Communities are shaped by the collective memories shared between people, and that includes interactions between strangers, friends, neighbors, relatives and kin. When we do things to disrupt the natural flow of those memory-shaping interactions, not only do we damage any possibility of forming a community bond, but we put into disrepair the mechanism that allows for change, development, success and learning, in general.

This is a problem in urban school districts, where many kids who do have access to digital tools like mobile phones, laptops, and portable electronic devices. We ask them to shut down, turn off, and tune in to something that is analog, rigidly assessed, and frankly, for digital natives, completely unnatural.

That’s why learning has become the first 10,000 feet after takeoff. Everything is stowed away. People are strapped into their seats. And during this most dangerous and important moment of flight, nobody is allowed to communicate with the outside. The pilot and the control tower are the only ones in charge of those first twenty minutes. School has become just like that. But it should change.

Thinkers investors in digital learning are making that happen.

Lalitha Vasudevan: Education remix: New media, literacies, and the emerging digital geographies

Despite the rich history of literacy studies and robust body of evidence to the contrary, definitions of literacy and learning that operate in schools today are often far removed from the actual practices in which children and youth engage. This dichotomy is especially true in urban institutions in the United States whose assessment practices are under heavy surveillance and regimentation. However, cultural narratives such as the “digital divide” and the “literacy crisis,” which saturate urban education discourses, are being challenged by the participatory, engaged, and multimodal communication practices of the current cultural revolution inspired by social media. Particularly for many youth who have been labeled “at risk” and are identified as “struggling readers,” school can be an alienating place (see Vasudevan & Campano, 2009 and Alvermann, 2002 for extended discussion about the negative consequences of literacy labels for children and adolescents in US schools). Often, these are young people who live digital lives but who are confined to analog rights in school.

This reminded me of an article I wrote in Hong Kong about memory and city design. From the Vasudevan article:

Thus, digital geographies is a concept that builds on earlier work that explores the geographies of childhood and youth as sites of identity production and exploration (Aitken, 2001; Skelton & Valentine, 1998), and more recent conceptualizations of the ways in which these geographies are changing in a digital age. In particular, these studies of “cybergeographies” (Holloway & Valentine, 2003) focus primarily on the happenings that occur online, in virtual spaces. However, “to think of cyberspace as only a playground for the mind is to forget that intimate connection between body and mind” (Thomas, 2004, p. 364), and thus in this paper the geographic lens is broadened to understand the lived spaces (Lefebvre, 1991; Soja, 1996) that youth inhabit and produce, with and through their engagement with technologies. In other words, a spatial lens foregrounds the dynamic nature of contexts while de-emphasizing the material and physical dimensions that tend to be interpreted as static.

And the article I wrote: Place and Memory: Creating Urban Theatre in Hong Kong.

digital learning geographies
Ingrid Hu, Designer of Southorn Playground theatre

“A city needs memory, people need memory, and people make cities,” Hu said in an interview with The Standard. “But if there’s no memory, in a way, there’s nothing to hold on to.”

Hong Kong seems the perfect place for an infusion of creative design and an art-minded approach to living.

Years of rapid development have succeeded in uprooting and dismantling the city’s beautiful spaces. Hu says that, without these spaces, the lack of historic memory leads to displacement. People need a space in which to share their memories and use them for something productive and life-rewarding.

We’re doing the same thing to students. They come into a classroom and are then disconnected from their culture and their community, which is no longer just the people they hang out with on the block. It’s the people two neighborhoods away they met on Facebook. It’s someone in Manitoba, or Nigeria. It’s somewhere else.

Seneca was not right when he wrote that when you are everywhere you are nowhere. Technology has enabled us to be at an “anywhere” that keeps us grounded.

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