Educational equity in a digital age

Michael Levine, PhD’85, utilizes digital media to advance opportunities for learning

Michael Levine, PhD’85, is founder and director of the Joan Ganz Cooney Center, an independent research and innovation organization based at the Sesame Workshop. Founded in 2007, the Cooney Center concentrates on three core initiatives: digital games and learning, engaging families in learning together and promoting improved literacy by age 10. He spoke with the Heller communications team about his work.

Heller Communications: What does improving youth opportunity mean to you?

Michael Levine: Our work focuses on educational equity in a digital age. How can we use the unique engagement that games, mobile and social media have on youth who have often tired of traditional school offerings, but who are excited about media and technology?  We are allies to the “maker movement” and to school reformers who are interested in making learning more playful, or as Seymour Papert has labeled it, learning as “hard fun.”

HC: How does your work advance a youth opportunity agenda? 

ML: We are agenda-setters in the children’s and digital media space. We conduct pioneering research, build new educational models, convene industry leaders, policymakers, philanthropy, and practitioners and disseminate usable knowledge. We have advised the White House, the executive agencies, community organizations and researchers on the best use of resources to advance children’s learning in a digital age. We also partner with key policy thought leaders such as New America in Washington, DC—in fact I will release a new book on the future of early learning and technology this fall in collaboration with them and the Pritzker Children’s Initiative.

HC: How did your experience at Heller shape your career?

ML: Deeply. I began my career working for a U.S. Senator and the mayor of New York City while I was studying for my PhD at the Heller School and then continued to work in the public sector on children’s and youth issues. Having the analytical tools and know-how to devise new policies for Universal Pre-K, for homeless children, to prevent dropouts and to reform professional development practices was enormously beneficial. The experience also taught me the benefits of evidence-based solutions and the vital importance of translating research knowledge through modern communications technologies.