Mimi Ito Comes to Andover

This morning, Prof. Mizuko (Mimi) Ito is at Phillips Academy, Andover, to lead us, as a faculty, in a community conversation to start off the year.  Mimi is setting forth the core data and arguments behind Connected Learning, which is our professional development theme at Andover for the year.  She has us all on an Etherpad page hosted by Mozilla (a “mopad”) as a back-channel, which is leading to lots of discussion about whether we can pay attention to her lecture as well as our own chat session (not to mention Twitter stream and live-blogs, like this one that I’m writing contemporaneously).

The Connected Learning model is built around encouraging kids to tie together their learning in three areas: their Interests (diverse, self-directed), their Peer Culture (the social, peer-driven), their Achievements (academic and otherwise), in ways that are both online and offline.  Mimi also talked some about the desired outcomes for Connected Learning, the 21st century skills and deeper learning.  She stressed that it is very early days in terms of how digital media and education are evolving, and that assessment and evaluation are major areas for future focus and collaboration.  For more on the theory of Connected Learning, see a seminal blog post from Mimi (which includes a seven-minute embedded video) and many other posts from the DMLCentral community.

Mimi stresses, and I completely agree, that a technology-centered approach to education isn’t ever going to work.  There are many experiences that we can draw on to show that this is true: TV and education is just one example.  Our approach needs to be grounded in clear and compelling pedagogical goals, figuring out where technology can help and where it cannot.  Our use of technology can help us to transform teaching and learning in fabulous ways, but the technology will not do all that on its own.

Ways to follow along: our hashtag today is #connectedandover.  Mimi Ito can be followed @mizuko.  And Andover’s Twitter handle is @PhillipsAcademy.  And for other schools: I highly recommend a professional development day focused on Connected Learning — it’s both provocative and a lot of fun.

Meanwhile, Andover students are trickling in all around us, with many more to arrive in the days to come.  Some are back for sports, others for community service, others who are international students coming from around the world.  It’s our goal to connect the learning happening in these many domains, in the service of our students’ overall education and growth.

New post on a new blog

With thanks to my friends at Phillips Academy and the Berkman Center, I’ve got a new look to my old blog. I’m excited to write my first post to try it out, on the day when all the Phillips Academy faculty return from the summer (welcome back, colleagues!) for our Convocation ceremony together tonight in the Cochran Chapel.

And tomorrow, we welcome Mimi Ito as our first professional development speaker and discussion leader for the year, on the topic of Connected Learning.  I am deeply grateful to Mimi for agreeing to travel across the country to help us kick off the new school year.

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.)

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.

Katie Salen, ed., "The Ecology of Games: Connecting Youth, Games, and Learning"

The first book that I read in the series of MacArthur/MIT Press’s Digital Media and Learning series was “The Ecology of Games: Connecting Youth, Games, and Learning,” edited by game designer and educator Katie Salen (open access version here). As with the other books in the series, it’s a very important contribution to the scholarly literature of a nascent field. (I’ve come back to Salen’s work just as Urs Gasser and I are turning in the final, final version of our forthcoming book, Born Digital.) “The Ecology of Games” is an excellent primer on where innovation is happening at the intersection between games and learning and where future avenues for research offer promise.

The first essay, Salen’s “Toward an Ecology of Gaming,” sets the frame for the collection. She recounts, helpfully, those things that “we” know already: “… that play is iterative as is good learning, and that gaming is a practice rooted in reflection in action, which is also a quality of good learning. We know games are more than contexts for the production of fun and deliver just-in-time learning, the development of specialist language, and experimentation with identity and point of view. We know games are procedurally based systems embedded within robust communities of practice. We know that video games and gaming have done much to shape our understanding and misunderstanding of the post-Nintendo generation, and hold a key place in the minds of those looking to empower educators and learners. Beyond their value as entertainment media, games and game modification are currently key entry points for many young people into productive literacies, social communities, and digitally rich identities.” (pp. 14 – 15) She ends her chapter with five unanswered questions, each worth reflecting and working on. (p. 15)

James Paul Gee‘s “Learning and Games” gives an overview of what “good game design” can “teach us about good learning” and vice-versa (p. 21). He offers these insights through what he calls the “situated learning matrix.” (pp. 24 – 31) The most illuminating part of his essay for me was the discussion of the ways in which young people form cross-functional teams within gaming environments — and his view of the excellent training opportunities these contexts could hold in terms of training them for workplace experiences. (p. 33)

In “In-Game, In-Room, In-World: Reconnecting Video Game Play to the Rest of Kids’ Lives,” three authors (Reed Stevens, Tom Satwicz, and Laurie McCarthy) take up a great topic: “whether playing these games affects kids’ lives when the machine is off.” (p. 41) The key insight for me was the notion of identity: “… young people are indeed forming identities in relation to video games. The idea that they can do things in the game that they cannot do in the real world is only part of the story; the other half is that they hold actions that they control in-game in regular comparative contact with the consequences, and morality, of those actions in the real world. Actions in games, then, are a resource for building identities in the real world, occurring through a reflective conversation that takes place in-room.” (p. 62)

“E is or Everyone: The Case for Inclusive Game Design,” by Amit Pitaru, followed a different structure than most other essays in the series. It’s told as a story about the researcher’s time with students at the Henry Viscardi School in Albertson, NY, a “remarkable school” that “educates approximately 200 pre-K to twenty-one-year-old students with a variety of physical disabilities and medical needs.” (p. 68)

Through this narrative, Pitaru offers insights on many levels. The essence of the argument is that a lack of play among children poses dangers, many of which can be avoided through digital games when set in the proper context. Pitaru claims further that digital games “provide a viable complementary activity to existing mediated forms of play” for children with disabilities.” (p. 85) I wondered, at the end, how many educators would agree with Pitaru, and where other experimentation is happening.

Mimi Ito, as usual, offers an extraordinarily helpful essay. If you read any single essay from the DML series, read this one: “Education vs. Entertainment: A Cultural History of Children’s Software.” The topic is genres of participation. She tells a story about “commercial children’s software, designed to be both fun and enriching, lies at the boundary zone between the resilient structures of education and entertainment that structure contemporary childhoods in the United States.” (p. 89) Ito gives an instructive history of the development of games for kids along with a genuinely useful analytical frame and a clear conclusion. She writes, “If I were to place my bet on a genre of gaming that has the potential to transform the systemic conditions of childhood learning, I would pick the construction genre.” (p. 115) Here’s to tinkering (and to Mimi’s great work).

In “The Rhetoric of Video Games,” Ian Bogost makes an intriguing argument in favor of “procedural rhetoric” via games. In his view, this approach could enable the questioning of the values behind certain professional practices instead of their blind assumption. (p. 130) I’m not sure I completely got his argument, but it was useful and provocative to puzzle it through.

Anna Everett, the editor of another volume in the series, and S. Craig Watkins offer a counterpoint to much of the rest of the book, exploring ways in which games and other immersive environments are not always socially productive. (p. 143) It’s a helpful reminder and a useful link to the DML series book on race.

The most interesting data that is presented in the book comes from the private sector: Cory Ondrejka, then of Linden Labs/Second Life and the Annenberg School (now headed to an exciting new job…), points out some usage statistics about SL in “Education Unleashed: Participatory Culture, Education, and Innovation in Second Life.” The most striking — and hopeful — figure was his note that 67% (sixty-seven percent) of respondents to a survey of Teen Second Life users “had written at least one program using the scripting language.” (p. 239) Of course it is a tiny sample (384) of self-selected young people, but the tinkering spirit that Mimi Ito highlights in her essay is alive and well in the people that Ondrejka heard from.

Barry Joseph, director of Global Kids, Inc., wrote the concluding essay on “treating games as a form of youth media within a youth development framework.” His notion of game design as an element of making meaning through the creation of structures is a great addition to the thinking on semiotic democracy that I think is so crucial in this literature. His theory is well-grounded in experiences he’s had with Global Kids, working with teachers and students and corporate supporters, which gives the piece an important series of links to reality that is often missing from our scholarly literature — without giving up the theoretical side.

Salen, Ito, Ondrejka, and Joseph’s essays, among others in the book, led me to a conclusion out of the book: in some contexts, great forms of learning may come for some students using well-designed games, primarily of the construction genre. There’s not yet sufficient evidence here, in my view, to turn over our entire educational system to games and virtual worlds, but there’s plenty to learn from what some young people are doing in these environments during school time and otherwise.

MacArthur/MIT Press Series on Youth, Media, and Learning

Last month, the MacArthur Foundation, along with MIT Press, announced the release of a series of new books on youth and new media. The series is a treasure trove.

I have been working my way through the six books over the past several weeks as I’m simultaneously working on late drafts of the book that Urs Gasser and I are writing on a similar topic, called Born Digital (forthcoming, Basic Books, 2008).

I’d highly recommend to anyone remotely interested in the topic to read these books. They are academic in style, structure and language, but remarkably accessible in my view. I’m not a social scientist, nor an expert in most of the fields that are represented by the authors (in fact, I’m not sure if there are any lawyers at all in the list of authors!), but the editors and authors have done a lovely job of making their fields relevant broadly.

For starters, the series Foreword, by the group of “series advisors,” is wonderful. I can’t imagine how six people came to agree on such a clear text, but somehow they did. There must have been a lead author who held onto the pen; it’s far too coherent to have been written by committee. (The advisors are: Mizuko Ito, Cathy Davidson, Henry Jenkins, Carol Lee, Michael Eisenberg, and Joanne Weiss. One imagines that the voice of the program officer at the MacArthur Foundation who made it all possible, Connie Yowell, is in there somewhere too.)

The Foreword is worth reading in full, but a few key lines: “Unlike the early years in the development of computers and computer-based media, digital media are now commonplace and pervasive, having been taken up by a wide range of individuals and institutions in all walks of life. Digital Media have escaped the boundaries of professional and formal practice, and the academic, governmental, and industry homes that initially fostered their development.” Those are simple statements, clear and right on. One of the reasons to pay attention to this topic right now is the pervasiveness, the commonplace-ness of the use of these new media, especially by many young people.

Also, their working hypothesis: “those immersed in new digital tools and networks are engaged in an unprecedented exploration of language, games, social interaction, problem solving, and self-directed activity that leads to diverse forms of learning. These diverse forms of learning are reflected in expressions of identity, how individuals express independence and creativity, and in their ability to learn, exercise judgment, and think systematically.” The work of the series authors, I think, bears out this hypothesis quite convincingly.

At the same time, the series advisors make plain that they are not “uncritical of youth practices” and note that they do not claim “that digital media necessarily hold the key to empowerment.” It is this spirit of healthy skepticism that one can hear through most of the essays in the series — and which is essential to the academic enterprise they’ve undertaken.

So far, I’ve finished the book on “Youth, Identity, and Digital Media” (ed. by David Buckingham) and “The Ecology of Games: Connecting Youth, Games, and Learning” (ed. by Katie Salen) and am part of the way through each of the others. Each one is excellent.

In the ID book, I found particularly helpful the first piece on “Introducing Identity” by David Buckingham, which took on the hard definitional and discipline-related questions of identity in this context. He put a huge amount of scholarship into context, with sharp critiques along the way. The essay by our colleague danah boyd (on “Why Youth (heart) Social Network Sites,” a variant of which is online) is already a key document in our understanding of identity and the shifts in conceptions of public and private (“privacy in public,” and the idea of the networked public — related to but not the same as Yochai Benkler’s similar notions of networked publics). And the notion of “Identity Production as Bricolage” — introduced in “Imaging, Keyboarding, and Posting Identities” by Sandra Weber and Claudia Mitchell — is evocative and helpful, I thought. The many warnings about not “exociticizing” (danah often using the word “fetishizing”) the norms and habits of young people and their use of technology, as well as echoes of Henry Jenkins’ work on convergence and his and Eszter Hargittai’s study of the participation gap came through load and clear, too. (I am pretty sure I can hear dislike of the term “digital natives” in between certain lines, as well.)

There’s much more to like in the book, and much more to work into our own understanding of ID in this environment, than I can post here. There’s an equal amount of insight in the Games book too. (The class I am co-teaching with David Hornik starts in 31 minutes and I should probably prepare a bit more than I have already.)

Born Digital

For the past few years, Urs Gasser and I have been working on a book project together about a phenomenon that we have become obsessed with: how some young people, including our kids, use technologies in ways that are different that what we’ve seen before. The book is called Born Digital (Amazon seems not yet to know of Urs’ involvement; we’ll have to tell them). It’ll be out sometime in 2008, published by the good people at Basic Books.

(We decided to go with Basic Books because it is wonderful and we love the editors, and because they published the most important book in our field, Lawrence Lessig’s Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace and its sequel, Code 2.0. and other classics of the emerging digital literature, like The Cluetrain Manifesto.)

Our goals, among other things, in writing this book are to address and take seriously the concerns of parents and teachers and others perplexed by what’s going on; to highlight the wonderful things that some Digital Natives are up to; to make a series of policy arguments about what we ought to do about this phenomenon; and to set this issue in a global context — as part of the bigger story of globalization.

Two things prompt this blog-post: 1) to answer a persistent question we’ve been hearing from our friends and collaborators; and 2) to engage the assistance of anyone who wants to participate.

As with many overly-ambitious research projects, you start in one place and — you hope, I suppose — end up someplace a bit different that where you expected to get. That’s surely the case for us on this project.

So, first off, the issue. It’s a definitional issue, always an important starting point in a research project. We began this project interested in a distinction that others thought up and have pursued in various way: the difference between “Digital Natives” and “Digital Immigrants.” (There’s an interesting short history, which we track, of the etymology of these terms, a subject for another day.)

We wanted to hone in on what it means to be a Digital Native and what the practices and lives of Digital Natives tell us about our society and about our future. One of the primary struggles we’ve faced is that these two terms alone — Digital Native and Digital Immigrant — are unsatisfactory on their own. They give rise to discomfort on several levels.

One, we’ve heard a few times that the term “Digital Native” carries with it connotations that are not all good, that it’s un-PC. That concern is worth acknowledging and talking through with anyone concerned about it, but given that we think it’s a wonderful thing in most ways to be a Digital Native (or, indeed, native to many other environments, like Boston, my hometown — “I am a Boston native” and am proud of it), I think that’s not a crisis.

The deeper discomfort comes from what is a little math problem:

- Not all people born during a certain period of history (say, after the advent of BBSes) are Digital Natives. Not everyone born today lives a life that is digital in every, or indeed any, way. For starters, only about 1 billion of the 6.7 billion people in the world have regular access to the supposedly “World Wide Web.” In other cases, young people we are meeting choose to have little to do with digital life.

- Not all of the people who have the character traits of Digital Natives are young. The term “Digital Immigrant” doesn’t describe those people either — people like Urs and me, like our colleagues at the Berkman Center who are over a certain age — who live digital lives in as many ways, if not more, than many Digital Natives. Many of us have been here as the whole digital age has come about, and many of our colleagues have participated in making it happen in lots and lots of crucial ways.

We’ve been struggling hard with this problem. One of the benefits of “still writing” this book (we have a full draft, but are far from ready to go to print) and being in the throes of interviews and focus groups is that we are still working on getting it right.

We started out asking whether there is a straight “generational gap” between those Born Digital and those who were not. The point of our research, in the first instance, is to take up these terms Digital Native and Digital Immigrant, and work them over. What I think we’ve found is that age is relevant, but not dispositive. What I think we are describing in our book is a set of traits — having to do with how people interact with information, with one another, and with institutions — that are more likely to be found in those Born Digital, but not certainly so. Many people Born Digital have some but not all of these traits. Many people who were not Born Digital — you (who read this blogpost) and me and Urs and perhaps most Berkmaniacs, to be sure — have these traits and more, more even than most Digital Natives. That’s essential to the puzzle of the book. There is a generational gap, but it’s not purely a generational gap. It’s more complicated.

So, here is a typology which we think emerges from what we’ve learned:

1) those who are Born Digital and also Live Digital = the *Digital Natives* we focus on in this book (to complicate things further: there is a spectrum of what it means to live digitally, with a series of factors to help define where a Digital Native falls on it);

2) those who are Born Digital (i.e., at a moment in history, today) and are *not* Living Digital (and are hence not Digital Natives);

3) those who are not Born Digital but Live Digital = us (for whom we do not have a satisfactory term; perhaps we need one — our colleague David Weinberger suggests “Digital Settlers”);

4) those who are not Born Digital, don’t Live Digital in any substantial way, but are finding their way in a digital world = Digital Immigrants; and,

5) those who weren’t Born Digital and don’t have anything to do with the digital world, whether by choice, reasons of access or cash, and so forth.

There may be more categories, but these are the essential ones. Our book focuses on the first — those Born Digital and who Live Digital lives.  Though it’s not the focus of this particular book, the third category is also deeply relevant to the narrative.

It may well be that there will prove to be a generational divide between those Born Digital and those not Born Digital. What we are focused on here, though, is the particular population — rather than the generation — of those who were both Born Digital and Live Digital, and what their lifestyles and habits and mores mean for the present and the future.

As it often the case, danah boyd says it better than I could in her talk at 4S earlier this fall:

“While I groan whenever the buzzword ‘digital native’ is jockeyed about, I also know that there is salience to this term. It is not a term that demarcates a generation, but a state of experience. The term is referencing those who understand that the world is networked, that cultures exist beyond geographical coordinates, and that mediating technologies allow cultures to flourish in new ways. Digital natives are not invested in ‘life on the screen’ or ‘going virtual’ but on using technology as an artifact that allows them to negotiate culture. In other words, a ‘digital native’ understands that there is no such thing as ‘going online’ but rather, what is important is the way in which people move between geographically-organized interactions and network-organized interactions. To them, it’s all about the networks, even if those networks have coherent geographical boundaries.”

What we seek to describe in this book is an emerging global culture of people relating to information, one another, and institutions in ways that, taken together, has great promise for the future of democracies. Digital Natives — people born digital — give us reason for hope that this global culture could emerge. Some of their behaviors also give reason to worry, at the same time, about things like privacy, safety, information overload, and IP worries. We need to take these problems seriously and get in front of them, without ruining the environment that makes all the wonderful things possible.

In this book, we argue in favor of greater connectivity. That connectivity might be between parents or teachers or lawmakers who don’t live any part of their lives online and our kids who do. That connectivity might be between those in industry who are threatened by what these kids and others (us) are up to online and the culture that we represent. That connectivity might be between technology companies and their users, whose identities they seek otherwise to control. That connectivity might be between those of us in the rich world and those in less rich parts of the world, as GV makes possible. And so forth.

That leads to the request for help, or at least invitation to participate. Our goal is to carry out much of this research and writing in a public way. To that end, we’ve got a wiki at DigitalNative.org where anyone can come and contribute. Much of what we’re reading and learning shows up on this wiki. We’d love to plug our work into the work of others, and learn from what others are learning.

We are lucky to have an amazing team of people at the Berkman Center and the Research Center on Information Law at the University of St. Gallen in Switzerland working with us on this research, too, including the focus groups and interviews we’re conducting. Our work is coming along much better than it otherwise would with the able guidance and critiques of this team at our backs. We are lucky, too, to be able to read the work of many social scientists, cultural anthropologists, neuroscientists, psychologists, teachers, and others — people like Mimi Ito and our colleagues at the Berkman Center, danah boyd, Corinna di Gennaro, Shenja van der Graaf, and Miriam Simun — who understand aspects (or the whole) of the phenomenon we take up here far better than we do. We’d love to have your help, too, in working through these problems online.

Mimi Ito, Howard Rheingold on "Digital Kids"

The cultural anthropologist Mimi Ito has a lot to say about kids and learning in a digital era. It’s a great topic, and her work is very important (the MacArthur Foundation agrees; she’s got a multi-year grant from them to study it). She is working with Howard Rheingold, of SmartMobs fame. He blogged it on the Annenberg DIY Media site. There’s a great overview of a recent presentation, plus helpful links, if you are interested in the topic. Via Joichi Ito.