A Whole New PLAYground

I’ve been spending a lot of time on a playground lately. However, this playground doesn’t have swings or tetherball or a basketball court; this one—the PLAYground—is a transmedia learning tool being developed at the Annenberg Innovation Lab at USC. The PLAYground is the brainchild of Erin Reilly, Managing Director for the Innovation Lab and someone I’ve gotten to work with closely through the JGCC’s partnership with the Lab. Developing the PLAYground is one element of a larger project on participatory learning, explained in the clip below by the project’s Principal Investigator, Henry Jenkins:

The PLAYground is designed for users across ages, abilities, and contexts. It can just as easily be used in a classroom as in a less-structured afterschool club as at home. Unlike many tools that essentially enable teachers to transpose traditional lessons into a digital format, the PLAYground is designed to facilitate co-learning through two-way participation, embracing a more iterative model of teaching and learning.


Home screen of the PLAYground, showing challenges and collections available within one’s network.


The basic learning unit of the PLAYground is called a challenge. Challenges are multi-disciplinary, blended learning activities that encourage participants to search, synthesize, collaboratively remix, and disseminate information. As a PLAYground user, one can complete existing challenges, create or remix challenges, or curate multiple challenges into collections based on topic, activity type, etc. One way in which the PLAYground fosters participation rather than one-way delivery of information is through a feature called “Your Turn,” through which challenge creators can pose a question, put forth a reflective prompt, or ask participants to complete another action item related to the challenge.

The challenge builder allows users to create and curate a variety of media elements


Sounds great, right? Feedback about the PLAYground, including reactions from participants at the Lab’s 2012 Innovation Summit and the recent TEDx-USC conference, has been extremely positive, and buzz around the PLAYground is growing. (See, for example, this Wall Street Journal article.)

Throughout the last academic year, researchers at USC have tested out the PLAYground with teachers (predominantly middle and high school level) through a professional development program called PLAY! (Participatory Learning and You!), and have gained great insights into the design of such a platform, as well as about participatory models of professional development more generally. (A white paper on PLAY! and a collection of case studies on participatory models of professional development, both of which describe these insights in detail, will be released by the Innovation Lab in the fall.)

As a complement to the research conducted this year and a follow-up to the work of the Cooney Center’s Digital Age Teacher Preparation Council, I’m currently developing a collection of challenges linked to some of the questions currently being asked by the JGCC research team around family media engagement, public media assets for education, e-books and literacy, and transmedia for young children. I’ll soon be heading into the field to learn more about participatory learning in early childhood and elementary school contexts and to test out the PLAYground with PK-5 teachers. In this research, I’m interested to understand the nuances of participatory learning with media for young children who may not have the same literacy skills and technological experience as, say, an eighth grader.

In the meantime, I’d like to pose a question to the larger JGCC community: What does participatory learning mean to you?


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