MIT Premieres Digital Media & Learning Series

Supported by a grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, MIT Press has recently published six titles exploring the effects and interrelationships of emerging digital technologies on youth and learning. The books, available as free chapter-by-chapter downloads at MIT's web site and also as cloth and paper editions, offer a substantial new body of scholarship in the field of digital media and learning, and will be followed by a new quarterly journal in winter 2009.

The books, collectively known as the MacArthur Foundation Series on Digital Media and Learning, view the effects of digital technology on youth identity, social interaction, and formal and informal education, among other topics. In titles such as Digital Youth, Innovation, and the Unexpected, edited by Tara McPherson, authors often treat technology as context rather than subject to more effectively examine how digital tools are being used by the youth who take such things for granted, and discover what opportunities may exist to enhance learning. In addition to the obvious benefits and perils bestowed by the internet, MIT's Digital Media and Learning books also look at the roles of video games, social networking, amateur audio and video production, and mobile phones in establishing problem-solving skills, media literacy, and activism among the youth population. "This engages all of us as publishers," said Ellen W. Faran, director of the MIT Press, "because today's young people are tomorrow's authors and readers. If their immersion in digital media makes them see and learn differently, we need to adapt."

Though these are not the first scholarly books on digital culture and its effect on young people, the simultaneous publication of six titles represents a significant addition to the body of research available. Because of the significant interest in the field and the rapid pace at which the technological context evolves, MIT will follow up the Digital Media and Learning Series with the quarterly International Journal of Learning and Media (IJLM), which is also supported by the MacArthur Foundation and produced in partnership with the Monterey Institute for Technology in Education. "This new area is an emerging field of inquiry, highly interdisciplinary and also cross-sector in nature, involving practitioners and innovators as well as academics," Faran said. "The faster exchanges and collaborative opportunities of the journal environment—including an online community—will support making these connections." In keeping with its subject matter, the peer-reviewed IJLM will make use of web publishing's multimedia capabilities to offer video content and an interactive community.

Each of the six titles— Civic Life Online; Digital Media, Youth, and Credibility; Digital Youth, Innovation, and the Unexpected; The Ecology of Games; Learning Race and Ethnicity; and Youth, Identity, and Digital Media—can be downloaded for free as single-chapter PDFs at mitpress.mit.edu. It is also possible to purchase print editions of these books, which MIT offers for $32 in hardcover or $16 paperback. As with any publishing project that offers free, open access to its content online side by side with that same content for sale in a physical book, the effects on customer purchase behavior can be difficult to quantify. But in a series focusing on the digital world—so much so, in fact, that free open access was a condition of the MacArthur digital learning grant—it is only appropriate that the value of publishing research online takes center stage. Further, adopting a perspective supported by the findings of the National Academies Press's research on digital publishing, MIT views the two formats as complimentary rather than competing. "Readers and users seem to appreciate both for different purposes at different times," Faran observed. "So far our sales of the paperback editions of the Series books are modest, which seems to bear this out."

The MIT series represents a part of a larger initiative on the part of the MacArthur Foundation, a project studying the implications of digital culture and learning on the education system, policy decisions, and young people themselves. Information on grants and access to ongoing research are available at http://digitallearning.macfound.org/.

Shaun Manning
Communications Coordinator, AAUP