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Playpower Project - The MacArthur Digital Media and Learning Competition report

  • Federal University of São Paulo (Unifesp)


Playpower is a project based at the University of California, San Diego. The project was founded to promote computer-aided learning through the use of $12 TV-computers (TVC), which incorporate a TV monitor, keyboard and 25-year-old video game processor technology. Although primitive, the 8-bit TVCs are popular and widely available in marketplaces in Nicaragua, Brazil, China and other emerging economies, and can be used as open-source platforms for a variety of learning games.
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The Digital Media and Learning Competition, now in its second year, is an annual
effort designed to find and to inspire the most novel uses of new media in
support of learning. In April 2009, the Competition awarded $2 million to individuals,
for-profit companies, universities, and community organizations for projects that
employ games, mobile phone applications, virtual worlds, social networks, wikis,
and video blogs to explore how digital technologies are changing the way that
people learn and participate in daily life.
For videos of the winners, profiles of the projects, and interviews with the judges,
visit the Competition’s website at
To broaden the search for innovative ideas, this year’s Competition
was expanded to include international submissions and
proposals from young people aged 18-25. The 19 winning
projects are those that best engaged the theme of “participatory
learning,” or the ways in which new technologies enable
learners to contribute in diverse ways to individual and
shared learning experiences. The Competition is supported
by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation
and administered by the Humanities, Arts, Science, and
Technology Advanced Collaboratory (HASTAC).
Winners of the Competition were drawn from two categories:
Innovation in Participatory Learning ($30,000 to $250,000)
and Young Innovators ($5,000 to $30,000). Innovation awards
support projects that demonstrate new modes of participatory
learning, in which people take part in virtual communities,
share ideas, comment on one another’s projects, and advance
goals together. Young Innovator awards designed to encourage
young people aged 18-25 to think boldly about “what comes
next” in participatory learning and to contribute to making it
happen will aid recipients in bringing their most visionary
ideas from the “garage” stage to implementation.
Playpower is helping people create educational 8-bit games.
Photo credit: Derek Lomas. Artist: Daniel Rehn
DevInfo GameWorks: Changing the World
One Game at a Time
Jeff Kupperman, Community Systems Foundation, Ann Arbor, MI
Over one billion people on our planet live on less than $1.00 a day. More
than 115 million children are denied the right to go to school. 30,000
children die each day from preventable diseases. Through the development
of a software gaming engine that supports the creation, exchange, and
play of games based on robust UN development data, DevInfo GameWorks
brings wide-ranging information on the condition of humanity to young
people in an engaging, social way. DevInfo GameWorks puts learners in
the position of game creators, blurring the line between teacher and
learner to provide opportunities for higher-order thinking and creative
collaboration that expand the ways in which young people learn and
engage with this global information.
DigitalOcean: Sampling the Sea
Constance Penley, University of California, Santa Barbara,
Santa Barbara, CA
DigitalOcean engages middle and high school students in 200 classrooms
around the world in monitoring, analyzing, and sharing information about
the declining global fish population that, in its implications for humans and
the ecosystem, dwarfs other food issues in our time. DigitalOcean uses
multi-disciplinary teams of students, scientists, and new media experts,
partnering with Google Ocean, NASA GLOBE, and ePals, to engage the
next generation of consumers in a global dialogue on the
interrelationships among local human customs, regulatory laws, fishing
practices, wildlife management, and the future of the sea.
Global Challenge
David Gibson, Global Challenge Award, Stowe, VT
Global Challenge is an online collaborative problem-solving competition
that engages underrepresented pre-college students throughout the
world. Using a wide variety of digital media and social networking tools,
K-12 students develop and propose solutions to complex global problems
from global warming to the future of energy. Peers, project staff, and
outside experts judge solutions, providing feedback, award certificates,
travel stipends, and scholarships to students who are enhancing their
science, technology, engineering and mathematical skills while learning
collaboration and project management from a transnational perspective.
History Game Canada
Thomas Axworthy, Centre for the Study of Democracy, Queen’s University,
Kingston, Ontario, Canada
Built on the popular “Civilization” strategy game platform, History Game
Canada enhances the history learning experience of 12-18 year olds by
putting them in control of early Canadian civilizations from the French
and English to the Huron and Ojibwe. Players are invited to imagine
historical events from different perspectives or to fantasize alternative
outcomes to consider not only the “what was” of history, but also to
envision what might have been. History Game Canada fosters critical
thinking, creative problem-solving, and what it means to make or remake
national history. An in-game encyclopedia provides detailed historical
accounts, while dedicated online discussion forums allow players to share
their game experiences and discuss potential implications for present day
Canada with peers and experts.
2009 Digital MeDia anD lea
*Awards for both categories were based on the amounts requested. This was also true of 2008 awards.
South Africa
People’s Republic
of China
M-Ubuntu: Teachers Building
an M-Literacy Collaboratory
Naomi Tempies, Learning Academy Worldwide,
Johannesburg, South Africa
Applying the Zulu community-based problem-solving concept of
Ubuntu best translated as “I am because we are— M-Ubuntu uses
inexpensive, low-threshold mobile phone technologies to promote mobile
literacy (m-literacy) by empowering local teachers to connect to each
other and to literacy coaches in the United States. M-Ubuntu focuses on
two reform-minded schools and their enthusiastic teachers and
learners—Spectrum, near Johannesburg, which contends with crime
and other social dislocations accompanying urbanization, and Ramosadi,
located near Botswana, which struggles to serve orphans — and links
teachers in primary schools across South Africa.
Participatory Chinatown
Jeremy Liu, Asian Community Development Corporation, Boston, MA
Participatory Chinatown seeks to transform the planning practices
shaping Boston’s Chinatown from disjointed transactions between
developers and communities to a persistent conversation shaped by
participatory learning. Marrying physical deliberation, virtual interaction
and web-input, Participatory Chinatown encourages residents of all ages
to participate in the collaborative design and development of their own
public spaces. Participants sit side-by-side in physical space and
simultaneously co-inhabit a 3D virtual space where they engage in rapid
prototyping and testing of urban design proposals. Participatory
Chinatown enables communities to articulate their vision and strengthen
their internal and external bonds to produce better neighborhoods.
Participatory Chinatown is a collaborative effort of the Asian Community
Development Corporation, Emerson College New Media faculty, and the
Boston Metropolitan Area Planning Council.
Playpower: Radically Affordable
Computer-Aided Learning
Jeremy Douglass, University of California, San Diego, San Diego, CA
Playpower uses a $12 TV-computer (TVC) as a platform for open-source
participatory design of 8-bit learning games that will improve educational
access for millions of children in the developing world and create real
economic opportunities for adults. The TVC uses an existing TV as a
display and is based on an 8-bit video game processor technology that is
now in the public domain due to expired patents. Playpower is working
with partners in Brazil, Ghana, India and the United States to build an
open-source Software Development Kit from which local organizations
can create their own learning games.
rning CoMpetition winners
The countries in color were
eligible for the Competition.
Location of 2009 Digital Media and
Learning Competition Winners.
People’s Republic
of China Mexico
United States
M-Ubuntu uses inexpensive, low-threshold mobile phone technologies to promote
mobile literacy. Photo credit: Naomi Tempies
Student Journalism 2.0
Ahrash Bissell, ccLearn, Creative Commons, San Francisco, CA
For journalism students, the digital age requires more than hands-on
reporting, writing, and publication of stories. Students must also embrace
the capabilities of the Internet for virtual collaboration, viral dissemination,
and feedback loops that inform and deepen original stories. All of these
web-based opportunities depend on knowledge and proactive application
of open content licensing, such as with Creative Commons, and
appropriate metatags and technical formats. Student Journalism 2.0
engages high school students in understanding legal and technical issues
intrinsic to new journalistic practices. The lessons learned during this
pilot project will be documented in anticipation of a national-scale,
follow-up project.
Talkers and Doers
Alan Gershenfeld, E-Line Ventures, Montclair, NJ
Talkers and Doers is a platform through which at-risk teens and young
adults learn about entrepreneurship via games that integrate real world
learning, mentors, opportunities, and services. Focusing on areas of
interest to youth (e.g., fashion, music, games and comics), the first
release, Talkers and Doers: Gear, will feature gameplay that seeds ideas
and inspires players to design and sell personalized apparel and gear.
Kids will work together across their social networks to develop real world
money-making opportunities. Players will get feedback from successful
entrepreneurs, be connected to local mentors and engage in peer-to-peer
learning to bring their visions to fruition.
Tecno.Tzotzil: Participatory Learning
Among Indigenous Children in Chiapas
Yolanda Heredia, Virtual University, Tecnológico de Monterrey,
Monterrey, Nuevo León, Mexico
To promote participatory learning among the indigenous Tzotzil children
of Chiapas, one of Mexico’s poorest communities, Tecno.Tzotzil will
produce culturally-sensitive teaching aids that advance problem-based
and project-oriented learning in which students both produce and share
relevant materials and learning outcomes. The Mexican government has
created the Consejo Nacional de Fomento Educativeo (CONAFE), a special
commission to address educationally disadvantaged communities.
Leveraging low-cost laptops to work with two rural schools in Chiapas,
Tecno.Tzotzil will create materials and exercises for use with CONAFE’s
math and science curriculum.
Voces Móviles (Mobile Voices)
Francois Bar, Annenberg School of Communication,
University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA
Voces Móviles is a university-community partnership between the
University of Southern California and IDEPSCA (Instituto de Educación
Popular del Sur de California) that connects low-wage immigrant day
laborers in Los Angeles with popular communication practitioners,
university researchers, and open source software developers. Together,
they design, deploy and use a low-cost, mobile multimedia platform
that promotes everyday sharing and dialogue. Through Voces Móviles,
immigrant workers become citizen journalists, sharing, creating, and
publishing multimedia stories directly from their mobile phones.
These stories represent their own experiences, perspectives, and
ideas. Voces Móviles allows other communities to create their own
storytelling networks so that future uses of the platform may expand
the possibilities of collaboration, dialogue and cultural understanding.
Jared Lamenzo, Mediated Spaces, Inc., Brooklyn, NY
By applying the latest mobile phone technology to K-12 participatory
science, WildLab engages students in collaborative citizen science and
encourages local environmental stewardship. Using GPS-enabled,
internet-connected iPhones as data collection devices, WildLab allows
students to report their scientific observations to each other and to the
larger scientific community. In the classroom, students can send their
data to sponsoring institutions for analysis, posit their own questions, and
develop their own line of inquiry based on their field experiences.
2009 Digital MeDia anD lea
WAVE uses videoblogging to help young women tell their stories.
Photo credit: Video Volunteers India
Women Aloud: Videoblogging for Empowerment
Sapna Shahani, Video Volunteers India, Mumbai, India
Offering an unprecedented online presence for low-income women from
across India, WAVE is a unique digital platform for Indian women aged
18-25. Through videoblogging, women who otherwise do not have a voice
online are given an avenue for self-expression and a podium from which
they can address such key issues as health, the environment,
employment, access to basic necessities, education, democracy, and
gender equality. Participants will attend an intensive video training camp,
where experienced media professionals will provide the required technical
and documentary journalistic skills necessary for empowering these
young women to tell their stories and those of their communities.
Wiki Templates Transforming Instructional
Environments (WITTIE)
Jennifer Kidd, Old Dominion University, Norfolk, VA
Through a wiki application and a suite of teacher-friendly template tools
that help teachers and students work together to create and assess
original Wiki-based texts, WITTIE helps teachers move to a student-
centric approach to learning. Using WITTIE, students choose the content,
write the text, and serve as the primary evaluators of the texts they
create, becoming designers of their own educational environments.
WITTIE will be piloted via two different case examples: the creation of a
student-authored textbook in a higher education course; and the building
of a multi-media collaborative text on communities written by K-12
students across the globe.
Cellcraft: Exploring the Cell
Through Computer Games
Anthony Pecorella, 25 years old, Durham, NC
Addressing a decreasing interest and proficiency in the biological sciences
among American teenagers, Cellcraft seeks to engage kids in ways that
make biological principles personally meaningful and relevant. Cellcraft will
put middle and high school students in control of a cell, tasked with the job
of coordinating all of the organelles in order to process food, create new
parts, fight off viruses, and grow. During game play, students learn
valuable biological information, while also developing organizational,
planning, coordination, delegation, and logistical skills.
Laura Staniland, 22 years old, Pittsburgh, PA
Focusing on the Southwestern Pennsylvania region, CivicsLab puts
elementary and middle school students in virtual control of decision-making
in their communities to encourage civic participation, critical thinking, and
sense of place. In CivicsLab, players will assume positions of power in the
community from an urban, suburban or rural perspective and explore how
decisions based on social need and demand, proper planning (as defined
by our civic experts), political pressure, and most importantly, their
imaginations might impact the community. Through manipulation of real
mapping information and current data sets, students navigate social and
political pressures to explore the cause and effect of civic investment and
public policy as they attempt to create a sustainable future for their region.
Digital Democracy Contest
Daniel Poynter, 22 years old, West Lafayette, IN
The growing wealth of governmental data online has tremendous potential
to increase civic engagement. Built on the successful Digital Literacy
Contest, the Digital Democracy Contest employs existing online tools to
help young people explore complex data sets and engage with them in
meaningful ways. Working in teams, students will compete against each
other as they navigate online government information and work together
to develop future versions of the game.
Networked Newsroom
Bingxia Yu, 22 years old, Buffalo, NY
Targeting high school and college journalism classes as well as the wider
public, Networked Newsroom is an online participatory learning news
platform that enables users to post story ideas, leads, photos, videos and
other information directly from their computers or mobile phones. To
leverage the collective intelligence of the Networked Newsroom community,
the coveted “editor’s desk” is extended to all in this virtual newsroom.
Diverse users each bringing unique perspectives — supplement each
others’ work to develop more meaningful and robust stories through
collaboration, with final stories published to a public wiki.
Origami: Enfolding Real and Virtual Learning
Jonah Model, 23 years old, Long Island City, NY
Origami is a file-sharing system you can talk with by email and text
message. It promotes ad hoc learning spaces using a visual tag for linking
physical spaces with existing collaborative software such as wikis, social
bookmarking, and groupware systems. The Origami tag is designed for
readability and can be hand-drawn or converted into sign language,
Braille, or a short URL. Origami allows students to trade learning resources
quickly and easily without interrupting conversation, lectures, or meetings.
rning CoMpetition winners
InnovatIon awards
The awards for innovation supported the development of
learning environments that use games, mobile phones or
social networks.
Black Cloud Environmental Studies Gaming
Greg Niemeyer, University of California, Berkeley Center for New Media,
Berkeley, CA
Black Cloud is an environmental studies game that mixes the physical
with the virtual to engage high school students in Los Angeles and the
Clean Air Embassy. Teams role-play as either real estate developers or
environmentalists using actual air quality sensors hidden through the city
to monitor neighborhood pollution. Their goal is to select good sites for
either additional development or conservation. Combining scientific data
with human experiences, students collaborate, share and analyze their
findings, including working cross-culturally.
Todd Presner, University of California, Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA
Based on digital models of real cities, “HyperCities” is a web-based
learning platform that connects geographical locations with stories of the
people who live there and those who have lived there in the past. Through
collaboration between universities and community partners in Los Angeles,
Lima, Berlin, and Rome, HyperCities develops and offers a participatory,
open-ended learning environment grounded in space and time, place and
history, memory and social interaction, oral history and digital media.
MILLEE: Mobile and Immersive Learning
for Literacy in Emerging Economies
John Canny, University of California, Berkeley, Berkeley, CA
Mobile and Immersive Learning for Literacy in Emerging Economies, a
project conducted in rural India, promotes literacy through language-
learning games on mobile phones—the “PCs of the developing world.
MILLEE’s mobile phone games are designed to create rich storytelling
environments that enable language learning.
PLOrk: Princeton Laptop Orchestra
Daniel Trueman, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ
PLOrk is an expressive mobile musical laboratory for exploring new ways
of making music with laptops and local-area-networks. Students
collaborate in designing these technologies. In the process, they learn
about a variety of subjects, including musical acoustics, networking,
instrument design, human-computer interfacing, procedural programming,
signal processing, and musical aesthetics.
Sustainable South Bronx GreenFab
Miquela Craytor, Sustainable South Bronx, Bronx, NY
The Sustainable South Bronx GreenFab project is a laboratory that allows
people to turn digital models into real world constructions of plastic,
metal, wood and more. Part of a broader MIT-led initiative, this particular
project applies the principles of personal fabrication to learning about
urban sustainability. The project examines connections between virtual
and physical spaces, collaborative design, and the potential for impact
within the South Bronx.
Virtual Peace
Timothy Lenoir, Duke University, Durham, NC
Virtual Peace is a digital humanitarian assistance game that creates a
learning environment for young people studying public policy and
international relations. The game was developed by repurposing an
existing military simulation into a tool for humanitarian training. Learning
within the game focuses on leadership skills, cultural awareness, problem
solving, and adaptive thinking — all of which are necessary to coordinate
international humanitarian assistance for natural disaster relief.
YouthActionNet Marketplace
Ashok Regmi, International Youth Foundation, Baltimore, MD
The YouthActionNet Marketplace is a dynamic digital networking platform
for young leaders to engage in social entrepreneurship and address critical
social problems. Young social entrepreneurs can link to a global community
of innovators to share, collaborate, customize, and evaluate information
and ideas, and showcase them to a general public searching for new
ways to address old issues.
2008 Digital MeDia anD learning CoMpetition winners
The inaugural Competition awarded $2 million in funding to 17 winning projects for awards
in two categories — Innovation and Knowledge Networking.
KnowLEdGE nEtworKInG awards
The awards for knowledge networking supported projects that
circulated best practices and ideas in digital media and learning.
Critical Commons
Steve Anderson, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA
Critical Commons is a blogging, social networking and tagging platform
specially designed to promote the ‘fair use’ of copyrighted material in
support of learning. The project engages and organizes academic
communities to articulate their needs, models and ethical principles of fair
use. The project aims to promote a strong, legally viable and expanding
conception of fair use, especially in support of learning. Networking Civic Engagement
Edwin Bender,, Helena, MT
$30,000, a project of the Institute on Money in State Politics,
is an online interactive site and users’ guide that supports civics research
by young people and promotes their understanding of—and engagement
with—electoral politics and legislative activities. Teacher and student
collaborators guide development and testing of this interactive site for
networking youth civic engagement.
Fractor: Act on Facts
Benjamin Robison, Fractor Corporation, Long Island City, NY
Fractor is a web application that matches news stories with opportunities
for social activism and community service. ‘Facts’ and ‘Acts’ are
organized on a single, intuitive page where every news story is linked to
real-world actions that users can pursue. Fractor gives news readers the
tools to ‘act on facts,’ connecting them to a world of dynamic social
involvement and activism.
Let the Games Begin: A 101 Workshop
for Social Issue Games
Suzanne Seggerman, Games for Change, New York, NY
The Let the Games Begin workshop was a soup-to-nuts tutorial on the
fundamentals of social issue games. Appealing to those who are new to
designing learning games but passionate about social issues, the workshop
featured leading experts on topics including game design, fundraising,
evaluation, youth participation, distribution, and press strategies. The
workshop was held in conjunction with the 2008 Games for Change
Festival, and will be extended for the rest of 2008 through an online
community dedicated to learning about social games.
Mobile Movement
Leba Haber Rubinoff, Interactive Filmmaking, Brooklyn, CA
Mobile Movement connects young African social entrepreneurs with young
North American professionals. Using mobile phone technology, which is
now widespread, this network facilitates both micro-funding and the
exchange of professional advice to projects in Africa that promote public
benefit. A website shares the project’s successes, lessons learned, and
new ideas for scaling toward future collaborative and transnational youth
Networking Grassroots Knowledge Globally
Victoria Dunning, The Global Fund for Children, Washington, DC
Networking Grassroots Knowledge Globally, a project of the Global Fund
for Children, is a new community and “information commons” that
includes blogs, video clips, sound slides, podcasts, and photographs to
help share innovative practices for helping marginalized and vulnerable
children. The commons allows grassroots practitioners and marginalized
young people to harness and share new models for learning, organizing,
and communicating around the world.
Ohmwork: Networking Homebrew Science
Laura Allen/Vision Ed. Inc., New York, NY
Ohmwork is a new social network and podcast site where young people
can become inventive and passionate about science by sharing their
do-it-yourself (DIY ) science projects. They can also contribute to one
another’s projects, customize the site, and collaborate as part of their
collective digital learning. Developed by Vision Education, Ohmwork
aspires to become an online network for DIY science.
RezEd: The Hub for Learning and Virtual Worlds
Barry Joseph, Global Kids, Inc., New York, NY
RezEd was developed to serve as an online hub to promote the use of
virtual worlds as rich learning environments. The participating community
shares best practices, encourages dialogue, provides access to the
leading research, hosts podcast interviews with community leaders, and
features the latest news on learning in virtual worlds.
Self-Advocacy Online
Jerry Smith, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN
Self-Advocacy Online is an educational and networking website for teens
and adults with intellectual and cognitive disabilities, targeted at those
who participate in organized self-advocacy groups. In supporting greater
networking, peer exchange, collaboration, and communication to a
general public, Self Advocacy Online will extend the reach of and interaction
among people with disabilities so that they can more effectively speak up
for themselves and make their own decisions.
Social Media Classroom
Howard Rheingold, Stanford University, Mill Valley, CA
The Social Media Virtual Classroom is an online community for teachers
and students to collaborate and contribute ideas for teaching and learning
about the psychological, interpersonal, and social issues related to
participatory media. This digital learning space features and analyzes the
use of blogs, wikis, chat, instant messaging, microblogging, forums,
social bookmarking and instructional screencasts for teachers and students.
Launched in 2006, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation’s $50 million digital media and learning initiative seeks to
determine how digital technologies are changing the way young people learn, play, socialize, and participate in civic life. Answers
are critical to developing educational and other social institutions that can meet the needs of this and future generations.
The initiative is marshaling what is already known and seeding innovation for continued growth. Grants have supported research
projects, design studies, pilot programs, and other efforts to build a new interdisciplinary field. More information about the initiative
can be found at or visit the Spotlight blog at
The Digital Media and Learning Competition provides $2 million a year in awards to innovators shaping the field of digital media
and learning. Supported by The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation as part of the Foundation’s digital media and
learning initiative, the Competition made its first awards in 2008 and is now in its second year. Applications are judged by an
expert panel of scholars, educators, entrepreneurs, journalists, and other digital media specialists.
The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation supports creative people and effective institutions committed to building a
more just, verdant, and peaceful world. In addition to selecting the MacArthur Fellows, the Foundation works to defend human
rights, advance global conservation and security, make cities better places, and understand how technology is affecting children
and society. For more information, visit
A consortium of humanists, artists, scientists, social scientists and engineers from universities and other civic institutions across
the U.S. and internationally, HASTAC (Humanities, Arts, Science, and Technology Advanced Collaboratory) is committed to new
forms of collaboration for thinking, teaching, and research across communities and disciplines fostered by creative uses of
technology. The infrastructure for HASTAC has been largely provided by the John Hope Franklin Center for Interdisciplinary and
International Studies and the Franklin Humanities Institute at Duke University and the University of California Humanities Research
Institute. More information is available at
For videos of the winners, profiles of the projects, and interviews with the judges,
visit the Competition’s website at
April 2009
Audienceatthe8bitsgamesworkshopinHyderabad, India
Audienceatthe8bitsgamesworkshopinHyderabad, India
Jeremy Douglass, Playpower researcher
Derek Lomas, Playpower researcher
An effort to use radically affordable computing to improve educational access in the
developing world has received a one-year, $180,000 grant from the John D. and
Known as Playpower and based at the University of California, San Diego, the project
was founded to promote computer-aided learning through the use of $12
TV-computers (TVC), which incorporate a TV monitor, keyboard and 25-year-old video
game processor technology. Although primitive, the 8-bit TVCs are popular and widely
available in marketplaces in Nicaragua, Brazil, China and other emerging economies,
"We're incredibly honored to receive this award, and it's heartening to see that the
MacArthur Foundation believes in our vision," said Jeremy Douglass, co-principal
investigator for the project and a postdoctoral researcher with UC San Diego's
Software Studies Initiative, which is based at the UCSD division of the California
"With this type of cheap, accessible technology, a child will be able to boot up a
system and start learning how to program," added Douglass. "It gives them access to
an entirely new realm, not only in terms of computer literacy and career skills, but also
Addressing the winners at an event showcasing projects from last year's competition,
MacArthur President Jonathan Fanton called the competition "an important
"The competition demonstrates that pioneering work often takes place at the edges
and sometimes between the most unlikely of collaborators," he remarked. "These
projects are true exemplars of how digital media are transforming the way we think and
The MacArthur Foundation received 700 entries to this year's competition and awarded
19 awards ranging from $9,000 to $211,000. Fifteen winners came from the United
Playpower's Digital Media and Learning grant will fund research and development in
three areas: 1) Software and hardware development kits 2) an online development
community and 3) a series of international workshops designed to educate user
Derek Lomas, co-PI of the project and graduate student in the Master of Fine Arts
program at UCSD, said the team will spend the next few months communicating with
game design companies, neuroscientists and user communities to prototype and test
"A lot of people have the assumption that we're manufacturing computers, that we're a
take-off on OLPC," Lomas said, referring to the One Laptop Per Child Association, a
U.S. non-profit organization set up to oversee the creation of an affordable educational
device for use in the developing world. "But that's not what we're doing at all. We're
taking advantage of an existing manufacturing ecosystem and making sure that it has
Added Douglass: "The difference between a $100 device and a $12 device is that an
exponential number of households can have access to computation. But the platform
is also important because of the content it enables. Think about how much eloquent
information we're able to fit onto an iPhone — if we can get people to use a television
Lomas, Douglass and their collaborator, Southern California-based artist and designer
Daniel Rehn, see learning games as a rapidly salable way of addressing core problems
"That's why we need to be sure we create low-cost platforms that can be accessed by
local developers," noted Lomas. "Our software kit will lower the technical barrier
enough for people to create code frameworks that can be modified, but we also want
A community in Ghana, for example, might use a simple program — the equivalent of
Microsoft PowerPoint — to create an open-source English spelling game for the TVC.
That game could later be adapted for use by Portuguese-speaking Brazilians simply by
Alternatively, a community in India could use a "choose-your-own-adventure" type
program based on simple text files to create a computerized narrative structure for the
TVC that could be used to prepare for job interviews. A group in China might modify
"What we're doing is creating an easy path and a huge amount of support for
communities to create their own games," remarked Douglass. "We're hoping people
The $2 million MacArthur Digital Media and Learning Competition is funded by a
MacArthur grant to the University of California, Irvine (home of a second Calit2
division), and to Duke University. Administered by the Humanities, Arts, Science and
Technology Advanced Collaboratory (HASTAC), a virtual network of learning
institutions, the competition is part of MacArthur's $50 million digital media and
learning initiative, which is designed to help determine how digital technologies are
Tecno.Tzotil, a project that leverages low-cost laptops to help indigenous
children in Chiapas, Mexico learn by producing and sharing their own media
Digital Ocean, an online platform for 200 classrooms around the world that
allows young people to monitor, analyze, and share information about the
Voces Móviles (Mobile Voices), a low-cost, mobile, multimedia platform that lets
low-wage immigrant day laborers in Los Angeles share, create, and publish
M-Ubuntu ("I am because we are" in Zulu), a project that uses inexpensive
mobile phone technologies to connect teachers in South Africa to each other
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