MS Podcast#142


Edutopia podcast.

(WORLD) The MediaSnackers podcast focusses on individuals, organisations or companies who are simply impressing us and which are crying out for more discussion.

Milton Chen is executive director of The George Lucas Educational Foundation, discussing the organisations focus plus their recent Digital Generation project.

0.00—0.27 intro
0.28—1.22 what they do at The George Lucas Educational Foundation
1.23—3.14 what does edutopia see as the preferred future for education and how does this differ from the default one? (questions submitted by @davein2it)
3.15—6.29 the Digital Generation project
7.00—9.32 barriers and challenges
9.33—11.46 future projects and directions
11.47—11.59 thanks and outro

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Milton Chen: I’m Milton Chen. I’m the Executive Director at the George Lucas Educational Foundation. We’re a media making non-profit organisation based in the San Francisco Bay area. And we make media to try to show what the future of learning should look like.

DK: Well, it’s a pleasure to have you with us Milton. So thank you for giving up your time. Let’s get straight into it, for the people who live under a rock I know you gave a little bit there just flesh it out, what do you guys actually do?

Milton Chen: We make media as an organisation, a non-profit founded by George Lucas. We especially make films and supporting media; articles, magazines and especially our website,, to, as we say, document and disseminate what 21st century learning looks like. So these are classrooms around the US and increasingly around the world that are using technology to connect people up as we’re talking today and also to do things such as project-based learning rather than textbook-based learning and co-operative learning where students work together in groups and communicate around larger projects rather than each student working solely and individually and in an isolated way on their own.

DK: And I’ve got a question to ask you. I actually jumped on Twitter and tweeted out that I was going to be speaking to you and asked some people to throw some questions. So this is not my question, this is from Dave Intuit. And he asked, ‘What does Edutopia see as the preferred future for education and how does this differ from the default one?’

Milton Chen: Well our preferred future, as you can tell by our name, Edutopia, is a much more ideal learning environment for young people that is very different from the current organisation of schools , certainly here in the US but also we feel around the world, where many of the models and thinking about schooling come from as long as 100 years or more. The idea of a school building that is isolated from the community, without connections to the rest of the community and the rest of the world. We think it’s a very exciting time to be a student if they’re given the right tools and experiences that can enable them to follow their own passions for learning; a curriculum that’s built around real projects, authentic projects of interest to students.

So yes, where students can engage in projects and problems of interest to them so I would maintain that you could take just about any topic that a student would say they’re interested in whether it’s sports, as many are interested in sports or music or the environment and build an entire curriculum around that that would range across the sciences and math as well as history and the humanities. So we’ve got a long way to go to realise this preferred future but we are beginning to see examples of that in the schools, again around the US and around the world.

DK: And tell us a little bit about then the Digital Generation project because I think this segways quite nicely into that discussion. And tell us a little bit about what it is and why you guys have done it.

Milton Chen: One of the amazing things about what’s going on globally these days is the pace of change and the pace of the way in which new media are being embraced by young people which of course continues a generational change where every new medium has been embraced by the youth of that time; whether it’s television say 50 years ago or whether it’s technology and the internet and digital media today. So with all this talk about digital natives, digital immigrants being the older generation, the way in which young people these days have been born digital for more than 10 or 15 years now. Young people have never known a record player; I remember playing records. Young people have never known a typewriter and I remember typing papers in college.
So we felt it was important to show what these young people are doing with media in their lives, in their learning styles and in their lifestyles inside and outside of school. So with support from the MacArthur Foundation in Chicago as part of their digital media and learning initiative, we’ve created ten multimedia profiles of digital youth as we call them on our website There are ten American kids. We’d like to extend this to you kids around the world but we thought we’d start with ten kids here in this country. And there are only ten kids and they range across all sorts of different levels of use, kinds of use, backgrounds of the kids, they’re ages nine to 18, they come from cities, they come from suburbs, they come from small towns.

So if you go to, you can see examples of – we were just looking at Cameron yesterday, he’s 11 years old from a town in Indiana. He’s a hockey player and has used digital media especially visual effects to study his own performance as a hockey player. He videotapes himself taking shots in hockey to improve his own performance. He’s a musician and has done a number of creative things with showcasing how he performs music. So just one example and one of my favourites is Luis from Oregon because he’s a kid who did not have much access to technology when he was younger; he got his first computer about four years ago when he was 14. He’s now about 18 but he’s been able to use technology through experiences such as an out of school programme called 4-H Tech Wizards.

4-H is a national and may well be an international programme that involves kids in all sorts of activities outside of school. They have a programme called Tech Wizards where he’s able to support his own city and take an inventory of the trees on city property. They use GPS devices; they take photographs and have been trained by Arborus to evaluate trees. It’s an example of citizen science and he’s been able to really teach others, younger kids as well as adults about the use of technology.

DK: Now just the couple of examples you’re talking through there – I’ve been on the site, it is cool. I’m sure my listeners will check it out. It’s a very pro-social attitude towards the use of technologies and online mediums. What do you think of the barriers there that exist currently within education that kind of stop this use really? Is it institutional, is it individual? What are the barriers that you are seeing and trying to overcome?

Milton Chen: Well certainly here in the US we see many kinds of barriers that are mainly institutional and historical and somewhat political. I think one of the reasons why it’s difficult to change a large enterprise like education; it’s very similar in fact to our efforts to change healthcare in this country. This is a very large industry even though education, schools generally have an impression that they are somehow underfunded and impoverished. In fact, the K-12 enterprise in this country is close to a $500 billion enterprise. It employs a tremendous number of people both as teachers and as support staff, administrators throughout the system. There are 3 million K-12 teachers in the US alone.

So there’s a lot at stake when it comes to changing the system so we constantly encounter barriers that relate to finances, not just more money but how current funds are spent; regulations, education in this country is very highly regulated. I wish I could show you through a visual the size of the California education code which occupies several very heavy phone books. But most importantly, I do believe that all people within the system do value student learning; at least they say they do in every conversation about educational change whether it’s school board members, state legislators, teachers, parents. Everyone is in this business because they want to see students learn.
So I like to say that really the hardest thing to change in education is our minds.

Changing our thinking about what education should be like, look like, how it should be organised. So that’s our role. We’re trying to very specifically show how schools can change because we profile schools and out of school programmes that exist already; they’re not hypothetical, they involve real students, real teachers, real resources. So we do believe change is possible if more people understood this preferred future as you mentioned. Not everyone agrees about what the preferred future should be. When you say 21st century schools, a lot of people have very different ideas of what that should be. So we’re trying to state our case for things such as project-based learning, technology integration and generally giving students more responsibility for their own learning and more choice in how they learn and what they learn.

DK: Brilliant. Just want to wrap up this podcast interview with a kind of a feature question if you like. Tell us a little bit about Edutopia’s future projects on the go if you can or just future direction and where your hopes are for it.

Milton Chen: Well we’re striking on a couple new directions. One of them is based partly in response to feedback from our own users to our website at People are asking us many more specific questions about how to achieve this kind of change. Maybe five years ago when we would show a school doing project-based learning, people would look at that and say, oh well that’s interesting, that’s a whole new way of organising the curriculum. And now the tone has shifted where people are saying more they’d like to try project-based learning, not just awareness but actual implementation. So they’re asking us what’s the curriculum, how long does it take, what kind of technology is used, how does it integrate across subject areas, what’s the professional development needed for a teacher?

So we’re also focusing more attention on how to help the adult educators as you are also focusing on the adult stakeholders and gatekeepers for the experiences of youth. So we’re going much more specifically into what we call model schools, case studies of model schools. And starting this fall, in October, you’ll see on our site much more specific case studies that involve maybe an hour’s worth of documentary film about these schools and in-depth interviews with teachers and students. So that’s one area we’re striking out in and we’re also a launching an online community on our site. In part, again, to response from people saying they’d love to talk to each other; not just take content from our website or from our magazine but then share that amongst the community, organised by interest or maybe by grade level or maybe by geography or maybe there’s a group of teachers in Wales that would like to have a conversation related to some of the content they’ve seen on our site or content coming from MediaSnackers.

So we’re trying to enable those kinds of online conversations. We’ll be related to these model schools having teachers for instance from the YES Preps group of schools in Houston. They’ll be online and people to talk with folks who are seeing what they do.

DK: Brilliant. Well, Milton Chen, thank you for giving up your time to speak to MediaSnackers. Really appreciate it.

Milton Chen: Thank you DK. It’s MC signing off.

One thought on “MS Podcast#142”

  1. Fantastic to see you (finally, but not surprisingly) hooking up with the good folks at Edutopia. Chen is good people amongst a team of inspired colleagues. Well done, DK.

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