Teaching Harry Potter: An Interview with Catherine Belcher and Becky Herr-Stephenson (Part Three)

Becky, you looked at Harry Potter fan culture as part of your involvement in the Digital Youth Project. What insights did you gain there about fandom as a site of informal learning and how did they feed into this current project about Harry Potter in schools?

The research I did with Potter fans for the Digital Youth Project focused on understanding interest-driven participation and was primarily concerned with media makers--podcasters, fan fiction writers, artists, and so on. Key to the way we on the Digital Youth Project understood interest-driven participation was an element of independence from school curricula or conventional status hierarchies; the practices we examined were things that young people seemed to pick up on their own rather than embarking on them as part of a class project or because of shared interests with friends from school or their neighborhoods. (Of course, we found that interests rarely develop completely independently. There is usually a person/persons or shared experience that kick-starts interest-driven participation.)

Working with fans was an amazing experience and extremely helpful for understanding learning in "informal" sites. I put "informal" in quotes here because one of the most interesting things I found working with fans was just how much organization, dedication, and expertise go into fans' practices. The rules and hierarchies of fandom are different from those that dominate school or the paid workforce--in general, more inclusive, less concerned with traditional markers of status (like age), and a bit more flexible--but I they certainly have a structure and logic to them. Some of the teens I interviewed in my research spent as much time producing podcasts, maintaining websites, or writing as they would if it were a full-time job. Others balanced Potter activities with others at school, such as working on the yearbook or school newspaper, mixing and matching the practices and skills involved in each activity to create their own style of production.

My fandom research fed into Teaching Harry Potter in a number of ways. Most importantly, it's how Cathy and I met and became colleagues and friends! (We just happened to sit next to each other at the closing feast at E7--a Potter camp for families we describe in the book--and, as they say, the rest is history.) Beyond that, having seen numerous, diverse examples of rich learning and motivation for participation emerging around the Potter series helped me better understand and describe what was (and what could be) happening in schools. As readers will see in our chapters on technology and "imagining more," we believe that learners (regardless of the setting) have specific needs and rights that can be addressed through thoughtful, careful resourcing and approaches to teaching and learning. Further, we believe that civic participation and a commitment to social justice are essential to meaningful learning and participation--something we learned from our friends at the Harry Potter Alliance and various Wizard Rockers. (More on that in a minute.)

One of the challenges I faced in shifting my focus to the school based research was not setting up a dichotomy of interest-driven fan practices versus what was happening in classrooms. Certainly, the students in Andrew, Allegra, and Sandra's classrooms had a different kind of shared reading experience than did many of the fans I worked with, one that was not independent from school but rather prompted and scaffolded by their teachers and shared with their classmates through specific assignments and classroom activities. This doesn't mean that it was inferior to what the fans were doing--just different. As we worked on Teaching Harry Potter, I think I came to a better understanding of how powerful school experiences can be for introducing and supporting interests on one hand--and just how treacherous it can be for teachers and students alike if schools do not allow for experiences that can lead to exploring deep interests.

You close the book by imagining what a more perfect school structure would look like and what it would mean in the lives of the kids you studied. Can you share some of that vision?

We use the image of the Mirror of Erised--the powerful magical mirror that allows one to see his/her deepest desires--to frame our discussion of what public education could (and should) look like. Although multiple reveals from the Mirror are not canon, we take four glimpses into the mirror to see the following things:

Expert teachers engaged as leaders and trusted professionals: as the featured teachers' stories reflect, opportunities to exercise agency, make decisions about curriculum, and be creative in one's teaching are not always available to teachers. In our ideal vision of schooling, this situation would be different and teachers would be not only allowed to teach in the ways they feel are best for their students, but encouraged and supported in doing so.

Universal access to technology and new media learning tools: in the book, we described some of the ways that schools use educational media and technology as similar to using the Polyjuice Potion--using technology to disguise bad pedagogy, resulting in those technologies being used in insignificant and spurious ways. Instead of continuing to "Polyjuice" technology and new media, we'd like to see schools learn how to adopt and integrate them in ways that support robust, student-driven learning.

Emphasis on Experiential, Student- Driven Learning: We want to see students and teachers working side-by-side on projects that matter to them. As we mentioned earlier, there is a strong social justice component to the Potter series that has been picked up by various groups within the fandom, the Harry Potter Alliance in particular. The HPA is a great example of experiential learning, as its campaigns focus on getting young people out into the world to enact change. While we recognize that not every student nor every teacher will have the same commitment to social justice, we value the notion of experiential learning--whether that is in relation to world events or mathematics--and wish for more equitable access to such experiences.

Authentic Tasks as the Central Form of Student--and Teacher--Assessment: in our final look in the Mirror, we see one outcome of the above-mentioned emphasis on experiential learning--an educational system that does not rely on standardized assessment and scripted curriculums. Instead, both teachers and students are assessed in ways that are sensitive to their particular needs and that encourage confidence in future practice.

These four elements are certainly not the only positive changes we can imagine for schools, but they represent a significant start. They also represent a turn toward a more caring, trusting, and loving educational system. After all, it is the power of love, not magic, that is the most important lesson Harry has taught us.

Catherine Belcher works with LA's Promise, a nonprofit organization focused on improving schools and empowering neighborhoods in South Los Angeles. She currently serves as the Director of Teaching and Learning at West Adams Preparatory High School. She earned her Ph.D. from the School of Education at the University of Pennsylvania in 2006, where her work focused on Latino educational history and language access. She then served as a new teacher supervisor at St. Joe's University in Philadelphia and as an Assistant Professor in the School of Education at Loyola Marymount University. A lifelong educator, Catherine taught social studies at both the secondary and middle school levels, and has served as a mentor, lead teacher, and curriculum designer. She has presented on the use of Harry Potter in educational spaces at several conferences, including Enlightening 2007, Azkatraz (2009), Infinitus (2010) and NAMLE (2011). Catherine lives in LA with her husband and 11 year old daughter, a Potter aficionado in her own right who proudly displays the Ravenclaw banner in her room, although some days she joins her mom in the Gryffindor common room so they can talk books and dare each other to try eating the grey Bertie Botts Beans.

Becky Herr-Stephenson is a media researcher focused on teaching and learning with popular culture and technology. She earned her Ph.D. from the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Southern California in 2008. She has been a part of several organizations and projects aimed at informing and inciting innovation in education, including the Digital Media and Learning Hub within the Humanities Research Institute at UC Irvine and the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop. Currently, she is working as a Research Associate with the Annenberg Innovation Lab through a partnership between USC and the Cooney Center. She is a co-author (with Mizuko Ito and others) of Hanging Out, Messing Around, and Geeking Out: Kids Living and Learning with New Media (2009, MIT Press). Becky has presented papers on Harry Potter and youth culture at a number of conferences, most recently, Infinitus (2010) and NAMLE (2011). She lives in Los Angeles and is anxiously awaiting the arrival of her first child, who she hopes will be sorted into Ravenclaw (not Slytherin).

Teaching Harry Potter: An Interview with Catherine Belcher and Becky Herr-Stephenson (Part Two))

One of your teachers faced pushed back from students that the Harry Potter series were books for white kids. Perhaps many readers are thinking the same thing. Yet your title stresses their value for the "multicultural classroom." So, what do the books offer for children of color? How does this approach to "multiculturalism" differ from approaches which seek to match students with writers from the same ethnic and racial background?

In the book, we talk about what we mean by "multicultural" education (all the students and teachers in Teaching Harry Potter are of color and therefore bicultural, meaning they negotiate their home and school cultures on a daily basis) and what we believe, and have seen, the Potter books contribute to the educational process within these settings. The first thing we question is the idea that the "whiteness" of the books negates their use in multicultural classrooms. The nature of the books themselves - their complexity and Rowling's willingness to take on difficult and contemporary issues such as racism, genocide, classism, and difference - make them uniquely valuable, and each of the three teachers illustrate this to great effect in their accounts.

We discuss three features that make the Potter books central to the teachers in our book: Harry's status as a "newcomer" to the Wizarding world - to which Sandra's largely immigrant students relate, a normalization of difference - utilized to great effect by Allegra with her special education students, and the opportunity for multiple interpretations of the text - particularly useful for Andrew's students, but employed by all three teachers. Again, teacher capacity and quality are paramount here. We're looking beyond a base reading of the text; the quality of the approach, interaction and reading experience makes all the difference. One can certainly read Harry Potter simply as a book about white kids in an English boarding school. None of the Teaching Harry Potter teachers took that route - which one might call the dark and easy path. Instead, they challenged their students to use Harry Potter to help them tackle difficult social topics and academic exercises, and to do this with the belief that there was definitely something in Harry's story they could use to help them grow as learners and people.

It's also important to note that we firmly believe in access to literature from multiple arenas; classics and books reflecting a diversity of authors, including those matching the students' background, are vitally important for young readers. But access to a particularly valuable popular work like Harry Potter is important because of its accessibility and all it has to offer. On another level, it is also important because so many white, middle to upper middle class kids DO have ample access to Potter and other popular series at home and at school. In many ways, building students' reading confidence, helping them discover that yes, they too can tackle a book of this length or "that style," whether they end up feeling it is ultimately for them or not, is the most valuable accomplishment.

What's striking about the teacher stories running through the book is the degree to which each adopted their instruction to the particular needs of their students, finding the Harry Potter books to be a highly flexible resource in that regard. How does this customization and remixing process differ from the standard ways that schools are thinking about curriculum in this age of No Child Left Behind?

Finding space for customizing/remixing curriculum was one of the biggest challenges the teachers in our book faced. By not following the standardized curriculum, they were doing something subversive--and, as their stories reflect, they often had trouble getting support from administration and colleagues. Despite the challenges they faced, however, each of the teachers featured in the book did a beautiful job of adapting Potter for their classrooms. Whether we are talking about Sandra, who read the book in Spanish with her ELL students, Allegra, who used the audio books to support her special education students' particular needs for reading support, or Andrew, who approached the book as an accessible gateway to challenging AP content, it is clear in each teacher's story that the needs of her/his students were primary influences on the decisions made around reading the books. In talking with the participating teachers, it seems that the rich stories in the Potter books provided unique opportunities for discussion, analysis, and connection with students' lives. Moreover, just the experience of reading an entire popular book together--as opposed to the excerpts and readers associated with the standardized curriculum--appears to have offered opportunities for deep, meaningful learning.

This kind of responsive teaching is radically different from the standardized curricula commonly found in schools, not because teachers prefer standardization (although some certainly must), but because standardization is thought to be more efficient and its results more easily measurable. As we discuss in more detail in the book, most current policy initiatives reward efficiency and demand accountability--and neither reward nor require responsiveness, flexibility, or creativity. All of this adds up to a demoralizing and frustrating culture for teaching in which teachers' expertise is put to the side in favor of standardized content and methods. Fortunately, the teachers featured in Teaching Harry Potter pushed back hard against these negative forces, instead focusing on how they could provide meaningful learning opportunities for all of their students, even when reading Potter meant working around (and/or subverting) the prescribed reading curriculum--and taking considerable criticism from colleagues and supervisors for doing so.

While each teacher had his/her own approaches to customizing the reading/learning experience, Allegra's story stands out as particularly salient to the topic of adaptation/remixing. A creative and dedicated teacher, Allegra wanted to support her students' developing reading skills and practices and felt that multimedia tools like the series' audio books could supplement the instruction and assistance she could provide for students one-on-one as well as to the class as a whole. As they worked through the first Potter book, Allegra's students moved fluidly between the printed text and multimedia by reading along with the audio books. The highly-engaging audio books provided students with a model for fluent reading as well as created a situation in which students could focus more attention on listening to and comprehending the story rather than struggling to decode every word themselves.

Allegra's story also stands out in relation to adaptation because Allegra was working with special education students. As discussed in Allegra's chapter, Harry Potter is a great book series for use in special education for a number of reasons, a key one being the prominence of "difference" as a theme in the series. All Hogwarts students are special in that they have magical abilities; some (like Neville) require more support for learning than others (like Hermione), and others (like Harry) seem to benefit from an alternative, customized curriculum. As Allegra notes in her chapter, seeing varied, positive representations of difference was beneficial to her students.

Harry Potter's status in the literary canon is still being debated and many teachers may see it as "mere popular culture" and not sufficiently literary to bring into school. Given the choices they face in schools with a diminishing focus on reading in any form, what's the case for why we should teach Harry Potter and not say Animal Farm?

Why not both? Granted, the limitations you speak of do exist and districts, schools and teachers must make increasingly difficult decisions about what to include, there are creative ways to include popular books in the curriculum. Andrew, who is the high school AP English teacher in our book, never actually reads complete Potter books with his students. Instead, he uses key excerpts from both the books and the movies to support teaching particular literary aspects. In using these regularly, his students gain a sense of the stories and many end up reading the books on their own. Sandra does read one book a year with her students, but it takes a great deal of planning to make it work, including framing her rationale for using the books. The key for all three of the teachers in our book is a set of very clear goals for their students around using Harry Potter. They don't just read Harry Potter because it's fun or the teachers like the books.

Each teacher uses the texts or movies to teach specific points in the curriculum, encourage habits of mind, or build stamina around reading. All three share the goal of building their students' confidence as readers; because Harry is accessible and also smartly written (it links to so many literary traditions, for example) each teacher uses it to catch his/her students by surprise - eventually each class realizes they've engaged the story, understand it, can connect it to other stories and text, and can discuss its merits and/or weaknesses, in many cases using high level academic language, as in the case of Andrew's AP English class. His students would certainly be primed to critically examine Animal Farm, for example. They hold a "literary confidence" not necessarily present previous to discussing/analyzing Potter.

The debate around including popular texts in school curriculum will certainly remain a constant, especially since debates around which "classics" to include in English courses seems never ending. But there is certainly a current wave of coolness around reading - prompted by Potter and sustained by such series as The Hunger Games - that if recognized, harnessed, and used could serve to help students connect to the "classic" texts that have actually influenced a great deal of popular works.

How do we measure the success of these teachers' attempts to use Harry Potter to engage with their students? And why do you think that school systems are so slow to recognize and reward this kind of success?

Measuring teacher success - successful teaching - is probably the biggest educational debate right now. The growth over time data we talked about above is one example of how teachers are increasingly measured by one of the few types of hard data that are produced by teachers and schools en masse. Otherwise, the criteria for "success" becomes more objective and therefore difficult to define and evaluate in large numbers. In the book, we include a list of 9 "shared commonalities" - characteristics the Teaching Harry Potter teachers hold in common that we believe serve as the basis for (and evidence of) their success. One of these does include standardized test scores, but that serves more as one criteria, not the central identifiable aspect of the teachers' success. To our mind, these commonalities are identifiable and clearly contribute to student success. However, we spent time talking with the teachers, getting to know their philosophy and role in their respective schools. It took time to identify the roots of their success, something schools and districts don't have a lot of to work with.

We also hold a particular view of what it means to be a successful teacher. For example, we believe popular culture and media are valuable in school and consider wise and appropriate use of them with students a mark of great teaching. Many would disagree, however. We could spend a long time arguing our point, which we've done, actually, and still not have any kind of consensus on the issue, let alone on how to measure what using popular culture successfully would look like. This is one of the major obstacles faced by each of the teachers in our book, they had to constantly justify their use of Harry Potter books and media and in some cases were actually allowed to use the books because of their successful testing records. So, in the end reading Harry Potter with one's students became the reward for the kind of "success" that could be easily and "objectively" measured - and that's where school districts and policy makers live right now.

Catherine Belcher works with LA's Promise, a nonprofit organization focused on improving schools and empowering neighborhoods in South Los Angeles. She currently serves as the Director of Teaching and Learning at West Adams Preparatory High School. She earned her Ph.D. from the School of Education at the University of Pennsylvania in 2006, where her work focused on Latino educational history and language access. She then served as a new teacher supervisor at St. Joe's University in Philadelphia and as an Assistant Professor in the School of Education at Loyola Marymount University. A lifelong educator, Catherine taught social studies at both the secondary and middle school levels, and has served as a mentor, lead teacher, and curriculum designer. She has presented on the use of Harry Potter in educational spaces at several conferences, including Enlightening 2007, Azkatraz (2009), Infinitus (2010) and NAMLE (2011). Catherine lives in LA with her husband and 11 year old daughter, a Potter aficionado in her own right who proudly displays the Ravenclaw banner in her room, although some days she joins her mom in the Gryffindor common room so they can talk books and dare each other to try eating the grey Bertie Botts Beans.

Becky Herr-Stephenson is a media researcher focused on teaching and learning with popular culture and technology. She earned her Ph.D. from the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Southern California in 2008. She has been a part of several organizations and projects aimed at informing and inciting innovation in education, including the Digital Media and Learning Hub within the Humanities Research Institute at UC Irvine and the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop. Currently, she is working as a Research Associate with the Annenberg Innovation Lab through a partnership between USC and the Cooney Center. She is a co-author (with Mizuko Ito and others) of Hanging Out, Messing Around, and Geeking Out: Kids Living and Learning with New Media (2009, MIT Press). Becky has presented papers on Harry Potter and youth culture at a number of conferences, most recently, Infinitus (2010) and NAMLE (2011). She lives in Los Angeles and is anxiously awaiting the arrival of her first child, who she hopes will be sorted into Ravenclaw (not Slytherin).

Teaching Harry Potter: An Interview with Catherine Belcher and Becky Herr-Stephenson (Part One)

Catherine Belcher and Becky Herr- Shepardson's Teaching Harry Potter: The Power of Imagination in the Multicultural Classroom is quite simply one of the most powerful and engaging books I've read about American education in a long time, and I strongly recommend it to the full range of people who read this blog -- those who are fans, those who are teachers, and those who care about the future of learning. Teaching Harry Potter tells a powerful story about the current state of American education, one which contrasts the enthusiasm many young people and educators feel towards J.K. Rowling's remarkable book series and the constraints which No Child Left Behind-era policies have imposed on how reading gets taught in the classroom. Reading this book produced powerful emotional responses--an enormous respect for the teachers described here who are battling to engage with their students in meaningful and timely ways and despair over some of the obstacles they must overcome in doing so. There's much to be optimistic here in the ways these teachers care deeply enough about their students to take intellectual and professional risks and much that is disheartening about the ways that the system crushes opportunities that all recognize are valuable but which do not fit within the formal "standards."

The two writers move back and forth between a nuanced reading of J.K. Rowling's books which considers how they represent the value of education, detailed accounts of what teachers have been doing with the books as they adapt them for a range of multicultural classes, and big picture considerations of educational policy and pedagogical practice. You can learn more about this book and its authors on Teaching Harry Potter's official website and on the authors' blog.

The following is the first installment of a three part interview with the writers, during which they use Harry Potter to pose some powerful critiques of what's working and what's not in contemporary American education.

Let's start with the question that frames your introduction -- Why Harry Potter? What does this book series help us to understand about the contemporary state of American education?

We chose to use Harry Potter to explore American education because of the powerful things the series has to say about teaching and learning. Even though the magical school system in the Potter books more closely resembles British schools (and, one might say, a particular, nostalgic view of British schools) than the American public schools we discuss in our book, we saw important parallels between how issues such as childhood and adolescence, power (both political and personal), knowledge, literacy, and even media and technology were discussed in the books and how they are discussed in contemporary education. For example, teachers we have worked with have often discussed the challenge of balancing students' informational needs with the school district's desire for "safety" (which can mean anything from approved book lists to highly-restrictive firewalls on school networks); a similar theme is evident in Harry's interactions with Dumbledore and other Hogwarts faculty who struggled with questions about how and when to share information with Harry and his classmates.

The Potter series also reminds us of the importance of looking carefully and closely at situations--as things are not always what they seem to be at first glance--and of the importance of listening to alternative narratives. Both of these things seem particularly salient in relation to the state of contemporary American education, which, when viewed as a whole, seems very much like a lost cause. Looking closer, however, it is apparent that there are great and creative teachers, committed administrators, communities dedicated to supporting their schools, and students who, when given the resources they need, do extraordinary things. It is unfortunate that these stories are so often drowned out by discussions of standardized policy and procedure, as they are important reminders of what is possible. The exclusion of the Harry Potter books themselves, or the "strangeness" of including them in school reading lists, speaks to this as well. The assumption that they are simple children's books belies so much of their meaning and potential.

Further, we love the spirit of learning in Harry Potter: students taking ownership over their own learning and teaching one another; reading books from the restricted section of the library; finding secret passageways to Hogsmeade. Hogwarts students seem to have a sense of autonomy, adventurousness, and wonderment that we wish for all students.

A few pages into the book, you have already framed it as a defense of teachers. Why do teachers need defending? Why do they deserve defending?

Teachers, great teachers, definitely need defending in today's climate. We realize that not all teachers are created equal, and that there is a great need to improve teacher preparation, hiring policies, evaluation, and retention in public schools, particularly in large, urban school districts. However in the book, we talk about how the current climate around accountability, measuring teacher quality by test scores, and the role of teacher unions in protecting ineffective teachers has created a situation where the voices and needs of high quality teachers are being drowned out. Can we really afford that? We felt it vital to draw attention to the work of passionate, highly skilled teachers, to make the counter argument that they exist and are indeed out there - and that they are innovative and current in their approach. We also thought it important to highlight the tensions these teachers deal with in trying to continue their work and grow as creative professionals under the current political climate.

We also believe it is important to discuss the fact that there is more than one way to talk about good teaching. Most of the public discussion today centers on measuring teachers in some manner, usually through their students' test scores, which in many ways make sense since those are the one set of hard, "objective" measures available. Scores also provide a quick and easy answer. But good teaching is about much more than test scores - as is evidenced by Sandra, Andrew and Allegra. We are straightforward about the fact that their students do indeed test well, but we don't focus on that particular aspect of their work. What becomes clear in these three teachers' accounts is that they do much more than test preparation in their classrooms. They work - and often struggle - with making their pedagogy more nuanced and layered as they strive to offer a richer experience for their students. It is also important to note that they work with urban, and/or high poverty students of color, who are more often "test-prepped" and remediated than their suburban counterparts. Do teachers such as these, who believe in their students and work against the grain to offer them a rich literary experience deserve defending? Yes, most definitely. The task is figuring out how to balance that need within a system that currently throws all teachers into the same pot, regardless of their track record with students.

Harry Potter is a series of books about education. What insights might teachers take for their own pedagogical practice from studying the various teachers and administrators depicted in the book?

One of the most important insights teachers might take from the characterizations of teachers and administrators in the books is an understanding of how students perceive them. The Hogwarts faculty members are, by and large, portrayed as archetypes: Minerva McGonagall (stern and confident), Severus Snape (bitter and cruel), Remus Lupin (caring expert), Gilderoy Lockhart (inexperienced and self-absorbed), Albus Dumbledore (wise sage), and so on. Because readers only learn about the teachers through Harry's experiences with them, we spend much of the series not knowing much about them, their backgrounds, or their motivations. Teachers in the series--like many teachers in American schools--knew much more about their students than vice versa. While we're certainly not advocating that teachers give up all rights to privacy, we do think that it's important to be aware of the fact that most students navigate schools with a very incomplete picture of who their teachers are as people--and that this lack of information can serve as an impediment to connecting with teachers, even those who are very skilled and willing to act as caring mentors.

For the teachers we profile in Teaching Harry Potter, the Potter books provided a way to share a bit of themselves with their students by sharing a piece of media about which they were passionate. Now, not all of the featured teachers were die-hard Potter fans (though several definitely would describe themselves that way), but all enjoyed the books, identified their value for their students, and went to great lengths to share the books in their classrooms. Their dedication to brokering access to the books for their students and to creating engaging reading experiences that recognized students' different needs and desires is admirable.

Another thing that teachers might take from the Potter series is the value it places on experiential education--that is, teaching and learning that is grounded in students' real lives, that gets them up, out of their seats, and interacting with one another as well as with people outside of the classroom. Take, for example, Professor Lupin's lesson on defeating Dementors with the Riddikulous spell--this exercise challenged students to use magic that was extremely relevant to their lives at that moment and, although the lesson itself was loud, rambunctious, and risky, it was also highly effective in teaching students a spell they could immediately apply outside of the classroom.

Moves toward standardization of curriculum are generally moves away from experiential learning, as experiential learning needs to be connected to specific contexts, moments in students' lives and in the schooling process. It takes a great deal of creativity and bravery for teachers to privilege this kind of learning in the classroom, especially in the current educational climate in the U.S.

Catherine Belcher works with LA's Promise, a nonprofit organization focused on improving schools and empowering neighborhoods in South Los Angeles. She currently serves as the Director of Teaching and Learning at West Adams Preparatory High School. She earned her Ph.D. from the School of Education at the University of Pennsylvania in 2006, where her work focused on Latino educational history and language access. She then served as a new teacher supervisor at St. Joe's University in Philadelphia and as an Assistant Professor in the School of Education at Loyola Marymount University. A lifelong educator, Catherine taught social studies at both the secondary and middle school levels, and has served as a mentor, lead teacher, and curriculum designer. She has presented on the use of Harry Potter in educational spaces at several conferences, including Enlightening 2007, Azkatraz (2009), Infinitus (2010) and NAMLE (2011). Catherine lives in LA with her husband and 11 year old daughter, a Potter aficionado in her own right who proudly displays the Ravenclaw banner in her room, although some days she joins her mom in the Gryffindor common room so they can talk books and dare each other to try eating the grey Bertie Botts Beans.

Becky Herr-Stephenson is a media researcher focused on teaching and learning with popular culture and technology. She earned her Ph.D. from the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Southern California in 2008. She has been a part of several organizations and projects aimed at informing and inciting innovation in education, including the Digital Media and Learning Hub within the Humanities Research Institute at UC Irvine and the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop. Currently, she is working as a Research Associate with the Annenberg Innovation Lab through a partnership between USC and the Cooney Center. She is a co-author (with Mizuko Ito and others) of Hanging Out, Messing Around, and Geeking Out: Kids Living and Learning with New Media (2009, MIT Press). Becky has presented papers on Harry Potter and youth culture at a number of conferences, most recently, Infinitus (2010) and NAMLE (2011). She lives in Los Angeles and is anxiously awaiting the arrival of her first child, who she hopes will be sorted into Ravenclaw (not Slytherin).

What Samba Schools Can Teach Us About Participatory Culture

If you dropped in at a Samba School on a typical Saturday night you would take it for a dance hall. The dominant activity is dancing, with the expected accompaniment of drinking, talking and observing the scene. From time to time the dancing stops and someone sings a lyric or makes a short speech over a very loud P.A. system. You would soon begin to realize that there is more continuity, social cohesion and long term common purpose than amongst transient or even regular dancers in a typical American dance hall. The point is that the Samba School has another purpose then the fun of the particular evening. This purpose is related to the famous Carnival which will dominate Rio at Mardi Gras and at which each Samba School will take on a segment of the more than twenty-four hour long procession of street dancing. This segment will be an elaborately prepared, decorated and choreographed presentation of a story, typically a folk tale rewritten with lyrics, music and dance newly composed during the previous year. So we see the complex functions of the Samba School. While people have come to dance, they are simultaneously participating in the choice, and elaboration of the theme of the next carnival; the lyrics sung between the dances are proposals for inclusion; the dancing is also the audition, at once competitive and supportive, for the leading roles, the rehearsal and the training school for dancers at all levels of ability. From this point of view a very remarkable aspect of the Samba School is the presence in one place of people engaged in a common activity - dancing - at all levels of competence from beginning children who seem scarcely yet able to talk, to superstars who would not be put to shame by the soloists of dance companies anywhere in the world. The fact of being together would in itself be "educational" for the beginners; but what is more deeply so is the degree of interaction between dancers of different levels of competence. From time to time a dancer will gather a group of others to work together on some technical aspect; the life of the group might be ten minutes or half an hour, its average age five or twenty five, its mode of operation might be highly didactic or more simply a chance to interact with a more advanced dancer. The details are not important: what counts is the weaving of education into the larger, richer cultural-social experience of the Samba School.

So we have as our problem: to transfer the positive features of the Samba School into the context of learning traditional "school material" -- let's say mathematics or grammar. Can we solve it? -- Seymour Papert, "Some Poetic and Social Critera for Education Design" (1975)

I was lucky enough to have spent some small bits of time with Seymour Papert when I first arrived at MIT in the late 1980s and to have spent even more time in the company of his students, such as Amy Bruckman, Idit Harel Caperton, Edith Ackerman, Ricki Goldman, Mitchell Resnick, David Cavallo, and others. His ideas about redesigning educational practices to reflect the value of the Samba Schools was very much in the air at the time and I recall this passage being discussed several times at the meetings of the Narrative Intelligence Reading Group, an incredible bunch of graduate students, faculty members, and folks from the Cambridge community, who met regularly to discuss the intersection between new media and theory. In retrospect, I've begun to wonder how much the concept of the Samba School informed my own ideas about "participatory culture," without me being fully conscious of it at the time. It is only in recent years that I have started to draw connections between the two, but we are always shaped by things in our immediate environment in ways we can not fully articulate at the time. So, choose your contexts wisely.

This past summer, during a trip to Rio, my wife and I were finally able to visit a Samba School, and I came away from the experience with a deeper appreciation of the many different mechanisms through which the community's participation is solicited and maintained over the course of one of those weekend afternoons Papert is describing. And I have found myself reflecting upon this experience many times since my return. Here, I mostly want to share some of the beautiful photographs my wife, Cynthia Jenkins, took, but also to share a few of these still relatively unprocessed impressions. Thanks to my good friend, Mauricio Mota, for organizing our outing at the Samba School. I am still learning about this culture, so please excuse anything I get wrong in this discussion. I would love to have some of my Brazillian readers add their own background and context to what I am sharing here.

The Samba Schools are embedded within particular communities -- most often in the Favelas, which is where the poorest of the poor live in Rio. Upon entering these communities, as an outsider, one is impressed both by the density of the population and by the vibrancy of community life. Everywhere you look, people are gathered together, engaged in conversations, and around the edges, you can see a range of expressive activities.

Samba 4


For me, the creativity fostered by the Samba Schools is also visible in the grafitti and street art which adorns walls all over the city. And the playfulness can be seen in the boys and girls who are trying to conduct kite battles just outside the city center.

The Samba Schools are part of a larger folk logic which survives in Brazil as a living aspect of the culture (even as so much of the folk practices have been crushed in the United States over the past hundred plus years of mass media). We don't need to romanticize these creative impulses, but we also should not deny their existence.

Entering the Samba School has historically been a risky proposition for the middle class and the outsider, as is suggested by the incredibly narrow windows through which transactions occur around the purchase of admission.


Samba 2

But once inside the hall, things are incredibly open and designed to insure sociability through every means possible. The space and practices are designed to encourage participation and to embrace many different kinds of participation. So, the first thing you do upon entering -- or at least the first thing we do upon entering -- is to grab a big heaping plate of food.

Samba 3

As someone born and raised in the south, not so many generations removed from dirt farmers, I recognize the core ingredients here -- there's not much on my plate which I would not have seen at a BBQ place in the deep south or at a family reunion or church picnic. The preparation differs, of course, but the core building blocks are the same. And eating the food gives us time to sit and watch, to get our bearings and to develop a mental map of the space.


Samba 1

The design of the space creates a great deal of fluidity between watching and dancing.


Samba 8

There are many different vantage points for observing what's taking place, but there are no fixed walls separating performance space for spaces where spectators are gathered.


And the longer you are there, the more you find yourself edging closer and closer to where the action is. There is no decisive moment when participants step from watching to dancing. The music pulls at you -- you start to sway your hips or nod along without even fully realizing it.

Samba 6

Mothers and fathers are taking their children with them, and they bounce to the music, even before they really know what's taking place.


Samba 5

There are certainly stars to be seen here: my host points out some of the well known figures in the Samba world who are strutting their stuff and others are gathering around to watch them, but there is nothing stopping anyone from stepping into the same ring on the flat floor and dancing alongside them.


Samba 9

There is a raised area where the bands perform and there are local personalities who moderate the festivities, giving out periodic encouragements for people to join the dance. The announcers, though, are only one of a number of different practices designed to actively invite our participation.


Samba 7

These young men and women function like cupids: they bring love messages from one participant to another, often encouraging them to kiss and dance together, and thus breaking down some of the isolation that might remain in a large public space. You may note that they wear straw hats and have freckles, both intended to indicate they are playing the role of "country bumpkins," a shared figure of bemusement for these urban poor, many of whom only recently left the countryside themselves.

Periodically, a group dressed in police uniforms step march through the hall, blowing whistles, and rounding up captives. They are seeking out people who do not seem to be participating and they take them away for short lectures on the traditions of the community.


Samba 10

As someone who lives in fear of confrontations with people in uniforms, I ask my host what I can do to signal my participation, and it turns out that participation is a flexible category and that wearing the festive shirt which was handed me along with my ticket will be enough to signal that I have become part of the community, rather than a mere spectator.


Samba 11

The "participation police," as I have come to describe them, are one of the most provocative aspects of the experience for me. They speak to the challenges which any participatory culture faces around nonparticipation. I have come to appreciate the concept of legitimate peripheral participation -- the idea that witnessing and learning are themselves forms of participation, or at least, meaningful part of the process of preparing to participate. We should be concerned if some groups are structurally prohibited from participating; we should pay attention to the educational needs of those who are not yet ready to participate; we should build in active mechanisms which repeatedly encourage and solicit participation, as I observed in the Samba Schools, but we should not force participation before any given community member is ready to join the festivities.

So, it is striking that the Samba Schools have a range of different mechanisms for encouraging participation, some more forceful than others, but that it also recognizes and values that sometimes wearing a t-shirt or some other marker of affiliation may be as far as any one person is ready to go in their process of absorbing the norms and values of the community and crossing the invisible threshold into full participation. As we follow Papert's lead, and think about what it would mean to design educational institutions and practices which mirror those of participatory culture, we need to be attentive to the varied and multiple ways that spaces like the Samba School enable meaningful participation for all of their community members.

OurSpace: Being a Responsible Citizen of the Digital World (Part Two)

Last time, I shared part of my contributions to the afterword for OurSpace: Being a Responsible Citizen of the Digital World, a casebook designed to encourage students, teachers, parents, and administrators to reflect on the ethical choices they confront as participants in the new media landscape. Our Space was co-developed by Project New Media Literacies (established at MIT and now housed at University of Southern California Annenberg School for Communications and Journalism) and The GoodPlay Project (Harvard Graduate School of Education). You can find the full casebook here, among other places. Today, I am going to share an example of the kinds of activities we developed for the casebook, activities we intend to be appropriated, remixed, and redeployed by educators working in a variety of different contexts. Key to our process is the idea that we need to establish a safe space for these kinds of conversations to take place, one which respects the rights of all participants. We are trying to encourage a climate of healthy skepticism, one which asks hard questions, but is always open to new discoveries. The following exercise is one we've used successfully in the afterschool program on digital citizenship which my team ran at the Robert K. Kennedy Schools in Los Angeles.

Here's part of what we provide to these educators.

Our Space, Our Guidelines

Erin Reilly, Project NML

Facilitator's Guide

Lesson Overview (Grades 6-12)

Everywhere we go--whether hanging out at the park, being a lab partner in a science class, or meeting new friends through playing the latest MMORPG (Massively Multi-Player Online Role-Playing Game) --we negotiate the implicit and sometimes explicit norms of social communities. These spaces typically don't have signposts or labels that state every guideline that we must abide in order to be part of the group--but somehow most people learn what's inappropriate to do and what to do to fit in. Through observation, talking to others in the group, and actively engaging in the group discussion or activity presented, you can learn about the expectations for appropriate conduct, and what it means to be a responsible player or citizen of the community.

Talking about often sensitive issues such as identity, privacy, trust, ownership and

authorship, and group norms can be difficult; it may take considerable work to establish and maintain a culture that enables all learners to feel safe and comfortable enough to discuss these issues. It is important to discuss the reality that, in many online and offline spaces, different participants may have motives and goals for participating that are at odds with one another. In these cases, norms and expectations may not be clear-cut. Conduct that feels comfortable and appropriate to one person may not feel so to others. This set of activities is designed to help teachers/facilitators and students create a safe space-- and a shared set of norms and guidelines--for participating in discussions about the issues raised in this casebook.

It's important to realize that norms and guidelines work together.

  • Norms are defined through implicit understandings, representing shared assumptions about desirable and appropriate ways of interacting. Norms help to guide, control, or regulate proper and acceptable behavior within any given community.
  • Guidelines are explicitly defined as an indication or outline of policy or conduct. Those policies may be expressed top-down, as in many of the rules that teachers and students have to follow in the school context, or emerge bottom-up, as in the kinds of guidelines we hope will emerge through this activity.

The implicit norms of various online communities are highly flexible, reflecting the still-emerging nature of many of these contexts and practices. Yet the lack of clarity and agreement about appropriate conduct can sometimes lead to misunderstandings and misconduct. Some people defend what would be seen as antisocial actions in other contexts by appealing to the lack of rules governing interaction online. For our purposes, as we negotiate between the online world and the classroom, it is important to establish some guidelines that all participants have agreed upon--guidelines that will allow us to talk about controversial and complex issues while respecting the privacy and dignity of all participants. We need to be able to appeal to these shared principles in order to arbitrate conflicts or, ideally, to prevent antisocial conduct.

Ethical thinking skills highlighted in this lesson:

  • Perspective-taking--striving to understand the motives and goals of multiple stakeholders in online communities
  • Reflecting on one's roles and responsibilities within a community
  • Considering community-level consequences (benefits and harms) of different courses of action

New media literacies highlighted in this lesson:

  • Negotiation--the ability to travel across diverse communities, discerning and respectingmultiple perspectives, and grasping and following alternative norms
  • Collective Intelligence--the ability to pool knowledge and compare notes with others toward a common goal
  • Play--the capacity to experiment with one's surroundings as a form of problem-solving

Learning Objectives

After this lesson, students should be able to:

  • Identify the norms and guidelines for responsible participation that exist in various communities, both offline and online
  • Name distinct features of online communities that may affect the norms and guidelines needed for responsible participation
  • Recognize the importance of creating norms and guidelines to facilitate responsible participation in online communities

Materials Used

  • Anonymous suggestion box (to keep in the classroom permanently)
  • Video: 1969 television series DVD, Room 222 Season OneOn Disc 2, Episode: The Exchange Teacher (airdate: 12/17/1969)


  • Recommended Guidelines
  • WoW Guidelines
  • Case Study: Ning--Community of Readers

Lesson Introduction

Introduce the lesson by considering norms that have been developed for different contexts. Use one of the following activities or a combination of both.

Watch Video and Discuss

The goal of this video clip is to understand that people often enter situations with already established norms. And in doing so, it takes focused effort and group collaboration to break the pre-structured guidelines established and develop a new set of norms and guidelines more appropriate for the participating group.

Begin this lesson by watching chapter two (roughly five minutes) of 1969 television series DVD, Room 222, Disc 2, Episode: The Exchange Teacher (air date: 12/17/1969). This video introduces an exchange teacher from England visiting an American school. Of interest in the video are the reactions of other teachers to the exchange teacher's "eccentric" behavior in her interactions with students, in which she casts aside the established guidelines in the school and articulates her own expectations for students.

Questions to discuss with your students after the video could include:

  • In the video clip, what were the differences between norms and guidelines?
  • Why does a class need guidelines? Or does a class need guidelines?
  • What were the norms of the school before the exchange teacher arrived?
  • How did the exchange teacher change the norms for her classroom?
  • Think of your current situation/location--what might happen if the current guidelines were removed? What are some of the social norms of this space? How might you change them?

Choose an Offline Community and an Online Community and Brainstorm the norms associated with each group. Put the two lists on the board for you and your students to discuss and compare.

Sample Offline Communities:

• Park • Mall • Football game. Church. Classroom

Sample Online Communities:

•Multiplayer online games like Runescape or World of Warcraft • Social networks, like Facebook or MySpace • Fan communities, like FictionAlley.org

Questions to prompt your students could include:

  • What kinds of things help you feel like you are in a safe space?
  • What are the different ways of participating in online communities compared to offline communities?
  • Not everybody participates in the same ways in online communities. What are some different ways to participate? These can be positive or negative (think active nonparticipation, such as: How does a casual observer participate?).

Share with students Will Wright's pyramid of participation when posing this question. Will Wright is a game designer who helped to develop such popular titles as The Sims, SimCity, and Spore. His games rely heavily on the participation of their players. This pyramid illustrates a number of key principles about participatory culture:

1. Participants make different kinds of contributions, with the most labor-intensive activities performed by a much smaller subset of the community than those activities that require more casual commitments;

2. The contributions of participants build upon one another. People who download content, for example, are depending on those who produce or distribute that content, and those who produce the content are hoping to have a receptive audience for the things they make--and are relying on toolmakers to give them the affordances they need to be able to make the content they want. Wright's pyramid thus allows us to talk about what each member contributes and what each member draws from a participatory culture.

When we think about "ethical participation," we often talk about the "public good"--ways to participate that benefit the community as a whole. What are some types of participation that fit the public-good model of participation? For example: How does tagging a media clip relate to participation? NOTE: Consider sharing with students NML's Learning Library challenge "An Introduction to Tagging"

In speaking of ethical issues in this casebook, we refer particularly to the responsibilities and obligations that accompany specific roles in society--for example, the roles of worker, citizen, and participant in a real or virtual community. Going beyond neighborhood morality, which involves the ways in which persons deal with those in their immediate vicinity, an ethical stance entails the capacity to think abstractly; and going beyond the assertion of rights, an ethical stance foregrounds those responsibilities that one should assume, even when--indeed, especially when--they go against one's own self interest.

Are there ways to participate in this community that support others' participation? What types of participation hinder this goal?

How would the exchange teacher in "Room 222" fair in the different spaces you've brainstormed?

Now compare the different spaces you've listed:

  • Can you act the same way in each space? What would happen if you did?
  • How do you account for the differences in expectations of participation in these two communities?

Activity #1: Analysis of Guidelines

Introduction: The goal of this activity is to begin considering guidelines for your class by assessing existing guidelines for participation created by other groups. Students will consider examples from both offline and online communities, exploring similarities and differences, and discuss the extent to which guidelines should differ in online versus offline environments.

Assessing guidelines created and used by other groups is a good start, but every social group is different and therefore it is best to establish your own set of guidelines that work for your group's values and goals.

For further reasoning on this, read the attached Case Study: Ning--Community of Readers with your students. Ning is an innovative and easy-to-use technology platform for people to join and create new social networks for their interests and passions and meet new people around the things they care about most in their life. Ning--Community of Readers is a Ning social network established by Project New Media Literacies to pilot test the Teachers' Strategy Guide: Reading in a Participatory Culture.

Share the attached guidelines and analyze the similarities and differences between the guidelines used by an after-school program and guidelines created for an online community.

Questions to prompt your students could include:

  • Comparing the two sets of guidelines, are there things you don't like? And if so, how might you want your guidelines to be different?
  • Why can't offline guidelines be used for online spaces?
  • What differences do you see between the offline guidelines and the online guidelines? What sorts of things appear in the online guidelines that aren't a part of offline guidelines?
  • Are there characteristics of online spaces that require developing new norms and guidelines? What sorts of things happen in online communities that require creating new guidelines and norms?
  • Besides the two sets of guidelines provided, can you think of other guidelines (whether offline or online) that might be good to add to this list?

Activity #2: Ombudsman, Take it Away!

Introduction: The goal of this activity is to choose one of your students to be an ombudsman and, using the new media literacy, collective intelligence, to establish a set of norms and guidelines for your group's learning environment.

By choosing an ombudsman--someone who will act as mediator, help to resolve any conflicts and ensure that all voices in the group are heard--your group will develop its own set of guidelines for creating a safe learning environment for discussing sensitive issues raised by participation in online learning and play spaces . We each have different backgrounds, experiences and expertises to bring to the conversation. We each deserve to be heard. And we need a set of guidelines, which ensures that everyone will be able to say what's on their mind and not feel at risk from other students' responses.

This space does not have to have the "look and feel" of our normal class. It's a space for us to come together equally in order to discuss issues that are still being worked out by society and to try out some activities. We are going to use the new media literacy, collective intelligence, to pool our knowledge and choose and create new rituals and guidelines for how we will act when we are doing activities on ethics.


  • Choose one of your students to be the first ombudsman--this person will facilitate today's class and ensure that everyone's voice is heard.
  • Have the students collaboratively work to jot down norms that they would want in establishing this safe space.
  • To ensure that everyone has a voice, encourage students to write their ideas on paper anonymously and put them into a suggestion box. There is no limit on how many suggestions you can put into the box.
  • After all suggestions are in, have the ombudsman make a list of norms by reading through all suggestions in the box. By designating a student as the ombudsman, the teacher/facilitator becomes a participant in the activity and helps to set in motion a new set of norms for how the teacher/facilitator and students will interact during the ethics exercises.
  • Have the ombudsman moderate a discussion on defining a list of guidelines to support establishing the norms requested by the group.
  • Through a voting session, have the ombudsman narrow down the list of guidelines to no fewer than three and no more than five. Conduct the voting with a show of hands. Students can raise their hands five times. The ombudsman needs to add up the total on each vote and determine which on the list rise to the top as the most important.
  • The ombudsman should write the final list on the board to get initial reactions/feedback from the group.

NOTE: In the dynamic we hope to see played out in these lessons, the expertise of both teachers/facilitators and students are "co-configured," meaning you and your students have different expertise to share when reflecting on digital media practices. We hope you work to hear one another's voices and opinions without bias. Encourage your group to return to this opening activity anytime they feel that new classroom norms have developed or that old norms have changed so that your classroom's list of Guidelines can be updated accordingly.

Concluding Takeaways

This lesson is designed to introduce ways of thinking about the need for establishing norms and guidelines that will facilitate a safe space where everyone feels comfortable discussing the sensitive issues that arise when adding digital realms to the everyday world. Because the focus of this casebook is digital media and ethics, it is possible that students will have had experiences that teachers have not themselves encountered. Allowing facilitation by students designated as ombudsman provides a space in which teachers and students bring their different perspectives and expertise to the table. The guidelines help to establish norms that support all players in the classroom to dynamically learn from one another.


Through participation in class activities and discussions and/or answers to optional assessment questions, students should demonstrate they can:

  • Identify the norms and guidelines for responsible participation that exist in various communities, both offline and online
  • Name distinct features of online communities that may affect the norms and guidelines needed for responsible participation
  • Recognize the importance of creating norms and guidelines to facilitate responsible participation in online communities

Assessment Questions (Optional)

  • Think of a group--either online or offline--you belong to (or used to belong to) that is either particularly good or particularly bad at encouraging responsible participation. Explain the norms and guidelines of the group (if they exist) and how they affect the way people participate in the group.
  • Think of an online community/context in which you participate. What are the norms and guidelines for participation? How are they similar to and different from the offline communities/contexts in which you participate?


Recommended Guidelines

  • Respect--Give undivided attention to the person who has the floor (permission to speak).
  • Confidentiality--What we share in this group will remain in this group.
  • Openness--We will be as open and honest as possible without disclosing others' (families', neighbors', or friends') personal or private issues. It is okay to discuss situations, but we won't use names or other identifiers. For example, we won't say, "My older brother ..." Instead, we will say, "I know someone who ..."
  • Right to pass--It is always okay to pass (meaning "I'd rather not" or "I don't want to answer").
  • Nonjudgmental approach--We can disagree with another person's point of view withoutputting that person down.
  • Taking care to claim our opinions--We will speak our opinions using the first person and avoid using "you." For example, " I think that kindness is important." Not, " You are just mean."
  • Sensitivity to diversity--We will remember that people in the group may differ in cultural background, sexual orientation, and/or gender identity or gender expression, and will be careful about making insensitive or careless remarks.
  • Anonymity--It is okay to ask any question by using the suggestion box. Acceptance--It is okay to feel uncomfortable; adults feel uncomfortable, too, when they talk about sensitive and personal topics, such as sexuality.
  • Have a good time--It is okay to have a good time. Creating a safe space is about coming together as a community, being mutually supportive, and enjoying each other's qualities.

Adapted from Guide to Implementing TAP: A Peer Education Program to Prevent HIV and STI (2nd edition), © 2002, Advocates for Youth, Washington, DC.

World of Warcraft (WoW) Guidelines

This is an excerpt taken from the WoW Guidelines to illustrate guidelines for an online community. For the full set of guidelines.

Welcome to the World of Warcraft discussion forums! These forums are here to provide you with a friendly environment where you can discuss ideas, give game play advice, role-play, and converse about any other aspects of World of Warcraft with other players. Community forums are at their best when participants treat their fellow posters with respect and courtesy. Therefore, we ask that you conduct yourself in a civilized manner when participating in these forums.

The guidelines listed below explain what behavior is expected of you and what behavior you can expect from other community members. Note that the following guidelines are not exhaustive, and may not address all manner of offensive behavior. Your access to these forums is a "privilege," and not a "right."


This category includes both clear and masked language and/or links to websites containing such language or images that

  • Promote racial/ethnic hatred
  • Are recognized as a racial/ethnic slur
  • Allude to a symbol of racial/ethnic hatred

If a player is found to have participated in such actions, he/she will:

  • Be temporarily banned from the World of Warcraft forums
  • Be given a final warning; any further Code of Conduct violations may result in permanent ban from the forums

Real-Life Threats

This category includes both clear and masked language and/or links to websites containing such language or images that:

  • Refer to violence in any capacity that is not directly related to the game world

If a player is found to have participated in such actions, he/she will:

  • Be temporarily banned from the World of Warcraft forums
  • Be given a final warning; any further Code of Conduct violations may result in a permanent ban from the forums

Distribution of Real-Life Personal Information

This category includes:

  • Releasing any real-life information about other players or Blizzard Entertainment employees

If a player is found to have participated in such actions, he/she will:

  • Be permanently banned from the World of Warcraft forums

Posting Cheats, Hacks, Trojan Horses, or Malicious Programs

This category includes:

  • Posting links to cheats, hacks, or malicious viruses / programs

If a player is found to have participated in such actions, he/she will:

  • Be permanently banned from the World of Warcraft forums

Inappropriate language

This category includes both clear and masked language and/or links to websites containing such language or images that:

  • Are a mildly inappropriate reference to human anatomy or bodily functions
  • Are otherwise considered objectionable
  • Bypass the Mature Language filter

If a player is found to have participated in such actions, he/she will:

  • be given a temporary ban from the World of Warcraft forums, depending upon severity

Harassing or Defamatory

This category includes both clear and masked language and/or links to websites containing such language or images that:

  • Insultingly refer to other characters, players, Blizzard employees, or groups of people
  • Result in ongoing harassment to other characters, players, Blizzard employees, or groups of people

If a player is found to have participated in such actions, he/she will:

  • Be given a temporary ban from the World of Warcraft forums, depending upon severity

Harassment takes many forms, and is not necessarily limited to the type of language used, but the intent. Repeatedly targeting a specific player with harassment can lead to more severe action. The idea behind this is to prevent any one player from consistently being uncomfortable in the World of Warcraft forums.

Major Religions or Religious Figures

This category includes both clear and masked language and/or links to websites containing such language or images that:

  • Negatively portray major religions or religious figures

If a player is found to have participated in such actions, he/she will:

  • Be given a temporary ban from the World of Warcraft forums, depending upon severity

Spamming and Trolling

This category includes:

  • Excessively communicating the same phrase, similar phrases, or pure gibberish Creating threads for the sole purpose of causing unrest on the forums
  • Causing disturbances in forum threads, such as picking fights, making off-topic posts that ruin the thread, insulting other posters
  • Making non-constructive posts
  • Abusing the Reported Post feature by sending false alarms or nonsensical messages

If a player is found to have been spamming or trolling, he/she will:

  • Be given a temporary or permanent ban from the World of Warcraft forums, depending upon severity

The bottom line is that we want World of Warcraft to be a fun and safe environment for all players. World of Warcraft is a Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game, and the key words are "Massively Multiplayer." In playing this game and posting on its forums, you will encounter thousands of other players who share different experiences and come from vastly different backgrounds. While certain language and images may not be offensive to you, consider the fact that that same language and images may have a completely different effect on someone else. We've done everything we can to make this

Ning Community of Readers: Example Case

A conversation with Aurora High School teacher, Rebecca Rupert, discussing her and her students' process for developing community guidelines.

Rebecca Rupert writes:

We started with the following guidelines that were written by teacher Ann Smith from Arapahoe, Colorado.

In your discussion, be sure:

1. Your posts (or comments) are well written. This includes not only good content, but--because these are school-related--also follows writing conventions including spelling, grammar, and punctuation.

2. Your posts (or comments) are responsive. They respond to other people's ideas--whether it is a post by a teacher, a comment by a student, or an idea elsewhere on the Internet. The power of online communication tools is in their connectedness--they are connected to a larger community of ideas. Participate in that community.

3. Your posts (or comments) include textual references to support your opinions. Adding quotes or links to other works strengthens your response.

4. You participate frequently. To be part of the dialogue, you have to participate fully and consistently.

5. You are respectful of others. It's okay to disagree; it's not okay to be disagreeable. Be respectful of others and their opinions, and be civil when you disagree.

She used the guidelines for students as they participated in a Socratic seminar blogging session. She notes, "I first used the guidelines for an online chat with my students, and it became immediately clear that students were not following any of them (it was a disaster), so we spent time looking closely at each guideline, re-writing them, and adding them to the list. We came up with our own set of guidelines, and they were posted in the room for a time. As I remember, my students' guidelines were very similar, just written in different language.

Designing Woman: An Interview with Anne Balsamo (Part Two)

You worked at Xerox PARC, which, as you note, has become a mythic locale in the early history of digital technology. What do you think the current myths about Xerox PARC get right and what do they misunderstand?

Among the many lessons I learned during my time working at Xerox PARC is the understanding that the future is created first in the imagination, and then is enacted through the many activities of the research laboratory (among other places). Contrary to the old adage--that the best way to predict the future is to invent it--what I came to appreciate is the important role of narrative in creating an imaginary relationship between the FUTURE and the present. The first act of innovation is an act of story-making--which involves the spinning of a narrative that features technologies, materials, beliefs about "needs" and "opportunities," and is performed by researchers who (as in the case of Xerox PARC) are employed in the business of innovation. I'm not sure how that matches with the cultural work of Xerox PARC today--the scene has changed in the decade since I left. But I suspect that the researchers there are still eagerly engaged in the cultural processes--and performance--of innovation.

You argue that technologists should "pay attention to the technological literacy of the intended users off the technology-under-development." What advice can you offer to technologists about the best way to "pay attention"? What are the "ethical responsibilities" of technologists in regard to those who will be left behind if their tools and platforms are more widely adopted?

My approach to the topic of "paying attention" is grounded in the theory of "strong objectivity" developed by the philosopher of science, Sandra Harding. This argument is best situated within the debates about objectivity, scientism, and relativism of the late 1990s that were spurred by important work in critical feminist science studies. Harding argues that we need NOT to abandon ideals of "scientific objectivity"--as some feminists might have than been accused of advocating--but rather we need to be more RIGOROUSLY objective in understanding that reality is multidimensional; and that science, to be a truly objective explanatory enterprise needs to engage the minds and points of view of people who have been trained (socialized) to see the matter of the world from different perspectives.

Perhaps the key issue here is that what we are to "pay attention to" is multidimensional; thus the ethical responsibility of any technologist is to actively seek to see the world through different eyes, and not to assume that the point of view that one embodies is privileged as the only "point of view." Haraway calls this the "god trick." The ethical response is to understand how one's perspective is always partial, and to seek out other points of view (as it were) when developing or experimenting with the creation of new technologies.

I don't see the issue as one about people who will be "left behind"--because I understand that technologies are not simply objects, but rather a whole technocultural formation. Everyone lives in a current technological cultural moment that is constantly unfolding; an individual's position within that technocultural formation is what we really need to address when we think about "access to technology." No one is actually "left behind" in a cultural formation; they are differently positioned, constrained, enabled, empowered, with different (and often unequal) access to resources such as tools, knowledge, economic goods. I would argue that issues that are framed in terms of "people left behind" do not reflect a complex understanding about the nature of technoculture and cultural reproduction. To frame this question in this way presupposes an answer that puts the emphasis solely on "access to technology." Yet we know that simply providing access--dumping computers into classrooms for example--doesn't work to address the broader issues of inequality in power, economic resources, and intellectual support. Its time to start thinking more complexly about strategies for rearticulating dominant technocultural formations to allow for more liberatory and equal participation.

What is Literacy? from Anne Balsamo on Vimeo.

What does your book's focus on "design" contribute to the larger conversation around New Media Literacies and Digital Learning which has been sparked by the recent interventions of the MacArthur Foundation?

As I elaborated in the book, I make explicit the connections between the processes of design thinking and the skills and sensibilities that you list as key 21st century literacies. I argue that we need to teach designing practices across the curriculum; I support the notion that "design is a new liberal art." The issue of designing (design thinking, critical design skills) emerges as an important topic as we come to appreciate the many ways in which young people use new digital technologies to create and participate in innovative learning experiences. As they are called to be "designers/authors" of their own learning experiences, they will be well served (I assert) by learning also important design methods and critical frameworks for the analysis of their designed efforts.

The central premise of the book is that the work of design is one of the most important sites of cultural reproduction in a digital age. When I turn my attention to the designing/authoring efforts of students, I understand that even when these students think they are making it all up for the first time, they are actually engaged in the process of reproducing cultural understandings that came before them, and setting up the conditions for the reproduction of these understandings in the future. Thus for me to teach design also requires the teaching of ethics and the training of the historical imagination....both of these concepts are less fashionable to speak of these days

DML efforts might cast these concerns as "civic engagement" or as topics for "learning games." While there is nothing wrong with that approach--who could argue against "civic engagement" as an important topic for contemporary new media and digital learning--as I elaborate in the book I believe that there are additional insights to glean from discussions about ethics and about history in the context of understanding the praxis of designing and the reproduction of culture.

Given your discussion throughout about the need to reimagine the book, I am curious about the process which led you to develop Designing Culture as a print based book with digital extensions. What do you see each medium contributing to our experience of the whole?

The book and the digital projects were designed/authored simultaneously; but at any point, one creative project would take precedence over the others. This is because I'm not really good about multitasking at the broadest levels. It is also because the knowledge making process that is invoked during the course of creating digital media applications is different for me than the knowledge making process that emerges through the act of writing/authoring.

I wrote the book, as I explained in the conclusion, for personal, professional, and theoretical reasons. One of the most salient theoretical reasons is that the book is well suited to one of the most critical, but most commonly overlooked stages of designing: the stage when the designer returns to the design effort (and outputs) to critically assess the lessons learned and the cultural impact of the project. This stage of self-reflexive assessment is not easily accommodated in digital media genres of the museum exhibit, videos, interactive applications, and such.

The technological form of the printed book allows for the theoretical elaboration of abstract concepts and of self-reflexive accounts of designing practice. The book I wrote was neither a factual account of a series of moments long past, nor was it a simply a work of speculative design fiction. It was an authored account that was both factual and fictional; that was highly determined by my own biography and set of theoretical commitments, but not able to be reduced to either biography or theory.

If we return to C. Wright Mills notion of the "sociological imagination" we will hear him call for this kind of disposition--the sociological imagination for him was the capacity to make the connections between one's own personal biographies and the broader social and institutional forces and formations that invariably shape those biographies. This is the deep theoretical tradition I was trained in as a cultural theorist: to seek to make connections between my personal investments and biographical moments and the broader technocultural formation that I participate in as a subject/author and that I am "subjected to" through the work of ideology and other shaping forces.

Moreover, the DESIGNING CULTURE project is an example of the technological imagination at work in that the project manifested across a range of media technologies: where each part of the project was realized and expressed in the modality that was best deployed for my particular authorial objectives. Here I borrow Mill's insight to suggest that the technological imagination is the disposition that allows one to make the connections among technological forms and more personal/authorial objectives. Other people might call this paying attention to the "media specificity" of different modalities of cultural expression. Indeed that is what a good story teller always does: chose the best medium for addressing the desired audience that is matched with the story one wants to tell.

You are part of the leadership of the Annenberg Innovation Lab. What opportunities does the Lab offer you to push your concepts to the next level?

My work with the Annenberg Innovation Lab is very exciting for me because it offers an opportunity to collaborate with other people on the project of technological innovation that begins by taking culture seriously. This is the challenge that is laid out in the book: it is time to treat culture as a serious concept in our discussions, learning activities, design projects, and technological inventions.

Jonathan Taplin, Director of the Annenberg Innovation Lab, invokes the mantra for the lab as such: Every day culture eats strategy for lunch. This assertion resonates strongly with the main thesis of the Designing Culture project and sets the stage for a whole range of interesting experiments in the design of innovative technologies and the exercise of the technological imagination.

Anne Balsamo holds joint appointments in the Annenberg School of Communication and the Interactive Media Division of the School of Cinematic Arts. Her interest in the relationship between technology and culture informs her work as a scholar, teacher, researcher, entrepreneur, and new media designer. She is the recipient of a recent grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to create an interactive tangible interface for the AIDS Memorial Quilt. In 2008 she received a grant from the MacArthur Foundation to study the future of museums and libraries in a digital age. Her next project investigates tinkering as a mode of knowledge production in a digital age. Her on-going research-design projects focus on the role of public interactives as a stage for technology transfer from sites of innovation (university labs and research centers) to the general public.

Shall We Play? (Part Two)

Because of the importance we place on play, we call the professional development program Project New Media Liteacies is developing PLAY (which in this case stands for Participatory Learning and YOU!) (We usually accompany this definition by pointing our finger at the person we are talking to, itself a playful ritual which surrounds our collective discussion of this work.) You can read more about the core concepts underlying our PLAY approach through a series of blog posts being developed by Vanessa Vartabedian at the Project NML blog. For the moment, I will simply offer this one paragraph explanation of our general approach:

Participatory learning is characterized by:

  • Heightened motivation and new forms of engagement through meaningful play and experimentation;
  • Learning that feels relevant to students' identities and interests;
  • Opportunities for creating using a variety media, tools and practices;
  • Co-configured expertise where educators and students pool their skills and knowledge and share in the tasks of teaching and learning;
  • An integrated system of learning where connections between home, school, community and world are enabled and encouraged.

While there is no one-to-one mapping between the 6 Ps of Play and these principles of participatory learning, I hope it is clear that these two frameworks have informed each other in significant ways. What we are describing as participatory learning can and often is linked to new media tools and platforms but it does not have to be. We stress the value of low-tech and no-tech versions of these processes, even if we also try to model ways that state-of-the-art tools can be integrated into this kind of learning environment. The principles of participatory learning emerge from our close examination of what I call participatory culture, a topic which surfaces often here on the blog.

Blake Anderson, a student in my New Media Literacies class made this video to explain the concept, which I had to share. This graduate student was motivated by a series of YouTube videos to make a puppet for the first time, as he sought ways to translate my conceptual model for a new audience. As you will see, the protagonist of the video is The Professor who bears an uncanny resemblance to the actual instructor of his class but was also a tribute to a childhood spent in the company of Muppets. This deflation of academic authority was received with great pleasure by all involved, especially by me.

What does participatory learning look like in practice? Well, one example might be the workshops in interactive design which I ran for many years at MIT in collaboration with the late Sande Scoredos from Sony Imageworks. We formed teams of students with many different educational backgrounds and interests. Each team was to chose an existing media property and began to develop a plan for how to expand it into interactive media -- most often, how to translate it into the vocabulary of contemporary video games. Students in this intensive class broke their time between hearing lectures on aspects of interactive design by faculty and industry people and working in teams, brainstorming, refining their ideas, and working towards a presentation. By the end of the week, the students "pitch" their game ideas to a panel of people from different parts of the entertainment industry, pretending to be a start up company trying to get a contract, and they got feedback on both their ideas and their presentation styles.

The result was always memorable -- a rich array of imaginative ideas which showed a deep understanding of the core concepts and information running through the class. Students listened with the idea that they would be applying what they learned in this creative and playful process. I plan to adapt this approach for the Transmedia Entertainment and Storytelling class I am offering through the Cinema School in the fall.

Participatory learning might also look like what we have been doing through an after school program which we launched at the Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools this semester, a program focused around themes of digital citizenship. The RFK schools (six altogether, each with different focuses and philosophies) launched this fall and they are still trying to work through their identity and norms as a community. We sought ways to get students focused on the process of defining who they were as a community through play and creative activities. Vanessa Vartabedian ran the program, with strong support from Erin Reilly and Laurel Felt, and in the end, it involved all of the current Project NML students and staff, as well as students from my New Media Literacies graduate seminar.

One activity had the students taking photographs of "invisible borders or boundaries" which shaped their social interactions, whether borders based on gender, class, or the line between student and teacher or the line between the different schools using the shared facility. This focus on norms of inclusion or exclusion was enhanced by the challenge of using photography, normally a medium for capturing the visible, as a means of representing things which are understood but often not explicit, often not seen or observed.

Another activity, developed by the Rossier Schools' Stefani Relles sought to get students to construct an anthem for their school, using very open ended modes of visual orchestration, and then, using simple instruments, trying to produce meaningful noise together. The goal was not only to get students to articulate what their schools meant to them but also to experience music-making as a creative process, one which was structured to free them from anxieties about performance.

Another activity, developed by Meryl Alper, got them to focus on the history of the school, which had, among other things, been the site of the Coconut Grove nightclub, which has been partially preserved as a drama facility, and was also the site of the Ambassador Hotel, where Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated. In fact, the media lab where the after school program meets is the kitchen where RFK died, something which students had not fully understood until Alper explained it. Alper shared with them a photograph of the Latino bus boy who prayed with and comforted RFK in his final moments, and asked them to think about their own place in the history of the school. Using an app which pastiched a range of different film stocks, she asked them to go out and stage images which conveyed something of the history of the school, and again, they were invited to creatively explore and document their physical surroundings. These are simply a few of the forms of participatory learning activities we've incorporated into our work at the RFK schools. Most of these activities are playful and creative, but they are not in and of themselves games.

So, let me close with the invitation to all of the educators who read (or hear) this talk: Shall we play?

Shall We Play? (Part One)

A few weeks ago, I delivered one of the two keynote addresses at the USC Teaching with Technologies conference. This year's theme was "The Connected Mind." I chose to spend my time talking about the value of play, a theme which has surfaced several times in my recent talks, so I wanted to share the core ideas from this presentation with you here. SHALL WE PLAY?

In many ways, I am speaking to you today under false pretenses. This talk is not primarily about teaching with technology. After spending two decades of my life at MIT, I have almost reflexively become that guy who challenges claims about technological determinism and who stresses the importance of the culture which informs the design and deployment of tools.

These themes are explored more fully in the white paper which I wrote for the MacArthur Foundation on Learning in a Participatory Culture. New media tools and platforms have affordances which support new kinds of learning, but those forms of learning are also very strongly informed by participatory practices, many of which have a history far older than the web. Today, in focusing on play, I am going to be drawing heavily on ideas that emerged prior to the introduction of digital games, but which continue to be relevant in rethinking our pedagogical practices. If we embrace the values of play, we may find ourselves toying with new technologies and insofar as these participatory practices are closely associated with some of the new platforms of the Web 2.0 era, we may also find that in working with these tools, we are drawn towards a reappraisal of the value of play in our teaching.

This is also not a talk about games-based learning. Through the work I did almost a decade ago at MIT with Kurt Squire, Philip Tan, Eric Klopfer, Alex Chisholm and others on the Games to Teach Project, I have been an early and frequent advocate of games-based learning. I both share James Paul Gee's belief that good game design is also good pedagogical design and have worked to model what games for education might look like. But in talking always about games, we may under-estimate the value of more open-ended forms of play and of play as a general disposition in the educational environment. These are the themes I want to explore more fully today.

This is also not a talk about gamification, a term which is being used far too often today, as if it could adequately sum up the larger movement towards games for change. To me, gamification as a concept grossly simplifies what research on games-based learning has shown us over the past decade or so. When the Games to Teach team worked with content experts, we sought ways to embed information from the curriculum, knowledge from the text book, into activities in the games. We asked each expert what knowing this allowed people to do and then we sought to capture those activities through the game design and mechanics so that they provided deep motivation for the learner to master these concepts.

At the heart of this model was intrinsic motivation. The power of games is in part that they provide such clarity in defining the roles and goals, that they helped us to know what to do and how to do it, and as such, they motivate deeper forms of learning. Gamification, at its worst, rejects a theory of intrinsic motivation in favor of one based on extrinsic motivation. That is to say, it attempts to motivate "proper" or "desired" behavoirs through attaching points to otherwise mundane and uninteresting activities. For example, Foursquare represents a gamification of consumer loyalty programs.

One might argue that this version of gamification does not in any significant way break with current educational practices which may be why it has been easier for schools to embrace than the more challenging kinds of learning games which were proposed in the past. Our students learn NOW in schools not because they value what they are learning but because they have been taught to value grades. And where their grades are not strong, they plead for extra credit points, which represents another way of adding points as rewards or incentives to behaviors valued by their teachers. I do believe we can learn much from games but I sure hope that what we take away from them goes deeper than most current models of gamification.

But, for the moment, I want to push games aside and talk about play. The distinction I am making here comes from an essay by the child psychologist Bruno Bettelheim. Here's what Bettelheim tells us:

'Generally speaking, play refers to the young child's activities characterized by freedom from all but personally imposed rules (which are changed at will), by free-wheeling fantasy involvement, and by the absence of any goals outside the activities itself...'

Bettelheim thus links play to freedom, experimentation, personal investment, and process, all values to which I will return later in this talk.

"Games, however, are usually competitive and are characterised by agreed-upon, often externally imposed, rules, by a requirement to use the implements of the activity in the manner for which they were intended and not as fancy suggests, and frequently by a goal or purpose outside the activity, such as winning the game."

We might think about the game, Candyland, as an ideal transitional device -- a game which teaches young players the basic mechanics of board games, one which often plays a key role in socializing us into the world of games. For Betteiheim, learning to play games represents an important step in the socialization process -- learning to accept outside and sometimes arbitrary constraints on one's behavior for the purposes of social reciprocity and delayed gratification.

"Children recognize early on that play is an opportunity for pure enjoyment, whereas games may involve considerable stress."

So, while learning to play games is a step forward, it also is accompanied by some kinds of losses -- in terms of personal expression and immediate pleasure. People cheat at games, for example, as a way of coping with the anxiety of competition in ways that they do not generally find it necessary to cheat at play. Indeed, it is not clear what cheating at play would look like given the lack of social constraint on individual expression it entails.

By that same token, institutions find it much easier to incorporate games, which preserves the notion of rule-driven activity, rather than play, which is often understood as a kind of anarchic freedom from any and all constraints. So, schools often treat most forms of play as minimally a distraction, more often a disruption, of school practices, hence the concept of "class clown" which runs through educational literature. In other cultures, the clown is an educator who invites us to re-examine existing hierarchies and structures, taking the world apart and putting it back together again, where-as the clown in our schooling is seen as an unwelcome rival for the classes attention, a challenge to discipline and a disturbance of learning.

In part, this is because our puritan culture maintains a world view in which play is the opposite of work. We have decided that schooling should be about work rather than play, and as such, we are driving down the creative impulses of our students. No wonder that many are seeing a crisis of creativity in contemporary America!

Interestingly, though, when we work with teachers in professional development programs focused on learning and teaching the new media literacies, they consistently gravitate to play out of the 12 social skills and cultural competencies we've identified through our work. Here's how our white paper defines play as a literacy: "the capacity to experiment with one's surroundings as a form of problem solving." Today, we are pushing beyond play as a skill to think about play as a disposition -- a way of seeing oneself and the world through new creative lens which depend on suspending real world consequences and encouraging a process of innovation and creativity.

Educators are sometimes drawn to play for the wrong reasons -- because they seek to entertain their students. I sometimes hear various lay theories of "stealth learning," the idea that we can smuggle in learning disguised as play into schools and students will have so much fun that they will overcome their resistance to the schooling process. In many ways, I see this as like that moment in Tom Sawyer where Twain's protagonist sells others in his cohort into helping him white wash the fence by convincing him that doing so is great fun. This is perhaps the same kind of trap that we fall into when we talk about gamification -- a confusion between intrinsic and extrinsic motivations. Play is not disguised learning; play IS learning.

Jean Piaget captures this sense of the value of play when he tells us that "play is the work of childhood." He rejects any simple opposition between play and work, suggesting that play is the most important work children perform, because it is through play they acquire basic knowledge and skills fundamental to their culture. A kitten plays at stalking. In a hunting society, children play with bows and arrows. And in an information society, people play with information and interfaces.

We can rehearse and acquire core skills and knowledge through play because play lowers the stakes of failure. One of the activities we've developed through Project NML for thinking about play is called "Fail and Fail Often," and it uses the casual game, Bloons, to get people to reflect on the strategies of experimentation and calibration they apply in solving problems in games. This is a totally addictive game in part because it is so simple and the way you move forward through the game is to try different strategies, most of which will not work. Through this process, we learn basic things about the physics of the game and how different materials respond to us. We can compare this with the role failure plays in schools: children are afraid to fail and teachers are afraid to tell their students that they are failing. As a result, students do not take risks which might push their performance forward and they do not get the feedback they might need to better calibrate their efforts.

Lately, as I've talked about the value of play for learning, I have started to identify a series of properties which help us to better understand the core principles of play. I call them the Six P's of Play (though this remains a work in progress and may end up with fewer or more Ps before all is said and done).

1. Permission. Before we can play, as adults, as students, we have to give ourselves permission to do so. This is of course different for many children who play often and only stop playing when they are prohibited from doing so. The concept of permission is closely linked to what game theorists call the "magic circle," that is, a mental bracket which we put around our activities which changes their affect, their meaning, and most of all, their consequences. Within that magic circle, we lower the consequences of risks; we agree to engage with each other with good humor; we try hard but do not take the outcome as seriously as we would if we performing the same activities outside of a play context. I love the example of the little girl who is sweeping the floor -- we would understand her activity differently if she were doing chores or playing house, even though the actions would be the same. In a school culture, where there is a long history of prohibiting play, we must work very hard to give signals when play is an acceptable mode of engaging with the activities and we have to build up trust with our students that we are not going to retrospectively count their play against them.

2. Process -- Play values process as much or more than product. Eric Zimmerman and Katie Salens make the point that the most efficient and effective way to play golf is to walk right up to the hole and plop the ball into it. But we would not see that as a very fun way of playing golf. Instead, we create as many obstacles as possible -- we use strange implements, we move far away from the hole, we create sand and water obstacles, we slope the landscape to give us less effective control over the outcome. In an education system now focused so heavily on how students perform on standardized testing, performance based on product completely displaces performance assessed based on process, yet play's value is focusing our attention on the experience itself, in the moment, in the process. It asks us to be aware of how we do things as much as on what we do. This is why play can be helpful in supporting the acquisition of basic skills which can be rehearsed and valued on their own without regard to the finished product.

3. Passion --The Gates Foundation has found that an increasing number of young people are dropping out of school not because they are incapable of performing what's expected of them but because they are bored. Work in the Digital Media and Learning Field tells us that we need to recognize the rewards of passion-based learning, of students pursuing those topics which they care about most deeply and using these interests to motivate and sustain other kinds of learning. Mary Louise Pratt has a great story she tells about her son's baseball card collection and how talking with him about it pushed him to learn more about history (as a backdrop to the key games in baseball history), geography (as a context for where the teams come from), architecture (as a way of discussing different stadiums), and math (as a way of playing around with batting averages.) This brings us back to Bettelheim's notion of play as open-ended, free-flowing, self-determined, and thus as something which is experienced as a site of freedom and passion.

4. Productivity -- Play is highly generative, despite or perhaps even because of its focus on process rather than product. I am very fond of the photographs which Martha Cooper took in the 1960s and 1970s of children's street play in New York City. These images show the imaginative ways that children transform their geographic environments through their play, claiming space even in relatively inhospitable environments where they are free to explore and interact; these images also show them taking up everyday materials around them as raw materials for their own play, transforming them from their mundane functions through a clever recognition of their underlying properties and affordances. And of course, they do the same thing with their bodies and with their social relations, performing new roles, trying out new structures, redefining old situations. This is the sense in which play can be linked to creativity. While in the spirit of play, old rules and structures are suspended, allowing us to look at the world in new ways, and allowing us to transform and transcend our environments.

5. Participation -- Play occurs in a social context which invites us to enter into the fun. We do sometimes watch others play, to be sure, and this represents what educational theorists call "legitimate peripheral participation." We watch with the anticipation of future participation. We watch to observe how others perform, to learn new skills, to appraise our own performance, or simply because we do not yet feel in the right spirit to play. But watching in this case is also a form of learning and is of a very different kind than watching which occurs when we know we will never be able to participate, when we feel that our participation is not welcome, when we anticipate not being able to do what's expected of us. As we sit in classrooms where no one offers up answers and no one is engaging with the learning process, we could learn a lot by going back to the ways that young people are introduced to a new kind of play and the ways that ideally they are encouraged to participate. (Of course, I don't want to romanticize this. As someone who often was not picked for teams in school, I know that the promise of participation can become cutting if we experience exclusion rather than engagement.)

6. Pleasure -- Pleasure is the byproduct of play. The search for pleasure is often what motivates play. This takes us back to Bettelheim's point about the stress around winning a game versus the relative freedom of participating through play. The game remains an operationalization of play, it represents a stress on the outcome that undercuts play's focus on process. And thus, a game may offer pleasure to some but with no guarantees and often a strong threat of displeasure if we lose the game. Thus, while it is very valuable to bring games into school, it is also important to provide contexts for more free and open-ended forms of play, which can offer pleasure to all who participate, rather than offering rewards to those who win.


How Learners Can Be On Top of Their Game: An Interview with James Paul Gee (Part One)

James Paul Gee from New Learning Institute on Vimeo.

On April 4, I will be respondent for the Pullias Lecture, being hosted by the Rossier School of Education here at the University of Southern California. The primary speaker is James Paul Gee, who is going to address "Games, Learning, and the Looming Crisis of Higher Education." For those in the Los Angeles area, the talk is being held in the Davidson Conference Center at USC, 4-6 PM.

I was delighted to be asked to participate in this exchange, both because I was recently given an honorary appointment in the Rossier School and because I have such affection and respect for Gee. We've known each other for the better part of a decade now. We've appeared together many times, often in informal conversational settings, I like to call "The Jim and Henry Show," where we talk about our shared interests in participatory culture, games and learning, and the new media literacies. Gee has been one of the key thinkers about the kinds of new pedogogical models represented by computer and video games, seeing them as illustrating alternative forms of learning to those represented by our current schooling practices. Gee has been one of the core contributors to the MacArthur Digital Media and Learning initiative, helping to inspire a whole new generation of educational researchers, who are doing serious work not only on games but also modding, machinema, fan fiction, virtual worlds, and a range of other new media platforms and practices.

This semester, I have ended up teaching Gee's recent book, Women and Gaming: The Sims and 21st Century Learning, in my New Media Literacies class. I was delighted when I first saw the book to see Gee expand upon his thinking about "affinity spaces" to think more deeply about what he and his co-author Elizabeth Hayes call "gaming beyond gaming." The term refers to the broad range of productive and social practices which have grown up around games, practices which strongly parallel what I've found in my own research on fan cultures. The book's focus on The Sims signals the importance of this game both as a breakthrough title which expanded female interest in the medium and as a model for all subsequent games which have encouraged players to build and share content with each other. Gee and Hayes are interested in the ways this game has become the jumping off place for lifelong learning processes for a range of women, young and old. It is a delightful mixture of compelling storytelling and thoughtful analysis, one which can easily be assigned to undergraduate students but which is profound enough to capture the imagination of advanced students and researchers.

As I was anticipating our mutual participation in the Pullias Lecture event, it occurred to me that I had never interviewed Gee for my blog, despite all of our other interactions through the years. What follows includes his reflections on the current state of games-based learning research, the state of American education, and the value of participatory culture. Gee was generous with his thoughts and so I am going to be running this meaty exchange over three installments this week.

We've both been involved in thinking about games and learning for the better part of a decade. What do you see as the most significant breakthroughs which have occurred over this time?

The breakthroughs have been slower in coming than I had hoped. Like many new ideas, the idea of games for learning (better, "games as learning") has been often co-opted by entrenched paradigms and interests, rather than truly transforming them. We see now a great many skill-and-drill games, games that do in a more entertaining fashion what we already do in school. We see games being recruited in workplaces--and lots of other instances of "gamification"--simply to make the current structures of exploitation and traditional relationships of power more palatable. We will see the data mining capacities of games and digital media in general recruited for supervision, rather than development. The purpose of games as learning (and other game-like forms of learning) should be to make every learner a proactive, collaborative, reflective, critical, creative and innovative problem solver; a producer with technology and not just a consumer; and a fully engaged participant and not just a spectator in civic life and the public sphere.

In general there are two "great divides" in the games and learning arena. The two divides are based on the learning theories underlying proposals about games for learning. The first divide is this: On the one hand, there are games based on a "break everything into bits and practice each bit in its proper sequence" theory of learning, a theory long popular in instructional technology. Let's call this the "drill and practice theory". On the other hand, there are games based on a "practice the bits inside larger and motivating goal-based activities of which they are integral parts" theory. Let's call this the "problem-and-goals-centered theory". I espouse one version of this theory, but, unfortunately, there are two versions of it. And this is the second divide: On the one hand, there is a "mindless progressive theory" that says just turn learners loose to immerse themselves in rich activities under the steam of their own goals. This version of progressivism (and progressivism in Dewey's hands was not "mindless") has been around a great many years and is popular among "mindless" educational liberals. On the other hand, the other version of the "problem-and-goals-centered theory" claims that deep learning is achieved when learners are focused on well designed, well ordered, and well mentored problem solving with shared goals, that is, goals shared with mentors and a learning community.

Like so many other areas of our lives today, the conservative version (drill and practice) and the liberal version (mindless progressivism) are both wrong. The real solution does not lie in the middle, but outside the space carved up by political debates.

What do you think remain the biggest misunderstandings or disagreements in this space?

Much of what I discussed above is really not about misunderstandings, but about disagreements and different beliefs and value systems, or, in some cases, different political, economic, or cultural vested interests. The biggest misunderstanding in the case of my own work has been people saying that my work espouses games for learning. It does not and never has. It espouses "situated embodied learning", that is learning by participation in well designed and well mentored experiences with clear goals; lots of formative feedback; performance before competence; language and texts "just in time" and "on demand"; and lots of talk and interaction around strategies, critique, planning, and production within a "passionate affinity space" (a type of interest-driven group) built to sustain and extend the game or other curriculum. Games are one good way to do this. There are many others.

The biggest misunderstanding in general is that technologies (like games, television, movies, and books) are good or bad. They are neither. They are good, bad, or indifferent based on how they are used in the contexts in which they are used. By themselves they are inert, though they do have certain affordances. Games for learning work pretty much the same way as books for learning. Kids learn with books or games (or television or computers or movies or pencils) when they are engaged in well designed and good interactions with adults and more advanced peers, interactions that lead to problem solving, meta-critical reflection, and connections to the world and other texts and tools. They learn much less in other circumstances. But we must humbly admit that humans have never yet found a technology more powerful than print. The number of people who have killed others or aided them in the name of a book (the Bible, the Koran, the Turner Diaries, Silent Spring) is vastly larger than those who have killed or helped in the name of a game, movie, or television show. Of course, this may change, but it does little good, in the interim, to pretend books are benign, but games are inherently perilous.

From the start, you were less interested in designing games for teaching than in using principles of game design that are grounded in educational research to reimagine the pedagogical process? To what degree do you think recent projects such as Quest to Learn have embodied those insights?

I see game design and learning design (what a good professional teacher does) as inherently similar activities. The principles of "good games" and of "good learning" are the same, by and large. This is so, of course, because games are just well designed problem-solving spaces with feedback and clear outcomes and that is the most essential thing for real, deep, and consequential learning. These principles include (among others): making clear what identity the learning requires; making clear why anyone would want to do such learning; making clear how the learning will function to lead to problem solving and mastery; making the standards of achievement high and clear, but reachable with persistence; early successes; a low cost of failure that encourages exploration, risk taking, and trying out new styles; lots of practice of basic skills inside larger goal-based and motivating activities; creating and then challenging routine mastery at different levels to move learners upwards; using information and texts "just in time" and "on demand"; performance before competence (doing as a way of learning and being); getting learners to think like designers and to be able themselves to design; encouraging collaboration and affiliation with what is being learned as part of an identity and passion one shares with others; good mentoring by other people, as well as smart tools and technologies.

These principles can be realized in many ways, not one. Chibi-Robo, Yu-Gi-Oh, and Quest to Learn all realize them, though Quest to Learn faces the vast stupidity of our current accountability regime and Chibi-Robo and Yu-Gi-Oh do not.

James Paul Gee is the Mary Lou Fulton Presidential Professor of Literacy Studies at Arizona State University. He is a member of the National Academy of Education. His book Sociolinguistics and Literacies (1990, Third Edition 2007) was one of the founding documents in the formation of the "New Literacy Studies", an interdisciplinary field devoted to studying language, learning, and literacy in an integrated way in the full range of their cognitive, social, and cultural contexts. His book An Introduction to Discourse Analysis (1999, Second Edition 2005, Third Edition 2011) brings together his work on a methodology for studying communication in its cultural settings, an approach that has been widely influential over the last two decades. His most recent books both deal with video games, language, and learning. What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy (2003, Second Edition 2007) argues that good video games are designed to enhance learning through effective learning principles supported by research in the Learning Sciences. Situated Language and Learning (2004) places video games within an overall theory of learning and literacy and shows how they can help us in thinking about the reform of schools. His most recent books are Good Video Games and Good Learning: Collected Essays (2007); Woman as Gamers: The Sims and 21st Century Learning (2010) and Language and Learning in the Digital World (2011), both written with Elizabeth Hayes. Prof. Gee has published widely in journals in linguistics, psychology, the social sciences, and education.

Measuring New Media Literacies: Towards the Development of a Comprehensive Assessment Tool (Part Two)

Measuring New Media Literacies: Towards the Development of A Comprehensive Assessment Tool (Part Two) by Ioana Literat


Although all of our scale items collectively attempt to measure new media literacy levels, and the overall reliability of the scale was high (Chronbach's α=.903), we were interested in identifying the specific subcomponents that make up this concept. Our initial research question was whether the subscales of this survey instrument map well onto Jenkins' 12 NMLs. Particularly, we were interested in seeing if, as predicted, the scale would break down into components that were similar to those identified by Jenkins.

To address this question, we performed a factor analysis on the 60 items, and then assessed the reliability of each separate subscale that emerged from the factor analysis. With the exception of 2 NMLs (collective intelligence and simulation), the factors identified in this analysis mapped well onto Jenkins' 12 NML skills, indicating the definite existence of subcomponents that tap into dichotomous skill sets. Thus, out of the 12 NML skills that make up Jenkins' framework, 10 were identified in the factor analysis of our scale; furthermore, all 10 of these components had adequate reliability. This is a rather impressive and encouraging finding, especially given the fact that all 60 items of the scale were completely randomized and thus the items that made up each of these 12 subscales never appeared in order. The two NMLs that did not distinctly emerged from the factor analysis were collective intelligence and simulation; rather than clustering together as distinct factor components, the items measuring these two dimensions ended up being spread out over the different subscales.

Once the factor analysis revealed the various new media literacy skills that the scale constituted of, we proceeded to explore the relationship between these NMLs and patterns of media exposure and digital participation, by running multivariate analyses of variance (MANOVAs).

We first looked at respondents' cumulative media exposure, which included time spent with all forms of media: Internet, television, print media, and videogames. According to our second hypothesis, we expected to see a significant difference in NML skills between high and low media users. The multivariate difference in media literacy levels assessed using MANOVA was indeed significant: F(10, 316)= 3.025, p=.001, with avid media consumers scoring higher across all NML skills than less enthusiastic media consumers. The univariate differences between the high and low media exposure groups were particularly pronounced in the areas of negotiation, networking, appropriation, play, multitasking, and transmedia navigation.

Next, we explored the relationship between NMLs and exposure to specific media. In terms of Internet use, there was a significant difference between low and high users: F(10, 316)= 3.171, p=.001, with the most striking contrast occurring in terms of networking skills. Due to the interconnecting and socializing features of the Internet, less enthusiastic internet users scored much lower in networking skills than frequent users. For videogames, the difference between frequent and infrequent users was also significant (F(1, 316)=2.811, p=.002), with avid gamers scoring substantially higher than their peers in the domain of play, or experimental problem-solving.

Our questionnaire addressed users' exposure to four different forms of media: two new ones (internet and videogames) and two old ones (television and print media). Interestingly enough, while the difference in NML skills between light and heavy users of the Internet and videogames - i.e. new media - was substantial, this difference was not significant in the case of traditional media. This is an interesting conclusion, which supports the view that new digital media, due to their interactive and highly socializing nature, are more adept at breeding the social and cultural competencies needed for a full participation in today's digital environment than traditional media, which are inherently more passive.

In terms of digital participation, we hypothesized that higher levels of media literacy should predict a higher degree of engagement with Web 2.0 platforms, as well as an increased propensity for multimedia creation. This hypothesis was fully supported: the difference in NMLs between users with high digital participation levels versus those with lower participation levels was indeed significant (F(10, 316)=3.172, p=.001). Out of the digital platforms we explored in this study, the ones that emerged as particularly significant in this analysis were Facebook (F(10, 316)=5.294, p<.001), Twitter (F(10, 316)=3.181, p=.001), YouTube (F(10, 316)=4.553, p<.001), and blogging (F(10, 316)=4.747, p<.001).

For Facebook, the difference between light and heavy users was especially pronounced in the area of networking, with enthusiastic Facebook users displaying extremely high networking skills. This result is unsurprising, given the function of Facebook as a social networking site, but this connection is important in regards to the applicability of such online-learned skills in the context of one's offline behavior.

In the case of Twitter, the two main NMLs where light and heavy users significantly differed were networking and transmedia navigation. We found that light Twitter users (including non-users) scored much lower in these 2 NMLs than more enthusiastic tweeters. This conclusion makes sense, and can be explained by the hyperlinked and social nature of the Twitter platform.

YouTube also emerged as an extremely significant platform in terms of NML skills.

The NMLs that YouTube users excelled at were appropriation and transmedia navigation, but also, to a less astounding degree, performance and negotiation. These results are most likely explained by the primary functions of the YouTube platform as a crucial depository of popular culture clips (to be used in appropriation processes) and as a source of multimedia information (encouraging transmedia navigation), but also a democratic limelight for stardom and personal opinion (performance) and a transnational hub that facilitates intercultural learning (negotiation).

Finally, blogging emerged as another particularly important platform in terms of NML skills. We found a significant difference in overall NML skills between bloggers and non-bloggers, and individuals who keep a blog scored much higher in appropriation and networking skills. Most likely, this is due to the increasingly interlinked nature of the "blogosphere", with writers linking to other blogs of interest, keeping a blogroll on their personal page, republishing relevant posts, and so on. This process of hyperlinked interconnectedness, while gradually transforming the personalized "blogosphere" into one global community, increasingly requires networking and appropriation skills that allow one to most effectively tap into this informal community.

The results of this study also supported the connection between multimedia creation and NMLs. As hypothesized, higher NML levels predicted a propensity for multimedia creation, and the difference between frequent and infrequent digital creators was extremely significant (F(10, 315)=6.635, p<.001), with the most acute contrast occurring, not surprisingly, in the area of appropriation. This is in line with the literature in the field, which claims that the ability to creatively produce and distribute multimedia texts should correlate strongly with higher levels of media literacy.

Similarly, the results also confirm the connection between new media literacies and civic engagement, which is emerging as a critical application of NML educational initiatives. Our hypothesis regarding the positive relation between media literacy and civic engagement was fully supported, with respondents that scored highly across the NMLs showing much higher degrees of civic engagement than their less media literate peers (F(10, 313)=3.516, p<.001).

In conclusion, as evidenced by the support for our main conceptual hypothesis, the data gathered in this study will be instrumental in perfecting a validated quantitative assessment tool to complement NML initiatives built around this particular framework. So far, educational endeavors aimed at cultivating these skills only benefitted from qualitative evaluation tools, which are inherently unfit for use with large samples, and are much harder to implement due to logistical considerations. We therefore hope that this questionnaire, especially used as a baseline measure of new media literacies, will help provide a more accurate and comprehensive picture of individuals' abilities in this domain.

Furthermore, the study provided critical information about the connections between new media literacies, media exposure, and engagement with different Web 2.0 platforms; this represented a much-needed addition to the literature on media education, which so far did not address these specific correlations. In terms of the validity of the present assessment tool, the fact that our hypotheses regarding the connection between media literacy and media use habits were strongly supported lends additional predictive validity to this survey instrument. This is a highly significant conclusion that adds further import to the current study. While the causal relationships between these variables would need to be examined longitudinally, over time, it is our interpretation that the relationship between media use and media literacy is a circular one, involving a virtuous feedback loop: for instance, while extensive use of the internet raises one's new media literacy levels, individuals with high NML levels are also more likely to access the internet considerably more.

While further research is certainly needed regarding the feasibility and scalability of quantitative methods of assessment in the field of new media literacies, we believe our study is a valuable starting point in this direction, and a much-needed inquiry into the challenges facing such assessments in both national and international contexts. While this particular study represented a pre-test of the validity of the current survey instrument, we are now working on its practical application as a baseline measure of NML levels at the Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools, where Project New Media Literacies will be implementing an after-school program starting in February. Stay posted for updates regarding this initiative, and an upcoming report on the quantitative assessment of new media literacies among the high school students at RFK!

Ioana Literat is a PhD student at USC's Annenberg School of Communication and a research assistant for New Media Literacies. She has taught digital storytelling and social justice curricula to children in the Dominican Republic, Romania, Uruguay and India, and spent the last year working as the field coordinator of The Modern Story program in India. At USC, Ioana is researching the social impact of media and its potential to stimulate positive change, with a special focus on the future of educational media and virtual communities. As a result of her extensive international experience, she is particularly interested in the global scalability of NML projects, and the applicability of such educational initiatives in the developing world.

Measuring New Media Literacies: Towards the Development of a Comprehensive Assessment Tool (Part One)

Last fall, I spread a message to my Twitter followers, asking for their participation in an online survey we were conducting, trying to assess new media literacies skills. Needless to say, people who follow this blog and my Twitter account are apt to have a higher degree of technical and cultural literacy than the general population, but we were looking for a sample base large enough to be able to test and refine our instruments before applying them to other populations, such as the students at the schools where we are doing after-school programs or which are adopting some of our curricular recommendations. Given the intense response we received, and our deep gratitude for everyone who participated in the survey, I wanted to make sure we shared the results with you in a timely fashion. Ioana Literat, a PhD candidate in the Annenberg School of Communications and Journalism at the University of Southern California, did the work as part of a class project in Lynn Miller's class, COMM 550: Research Methods in Communication. She also is part of the Project New Media Literacies research team and we are immediately putting her tool and her insights to work by pre-testing students entering our programs here in Los Angeles.

Her results are interesting in that they do suggest that the skills we have identified through the White Paper I helped to write for the MacArthur Foundation do cohere in real world contexts and that these skills improve through engaging with new media platforms and practices. I should stress here that we believe that the relations between increased skills and increased use of new media tools does not simply mean that the people who consume more media get better at it.

As writers like James Paul Gee have argued, these "affinity spaces" contain powerful forms of informal learning which motivate and support the acquisitions of these skills in a way that would not be true for most people watching films and television outside of the context of a fan community, which might perform similar work for its members. Further, we are not simply describing consumption per se, but rather we are talking about forms of participation which involve applying those skills rather than simply observing. At its heart, then, the argument is that participatory culture communities and practices actively support the learning of their members and reversely, that as we first asserted certain skills have emerged as characteristic of and often necessary for meaningful involvement in participatory culture. Today, we are going to lay out the methods behind this research; next time, the findings.

Measuring New Media Literacies:

Towards the Development of a Comprehensive Assessment Tool

by Ioana Literat

The present study was motivated by our observation that, in spite of the increasing popularity and impact of Henry Jenkins' New Media Literacies framework, there was a lack of an appropriate quantitative measurement tool to assess these new media literacy skills. Certainly, existing tools do not capture the full spectrum of skills and propensities suggested by Jenkins. Furthermore, the reliance on qualitative data - which is typical of most studies in this field - means that such assessment projects are not feasibly replicable with larger groups. Therefore, this study aimed to address methodological lacunae within the NML framework by developing and validating a comprehensive quantitative assessment tool that could be used to measure new media literacies (NMLs) in both adult and juvenile populations.

Below, you will find an overview of the survey instrument and a summary of the results. If you would like to see the complete NML questionnaire that was used for this assessment, as well as the full report on the findings of this study (including all the statistical data), we encourage you to contact Ioana Literat at iliterat@usc.edu.

In assessing the psychometric properties of this new assessment tool, survey data was first factor analyzed in order to assess the reliability of the measure, and determine how these emergent factors compared with Jenkins' original 12 NML skills. If the survey instrument was accurately constructed, we expected to see 12 separate subscales - similar to the 12 NMLs identified by Jenkins - resulting from the factor analysis. In terms of the relationship between media exposure and NMLs, we hypothesized that higher levels of new media literacies would correlate with a higher degree of engagement with media forms - particularly new digital media - and that there would therefore be a significant difference in NMLs between people with low versus high levels of media exposure. An increased degree of digital participation in various Web 2.0 platforms should also relate to high NML levels, with light users scoring lower in media literacy than heavy users of these digital platforms. Finally, we also hypothesized that high NML levels should predict a greater propensity for multimedia creation, and, respectively, civic engagement.

The sample for this study (N=327) was a convenience sample of normal volunteers over the age of 18, who completed the survey online. In terms of gender distribution, the sample contained 131 male respondents and 187 female respondents. The average age was 33.7 years (SD=11.7). In regards to ethnicity, 83.9% of respondents were white, and 77.3% indicated English as their primary language. Income and education levels were normally distributed.

Survey Design

The survey was structured around 4 main sections: demographics, media use habits, new media literacies (NMLs), and civic engagement. All questions were randomized, so that each participant received them in a different order, to maximize the validity of the findings.

The section on media use habits queried respondents about their access to a computer and to the Internet, the extent of their exposure to different media forms, their digital memberships and affiliations, and their creative engagement with multimedia. The NML section of the survey - the most extensive and critical part of this instrument - aimed to assess respondents' new media literacy skills (NMLs) by presenting them with a randomized series of 60 statements about their personality, social and cultural modes of engagement, online and offline peer interaction, learning styles, and media consumption and creation patterns. The statements were conceptually built around the 12 NML skills identified by Jenkins (2006): play, performance, simulation, appropriation, multitasking, distributed cognition, collective intelligence, judgment, transmedia navigation, networking, negotiation, and visualization. To ensure an adequate factor analysis while minimizing the duration of the survey, we decided to include 5 items for each NML, for a total of 60 questions. These items addressed both technology-related and non-technology-related behaviors, in accordance with our view that the NML skills are social and cultural competencies that stretch beyond media expertise or technological capability.

Finally, the last section of the questionnaire contained a set of 5 questions that attempted to measure the respondents' degree of civic engagement, by addressing three principal dimensions of civic engagement: self-efficacy, civic responsibility, and commitment to civic action.

Ioana Literat is a PhD student at USC's Annenberg School of Communication and a research assistant for New Media Literacies. She has taught digital storytelling and social justice curricula to children in the Dominican Republic, Romania, Uruguay and India, and spent the last year working as the field coordinator of The Modern Story program in India. At USC, Ioana is researching the social impact of media and its potential to stimulate positive change, with a special focus on the future of educational media and virtual communities. As a result of her extensive international experience, she is particularly interested in the global scalability of NML projects, and the applicability of such educational initiatives in the developing world.

What Constitutes an Open-Book Exam in the Digital Age?

Several weeks ago, I shared here the syllabus for the undergraduate class I am teaching this semester at USC. As I noted, it is my first time doing a lecture hall class in some years and my first undergraduate class at USC, so it has been a learning process for all involved. I wanted to share with you a pedagogical challenge I've faced this term in part as an illustration of the kinds of transition higher education is undergoing as we try to absorb new media technologies and practices into our teaching. It starts with the decisions we made about the course readings. We opted to put the scanned essays onto Blackboard, the classroom management tool which USC urges us to use, rather than having them printed out at a local copy shop. My hope was to save the students money and to also save trees by having as close to a paperless class as possible.

Then, I made the announcement that the exams in the class would be open book, open note and that I was planning to distribute a list of potential questions in advance from which I would draw in constructing the exam, a practice I have used for more than 20 years without any great confusion. I've found that this approach lowers stress for students by allowing them to feel more in control as they are preparing for and taking the exam. In practice, some fraction of the class works really hard, prepares for the exam by writing out their answers in advance, and copies them into the blue book. Another fraction studies their notes, comes in and improvises on the exam, or develops an outline in advance that they write from. And some fraction, for their own reasons, pays no attention to the advanced questions, doesn't study, and does really badly on the exam. The kicker is often the identification questions, which would be simple to answer by anyone with a textbook open in front of them, but nevertheless often end up unanswered or answered wrongly. The result is a grade distribution curve not very different from what I would have if I gave a closed book, closed notes exam -- but as I said, it lowers stress.

No sooner did I announce this policy than I got a question I've never been asked before. A student wondered whether open book, open note, meant open laptop. I needed time to reflect on this and said I would answer in the next class period. Actually, it took me a few to get back to them with a response. Given this was a class on technology and culture, I decided to use this as a teachable moment.

So, I started by breaking down the computer into two elements. First, there is the computer as a stand alone word processing machine. I certainly would have had no great objections to students using the computer to write their answers or even to access their materials. Indeed, as someone with painfully bad penmanship, I had been the first in my graduate program to take my quals on a computer the department provided. They made sure to give me a clean disc as I entered the room and I was allowed to take nothing else with me into the test.

But this was before the era of networked computing, which fundamentally changed the character of what a computer is. So, allowing students to use a laptop during an exam suddenly would allow students to access any information anywhere on the web and more significantly would allow students to trade information with each other throughout the test in ways which would be extremely difficult to monitor.

As I thought about it, the challenges of designing a meaningful test under those circumstances intrigued me. What would it mean to create an exam which could be taken not by individual students but by networked groups of students -- either the class as a whole or a specifically designated study group? Could we enfold ideas of collective intelligence into the design of tests? Could we create challenges which demonstrated their mastery of the material through the search strategies they deployed and the knowledge they produced together? In theory, such an exam holds promise as more and more jobs require the capacity to pool knowledge and collaborate with a team of others to solve complex problems, and learning how to mobilize expertise under these conditions should be a key goal of our educational process.

But, how would we deal with such an exam in the context of our current grading systems? After all, we still assume that grades measure individual performance and so if we gave group grades, that might prove unsatisfactory to everyone involved. Would students raised in a culture where grades based on individual performance know how to act fairly in a culture where grades were based on group performance?

After all, we know that on group projects, bright students are often treated unfairly, exploited by their classmates, who fail to do their fair share of the work, and who may, in fact, not be capable of contributing at the same level? Under such system, teachers have had to devise systems to measure individual contributions to the group, thus going back to personalized rather than collective grading? What would be involved in terms of time and technology in monitoring what each student contributed to the group's collective performance on the exam?

And of course, all of this assumes that all of my students do have laptops or can borrow laptops, a more or less safe assumption given the relatively affluent population of USC, but hardly the case at many other colleges and universities around the country. How could you give one group of students such an intense advantage on the exam? Would we then have to issue laptops the way we now issue blue books?

As I started to contemplate these issues, I started to choke. As much as I wanted to be the cool, open-minded teacher, the model pedagogue for the digital age, there was no way I was going to be able to work through all of the implications of this radical shift in classroom practice in time to apply it this semester. A real answer to this question may not be possible in our current educational system, though it is a kind of question which we are going to be asked more and more. So, I spelled all of this out to my students, and challenged them to start thinking through the issues.

But, then came the turn of the knife. If they could not use their laptops, and the course texts had navigated to the web, then in what sense was this going to be an open book test? They could no longer access the course materials without printing them off, which would undo everything we saved by making them digital in the first place. The answer of course is that with the questions in advance, they could print out notes or print out the essays they needed to address the questions. They wouldn't have to print out everything, but they would no longer be working in a paperless environment.

So, we went back to the drawing board one last time, and asked the tech people if it would be possible to shut down the wireless in the room for the duration of the exams. They were not able/willing to do this, so that's where things stand as of the moment. Neither the students nor I are fully satisfied with this resolution, but both the pedagogical and technological structures of the modern university would seem to block any path out of this challenge that I have come up with.

I can't be the only faculty member on the planet facing these challenges, so I am posting this to see how other educators are dealing with these transitions. I can see the world we are surely evolving towards, but I don't know how to get there on my own.

So, let's use our laptops to work through this problem together. Oh, wait....

While we are on the subject of Digital Media and Learning, I wanted to give people a head's up for a great new documentary, New Learners of the 21st Century, which will be airing on PBS stations across the United States this coming Sunday, Feb. 13. Some of you will recall how one-sided and negative I found the Digital Nation documentary which aired last year, despite having talked to many key researchers and collected some compelling material for their webpage.

New Learners of the 21st Century offers the flip side of that documentary, taking us into innovative school and after school programs which are making creative use of new media platforms and practices for pedagogy. You can get a taste for what to expect from this opening segment which they have posted to PBS Video, but it is really, in this case, only the beginning.

By the second segment on Quest to Learn, the New York charter school which uses game design to teach, you can see the difference in the ways the two documentaries approach their topics. In Digital Nation, the Quest to Learn segment is almost incomprehensible: we see lots of activities involving technology but we have no idea what the kids are doing or why, and as a result, it feels like technology for technology's sake. Here, we learn about their pedagogical approach; we see processes unfold; we hear about when they use technology and when they ask the kids to put it aside. The focus is less on the use of computers in the classroom, an old topic after all and as my above discussion suggests, one we are still struggling with, and more on the use of new media literacies in education.

The same holds true for the film's treatment of a range of other pedagogical sites, including great stuff on work being done by the Smithsonian Institute and by the YouMedia Center at the Chicago Public Library, both important innovators in this space.

Because the topic is more narrowly focused, and because the goal is to explain and not simply stir up controversy, this film does do justice to the complex research which the MacArthur Digital Media and Learning program has funded in this area. I have been honored to be part of this initiative from the start, so my recommendation is scarcely unbiased here. But if like me, you've been burnt several times already by PBS's treatment of youth and digital media, I want to let you know that this one will be more rewarding.

Manifestos for the Future of Media Education

A few months ago, I was asked if I might contribute a short essay to a United Kingdom based project to frame a series of arguments around the value of media education in the 21st Century. The project is intended to spark debate within the Media Studies field and beyond about the value of our contribution to secondary and post-secondary education. This week, Pete Fraser, Chief Examiner of OCR Media Studies & Jon Wardle, Director, The Centre for Excellence in Media Practice, Bournemouth University, launched a website which includes ten such manifestos, including mine, and which they hope will host ongoing discussions around these issues. Here's part of the rationale they provide for the project:

There are those who would dismiss the very idea of studying the media. The Daily Mail might argue that it is only on the national curriculum and available at degree level to ensure that the participation numbers for young people engaged in formal learning and gaining good qualifications remains high- the 'dumbing down' agenda. They might argue that studying Soap isn't a serious pursuit and will be frowned upon by University admission tutors and employers. Implicitly this argument is promoting a high brow / lowbrow divide; we can't remember the last time we read an 'angry from Tunbridge Wells' letter complaining that the tax payers money was being used to fund the teaching of metaphysical poetry instead of physics....

Twenty five years of scholarship have bought about broad consensus on the theoretical framework for Media Education - 1) that media is representation not reality, 2) that the media is produced by organizations and individuals and therefore can and should be read critically 3) that the media is now not only read and received, but reinterpreted by audiences. We would nonetheless argue that we are still some way from identifying a broader teaching and learning framework for media education and most critically - and the focus of this work - we are yet to articulate a clear purpose for the work we do. What is the point of media education? - whether it be media studies, media practice, media production, media literacy - what is the point?. You may argue the clue is in the title of each of these subsets of media education - as on the surface the differences between media production and media literacy seem pretty straightforward. However, the purpose of each still feels rather opaque.

Are we seeking to develop the media producers of tomorrow, or to nurture individuals capable of holding power to account, are we seeking to hold a looking glass up to society in order for society itself to better understand itself, or perhaps we are hoping to develop a more media literate society capable of protecting itself from evil media conglomerates?...

I used my own response to their provocation to reflect a bit on what we learned through the decade plus that I ran the Comparative Media Studies Program at MIT and especially how we might extend the thinking behind Project New Media Literacies to include more advanced studies in media. Here's part of what I had to say:

We should no longer be debating the value of media education. The real question is whether media education should be a stand-alone discipline or whether expertise in media should be integrated across all disciplines, just as the ability to communicate is increasingly recognized as valuable across the curriculum....

Beyond these core skills which need to be integrated into K-12 education [those in the MacArthur white paper], though, I might also argue for kinds of contextual knowledge which are vital in making sense of the changes taking place around us. All learners need to acquire a basic understanding of the processes of media change, an understanding which in turn requires a fuller grasp of the history of previous moments of media in transition. All learners need to acquire a core understanding of the institutions and practices shaping the production and ciculation of media -- from the Broadcast networks to the social networks, from Madison Avenue to Silicon Valley....

Media education offers skills, knowledge, and conceptual frameworks we need in our everyday lives as consumers and citizens, members of families and communities, but they should also be part of the professional education of lawyers, doctors, businessmen, people entering a range of professions and occupations. At the present moment, there is a tremendous need across all sectors for what the industry calls "thought leadership" -- the ability to translate big picture change into language that can be widely understood and engaged -- as well as the capacity to deploy such media expertise to shape pragmatic and practical decisions.

Grant McCracken (2009) has argued that this hunger for insights into how media and cultural change impacts economic decision-making may lead many business to hire "Chief Cultural Officers," ideally people who can bring humanistic expertise on culture and society into the C-Suite. If this vision came to pass, we might imagine media educated students entering not only the academy or the creative industries, but business of all kinds, policy think tanks, arts curatorships, journalism, advertising and branding, and a range of other jobs, many of which do not yet have names. Current media education tends to focus on reproducing the professoriate, despite declining numbers of jobs, and treating the vast number of our alums who get jobs elsewhere as if this was a failure of the system, an unfortunate byproduct of the decline of higher education. What if we reversed these priorities and saw the expertise media education offers as valuable in a range of different kinds of jobs and presented these options to our students at every step in the process.

The kinds of media education required for such a context differs profoundly from what we have offered in the past. For starters, it requires a much more conscious engagement with the relationship between theory and practice -- not simply production practices (itself a big change given how often theory and production faculty sit at opposite ends of the conference table at faculty meetings) but the practices of everyday life. We need to compliment the current theoretical domains of media study with a more applied discipline, which encourages students to test their understanding through making things, solving problems, and sharing their insights with the general public.

The site's participants include some of England's top thinkers about media and learning, including David Buckingham, David Gauntlet, Cary Bazalgate, Natalie Fenton, and Julian McDougall. Having just spoken at a British media literacy conference in November, I came away with a deeper understanding of the caliber of scholarship and pedagogy emerging there and of the particular nature of the political struggles they are facing over education at the moment. I welcome the chance to learn more about their thinking through the ten remarkable essays the site assembles.

To whet your appetite for more, let me close by sharing a chunk of David Buckingham's manifesto. Buckingham notes that he often finds the rhetoric by which we justify our profession overblown and deterministic, so he labels himself a poor choice to write a manifesto. In fact, it is precisely because Buckingham is so cautious in the claims he makes, so skeptical in the way that he reads the world, that his work carries such weight and impact:

I have always felt that media education suffers from an excess of grandiose rhetoric. We have all heard far too many assertions about how media education can change the world, save democracy or empower the powerless. As a classroom teacher, I was always painfully aware of the gap between this sort of rhetoric and the messy realities of my own practice (and I don't think that was just about being a useless teacher). While it can be morale-boosting in the short term, this overblown rhetoric does not serve teachers very well: we need to cast a more dispassionate eye on what really happens in the classroom, however awkward or even painful that might feel.

In my view, we can make the case much more effectively by showing in concrete ways what and how children can learn about media. Most of the critics of media education do not have even the faintest idea of what it actually looks like in practice. Media education can be intellectually challenging; it can involve intense and rigorous forms of creativity; and it can engage learners in ways that many other school subjects do not. Even experienced teachers can be positively surprised by the quality and sophistication of students' thinking as they engage in media education activities - and by the forms of oral and written work that result from it. Like any other school subject, media education can also be undemanding and boring, and it can result in pointless 'busywork'. I am not calling here for rose-tinted accounts of 'good practice', of the kind that most teachers tend to find somewhat implausible. Rather, we need to come up with evidence that media education actually works - that it can engage, challenge and motivate young people, as well as enabling them to understand and to participate more fully in the media culture that surrounds them.

A New Culture of Learning: An Interview with John Seely Brown and Douglas Thomas (Part One)

It is my privilege and pleasure from time to time to showcase through this blog new books by important thinkers who are exploring the relations between digital media and learning, concerns which have become more and more central through the years to my own interests in participatory culture. Today, I want to call attention to a significant new book, A New Culture of Learning: Cultivating the Imagination for a World of Constant Change, written by two of my new colleagues at the University of Southern California -- Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown. Asked to write a blurb for this book, here's what I had to say:

A New Culture of Learning may be for the Digital Media and Learning movement what Thomas Paine's Common Sense provided for the American Revolution -- a straight forward, direct explanation of what we are fighting for and what we are fighting against. John Seely Brown and Douglas Thomas lay out a step by step argument for why learning is changing in the 21st century and what schools need to do to accommodate these new practices. Using vivid narratives of people, institutions, and practices at the heart of the changes and drawing from a growing body of literature outlining new pedagogical paradigms, they place the terms of the argument in language which should be accessible to lay readers, offering a book you can give to the educator in your life who wants to become an agent of change. My hope is that our schools will soon embrace the book's emphasis on knowing, making, and playing.

This book really is a gift, one which arrived too late for the Christmas season, but just in time for the start of the new semester. I know that I will be drawing on its insights to shape my own New Media Literacies grad seminar this term and to inform the new afterschool program we are launching at the RFK Schools here in Los Angeles. I admire it for both its clarity of vision and clarity of prose, not a common combination. In the interview which follows, I play devil's advocate, challenging some of the core premises of the book, with the goal of addressing critics and skeptics who may not yet be ready to sign on for the substantive reforms in pedagogical practices and institutions they are advocating.

Doug, you shared a story of how your students gradually took over control of your class. On one level, this sounds like teachers' worst nightmares of where all of this may be leading, but it sounds like you discovered this process has its own rewards. Can you share some of what you learned about student-directed learning? How might you speak to the concerns of educators who are worried about their jobs and about satisfying various standards currently shaping the educational process?

This was a fascinating experience for me and it speaks directly to the distinction we are making throughout the book between teaching and learning. Even after having thought long and hard about what it means to be an educator and being open to ideas such as student-directed learning, I still found that I was carrying a whole lot of baggage about what it meant to be a responsible educator. Primarily, what that meant was transmitting valuable information and testing how well that information was received, absorbed, and processed. What I had not really thought about was the ways in which that limits and cuts off opportunities for exploration, play, and following one's passions.

The fear is easy to understand. What we are essentially doing when we move to student-directed learning is undermining our own relatively stable (though I would argue obsolete) notions of expertise and replacing them something new and different.

That doesn't mean there is no role for teachers and educators. Quite the opposite. One of the key arguments we are making is that the role of educators needs to shift away from being expert in a particular area of knowledge, to becoming expert in the ability to create and shape new learning environments. In a way, that is a much more challenging, but also much more rewarding, role. You get to see students learn, discover, explore, play, and develop, which is the primary reason I think that most of us got into the job of teaching.

"Lifelong learning" has become a cliché. What is it about the world of networked computing you describe which transforms this abstract concept into a reality? Are the kinds of learning experiences you discuss here scalable and sustainable?

We take it as a truism that kids learn about the world through play. In fact we encourage that kind of exploration. It is how children explore and gain information about the world around them. Since the time of Piaget we have known that at that age, play and learning are indistinguishable. The premise of A New Culture of Learning is grounded in the idea that we are now living in a world of constant change and flux, which means that more often than not, we are faced with the same problem that vexes children. How do I make sense of this strange, changing, amazing world? By returning to play as a modality of learning, we can see how a world in constant flux is no longer a challenge or hurdle to overcome; it becomes a limitless resource to engage, stimulate, and cultivate the imagination. Our argument brings to the fore the old aphorism "imagination is more important than knowledge." In a networked world, information is always available and getting easier and easier to access. Imagination, what you actually do with that information, is the new challenge.

Essentially what this means is that as the world grows more complicated, more complex, and more fluid, opportunities for innovation, imagination, and play increase. Information and knowledge begin to function like currency: the more of it you have, the more opportunities you will have to do things. To us, asking if this kind of learning is scalable or sustainable is like asking if wealth is scalable and sustainable. But instead of finances, we are talking about knowledge. Education seems to us to be one of the few places we should not be afraid of having too many resources or too much opportunity.

You argue that many of the failures of current teaching practice start from "the belief that most of what we know will remain relatively unchanged for a long enough period of time to be worth the effort of transferring it." Granted the world is changing rapidly, how do we identify the narrowing range of content which probably does fall into this category and which provides a common baseline for other kinds of learning?

The problem is not with facts remaining constant. There are some things we know that we have known for a very long time and are not likely to change. The force that seems to be pushing the knowledge curve forward at an exponential rate is two fold. First, it is the generation of new content and knowledge that is the result of simply participating in any knowledge economy. This leads to a second related dimension: while content may remain stable at some abstract level, the context in which it has meaning (and therefore its meaning) is open to near constant change. The kind of work you have been examining from the point of view of convergence culture is a prime example: users are not so much creating content as they are constantly reshaping context. The very idea of remix is about the productions of new meanings by reframing or shifting the context in which something means. The 21st century has really marked the time in our history where the tools to manipulate context have become as commonplace as the ones for content creation and we now have a low cost or free network of distribution that can allow for worldwide dissemination of new contexts in amazingly brief periods of time.

If you look at something as simple as Google News, the simple act of viewing a news story provides data which is fed back into the system to determine the value and placement of that story for future users. Millions of micro-transactions, each of which are trivial as "content" powerfully and constantly reshape the context in which news and current events have meaning.

You challenge here what James Paul Gee has called the "content fetish," stressing that how we learn is more important than what we learn. How far are you willing to push this? Doesn't it matter whether children are learning the periodic table or the forms of alchemy practiced in the Harry Potter books? Or that they know Obama is Christian rather than Muslim?

Ah, this question throws us into one of the key traps of 20th century thinking about learning. Learning is not a binary construction which pits how against what. In fact, throughout the book, we stress that knowledge, now more than ever, is becoming a where rather than a what or how.

Where something means or its context raises questions about institutions and agency, about reliability and credibility and it always invites us to interrogate the relationship between meaning and context.

In our framework, we stress that every piece of knowledge has both an explicit and a tacit dimension. The explicit is only one kind of content, which tells you what something means. The tacit has its own layer of meaning. It tells why something is important to you, how it relates to your life and social practices. It is the dimension where the context and content interact. Our teaching institutions have paid almost no attention to the tacit and we believe that it is the tacit dimension that allows us to navigate meaning in a changing world.

Knowledge may maintain consistency in the explicit, while undergoing radical changes in the tacit and we believe that understanding how knowledge is both created and how it flows in the tacit is the key to understanding and transforming learning in the 21st century.

Douglas Thomas is an associate professor at the University of Southern California's Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. His research focuses on the intersections of technology and culture. It has been funded by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Richard Lounsbery Foundation, and the Annenberg Center for Communication. Doug is also the author of the book Hacker Culture and a coauthor or coeditor of several other books, including Technological Visions: The Hopes and Fears that Shape New Technologies and Cybercrime: Law Enforcement, Security and Surveillance in the Information Age. He is the founding editor of Games and Culture: A Journal of Interactive Media, an international, interdisciplinary journal focused on games research.

John Seely Brown is a visiting scholar and an adviser to the provost at the University of Southern California and an independent co-chairman of the Deloitte Center for the Edge. He is an author or a coauthor of several books, including The Power of Pull: How Small Moves, Smartly Made, Can Set Big Things in Motion; The Only Sustainable Edge; and The Social Life of Information, which has been translated into nine languages. He has also authored or coauthored more than 100 papers in scientific journals.

Prior to his current position, John was the chief scientist of Xerox and, for nearly two decades, the director of the company's Palo Alto Research Center. He was also a cofounder of the Institute for Research on Learning. He is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the National Academy of Education.

Multitasking and Continuous Partial Attention: An Interview with Linda Stone (Part Two)

Some have argued that new media have diminished our attention span, but you are arguing for more nuanced shifts in the ways we pay attention and process information. Do you see these shifts as a product of the technology or of the ways we have learned to inter-relate with those technologies?

Our most resilient selves are able to tap the attention strategy that best matches any given activity or situation. As we create and adopt new technologies, we do a dance with them -- we are figuring out what they offer and the trade offs (how they optimize us and how we optimize the technologies). The shifts are a result of this dance. Over time, as we internalize the costs and benefits of our inter-relationship with technologies (the "what"), and we make choices as to the "how."

When we talk about information overload, it's as if we believe the information is committing the crime. When Nicholas Carr talks about "the web shattering focus and rewiring our brains," we turn the finger of blame toward the worldwide Web. Carr even asks, "What kind of brain is the Web giving us?" Excuse me, the web is giving us a brain? Can we really be so certain about cause and effect?

If we shift our focus to the how, we can find new options. This is a call to action, not a call to a war of technology vs. humans. In our relationship with technology, we are powerful. The HOW is up to us.

For more on these ideas, check out these posts.

There has been a good deal of debate about the value of multitasking. Is it a logical adaptation to the intensified flow of information and demands we face in the current media environment?

There are so many degrees of multi-tasking. There's simple multi-tasking and complex multi-tasking. Most people lump it all together, but there are very different impacts physiologically and mentally. What I call continuous partial attention is complex multi-tasking. I wanted to more clearly differentiate. In any case, this is _not_ black and white. Sometimes it's good to multi-task, sometimes not. Attention strategies need to match intentions and situations.

What are the educational implications of your research on attention? Many educators are opposed to bringing new media tools into they classes because they see them as a potential distraction for their students. Is this a legitimate concern or should they be helping students develop skills at managing their attention which may allow them to more productively engage with such technologies?

Long, long answer possible here. The short story is that, as a former teacher, I think there's room for all kinds of experiences. There are times when NO technology is the best match and times when a thoughtful integration of technology is best.

This may sound a little out there, but I've come to believe that it's time for students to learn breathing techniques that help regulate the autonomic nervous system. Autonomically regulated, we have the best command of our attention, of using the strategy we choose that best matches the activity and situation.

honestly, I do believe, the single most important thing educators can do is to teach breathing techniques that regulate the autonomic nervous system and help up regulate parasympathetic response. This is at the heart of attention, social and emotional intelligence, and contributes to cognition. Further, educators can consider how reflection time might be integrated into the school day. Between media, technology and the 24/7 lifestyle, this precious processing and integration time doesn't exist. Art, music, leisure time - these contribute to our humanity, and often are cut in a productivity obsessed society. A post productivity society will value them again. It is not an accident at the TED Conference that art, music, dance and wordless videos are as important a part of the program as the talks. This variety contributes to the "music" of the human body and human learning.... Rests and notes.

Time and environments for self-directed play - also essential. We have replaced self-directed play with homework and guided learning. Both of the latter have value. The former is significant. Self-directed play is where our emergent questions find expression, our passions find us, failure is iteration - there isn't an emotional charge, it's part of a compelling process of discovery.

I am eternally grateful to my mother for having an art/art supply table set up in the family room. When we weren't outside playing, we were often creating books, objects, works of art -- we were given freedom to express. Questions were indulged with trips to the library, opportunities to build, make or create experiments. We were welcomed in the kitchen, one of the greatest labs, ever, for me. When I wanted to start a cookie baking company, selling cookies door to door at age 8, I was encouraged to do so and had to pay cost of goods before I could take profits.

Today, in the name of "safety"/danger, so much is declared dangerous -- so much of what feeds curiosity and wonder. Granted, some of it may be dangerous, but so much of it can be explored -- just ask Geever Tulley.

In the name of "teacher-proofing," everything from schedules (2 minutes of health and safety, 30 minutes science, 70 minutes reading, etc) to content (which book, which page), to measures (least common denominator student learning objectives, uni-dimensional tests that teachers are compelled to teach toward), is prescribed.

This alienates imaginative, passionate teachers and, honestly, it's time to assess the overall (in my opinion) damages caused by this hyper productivity approach to learning. I'm a fan of diane ravitch and highly recommend her latest book on the rise and fall of American schools. She is a wise woman.

It's not the fault of the unions and a war with the unions is not going to improve education. We need re-assess both the what and the how of education and find a way to enlist all parties in re-creation vs destruction.

I would be remiss if I failed to mention school lunches. This program was started after world war II, to support an under-nourished populous. Today, it is one of the cornerstones contributing to childhood obesity and poor health, and potentially, the learning challenges that can stem from poor nutrition.

This program must be a role model for healthy nutrition. It is one of the central ways to infuse information and experience around healthy food choices.

Social critics, such as Walter Benjamin, have long raised questions about distraction, seeing it as a phenomenon of the modern age. Is there a reason to think that contemporary forms of distraction are profoundly different from those encountered in cities at the beginning of the 20th century? If so, in what ways?

Different, but at heart, the same impact. Distraction is like a broken glass. Embracing a spectrum of attention strategies and having the flexibility and skill to match intention and activities to attention strategy is the prize. Understanding and being able to manage breath and emotion contributes this (and it's commutative -- managing attention helps manage breath as much as managing breath helps manage attention).

You noted recently that there are new tools emerging which seek to block some of the distractions we encounter on line. What is motivating these tools and are they a good response to the situations you are observing?

I'm in favor of approaches that tap the wisdom of the body or that enhance the wisdom of the body, the cooperation/integration of mindbody.

I'm not opposed to using technologies to support us in reclaiming our attention. But I prefer passive, ambient, non-invasive technologies over parental ones. Consider the Toyota Prius. The Prius doesn't stop in the middle of a highway and say, "Listen to me, Mr. Irresponsible Driver, you're using too much gas and this car isn't going to move another inch until you commit to fix that." Instead, a display engages us in a playful way and our body implicitly learns to shift to use less gas.

Personal technologies today are prosthetics for our minds.

In our current relationship with technology, we bring our bodies, but our minds rule. "Don't stop now, you're on a roll. Yes, pick up that phone call, you can still answer these six emails. Follow Twitter while working on PowerPoint, why not?" Our minds push, demand, coax, and cajole. "No break yet, we're not done. No dinner until this draft is done." Our tyrannical minds conspire with enabling technologies and our bodies do their best to hang on for the wild ride.

With technologies like Freedom, we re-assign the role of tyrant to the technology. The technology dictates to the mind. The mind dictates to the body. Meanwhile, the body that senses and feels, that turns out to offer more wisdom than the finest mind could even imagine, is ignored.

Our opportunity is to create personal technologies that are prosthetics for our beings. Conscious Computing. It's post-productivity, post-communication era computing. Personal technologies that enhance our lives.

Thirty years ago, personal computing technologies created a revolution in personal productivity, supporting a value on self-expression, output and efficiency. The personal communications technology era that followed the era of personal productivity amplified accessibility and responsiveness. Personal technologies have served us well as prosthetics for the mind, in service of thinking and doing.

How do we usher in an era of Conscious Computing? What tools, technologies, and techniques will it take for personal technologies to become prosthetics of our full human potential?

For more on conscious computing, follow this link.

Widely recognized as a visionary thinker and thought leader, Linda Stone is a writer, speaker and consultant focused on trends and their strategic and consumer implications. Articles on her work have appeared in the New York Times, Newsweek, The Economist, Boston Globe, Harvard Business Review, and hundreds of blogs.

Previously, she spent close to twenty years as an executive in high technology. In 1986, she was persuaded to join Apple Computer to help "change the world." In her 7 years at Apple, she had the opportunity to do pioneering work in multimedia hardware, software and publishing. In her last year at Apple, Stone worked for Chairman and CEO John Sculley on special projects. In 1993, Stone joined Microsoft Research under Nathan Myhrvold and Rick Rashid. She co-founded and directed the Virtual Worlds Group/Social Computing Group, researching online social life and virtual communities. During this time, she also taught as adjunct faculty in NYU's prestigious Interactive Telecommunications Program. In 2000, CEO Steve Ballmer tapped Stone to take on a VP role, reporting to him, to help improve industry relationships and contribute to a constructive evolution of the corporate culture. She retired from Microsoft in 2002. She is an advisor for the Pew Internet and American Life Project (www.pewinternet.org) and is on the Advisory Board of the RIT Lab for Social Computing.

Risks and Safety on the Internet: The Perspectives of European Youth

Sonia Livingstone is no stranger to this blog. She was one of the two keynote speakers at last year's Digital Media and Learning Conference on "Diversifying Participation." And around the time the conference was announced, I featured an interview with her here about her most recent book, Children and the Internet: Great Expectations and Challenging Realities. She's a tough-minded academic, one who challenges the easy answers offered by digital critics and supporters alike, insisting we "get it right" if we are going to "do right" by young people. She certainly values the benefits of the kinds of participatory culture and informal learning which has become a key focus of the American DML community, but she also cautions us not to move too quickly over risks and inequalities that still surround young people's lives online.

Digital Media and Learning Conference 2010 Closing Keynote and Closing Remarks from UCHRI Video on Vimeo.

In her talk at the DML conference, she argued that many young people lack the skills and resources to learn online outside of the classroom environment, facing frustrations and distractions which make it difficult for them to achieve the full benefits we've seen in other instances of youth engagement with participatory culture.

This past week, Livingstone contacted me to help share the results of a large-scale survey she and a team of researchers (Leslie Haddon, Anke Görzig and Kjartan Ólafsson) conducted with 23,420 young people drawn from 23 European countries and intended to get data on a number of "online risks," including "pornography, bullying, receiving sexual messages, contact with people not known face to face, offline meetings with online contacts, potentially harmful user-generated content and personal data misuse."

This data could not be more urgently needed given the ways that the American and international media has been focusing on issues of cyberbullying and teen suicide in the wake of a series of devastating cases of gay, lesbian, and bi youth taking their own lives over recent weeks. What follows is taken from the Key Findings section of their report:

12% of European 9-16 year olds say that they have been bothered or upset by something on the internet. This includes 9% of 9-10 year olds. However, most children do not report being bothered or upset by going online.

Looking across the range of risks included in the survey (as detailed below), a minority of European 9-16 year olds - 39% overall - have encountered one or more of these risks. Most risks are encountered by less than a quarter of children - as reported under specific findings below.

The most common risks reported by children online are communicating with new people not met face-to- face and seeing potentially harmful user-generated content. It is much rarer for children to meet a new online contact offline or be bullied online.

Significantly, risk does not often result in harm, as reported by children. Being bullied online by receiving nasty or hurtful messages is the least common risk but is most likely to upset children.

Since most children do not report encountering any of the risks asked about, with even fewer having been bothered or upset by their online experiences, future safety policy should target resources and guidance where they are particularly needed - especially for younger children who go online.

Sexual risks - seeing sexual images and receiving sexual messages online - are more encountered but they are experienced as harmful by few of the children who are exposed to them.....

The more children in a country use the internet daily, the more those children have encountered one or more risks. However, more use also brings more opportunities and, no doubt, more benefits.... In other words, internet use brings both risks and opportunities, and the line between them is not easy to draw.

Among those children who have experienced one of these risks, parents often don't realise this: 41% of parents whose child has seen sexual images online say that their child has not seen this; 56% of parents whose child has received nasty or hurtful

messages online say that their child has not; 52% of parents whose child has received sexual messages say that their child has not; 61% of parents whose child has met offline with an online contact say that their child has not. Although the incidence of these

risks affects a minority of children in each case, the level of parental underestimation is more substantial.

Later, the report provides some specific information about the prevalence of cyberbullying:

Nearly one in five (19%) 9-16 year olds across Europe say that someone has acted in a hurtful or nasty way towards them in the past 12 months. Bullying is rarely a frequent experience - 5% say someone acts towards them in a hurtful or nasty way more than once a week, for 4% it is once or twice a month, and for 10% it is less often,

suggesting one or a few instances have occurred in the past year....

The most common form of bullying is in person face to face: 13% say that someone has acted in a hurtful or nasty way towards them in person face to face compared with 5% who say that this happened on the internet and 3% who say that this happened by

mobile phone calls or messages.

Although overall, younger children are as likely to have been bullied as teenagers, they are less likely to be bullied by mobile phone or online. In other words, it seems that for teenagers, being bullied in one way (e.g. face to face) is more likely to be accompanied

by bullying online and/or by mobile....

Although overall, the vast majority of children have not been bullied on the internet, those who have are more likely to have been bullied on a social networking site or by instant messaging. Bullying by email, in gaming sites or chatrooms is less common, probably because these are less used applications across the whole population....

Among children who say "yes, I have been sent nasty or hurtful messages on the internet", one third (30%) of their parents also say that their child has been bullied online. But in over half of these cases (56%), parents say that their child has not been bullied, and in a further 14% of cases, the parent doesn't know....

Parents appear more aware that their child has been bullied if the child is a girl, or in the middle age groups (11-14) than if they are either older or younger.

Parents appear over-confident that the youngest group has not been bullied, when the child says they have, though parents also most often say they 'don't know' about the 9-10 year olds.

Where-ever one stands on the value of youth's online experiences, such numbers are at once sobering and empowering. The team's nuanced research helps us to put into perspective a range of competing claims about the risks of going online. For some of us, these numbers are higher than we'd like to believe, while for others, they are lower than some of the news coverage might have suggested. It is especially helpful where they give us contrasts between the risks online and those kids confront in their physical surroundings, as we've shared above in regard to bullying. We should be concerned that so many young people are confronting these problems without their parents being aware. I've written here before that young people may not need or deserve adults snooping over their shoulders as they interact with their friends but they need adults who are watching their backs, who understand the risks and benefits of what they are doing online, and can help them talk through the challenges they confront there.

For more information on the Livingstone et al report, check here.

Digital Media and Learning: New Video Series

Last spring, I expressed my dismay over what I saw as the failure of PBS's Digital Nation documentary to adequately express the work being done as part of MacArthur's Digital Media and Learning Initiative, a project which has brought together some of the smartest contemporary thinkers about formal and informal learning in the digital age. I was not the only one disappointed in the documentary and so I was delighted to be working with folks from the Pearson Foundation who were producing an alternative account, which is scheduled to be aired on PBS stations around the country next spring. Their project will be called Digital Media, New Learners of the 21st Century. In advance of the broadcast, they have started to release a series of video profiles of leading thinkers about media and learning via a temporary Vimeo site. They have said that there are more profiles coming and that they are in the process of building a spiffier website to showcase the material. But I wanted to take advantage of my inside knowledge to give you a sneak peak at the forthcoming project.

Here is the profile they constructed about my work. It was shot in and around my new digs at the Annenberg School of Communications and Journalism at the University of Southern California.

Henry Jenkins from New Learning Institute on Vimeo.

One of the things I really admire about this series of videos is their attempt to situate each "thinker" in their real world context -- to show where we live and/or work and to suggest some of the factors in our surroundings which shape our thoughts. This next one focused on John Seeley Brown does a beautiful job of showing the natural environment that surrounds his home in Hawaii and how he draws insight from the surfing culture there that shapes how he thinks about the learning process. (I am not sure what to make of the focus on athletics in their depiction of me -- trust me, I'm no jock, though I do enjoy an office which backs up to the field where the USC Marching Band practices.) The profile of James Paul Gee, which you can find at their site, also situates the educator taking a walk in a beautiful natural setting, again refusing to construct images which pit the digital (or the life of the mind) against the natural.

John Seely Brown from New Learning Institute on Vimeo.

This profile of Katie Salen offers us some intriguing glimpses into the Quest to Learn School, an innovative charter school in New York City which uses game design principles to encourage young people to develop systems thinking. You might contrast the respectful way that the school is depicted here with the disorientating representation the project received in the Digital Nation documentary. Here, we have a sense of what young people are doing, why they find it engaging, and how it relates to traditional curricular standards.

Katie Salen from New Learning Institute on Vimeo.

Check out their Vimeo site to see the other profiles of James Paul Gee, Mimi Ito, Nicole Pinkard, and Diana Rhoten. Each makes important and inspiring contributions to our understanding of digital media and learning.

Raising the Digital Generation: What Parents Need to Know About Digital Media and Learning

A few weeks ago, I was asked to represent the School of Communications by giving a talk for Trojans Parent Weekend at USC. (For those who do not follow American universities and their team mascots, the Trojans is the name for the USC sports team and thus, the name that is attached to anyone affiliated with the university.) Below, you can find the webcast version of my remarks, which sought to congratulate parents on their obvious success in raising a child smart enough to become part of our student body and to challenge some of their preconceptions about the forms of informal learning their offspring may have encountered in the course of their interactions with new media platforms and practices.

I felt that this talk might be of interest to my readers, many of whom are educators and/or parents, and who have displayed in the past great interest in my posts on new media and learning. Parents receive so little advice about how to confront the real challenges of navigating the digital environment which is unfamiliar to them and often to their children. Most often, they are told just say no. The more you restrict media use, the better parent you are. And for God's sake, keep the computer out of the kid's bedroom. But none of that feels adequate for a world where there is real learning taking place on line, where learning to navigate the new media environment is going to be key for your offspring's future success. Our schools are already blocking access to many of these core technologies and often refusing to advise youth about how to use them ethically, safely, and creatively. If parents start shutting off computers in the home, they really do close down potentials for their children's growth and development. And if they start snooping through their young person's internet accounts, they run the risk of damaging trust that is going to be vital for their long term relationship. My core advice to parents: Kids need someone to watch their back and not snoop over their shoulders. They need adults who are as engaged in their online lives as they are with their off-line lives -- not less and not more.

Some of what you hear here will be familiar, reflecting other talks and essays I've published on the work of Project New Media Literacies. Some will be newer, having to do with my ongoing projects in the area of youth, new media, and civic engagement.

I mentioned there in passing that we are in the process of creating the Participatory Culture and Learning Lab in the Annenberg School. Participatory Culture has long been the over-arching theme of my work, whether applied to think about creative industries and consumer/fan culture, new media literacies and education, or civic engagement. Over the past year, I have been transitioning out of many of the research roles I played through the MIT Comparative Media Studies Program and consolidating my research efforts here at USC. I have been lucky to draw several key members of my research staff on the East coast to join me here in sunny California -- including Erin Reilly who has long been the research director of the New Media Literacies team (and now is building affiliations with the Annenberg Innovation Lab) -- and I have reunited with Sangita Shreshtova, a CMS alum, who is now Research Director for the work we are doing on civic engagement with the MacArthur and Spencer Foundations. PCL (which people are already calling Pickle) represents an umbrella organization which will sustain these efforts while opening up a space for new research initiatives down the line.

Sites of Convergence: An Interview for Brazillian Academics (Part Two)

Participation in a culture of convergence requires the development of certain cognitive capacities. Multitasking, for example, is a skill that young people, the digital "natives," seem more comfortable with than those of older generations, who lived in less complex media environments and were expected to think linearly. In the current media environment, what do we lose and what do we gain in terms of cognitive skills? And can new ways of learning co-exist with old forms of knowledge?

I am often reminded of Plato, who reacted with horror at the thought that writing would displace oral language at the center of Ancient Greek culture; he feared that we would lose the capacity to remember the core values and traditions of our society as we became overly reliant on the technology of writing. He was right in some ways. We do not command the kind of oral-based memory that dominates in pre-literate societies, but it is hard to argue that we would have been better off as a society in the absence of writing - or later, of print.

Every new technology opens up rich possibilities for human communication and expands in significant ways our cognitive capacities. Yet, at the same time, there is always a loss of some skills, which have been valuable to us in the past. We are in such a moment of transition. It's hard to see with any certainty all of the trade-offs we are going to be asked to make, but it is also clear that what is coming will dramatically expand our capacity to create, to learn, and to organize.

The question is how to balance the new skills with the old, how to embrace the capacity of the young to process multiple channels of information with the values of contemplation and meditation, which were the virtues of older forms of learning. We need students who can learn from computers and from books, rather than forcing a false choice between the two. We need young people who can embrace and deploy a range of different cognitive strategies to confront a range of different sources of information and to express themselves across a range of different discursive contexts.

For me, this is never about displacing traditional literacy with new media literacies, but rather expanding the ways young people learn to encompass what is most valuable about the new and retain what was most effective about the old.

How can humanist traditions of critical thinking survive the overflow of information that comes with new media?

To be honest, I don't know. But we will need critical thinking now more than ever if individually and collectively we will navigate through a much more complex information-scape and be able to make quick, effective decisions about the reliability and value of the sea of documents and videos that pass over our eyeballs in the course of our day. One way forward is to embrace what Pierre Levy calls collective intelligence. Levy argues that, in a networked society, nobody knows everything - get rid of the idea of the Renaissance man and rid education of the concept that every student should learn the same things. Everybody knows something - foster a culture of diverse expertise and multiple ways of knowing. And what any given member knows is available to the group as needed - enhance mechanisms for allowing us to compare notes, to deliberate together, and learn from each other. Individually, we are no match against the tsunami of data that crests over us every day of our lives, but collectively, we have the mental capacity to tackle complex problems that would be far beyond our personal competencies.

For us to achieve that potential we have to embrace collaborative learning at every stage of our educational process and we have to allow individuals to develop their own distinctive expertise rather than push our schools towards greater standardization.

From this perspective, the use of new media can in fact help build communities. The opposite, however, also seems to be true. Some media scholars have insisted, for example, that YouTube undermines this promise of community building and collective action precisely because of the huge amount and wide range of information published by its users. Making information publicly available is not the same thing as organizing community or mobilizing action. How would you respond to those who argue that fragmentation and dispersal, rather than purposeful collective action, are the likely outcomes of information overflow? Does access really translate into agency?

I would argue that YouTube represents the opposite of fragmentation. It is a site where media producers of diverse backgrounds and goals pool their resources and share with each other what they have produced. We are more aware of the diversity of our culture when we look at YouTube in large part because it has brought us into contact with forms of cultural production that were once hidden from our view, drowned out by the amplified voice of mass media, and isolated from us by all the various structures of exclusion that shape our everyday cultural experience. This is the heart of what Yochai Benkler argues in The Wealth of Networks - that many of these new sites represent a meeting ground for diversely motivated groups and individuals.

There is, at least potentially, much greater flow of information across groups at the grassroots level now than ever before. Groups that were once invisible are now gaining greater public impact through bringing their cultural productions into these new common spaces. These materials move much more fluidly through the population because they do not have to rely on traditional gatekeepers.

I don't want to overstate this point. Much recent research on social networks suggests that they reflect other kinds of segregation in our culture: people tend to gather online with people they know in their everyday lives rather than exploit the full capacity of a networked culture; they tend to seek out people like themselves rather than use the technology to build "bridging" relationships. And this tends to blunt the potential of a participatory culture to diversify our experiences and knowledge.

I would agree that access does not necessarily translate into agency: it certainly doesn't in the absence of knowledge and skills to deploy the affordances of these new social networks effectively; it doesn't in the absence of a mindset that places a real value on diversity or respects the dignity of all participants; it doesn't in the absence of new forms of social organization that help us to leverage the potentials of digital media to confront the challenges and problems of the 21st century.

The concepts of authorship and intellectual property are key to current debates on new media. On the one hand, digital culture encourages appropriation and popular uses of mass cultural texts, offering increased public exposure to fan creativity. On the other, the surge in what you call "grassroots creativity" has met with growing efforts on the part of the media industry to control the use and circulation of information. Is the notion of intellectual property on the wrong side of history? And what role - if any - can it play in the world of media convergence?

Intellectual property is the battleground that will determine how participatory our culture becomes. In some ways, the mass media industries are opening up greater space for participation, are accepting more appropriation than I ever anticipated. But they are not likely to give up the fight to own the core stories, images, and sounds of our culture without some pretty serious pushback from the public.

If we look at the history of culture, we can see some broad movements, which argue against the long-term viability of our current models of intellectual property. First, there was a folk culture, which supported broad participation, which drew few lines between amateur and professional creators, which stressed the social rather than the economic value of our creative acts, and which relied on peer-to-peer teaching of skills and practices. Second, there was a mass media culture, where the production of culture was privatized and professionalized, where most of us consumed and a few produced, and where none of us could lay claim to the cultural traditions that had sustained us or to the stories that had captured our imagination.

Now, the rise of participatory culture represents the reassertion of the practices and logics of folk culture in the face of a hundred years of mass culture. We now have greater capacity to create again and we are forming communities around the practices of cultural production and circulation. We now have the ability to share what we create with a much larger public than was possible under folk culture, and yet our templates for what culture looks like are still largely formed around the contents and practices of mass culture. This is why fan culture thrives in this new environment. Participatory culture cannot grow without the capacity to archive, appropriate, and recirculate media content; it cannot sustain itself long term without an expanded notion of fair use and a reduction on the capacity of corporate media to exert a monopoly control over our culture.

Everyone sees that the future will be more participatory, but we are fighting over the terms of our participation. New business models seek to liberalize the terms, opening up more space to consumer control, much as autocratic regimes are often forced over time to allow some kinds of democratic practices and institutions as they struggle to stay in power. But my bet is that the public demand is going to be greater than their capacity to let go of their control over the mechanisms of cultural production and circulation. They are not going to be capable of moving far enough fast enough. More and more of us will become "pirates" as we seek to pursue our own interests in a media environment that supports greater participation and a legal environment that seeks to channel that participation in ways that serve the interest of major media conglomerates.

Vinicius Navarro is assistant professor of film studies at the Georgia Institute of Technology. He is the co-author (with Louise Spence) of Crafting Truth: Documentary Form and Meaning (Rutgers University Press, 2011). He is currently working on a book on performance, documentary, and new media.

Sites of Convergence: An Interview for Brazillian Academics

Vinicius Navarro has published an extensive interview with me in the current issue of Contracampo, a journal from Universidade Federal Fluminense (Brazil). Navarro and his editors have graciously allowed me to reprint an English version of the interview here on my blog. Done more than a year ago, Navarro covered a broad territory including ideas about convergence, collective intelligence, new media literacies, globalization, copyright, and transmedia storytelling. Sites of Convergence: An Interview with Henry Jenkins

by Vinicius Navarro

Media convergence is not just a technological process; it is primarily a cultural phenomenon that involves new forms of exchange between producers and users of media content. This is one of the underlying arguments in Henry Jenkins's Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide, a provocative study of how information travels through different media platforms and how we make sense of media content. Convergence, according to Jenkins, takes place "within the brains" of the consumers and "through their social interactions with others." Just as information flows through different media channels, so do our lives, work, fantasies, relationships, and so on. In Convergence Culture, Jenkins explores these ideas in discussions that include the TV shows Survivor and American Idol, The Matrix franchise, fans of Harry Potter and Star Wars, as well as the 2004 American presidential campaign.

Henry Jenkins is one of the most influential contemporary media scholars. In addition to his book on media convergence, he is known for his work on Hollywood comedy, computer games, and fan communities. More broadly, Jenkins is an enthusiast of what he calls participatory culture. Contemporary media users, he argues, challenge the notion that we are passive consumers of media content or mere recipients of messages generated by the communications industry. Instead, these consumers are creative agents who help define how media content is used and, in some cases, help shape the content itself. Media convergence has expanded the possibility of participation because it allows greater access to the production and circulation of culture.

In this interview, Jenkins speaks generously about the promises and challenges of the current media environment and discusses the ways convergence is changing our lives. As usual, he celebrates the potential for consumer participation, but he also notes that our access to technology is uneven. And he calls for a more inclusive and diverse use of new media. One of the places in which these discrepancies are apparent is the classroom. Jenkins believes that we need new educational models that involve "a much more collaborative atmosphere" between teachers and students. He also argues that we must change our academic curricula to fit the interdisciplinary needs of our convergence culture.

These are some of the questions we must confront in the new media environment of the twenty-first century, an environment in which consumer creativity clashes with intellectual property laws, Ukrainian TV shows find their way into American homes via YouTube, and transmedia narratives reshape the way we think about filmmaking.

In Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide, you oppose "the digital revolution paradigm" - the idea that new media are "going to change everything" - to the notion of media convergence. You also say that "convergence is an old concept taking on new meanings." What exactly is new about the current convergence paradigm? And what changes may we expect from the convergence (or collision) of old and new media?

The idea of the digital revolution was that new media would displace and, in some ways, replace mass media. There were predictions of the withering away of broadcasting, just as earlier generations of revolutionaries liked to imagine the withering away of the state. That's not what has happened. We are seeing greater and greater interactions between old and new media. In certain cases, this has made new media more powerful rather than less. The power of the broadcast networks now co-exists with the power of the social networks. In some ways, this has pushed broadcasters to go where the consumers are, trying to satisfy a widespread demand for the media we want, when we want it, where we want it, demand for the ability to actively participate in shaping the production and circulation of media content. This is the heart of what I mean by convergence culture. The old notion of convergence was primarily technological - having to do with which black box the media would flow through. The new conception is cultural - having to do with the coordination of media content across a range of different media platforms.

We certainly are moving towards technological convergence - and the iPhone can be seen as an example of how far we've come since I wrote the book - but we are already living in an era of cultural convergence. This convergence potentially has an impact on aesthetics (through grassroots expression and transmedia storytelling), knowledge and education (through collective intelligence and new media literacy), politics (through new forms of public participation), and economics (through the web 2.0 business model).

What's new? On the one hand, the flow of media content across media platforms and, on the other, the capacity of the public to deploy social networks to connect to each other in new ways, to actively shape the circulation of media content, to publicly challenge the interests of mass media producers. Convergence culture is both consolidating the power of media producers and consolidating the power of media consumers. But what is really interesting is how they come together - the ways consumers are developing skills at both filtering through and engaging more fully with that dispersed media content and the ways that the media producers are having to bow before the increased autonomy and collective knowledge of their consumers.

The concept of "convergence" brings to mind the related notions of co-existence, connection and, in some ways, community. In this culture of convergence, however, we continue to see a divide - social as well as generational - between those who participate in it and those who don't. What can we do to narrow this gap and expand the promise of participation?

This is a serious problem that is being felt in countries around the world. Our access to the technology is uneven - this is what we mean by the digital divide. But there is also uneven access to the skills and knowledge required to meaningfully participate in this emerging culture - this is what we mean by the participation gap. As more and more functions of our lives move into the online world or get conducted through mobile communications, those who lack access to the technologies and to the social and cultural capital needed to use them meaningfully are being excluded from full participation.

What excites me about what I am calling participatory culture is that it has the potential to diversify the content of our culture and democratize access to the channels of communication. We are certainly seeing examples of oppositional groups in countries around the world start to route around governmental censorship; we are seeing a rise of independent media producers - from indie game designers to web comics producers - who are finding a public for their work and thus expanding the creative potential of our society.

What worries me the most about participatory culture is that we are seeing such uneven opportunities to participate, that some spaces - the comments section on YouTube for example - are incredibly hostile to real diversity, that our educational institutions are locking out the channels of participatory media rather than integrating them fully into their practices, and that companies are often using intellectual property law to shut down the public's desire to more fully engage with the contents of our culture.

One place where the divide manifests itself very clearly is the classroom. In an interview for a recent documentary called Digital Nation (PBS), you said: "Right now, the teachers have one set of skills; the students have a different set of skills. And what they have to do is learn from each other how to develop strategies for processing information, constructing knowledge, sharing insights with each other." What specific strategies do you have in mind? What educational model are you thinking about?

Last year, I had the students in my New Media Literacies class at USC do interviews with young people about their experiences with digital media. Because my students are global, this gave us some interesting snapshots of "normal" teens from many parts of the world - from India to Bulgaria to Lapland. In almost all cases, the young people enjoyed a much richer life online than they did at school; most found schools deadening and many of the brightest students were considering dropping out because they saw the teachers as hopelessly out of touch with the world they were living in.

Yet, on the other side of the coin, there are young people who lack any exposure to the core practices of the digital age, who depend upon schools to give them exposure to the core skills they need to be fully engaged with the new media landscape. And our schools, in countries all over the world, betray them, often by blocking access to social networks, blogging tools, YouTube, Wikipedia, and so many other key spaces where the new participatory culture is forming.

Over the past few years, I've been involved in a large-scale initiative launched by the MacArthur Foundation to explore digital media and learning. I wrote a white paper for the MacArthur Foundation, which identifies core social skills and cultural competencies required for participatory culture and then launched Project New Media Literacies to help translate those insights into resources for educators. The work we are doing through Project New Media Literacies (which was originally launched at MIT but which has traveled with me to USC) is trying to experiment with the ways we can integrate participatory modes of learning, common outside of school, with the core content which we see valuable within our educational institutions.

For us, teaching the new media literacies involves more than simply teaching kids how to use or even to program digital technologies. The new media landscape has as much to do with new social structures and cultural practices as it has to do with new tools and technologies. And as a consequence, we can teach new mindsets, new dispositions, even in the absence of rich technological environments. It is about helping young people to acquire the habits of mind required to fully engage within a networked public, to collaborate in a complex and diverse knowledge community, and to express themselves in a much more participatory culture. This new mode of learning requires teachers to embrace a much more collaborative atmosphere in their classrooms, allowing students to develop and assert distinctive expertise as they pool their knowledge to work through complex problems together.

Vinicius Navarro is assistant professor of film studies at the Georgia Institute of Technology. He is the co-author (with Louise Spence) of Crafting Truth: Documentary Form and Meaning (Rutgers University Press, 2011). He is currently working on a book on performance, documentary, and new media.