Bookshelf: Ideas for Secondary School Teachers, with a Bent Toward the Digital

In each of the last two academic years, I’ve made short lists of books I’ve liked, related mostly (but not exclusively) to secondary education and the digital world, to share with the faculty of Phillips Academy.  We buy a stack of each of the books, placed on the shelf outside my office, and share them as “community reads.”  This list — admittedly eclectic — covers those past two installments, plus a few additional books that have been in circulation on our campus for various reasons.

Fall, 2013 List:

Mahzarin Banaji and Anthony Greenwald, Blind Spot: Hidden Biases of Good People (Delacorte, 2013)

Why I liked it: I am huge fan of Prof. Banaji’s and her research into our inherent biases.  The book is a public-facing version of the research she’s published for years.  Especially in intentionally diverse communities, such as schools and universities, it’s my firm view that we all have to be aware of our biases, which can come as a big surprise sometimes, as Banaji and her co-author make clear.

Andrew Delbanco, College: What is Was, Is, and Should Be (Princeton, 2012)

Why I liked it: I am also a fan of Prof. Delbanco’s and his work on American history and literature (dating back to when he taught American studies at Harvard, and through his exciting work at Columbia).  Here, he turns to the broad, public issue of what college ought to be.  His frame of reference is, in many respects, “the traditional four-year college experience” that looms in the imagination — probably in our students’ imagination, too.  Familiar themes of the history and importance of the Pell grant come together with perhaps less familiar themes of the continuing Puritan influence on our communities of learners.

Theodore Sizer, The New American High School (Jossey-Bass, 2013)

Why I liked it: Theodore Sizer is a giant in 20th century educational theory and practice — and also served as Phillips Academy’s distinguished 12th head of school.  Nancy Faust Sizer, who wrote the introduction, sent me an early copy, and I hugely enjoyed reading it.  Ted Sizer wrote this book and nearly published it before his death; Nancy and their editor brought it to fruition just recently.  For those who have read the Horace trilogy, The Students Are Watching Us, The Red Pencil, and other Sizer works, much in this new synthesis will sound familiar and enriching; for those who have not, especially those new to Sizer’s ideas in general, it is a great introduction to his life’s work, which continues to have reverberations through our Academy today.  (I have in mind a present-day Andover update to the short chapter, the ninth, on Technology.)

Maryanne Wolf, Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain (Harper, 2007)

Why I liked it: This book came out several years ago, and I’ve been meaning to read it since then; I finally managed it this summer.  It’s an amazing synthesis of hundreds of studies of how the brain works, especially with respect to reading, by a Tufts prof, Maryanne Wolf, who specializes in early childhood education.  I learned an enormous amount from Wolf’s book, in terms of history, practice, and neuroscientific findings.  The emphasis falls on younger kids than ours, but the implications for our student body are clear — especially for those students who start out with less in terms of parents reading to them, encouraging them to read, and so forth at an early age.

Paul Yoon, Snow Hunters (Simon & Shuster, 2013)

Why I liked it: How could I not?  Paul Yoon, this year’s writer-in-residence at Phillips Academy, has written a brand-new, engaging, beautifully crafted novel.  I wished it had gone on much longer!  (For those who want to keep reading beyond the end of Snow Hunters, Paul’s first book, Once the Shore, is a collection of eight exquisite stories.)  His recent positive NYTimes Book Review piece, along with much else in the way of positive critical review, have been well-earned.

Leonard Sax, Girls on the Edge: The Four Factors Driving the New Crisis for Girls (Basic Books, 2011)

Why I liked it: “Liked” in a way is the wrong word — this is a hard book, on a hard topic — but Dr. Sax has written an effective, constructive, important look at a large segment of our population in a boarding school, and it’s relevant to our entire population here.  I especially recommend it for those working in a girls’ dorm or coaching a girls’ team, though I think everyone in a residential learning community would benefit from reading it.

Catherine Steiner-Adair: The Big Disconnect: Protecting Childhood and Family Relationships in the Digital Age (Harper, 2013)

Why I liked it: Catherine Steiner-Adair is a former colleague of ours at Phillips Academy, as school psychologist (which she references on p. 253!).  Her new book is a helpful contribution to the literature about parenting and kids growing up in a digital era, with emphasis on social and family relationships.  (Steiner-Adair is already booked as a speaker for “Wellness Week” later in our academic year at Phillips Academy.)

Ethan Zuckerman: Rewire: Digital Cosmopolitans in the Age of Connection (Norton, 2013)

Why I liked it: This book is a wonderful look at the implications of the digital age, from a global perspective.  Ethan Zuckerman is a former colleague of mine at the Berkman Center, now on the faculty at MIT, and is one of the finest minds in my field (and one of the finest people you’ll ever meet).  He’s worked on this book for years, and his devotion has paid off, in the form of both many new insights and lots of great narratives about life as a “digital cosmopolitan.”  (I admit, it’s not as obvious fit on this list for secondary school teachers, but I couldn’t help myself — and I really do think any teacher will get a lot from it in terms of what we should be aspiring to do in teaching about global citizenship, ethics, and morality in the biggest sense of the terms.)  See @ethanz just about everywhere, including Twitter.

Spring, 2013 List:

Cathy Davidson, Now You See It: How Technology and Brain Science Will Transform Schools and Business for the 21st Century (Penguin, 2012)

Why I liked it: Lots of great material about how learning happens, from a brain science and generally interdisciplinary point of view.  Among many other things, she puts Katie Salen’s work — which we examined last year at PA and continue to follow — in context, p. 87 ff.  Cathy’s work is controversial and provocative — in a very good way.  If you ever have a chance to hear her present, take it!

Steven Johnson, Future Perfect: The Case for Progress in a Networked Age (Riverhead, 2012)

Why I liked it: The furthest afield from education per se of the books on this list, but it’s a great theoretical look at the importance of networks and network design.  Consider his argument about the capacity for reinvention, p. 119, ff.  Steven is a clever, concise writer — and everything he’s published is worth thinking about, in my experience.  The book is beautifully written and concise; secondary school teachers will likely get an interesting perspective on the future from it.

Salman Khan, The One World Schoolhouse: Education Reimagined (Twelve, 2012)

Why I liked it:  If you think you know Sal Khan and Khan Academy based on what you’ve seen on his web site, think again.  This is a very impressive, thoughtful book, about education broadly conceived.  His ideas and recommendations encompass his core work of “putting great short videos and exercises on the web for millions of people to use” (which is, itself, very cool) and extend far beyond it.  Sal and his team are pretty amazing — we at PA are actively collaborating with them on, which has been incredibly interesting — and I think very well of his new book.

Tony Wagner, Creating Innovators: The Making of Young People Who Will Change the World (Scribner, 2012)

Why I liked it: I’m generally a big fan of Tony’s work, so I was not surprised to like this new book.  Along with his book on the Global Achievement Gap, this book leans forward and into lots of important trends and opportunities in education.  I liked Chapter 5: Innovating Learning in particular.  Though it may be more focused on higher ed than on the secondary school environment, he applies lessons from terrific learning institutions, like the MIT Media Lab (pp. 181-4), to teaching and learning more broadly.

A few more, to close out this list:

Here are a last few that many of us read on the Phillips Academy campus, on related themes and in various contexts:

David Burstein, Fast Future: How the Millennial Generation is Shaping Our World (Beacon, 2013)

Why I liked it: This book is an updated look at many of the issues that Urs Gasser and I took up in Born Digital, by a young and insightful author.)

Clay Christensen et al., Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns (McGraw-Hill, 2008)

Why I liked it: Whether you agree with the conclusions or not, this book is a must-read for anyone thinking about education and business models — which should be all of us interested in the future of teaching, learning, the profession, and the related institutions.)

Beth Coleman, Hello Avatar: The Rise of the Networked Generation (MIT Press, 2011)

Why I liked it: I loved this creative, expansive book about personhood and identity in a digital age, by a prof and researcher I much admire, on MIT Press’s cool list of books in this field.

Carol Dweck, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success (Random House, 2006) 

Why I liked it: Prof. Dweck’s work continues to inspire about how to encourage young people as learners, especially those who are smart and need to focus on a “growth mindset” rather than to rest of the laurels of their natural gifts and socio-economic advantages.

Shamus Khan, Privilege: The Making of an Adolescent Elite at St. Paul’s School (Princeton, 2012)

Why I liked it: The issues that this book takes up are hard, especially in schools with long and proud histories.  Again in the “whether or not you agree” category — and this book evokes strong feelings — this first-person account, and associated reflections, by Prof. Khan of his experience at St. Paul’s School has caught the attention of both students and faculty in various courses and contexts.  It has been a big conversation-starter about community, race, class, and other big themes in residential secondary schools.

Claude Steele, Whistling Vivaldi: How Stereotypes Affect Us and What We Can Do (Norton, 2011)

Why I liked it: At PA, a group of faculty assigned this book as the “community read” last summer, to tee up our first faculty meeting on stereotype threat.  The book worked extremely well as a scene-setter for a conversation that continues to lead to policy-changes and discussions about how we teach and learn.

S. Craig Watkins, The Young & The Digital: What the Migration to Social-Network Sites, Games, and Anytime, Anywhere Media Means for our Future (Beacon, 2009)

Why I liked it: Prof. Watkins brings great insight to the challenges and opportunities of growing up in a digital era; his work is much worth following in general, and this book is highly enjoyable in particular.

Claude Steele’s Whistling Vivaldi: And Other Clues to How Stereoptypes Affect Us

Tonight in the faculty meeting at Phillips Academy, we will discuss Claude Steele’s Whistling Vivaldi.  (Steele is a distinguished social psychologist; former provost of Columbia; now dean of education at Stanford.)  It’s an exceptionally good book on many levels, assigned to the full faculty by the Access to Success working group at Andover.  The social science he presents about stereotype threat is deep and revealing; the personal narratives are compelling; and the ideas for concrete action at schools are constructive.

Steele’s book should be required reading for anyone who works in a school.  More broadly, anyone who cares about the present and future of American democracy should read it.  The topics that he takes up — the risks associated with stereotype threat and implications for education, politics, and identity — belong at the top of the list of important issues that we face as a country.

It seems fitting to be having this conversation tonight, on the 50th anniversary of James Meredith’s registration at Ole Miss.  Yesterday’s lead story in the New York Times (by Adam Liptak) also highlighted the important new challenge to affirmative action that the United States Supreme Court will hear this term.  (From the story: “On Oct. 10, the court will hear Fisher v. University of Texas, No. 11-345, a major challenge to affirmative action in higher education.”) It’s unfortunate that we are still struggling at the level of admissions of diverse communities; the discussion should be much further along than it is today.

Instead of arguing about the rules for admissions and whether our campuses should be truly diverse in the first place, the conversation should be about what schools should do once we have highly diverse communities. This issue is crucial to the future of Andover and our educational program.  It’s not enough to admit students from a broad range of backgrounds; it’s essential that we are intentional and effective about how we enable all students to succeed and enjoy their time at schools, including but certainly not limited to Andover.

(Book page for Claude Steele, Whistling Vivaldi)

NONOBJECT (or, I bought my first book in the form of an iPad app)

I bought and downloaded my first book-as-iPad-app yesterday: NONOBJECT, by Branko Lukic and Barry M. Katz (MIT Press, 2010).  It cost $19.99 and one finds it in the Apps Store, not in the book store.  It took quite a while to download over my home connection.  It was worth it, both in terms of cost and time waiting for the code to run on the iPad.

I chose to read NONOBJECT for its form, not so much its substance.  I don’t know much about industrial design or the theory related to it, though I learned a bit along the way.  (The premise of NONOBJECT is a design principle that focuses not so much on the product or the designer but on the space between them that is altered through design.)  I was interested in the experience of reading that the authors would offer up.  It’s fun and thought-provoking.  The experience is partially but not entirely linear.  One reads a bit of text (I doubt there’s more than 5,000 words in total in the book), which is all cleverly written, and then experiences a series of ideas of “nonobjective” design.  The photos are beautiful, as one might expect from a high-end book on design, and are frequently interactive.  There are twirling objects, moving pictures, interactive bits.  I give a lot of credit to Lukic, Katz, MIT Press, and the programmers who developed the book into an iPad app.  It’s a lovely job; I felt my time was well-spent in experiencing it.

I’ve been thinking a lot about books-as-iPad-apps.  I’m writing one myself, on intellectual property strategy, also to be published with MIT Press.  The idea is to think of the book as an experience that takes advantage of the interactivity and design possibilities of the iPad interface (which I happen to enjoy).  I’ve written it as a book that one can read in its ordinary, printed, form, though it will be a short book — probably 30,000 words.  It will also have expanded case studies if one wants to go deeper on certain topics.  And I’ve been videotaping interviews with colleagues about intellectual property strategy, with help from my friend June Casey in the HLS Library and a team of students.  The idea is to put together an iPad app version of this book that can be downloaded, much like NONOBJECT.  I’m glad that Lukic and Katz’s book has come out in this version.  I’ve learned a lot from experiencing it while working on my own.

Noah Feldman, Scorpions: The Battles and Triumphs of FDR's Great Supreme Court Justices

I have had the great pleasure this evening of introducing Prof. Noah Feldman on the occasion of his talk on his new book, Scorpions: The Battles and Triumphs of FDR’s Great Supreme Court Justices (Twelve, 2010).  Noah’s interlocutor: our great friend Christopher Lydon, former Berkman Center fellow and journalist who has led the way in print (“on the bus” with the NYT in 1972); as Boston’s leading serious TV presence (on WGBH); the voice of The Connection (on NPR and WBUR, my all-time favorite radio program); and now a pioneer of the podcasting medium (with 500,000 downloads a month of Radio Open Source, based at the Watson Center at Brown).

Noah is the Bemis Professor of Law at Harvard Law School.  He is already one of the undisputed shining stars of our generation of scholars — in law or any field.  His work is known for an almost impossible breadth and depth.  Noah’s scholarship has been influential across many domains, from international affairs, domestic politics in America, and Constitutional Law.  He’s also a popular and effective teacher, both for our students here at Harvard Law School and of the public at large, through his writing in the New York Times Magazine, the Wall Street Journal and elsewhere.  As I read the opening passages of Scorpions, I was struck by the sense that, seventy-five years from now, our great-grand-children may well read a story as compelling as this one with Noah as a subject rather than its author.

Scorpions is an incredibly fun read — hard to put down.  (Not surprisingly, it seems already to be jumping off the shelves, if its current Amazon rank is any indication.)  He starts with Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s rise to power and his assembly of an extraordinary group of four, soon-to-be-famous Supreme Court justices: Felix Frankfurter, Hugo Black, Robert Jackson, and William O. Douglas.  These characters turn out, each, to be as fascinating as individuals as they were influential as jurists.  The Supreme Court as an institution, and the way that we think about the Constitution, were changed at their hands.  The narrative that he recounts bears directly on the processes of nominating and confirming Supreme Court nominees and on the ways that the Court does (and should) work.  In his book talk, Noah emphasized a key theme that is implied throughout the book: how personality shapes the way that the law is made.  There is great insight in this book as to fights over the First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendment; Brown v. Board of Education; the law in wartime; the rule of law itself; and much more.

Setting aside the obvious interest that this book will hold for lawyers, what is most compelling about the book is the way that Noah intertwines so many weighty themes together into a single story about these four men and their President.  Noah weaves together a whole host of major topics, beyond the law itself, of the twentieth century: war, international relations, domestic politics, governance, cultural struggles, religion, social class, crime, the terrorism of the Italian anarchists, ambition and rivalry.

As Noah put it during the book talk — prompted by Christopher Lydon’s incisive questions — Roosevelt’s Presidency was “a completely different world than the one we live in today.”  He writes in a way that makes these stories accessible from a presentist perspective.  (As a law professor, “I’m not the sort of historian who says he can’t address presentist concerns,” Noah says.)  Another great quote from Noah, reflecting on the hope that we’d confirm some “flawed people” to future Supreme Courts: “I’d hope to be a poster-child for flawed people.”  I learned a great deal from the time well-spent in reading Noah’s important new book.

(The video of this informative conversation between Noah and Chris, which was recorded, should eventually be published online by HLS on our YouTube channel, I’d imagine.  And for a different, not-so-positive, take on the book, Noah pointed verbally to the WSJ’s recent review.)

Susan Rabiner, Thinking Like Your Editor

As I’ve been gearing up to write a new book, I’ve been thinking about how to do it better this time — continuous improvement and all that.  Some fairly obvious observations are on my mind: stronger argument, a more compelling narrative, less repetitive, probably shorter, and one big-picture idea,* below the rest of the post.

With these thoughts of self-improvement in mind, I’ve turned to the pros to see what they have to say, and found a wonder of a book.  It’s by former Basic Books editorial director-turned-agent, Susan Rabiner (you can follow her on Twitter, as I do; perhaps that will encourage her to Tweet more if we do!).  I heard Ms. Rabiner speak to a group of faculty on my campus; her talk was excellent, as is her book: Thinking Like Your Editor: How to Write Great Serious Non-Fiction — and Get it Published.  Rabiner’s book even got the two thumbs up from Lara Heimert, the editor of Urs’ and my book, Born Digital, and our next project.  (We know from first-hand experience just how demanding, and amazing, Lara is!  Lara does not recommend books lightly; she said that she routinely gives it to her authors.  Hmm…  I wonder why we had to come across it on our own?  Maybe…)

There are lots of reasons why I hugely liked this book, most of which come down to modeling.  Rabiner has written a book that must itself accomplish all the things she’s telling the writer to do, which is no mean feat.  She tells us, for instance, to make argument and narrative work together — and, lo and behold, she does just that in her own text.  It’s a few hundred pages, yet it reads (almost) like a novel; I read it in one sitting.  The text is clean and flows from idea to idea in a way that pulled me along.  All the while, the topic is about thinking up a book project, writing a proposal, what to expect from an agent/editor/marketing department of your publisher, the distinction between a trade book and a university press project, and so forth.  I can see why it is recommended reading for anyone writing serious non-fiction.

Rabiner notes that, when someone is standing in a bookstore with your book in her hands, you have to convince her to devote 5 to 10 hours with you.  This great framing helped me think about my next project.  But it also became clear to me: Rabiner succeeded at her own assignment: 5 hours with her book was well-spent.

(*And at the same time, I have in mind a big-picture thought, encapsulated well by Cody Brown in TechCrunch, about thinking in terms of “apps” as well as “books”, in the traditional sense.  I think this next one will look more like “book” than “app,” but the form factor and interactivity components to any sustained argument strike me as important.  With Born Digital, Urs Gasser and I created four “books”: 1) the traditional bound one/Kindle version, which I count together as one, since I see little difference between the two from a user experience, much as Cody Brown notes in her TechCrunch post; 2) a blog; 3) a wiki; and 4) one comprised of student-generated videos, still a work in progress.  This is a topic for another day, but much on my mind.)

Allison Hoover Barlett, The Man Who Loved Books Too Much

For Christmas, my good friend and mentor John DeVillars gave me a copy of “The Man Who Loved Books Too Much” by Allison Hoover Bartlett.  (There were several messages embedded in the giving of this gift, I’m clear on that much.)  I’ve been eager to read it, but it was fairly far down on the stack of books on my bedside table until last night.  It was worth the wait: a lot of fun and readable in a few nights, if you’re willing to stay up late.  It’s apparently non-fiction, but it reads almost like a mystery novel — about Bibliomania.

Bartlett tells the story of John Charles Gilkey, who steals a great many rare books, and the rare book dealer (Ken Sanders) who helps to track him down and warn his fellow dealers of Gilkey’s misdeeds.  Bartlett clearly spent an enormous amount of time reading about book collectors, dealers, and thieves and talked to a good many of them, too.  She tells the story of Gilkey, Sanders et al. in a manner that’s at once serious and reflective, and with a welcome sense of humor throughout.  Bartlett gets deeply into the topic herself through the research and writing process, which comes through clearly in the text in an appealing, human way.  She refers in the notes on p. 263 to a state of “research rapture,” which resonated for me.  For anyone who loves books and bookstores (or libraries, for that matter, which make a cameo appearance near the end, especially), it’s an interesting, fun (and quick) read.

For those for whom the book is not enough on this topic: I also enjoyed the Library Thing interview with the author.

Research Confidential and Surveying Bloggers

In our research methods seminar this evening at the Berkman Center, we got into a spirited conversation about the challenges of surveying bloggers.  In this seminar, we’ve been working primarily from a text called Research Confidential, edited by Eszter Hargittai (who happens to be my co-teacher in this experimental class, taught concurrently, and by video-conference, between Northwestern and Harvard). The book is a great jumping-off point for conversations about problems in research methods.

The two chapters we’ve read for this week were both excellent: Gina Walejko’s “Online Survey: Instant Publication, Instant Mistake, All of the Above” and Dmitri Williams and Li Xiong’s “Herding Cats Online: Real Studies of Virtual Communities.”  Both chapters are compelling (as are the others that we’ve read for this course).  They tell useful stories about specific research projects that the authors conducted related to populations active online.  In support of our discussion about surveys in class, these two chapters tee up many of the issues that we ought to have raised in this conversation.  Gina also came to class to discuss her chapter with us, which was amazing.  (Come to think of it, I would also have liked to have met the two authors of the second chapter; they wrote some truly funny lines into the otherwise very serious text.)

In a previous class, we started with Eszter’s Introductory chapter, “Doing Empirical Social Science Research,” as well as Christian Sandvig’s “How Technical is Technology Research? Acquiring and Deploying Technical Knowledge in Social Research Projects.”  These two chapters were a terrific way to start the course; I’d recommend the pairing of the two as a possible starting point for getting into the book, even though they’re not presented in that order (with no disrespect meant for those who chose the chapter order in the book itself!).

While many of Research Confidential’s chapters bear on the special problems prompted by use of the Internet and the special opportunities that Internet-related methods present, the book strikes me as very useful read for anyone conducting research in today’s world.  I strongly recommend it.  The mode of the book renders the text very accessible and readable: unlike most methods textbooks, this book is a series of narratives by young researchers about their experiences in approaching research problems, some of them related to the Internet and others not so technical in nature.  As a researcher, I learned a great deal; as a reader, I thoroughly enjoyed the book’s stories.

Dawn Nunziato's Virtual Freedom: Net Neutrality and Free Speech in the Internet Age

Dawn Nunziato, a law prof at George Washington University Law School, has written a helpful and interesting new book, entitled Virtual Freedom: Net Neutrality and Free Speech in the Internet Age.

Her focus in “Virtual Freedom” is — as the subtitle suggests — free speech on the net, framed primarily for the current net neutrality debate.  She compares two distinct conceptions of the First Amendment, one affirmative and the other negative.  She argues forcefully for the affirmative approach to the First Amendment.  In making out her argument, she recalls John Stuart Mill and Oliver Wendell Holmes (on the marketplace of ideas conception), through to Cass Sunstein (whose views get a great deal of airtime in the book) and Owen Fiss, among others.  Along the way, she takes up, fairly extensively, the core relevant doctrines: the state action doctrine, the public forum doctrine, the fairness doctrine, must carry, and common carriage.  She also spends a good deal of time in the caselaw, carefully reviewing also the matters one might expect to see, many of which predate today’s Internet: Marsh v. Alabama, Pruneyard, and other state action doctrine/shopping mall-type cases; the AP decision of 1945; Red Lion; Turner; Brand X; Carlin; AT&T v. the City of Portland; and so forth.  She takes up several Internet-specific matters as well (such as Intel v. Hamidi, CDT v. Pappert, and the ICANN debates) and sets them in context.

Her bottom line is that Congress should pass a law (or require the FCC) to prohibit broadband providers from blocking legal content or applications and from engaging in various forms of discrimination and prioritization of packets.  She argues, too, in favor of greater transparency by broadband providers when they do engage in selective passage of packets.  She says maybe we should regulate powerful search engines, such as Google, too.

Nunziato’s book made me think of two other books I’ve re-read in the past few weeks.  The first is Newton Minow and Craig LaMay’s Abandoned in the Vast Wasteland: Children, Television, and the First Amendment (1996), which takes up similar issues related to various conceptions of the First Amendment, though from the angle of protecting and supporting children.  The other is Jonathan Zittrain’s free-for-the downloading Future of the Internet — and How to Stop it (2008), especially in chapters 7 through 9, in which JZ takes up many of the same issues (changes in the public/private online and how we should think about “regulation” of online behaviors).

I enjoyed this book: it’s well-written and, just as important, I think Nunziato is, by and large, right as to her normative view.  Virtual Freedom: Net Neutrality and Free Speech in the Internet Age belongs on the bookshelf (virtual or otherwise!) of anyone working on broadband regulation, net neutrality, online censorship, and the like.

Digital Youth Project Report, Book Released

This week was a big one for the study of young people and the Internet: Mimi Ito and her team released the results of their long-anticipated, 3-year study on Digital Youth.  The study was funded by the MacArthur Foundation as a centerpiece of its Digital Media and Learning initiative.  It is required reading for anyone interested in this field, and no surprise that covered ranged from the New York Times to all these blogs that cover issues related to digital youth.  It’s called “Living and Learning with New Media.”  You can enjoy it in many different formats, including a 58-page white paper

- One key theme comes out of the authors’ orientation toward the study.  “We are wary of claims that a digital generation is overthrowing culture and knowledge as we know it and that its members are engaging in new media in ways radically different from those of older generations. At the same time, we also believe that this generation is at a unique historical moment tied to longer-term and systemic changes in sociability and culture. While the pace of technological change may seem dizzying, the underlying practices of sociability, learning, play, and self-expression are undergoing a slower evolution, growing out of resilient social and cultural structures that youth inhabit in diverse ways in their everyday lives. We sought to place both the commonalities and diversity of youth new media practice in the context of this broader social and cultural ecology.”  This orientation strikes me as just the right one: to be wary of claims that suggest that everything is different, but to be open to the “unique historical moment” in which we — and young people in our culture — find ourselves.  (p. 4, White Paper)

- The researchers provide terrific context for when and how youth are in fact learning.  There’s a gap between the perceptions of many adults about how young people are “wasting time” and what is in fact going on with much of the time spent connected to one another through digital media.  This report — more than any other I’ve seen — helps to provide real clarity into the meaningful socializing and other kinds of learning that are going on.

- As I’ve been going around talking about the book that Urs Gasser and I wrote on a similar subject, Born Digital, I’ve been asked many times about what is going on with the changing nature of the word “friend” and “friendship”.  This report has the answer, in ways that I’ve not been able to articulate myself.  (p. 18 ff.)   For the longer — and wholly worthwhile — version, see the relevant book chapter, of which danah boyd was the lead author. 

- The report makes clear something that we found in our own, much smaller-scale research: that there’s a trajectory of learning that is going on as young people first come online and then, over time, become more sophisticated with the medium and how they relate to one another, to information, and to institutions through it.  The report does an elegant job of showing why this is important — and reminding us that not everyone is proceeding along that same trajectory. (p. 27 ff., through the section on “Geeking Out”, at least)

- The Conclusions and Implications section is easy to read and points are made forcefully.  (pp. 35 – 39)  Teachers and parents, in particular, will find some of these conclusions to be constructive guides.  After spending lunchtime yesterday with 22 students from the Boston Latin Academy, I was reminded of the importance of the learning that happens peer-to-peer, for instance, which is one of the key conclusions of this paper.  There are concrete things that every educator, and every parent or mentor, of young people in any culture can and should glean from this important work.

The White Paper is just one of the outputs of the research.  There’s a 2-page executive summary, the full research report (in fact, a book; the optimal way to get the full picture of the work), and a press release plus videos on the MacArthur Foundation’s web site.

Bravo to the many collaborators for this very important work.  As with much of the rest of the DML research, it’s a real gift to those of us trying to work out this puzzle.

A Review-in-the-Making of Born Digital

Andy Oram, editor at O’Reilly, has posted something quite extraordinary on the wiki for our book and associated research project.  It appears that he has read Born Digital and then posted his review on the wiki for comment before he posts it to the O’Reilly Media web site.  I hope others will take up his challenge to comment on it; just the sort of conversation we’re delighted to have, in small measure, provoked.  (For the record, this review-in-the-making is an effective critique of the book, which points at several of the inevitable soft-spots in our arguments.)  Thanks much, Andy, both for doing the honor of reading and reacting in depth to the book, but also for doing it in this fashion.