A new task force affiliated with the Aspen Institute will focus on how students can best use the internet as an educational tool. (Photo/Getty Images)

Latinos key in new task force to link internet and learning

Ensuring the Internet can truly enhance learning in the nation’s public educational system, libraries and museums is the goal of a new Aspen Institute task force composed of twenty members of diverse business and ethnic backgrounds.

“What we’re trying to achieve is a system which maximizes educational opportunities for everyone, from young children to older adults,” says Voto Latino co-founder CEO/president Maria Teresa Kumar, who serves as one of four co-chairs on the non-partisan Task Force . “A key question for us is, ‘How do you maximize all types of learning given the flow and exchange of information online?’  We are living in a modern society where the classroom doesn’t necessarily reflect or is currently able to capitalize on digital tools.”

The Aspen Institute – an international nonprofit with headquarters in Washington, D.C. – recently announced the creation of the group, called The Aspen Institute Task Force on Learning and the Internet.  Financed by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, task force members include Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, Marne Levine, vice president of global public policy at Facebook, Delia Pompa, senior vice president of programs at National Council of La Raza and Voto Latino co-founder Rosario Dawson, as well as Kumar.

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The Latino members of the Task Force on Learning and the Internet will play an especially crucial role in conducting research surrounding “key, big ideas” at the intersection of the web and educational opportunity, explains Kumar.

“Issues of Internet safety, digital learning and engagement are all at the core of what we will discussing,” says Kumar, whose first meeting with the Task Force took place Monday. “But there’s a real urgency for honest dialogue on how the Latino community is represented in the Task Force as we pursue policy recommendations,” she explains.

“Not every child in America has access to the same resources, and it’s our responsibility to create a framework where young Latinos, whether growing up in affluent neighborhoods or those less developed, are able to capitalize on the internet, tools, information and online learning opportunities so they can excel in school and beyond,” Kumar adds.

The Task Force – which will release its first findings in 2014 – hopes to incorporate feedback from community members through online public conversations, and will also unveil an online research library where parents, educators and students can view research and policy recommendations.  Their work is a step in the right direction when it comes to boosting literacy and graduation rates among Latinos, says Kumar, and one which, thanks to the Internet, has the potential to impact generations to come.

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“We know Latinos are adapt to new technologies at incredible rates,” comments Kumar. “Now the question is, how do we take a step back and change the learning experience around new platforms in a way that can help students thrive?”

Myspace, an online social community which launched in 2003, is a key example how new technologies can promote mathematical and logic skills among young people, says Kumar. More than 4 million Latinos were Myspace users during the height of its popularity, and a majority of users experimented with complex computer code on the social site in order to personalize their accounts and maximize social interaction.

“Latinos on Myspace were using their imagination to program and code,” says Kumar. “That’s math and science at work – and the key is to learn from recent history like that and embrace new platforms within the current learning experience. We need to be creative and come up with a way for the public education system to implement digital learning in a way that can help students.”

“The Internet holds a treasure chest of tools, but it will take all of us learning from each other to figure out how to best accomplish that,” says Kumar.

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