Erin Reilly, the new Research Manager for Project New Media Literacies, has arrived at the Comparative Media Studies program with a highly evolved philosophy about digital learning. At her previous job, she coined the Cyphibian Theory. “I believe that kids today have one foot in the cyber world and one in the real world,” says Reilly. “Digital learning requires a cross-pollination of those two worlds. There has to be a balance between them and educators have to consider when is the best time for kids to use technology and when they should step away.” She also argues that “community is the glue to learning” and is intrigued by the way in which young people use social networking as a meanst to establish collaborative learning environments. Working with these principles, Reilly has been empowering youngsters using digital learning throughout her career.
Although Reilly is recognized for designing engaging educational content using new media applications, she describes herself as a social entrepreneur. Prior to arriving at CMS, she served as the CEO of the Platform Shoes Forum, a non-profit organization that develops e-learning tools for youth. In that post, she co-created Zoey’s Room, an online community that aims to expand young girls’ knowledge of science, technology, engineering and math. “We wanted to help girls become the leaders of tomorrow and cultivate their interest in sci-tech,” explains Reilly. The interactive website features girls-only chat rooms, informative message boards, and e-learning challenges known as Tec-Treks that build knowledge through both on- and off-line activities. The success of Zoey’s Room earned Reilly Cable in the Classroom’s Leaders in Learning Award in 2007 and she has recently been flagged by the National School Board Association on ‘20 to Watch,’ a list identifying educators who use technology in innovative ways.
Reilly’s confidence in developing tools for tweens and teenagers probably stems from her own experience as an educator. After completing an MFA, she was an adjunct faculty member for the International Film and Television Workshops and subsequently taught at the Art Institute of Dallas. She also coordinates the National Geographic Photo Camp at annual Pop!Tech conferences.
At Project NML, Reilly is excited to convert theories about new media literacy into practice. “I’ve been away from academia for a while and am still in an entrepreneurial spirit,” she admits. “I want to move fast, plan, and think about the budget. Ultimately, I want to see our tools in kids’ hands to determine whether these theories can actually work.” Reilly is also hoping to reframe the content and curriculum generated by Project NML last year so as to address questions about how kids connect, communicate, collaborate, and create in a participatory culture. Most of these ideas will be manifest in the project’s revamped website, due to be launched next year. “The website will have a new look and feel as it will move from a passive to an active approach. The site will be interactive and fun for its teenage audience, and I hope that users will eventually add content to the site and build community around it.” With this vision in place, Reilly is rearing to go on her new job.