and instructional development at The Education Cooperative, said she hoped the conference would "promote dialogues among educators from many schools in the Boston area and provide a successful collaboration between college professors and K-12 teachers."

The symposium's discussions, workshops and presentations will explore the Internet and computers as tools for learning and curriculum development. The keynote speaker will be Elliot Soloway, a specialist in interactive learning and education. Professor Soloway holds a joint appointment in electrical engineering, computer science and education at the University of Michigan and directs the Investigators' Workshop Project, a collaboration between the Ann Arbor Public Schools and the University of Michigan.

Other speakers include Shigeru Miyagawa, professor of linguistics and Japanese language and culture and the creator of "Star Festival and JP-Net"; Mitchel Resnick, professor of epistemology and learning at the Media Lab and a co-developer of the Computer Clubhouse; Gilberte Furstenberg, senior lecturer in French; and Professor Jenkins.

Several teachers, including Mary Rudder and Maria D'Itria from the Harvard Kent School, Lynn Moore-Bensen from the Wellesley public schools and Bill Mead from the Pollard Middle School in Needham, will demonstrate their projects and talk about their experiences.

"We felt it was important to showcase what K-12 teachers are already doing with these new technologies. We hope to have a follow-up conference in the fall which will showcase other projects at local elementary and high schools, both public and private," Professor Jenkins said.

Afternoon sessions will be devoted to hands-on demonstrations of several projects developed by MIT research associates, professors and graduate students.

"Wiring the Classroom" will be held in Rm 3-207 from 9am-4:30pm. The event is free and open to the public. Attendees may register by phone at x3-3521.

A version of this article appeared in the April 28, 1999 issue of MIT Tech Talk (Volume 43, Number 28).

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