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DURHAM, N.C – A new $2 million competition will encourage innovators nationwide to use new technologies such as MySpace, Second Life and others to engage teachers and learners of all kinds.

The competition, announced August 14, is supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation as part of its $50 million Digital Media and Learning initiative. The initiative seeks to determine how digital technologies are changing the way young people learn, play, socialize and participate in civic life.

A network of educators and digital innovators called “HASTAC” (the Humanities, Arts, Science and Technology Advanced Collaboratory) will administer the open competition. HASTAC was founded and is primarily operated at the John Hope Franklin Center at Duke University and the University of California Humanities Research Institute at the University of California, Irvine. A team of experts from multiple disciplines will review and evaluate the applications and select the winners.

“We are already teaching a generation of students who do not remember a time before they were online,” said Cathy N. Davidson, John Hope Franklin Humanities Institute Professor of Interdisciplinary Studies at Duke and co-founder of HASTAC. “Their social life and informal learning are interconnected. They don’t just consume media, they customize it. These students bring fascinating new skills to our classrooms, but they also bring an urgent need for critical thinking about the digital world they have inherited and are shaping.”

HASTAC has a network reaching more than 80 institutions globally. The choice of HASTAC, one of a new breed of “virtual institutions,” reflects MacArthur’s goals in promoting next-generation learning.

“An open competition is an excellent way to identify and hopefully inspire new ideas about learning in an increasingly digital world,” MacArthur Foundation President Jonathan Fanton said. “We do not yet know how much people are changing because of digital media, but we hope that this competition will help support the most innovative thinking about learning, the formation of ethical judgments, peer mentoring, creativity, and civic participation, all of which are increasingly conducted online.”

Awards will be given in two categories:

  • Innovation Awards will support learning pioneers, entrepreneurs and builders of new digital learning environments for formal and informal learning. These innovations might range from a teacher add-on for MySpace that allows for safe assigning of a class group to a discussion, to a platform co-developed by teachers and students to facilitate digital literacy and peer-mentoring between college students and high-school drop-outs earning their GED degrees, to a digital learning festival for the leaders of a worldwide youth environmental campaign.
  • Knowledge Networking Awards will support communicators in connecting, mobilizing, circulating or translating new ideas around digital media and learning. For example, a team of teacher bloggers who already reach hundreds of thousands of readers may now seek to provide multimedia coverage and translation of MIT professor Henry Jenkins’ recent white paper on media literacy.

As part of their prize, awardees will receive special consultation support on everything from technology development to management training. Winners will be invited to showcase their work at a conference that will include venture capitalists, entrepreneurs, educators and policy makers seeking the best ideas about digital learning. Applications are due Oct. 15, 2007, and prizewinners will be announced in January.

“With the digital media and learning initiative, the MacArthur Foundation is playing a leading role in reshaping both institutional and informal learning practices,” said David Theo Goldberg, HASTAC co-founder and director of the University of California’s Humanities Research Institute. “Traditional learning practices are being supplemented and supplanted by new digital media, which both enable and extend their reach through virtual institutions like HASTAC. This is a natural partnership.”

The HASTAC competition is supported by a grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation to the University of California, in collaboration with Duke. The University of California Humanities Research Institute and Duke’s John Hope Franklin Center are the principal administering bodies for the grant on behalf of HASTAC