Master Class with Chris Hughes, Phillips Academy ’02 on Hannah Arendt’s “Responsibility and Judgment”

We have the great privilege today of Chris Hughes‘ visit to Andover.  Chris graduated from Phillips Academy in 2002.  He returns today to teach a master-class with me, to give the All School Meeting address, and to meet with various groups on campus.  The master class takes as its starting point a text: Hannah Arendt’s lecture entitled “Personal Responsibility Under Dictatorship,” published in the book “Responsibility and Judgment.”  In this lecture, delivered in 1964, Arendt responded to criticism of things she previously wrote about the trial of the Nazi leader Eichmann.  The students in the room today come from two classes, one in our Religion and Philosophy department (taught by Tom Hodgson) and one on bioethics (team-taught by Vincent Avery and Christine Marshall-Walker).

Chris starts the class by asking a student to read aloud a section from near the end of Arendt’s lecture: “The total moral collapse of respectable society during the Hitler regime may teach us that under such circumstances those who cherish values and hold fast to moral norms and standards are not reliable: we now know that moral norms and standards can be changed overnight, and that all that then will be left is the mere habit of holding fast to something.”  Chris asks the group if norms can be changed as quickly as table manners.

The class also focuses for most of the discussion on the role of non-participants in societies.  Arendt says that “the nonparticipants; called irresponsible by the majority, were the only ones who dared judge by themselves.”  Does opting-out of a society enable you to preserve your values?  What does it mean, in fact, to “opt out” of a society?  The class debates whether it is different to opt out of Nazi Germany; America during the McCarthy era; Apartheid South Africa (was Albie Sachs right that only a few hundred whites took any personal risk in resisting the Apartheid regime?); and today, in the “consumerist” society prevalent in most countries in Western Europe and North America, for instance.

Chris stresses the difficulty of total opting out: it is almost impossible not to be ensconced in a body politic.  It is extremely hard not to pay some taxes to support a system; to be, at a minimum, a bystander to important events in the lives of others; to have a voice in the society, whether in public or in private.

We explored the distinction between non-participation and non-obedience.  The students are not sold on the extent to which Arendt praises the non-participants, seeing non-obedience — more actively opposing a system — as essential to positive change.  The text splices the difference between “supporting” a regime and “obeying” it.  The exposure of this tension, which comes in at the end of the essay, may be the most important point.

One of our core jobs as teachers at Phillips Academy, as stated in our school’s constitution from 1778, is to help develop not just the minds but also the morals of the students in our care.  Conversations, such as the one led by Chris today and others led by our faculty on every day on campus, are essential aspects of this kind of an education.

What I’m Looking For in a Short Paper: Hacking Class 2013-2014

I am teaching a winter-term seminar course at Phillips Academy to ten seniors entitled “Hacking: A Course in Experiments.”  I had a great time teaching it last year as well with ten students (I miss them!), and now have the privilege of repeating it for a new group of students.  We are starting today.  The class takes place in our home on campus, called Phelps House.  As I write this draft, the students are arriving at our home momentarily.

One of the several purposes of this course is to give our high school seniors an opportunity to think and to write about topics that cross disciplinary boundaries.  For some, this course is the first interdisciplinary seminar, of the style that is customary in universities, that they will take.  For those who have already taken an interdisciplinary course — and there are several wonderful ones at PA — I intend for this course to include extra doses of creativity, case-based work, digital literacy skill development, and problem-solving.  We explore themes of ethics and computer science through the lens of cases such as WikiLeaks and Khan Academy, among others.

One strength of the education at Phillips Academy is the number of times and ways that students are required to write, especially if they spend three or four years here.  Students are asked to write short, analytical essays; creative works; lab reports; long research papers; and other types of assignment.  I am a big believer in many chances to write and lots of specific, detailed feedback.  (To be clear, I agree with those who think our students need to write more in form of longer, research-based papers than they tend to do.  A long paper is an option for the final project in this course, and there are other chances at PA to write longer pieces.)  With students in this seminar in mind, I am writing to them about what I am expect in a fine, short essay.  Guidelines follow.  I’d be interested in seeing what other high school teachers share with their seniors in terms of expectations for similar writing assignments.

* * *

The length I expect for the short papers in the Hacking seminar is roughly a page or two.  The sweet-spot is 750 words, give-or-take a few hundred.  I have in mind pieces of the scope of a New York Times op-ed or a briefing paper to a high-level public or corporate official who has limited time to read in advance of a crucial meeting.  Here are some things I expect in a strong essay of this length:

Frame a great question.  I don’t expect you to find a “right answer” in these short essays you are writing.  It is, however, essential that you frame a great question.  A big part of your job is to find a hard problem lurking in the topic for the day; expose it for me and for your fellow students, who ideally will have a chance to read your essay before class (or at least to hear about it from you when we meet).

Make an argument.  Please say something in your essay.  Answer your own great question in a way that is thought-provoking.  I am much more interested in seeing that you’ve engaged deeply with the material than that you’ve gotten the answer “right.”  I am interested in what you think, not so much what you read about the thoughts of others.

Marshal facts to make your case.  It’s necessary, but not sufficient, to present a novel, provocative argument.  You need to employ persuasive evidence to support your claim.  Yes, the essays are short, but they can’t be vapid; bring a few compelling facts or theories into play that convince your reader of your point of view.

Be honest.  These essays are not meant to be group projects; they must be your own work.  When in doubt, drop a footnote.  If you have any questions as to whether to cite to something, please refer to the academic honesty policy in the syllabus or write to me directly.

Be concise.  Part of the reason I want you to write short pieces is so that you’ll get multiple “reps” over the course of the term and we can work together on your writing.  But another reason for short pieces is to require you to be concise.  (I am fan of Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style.  Their principle of composition #17: “Omit Needless Words.”  One wit improved on the principle: “eschew superfluage.”  Students: if you’d promise to read and consider it, I’d be glad to give you a copy of Strunk and White as a gift.)

There’s much more I could say, but that would violate my own advice, so I won’t.  I know we as teachers don’t always have time to provide as much detailed feedback as we’d like — I can recall times when I’ve fallen down on that score — but it’s such an important part of the teaching and learning process, often best carried out in the context of a course not explicitly about writing, and I’m going to do my part.  If my feedback on your work doesn’t make sense or if I can help you figure out how to improve a subsequent essay, let’s talk about it.  I much look forward to receiving your papers and to being inspired by what you have to say.

Khan Academy meets Phillips Academy

Sal KhanSal Khan and his traveling team of six teachers and developers from Khan Academy are on campus at Phillips Academy this morning.  We are delighted to welcome them to a special faculty meeting.  We are pleased to welcome friends from the Andover public schools ( Superintendent Marinel McGrath and AHS Principal Christopher Lord), the Lawrence public schools, and the Pike School as well.

Sal tells the story of being a hedge fund analyst who began by making short videos to help teach a young family member, a cousin in Louisiana who was having a hard time with unit conversions (gallons to ounces).  They worked together on mathematics tutoring by speakerphone and Yahoo! Instant Messenger.  That grew into videos and exercises.  Today, there have been 85 million users to date.  Each month, there are 6 million unique users on the Khan Academy site.  In total, there have been 260 million lessons delivered and over 1 billion problems answered on the related exercises.

This year, we have been exploring the professional development theme of Connected Learning at Phillips Academy.  We’ve heard from Mimi Ito, Katie Salen, a group working on the Amplify tablet, and others.  Sal Khan has already been most generous with us, joining a class I taught in winter (on hacking) by Skype and also Skyping with a group of faculty and administrators in preparation for this visit.  Sal and his team are here at a special faculty meeting, the last in this series for the year, and then will be with a class of students in chemistry and a class of students in math.  The day will end with what I expect may be a mob of students in the Mural Room of our dining hall, Paresky Commons.

At a minimum, it is fascinating to hear his story first hand.  The narrative of Ann Doerr sending first a $10,000 check, then meeting him at an Indian buffet, then sending a $100,000 wire is a great Silicon Valley tale of entrepreneurship and the importance of foresight and angel capital.  There’s then the chapter of Bill Gates and Walter Isaacson on stage at the Aspen Ideas Festival talking about “this new site” Khan Academy.  I am a fan of Sal’s new book, The One World School House, and have used his videos and exercises in classes that I’ve taught and with my own kids to help explain topics that I don’t know much about.

We are exploring more than the minimum.  Could we imagine what would happen if Phillips Academy teachers and students were working in real partnership with Khan Academy?  As they develop the interactive side of Khan Academy, and especially assessments in fields like math and science (and many more), we might be able to help.  As Sal tells us, the videos are helpful, but they are not the focal point — that should be the problem-solving, the exercises, the interaction.  At Phillips Academy, our faculty has been at this teaching-and-learning thing for 235 years; the faculty members are not that old, but as a group, are deeply experienced and at the top of their game.  They teach in a range of fields that is much broader than what is currently offered, well anyway, through the web — mostly, in the arts and humanities, which have not been the focus in the digitally-mediated education world (yet). The faculty at Phillips Academy (and, I suspect, our peer schools here in the Merrimack Valley of Massachusetts) also know that we don’t know everything.  And there’s a very positive sense that we need to keep learning and exploring new modes of teaching.  Sal Khan and his team certainly know some things we don’t about reaching lots of people through their digital teaching methods.

Questions from the faculty and students ranged from math and science teachers asking hard questions about what the implications of these forms of teaching might be to humanities and arts teachers asking if there is any implication of this type of learning for their fields.  It’s plain that a great, rich education — at any level — is about many different forms of learning in many different fields, including language, culture, music, visual arts, athletics, and so forth.  A great education has a lot to do with the face-to-face experience of students and adults in the same physical spaces.

We are talking today about what truly blended and connected learning might look like — taking advantage of the best of residential education and the best of digitally-mediated experiences, and mitigating the problems/limitations associated with both.  Even those of us who are the most enthusiastic about the reach and implications of the digital revolution for education — and I count myself in that number — should recognize the value of the residential, the social-emotional, the expressive, the experiential, and many other aspects of learning that are (today, anyway) experienced in the analog world.

Sal also offers advice for students in what he calls “big brother” mode.  We are discussing what impresses Sal and his colleagues when they are hiring new staff: they are impressed by what students have *made*.  “The more artifacts that you can create over the course of your life,” Sal said, “the better off you’ll be when it comes to getting hired.”  The idea of building a digital portfolio, badging, and other artifact-creation (how about a painting?) is one way to respond to this challenge.  Another bit of advice from Sal: don’t think of “test prep” as a dirty word.  Consider it a chance to master the skills and information that matter in the course of your education.

It’s an exciting moment in education.  At Phillips Academy, we are devoted to seizing it.  This session in our auditorium and classrooms this morning is a great starting point.  It’s an electric morning here in Andover.

Harvard Initiative on Learning and Teaching: Kick-Off

Today is the kick-off for the brand-new Harvard Initiative on Learning and Teaching (HILT).  This is an extraordinary day at Harvard, part symposium and part working session to get HILT underway in earnest.  The background: President Drew Faust and two of the university’s most loyal friends, Rita and Gustave Hauser, dreamed up a major new university-wide initiative to focus on the science and practice of learning and teaching.  The Hausers gave $40 million to make the initiative’s launch possible.

The symposium opens with a welcome from President Faust and Erin Driver-Linn, the director of HILT, who describe the ideas behind HILT and its early activities, including a new grant program for novel learning and teaching projects.  The first keynote session is on the science of learning.  The speakers are extraordinary: the moderator is Mahzarin Banaji (Harvard professor of psychology with a deep interest in learning), and the presenters are Carl Wieman (a prof in the past, and now in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, and a Nobel Prize winner), Roddy Roediger (one of the giants of understanding learning and measuring learning), and Steve Pinker (Harvard College Professor in psychology and best-selling author, of The Language Instinct and many other wonderful books).  The presenters have been saying much too much to blog here effectively, so I’ll just go with one insight I took away from each speaker’s remarks:

- Banaji: many of our broadly-held myths about learning and teaching are wrong.  Before we lurch ahead with innovative teaching activities, we need to “unlearn” our mistaken assumptions and ground new efforts in the increasingly helpful science of learning.

- Wieman: experimental modes of teaching in science, even by less experienced teachers, are demonstrably more effective at teaching material to undergraduates than the classic lecture format, even when taught by a more senior professor with positive student evaluations;

- Roediger: testing helps with learning.  It’s much better to have students write, present, and take tests than to have them read and re-read material.  Performance (measured, say, as recall a few days later) is greatly improved based on the amount of testing (practicing retrieval of material) done previously.  This dynamic is known as the retrieval practice effect.  (Also: news alert for students: cramming works!  It is possible to improve recall over short periods by intense studying right before an exam.  But that won’t mean you can retrieve the information later; you won’t, unless you’ve been repeatedly tested.)

- Pinker: we know that students may not remember the particular substance that we teach them in universities, but we do expect that they will learn certain analytical skills.  We also hope they might have learned to write.  As wonderful as The Elements of Style is, it should not be the basis for teaching writing today, Pinker argues.  It is a charming book, but it is hard to come away with much useful advice (other than “omit needless words,” which Pinker agrees is highly worthy).  Grammar is in fact cool, Pinker says, involving brain-work.  We should teach writing as “convert[...] a network of ideas into a linear string of words,” which can mean sometimes selecting the passive voice instead of the active, for instance.  “It’s hard to know what it is like for someone else not to know something that you know.”  This is the primary contributor both to bad writing and bad teaching.

(I am moderating the second session, soon to begin.)

William Rawn Associates, Architects come to Bibliotheca Class (as do David Lamberth, Matthew Sheehy, and Michael Barker)

We are just thrilled to have William Rawn and his colleague Cliff Gayley of William Rawn Associates in our Bibliotheca class (which I’m co-teaching with Jeffrey Schnapp) at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design this morning.  They’ve designed the Cambridge Public Library’s main building, as well as the Rochester Public Library.  They are also discussing two branch library designs: Mattapan Branch and the East Boston Branch of the Boston Public Library.  (These live-blog notes of class are bound to be rough.  The conversation brings together practitioners from design, architecture, and library sciences with faculty and students.)

Cliff starts with the premise that physical space in libraries remains important, even in a digital era.  The theme of democracy is important to them.  They cite the grandeur of the Boston and New York Publics; the loveliness, but aloofness and apartness, of the H. H. Richardson libraries; and the classic American image of the Carnegie libraries as antecedents.

In working on the Cambridge Public Library project, they give great credit to Susan Flannery, the Cambridge city librarian, for teaching them and providing inspiration for the design. The space, Susan told the architects, is that the library must be clearly a “library” as soon as you walk in, with books as an organizing force in what you see as soon as you walk in.  She wanted to make the library a “town common.”  They have circulated 1,000,000 books in two years.  In a city of 100,000 people, that means 5 books a year.  The insights from visionary librarians are crucial to successful design, they argued.  They also described the helpfulness of the 50 meetings that they conducted in Cambridge, which was especially extensive as such processes go.  An open structure, with reading spaces along the first floor, were important aspects of the design.

In describing the Mattapan branch library of Boston, Bill Rawn echoed the democratic themes they hit earlier in the conversation.  He called the building “an outpost of learning and opportunity in Mattapan.”  The size is about 20,000 square feet.  The kids and young adults in the building are behind glass that allows for visibility and openness, but also allows them to make some noise.  The young adult section was designed to be the biggest of the 26 branch libraries in Boston.  “Robust technology and fun furniture” with “very flexible” spaces including “lots of seating” in the young adult areas were important.  With leaner staffing in public libraries, the circulation desk needed to allow for good sight lines throughout the building.  They’ve also designed a teleconferencing room into the Mattapan branch.

They also described the Rochester Public Library, embedded in the heart of the city as a “civic space,” and the East Boston branch library (smaller than Mattapan: 14,000 – 15,000 square feet), near Logan Airport.  In both of these instances, they talked about the importance of the discussion as to where the site would be.  Boston Public Librarian Amy Ryan’s vision for the public library spaces were very open and transparent, with noisier areas behind glass for kids and others who wish to be less contemplative while there.

Gayley and Rawn described a series of principles that they brought to each of these designs.  Democratic access to information; openness and transparency; the story of immigrants and libraries as places of opportunity (now, expressed in part through access to technology); and the importance of local politics all popped up as key themes throughout the session.  I wish I had caught them all verbatim as they went by; I’ll try to get the slides and post them somewhere, if we can.

Rawn: “we think architecture students are not taught to listen as well as they might be.”  The projects tend to come out of the student’s head — which is great for training in design.  Listening is about hearing from the users (library patrons) as well as the representatives of the clients (the librarians and politicians, in public library projects).

Schnapp: the iterative, consultative process is new to our era.  The big New York and Boston Public Libraries, for instance, were about patrician donors and design processes that were closed.  The Cambridge Public Library process couldn’t be more different than the patrician approach.  (Bill Rawn mentioned how much he loves the interior of the NYPL main building, even though it is antithetical to his approach and ideals in many respects.)

Schnapp also asks about the natural light that appears to be an emphasis across all the examples they showed.  We had a good back-and-forth about the value of natural light today to patrons in these spaces, but also the challenges associated with using natural light while reading materials through technological devices.

I happen to love the new Cambridge Public Library’s main branch.  It’s one of my favorite public spaces in the world.  We’re lucky to have it in our backyard.

* * *

The second half of class, we have three Harvard insiders with us: Prof. David Lamberth (former chair of the Library Implementation Work Group, charged with redesigning the library system at Harvard); Mike Barker (my completely amazing former colleague at HLS Library, now in the central Harvard Library office); and Matthew Sheehy (head of access services and our off-site depository).  They are teeing up the hard problems of space in the Harvard Library transition.

They put on the table a big idea.  Think about the collection as one collection at Harvard and the physical spaces as one physical space, in principle contiguous.  When you bring back a book, for instance, it just goes where it goes, with barcode and associated RFID and stays where it is returned.  Instead, focus our efforts on building perfect shelves for those things that need to be curated in that fashion.  Focus our organizational conceptual efforts on building perfect Shakespeare shelves, and move other materials around, and quit investing in getting everything to its current shelves.  There would have to be lots of digital investment: scanning of tables of contents, development of online finding systems (like StackView/ShelfLife); and other innovations that would make everything findable.  How much of this material do we really need to have, on campus, in a local library, for our current constituencies?  One effect would be to free up a lot of space into the libraries, which might attract faculty into the renovated, freed-up spaces.

A clarification from Lamberth: the “perfect shelves” should not be fixed.  They should be ad hoc and recreated quickly on the fly.  Various things will be more popular at certain moments, causing some issues of priority; but these are practical issues, not that difficult to solve (other than the politics).  He’s not against classification.  It’s just that bar codes would, in his design, replace the old “shelf lists.”  Mike Barker clarifies that students make “perfect shelves” all the time: it’s what they do in carrels, he says.

A great question from the audience: if that idea is right, then you are rejecting the idea of buying to collect and moving to just-in-time, not just-in-case, right?  Lamberth: it depends.  Collection development used to be done by faculty members in consultation with bibliographers, Lamberth said, in a way that is no longer true.  The buying decisions today are made by librarians on their own.  The obscure materials we need to invest in and collect for the long term; the things sold in Amazon we should not.  (One bibliographer: much of what Lamberth says is true, but we need to avoid having every academic library buying the same materials.  There are still may materials that are not as available as we’d like, or kept in as good conditions that we could here, even imperfectly.)

David W.: wouldn’t we want to make digital versions of those privileged perfect shelves?  The problem is mostly one of expense.  We can’t spend so much on the present at the expense of one century or two centuries from now, says Lamberth.

Bibliotheca Class, and Learning and Teaching at Harvard

I’m having a huge amount of fun teaching a class at the Harvard Graduate School of Design with my friend Jeffrey Schnapp on the history, present, and future of libraries, called Bibliotheca.  The students are fantastic: twenty or so, mostly studying design and architecture, though there are graduate students in other fields.  We’re holding the class in an open, spacious basement room of the GSD’s Loeb Library, thanks to our collaborator Ann Whiteside, the library’s director.  Ann and her team are thinking collaboratively and creatively about how to use library space.  Opening up this big room, laden with visual materials, to us as an active teaching space is just one example of that.

Today, class opened with one student showing the photos he’d taken of a tour of the Harvard Depository, a huge facility about 25 miles off campus to provide storage and now access to books that don’t fit on campus.  A group of students from our class, plus a few others who heard about the trip and hitched a ride, piled into a bus we rented and spent a day last week on a spontaneous field trip.  The crew wants to go back with a video-camera.  The idea is to produce something, as part of the class, that we can publish openly about what we’re learning.  The photos prompt a series of questions about the organization of physical materials that tie straight into where we’re going with the class later.  It was an impromptu start to the class, unplanned, but opened new avenue.

After reflections on the HD visit, we welcome David Weinberger, author of Everything is Miscellaneous: The Power of the New Digital Disorder.  We’re talking about how the design of physical libraries and the design of virtual spaces for knowledge and information relate to one another.  The topics are free-ranging and deep, with David — he’s a ph.d. in philosophy by training — and the students pushing one another about the role of libraries, the need for librarians in the future, the timeline for coming to a largely digital experience v. our current hybrid experience, and so forth.

A few choice quotes from David W., plucked out of context: “I like the Library of Congress!” says David.  And: “we need a paper back-up: everyone realizes that.”  (But students push back: is the physical only important as a “back-up” to the digital?  And concerns about the stability of the digital as a format: does that argue in favor of the physical as a resource for redundancy, or as something that ought to be in the physical spaces that we call libraries.)  And, again from David: “there are huge values associated with local libraries.  I just don’t pretend know what the future of libraries is going to be.”

After David W. leaves us after the first two hours of class and we take a break, a group of students will present on their review of Louis Kahn’s iconic library at the Phillips Exeter Academy.  I know that library well, but only from the perspective of a learner: I spent many happy (and some stressed-out) hours there as a high school student.  I’m excited to hear what students of design make of it.  This is a design principle of the class: students work in teams, of their own forming, to present excavations of library design projects throughout the term and then develop a final project, also team-based, at the end of the semester.

What this class has me thinking this morning about is not just the substance — the future of libraries, the organization of knowledge, how we store and provide it and think about it — but also about the possibilities for teaching and learning.  Yesterday, Harvard announced a landmark new gift: $40 million to catalyze innovations in learning and teaching from Rita and Gustave Hauser.  If we have the chance to spend those resources, and ideally more, that it catalyzes from other donors, over the next decade to improve our learning and teaching, how might we go about that?  There are many, many worthy places to focus and many great things going on here at Harvard to build upon.

Technology should surely be part of that focus, but not the starting point.  In my view, the starting point should be our pedagogical goals, which vary by discipline.

What’s so rich about this experience for me (and perhaps for the students?) of this class is the chance to spend several hours a week with Jeffrey Schnapp and great students and library staff from Harvard and a broad array of guests who have meandered through our shared exploration.  Our guests have been great experts in the history and design of libraries, some from the Harvard faculty and others from elsewhere: Matthew Battles, Greg Nagy, Ann Blair, Katherine Park to name just some of those who have already been with us.  We’re tying our themes and our exploration into the reform of the Harvard Library system that we’re a few years into, and which has scared up a huge number of interesting problems that we can take up.  Several librarians are coming to all classes, and we’re opening up some classes to a much larger group of librarians.  It’s been great to learn from their perspectives and incredible knowledge.  The class feels porous and connected.

There are challenges with the Bibliotheca style of teaching.  It’s intense and time-consuming for the teachers; it has two faculty members involved, which means it is expensive on a per-student-unit-of-credit basis; it has great support and involvement from lots of community members who are volunteering their time; the students are (or seem) dug-in and helping to co-produce the class and its outputs.  It’s tied into hard problems that we face on our own campus, and might even help us solve (address, at least?) some of them.  But it’s a ton of fun and makes me so grateful to be at a place that supports, and even privileges, this kind of approach to teaching and learning.

(P.S.: BTW, David has a new book coming out in January: Too Big to Know.  I’ve pre-ordered it already; you should too!  Plus, I read a late-stage draft, and it’s totally wonderful, building out the Everything is Miscellaneous argument, and many other strands, in fascinating ways.)

Laptop and Filtering Policies for Classrooms

I had the pleasure of teaching in the Research Symposium for Spanish and Latin American Academics, held at Harvard University this August.  As part of a three-hour session on learning with technologies, I assigned an exercise in which groups of teachers (mostly at the university level; a few teaching younger students) had to work together to come up with policies on laptops in the classroom. In honor of the school-year that is starting up, here are their respective proposals, live-blogged (I’m just presenting what they came up with, as faithfully as I can, and not endorsing any of these views in particular, just to be clear):

- Group 1: Laptops should always be permitted.  Elementary and high schools should have a policy where teachers control the content that students can see.  A firewall should be established to protect the information environment such that some content would be filtered out at some levels of learning.  In universities, the environment should be less controlled but still filtered for sexual content, games, violence, and other sensitive material.  A survey tool nationwide should be used to assess whether this approach is working for the students in support of their learning.  (The spokesperson declared that there was disagreement as to this policy in the group, but that they decided to present a consolidated front.)  Other group members reacted to this proposal with concerns about who will watch the watchers (i.e., who will keep an eye on the people who choose what to filter out of these school environments); how to deal with sexting; how well suited young kids are to use laptops appropriately; and so forth.

- Group 2: It should be the right of the professor to decide whether or not to allow laptops in class.  It depends a lot on the topic one teaches, the level of the students, the extent to which the campus is wired, and the penetration of laptops for students.  There was a debate within this group: what happens when some teachers say laptops should be banned across the board?  Then the dean and the faculty of a given school should be able to take a vote to ban laptops.

- Group 3: This group agreed that, for an undergraduate college, where there is wifi available across campus, it should be up to the teacher in each classroom to decide.  But there should be a student veto: if a single student objects, a teacher should consider whether to ban laptops to avoid the negative externalities of laptop use on other students.  Secondarily, teachers can expel students for using laptops in a disruptive way.  There should also be an informal users’ group which offers information to students and faculty about the costs and benefits of laptops in the classroom.  This group reported that they were animated by a trust in students’ ability to use technology in a responsible way and wish to emphasize education of students along the way.

- Group 4: This group said that it should be up to individual teachers whether to allow laptops or not.  It depends on a complex series of variables.  It’s too hard to have any other single policy that will work for all settings — in marketing and mathematics courses, the issues and pedagogies are very different from one another.  The school should underscore that it is important to consider the needs of students and how best to use technology in the classroom.

- Group 5: This group decided unanimously not to have a policy.  They decided instead that there should be 3 principles established: 1) freedom of thought: students should be free to do what they like with their minds; 2) freedom of speech and teaching: institutions should trust teachers to make good decisions about teaching, including laptop use; and, 3) the principle of commitment to a good learning environment: professors and students can agree on rules at the beginning of a semester.  The dynamics of the class are very important and should be the focus of the teacher, who should think about how much time is devoted to any given task or mode.

Graduate Seminar on Research Methods on Internet & Society

Amid all the noise of the start of fall semester, Eszter Hargittai and I are launching a new experiment: a course taught jointly (and separately) at Northwestern University and at Harvard University on research methods in Internet & Society.  We’ll post as much of the material as makes sense to a publicly-accessible wiki.  Students can register for credit at either school.  In the Harvard version, we’ll do 6 of the 10 sessions joined by video-conference.  The other 4 sessions at Harvard will be just with HU students.  In part, we will work in these extra sessions toward planning a General Education course to be offered for undergraduates on Internet & Society in 2010-11 by Berkman Center faculty from around the university.  If you’re a Harvard or Northwestern graduate student, we’d especially love to hear from you.  The course starts later this month.  I’m sure I’ll be learning a lot myself from social scientists, computer scientists and others who are blazing new trails with methods for studying life and other phenomena on the Net.

The Future of the Legal Course Book

Seattle University School of Law is hosting a workshop on the “Future of the Legal Course Book.”  It’s a very nicely organized, timely session, brought together by Prof. David Skover, Ron Collins, and deans Ed Rubin of Vanderbilt and Kellye Testy of Seattle University.  On the table: how should we rethink the legal case book in the name of improving pedagogy in law schools?

It occurs to me is that the key conceptual shift is that virtually all information – whether or not related to the law – is now created, stored, and shared in digital format for starters.  Our students, too, are “born digital.”  Our students have a very different relationship to information today than they did a generation ago.  They were small children when the DVD replaced the VCR. Research, for our students, is more likely to mean a Google or Lexis search from a web browser than a trip to the library.  They rarely, if ever, buy the newspaper in hard copy, but they graze through copious amounts of news and other information online.  (Even some law professors are now more comfortable in the use of online tools for legal research and analysis than in the system of Reporters and Pocket Parts.) Law school community members are learning, accessing information, and expressing themselves in new, digitally-inspired ways – sometimes good, sometimes not so good.  Others outside our community are increasingly learning about us and what we do from our web presence.

Five to ten years from now, I think it’s likely that legal case books, too, will be born digital — and then rendered in a variety of formats, whether a good old-fashioned book or a Kindle/eReader file or a series of web pages and interactive exercises.  Updates could happen online, wiki-style (or not, if authors want to lock things down into a single format or series of files).  Faculty and teachers could click and unclick cases and lessons and questions that they’d like to use in class.  One could imagine that some students would click “buy in paper” and would get a print-on-demand version of the book sent overnight to them in the mail (say, for $49.95).  Others would click “buy it for my Tablet/Reader/Kindle/Whatever” (for $49.95 minus some discount).  Still others, perhaps hearing-impaired students, would click on “read it to me,” and so forth. 

There are surely reasons why such a future may not come to pass.  Some have raised concerns about legacy IP rights, strong interests by publishers in the current regime, and so forth, as barriers to such a future.  I think that the primary question to ask is about new investments: the bulk of our new investment in teaching materials and platforms be placed in materials that are cleared in a way that facilitates this future.  The barriers we should focus on are those that stand in the way of our shifting (at least some of) of new investments (of time, money, etc.) from one primarily oriented toward the analog to one that has a substantial digital emphasis in the first instance.

To be clear: Books remain important.  Books are not going away anytime soon; nor should they.  Hard-copies of books are important on many levels.  Many people prefer to read hard-copies of books to digital forms of books, despite massive ongoing investments in technologies like the Sony Reader, the Amazon Kindle, and new technologies at the MIT Media Lab; we like to curl up with them in bed, collect them on bookshelves as signals of our knowledge (or for easy access), take them to the beach, and so forth.  Books represent a stable format, unlikely the constantly-changing digital formats that imperil digital record-keeping processes over the long-term.  Books are the cornerstone, for now at least, of the large and important publishing industry, whose leaders play an important role in democracies and cultures around the world.  Books have the advantage, under United States law at least, of being covered by the first sale doctrine (you can give them away, or lend them, or sell them in a secondary market).  But books have downsides, too – the “slow fire” phenomenon, the high cost of production (compared to their digital counterparts), and the high cost of storage and distribution.  And, as many have pointed out here in Seattle, the presumption of *only* the traditional form of the book for case-based law teaching is inhibiting experimentation with new pedagogies.

As law schools, I think our work in the area of academic computing should be to facilitate this bright future of course materials born digital and rendered in various formats.  We need to make it easy for faculty to experiment with new technologies in support of their teaching, research, and scholarship – especially in an era of large-scale curricular reform at places like Vanderbilt, Harvard, and others. 

And there’s a need for leadership across schools, too, to develop the platform that makes this future possible.  There are building blocks coming together: CALI’s eLangdell, Rice’s Connexions, and so forth.  Publishers have a role to play here, too, both through their own experimentation and participation with broader, open efforts.  It will be fun to be part of such an effort.

Live-blogging Class on Blogging

One of the great treats of co-teaching with David Weinberger is getting to be a student on the days that he leads discussion. Today, we’re taking up blogging, something he knows a thing or two about. You can also follow along with the class notes on The Web Difference class blog. A few of the issues that drew heat, and a bit of light:

- The early discussion has circled around the issue of whether news is tending toward the gossipy, whether on HuffPo or WaPo. The class members disagreed as to whether or not this trend is OK.

- David says that the HuffPo has two things that the printed version of the WaPo doesn’t have: 1) links and 2) people talking back, right there on the “paper,” in real-time. (I wonder whether the difference is so important on the second score, given that a) many papers have letters to the editor and op-eds, b) increasingly, most papers have web sites where one can post comments, and c) maybe some people prefer to have editors choose the letters to run rather than having to wade through 742 comments on the latest HuffPo story.) I agree with the follow-up insight that the difference is that people who read HuffPo and submit comments regularly feel more as though they are in a social setting, in a social network, while those who submit letters to the editors have this feeling less acutely, if at all.

- I’ve been looking forward to see if the students have any reactions to the Boston Globe’s article, by Irene Sege, on Saturday about girls and why they blog. One of the issues we took up earlier in the course, very briefly, is whether there’s a gender difference in terms of how people use the web.

Also: Some excellent students in the class have also created a meta-blog — a blog on blogging — for this class, yet another way to follow along.  The class bloggers pointed to a helpful video reference for those interested in the most basic question: “what is a weblog?”  One might also consider Dave Winer’s classic, “what makes a weblog a weblog?