Recent Books: on Adolescence, Technology, Sexuality, and More

A few times per year, I have been sharing a “Head of School’s bookshelf” with community members at Phillips Academy.  It comes this time in two parts: 1) six books that are among those I’ve read in the past few months and which I commend as “community reads” because of one or more connections to the work that we have underway at PA; and 2) a special list of readings about sexual education. I express my particular thanks to the members of the PA Sex Ed Working Group, who compiled the Part II listing below at my request.  I hope you might go to your local independent bookstore or library to pick up a copy of ones that are of interest!

Part I: Adolescence, Education, Technology, and the Brain

danah boyd, It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens (Yale, 2014)

Note: This book has been years in the making, by a close friend and collaborator of mine — and the work has paid off handsomely. danah’s perhaps the single most astute scholarly observer of the teenage social and cultural scene that I know. danah has especially thoughtful things to say about identity, privacy, safety, and social practices of teens. I’m a fan of this book for many reasons, not the least of which is that she takes up (and expands upon) many of the same themes and hard problems that my co-author and I examined in the book I wrote in 2008 (Born Digital, with Urs Gasser). Though her ethnographic methods are different than ours, the conclusions she reaches are consistent in most cases, and updated for the technology and practices of today. I learned an enormous amount from it and imagine others will, too; that’s especially true if you are interested in the social lives of the students in our midst.  But you don’t have to have worked on these issues as a researcher to appreciate this book in many, many ways.

Dave Eggers, The Circle (Knopf, 2013)

Note: This book came to me initially as a gift, for which I’m grateful, from Tom Hodgson when it first came out (which is not meant as an appeal for gifts from the faculty, but to acknowledge its provenance and also to say that I take suggestions!). I always enjoy Dave Eggers’ writing. This fictional account describes a dystopia, in which the current trajectory toward extensive use of social media continues to an extreme that no one should welcome. The problem that the book presents is that this dystopia just might come to pass if we are not careful about the choices we make in how we develop, deploy, and regulate technology use.

Howard Gardner and Katie Davis, The App Generation: How Today’s Youth Navigate Identity, Intimacy and Imagination in a Digital World (Yale, 2013)

Note: I’ve observed, admired, and worked with both of these co-authors on a range of matters, through their work at Project Zero at Harvard Graduate School of Education. In this book, they develop ideas that danah boyd also takes up in It’s Complicated, as well as many of those I’ve worked on in previous settings, too (identity, privacy, play, and how biology works into the mix). They add some nice insights about intimacy (chapter 5), as well as thoughts on how the app structure of today’s technology is playing out.

C.J. Pascoe, Dude, You’re a Fag: Masculinity and Sexuality in High School (University of California, 2011)

Note: C.J. is a leading scholar of youth practices, with a deep knowledge of development in the context of sexuality as well as media usage. This book, which came out several years ago, remains one of the most thoughtful current books about masculinity and the cultures in which our students are coming to grips with and developing their sexual identity. She’s an ethnographer, who writes based on eighteen months of fieldwork in a racially diverse, working class high school environment. C.J. is a great writer and researcher; her book sheds much new light on the intersectionality between gender, sexuality, race, and media. I also thought there were interesting echoes in particular of our PA colleague Tony Rotundo’s “American Manhood: Transformations in Masculinity from the Revolution to the Modern Era” (Basic Books, 1993).

Martin E.P. Seligman, Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being (Atria, 2011)

Note: This book has been recommended to me by many people — including PA trustee Chien Lee and medical director Amy Patel — and I was thrilled to read it. This title is a great way to get up to speed on the “well-being and balance” issue that is likely to be a component of our strategic plan. This book builds on the life’s work on Seligman, whose work on happiness he has updated here based on lots of new science and serious rethinking.

Daniel J. Siegel, Brainstorm: The Power and Purpose of the Teenage Brain (Tarcher, 2014)

Note: As the parent of a twelve-year-old, I started out reading this book because I saw that he defined the “teenage brain” as stretching from ages 12 to 24. I am taken by the value that neuroscience has to offer us as teachers in a residential school. Siegel’s insights about brain development, risk-taking, sexuality, and other central ideas are well-described and ultimately compelling.

Part II: The Sex Ed List

The Sex Education Working Group compiled the following list, including additional resources to guide in further exploration of teenage sex and sexuality.

Jennifer Finney Boylan, She’s Not There: A Life in Two Genders (Broadway Books, 2003)

Note: To help students understand the experience of wrestling with gender as well as the importance of talking to and listening to the people you love. Boylan has served as an English professor at Colby College for the past twenty-five years.

Heather Corinna, S.E.X.: The All-You-Need-To-Know Progressive Sexuality Guide to Get You Through High School and College (Da Capo Press, 2007)

Note: This may be a bit more “technical” and less theoretical but it is likely to resonate with students.

Robie Harris, It’s Perfectly Normal: Changing Bodies, Growing Up, Sex, and Sexual Health (Candlewick Press, 2009)

Note: This book avoids needless density and jargon, and is straight to the point with a light narrative touch, and vivid, but not gratuitous illustrations of the wide range of human bodies, their sexual capacities, and how to use those capacities safely, wisely, and with fulfillment.

Link to PDF of excerpts from the book:

http://illinoisfamily.org/110files/uploads/2013/05/Its-Perfectly-Normal.pdf

Nikol Hasler, Sex: A Book for Teens: An Uncensored Guide to Your Body, Sex and Safety (Zest Books, 2010)

Note: Like It’s Perfectly Normal (above), this text may be a bit more “technical” and less theoretical, but is likely to resonate with students.

Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide (Random House, 2009)

Note: To help students not only understand gender dynamics but also the sexual health and reproductive challenges (violence, sex trade, use of rape for war and intimidation, lack of access to birth control, dating stigma, pregnancy mortality and morbidity) of adolescents and young women in developing countries. Perhaps exposing our students to the sexual health dynamics and challenges of their global peers not only increases their awareness and empathy but also empowers students’ self efficacy and personal responsibility around sex and sexual health.

C.J. Pascoe, Dude, You’re a Fag: Masculinity and Sexuality in High School (University of California Press, 2007, 2012)

Note: (A repeat on both lists, described here by the sex-ed team): This is a bold ethnographic study of the performance of masculinity at a public high school. The author’s observations are vivid. She does a good job explaining how “fag” is a word that polices masculinity — it is a gendered and racialized term that now has a larger meaning than simply “gay.” It’s a good book, and it does concern sexuality, but it’s not precisely about sexuality either.

Debbie Roffman, Talk to Me First: Everything You Need to Know to Become Your Kids’ “Go To” Person About Sex (Da Capo Press, 2012)

Note: It is geared towards the parent audience, and perhaps the House Counselor audience. The author works with the independent school population, is a long-time sex educator, and has some real-world scenarios in the book that might assist in house counseling. It is unlikely to be engaging for a student.

Dan Savage and Terry Miller, It Gets Better: Coming Out, Overcoming Bullying, and Creating a Life Worth Living (Penguin, 2011)

Note: In terms of LGBT, the It Gets Better Project which began on YouTube in response to the youth suicides in 2010, sends messages to teens to help them believe that their lives will improve. This is a recently published book with the same title.

Ritch C. Savin-Williams, The New Gay Teenager (First Harvard University Press, 2006)

Note: Williams discusses how LGBT teens find the labels of previous generations static and stifling. They may not categorize themselves as their LGBT forebears did, and they may be less interested in labels, period. It’s an interesting read, but it’s also somewhat on the academic side and stats-driven (study of studies).

Out of the Blue: A CAMD Student Project (Phillips Academy, 2014)

Note: Among many other topics, this is a great resource for sexual identity/orientation.

In addition, the Sex Education Working Group compiled the following list of websites as helpful resources:

http://www.itsyoursexlife.com

Note: The It’s Your Sex Life Guide is part of an Emmy and Peabody Award-winning public information campaign partnership between the Kaiser Family Foundation and MTV to support young people in making responsible decisions about their sexual health. The site focuses on preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases and reducing unintended pregnancy.

http://www.respectyourself.info

Note: The Respect Yourself Campaign is a UK based partnership between Warwickshire County Council and Coventry University designed to engage with young people around issues of relationships and sex, especially the areas in which young people are lacking from contemporary school-based RSE (relationships and sex education). RespectYourself.org is place where young people can safely explore their emerging sexuality, without judgment and a place where they can ask questions and receive open and honest answers.

http://answer.rutgers.edu/page/sexetc_website/

Note: Sexetc.org is a comprehensive sex ed resource by teens, for teens. This peer-to-peer communication site is monitored and run though Answer, the national sexuality education organization based at Rutgers University. The website provides information about relationships, sex, LGBTQ, biology, sexually transmitted diseases, pregnancy, birth control, and abuse and violence.

http://www.apa.org/

Note: The American Psychological Association (APA) hosts a trustworthy website that addresses many topics in psychology. This site reviews articles as resources to guide or instruct work with students, parents, and faculty members. This website often includes recent and up to date sources of intervention as well as pertinent data.

http://www.nasponline.org/search.aspx?cx=000162660937375218598:1mbxeeud2d0&cof=FORID%3A9&q=teen%20sexuality

Note: The National Association of School Psychologist (NASP) also integrates research and data regarding psychological topics and has helpful handouts available.

http://www.cmhc.utexas.edu/commonconcerns.html

Note: The above link hosted by The University of Texas at Austin represents a comprehensive set of resources addressing sexual assault, rejection, relationships, dating violence, sexual consent, and healthy sexuality.

http://www.healthychildren.org/

Note: From the American Academy of Pediatrics, this website has short content on a wide range of sexual health topics for adolescents and parents, and is updated regularly.

http://kidshealth.org/PageManager.jsp?lic=48&cat_id=20014&ps=203#cat20017

Note: For quick answers to quick sexual health questions that our students ask regularly.

http://www.cdc.gov/HealthyYouth/yrbs/index.htm?s_cid=tw_cdc16

Note: This website includes current statistics to stay on top of trends and includes data from the Youth Risk Behavior Survey. This gives access to all of the data available nationally, and you can sort it by a number of variables (geography, specific “risk” question, year, grade, race/ethnicity, etc).

Do We Still Need Libraries?

The New York Times is running one of its Room for Debate series on the future of libraries.  The four debaters (so far) are Luis Herrera, director of the San Francisco Public Library (and a board member of the Digital Public Library of America); Susan Crawford, visiting professor at Harvard Law School; Buffy J. Hamilton, a school librarian at Creekview High School in Canton, Georgia; and Berkman fellow Matthew Battles.  All four of their essays are excellent. And each of them answers the “debate” question in the affirmative: yes, we do still need libraries.  Of course, they are right.

It is worth backing up and asking why this question even applies.  What would lead us to question the library as an institution?  After all, as the authors point out, they are more popular than ever by many metrics, including how many people still walk through their doors.  Why is this even a “debate”?

It’s a debate because too many people think that we don’t need libraries when we have the Internet.  That logic couldn’t be more faulty.  We actually need libraries more (as Luis Herrera points out) now that we have the Internet, not less.  But we have to craft a clear and affirmative argument to make that case to those who don’t work in libraries or focus deeply on their operations.  Librarians have to make a political and public case, which is too rarely being made effectively today.

These days, in most towns in America, the same debate recurs each year when budget time rolls around: what’s the purpose of a library in a digital age?  Put more harshly: why should we spend tax dollars, in tough economic times, on a library when our readers can get much of what they need and want from the Internet?  In the era of Google and Amazon, the pressure is on libraries.  Every year, as more and more library users become e-book readers, the debate rages a bit more fiercely.

The annual conversation about libraries and money is hard in the context of academic institutions, too.  Libraries have long stood at the core of great schools and universities.  In many fields, the library is in fact the laboratory for the scholars, whether in the humanities or in law.  The texts, images, and recordings in these libraries are the raw materials out of which scholars and their students make new knowledge.  But increasingly, scholars are turning to digital sources – databases, commercial online journals, Google Scholar – to do their work.  Does every university and every school need to invest millions of dollars each in buying the same texts and bringing them to their campus?

The future of libraries is in peril.  Librarians and those of us who love libraries need to make an affirmative argument for investments in the services, materials, and physical spaces that libraries comprise.  This argument must be grounded in the needs of library users, today and in the future.  The argument needs to move past nostalgia and toward a bright and compelling future for libraries as institutions, for librarians as professionals, and for the role that libraries play in vibrant democracies.

Many libraries are making this argument, implicitly, through their good and promising works.  You need go no further than a visit to Luis’s San Francisco Public Library to see how exciting libraries can be today.  The Chicago Public Library, under new director Brian Bannon, is doing many promising things, including the MacArthur Foundation-funded YouMedia.  The public libraries in New York — I’m most familiar with NYPL and the Queens Borough libraries — have extraordinary things underway.  So does Amy Ryan at the Boston Public Library.  There are cool things happening in Chattanooga, by all accounts.  And these are just big public libraries.  Many academic libraries and small public, county, school, and special libraries are busily charting a new and positive future.  We need to get the stories of these leaders to be the narrative about libraries today.

We can establish a bright future for libraries.  I think it can be done by working together to take ten steps:

  1. We must redefine libraries for a digital-plus era.  By digital-plus, I mean that materials are born digital and then rendered in a variety of formats, some print (traditional books and hard-copies of images) and some digital (e-books, interactive games, image files, audio and visual works in digital format).
  2. The basis of this redefinition must be demand-driven, firmly grounded in what people need from libraries today and in the future.
  3. In this process of redefinition, we must account for both the physical and the analog.  Both have a place in libraries of the future.
  4. Libraries must become networked institutions.  There’s much to be learned from how networked organizations function that will help libraries (and librarians as professionals) to thrive.  Library schools and i-schools have a big role to play, as do funders and organizations that focus on professional development for librarians.
  5. Librarians should only seek to do those things that need doing and where libraries have comparative advantage in serving the public interest.
  6. Librarians should seek common cause with authors, agents, editors, and publishers, but if that fails, libraries may need to take on new functions.
  7. Librarians should seek common cause with technologists, inside and outside of libraries, in the public and private sectors — and develop strong technical (coding, information architecture, design, etc.) skills across the board within the library profession.
  8. Library spaces should function more like labs, where people interact with information and make new knowledge.
  9. Librarians should work together, along with private- and public-sector technologists, to create a common digital infrastructure and build from there.  We should draw upon hacker culture and the lessons of the creation of the Internet in order to do so.  (I have in mind the DPLA as a big part of the way forward on this front.)
  10. Libraries should maintain physical spaces but use them for lots of things other than the storage of physical materials, as the Room for Debate essayists make plain.

The argument that libraries are obsolete in a digital era is faulty.  But those of us who love libraries need to make the case for why that’s so.  This case has everything to do with libraries finding compelling ways to support education, helping people to learn, thrive, and be the best civic actors we can be.  We have to recreate the sense of wonder and importance of libraries, as public spaces, as research labs, as maker-spaces, and as core democratic institutions for the digital age.

Born Digital: The Video Version

One of the ideas that Urs Gasser and I had from the start of the Born Digital book project was to find a way to co-produce the ideas behind the book.  The concept was to celebrate, in a graphic way, the creativity and ability of young people.  We worked closely with dozens of student interns on literature reviews, background research, focus groups and interviews, drafting and editing of parts of the book, and so forth.  We’ve been blessed by an extraordinary team of young collaborators.

One specific example of the co-production: a group of students have completed another version of our book, made exclusively by them with no editorial oversight from us, in the form of a series of videos.  Each of these videos are based on a chapter of the traditional form of Born Digital.  The upshot is that one can now “play” the book by watching a short video of each chapter.  The videos are short, roughly 3 to 5 minutes long, and they’re all freely available online.

The purpose of this project is in part to push the boundaries of what a “book” is in the digital age.  I love the traditional codex and all that’s followed on from the original idea.  But I think also that there’s room for new designs for long-form arguments that make a series of complex, interrelated points and which require sustained attention to understand.  I’m convinced that the traditional book will survive, but I think it’s also important that we experiment with new formats as well.

I know that Urs and I are hugely grateful to the many students — and fellows and collaborators throughout our research network, like danah boyd — who have contributed their smarts and their innovative ideas to our shared understanding of Youth and Media in a digital era.

We very much hope that you will try out the free, online video version of Born Digital!  And special thanks and all credit to the student video creators and Sandra Cortesi and other terrific Berkman staff who organized the crew.

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.)

Sahara Byrne: Parents, Kids and Online Safety

Prof. Sahara Byrne, of the communications department at Cornell, is the Berkman Center‘s lunch series speaker today.  Prof. Byrne studies responses to Internet safety techniques.  She’s interested in the “recipes for disaster,” such as when parents love a given safety technique and kids hate it.  She’s a believer in psychological reactance theory: that when kids really don’t like something, they’re going to work hard to get around it.

Her methods: an extensive Internet survey of 456 parents, with matched child pairs (10 – 17 years old).  Asked parents how much they would support a particular tool and kids how they would feel if their parent adopted this strategy.  Parents were asked more questions than the kids.

This is a fascinating and important study.  Her data are brand new and she’s still working through them and their implications.  The outcome of her study is especially of interest to some of us here at the Berkman Center because Prof. Byrne developed her survey in large part based on the public meeting’s output from the Internet Safety Technical Task Force and the Task Force’s final report.

A few of her findings from the matched pairs:

- Surveillance of kids’ online behavior by the technology/service provider is popular by parents and particularly disliked by kids.

- User-child empowerment strategies were popular with both parents and kids.

- Also, equally popular among parents and kids: when kids who were bad or mean were suspended from school.

Some of the important predictors of whether there will be disagreement or not with respect to a given matched pair:

- Parenting style can predict a great deal of agreement/disagreement between parents and kids.  Households with good communications between parents and kids are likely to have the greatest level of agreement.  Authoritative styles of parents — where there’s a mix of good communications but also clear parenting decision-making — there’s still likely to be a challenge for parents in terms of deploying some of these technologies to help kids stay safe.

- Values and religion were important variables.

- Boys tend to disagree with their parents more than girls.

If one buys the psychological reactance theory, the types of approaches that are most likely to work:

- Empowering children to protect themselves

- Giving the government and industry some responsibility for protecting kids in terms of protecting them from harmful information

What’s most risky in terms of strategies that may lead to the highest degree of disagreement:

- Co-viewing of information

- Parental access to what kids were looking at (tracking)

Parents are not that aware of what their kids are actually do (Prof. Byrne showed statistically relevant differences in several cases).

During the discussion phase, we learned about a promising cyber-safety approach underway at the Boston Public Schools, with funding from Microsoft.  It’s a student-run program called “Cyber Safety Heroes” (the previous name ran into an IP dispute with a well-known content company…).  I look forward to following it closely.

And stay tuned for the final, published version of this very helpful research!

Skype-ing into Summercore

This summer I’ve been occasionally doing video/audio Skype sessions with Steve Bergen’s Summercore program for teachers. It’s the first time with “distance ed” that I’ve felt the process is natural. The sessions are about a half-hour, focused mostly on issues related to youth media usage, with teachers on the other end asking questions. They’ve done homework online and based on readings in advance, and they’ve posted good questions to a wiki and Twitter in advance.  Most of the conversations touch on copyright and fair use in particular. It has the feel of a use of technology that is natural, easy, cheap (free!) and effective — that the process is coming of age, with fewer and fewer tech-related hassles than in the past. (Now watch the connection break down today, since I’m trying it from Europe -> Florida!)

The Future of Education: Technology and How People Learn

No small issue on the agenda here at Aspen Ideas Festival — the future of education, technology, and how people learn — but the panel assembled is in fact up to the task. Connie Yowell (MacArthur Foundation, whose brainchild is the $50 million Digital Media and Learning initiative), Howard Gardner (Harvard Graduate School of Education), and Will Wright (renowned game designer, of the Sims and Spore) are the stars at the front of the room, with lots of other experts in the “audience”: John Seely Brown introduced the theme overall, Beth Noveck, Eric Lander, Dorothy Zinberg, Idit Harel Caperton, and many other luminaries grace the back benches.

(As an aside, the sign of a truly great conference is often the strength of what we used to call the “audience”. People are hanging from the rafters, despite some stiff competition on the Aspen Institute’s campus.)

Gardner starts off with thoughts based on his 5 minds studies. 1) New digital media are plural: games, social networks, all manner of information sources. 2) The Digital Revolution may be as big a deal as the beginning of writing or publishing. The data that Gardner is grounding his work in interviews: with young people, teachers, and psychoanalysts. 3) The most important thing that we need to ask ourselves: what kind of minds do we want to be creating in today’s young people?

Gardner gives us the Five Minds in Under Five Minutes (pretty impressive speed here…): the five are the disciplined mind, the synthesizing mind, the creating mind, the respectful mind, and the ethical mind. The disciplined mind is about becoming an expert in something. It’s hard to imagine that the digital media are helping in this respect. The synthesizing mind, some have said, is the most important in the digital era: to sort through lots more information than has ever before been available to human beings. Digital natives like to search, but it’s unclear that they are in fact good at it. The creating mind comes up with new approaches, new methods. Creating minds think outside the box — but you need the box first, which are from your discipline and your synthesis. One of the big questions: can these media help creativity, or might they instead inhibit creativity, by giving too much of a frame and discouraging going beyond that box.

The other two types of minds are in the human sphere. The respectful mind is about how we relate to others with respect. Most of us are raised to be related to 150 people, many of whom are related to us. How do we relate to more people, in the digital sphere. You can get on and offline quickly, in and out of touch quickly. The ethical mind is about how we fulfill roles: the role of the worker and the citizen, of our communities and of the world. The ethical mind asks: I’m a teacher, a researcher, a writer: what are my responsibilities given these roles? We should look for neighborly morality. How large is that circle of people to whom we have an ethical responsibility? The scale is so much greater today in a digital era. And the scope of citizenship is much greater than ever before: it is, for many, global. Gardner’s research shows that most young people do not have much of a sense of ethical issues, whether online or offline.

Will Wright asks us to step back and ask about the fundamental type of communication in play in a digital era. Kids are getting immersed in these new media, in ways that parents have a hard time understanding. Asynchronous
communications are leading to new techniques of moderation, with new community standards and rules for banning people from communities. There’s a mimicking of biology: instead of top-down control, we see a bottom-up, evolutionary-based set of rules, based on parallelism rather than serialism. Wright applies a Darwinian analogy, echoing the set of Darwin-related themes bouncing around Aspen this week.

Another big difference, per Wright: we each have the opportunity to become the expert in something. eBay flattened the flea market system. It drove people to specialize in specific markets.

Gardner asks Wright about Wikipedia and what it tells us about governance in a digital age. Gardner describes is as a yin-yang exercise between Jimmy Wales and a broader community, and that a tension exists between top-down and bottom-up control. Yowell adds a key note: what it means to move to a different kind of a governance system online is driven in key ways by the practices and theories of Open Source software development.

(As an interesting aside, much a hard problem in my own mind: Wright tells us that surfing is an interdisciplinary exercise. Much of the most interesting learning is happening at the intersection between what we think of as academic “fields.” Gardner disagrees with that statement. There’s room for interesting exploration here!)

Yowell notes that it’s crucial to distinguish between different types of participation. Friendship-driven and interest-driven kinds of participation are distinct, as Mimi Ito has shown. In friendship-driven participation, kids bring their offline relationships and ways of communicating across to the online space. In interest-driven communities, it works quite differently. Wright agrees. What he says games excel at is helping kids to develop a passion for something that may not have interested them quite so much before. Players also learn a great deal from one another in games, such as Spore. Wright pointed to the cooperative process of catalyzing learning that he sees through games. The computer acts as an amplifier on learning and creativity.

Gardner asks about how Wright’s gaming relates to what’s happening in schools today. The digital environments, Wright says, are much better at creating constructivist learning spaces. Yowell pushes back on Gardner: we should not see what’s happening in school and out of school as oppositional, but rather we should look to a larger learning ecosystem for kids.

Eric Lander, an MIT professor of genetics and founding director of the Broad Institute, jumps in from the back-benches of the room. His passion growing up, he tells us, was mathematics. Through peregrinations, he came to become a geneticist. There is a next step, once a passion is sparked, in gaining a disciplinary knowledge of a field. Lander doesn’t think the process of learning this field is in fact found on the web. You can learn facts from Wikipedia, but the online learning environment doesn’t cause the catalyzing effects that we need for learning. He cites MIT’s OCW as a “crummy version” of the university’s learning process. He is looking to the future where we can draw upon the best teaching processes that can be disseminated through digital media. What are the platforms that will lower the barriers to improving education in these promising ways? (Good question. JZ‘s been puzzling about just this problem, from the H20 process and beyond.)

Gardner throws out a “good Aspen idea.” We each should know better how our own minds work, metacognition. This is the kind of thing that works for me, we ought to know. There is a lot of data about how we can continue learning, especially by nurturing our various intelligences. If you’re not so good spatially, you can learn that, and sometimes the Internet can help you to develop these intelligences over time. The Internet also provides scale: not everyone can get to Aspen in the summer, but many more people can access digital networked technologies.

Yowell presses the panel about what’s really helpful about games. She calls games “rails” that can push kids along a trajectory of learning, which she links to Gardner’s five minds. She references Katie Salen‘s effort to create a school that MacArthur Foundation is funding to build a game-oriented curriculum. What is the design methodology? How can we deal with the engagement problem through game design, Yowell asks? Gardner says we have to continue to build in forms of “romance” all the way along the continuum after they get a discipline — back to the Aspen ideal. He cites Personal Knowledge by Michael Polanyi which helps us to understand what it takes to learn in key situations. Gardner describes how this works in the law school (Socratic method) and medical school (clinical) contexts for learning.

And on to a series of rapid-fire comments from the room:

The key to making learning work in these new media environments is to establish the proper engaging context, says one participant. Another says that we need short, viral things that engage kids off the bat. Someone else worries that students are not learning to write well. (Gardner says that his research shows that writing may well be getting less good, but that facility with other modes of communication are improving. He realized recently that he’s a writing teacher on some fundamental level.) Wright: he calls a “peak” to written literacy, with the new literacy having to do with multimedia. Idit Caperton builds on this insight, suggesting that the new literacy is game literacy, and suggests that a sixth mind ought to be added to the framework: an inspiring mind. Another person notes the revolution in the science museum world.

JSB: there should not be a false dichotomy here. There’s a role for a master. And there’s a role for the crowds, the cutting edge online, the gaming, the peer-based learning. We shouldn’t be exclusive in either respect. (There’s a great cathedral-and-bazaar analogy here, building on Yowell’s note about the open source and proprietary software development processes.)

Debate on Section 230 and Internet Intermediaries

ArsTechnica has posted my debate with Adam Thierer, the eloquent director of the Progress and Freedom Foundation’s Center for Digital Media Freedom.  I read more or less everything Adam writes and by and large agree with it all.  Here, we disagree on whether it’s time to rethink the scope of Section 230 immunity in certain cases.  Urs Gasser and I argue, in Born Digital, that there are cases where Section 230′s scope is too broad from the perspective of child safety in particular.  I realize that I break ranks with many in the Internet policy community in making this argument.  I think it’s an important debate for us to have as a society.

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.