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Preview: Mimi Ito - Weblog

Mimi Ito - Weblog

I am a cultural anthropologist specializing in learning and new media, particularly among young people in Japan and the US. My research right now focuses on how to support socially connected learning experiences for young people. I am co-founder of Connec

Published: 2017-11-17T08:47:09-08:00


What a Minecraft Server for Kids with Autism Teaches Us About Haters and Allies


Originally posted at the Connected Camps blog.


One of my Internet heroes is Stuart Duncan, founder of Autcraft, a Minecraft server for kids with autism and their families. After blogging about autism for many years, Duncan started Autcraft in response to what he had heard from his community about autistic kids being bullied on Minecraft servers. Clearly he tapped a pain point. After opening its doors in 2013, word spread quickly, and the Autcraft community has grown to over 8000 members.   

Creating safe spaces for kids with autism online (or anywhere) is important and hard. The Autcraft community has achieved this through vigilance and community innovation. Other servers can learn from their experience in creating inclusive and safe server communities. Creating a friendly and inclusive Internet shouldn’t fall to families with kids with autism alone, but should enlist and enrich all of us as allies and fellow netizens.

What We Did This Summer: Ender Dragons, Parkour, Cow Paradise, and Turtle Bombers in Minecraft Camp


First posted on the Connected Camps blog.

It’s hard to believe that we have said our last summer camp farewells and kids are headed back to school. Hope all our friends on the Texas coast are staying safe this week.

The last camper certificates have been sent out, and counselors are preparing for our afterschool programs starting right after Labor Day.

I’ve been having a blast going back through the counselor’s logs and certificates from the summer, and reading camper and parent responses to our survey. I’ve pulled together some highlights. We hope our campers will share some of what they did this summer with Connected Camps when they are asked about it in school too!

How to Get Kids Into Coding -- 10 Myths and Realities



First posted on the Connected Camps blog.

90% of parents in the U.S. want their child to learn coding
and 71% of new STEM jobs will be in computer science. Still, the majority of kids in this country are not learning to code. It would help if schools offered CS, but parents and other influences outside of school can also play a big role.

Among the biggest reasons that kids don’t take an interest in coding is because of popular misconceptions about what it means to be a coder. In popular culture, coding is associated with nerdy, antisocial men and boys who are obsessively attracted to math and computers. It's worth digging into this a bit. Not only is it unfair to folks who are already deeply into coding, it also turns away kids who don’t identify with that stereotype.

How can we get kids into coding? Here are 5 popular myths about coding and how we can counteract them with the reality that coding can be for all kids.

How to Get Your Daughters into Tech by Embracing Who They Really Are



First posted at the Connected Camps blog.

Only 26% of computing professionals are women, which is down from 36% in 1991. Millions of dollars are being spent on closing this gender gap, but it persists. Even though girls are just as into math and science in their school years, few go onto major in these areas, and even fewer go on to tech careers. What can we do to help our daughters buck these odds? Girls and Minecraft offer important hints.

The stereotype is that tech is for boys. Girls are also less likely to have friends, mentors, and role models in tech who they identify with. Parents who want their daughter to embrace technology may give up when she prefers Barbie to robots, or shuns geeky interests because they aren’t popular among their friends. The problem is that when we focus on “breaking stereotypes” we can end up pushing our daughters beyond their comfort zone.

Instead, we need to start with who they really are, and build on positive archetypes rather than focus on attacking negative stereotypes. Girls and Minecraft play is a unique opportunity to encourage tech learning and interests and challenge some stereotypes along the way.

How to Create a New Year’s Resolution the Whole Family Loves — Make it About Pizza


First posted on our Family Pizza blog.


Every New Year’s Eve I poke the hubby and kids into committing to a self improvement goal, and every year, it falls flat. Until this year. I was inspired by the New Year’s resolution episode of The Sporkful podcast, which talked about how people resolve to eat less and exercise more, and most abandon that resolve sometime in February. Instead, why not resolve to eat more of what you love?

I asked my son if he might go in on a resolution for 2017 with me, to eat and make more of a food we both love. He was in. It would need to be something with depth and history that we could geek out on, and opportunities for variation and innovation. Some food types we considered were tacos, donburi, pasta, curry, and soup, but pizza was the winner. A new family project-based learning adventure and this blog was born.

We’ve been casual pizza makers for a long time, in part because I avoid dairy so it’s hard for me to eat pizza out. 2017 would be all about upping our game — eating our way through the best pizza in SoCal and cooking our way through different styles, with the goal of improving our homemade pie. This is a resolution the whole family could get behind.

I’ve never been this excited about designing a curriculum. I’m an educator by trade, and often designed “activities” to do with the kids, including weekend cooking, but this felt different. This was a long term investigation that involved both hands-on learning and what our family bonds most around — eating great food together. I don’t know why we hadn’t thought of this sooner!

How Dropping Screen Time Rules Can Fuel Extraordinary Learning



First posted at the Connected Camps blog.

Last fall, the American Association of Pediatrics (AAP) finally backed down from their killjoy "screen time" rules that had deprived countless kids of the freedom to pursue their interests and explore digital worlds. No screens in the first 2 years, no more than 2 hours a day. After pushing their famous 2x2 rule for almost two decades, now they advocate against a one-size-fits-all approach and suggest that parents can be “media mentors” and not just time cops. But damage has been done.

For almost as long as the AAP 2x2 rules have been in place, I’ve been studying how multimedia, digital games, and the Internet can fuel extraordinary forms of learning and mobilization. Young people are growing up in a new era of information abundance where they can google anything and connect with specialized expert communities online. However, our research also indicates that most kids are not truly tapping the power of online learning. In part I blame the 2x2 guidelines for holding kids back, and putting parents in the role of policing rather than coaching media engagement.

By focusing on quality over quantity, families can move away from fear, maintain a healthy balance, and seek out extraordinary learning.

Three Lessons from My Son on Minecraft and Learning


Reposted from Connected Camps.

Why do some kids spend their time killing each other while others engineer epic builds in Minecraft? The educational benefits of Minecraft are celebrated, particularly for developing tech skills, but not every kid is unleashing her inner MacGyver. It doesn’t really matter if Minecraft is good for learning if your kid isn’t engaging in complicated builds, coding, engineering or collaboration online. After all, there’s more variety in Minecraft play than any game on this planet.

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My son’s binary calculator

Minecraft was a big part of my son becoming an avid coder, a positive digital citizen, and an aspiring engineer. He started playing Minecraft in middle school with his friends, and he played in a server that the school hosted. What really got him excited about being creative in Minecraft was discovering YouTube videos of epic builds. Eventually he applied to join a Minecraft server community hosted by some of the heroes he discovered on YouTube; he leveled up in his building, as he collaborated with and learned from others in the community. A few years later, he was exposed to coding in high school, and decided to explore coding in Minecraft and build a massive binary calculator with redstone (a special type of Minecraft block that acts like an electrical wire and allows players to create circuits and other machines). In the summer, he helps out in the family business, working in the Connected Camps Minecraft server teaching kids to code.

Here’s three lessons I learned growing up with my son about unleashing learning in Minecraft.

Writing with friends -- Participatory Culture in a Networked Era



Emerging from my turkey coma, I am writing with much gratitude for my two dear friends and colleagues Henry Jenkins and danah boyd. I am a bit late to the party in announcing that the book we wrote together is now available in electronic and hard/softcopy.

As danah has already noted, this book was instigated by Henry, who approached us about writing a book together for Polity. We agreed that we’d only do it if would become an occasion to have fun and learn from each other. It would be an excuse for a conversation, for danah to fly out to SoCal on occasion, and for us to sit on my couch or in the sun out back and catch up on what we thought was most fascinating or frightful about today’s networked world.

Connected Camps Summer of Minecraft


I am stoked to announce today a project today that I'm kicking off with co-founders Tara Brown and Katie Salen. It's a virtual summer camp for Minecraft, being run as a co-venture between our new benefit corporation, Connected Camps, and the Institute of Play. Registration opened today at

Media release is here.

Check out our promotional video!

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Just the Beginning



Thanksgiving is my favorite US holiday - food, friends, family and appreciation. This year, I happily added Connected Courses community to my roster of what I am profoundly grateful for.

Connected Courses was launched with the energy and goodwill of a handful of facilitators who shared the values of connected learning, equity, and the open web. I could never have imagined how connections and networks could have blossomed and fanned out from these beginnings. Reviewing the analytics from Jamieson of @dmlhub, I see a picture of conversations and connections bubbling merrily across the open web, through twitter, G+, Facebook, Diigo, disqus forum, and hundreds of blogs. What is a nightmare from a data analytics point of view is an ideal outcome for those of us seeking to build open networked learning communities. It’s about seeding the beginnings of relationships, ideas, projects, and courses that will take root and blossom in a widely distributed set of contexts, communities, and institutions. The official course site and offerings are clearly just some among many passage points in growing and nurturing this process.

Guidelines for Research on Connected Courses


Among the many welcome surprises of being part of Connected Courses has been the emergence of a research community interested in studying and learning from the course. As part of the “why” unit 1 I had considered that we might want to try to capture some of the student outcomes of all the connected courses that are informed by this connected course on connected courses. So I worked with my colleagues in the Connected Learning Research Network to design a student survey that faculty could use as a tool to gauge student engagement and experiences in their connected course. What I hadn’t anticipated was that there might be folks who want to study how the current connected course has unfolded.

Laura Gogia was the first to contact me about this possibility, and soon there was a lively group of researchers on the forum discussing possible research projects. The discussion has ranged widely between broad sharing of theory and insights on research on connected learning writ large, as well as discussion of research on Connected Courses specifically. In order to capture some of the projects that are being incubated on Connected Courses specifically, Laura has set up a Connected Courses Research Working Group site to catalog these research interests and efforts. We also agreed that I’d take a first pass at some general guidelines for research, and ask the community for comment. So here I am.

Trust Falls and My Whys for Connected Courses


As someone who has spent most my career as research faculty and not in the classroom, I don’t have the depth of formal instructional experience that most of my colleagues in the academy do. My formal “teaching” has largely been in the form of advising graduate students and mentoring graduate students and postdocs in interdisciplinary research projects. So although I am one of the hosts/facilitators I am doubly a n00b in the connected courses sense - new to cMOOCs as well as new to course design. Which means I am thoroughly enjoying taking the plunge as a learner in all of this and muddling through the why of my teaching as I go.


I feel very much buoyed by generous ways in which the connected courses participants have responded to the inevitable glitches in facilitating this course, and my thinking aloud in public as we go. This has encouraged me to keep thinking in public, and it feels like the best kind of trust fall exercise for someone who is used to pausing and polishing before sharing. It feels like that productive discomfort before you make a trust fall, or what my kids and I do every summer - jump off a tall ledge in a watering hole. I don’t really want to do it but it’s hella fun when you get enveloped by the cool water after you make that jump. I appreciated Maha describing how she both stays true to her interests and nature but also pushes herself to engage in different ways. Even with different dispositions that pull in different directions, I like that connected courses is pushing us both into productive discomfort and growth.

Connected Learning = Abundant Opportunity + Terror + Hard Attentional Choices + Productive Tension


This post brought to you by Mimi’s meandering reflections + Jamieson’s data wizardry

Warning: Post is both LONG and META

This summer, I was part of program that invited teens in some of our local LA libraries to take part in fun networked learning opportunities, including digital storytelling activities designed by Connected Courses’ very own @Jonathan_Worth. Most were reluctant to share on the open Internet unless they thought their photos were really good. Many were reluctant to share at all. They enjoyed seeing the stream of photos flowing through the aggregated Instagram and Flickr feeds on the Phonar Nation site, posted by enthusiastic net savvy participants in the phonar world at large. Despite the encouragement of local mentors, they didn’t see themselves are part of that world and ready to contribute, at least not yet. These same kids were happy to share with their local community, and by the end of the summer were being coaxed to post some of their work online.

I’ve been reminded of these quietly cautious kids in my first weeks of ccourses, when I also happen to be listening to Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts as my walking-the-dog book. I’ve thrilled in watching the growing blog count and the lively #ccourses tweet stream, and unexpected wonders being generated by generous contributors.Comics!Visual Note-taking!A Folding Story! A G+ community! Diigo! Ridiculously thoughtful seemingly instantaneous blogging synthesis of live events! My excitement quickly turned to terror as I watched the social media stream turn from a trickle to a whole web of lively tributaries, and I went running to help to @cogdog. Help! How do I know what to pay attention to?? Thank goodness for my more experienced co-facilitators and the power of co-learning.

Connected Learning in Higher Ed = Connected Courses!


I love it when my different social and professional worlds start to collide in productive ways. These past few weeks I've been delighted to see more and more bridges being built across the world of higher education where I sit as a faculty member, and the world of teens and connected learning, that has been the focus of my research for many years with the DML Hub. This has been brewing for a while with the Reclaim Open Learning initiative that we supported at the Hub among other things, but has really leveled up this fall with Connected Courses, which just launched this week with a webinar led by Jim Groom, Howard Rheingold, and Alan Levine.

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I am so stoked to be part of this fabulous group of faculty who are co-teaching this course, but most importantly to be a co-learner in this new experiment. I'll be working with my team at the Hub to develop our own connected course for DML and connected learning, so this is going to be my professional development community. As a noob connected course facilitator I am looking forward to learning from the folks who have been doing this for years through courses like FemTechNet, phonar, and ds106. I'm already having a blast thinking and innovating with this community. It's even made me revive my blog!

I'm also cooking up some ideas with my colleagues in the Connected Learning Research Network on how we might design a lightweight survey so that we capture some of the learning and connection building that our students will be gaining through participation in connected courses. So stay tuned for that in the unit that I'm co-facilitating with Mike Wesch and Helen Keegan in a few weeks!

And along the way I've been noodling myself on how all this relates to broader shifts in the higher ed landscape, mostly recently in a talk I gave for Google Brazil.

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A new year and a new book


Cross posted from the Connected Learning Research Network Leveling Up project blog It’s the start of a new year and time to take stock. It’s been three years since the launch of the Connected Learning Research Network and the Leveling Up project, and a year and a half since the launch of this blog. Along the way, we’ve delved into stories of knitters, boy band and wrestling fans, fashionistas, eSports enthusiasts, and game makers, as well as how the online world is supporting their learning, sharing, and civic engagement. The cases we’ve developed over these years have both confirmed many of the core values and principles of the connected learning model, as well as challenged them in some unexpected ways. Following from the digital youth project, we’ve found that the online world, even as it has expanded into more diverse areas of interests, platforms, and mobile devices, continues to be a rich source of not only social connection, but of peer learning. We’ve also confirmed that while interest-specific learning flourishes online, it takes a unique and uncommon confluence of factors for that learning to connect to academic, career, or civic realms. We continue to puzzle over a core problematic of the connected learning research: what are ways in which we can more actively support these connections for diverse youth and their interests? The cases have given us glimpses into how to answer that question in ways that deserve further investigation, and are the focus of a new round of research that we will be kicking off this year. In addition to continuing to observe the salience of peer sharing, reputation, and self-directed learning in online communities, some of the fashion and Starcraft work has shown us the kinds of roles that parents can play in supporting connected learning. When educators engage with youth interests, we also see them mediating between fan activity, gaming interest, and school. We were also delighted that we were around to observe interest groups activate around shared purpose and problems that can be mathematical or political in nature when the opportunity presents itself. Some members of the team have dived into an online experiment to support our own connected learning moments through a new web platform. The diversity of cases that we’ve delved into have given us a new opportunity to interrogate what the barriers and challenges are to getting youth interests connected to adult-facing opportunities. We’ve seen that the winding pathways through which interests are cultivated, abandoned, altered, and revisited create challenges for researchers who are working to document that outcome of interest-driven learning and educators who seek to support it. Further, the specific nature of the interest, and the culture and identity associated with it have a strongly determinist effect on whether that interest can be productively connected to schools, careers, and civic engagement. For example, gamers and boy band fans may be learning a tremendous amount through their interest-driven engagements, but both the youth participants and the parents and teachers in their lives may be resistant to seeing these activities as academically relevant. The cases also demonstrate how the devil is in the details of how particular communities and programs are organized, and creating a high-functioning connected learning environment requires constant tending and adaptation. These are examples of the kinds of topics and themes that have emerged as salient in our analysis. As we continue to mine our cases and data, we will transition the focus of this blog from reports from the field to analysis that sets the stage for the collectively [...]