What's All the Fuss About Connected Learning?

Last week, the MacArthur Foundation released a significant new report, Connected Learning: An Agenda for Research and Design, which should warrant the close attention of my regular readers, especially those of you who are strongly invested in thinking about the nature of education within a networked era. The report comes more than six years after the launch of the Digital Media and Learning initiative and represents an important re-assessment of what's working and what's not as institutions at all levels have responded to the changes which are impacting our information environment. The authors of the report include some of the most important American and British thinkers about youth, new media, and education:

Mizuko Ito...Kris Gutiérrez...Sonia Livingstone... Bill Penuel...Jean Rhodes...Katie Salen..Juliet Schor...Julian Sefton-Green....S. Craig Watkins 

The report is sobering in its acknowledgment of some of the real challenges confronting us, especially in its focus on the growing inequalities in terms of access not simply to the technological infrastructure but to the skills and opportunities required to meaningfully participate in the new media environment:

Despite its power to advance learning, many parents, educators, and policymakers perceive new media as a distraction from academic learning, civic engagement,and future opportunity. Digital media also threaten to exacerbate growing inequities in education. Progressive digital media users ... are a privileged minority. There is also a growing gap between the progressive use of digital media outside of the classroom, and the no-frills offerings of most public schools that educate our most vulnerable populations. This gap contributes to widespread alienation from educa- tional institutions, particularly among non-dominant youth. Without a proactive educational reform agenda that begins with questions of equity, leverages both in-school and out-of-school learning, and embraces the opportunities new media offer for learning, we risk a growth in educational alienation by our most vulnerable populations....

This report is skeptical and hard-nosed, challenging some of the optimism which has fueled previous work in the Digital Media and Literacy tradition, raising concerns about what is happening to those who are being excluded from meaningful participation. The authors raise alarms about how all young people are impacted by an educational process which gives them few chances to pursue their own passions and interests within a regime of standardized testing and a fragmented media environment where children have much greater access to highly commercial sites than to those which speak to them as citizens and learners.

The report raises these issues while also recognizing the very real educational opportunities DML scholars have identified when we look at those communities which have proven rewarding for a growing number of young participants, communities which have a shared ethical commitment to encouraging and scaffolding their participation. The authors believe something valuable is taking place in many corners of the web (and in the context of young people's everyday engagements with media.):

Young people can have diverse pathways into connected learning. Schools, homes, afterschool clubs, religious institutions, and community centers and the parents, teachers, friends, mentors and coaches that young people find at these diverse locales, all potentially have a role to play in guiding young people to connected learning. Connected learning takes root when young people find peers who share interests, when academic institutions recognize and make interest-driven learning relevant to school, and when community institutions provide resources and safe spaces for more peer- driven forms of learning.

Examples of learning environments that are currently integrating the spheres of peers, interests, and academic pursuits include athletics programs that are tied to in-school recognition, certain arts and civic learning programs, and interest-driven academic programs such as math, chess, or robotics competitions. These connected learning environments ideally embody values of equity, social belonging, and participation. Further, connected learning environments are generally characterized by a sense of shared purpose, a focus on production, and openly networked infrastructures.

The report is skeptical, not cynical. It asks hard questions precisely so we can empower meaningful change. The authors do not fall prey to the paralysis which consumes so much academic writing, but rather they offer a number of concrete recommendations about what new kinds of educational structures and practices need to emerge. What I admire most about this report is this movement between critique and advocacy, between analysis of existing problems and the willingness to find concrete solutions. I have admired these pragmatic qualities in many of these authors individually in the past. See, for example, my previous interviews with Mimi Ito, Craig Watkins, and Sonia Livingstone, about their research.  

The report includes rich case studies, demonstrating the kinds of experiences some youth have enjoyed through joining the Harry Potter Alliance, enrolling in New York City's Quest to Learn School, or participating in the after school offerings of the Chicago Public Library's YouMedia Center. Such projects illustrate what happens when everything comes together. Here, for example, is a bit from a sidebar written by Sangita Shresthova and Neta  Kliger-Vilenchik, two researchers from my Civic Paths team at USC's Annenberg School, dealing with the learning culture which has grown up around the Harry Potter Alliance:

Although fun and social in nature, involvement in HPA pushes young people to connect their recre- ational interests to social and political issues that they might not otherwise be familiar with. Because HPA turns its attention to many issues, ranging from net neutrality to fair trade and voter registra- tion, this forces participants to study up in a range of new areas. Almost every campaign is accompa- nied by a period of learning about the new issue and making sense of it. Chapter leaders will often educate the group on a new issue. Participants also talk about how involvement in HPA helped them see the political messages within Harry Potter. One chapter has gone as far as opening a 6-week study group on “Harry Potter as a tool for social change,” discussing links between the narratives and real-world issues. In other words, HPA is a site of hybridization and translation between political and fantasy-centered frames of reference.

Coincidentally, Andrew Slack, HPA's Founder and Leader, also released a new TED talks video last week, which is a wonderful illustration of the HPA approach at work.

Here, Slack is very much in his element, speaking to a room of youth, giving himself over to his inner fan boy, and at the same time, encouraging critical media literacies and informed engagement with social issues. You also get a sense here of how Slack and others in his organization are moving beyond a focus on Harry Potter fandom and seeking to demonstrate how we might learn from a range of popular media and literary texts.

Such educational opportunities are exciting -- they have sustained my own enthusiasm over the better part of a decade now -- but they are not in and of themselves enough, not as long as many young people lack the kind of adult mentorship which might help them to identify meaningful online experiences or make connections between what they are learning in these communities and the demands of more formalized education.

The heart of the report seeks to identify design principles which might address these concerns:

Our hypothesis is that in order to develop these cross-cutting repertoires of practice, young people need concrete and sustained social networks, relationships, institutional linkages, shared activities and communication infrastructures that connect their social, academic, and interest-driven learning. It is not enough for young people to have knowledge “in their head” and expect that they can apply it appropriately and effectively in varied settings on their own. They need caring adults, supportive peers, shared cultural references, and authentic ways of contributing to shared practices in order to mobilize their skills and knowledge. In contrast to the voluminous literature and research on cognitive and individual models of transfer, there has been very little work that looks more ecologically at the relational, infrastructural, and institutional settings that undergird effective translation and transfer between formal instruction and varied practices.

I can't begin to do justice to this report. You need to read it yourself, and then, we need to launch some serious conversations about its implications for our own practices.


Once You Open Your Laptop...: Final Exam

For the past week, I have been sharing insights and materials from my Technology and Culture class last semester. As I described last week,  we had explored how to integrate transactional memory, collective intelligence, and participatory culture practices into the design and implementation of the class. We built collective problem solving into the class from day one, gradually formalized student's membership into teams which would acquire skills at working through challenges together, and culminated the term with a collective final exam, which would demonstrate what these teams could do when they pooled knowledge and worked together under deadline pressure. What follows is the exam, exactly as it was presented to the students. We are offering it as an example to help other educators think about how they might redesign their teaching practice to encourage students to be more effective at producing and sharing knowledge through online networks.  

Teams should select three (3) of the following four (4) questions to address on the exam. Collectively, you should strive to answer the questions as fully as possible. Be sure to address each part of the question.

Responses to three (3) of these questions should be emailed to your TA no later than 3:30 pm on Wed. Dec. 5.  Please be sure to list all of the members of your team who participated in responding to these questions and also identify any other people or resources you consulted with in preparing your answers.

1. In his short story, “To Market, To Market: The Re-Branding of Billy Bailey,” Cory Doctorow presents both a celebration and a sharp critique of pervasive marketing and advertising in the 21st century.  Through Billy’s character development, and his interactions with Mitchell McCoy and Ronnie Ryan, Doctorow touches on many of the larger contemporary debates around “spreadable media,” advertising’s most recent “creative revolution,” and the current state of the music industry.

Through an analysis of specific quotations and overall themes in “To Market, To Market,” write an essay that answers the following questions:

  • How does Doctorow present “the power of youth” in advertising?  How does this representation of young people relate to the various roles that youth may take in the consumption, creation, and spread of contemporary media messages?
  • How might the practices Doctorow depicts represent a logical next step in the evolution of the advertising industry’s relations to its consumers which Prof. Jenkins described in his lecture?
  • Does Doctorow portray advertising positively, negatively, or a combination of the two?
  • What tensions exists between “identity” and “industry” in the world of music among different players (specifically fans, artists, and record label representatives)?  How does Doctorow illustrate the ways that “identity” and “industry” converge and diverge?
  • What assumptions does the story make about the ways consumer’s choices are influenced by those made by other consumers? What might be other ways to discuss the role of consumers in contemporary culture?

To support your claims, use at least five (5) class readings (besides “To Market, To Market”), with at least one (1) reading being from each of the following three (3) different days of class readings:

10/29 “How Does Media Spread?” 11/12 “What Will Be the Future of Advertising?” 11/14 “Are Pirates a Threat to Media Industries?”

2. In the United States, women are currently the majority of registered voters, and vote in larger numbers than men.  In addition, the 2012 election ushered in a record number of women elected to the Senate.  However, issues directly related to women’s rights (e.g. reproductive health, equal pay) were infrequently discussed in the recent presidential election and debates.

Two sets of political memes in 2012 focused very specifically on women’s equality issues:

“Texts from Hillary” (http://textsfromhillaryclinton.tumblr.com/) “Binders Full of Women” (http://bindersfullofwomen.tumblr.com/)

Through an analysis of EITHER “Texts from Hillary” OR “Binders Full of Women,” address the following questions. Based on what you’ve learned from earlier discussion section activities, trace the flow of these meme across at least three (3) online communities:

  • Which groups most readily embraced this meme?  How did these memes connect to ongoing discussions within these communities?
  • What kinds of commentaries do these memes make about gender inequalities and power?  How are these commentaries made using elements from popular culture?
  • Find responses to these memes from mainstream journalists. Do they see these kinds of participatory political practices as enhancing or detracting from meaningful political discussion?
  • Did the meanings associated with these memes change over time as they moved across different online communities? If so, how?
  • How open was this meme to expressing alternative ideological perspectives?

To support your claims, use at least five (5) class readings, with at least one (1) reading being from each of the following three (3) different days of class readings:

10/24 “What Roles Do New Media Play in American Politics?” 10/29 “How Does Media Spread?” 10/31 “How Generative are Online Communities?”

3. Recent readings have focused on hopes and fears for the printed word, as well as the way narratives can extend across various media.

Describe how your group sees the format of two (2) of the following literary genres evolving over the next ten years: comic book, class textbook, religious tome, science fiction novel, technical manual, children’s picture book, newspaper or news magazine. Be specific in terms of the contexts in which they will be used, and by which communities. Keep in mind that communities are also always in flux. Address the following questions:

  • Which traditional functions of these publications are best served by print? What might digital publication offer that would create new value as compared to print-based counterparts?
  • Cite examples of current digital publishing in this space.  In what ways are these experiments are offering new affordances and demonstrating new relationships to the reading public?
  • What economic factors might push publishers to adopt digital publication, even in those cases where there is not “value added” features?
  • What aspects of these traditional publishing genres are being served by grassroots producers and online communities?
  • What concerns might critics, such as Sven Birkerts or Nicholas Carr, raise about the movement of these functions into digital media?

To support your claims, use at least five (5) class readings, with at least one (1) reading being from each of the following three (3) different days of class readings:

10/31 “How Generative are Online Communities?” 11/26 “Is Print Culture Dying?” 11/28 “Has Networked Communication Changed the Ways We Tell Stories?”

4. Trace the rise of "Web 2.0" and which of its components can still be seen in today's web.

  • How was it a new paradigm? What are its key defining traits?
  • Cite several examples of exemplary Web 2.0 companies and the ways they relate to their consumers.
  • Discuss the relationship of Web 2.0 to other key concepts from the class, especially participatory culture, collective intelligence, and circulation.  What aspect of participatory culture are absorbed into Web 2.0 practices, what remains outside of commercial logic, and what are core sources of tension between Web 2.0 and these more grassroots practices?
  • Drawing on critics of Web 2.0, including Geert Lovink and Jenkins/Ford/Green, discuss what concerns people have raised about these emerging corporate practices. Which of these criticism do you agree with and which would you refute or qualify?
  • Does the current incarnation of the web facilitate discussion, self-expression and civic engagement?

To support your claims, use at least five (5) class readings, with at least one (1) reading being from each of the following three (3) different days of class readings:

11/5 “Have There Been Twitter Revolutions?” 11/7 “What is Web 2.0?” 11/14 “Are Pirates a Threat to Media Industries?”

Once You Open Your Laptop... Activities from My Technologies and Culture Class (Part Two)

These next activities mark the shift towards graded group work in the class. By this point, the students are working in permanent teams and these activities are explicitly presented as practice runs towards the final exam. Week 10 Tracking Viral Success (Henry Jenkins)

Each video on YouTube has a story. While it can be hard to trace the origins of some of these videos, each was posted by someone, for some reason. Most reflect ongoing conversations within particular subculture communities. Each may inspire comments either as written texts or response videos. And each may travel from YouTube to other communities through social networking tools. Teams should choose one example from amongst those which have spread the furthest and gained the most hits. Select from one of the following:

Gangnam Style Call Me Maybe S**t Girls Say Someone I Used to Know

Your team’s task is to help us to  better understand where it came from, how YouTube users responded to the video (find at least two remix/response video), how it spread beyond its original community, and how mass media responded to the video's sudden popularity .  Here are some steps which members of your team can take to get the information they need to answer this question.

  • Start with Youtube itself. Look at the video and the information that surrounds it.
  • Read the comments section on the YouTube page and see how people there responded to it.
  • Check to see if there are more than one versions of the same video on Youtube. You might also broaden your search to look at other common video sharing sites, such as Vimeo.
  • On Youtube, look for videos which responded to the original.  Or other related videos which surface alongside it and may help give us clues about its context.
  • Use a search engine to track references to the video on blogs or news coverage of its spread. See if you can find out anything about who produced the video and why.
  • Allow time to write out your answer using googledocs. You may want to take notes as you go so if you run out of time, we can at least trace the steps you took and what you found, before you consolidated your responses.

Your final response should include an evaluation of how such current theories as "viral media," “Memes,”  and Spreadable Media might have addressed the specific patterns of production, circulation, and response you have identified.  Try to draw on at least three readings in a meaningful way. You will be evaluated based on the amount of research performed, on the quality of the analysis you offer, on how you build off concepts from the readings and the lectures to help frame your analysis (including, ideally, direct references to specific readings), and on how well you understanding the nature of the new communications environment.


Activity for Week 11: Kickstarter as a Web 2.0 Company (Andrew Schrock)

Kickstarter is a website for "crowd funding," a way to finance creative and technical projects where small amounts of money are pledged with no guarantee of success, similar to a benefactor model spread across many parties. Projects must not be for charity, finite, and rewards should be intrinsically related to the project. Project proposals are reviewed by Kickstarter for adherence to guidelines, and funding is given only if projects meet their goal. About half of approved projects got funded in 2011, for an average funding rate of 46%, over a million pledges, with an average pledge of $86. The most popular projects are Film/video and music, although Technology has a larger average amount for successful financing.


Your assignment today is to summarize and contextualize a successful Kickstarter project, as selected from the list on the next page. Your tasks should include:



Your response should first be descriptive: tell us a story of who these people are, what their project is, and why you think this project succeeded over others. How does the project speak to particular communities through rewards and the video pitch? Second, you should draw on the readings from class to discuss the role Kickstarter played in the team’s personal / professional lives, and how crowdfunding operates in the larger funding ecosystem. Are they amateurs or professionals? How does Kickstarter serve as an alternative for established modes of funding, recall earlier models, or reinforce criticisms made of “web 2.0”? Were there controversies or discussions of this project on news sites and discussion forums? Be sure to employ concepts from at least three readings from this week.


List of Kickstarter Projects



Week 12 Intellectual Property in the Music Industry (Rhea Vichot)


William Fischer, in discussing the role of technology within the contemporary media landscape, envisions an alternative system for artists to be compensated for their work.

Utilizing either the role you were assigned in lecture on Wednesday or, if you choose, one of four roles below:


  • Artist
  • Record Label
  • Intellectual Property Law Firm
  • Fan


Analyze FIscher's Alternative Compensation system through one of these perspectives. In doing so, be sure to reference at least three other readings. What are the advantages and disadvantages to such a system for the specific role you are writing as? How does this model address piracy and does it do so to the satisfaction of your role? What is the role of advertising in this alternative system? What changes would you want to make to Fischer’s recommendation based on our readings and discussions?

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Week 14 Mapping Transmedia Worlds (Meryl Alper)

Transmedia storytelling, as defined by Prof. Jenkins, “represents a process where integral elements of a fiction get dispersed systematically across multiple delivery channels for the purpose of creating a unified and coordinated entertainment experience.”  Each medium contributes something unique to the world of the story.  Images, characters, stories, and songs travel between different media platforms, shaped in various ways by both corporations and consumers.


Your team’s task is to choose a media franchise, physically map how individual texts stand alone but also contribute to a larger transmedia story, and answer some questions on how your transmedia franchise reflects larger historical, cultural, political, and economic factors.


Choose one (1) of the following global transmedia franchises (and just a few texts to consider for each - there’s many more for you to map than the examples listed listed here):


1. Harry Potter (J.K. Rowling, Pottermore, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter)

2. Wizard of Oz (The Wiz, ruby slippers, L. Frank Baum, Wicked)

3. The Muppets (“Sam and Friends,” Cookie Monster and Rowlf in IBM commercials (e.g. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZJVU-7WinQc, Jim Henson, movies and movie trailers, “Sesame Street,” http://www.muppetsmahnamahna.com/)

4. Batman (Why So Serious? ARG, Batman Live, live-action and animated TV series)


Mapping (Approx. 20 min.)


Your group will receive a marker, a large piece of white paper, and a pack of Post-Its.  On the Post-Its you’ll write out different textual elements (e.g. for Harry Potter, on one Post-It you might write “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (The Movie)” and on another, you might write “Platform 9 ¾ in London’s Kings Cross Station”).  You’ll “map” the Post-Its onto one of the sheet of white paper, and use the marker to draw connections between the elements.  “Map” is a loose term and there’s no wrong way to do this - it doesn’t have to be neat and pretty, but should reflect connections and distance between elements.

Questions (Approx. 30 min.)

After the mapping exercise, your group should then answer the following questions.  In your responses, please meaningfully incorporate material from Prof. Jenkins’ book chapter, his blog post you were assigned, AND at least one of Nick DeMartino’s blog posts from this week:

1) How does the franchise engage different types of transmedia logics?:

  • Storytelling (e.g. recurring minor characters like Boba Fett in Star Wars, story arcs across texts like Kermit and Miss Piggy’s relationship)
  • Branding (e.g. iconography like the Ruby Slippers in Wizard of Oz, consumer goods)
  • Rituals (e.g. holiday movie viewings, Harry Potter movie premieres, Super Bowl commercials)

2) Explain how one of your Post-It note “texts” relates to specific trends impacting the entertainment industry at the time of its creation.


3) Identify who owns one texts in your transmedia franchise (e.g. The most recent Muppet movie was produced by Disney, not the Jim Henson Company, because Disney now owns the Muppets).  How does media concentration play a role in transmedia?

4) In his “Transmedia Storytelling 101” post, Prof. Jenkins writes, “Transmedia storytelling is the ideal aesthetic form for an era of collective intelligence.”  Based on your experience working collectively during the second half of the semester and in today’s section, why or why not do you agree with that statement?

Next Time: Final Exam


Once You Open Your Laptop...: Activities from My Technology and Culture Class (Part One)

Last time, I shared some of the results of a semester-long effort to integrate forms of transactive memory and collective intelligence into the teaching of an undergraduate lecture hall class on communication technology and culture.  Over the next few installments, I am sharing the discussion prompts and exam questions we developed in this context. Each is designed to support the efforts of small scale 3-4 person teams as they seek to apply concepts from lecture into the investigation of contemporary digital phenomenon. I am sharing these prompts in part because they incorporate so many resources which may be useful for other media scholars and in part because they illustrate the kinds of questions and activities that work on the scale of social interaction we are exploring. As you will notice, the activities became a bit more streamlined as the course went along, reflecting what we learned in terms of how much material the teams could process within the designated classtime and how much background they needed in order to be able to perform the activities. Your experiences will certainly differ in terms of the abilities and backgrounds of your students.

The chunk of activities featured on today's post were ungraded, but intended to give students a chance to work in groups. I will signal when we shifted to graded activities.

I was lucky to be working with three very dedicated and creative Annenberg PhD students, Meryl Alper, Andrew Schrock, and Rhea Vichot, and I've given credit where credit is due here, indicating which activities each of them developed for the class.


Week 3: Facebook and Privacy (Andrew Schrock)

Introduction: The terms of service (TOS) describe the uses that parent companies that maintain platforms and other web services deem acceptable. Among other things, Facebook's terms of service describes the ways that Facebook captures, analyzes, and uses data related to our online identities and interactions. boyd and Marwick described privacy as "both a social norm and a process” – an entirely public or private life would not be feasible (or particularly enjoyable). Privacy is an extremely complex notion, reliant on culture and social context. Feelings of “privacy violations” are often sudden and leave us feeling confused or helpless, such as when our personal information is displayed in unexpected ways. To help us think through the complex negotiations that occur between individuals, platforms, and privacy, we can interrogate the TOS for possible areas of friction between platform-endorsed uses and individual practices.


Team activity: Your assignment is to read the terms of service for Facebook with a critical eye. In teams of 2-3, read a section of the terms of service at http://www.facebook.com/legal/terms. You will be assigned one of the following sections: 2 (sharing), 3 (safety), 4 (registration), 5 (protecting rights of others), 9 (special provisions to developers), or 11 (special provisions to advertisers). Please spend 10 minutes reviewing your section and prepare brief responses to the following questions.


Questions: What does Facebook consider private? How does it differ from yours? Do you see clauses that strike you as potential violations of privacy? If so, why?


What do you think Facebook frames the terms of service this way? How do you think Facebook uses the data it collects? How does Facebook exercise power?


Have you altered the privacy settings of Facebook or used social strategies to deliver messages to friends ("steganography" from danah/alice article)? Can you think of times you or your friends have accidentally or deliberately violated the TOS? If so, why did you?


Week 4 Wikipedia Mechanics (Rhea Vichot) Warmup (5 Minutes) [Citation Needed:]




http://citationneeded.tumblr.com/post/29905972747/whac-a-mole http://citationneeded.tumblr.com/post/31336657830/victor-salva http://citationneeded.tumblr.com/post/28419289190/placeholder-name http://citationneeded.tumblr.com/post/27763947374/cultural-depictions-of-elvis-presley




  • Why is this funny? What kinds of critiques are being made about Wikipedia?

○      the humor is in the failed attempt at creating an “authoratative voice”. There are some critiques of the editorial policies of WIkipedia as well as the attempts to treat all subjects, no matter how trvial or transitory, with the same voice

○      I also feel there is a subtle poke at how white and nerdy Wikipedia editors are, but that’s just my take - RAV Main Activity: How is Wikipedia Structured (Two Parts: 30-35 Minutes Total) Part I (10-15 Minutes) In groups of 2-3, have students look at one of the following Main and Talk Pages (5-10 minutes):


After 5 minutes, have each group provide a quick summary of the main points of their assigned page as well as an interesting discussion thread on the talk page.




  • What ideals are being espoused on these pages?

○      SIngular voice

○      Being not a research circle, but a repository for secondhand research

○      WIkipedia believes in “meritocracy” whether or not that is what happens in reality

  • What kinds of concerns are these policies hedging against?

○      Trolls, Abuse

○      Misinformation

○      Infighting, Faction building

  • Does this make you more or less likely to contribute content to Wikipedia?



  • Understand what Wikipedia’s editorial policy
  • Understand that these editorial Policies are agreed upon and what assumptions may go into those conventions

Part II (20-25 Minutes) In the same groups, they should visit a Wikipedia page on a topic they are familiar with (A novel, Film or TV Show, Comm theory from another class, A piece of technology, or a historical figure or event). They should look at: (1) The structure and content of the main page, (2) The Talk Page and relevant discussion Points, and (3) The history of the Page and Talk, including the first version of the Page. (5-10 Minutes)




Dr. Pepper



Steve Jobs:



The Assassination of John F. Kennedy:



50 Shades of Grey:




  • What aspects of the topic were on the page. What was relegated to separate pages? What was missing, if anything?
  • What were the main points of controversy in the talk page?
  • What kinds of changes were made over time? Were they updates to the topic? Were they major changes to the content and form of the article?
  • How do the Editorial Policies above shape the content of the page and the discussion on the Talk Page?

○      Calls for citations, for better sources, and for discounting personal anecdotes as Original research and, thus, unsuitable.


  • Practice skills needed for the Research Paper
  • Remembering that Wikipedia Pages are Dynamic, both temporally, and content-wise
  • Understand how the editorial Policies above shape the pages displayed

Pull Back: Some Recent Issues  (5-10 Minutes) Gender Gap among Wikipedia Editors:


Define Gender Gap? Look Up Wikipedia’s Contributor List:



Philip Roth encounters trouble editing his own Wikipedia page


“An Open Letter to Wikipedia” - Phillip Roth



  • In what ways do the editorial policies act as a barrier to contribution?

○      the weight of citations overwhelms even claims made by the subject of the article in question.

○      The community’s emphasis on meritocracy and “correctness” mobilizes privilege under the guise of “correct voice” and “citable sources” which shuts out marginalized voices.

  • What possible alternatives could there be to increase participation and the kinds of voices represented on Wikipedia?


Week 5 Advertising a New Medium (Meryl Alper)

Warmup (10 min): “Advertising” New Media


Screen 2 YouTube clips: 1)Lots-o'-Huggin' Bear Commercial (circa 1983)

2)Japanese Lots-o-Huggin bear commercial


Who do you think is the intended audience for these commercials?

What do you think these videos are trying to sell?


Main Activity: Advertising “New” Media (30 minutes: 20 minutes in group, 10 minute share with class)


Humans tend to overestimate the “newness” of new media.  Not only do many technologies build on what innovations came before them, but the way a medium is advertised also builds, incrementally and creatively, on prior advertisements and advertising styles.


In the book chapter you read, Lynn Spigel talks about “popular media discourses” - ways people talk about or represent (through media) how society experiences media.  Spigel’s big claim is that popular media discourses about television and the family reflected sometimes conflicting viewpoints: that TV would bring families together, drive them apart, but also a hybrid of the two.  She analyzes popular magazine ads as evidence for her claims.


This activity will be an exercise in meaningfully comparing and contrasting two print advertisements from different eras but that share some common themes and styles.


Students will break into groups of 3 or 4.  All students will have had the PowerPoint sent to them prior to section.


The PowerPoint has 6 different pairs of advertisements:


1A - RCA VideoDiscs - “How to improve your social life” - 1980s

1B - Hohner Harmonicas - “The Hero of Amateur Hour” - 1940s


2A - Dumont Television - “Once upon a time...” - 1940s

2B - Atari - “‘New Frontiers’: Learn to brave new worlds.” - 1980s

3A - Sony - “Sound of a different color - 1980s

3B - Majestic - “For sparkling, vivid colorful tone...” - 1940s


4A - Western Electric - “There are still some things Americans know how to do best” - 1970s

4B - Tobe Filterette - “YOU BET the war has changed us!” - 1940s


5A - Douglas - “How satellites can give us low cost emergency telephone service” - 1960s

5B - Panasonic - “With a new Panasonic cordless phone, you won’t sounds like you’re calling from another planet” - 1980s


6A - Sharp - “The first laptop designed to be your first laptop” - 1980s

6B - Bell Telephone System - “Television” - 1940s


Each group will be responsible for one pair of advertisements.



1. Briefly do an online search for major US & global events during the era of each ad.  How might these ads fit into larger historical trends (e.g. wars, economic up turns and down swings)?


2. Read the “copy” (written text) that the ads use.  A) On it’s own, what meaning does the copy have?  B) When taking into account the full visuals of the ad, does the copy take on additional or different meanings? (You’ll want to zoom in to take a closer look at the ads with smaller text.)


3. What kinds of anxieties and hopes do each of these ads reflect about:

  • Family life?
  • Social life?
  • Political life (in the US and internationally)?
  • Culture/stylistic trends?
  • Gender?
  • Economic issues?


4. Are the people in the ads are actually using the technology or are people are props around the object?  What does the space around the media look like?  How does this make a difference in the ads message?


5. Finally, don’t just describe each ad on its own; Put both of these ads in conversation with each other.  How might they complement and/or contradict each other?

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------ Week 6 Hacker Week Discussion Activity (Andrew Schrock)

Introduction – What is open-source? (25 mins.)

Stephen Fry explains free software-  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YGbMbF0mdPU

What do you make of open-source? How does it relate with previous concepts we’ve encountered in the class? Why do hackers like open-source? How can it be contrasted with more restrictive control over source code?


Protei - open-sourced hardware project - oil skimming  bots http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vmZ_uy2Ehi4


Who is involved with this project? How does hardware hacking differ from software? What observations can you make about the progression of the project?

Second part - Software hacking hands-on activity (20 mins.)


One theme of this class is thinking not just about how systems exist in isolation, but how information flows across systems that can talk to one another. Hacking describes a way of viewing technology with a critical eye to understand their inner workings.


If-this-then-that is a website that connects "triggers" to "channels." Triggers are activated when something happens, and channels are what is triggered. The combinations are called "recipes" and can be shared publicly and modified. For example, every time you are tagged in a Facebook photo (trigger), you receive an SMS text (channel).


In groups of 2, think of a cool or interesting recipe. Look to see if one has been created already. Either use that or create one of your own and make it active. Test it out. Did your idea already exist in a recipe? Can you think of triggers that you want but can’t find?


Week 7 YouTube's Many Communities (Rhea Vichot)

Group Activity 1: YouTube as Site of Community and Remix Culture
In groups of 2-3, look through and choose a video from a participatory culture you are familiar with. If you can't find one, you can also browse the YouTube charts: (http://www.youtube.com/charts/) and look through the Most Discussed and Most Favorited videos for the past week or month.

Questions: 1) Is it a commercial or amateur production? How can you tell?

2) What kinds of communities are these videos a part of? Is this a convergence of multiple communities?

3) Is the video critiquing or curating commercial content? In what ways?

4) Who are the creators of the content? How might that affect what is either being expressed or what sorts of comments are being made about the video?

5) What sorts of Intellectual Property (IP) are used? Are the uses if IP in your example defensible by Fair Use? How?

Group Activity 2: Creating Remix Videos

Using the YouTube Doubler: (http://youtubedoubler.com/), create a mashup of video and sound. Use the google URL shortener (goo.gl) to post a link on Blackboard.


"Ant on a Treadmill Vs. Breakfast Machine-Danny Elfman":



"Rooster Vs. Alex Jones":




1) What sorts of Intellectual Property (IP) are used? Are the uses if IP in your example defensible by Fair Use? How?

2) What kind of juxtapositions does your example make? Do the juxtapositons made, either in your example or the ones provided, make a critique about the media used?


What Happened in My Open-Laptop Exam Class? (Part Two)

Learning About Collective Intelligence From the start, the group activities were framed in terms of notions of collective intelligence and participatory culture, themes which had been central to the first part of the semester. By the time they got to the group activities, students would have done papers exploring how Wikipedia works, would have participated in lectures and discussions explaining some of the core findings from MacArthur Foundation’s Digital Media and Learning initiatives, and would have looked at a range of social media and media sharing platforms and their dynamics. We had prepared for the problem sets by having earlier inquiry based activities in discussion which were organized around groups at a variety of different scales but which were ungraded (except in terms of attendance) Students had been given a set of exam questions about a week prior to the midterm, with a subset of the questions appearing on the exam. Students could bring their notes and other materials into the exam and consult them as they filled in their blue books.  Students had the option of sharing information or pooling insights with other students on the midterm, as long as they disclosed who they worked with. Most of the students seemed to work with at least one other person on the exam.

In one case, a team of students formed and posted online their collective responses to each question on the class mailing list the morning the midterm was to be given. This unanticipated situation posed a last minute challenge to the class instructors: we decided to write to the class, warning them that not all of the information contained in the posted answers was accurate, that they should use the material at their own risk and that they should disclose whether they had consulted these responses in preparing their answers. It turned out that one of the students had taken the liberty to posting the work of the other group members and some of them were not happy being placed in that situation. Other students said that they were afraid to even read the posted answers, but for the most part, the class took the situation in stride, there was still a great deal of diversity in the quality and content of the midterm answers. Whatever was going on behind the scenes, students did not mindlessly copy down the information that had been posted.


Taking the Final

The team’s performance on the final exam was uneven, but generally, the groups succeeded in creating richer, more fully documented responses than they would have been able to do individually. Some of the responses felt fragmented and contradictory, as if the teams had not been able to fully smooth out differences between members about the best way to approach a question; some of the responses included too much information, including much that was not pertinent to answering the question.  We had tried to break each question down into a series of steps, much like the weekly problem sets, so that students had a good way to structure their problem solving activities. In general, students did best where the questions were concrete and pointed to specific readings or topics from the class; they had more difficulty abstracting from the information provided, speculating about its future implications, or evaluating real world phenomenon based on proposed criteria. The collective process brought forward a strong tendency towards synthesis but set clear limits on their capacity to produce shared critiques. While some of the questions explicitly called on them to bring in their own examples, they tended to still operate within the borders of the class materials rather than going outside in search of new information. These later insights might be consistent with what we know about Wikipedia for example: that participants are often guided by a shared understanding of what an encylopedia entry looks like, that the community’s norms value “neturality” over critique and that there is a ban on publishing “original research.”  Success here rests, then, on correctly calibrating our expectations to value what works well in a collaborative context.

Student Criticisms

For those students who found this process frustrating, the largest single factor identified was a sense of loss of control over their own classroom performance.  One put it simply, “I have more control of my grade the first half of the semester and less control of my grade the second half of the semester.” Many of the USC students are very good at playing the traditional classroom game, calculating how many points they needed to get their desired grades, and giving the teachers what they wanted. If they grew up in a networked culture, they also grew up in a culture based on standardized exams, and so there was a certain degree of discomfort, among many of the students, with a more open-ended process which did not tell them what they needed to know and with a structure which meant that they were dependent on others for their mutual success. As one student explained:

"I preferred doing things on my own because I got stuff done much faster and more efficiently. I did not like relying on my other group members to do readings because I never knew if they had done them properly or not, and some of my team members did not even show up to a single class. That meant that they were going to receive the participation in lecture points based on my participation, and that does not seem fair to me at all.”


Others felt bruised by the lack of respect and trust shown them by other team members: "In order to work in a group, people have to understand the strengths and weaknesses of their group members and they have to be flexible.  When there are group members that don't trust other group members and want to constantly be in control, the group fails." One student described the final exam as a "debacle" because the group could not agree on strategies or criteria for producing a solid answer, while another complained about harsh treatment from classmates who did not value each other's contributions: "I have never felt so disrespected in my entire life. Some of the other group members made me feel like dirt, just because they thought that they were better than two of us.”

Many of the frustrations centered around unequal sets of expectations between team members, including a different sense of how well they wanted or needed to do in the class. Here, for example, was a student who compared negatively the experience of working with an assigned group in a required class and the processes which made collective intelligence work outside the classroom:

“I did not particularly enjoy the group portion of the class because I did not trust certain members of my group to complete the work and to do it well. Although the group portion theoretically could have stimulated more conversation about the topics and inspired people to participate in their learning, a couple of members in my group seemed very uninterested and content to skate by on the work my other group members and I did...  I fully understand the value of learning how to work in groups, especially given our shift toward participatory culture; but I assume in participatory culture, the participants actually have some glimmer of interest in the content they are creating."


Student Enthusiasm For those who had a more successful experience, they felt supported by their teams and energized by the shared responsibility over the material:

“It was nice to have other people to help with the assignments. Our team worked very well together, and I think learning how to work in teams is an important skill to have. In the second half of the semester, I was pushed to do my assignments because I knew that the team relied on me. Compared to having to do assignments alone, it was nice knowing that if there was a reading that I didn't understand, then there was somebody in the group that could help contribute.”

*********************************** "Honestly, I was a little skeptical as to how group work would ultimately play out and whether it would be successful, but to my pleasant surprise it was a great success. Just as the class was intended, different teammates were responsible for different materials and therefore were able to master different contents of the class and teach them to their team members. While I felt that the first half of the class was also well done, I had an even better learning experience in the second half of the class. While there was some participatory activity going on in the first half of the class, I believe there was a well-working participatory culture in the second half. The professor and the TA's structured the discussions very strategically to be able to push the students to work quickly and efficiently in their teams by grouping their knowledge into a collective product. I genuinely feel that this made the team much greater than the sum of its parts.”

*********************************** “Group work is definitely more challenging. However it challenged me to practice better negotiation and communication skills. I would consider the second half a practical application for all the communication theories learned in past years”

************************************ "I really liked having the groups for the readings and in-class discussions. I felt that I was able to cover so much more material (even if only through the short-hand of my teammates) by examining the notes for ALL of the readings on our Google Doc. I felt that I was more informed coming in to lecture. The first half of the semester, it was often difficult for me to get all of the assigned readings done. But with only one reading per night, it was a lot easier. Plus, I had the weight of my team to encourage me to actually get it done on time."

In many cases, they were thrilled not to have to go it alone, to be able to turn easily to someone else on the team who understood a particular chunk of course material better than they did. And even some who did not have a perfect group experience saw the value in the end of the process:

“If anything it made me realize that we all have limitations. One person can not carry a group. I feel that it all worked out in the end . I wish we had better communication within our group though.”

Some of the teams clearly acquired new techniques for coordinating and collaborating within a network: “Working on assignments together via Google Docs was very helpful because we each knew our roles and could quickly add to each other's work if needed.”


Assessing the Experience

For all of the frustrations expressed by some students about students getting equal points despite not doing equal work, a review of the grades by group suggests there was significant variation in their final performance in the class within each team in part because of their individual performance in the first half of the semester and in part because the mechanism of rewarding those who attended and participated in sections worked as it was designed to do.

Overall, students seemed to have reflected deeply about the advantages and disadvantages of the collaborative production of knowledge, a theme which recurred throughout the class, and in the process, they developed a stronger appreciation of  research as a process rather than imaging knowledge as a contained body of information. There's still a lot we all have to learn about making these kinds of group processes function, especially given the degree to which they fly in the face of the ways students have been socialized throughout their formal education to think of themselves as autonomous learners. Clearly, I am troubled by the reports of some of the destructive experiences which occurred within some of the more disfunctional groups, yet, over all, many more students expressed enthusiasm for the process than shared frustrations.

Interestingly, when I taught the subject two years ago with a much more conventional grading scheme, the average GPA for the class was 3.14, while the average GPA for the class with the collective experiment was 3.21, well within the average variation from one semester to the next.





What Happened With My Open Laptop-Exam Class (Part One)

Background My plans for an open-laptop exam generated a fair amount of buzz when I announced them in the fall, so I figured you would be interested to learn more about how things played out. Annenberg PhD Student Adam Kahn, who helped design this curricular intervention/innovation, is still working through a massive amount of survey data collected about the process, so any observations I share now are provisional based primarily on what I saw from in front of the lecture room and on exit surveys students completed after turning in their final exams.  In general, I think the experiment was successful, even though, with any design process, there are many things I would change on the next iteration. And, as we will see, the experience had some critics among the students in the class.

To remind you, the basic set up was this: Students completed a series of individual assignments throughout the first part of the term, which counted for 50 percent of their total grades. In the second part, they were put onto teams, which worked together on every assignment, including a series of weekly problem sets conducted in the discussion section, contributions to class discussion, and the final exam. Students had to attend the discussion section in order to receive the team’s points for their contributions, but otherwise, participants received their grades based on collective rather than individual performance. We introduced this process into a 200 level lecture hall class on New Media Technologies and Culture, with a population of 110 students, mostly Communication majors, taking what was a required subject for their degree.  You can see the syllabus for the class, including the assignment structure, here.


Impact on Class Discussion

My first observation was that the emotional tone of the class shifted dramatically following the midterm as we placed students on teams. The teams sat together in the lecture hall; they chose a shared name, and they used that name to identify themselves when they participated in the class discussions. From the start, there was a strong sense of team identity for most of the groups. I’ve speculated that this approach might work especially well in the context of USC where there is such a strong sports culture.

From the start, I had placed a strong emphasis on class participation during lecture sections, trying to move towards a more Socratic approach to teaching the content. There had been push back early on when I relied too heavily on discussion, and so I had tried to find a balance between short lectures designed to introduce core concepts and then more open ended discussion to allow students to share their perspectives on core debates of the digital age. We struggled a bit with managing discussion in a large lecture hall context: students balked at the mechanics of passing around microphones, but some of the students had trouble being heard in the large space and were thus more reluctant to speak. Over the course of the term, the process started to feel more natural for both the teacher and the students, and we had some very engaged and informed conversations.

As with any discussion class, there were a number of students who were quick to raise their hands and engage, while there were others who were intimidated by the large size of the class. The most active participants continued to dominate discussion in the second half, but there were many others who made their first contributions during this period, either empowered by having teammates supporting them or by the sense of competitiveness that teams introduced into the mix. As one student explained, "I liked that we all sat together during lecture. This enabled us to whisper about the lecture content and, all together, come up with a question to pose or a comment to offer." More dramatically, team members were much more likely to anchor their statements to specific statements or information contained within the readings. Indeed, it was clear that a much higher percentage of the students had done the readings and done them closely knowing that they were dependent upon each other for the quality of information being transmitted to the group.

A highlight of the course came when we conducted a role playing activity in one of the lecture sessions focused around debates about digital piracy and the evolution of new business models for the music industry. Each team was assigned a specific role -- from new artists trying to break into the industry to recording studio executives, from fans to teachers and librarians, from religious performers to international musicians who are developing a following in the United States. The teams were assigned their parts in advance and encouraged to do a little home work so that they had thought through their assigned perspectives. Each group was asked to make an opening statement, which were surprisingly well informed, for the most part, and then, they were given time to negotiate across groups to see if they could identify common interests and propose new solutions to the issues. This was the only time in the term when we encourage activity across groups rather than within groups, and multiple students pointed to this activity as transformative in terms of their understanding of the value of the team process. It also resulted in a spectacular discussion which got students out of familiar debating points around issues of digital piracy and allowed them to develop a more systemic understanding of the issues. I would love a way to create more such experiences across the class the next time I teach it.

Working Within Teams

Students were placed randomly on teams, in the hopes of insuring greater diversity. On the one hand, we felt that if students self-selected teams, they would be more likely to choose people with whom they already shared many common interests, i.e. people who were like themselves. On the other hand, we also wanted to avoid the common pattern of consciously combining strong and weak students onto teams together, which tends to result in the stronger students being asked to carry the load by themselves.  In the exit surveys, students were sharply divided between those who felt that the random assignments insured that they met new contacts and brought more diverse knowledge together and those who felt that some of the logistical problems they encountered would have been minimized if students had been able to work with people they already knew.  Here, for example, was a student who valued being randomly assigned: "When my group worked, we worked efficiently because we didn't know each other at all, so there were few distractions. We were friendly, but didn't have a lot in common, which was conducive to learning the subject material." Yet this student also noted that their lack of familiarity with each other could sometimes result in a lack of accountability:" I didn't make it to class the first day and realized later that no one in my group had taken any initiative to do the necessary organization for future readings, in-class work, etc. No one was really a leader. We couldn't count on each other. There were no ground rules set, etc.”  Some students wanted better mechanisms for dealing with students who failed to contribute to the collective good: "“I think the students should either be able to choose their own groups or somehow get rid of the weakest link." The large scale of the lecture class makes it particularly likely to attract students who are not strongly motivated by the subject matter and who are likely to exploit the good will of their classmates.

Each team consisted of 3-5 students (with the unevenness a product of the uneven number of students who had registered for the different discussion sections which met at different days and times). It was clear from the start that the larger teams worked better, overall, with smaller teams more vulnerable to individual students who let down their team through under-performance.

Most of the teams became effective learning communities, but not all of them did. We had taken steps to insure shared expectations of members, asking each team to write a contract together so that they had a mutual understanding of their responsibilities to each other. We had built in one core check on group participation -- i.e. the students had to attend the discussion section and work on the problem set in order to gain credit for that assignment.  Otherwise, we relied on social mechanisms to insure that they held each other accountable. Through these weekly problem sets, students gained practice working together, learning each other’s strengths and vulnerabilities. We had felt using the discussion sections in this way would insure some regular face-to-face time between group members (as did having students sit in team during lecture).

Overall, attendance in discussion sections increased with the emergence of a team structure, though there were still many students who still did not attend class regularly, a manifestation of the “free loading” problem which often crops up when working within a commons. And for those teams which were struggling with the process, there was a perception that the instructors were not doing “anything” about it. We wanted to resist the temptation of shuffling the teams once the process began, since doing so would be likely to disrupt the coherence of those teams which were functioning well, since we wanted to encourage teams to find ways to work through their own problems seeing learning to self-correct their process as an important learning opportunity. In many cases, teams that did not gel at first did find their footing over time, part of the value of repeated experiences working in teams, while in some cases, teams that had worked well up until that point hit real friction when they turned their attention to dealing with the high stakes final exam. Here, for example, was a student who felt the group had gotten in the swing of things just in time for the exam: "My group members let me down on numerous occasions but our final went so well and so smoothly that I'm having a hard time deciding how I felt about the whole thing overall.”  TAs did give advice to team members who were having a frustrating time; we felt that there were penalties built into the system for those members who under-perfomed -- again, the fact that they did not get points for sections which they missed and the likelyhood that underperforming students had also underperformed during the individual portion of the class.  Next time, I want to provide much greater advice to the students about strategies for insuring team cohesion and meaningful interaction.

We struggled with the question of whether we should have introduced some self-evaluation process where team members could assess what each contributed to the process and so that we could adjust grading accordingly. We choose not to do so for several reasons: We feared that such a practice might further fracture teams which were struggling to survive, raising the tension level at the time when we wanted teams to be developing greater trust in each other, and as importantly, we felt that it would be inappropriate to change the rules of the game mid-process.  Next time we do this, I am going to weigh this question again more closely, since the lack of such formal mechanisms was the single most frequent complaint we heard about the group activities.


Designing Problems

Designing the problem sets for the discussion section proved challenging for a number of reasons. We wanted the questions to be sufficiently challenging so that students were motivated to put in the extra efforts and also be able to see that they could indeed do more collectively than they would have been able to do individually. We wanted the questions to be open-ended enough so that students could show what they knew, bring their individual and collective knowledge beyond the class into the process, and have a chance to dig deeper into their own passions and interests. We also wanted to have questions which relied on as many of the readings from the week as possible, since we were encouraging students to divide up the readings between them and then deploy what they needed in response to each problem. Early on, it was clear the teams needed more guidance on the best way to find the information they needed, and the challenges of working in a hour long discussion section (well, 50 minutes really) meant that we needed to simplify the options in order to allow students to get out of the gate quicker. Here, for example, is how one student described their team's frustrations:

"The assignments given in discussion sections were rather long and difficult for the amount of time allotted to students to complete them. The assignments also placed a large emphasis on the skill of being able to produce quick thoughts and responses to questions that students were not fully prepared to answer. If the questions were given prior to coming to class, it would have helped to allow students to come in more prepared and produce more thoughtful and engaging responses."

We streamlined the problems week by week, but students still complained that they did not have time to fully complete the assignments during the class period. (I am going to share with you the assignments in a follow up series of posts).  We had been reluctant to extend the time working on the problem sets because we were afraid the most anxious students would turn them into a much bigger project than intended and because extending them beyond the class time would increase the logistical challenges involved in working with teams.

While most of the students complained about the time constraints, some felt like we had achieved an ideal balance: “I think that the discussion section questions struck the perfect balance in that they pushed the students to produce a lot of quality work in a short amount of time, yet it was completely fair as our knowledge was collaborated from what we obtained throughout the week. I was always very satisfied and impressed with the work we were able to produce in such short periods of time.” Some students used the practice runs to rehearse strategies and refine skills in preparation for the final: “The activities done during discussion section were also beneficial because you could kind of gage what people's strengths and weaknesses in the course material were and how it can be applied to the final.”

Overall, we felt the quality of the problem set responses were strong, with most of the teams scoring in the A-B range, and with signs of general improvement over time, suggesting that, in most cases, the teams were learning to work better together each time they confronted a new problem.



Yes, You Can Use Your Laptop on This Exam...and Your Knowledge Community, Too!

In February 2011, I shared with my readers a pedagogical problem I was facing in a large undergraduate lecture class on new media and culture:

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....

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.... But, in an era of networked computing and wireless classrooms, 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.

I was not able to come up with an approach fast enough to implement it that semester. Readers to the original blog post made a series of suggestions, though most of them seemed to work better on the scale of the seminar or small group classroom rather than the lecture hall. But, my theoretical commitments meant this question was not going to go away. I also know that the question has haunted some of my readers, one of whom shared this interesting blog post with me via Twitter last week, which deals with other conceptions of what an open laptop exam might look like.

Ironically, having failed to create opportunities for collaboration inside the exam space, the students did what might easily have been predicted: they formed study groups outside class and worked through responses together. Many students had written entire answers to the provided questions in advance, and simply copied their answers into a blue book. In some cases, as many as thirty or forty students got the same question wrong and in the same way, suggesting just how expansive the study network (scarcely a study group) had become. The question may no longer be whether learning is going to be networked, but rather how much control faculty are able to exert over the networks where learning and studying take place.For me, this is part of the implication of the recent cheating scandal at Harvard.

Adam Kahn, a PhD student in the USC Annenberg School, read the blog post and reached out to me, suggesting that he would like to help me think through these challenges, since he is doing work on a body of research known as Transactive Memory, which is interested in the ways groups of people solve problems together. Kahn had been a student in my New Media Literacies class my first semester at USC. We've worked together off and on for the past year, developing a conceptual essay about the problem for a forthcoming book on higher education. There, we developed a blue print for how we might need to reinvent the lecture class process in order to support the emergence of knowledge-building and problem-solving communities of the kind required to successfully complete a networked exam. Here's part of what we said in that essay:

Because students add and drop classes for the first few weeks of the semester, it is important to not form student groups too early, as group turnover can hurt transactive memory (Moreland and Argote 2003). Thus, the semester will begin with core concepts and common texts the instructor feels everybody should know (Lévy’s shared knowledge). The course’s first midterm would be a traditional, non-collaborative exam, comprising a certain percentage of the grade. This diagnostic test can allow the instructors to gauge student’s relative abilities when putting together teams. Members should be assigned, with the goal of diversifying skills and knowledge.  Allowing students to self-select would almost certainly increase group homogeneity bound as membership would be to existing friendship ties, i.e. those who shared the same interests and activities outside the classroom.

After this exam, though, the group becomes important. At this point, the reading list will grow so that it is too much for any individual to read. Students will have to become mutually dependent to survive.

Because transactive memory forms around face-to-face communication, we must provide students a time to meet. Large lecture classes often have smaller discussion sections. Normally a teaching assistant facilitates a discussion and/or clarifies confusing points from lecture. However, this hour might be better spent allowing team members to meet to discuss the readings they divided amongst themselves and relate them to the common lecture themes of the week. The teaching assistant would also stress problem solving and coordination skills, helping groups refine strategies and learn from their mistakes, more like a coach than like our traditional model of a teacher. Although the ideal team would be self-regulating and self-guiding, the teaching assistant could also help them to assign roles or divide labor, if needed, to insure that each member pulls their own weight.

The teaching assistant can provide one question each week that would be representative of those on an exam, allowing group members to synthesize their different readings and learn how the other students think--their strategies for identifying the core stakes of a problem, mobilizing knowledge, testing data, assessing conclusions, and communicating results. These questions could require students to do online searches, tap into knowledge from other classes, or draw on their extracurricular expertise. Through these test runs, students would learn each other’s specialization, build trust, and coordinate their efforts on tasks similar to the group exam.

As they enter a collaborative test-taking process, students face the challenge of resolving conflict and committing to a shared answer, especially working under time constraints. Outside of the classroom, affinity groups develop norms, such as those surrounding contributions to Wikipedia, to which they can appeal to resolve such conflicts. So, for example, Wikipedia articles strive towards neutrality, which is often achieved through inclusion (that is, featuring all competing perspectives) rather than exclusion (arriving at a consensus response) (Lih 2009). Student’s experience of testing may be that there is a right answer the teacher is expecting and thus, they may be less receptive to test taking strategies which include a broader range of possible answers. Having multiple collaborative activities will allow each group to develop its own norms and protocols for resolving disputes and finding an answer students feel they can stand behind.

The final exam is designed to tap a range of different kinds of expertise. Think of the individual problems as possessing the sense of “meaningful ambiguity” which, McGonigal (2008, 214) argues, motivates the problem solving activity around alternate reality games: “by asking players to cooperate to make meaning out of an ambiguous system, the game-based hive mind celebrates individual perspective even as it embraces the larger, intricate intelligence that emerges only at the scale digital networks afford.” For such experiences to be compelling and satisfying, McGonigal (2003) argues, they have to introduce problems that seem within reach of the network of players. She notes that an empowered team often seeks to move beyond the game and tackle real world social problems, only to be disappointed that such problems may not, in fact, be resolvable given the group’s resources and capacities. Exam questions would need to be open ended enough to allow many different paths to a solution and yet ultimately something that participants can comprehend and resolve.

Assuming that the lecture meets twice a week, the questions are given out at the beginning of the first lecture and are due at the end of the second lecture. This will allow students to use the first lecture to start working on the answers and divide the labor. Then students can go home and seek more information on their own, and work more on the answers if they so choose. They coordinate efforts so that each student plays to her strengths and so that there is a robust system of checks and balances to identify and eradicate misinformation. Preparing for the exam may be much more like getting ready for a guild raid in World of Warcraft than like studying for a traditional test. The second lecture can be used to finalize answers. Also, by spanning two lectures affords groups at least two face-to-face opportunities to interact. Students can write their answers using an online tool, such as Google Documents, that allows them to write simultaneously in a single document. In this way, they can make changes to each other’s work (knowing who wrote what) and see changes being made to their own work. Changes can be tracked over time and reverted back to if needed....

Educational researcher Dan Hickey and his research team at Indiana University (Hickey, Honeyford, and McWilliams forthcoming) has been trying to explore what forms assessment needs to take within a participatory learning culture and concludes that assessment should “focus on reflections rather than artifacts.” His group has developed a range of activities that might follow a project or exam, asking students to reflect on what strategies they tried and why, rather than simply evaluating them based on what they produced. Of course, students will have different capacities to articulate their reflections. McGonigal (2008, 222) has similarly argued that working in large-scale teams to solve alternate reality games encourages “meta-level reflection on the skills and processes that players use to meet new challenges.” At the end of the day, the test might function as much as a probe to encourage students to continue to think about the process of their learning than as a simple assessment of what they, collectively and individually, know.


Well, this semester, we are going to be putting these ideas into action, as I teach my lecture hall subject a second time. I will  be sharing my syllabus next time.

I have ended up dividing the class into two parts: for the first part, students will be developing shared knowledge, that is, knowledge which will be required of every member on the team, and they will be performing as individuals, demonstrating their own mastery over the materials. In the second part, they will be sorted into teams which will work together on all future assignments: the discussion section times will be opportunities for the students to work on problem sets together with coaching from the Teaching Assistants, and the final week of class will be given over to a culminating activity which will require teams to work together to respond to the prompts.The midterm is approaching and soon we will be making the cognitive shift from individual to collective effort.

From the start, the class has emphasize new ways of learning in a networked culture, drawing heavily in the first few weeks on materials produced by MacArthur's Digital Media and Learning initiatives. I want to get them to take an inventory of their own skills and competencies as learners, the ways they use new media in the context of their lives, and to engage critically with the debates surrounding the so-called "digital natives" and their new media literacy skills. For this to really work, I am having to abandon the lecture as the primary mode of presentation in the class. Instead, I am moving towards something closer to the way Socratic Method works in Law Schools. On most days, we are reading essays which represent conflicting perspectives on core debates around digital media and culture, hoping to foster critical thinking and research skills.

As I developed this approach, I struggled with the issue of "freeloaders" -- that is, students who are willing to let the others do all the work and coast to a better grade. There's a limit to what I can do in terms of evaluating individual performance if we are going to really place such a strong emphasis on group performance, but I will be monitoring and evaluating individual attendance and participation in the discussion session and exam, and I will be asking participants to list everyone who contributed to a particular project (which can, in fact, include people who are not in their assigned group, as long as their participation is fully disclosed.)

There's a lot we still have to work through, so I would welcome feedback from readers about this approach and I would be especially interested to hear from anyone who has tried something like this process before. I promise to report back on how the class is going and share some of the problem sets we create later in the semester.

How I Spent My Summer Vacation: Spain

Madrid, Spain My time in Madrid was one of the most intense legs of the trip: I delivered five talks in three days and most of the time in between was spent doing interviews with the local media. As a consequence, I had very limited time to see this great city and my exposure to its culture mostly consisted of quick meals in between talks.

While in Madrid, we stayed in a really luxurious grand hotel, the aptly named Westin Palace, just a few blocks away from the Prado Art Museum, thanks to the generosity of Telefonica, which was sponsoring my big public talk here.

After checking in, we wandered over to the Prado to soak up a little culture. Personally, what drew me here was the chance to see Hieroymous Bosch's Garden of Earthly Delights, a work which has fascinated me since I first wrote a paper about it in high school: I still can't figure out how to place Bosch in the context of his times. Where did this guy come from? Almost as astonishing to us were some of the religious paintings -- such as one where milk shoots out of the breast of the Virgin Mary and across the room into the mouth of a praying saint. (We found that there was a consistent fascination with this particular bodily fluid in religious art across Europe.)

Not surprisingly, Spanish artists, such as El Greco, Goya, and Velazquez, were especially well represented in the collection, and it was breathtaking to experience the size and intense colors of some of these works. Perhaps my favorite discovery on this visit was Velazquez's Christ in the House of Mary and Martha.


First, I was intrigued by the way the picture manages to combine three genres -- the still life, the domestic portrait, and the religious painting -- within a single image. Second, I was fascinated by the ways that the picture juxtaposes and contrasts two very different spaces of action -- the foreground in the kitchen, the background in the dining room -- and links them thematically to the core Biblical story of the two sisters, Martha busily preparing the meal, while her sister, Mary, sat at Jesus's feet and listened to his word. I have been spending lots of time thinking, especially about still life paintings, but also other works which include a strong attention to material culture, in relation to my new Comics and Stuff project. I ended up grabbing a picture off the internet and incorporating this work intoa talk I gave in Madrid about this project.

The following morning, Pilar Lacasa picked me up at the hotel and drove me out to the University of Alcala to present "The Samba School Revisited: Play, Performance, and Participation in Education. Lacasa has been a frequent visitor to the Comparative Media Studies program through the years, where she sat in on classes, participated in conferences, and contributed to our research. I've featured her own work on games-based learning and new media literacies through the blog before. It was meaningful for me to finally get a chance to visit her at her host institution and interact with her students. The talk was adapted from this blog post, which I wrote about the ways my own thinking about participatory culture was influenced by Seymour Papert's classic essay about the Samba School as a site of informal learning. The talk started with my own observations about how one of Rio's Samba Schools encouraged multiple forms of participation in the creative process.

Here, you see Pilar sitting next to me on the podium during the talk:

and me interacting with some of her students in the coutryard afterwords.

That evening, I paid my respects to another friend, Nacho Gallego Perez, who asked me to present my Future of Content talk at the Campus of Leganes, organized by Research Group about Television, Cinema, and Culture at Universidad Carlos III. Perez, who does work on grassroots use of digital radio and podcasting in Spain, had given a guest lecture in my New Media and Culture class at USC and participated in a workshop my Civic Paths group organized for MacArthur's Digital Media and Culture conference.  Nacho and Luis Albornoz took me out afterwards to enjoy Tapas.

After a morning of interviews organized by Telefonica, I went out to give a talk about "Comics..and Stuff" at Universidad Rey Juan Carlos, hosted by Jose M. Alvarez-Monzoncillo, who is a leading thinker about the cultural industries. I featured Alvarez-Monzoncillo's book, Watching The Internet: The Future of TV? on my blog shortly before I left for the trip.  You can see me here trying to reach up high enough to point out some details on a Richard Outcault comic page.



No sooner did I arrive back at my hotel, then another host, the international media literacy advocate Roberto Aparici, arrived to pick me up. I met Roberto years ago at MIT, when Textual Poachers was first coming out and he was in residence working on an early interactive media project.  Roberto and I sat down in a studio at a local educational television station to record a most enjoyable conversation which explored our shared interests in new media literacies and participatory politics.

And then, I talked about Play and Pedagogy as the final speaker at the Seminario internacional Redes sociales, educacion mediatica y apprendizaje digital, an event which brought together practicing teachers and educational researchers.



My talk was preceded by a presentation on the affordances of social media by Gunther Kress (University of London). Kress's work on "Multimodal Literacy" offers some valuable conceptual tools for thinking about transmedia learning, and so I was honored to have a chance to chat with him, however briefly. Here's a video interview with Kress I found on YouTube.



And, then, after a full day of talks, I arrived back at the Telefonica Foundation's headquarters in time to join a group tour of the old sector of Madrid and a wonderful dinner with my fellow speakers.



Telefonica's Transmedia Living Lab had pulled together some of the top thinkers about transmedia in Europe for a three day event, which tackled its implications for storytelling, learning,  and social change. My other commitments kept me from attending most of the events, but I very much enjoyed getting to chat with my fellow speakers over dinner.

I was especially taken with Lina Strivastava, a transmedia consultant who has been developing a tool kit for transmedia activism, inspired by her experiences developing a campaign around the Born in Brothals documentary, and Bill Boyd, a educational consultant and teacher working in Scotland, who has been doing some serious thinking and writing about new media literacies through his blog. Boyd has shared some interesting thoughts about the Madrid conference. You can find video and slides from the conference here.

My talk, "'Occupying' the Transmedia Landscape: Spreadable Media, Fan Activism, and Participatory Learning”  used the Occupy Wall Street movement as a point of entry into thinking about how activists are embracing grassroots practices which combine remix, transmedia, and spreadability, to get their messages out to the widest possible audience. The talk was partially inspired by this blog post on the discursive and visual tactics of Occupy.



My main professional reason for coming to Barcelona was to participate in a dissertation defense for Manuel Garin, a gifted PhD student in Humanities and Audiovisual Communication at Universitat Pompeu Fabra, Barcelona. I first became aware of Garin's work on The Visual Gag, when he shared with me this remarkable video that juxtaposes a sequence from Buster Keaton's silent film, Seven Chances, and footage from the Super Mario Brothers games, to help construct an argument about the ways that classic stunts and gag structures have traveled across time and across media.




Garin presented some of his preliminary ideas about games and silent cinema through  this blog post and he had spent some time in California doing research through the USC Cinema School for his project. Garin has an encyclopedic knowledge of the history and aesthetics of gags, not the mention to read across a range of European languages, and thus, to make connections between different theoretical traditions which have sought to understand the place of the gag in media history. Across the dissertation, he explores thousands of gags from films, television, comic strips, games,and popular theater, moving fluidly across national traditions and criss-crossing divides between popular culture and avant grade practice.

The process of the dissertation defense was very different from my experiences in American universities. For one thing, the defense is public -- in this case, very public, since it was attended not only by Garin's family and friends, but also by the attendees of a conference his university was hosting that day on the cinematic gesture, and thus, we conducted everything in front of a packed auditorium. For another thing, it is a highly performative. The candidate gives extensive remarks presenting the core ideas from his project -- in this case, complete with power point and video clips. Then, each committee member speaks about the project for 10-15 minutes and finally the candidate gets to offer a formal rebuttal/response to what has been said. There is no chance for back and forth exchange between the parties involved, as I might have expected back in the States. In this case, each person who presented spoke a different language -- Spanish, Catalan, Italian, and English. I was told in advance that there would be no translation, since it was less important that the committee members understand each other than that what they had to say was understood by the candidate, but we were able to take advantage of the translation services organized by the conference.




Afterwards, I was approached by Robert Figueras and Gemma Dunjo, who are responsible for Panzer Chocolate, which is being billed as the first major transmedia project in Spain. I had been told about it multiple times by this point in the trip. This horror story is told across a feature film, a video game, a motion comic, an alternate reality game, mobile interactivity and "an Internet surprise.'  Here is a trailer they have produced which gives some sense of their approach.


My other formal business in Barcelona involved a meeting with Felipe G. Gil, a digital artist, theorist, and activist, based in Seville, who has been promoting the concept of "CopyLove." Inspired by feminist theory and modeled on the idealized concept of maternal love, this approach seeks to imagine what copyright regimes would look like if they were shaped by ideas of reciprocity, caring, nurturing, and sharing, rather than property, mastery, control, and profit.    I had shared on my blog some of Gil's reflections on transmedia and digital literacy, which drew on the remix practices of his young cousin, a few years ago.  Here's a Ted video where Gil explains some of his concepts in Spanish.


Afterwards, we were free to explore the city. Perhaps it was simply that my schedule had been so intense for the past week, perhaps it had to do with the considerable charms of Barcelona, but I felt giddy and liberated, and fell pretty madly in love with this city.  I suspect I am far from unique in saying that my fascination with Barcelona is to a large degree shaped by my engagement with Antoni Gaudi's amazing buildings. Gaudi is perhaps the best known exemplar of what has become known as Catalan Modernism, creating a series of remarkable residences, apartment buildings, churches, and public parks, especially in Barcelona, in the first part of the 20th century. Gaudi took certain tendencies in the Art Nouveau movement and pushed them in other worldly directions. The sensuousness of his structures have to be seen and experienced to be fully understood, but they are such a wonderful play with shape, color, light, and texture, that I found utterly seductive. Here, Cynthia's photographs only give you a taste.



 Gaudi's work is strongly informed by his close study of structure in nature -- Above, for example, you see some of the windows from Casa Batllo, a residence, which are clearly inspired by bones, where-as below, you see some details from the same building's roof, which are organic in their shapes, if not in their colors.



At the same time, there is a strong geometric pull in Gaudi's work, which elaborated on gothic traditions of architecture in order to explore arches in ways that open up radically different kinds of spaces within his buildings.






Every room in a Gaudi building is a surprise -- most of them, breathtaking. Here, you get a sense of how consciously he plays with light, exploring the relationship between interior and exterior spaces, to create a series of thresholds which we pass through as we move from room to room. Here, also, one gets a sense of the subtle and expressive use of color throughout his designs.



We spent more time with Gaudi's residences -- Casa Batllo and La Pedrera -- rather than his public buildings. But here, you see Sagrada Familia, his massive cathedral, which has been under construction for the better part of the past century. Given the centrality of the Cathedral to any visit to Europe, it was fascinating to see how Gaudi brought his idiosyncratic touches to this genre.




We also made our way out to Park Guell, a public space and gardens, which is enriched by Gaudi's sculptural and architectural elements. This park is a very active element in the public and everyday life of Barcelona, so while the residences now have the feel of museums, and are cut off from their original use, here, you can see contemporary Catalans interact in casual and everyday ways with his designed environments.



OK, by now, I have demonstrated why I chose to enter media studies and not architecture. My relationship to this work is largely emotional and intuitive, rather than intellectual, and I lack the basic vocabulary to describe what I saw when I visited these buildings. I should note that from time to time in these photographs, you will see me wearing a white baseball cap. I actually purchased it at one of the Gaudi gift shops. I was looking for something to protect my bald head from the sun and couldn't decide on what to advertise on my pate. The hat features simply the letter, J, as rendered in a font which Gaudi designed.

We were consistently amused by the vividness with which European street signs conveyed the many risks that surround us in the modern world. Sign after sign depicted what could happen to us if we make a single misstep in navigating a world of danger. I came to see them as a kind of conceptual humor, or perhaps the pictorial equivalent of slapstick comedy. I am going to share some in future posts. This sign, spotted in Barcelona, might be suggesting "slippery when wet," or more imaginatively, "please do not jump rope on these stairs," or perhaps, "beware of snakes." In any case, you should try to avoid this poor sucker's fate.


We spent the better part of two days playing tourists in Barcelona, taking advantage of the red hop-on, hop-off buses to sample many different sectors in the city. And as the day started to turn into night, we visited the Aquarium and then walked along the water front.



And, as the night continued, we took a lively midnight walk up La Rambla, where we stopped to watch street gambling, a range of live performances, and simply the back and forth bartering between visitors and merchants. As someone who is a  bit of a night owl by temperament, it was exciting to be some place where there is so much public life still being conducted in the wee hours of the morning. We were exhausted from an intense day of sight-seeing and pretty much limping back to our hotel, but you had a sense that many of these people were just getting started.





How Did Howard Rheingold Get So "Net Smart"?: An Interview (Part Two)

There has been a tendency to adopt totalizing views about emerging technologies, so that Twitter either "destroys our attention span" or it "paves the way for revolutions around the world." Yet, as you note early on, “Twitter is a recent example of a social media which can either be a waste of time or a multiplier of effort for the person who uses it, depending on how knowledgible the person is in the three related literacies of attentional discipline, collaborative know-how and net saavy.” This approach reframes the question away from technological determinism and onto issues of use and knowledge, which reflect an awareness of human agency (both collective and individual) in terms of what we do with media. Why do you think it has been so hard to get to this point, where new media is understood not in utopian or dystopian terms, but in terms of choices we are making about the role these tools play in our lives?

I'm certainly not the first to point out that totalizing belief systems, whether they are religious or political, make it easier emotionally for people to deal with a complex world. Knowing that there are certain answers makes a large part of the world's population feel right about living in the world. It's not just easier in some way to believe a radical oversimplification about a new technology, it's far easier to persuade people to believe things that don't have much or any evidence.
I think you can tell by this point that I see socio-technological issues as confluences and hybrids of many technical, psychological, social developments. Time and again, the way a new communication technology changes society is influenced by the way people use it, and the circumstances of their use. Chinese and Korean inventors created moveable type before Gutenberg, but there were so many differences in social circumstances. China had greater centralized political power at a time when Europe was divided among dozens of warring states. Elizabeth Eisenstein pointed out how Protestant theology of individual Bible-reading intersected with the technology of the printing press and the emerging entrepreneurial capitalism of the printing trade -- all circumstances that were unique to a time and a place and to strong beliefs.
SMS was invented by network engineers and transformed into a global medium by teenage girls who discovered they could communicate without their parents hearing. ARPAnet was for sharing computer resources across distance, but ARPAnet engineers started using it for social communication. Why should the mobile, social Web be any different?
So I argue that human agency is likely to be important in determining the way digital media and networks will end up for historical reasons. However, I also came to see that believing in technology determinism -- "Is the Web driving us mad" was a Newsweek cover story in the summer of 2012 -- can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. As a Darwinist, I believe I come from a long line of ancestors who must have thought "there has to be a way out of this apparently possible predicament." Thinking about solving serious threats to one's existence or humanity isn't guaranteed to solve those problems, but thinking the problems are insoluble because they are determined by external forces is almost certainly going to lead to failure and perhaps extinction.
I am not arguing that all the effects of widespread use of social media are salubrious. People will be no less cruel, venal, and ignorant online than they are offline. Screens are definitely attention-magnets and (one of the reasons I wrote Net Smart) it's easy to fall into click-trance and waste hours online that would have been better spent elsewhere.
The issue is mindfulness, as I see it, and the good news is that a little self-awareness of the way we are deploying our attention via large screens and small is a lot more helpful than no self-awareness. The evidence, as I marshal it in my book, is that paying attention to our attention in light of our intention can change our mental habits. (Note that I'm avoiding the obsolete cliche about "rewiring the brain," and I've called for a moratorium on the phrase "squirts of dopamine" in describing the way social media affects our nervous systems.)
Another reason for the persistent popularity of lurid techno-determinism in the media is that responsibility in a non-determinist world extends to you and me. If we do have the power to influence the way emerging media will reshape our lives, then it's up to us to do something about it. So simple, black-and-white views of social media are not just emotionally easier to adopt, they don't require believers to consider their own responsibility in determining the future.
I used Twitter, as you quoted, as a real example of the difference that know-how makes. The most common criticism of Twitter, that it looks like a torrent of trivia and noise, could be applied to the Internet. Knowing how to discover who knows something worth knowing or who communicates in an entertaining way is essential to a Twitter user who wants to devote their attention to something worthwhile. Knowing how to attract the attention of other Twitter users, how connect with Twitter communities, make Twitter lists, makes all the difference between noisy trivia and worthwhile flows of information and entertainment, even channels for sociality. Twitter is a medium in which the users have invented powerful social conventions such as retweets and hashtags. What's interesting is what people do with that medium, such as cultivating Personal Learning Networks.
Some will be surprised to see you write about “Twitter Literacy” given many perceive Twitter to be a subliterate or semiliterate form of communication. How are you defining this term? Where do our ideas about what constitutes effective or thoughtful use of Twitter come from?
I guess this is where it shows that I am not really a licensed academic, but that rare and odd species, an independent scholar. I really didn't start out to do it this way. I was a freelance writer and I tried to write accurately and to be careful to source my material and attribute when necessary.
Then some of my freelance writing was taken up by scholars in what has grown into cyberculture studies and I found myself taken to task for utopian enthusiasms, deterministic language, unsupported generalizations. So I learned to think more critically, to examine whether my choice of words robs humans of agency (some things are determined by forces outside individual control and some things are not and we make unconscious decisions about this issue when we attribute determining agency to technology), to recognize unsupported generalizations (and to look for empirical research that could support or change my hypotheses), All of which is to say that I understand that there are schools of literacy studies that define literacy differently.
And I am aware that the word "literate" is most often associated with the ability to read and write. When I talk about social media literacies I mean (to repeat myself) both the skill of encoding and decoding (from reading and writing to capturing, editing, and uploading video) and the social environment in which that skill is embedded, the community of literates, whether they are typing about books in online forums, making videos for each other, collectively growing a conversation thread around a blog post, refactoring wiki pages together. Each skill involves the knowledge of how to use the skill effectively to get things done with others.
So, with literacy out of the way ;-)  I can recall what motivated me to write Twitter Literacy. It was one of the elements that led up to writing Net Smart, but in the moment it was written as a blog post, it was one of those "for heavens' sake, don't the critics know the first thing about how to use the medium they are criticizing" blog posts that one writes very quickly. I got tired of people saying "I don't care what celebrities had for lunch and I certainly don't care about what somebody I never heard of had for lunch." (I argue elsewhere, in my discussion of social capital in Net Smart, that apparently trivial small talk can lubricate networks of trust among people online, making it more likely that they will cooperate with one another.)
I discovered that if I was selective about who I "followed" on Twitter -- who I chose to pay attention to -- I could learn things, even have a laugh, occasionally make a new friend. That meant actively examining the people that I do follow and evaluating whether, after attending to them for some time, I still believe they offer knowledge and/or entertainment in return for my attention. I had to try people, then decide to stop following people whose output didn't pay off for me. I learned to look at who the people I learned to respect were following. I learned to harvest people to follow by examining Twitter lists of knowledgeable people. Then I learned to feed the network of people who follow me by sharing something not entirely trivial that reveals something about who I am and what I do, share links and knowledge I've gained that others who share my interests might benefit from, answer questions posed by those I follow and reply to those of my followers who address me.
Again, none of this is rocket science. It's not difficult to understand, although it does take some discipline and effort. It certainly pays off for me in terms of knowledge capital, social capital, friendship, and fun. I've had almost entirely fascinating meals with former strangers in London and Bogota, Amsterdam and Baltimore, who responded to my tweet-up offering.
In Net Smart I deconstruct twitter literacy to show how it employs elements of attention literacy (who to pay attention to), participation literacy (how to reward the attention others pay me), network literacy (how to spread my own words through networks), and crap detection (knowing when not to retweet a rumor about breaking news).  Ideas about effective use of Twitter come from the same place a great deal of lore about how to use new media come from -- from the enthusiastic users. Twitter the company did not create retweets or hashtags -- those were both invented by early Twitter users, later to be incorporated by Twitter into its platform. Tweetchats and personal learning networks emerged from communities of users.
As I said in the article and the book, Twitter is not a community, but it offers tools with which people can build communities.

The recent report from MacArthur’s Youth and Participatory Politics survey found that 85 percent of young people would welcome more help in learning how to distinguish between reliable and unreliable information online. You describe this in terms of “crap detection.” Why has our current educational system done such a bad job in teaching issues of credibility and discrimination in networked environments?

I don't want to be too cynical about this, but there's a very fundamental underlying conflict involved in teaching crap detection online, especially in regard to the broader habit of mind in which crap detection is embedded -- critical thinking. Teaching your children, students, customers, citizens to think for themselves and to question authority can be a pain in the ass.
It's not as easy as authoritative answers. But authority, as 500 years of literates knew it in the Gutenberg era, was based on the text. Gatekeepers -- degree-granting institutions, editors, fact-checkers, publishers, teachers, librarians were responsible for vetting published material and granting the imprimatur of authority. For better (I think, mostly) and for worse, search engines and the democratization of publishing have rendered that system obsolete.
My daughter and search engines came of age around the same time. She was in middle school, Google had not been invented yet, and she and her classmates were not just using library books to research compositions -- they were submitting queries to Altavista and Infoseek. So I sat down with her in front of the computer and explained that unlike a book, which was vetted by the authority-granting system I just described, anything she finds through online search has to be vetted by her. She has to look for an author and search on the author's name. She has to think like a detective and look for clues of authenticity or bogosity in the text.
Librarians and educators certainly are interested in teaching critical thinking. But not only is it not easy to do, the fear (and sometimes regulatory or statutory limitations on the use) of the Internet in schools prevents educators from using the most essential tool for teaching online information literacies. Having mentioned "information literacy," I would add that many forward-looking librarians today talk about a suite of literacies that include search and verification, but also include knowing when and how to use information, how to create, publish, network, and use information to solve problems. It can be argued that these have been essential learning skills for a long time, but the ubiquity of smartphones, tablets, laptops, PCs and the explosive growth of networked information resources have dramatically changed the infosphere from the 500 years when printed information was more controllable and reliable.
I went to Reed, where the liberal arts tradition of learning how to think for yourself and how to access the millennia-long discourses of other thinkers, how to learn and how to learn how to learn new things, were central values. And I spent four years as editor of Whole Earth Review and the last editor of the Whole Earth Catalog, enterprises based on the old American values (Emerson! Self-Reliance) of individual responsibility and freedom of thought and action. Don't wait for some distant institution to do it. Learn how to do it yourself, and learn the tools you need to do what you want to do ("Access to tools" was the subtitle of the Whole Earth Catalogs).
So I regard critical thinking and self-reliance as healthy values as well as important life tools. However, I have to recognize that many people still believe that obedience to authority is paramount. As I said, I think this conflict is a fundamental one -- like the question of whether people are essentially sinful and need to restrained from exercising their baser instincts, or whether people are essentially good and need to be educated in positive values.
There has been, as you note, ongoing controversy over the issue of multitasking. What did your review of the neuroscience literature teach you about this debate? You end up suggesting that the key is learning to manage our attention. What specific steps do you recommend to help people deal with issues of attention control more effectively?
Cliff Nass, whose work is most often cited as proof that "multi-tasking doesn't work," has an office down the hall from my own, and I discussed the issue with him and his co-author when their study first came out. First, within the limits of their methodology, Nass and Ophir found that when people attend to multiple media their performance on the cognitive tasks associated with each media channel degrades rather than improves. This is true for a large percentage of subjects.
First I think it's important to understand the methodology. The kind of research that Nass and Ophir necessarily have to do is a simplification of the way people attend to media. In a laboratory, it's about remembering strings of letters backwards or recognizing the color of a numeral flashed on a screen. What we don't know a great deal about is what happens when all those streams of media are coordinated and focused on a single subject. When I'm working on a book, I have my database of research up on one screen, the text in front of me, a Twitter conversation about the subject of my writing going on in another window. I might take a few minutes to watch a video from the research database. Can people learn to multitask effectively if all the tasks are centered on the same inquiry?
There is not yet a lot of evidence about what the small percentage of successful media multitaskers are able to do -- is it innate or learned?
But most importantly, I think it's necessary to see focused attention, diffuse, scanning attention, multitasking, distraction as elements of a toolbox of attentional tools that we mostly don't know how to use all that well online. I know that in my own work, losing efficiency in my overall production is sometimes offset by orders of magnitude by the collective intelligence effects of attending to a network while I'm writing. And sometimes it isn't about productivity at all -- it's about seeing connections, systems, big pictures.
The key is what (I've learned) is called "metacognition." Wikipedia has a pretty good page about it. Metacognition is not only about being aware to some degree of where you are directing your attention and why; it's also about knowing when you need to screen out distractions and focus your attention narrowly and when you are better off diffusing your attention or switching between a small set of tasks -- it's about knowing what circumstances call for each mind-tool and how to best apply the mind-tool in those circumstances. It's more complicated to explain than to do.
In trying to find ways to contextualize my own metacognition -- to give me a reason for choosing one form of attention over another on a day to day, hour to hour basis -- I started writing down two or three objectives for my day's work in a very few words and large letters on an index card, which I replace daily at the periphery of my vision, right under my main computer display screen. Every once in a while, my gaze falls upon the paper and I have the opportunity to ask myself whether what I am doing online right now is in line with what I set out to do today -- and whether that matters, and why.
At first, thinking about where and why my attention is directed was cumbersome, but it swiftly became semi-automatic. I won't trot out the neuroscience -- there are plenty of references in my book -- but there's little controversy over the contention that people can train and retrain their brains through directed attentional practice. As Maryann Wolf so eloquently explained in Proust and the Squid, brain retraining through directed attentional practice is what we do when we learn to read.
Howard's Story

I fell into the computer realm from the typewriter dimension in 1981, then plugged my computer into my telephone in 1983 and got sucked into the net. In earlier years, my interest in the powers of the human mind led to Higher Creativity (1984), written with Willis Harman, Talking Tech (1982) and The Cognitive Connection (1986) with Howard Levine, Excursions to the Far Side of the Mind: A Book of Memes (1988), Exploring the World of Lucid Dreaming (1990), with Stephen LaBerge, and They Have A Word For It: A Lighthearted Lexicon of Untranslatable Words and Phrases.(1988).

I ventured further into the territory where minds meet technology through the subject of computers as mind-amplifiers and wrote Tools for Thought: The History and Future of Mind-Amplifiers (1984) [New edition from MIT Press, April 2000]. Next, Virtual Reality (1991) chronicled my odyssey in the world of artificial experience, from simulated battlefields in Hawaii to robotics laboratories in Tokyo, garage inventors in Great Britain, and simulation engineers in the south of France.

In 1985, I became involved in the WELL, a "computer conferencing" system. I started writing about life in my virtual community and ended up with a book about the cultural and political implications of a new communications medium, The Virtual Community(1993 [New edition,MIT Press, 2000]). I am credited with inventing the term "virtual community." I had the privilege of serving as the editor of The Whole Earth review and editor in chief of The Millennium Whole Earth Catalog (1994). Here's my introduction to the Catalog, my riff on Taming Technology and a selection of my own articles and reviews from both publications.In 1994, I was one of the principal architects and the first Executive Editor of HotWired. I quit after launch, because I wanted something more like a jam session than a magazine. In 1996, I founded and, with the help of a crew of 15, launched Electric Minds. Electric Minds was named one of the ten best web sites of 1996 by Time magazineand was acquired by Durand Communications in 1997. Since the late 1990s, I've cat-herded a consultancy for virtual community building.

My 2002 book, Smart Mobs, was acclaimed as a prescient forecast of the always-on era. In 2005, I taught a course at Stanford University on A Literacy of Cooperation, part of a long-term investigation of cooperation and collective action that I have undertaken in partnership with the Institute for the Future. The Cooperation Commons is the site of our ongoing investigation of cooperation and collective action. The TED talk I delivered about "Way New Collaboration" has been viewed more than 265,000 times. I have taught Participatory Media/Collective Action at UC Berkeley's School of Information, Digital Journalism at Stanford and continue to teachVirtualCommunity/Social Media at Stanford University, was a visiting Professor at the Institute of Creative Technologies, De Montfort University in Leicester, UK. In 2008, I was a winner in MacArthur Foundation's Digital Media and Learning competition and used my award to work with a developer to create a free and open source social media classroom. I have aYouTube channel that covers a range of subjects. Most recently, I've been concentrating on learning and teaching 21st Century literacies. I've blogged about this subject for SFGatehave been interviewed, and have presented talks on the subject. I was invited to deliver the 2012 Regents' Lecture at University of California, Berkeley. I also teach online courses through Rheingold U.

You can see my painted shoes, if you'd like.


Howard Rheingold / hlr@well.com

How Did Howard Rheingold Get So "Net Smart": An Interview (Part One)

Howard Rheingold has been one of the smartest, most forward thinking, most provocative writers about digital culture for the past several decades. He's someone who always makes me think. Even a short hall way chat with Howard at a conference can lead to transformative insights about how we live within a networked culture. I have been lucky to know him for more than two decades now, and I treasure every interaction I've ever had with the guy. Howard embodies the transition which Fred Turner has documented between the counterculture of the 1960s and the cyberculture of today: he has a quirky personality which reminds me of Frank Zappa or Leon Redbone, and, as this interview suggests, he still carries with him some of the core values he first articulated working for the Whole Earth Catalog. So, it would be easy to see him as a voice from the past, but that would be a serious mistake, since he is still totally on top of the most recent developments in the field.


His most recent book, Net Smart: How to Thrive Online, is a major contribution to the growing body of literature around New Media Literacies. If you have not bought a copy yet, go online now and buy one. If you have not read your copy yet, stop right now and read it. Don't worry, this blog interview will still be here when you get back.

Net Smart makes a strong case for what Rheingold sees as a set of core skills and competencies which we all need to acquire if we are going to make effective use of the communities and resources we encounter in our everyday lives online. He has talked to the experts, reviewed the literature, and thought through the implications of each skill, and he lays them out with his usual clarity and directness. Some in the past have accused Howard (not to mention myself) of being an uncritical utopianist. Here, you get a stronger sense of where the dust has settled for him as we have now lived for an extended period in relation to online platforms and practices. He certainly recognizes the risks and failures associated with the Web 2.0 era, but he also refuses to let them get in the way of what he sees as the more productive and meaningful ways of engaging with digital culture. He is a firm believer in the critical literacy skill he calls "crap detection." Howard doesn't take crap from anyone and he doesn't serve up very much, if any, in this book.

I was lucky enough to be interviewed by Howard for the book, so I asked him if he would return the favor and share some of his thoughts with my readers.  Howard threw himself into this task with what he might call "mindfulness," digging deep in response to every question, drawing insights not only from the current book but across a life time of thinking about virtual communities, augmented intelligence, and network culture.


Your progression from work on virtual communities to smart mobs to digital literacies says something about the evolution of digital culture over the past few decades. What has led you right now to focus so much on giving everyday people the skills they need to more meaningfully participate in the new media landscape?

I'm going to give a longer answer, so I'll summarize the conclusion at the beginning: What people know about how to use media matters. The underlying technologies are important because of the way they amplify human cognitive and social capabilities, so know-how becomes crucial when a new tool like writing or the printing press or the internet enables people to think and communicate in new ways. The hyper-evolution of digital media over the past half century first depended on hardware, then software, then network infrastructure, then web services, and now the driving force shifts to the part of the system in people's heads and between people. The digital divide now has to include the divide between those who know how to get and to verify information they need just in time and just in place, those who can cultivate and call on social networks, those who can persuade or educate from those who do not know how to apply the power a networked PC or smartphone makes available. The knowledge is not secret, but it hasn't really been compiled and distributed. That's why I wrote the book.
As you note, I've been writing about technologies and media that amplify human thought and communication for a long time. My first article on virtual communities was published in 1987. And my Reed undergraduate thesis in 1968 was about the intersection of electronic tools and human consciousness. So I've been thinking about the broader issues about human-technology interaction for most of my life. In terms of online social media, I was an enthusiastic participant since the BBS days of the early 1980s. Then I started writing about where online communication media came from and where it might be going.
When I published Tools for Thought in 1985, looking at the future of personal computing and human cognition, I was confronted by the questions "Is this new medium healthy or harmful? Is having a personal computer going to make people more or less humane? Are the digital tools that were emerging at the time any good for us as individuals, for our relationships, for our societies, for literate civilization?" These questions came from critics and academics, and it was one that I had been asking myself for some time.
The same questions came up with The Virtual Community in 1993 and Smart Mobs in 2002. I asked myself "what is the most possible outcome, positive or negative, of introducing networked personal computers to millions of people?" In pursuit of that question, I started looking into ways computer-mediated communication by entire populations might affect democracy. That inquiry led me to the literature about the history of the public sphere -- that's how I learn, mostly, by stumbling across things, then inquiring about them.
The health of the public sphere seemed to me in 1992 to represent the most important potential issue that could be raised by the widespread use of digital media. To oversimplify, I understood the public sphere to be a way of saying that democracy and governance of the people, by the people, and for the people is not just about voting for leaders. Unless enough people are literate enough -- and free enough to express themselves -- to understand and debate the issues that affect them, they aren't going to be able to govern themselves. Informed discourse requires informed people, and that requires both educated citizens and a free flow of information.  In The Virtual Community I emphasized the quote by James Madison that is carved into marble at the Library of Congress: "A popular Government, without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy; or, perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance: And a people who mean to be their own Governors, must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives."
In Smart Mobs I was forced to learn a little about sociology to try to make sense of the ways large groups of people were beginning to behave collectively, now that billions of people have the web in their pockets. And in my research for these books, I grew fascinated with the archaeology of literacy --Elizabeth Eisenstein's work on the impact of the printing press in Europe, the drama of Denise Schmandt-Besserat's worldwide investigation of clay artifacts that led to her definitive history of the origin of writing, Marshall McLuhan's insistence that printing presses change the way people see and deal with the world.
Working backward from McLuhan to Innis, Ong, and McLuhan's colleague Robert K. Logan, I began seeing the broad picture of how new cultural mind tools enabled and initiated changes in the thinking of individuals and the functioning of societies. Working forward from the 1960s visions of JCR Licklider and Douglas Engelbart, it seemed to me that "augmenting human intellect," as Engelbart framed it, was a historic repurposing of devices originally designed for ballistics calculations. Engelbart was well aware of the role of human learning and literacies in the future system he proposed, which he described as comprising "humans, using language, artifacts, methodology, and training."
So now we have more than two billion people with Internet access, more than five billion mobile telephones. The mind-amplifying devices that Engelbart envisioned are in people's pockets. The networks that link people and devices are global and heading toward ubiquitous. What does that mean? We've seen serious critics like Sherry Turkle and Nicholas Carr eloquently illuminating the darker sides and hidden costs of our fascination with social media. And we've seen an enormous amount of moral panic, based on very little or no empirical basis, about fears that using the web is making individuals and cultures shallow.
The answer to any question is available anywhere within a second or too -- but it's up to the inquirer to evaluate the validity of the answer. Virtual communities, smart mobs, collective intelligence, social production, enable millions of people to do things together in the physical world that they were never before able to do. Tech-savvy teenagers invent billion dollar industries and new ways of seeking information and socializing. Others organize revolutions. Know-how is at the core of all these new phenomena, whether they are used for good or ill. So digital literacies of attention, crap detection, participation, collaboration, and network smarts constitute a critical uncertainty. The answer to "is this stuff any good for us" is, I strongly believe: "It depends on what people know, and how many of them know it." Just as the decades after Gutenberg's invention saw the expansion of the literate population from thousands to millions, we're seeing the diffusion of new literacies that are already changing the world more profoundly than print did in its first decades. 
When I use the term literacy, I mean both the learnable skill of coding and decoding in a new medium, but the social aspect as well -- the interaction with the community of literates. Digital literacies are networked. In that regard, I see these skills as pointing inward to the individual and outward to the society. The individual who masters these skills will have a greater chance of personal, professional, political, social success. And the more individuals who master these skills, the more useful and trustworthy the digital commons becomes. Your work on participatory culture was particularly important to my thinking in this regard -- it only makes sense that the person who thinks of herself as a creator of digital culture, even in a small way like tagging or commenting, has a stronger sense of agency as a citizen,  and a person who thinks of himself only as a consumer of culture created by others lacks some of that sense of agency.
What relationship exists between this book and the emerging field of digital media and learning?
In regard to how Net Smart relates to digital media and learning, I want to start by emphasizing the distinctions between learning digital literacies and using digital media in teaching and learning and between the novelty of social media versus the kinds of pedagogy it enables. 
First, digital literacies. I had to oversimplify to get it all in the book, but there are important digital literacies that I didn't include, such as webmaking and coding. In order to spread around the lore I assembled in Net Smart, I've made available to anyone who wants to use it my syllabus based on the book, including many additional web-based resources. I don't think educational institutions are moving anywhere near as fast as technology. And the moral panics have instilled fear of using the internet in schools. How many K-12 students learn how to search and evaluate information found online? I'd love to see it happen, see more teachers like the ones I interview for dmlcentral, so I'm not dismissing the uptake of digital literacies into the traditional curriculum. I do see the dissemination of this knowledge happening more rapidly online.
I do teach the literacies in Net Smart to the students in my virtual community/social media class at Stanford, but it's in the context of a broader inquiry. The literacies are necessary to ask the larger questions about community, collective action, identity, the public sphere, etc. Students are introduced to forums as group voice, blogs as (networked) individual voice, mindmaps as lateral and visual thinking, social bookmarking as collective intelligence, wikis as collaborative platforms. Then they need to use their skills in these media to propose, organize, document, and present collaborative projects in groups of four. In the process, we consciously and deliberately approached our subject matter as a learning community in which classroom discussions expand online, students blog reflectively about what their learning shows them about the media they use, student co-teaching teams take turns co-teaching a classroom session with the professor.
The underlying methodology (Engelbart!) is enabled by the technology, but the methodology is what is important -- giving students a means to continue discursive inquiry beyond the classroom, to tap into worldwide networks of knowledge and expertise, to talk among themselves instead of speaking when called upon by the professor. Making it easier for students to learn together and to take advantage of the infosphere beyond their classroom and their library is what makes for a pedagogy of co-learning. Much of what I do and what Cathy Davidson does in pursuit of co-learner can and should be done with index cards, whiteboards, and colored sticky notes. 
I'm also excited by what Mimi Ito calls "connected learning." I was enthusiastic about  kind of online socializing that I came across that excited me in the 1980s because it was fun. For me, connected learning meant asking big questions about what this kind of fun meant, conversing about those questions with others online and face to face, and pursuing the literature that led me to the sociology of Marc Smith and Barry Wellman, the anthropology of Mimi Ito, the media theory of Henry Jenkins and Robert K. Logan. My enthusiasm plus my networks plus scholarly inquiry connected for me when I wrote Net Smart.
Putting into practice the knowledge I try to convey in Net Smart will make it easier for people to become involved in co-learning online. Pursuing the idea of co-learning far enough brought me to consider putting all the responsibility and power in the hands of the learner. Motivated co-learners in communities of gamers or fan communities teach each other sophisticated material all the time. What does a group of people need to know in order to use online media to co-learn about a particular topic? How would we find and qualify resources? Would we organize them as a syllabus or as a hackerspace? What learning activities, forms of assessment, synchronous and asynchronous media should they use? To that end, I organized the Peeragogy Project, a network of volunteers who are assembling a handbook for co-learners.

Howard's Story:

I fell into the computer realm from the typewriter dimension in 1981, then plugged my computer into my telephone in 1983 and got sucked into the net. In earlier years, my interest in the powers of the human mind led to Higher Creativity (1984), written with Willis Harman, Talking Tech (1982) and The Cognitive Connection (1986) with Howard Levine, Excursions to the Far Side of the Mind: A Book of Memes (1988), Exploring the World of Lucid Dreaming (1990), with Stephen LaBerge, and They Have A Word For It: A Lighthearted Lexicon of Untranslatable Words and Phrases.(1988).

I ventured further into the territory where minds meet technology through the subject of computers as mind-amplifiers and wrote Tools for Thought: The History and Future of Mind-Amplifiers (1984) [New edition from MIT Press, April 2000]. Next, Virtual Reality (1991) chronicled my odyssey in the world of artificial experience, from simulated battlefields in Hawaii to robotics laboratories in Tokyo, garage inventors in Great Britain, and simulation engineers in the south of France.

In 1985, I became involved in the WELL, a "computer conferencing" system. I started writing about life in my virtual community and ended up with a book about the cultural and political implications of a new communications medium, The Virtual Community(1993 [New edition,MIT Press, 2000]). I am credited with inventing the term "virtual community." I had the privilege of serving as the editor of The Whole Earth review and editor in chief of The Millennium Whole Earth Catalog (1994). Here's my introduction to the Catalog, my riff on Taming Technology and a selection of my own articles and reviews from both publications.In 1994, I was one of the principal architects and the first Executive Editor of HotWired. I quit after launch, because I wanted something more like a jam session than a magazine. In 1996, I founded and, with the help of a crew of 15, launched Electric Minds. Electric Minds was named one of the ten best web sites of 1996 by Time magazineand was acquired by Durand Communications in 1997. Since the late 1990s, I've cat-herded a consultancy for virtual community building.

My 2002 book, Smart Mobs, was acclaimed as a prescient forecast of the always-on era. In 2005, I taught a course at Stanford University on A Literacy of Cooperation, part of a long-term investigation of cooperation and collective action that I have undertaken in partnership with the Institute for the Future. The Cooperation Commons is the site of our ongoing investigation of cooperation and collective action. The TED talk I delivered about "Way New Collaboration" has been viewed more than 265,000 times. I have taught Participatory Media/Collective Action at UC Berkeley's School of Information, Digital Journalism at Stanford and continue to teachVirtualCommunity/Social Media at Stanford University, was a visiting Professor at the Institute of Creative Technologies, De Montfort University in Leicester, UK. In 2008, I was a winner in MacArthur Foundation's Digital Media and Learning competition and used my award to work with a developer to create a free and open source social media classroom. I have aYouTube channel that covers a range of subjects. Most recently, I've been concentrating on learning and teaching 21st Century literacies. I've blogged about this subject for SFGatehave been interviewed, and have presented talks on the subject. I was invited to deliver the 2012 Regents' Lecture at University of California, Berkeley. I also teach online courses through Rheingold U.

You can see my painted shoes, if you'd like.


Howard Rheingold / hlr@well.com

Participatory Culture: What Questions Do YOU Have?

Question Mark Graffitidanah boyd,  Mimi Ito, and I have embarked on an interesting project for Polity. Through a series of dialogues, we’re hoping to produce a book that interrogates our different thoughts regarding participatory culture. The goal is to unpack our differences and agreements and identify some of the challenges that we see going forward. We began our dialogue a few weeks ago and had a serious brain jam where we interrogated our own assumptions, values, and stakes in doing the research that we each do and thinking about the project of participatory culture more generally. For the next three weeks, we’re going to individually reflect before coming back to begin another wave of deep dialoguing in the hopes that the output might be something that others (?you?) might be interested in reading.

And here’s where we’re hoping that some of our fans and critics might be willing to provoke us to think more deeply.

  • What questions do you have regarding participatory culture that you would hope that we would address?
  • What criticisms of our work would you like to offer for us to reflect on?
  • What do you think that we fail to address in our work that you wish we would consider?

For those who are less familiar with this concept, my white paper for the MacArthur Foundation described a “participatory culture”  as one:

  1. With relatively low barriers to artistic expression and civic engagement
  2. With strong support for creating and sharing one’s creations with others
  3. With some type of informal mentorship whereby what is known by the most experienced is passed along to novices
  4. Where members believe that their contributions matter
  5. Where members feel some degree of social connection with one another (at the least they care what other people think about what they have created).

This often gets understood through the lens of “Web2.0″ or “user-generated content,” but this is broadly about the ways in which a networked society rich with media enables new forms of interaction and engagement. Some of the topics that we are considering covering include “new media literacies,” “participation gap” and the digital divide, the privatization of culture, and networked political engagement. And, needless to say, a lot of our discussion will center on young people’s activities and the kinds of learning and social practices that take place. So what do *you* want us to talk about?

danah kicked off a discussion around the project last week on her blog, so you can go there to see what others are already thinking, or I am very happy to receive your comments and suggestions here, especially as my tech support people just moved this blog to a new platform and we are eager to see how well the new response functions are working.

Mobile Games: Activism, Art and Learning

A new report, The Civic Tripod for Mobile and Games: Activism, Art and Learning, was published a few weeks ago through the International Journal of Media and Learning. It was written by three PhD candidates, Susana Ruiz, Benjamin Stokes, and Jeff Watson, whom I've worked with closely since I came to USC three years ago.  Susana and Jeff are both game designers who are completing their work through the USC Cinema School's iMAP program, while Ben is doing his PhD in Communications through USC's Annenberg School. Watson completed his PhD this past summer. Here is the way they describe what their report tries to accomplish:

The "big picture" for mobile and locative games has been hard to see, and hard to articulate. One cause is that the examples are rarely woven together across disciplines. Second, theory has too often been absent or heavy-handed. Something in-between is needed. This is especially true for more deeply social designs, which are too often reduced to case studies especially in fields like education, the arts, and civic innovation. We argue that this fragmentation of isolated examples is undermining our ability to think big, design holistically, and evaluate broadly.

For this report, we ambitiously seek to curate a set of conceptually important mobile projects, and to connect them with a light weave of theory from three distinct traditions of practice. Specifically, this report outlines the emerging field of mobile and pervasive games along the dimensions of (1) civic learning, (2) performance/art, and (3) social change. Focusing on real projects from the field, we aim to reveal key opportunities and constraints on the mobile frontier for civic games.

We argue that this three-legged "tripod" is increasingly necessary to articulate how mobile game projects are succeeding (and failing). In the past, designs have been analyzed separately by the siloed domains of art, learning, and social action. Each silo remains a useful lens, but combining the lenses is increasingly necessary for mobile media.

Mobile media is different because it ties into the physical space of our neighborhoods, with longstanding relationships and neighborhood dramas. On the streets in front of our homes, most of us already know if there are potholes, and whether socio-economic segregation is getting worse or better. But we may need the vision of art to imagine alternate futures. Art on our streets resists abstraction, and raises immediate questions of civics, prompting us to ask, "what can we do about this?" And taking action points back to learning, since the neighborhood solution is so often to empower ourselves, which necessitates learning who we are, determining what assets and power we have, and learning the skills of collective action to push for change.

Clearly the tripod legs are not just connected -- they overlap. In fact, we argue that games are pushing for further blur between art, activism and learning. Games are a form of media that do less to structure facts, and more to structure and shape the player's experience and identity. Learning is inherent in games, since their engagement depends on providing challenges that are just barely possible. (To use the language of Vygotsky, we might say that games are only fun when they scaffold the experience to keep the player within their zone of proximal development.) When games are tied to physical space, their action ties to learning about our own neighborhoods -- how to move through them, and to change them. The art of such games is often the physical world itself, with better sounds and graphics than any screen! And the digital side of games draws in the civic, if only because it is so easy to link to more information on how to take action, or how to learn more. In other words, the experiential nature of games pulls mobile experiences on civics into being a mix of art and learning.

The report is a wonderful example of multidisciplinary scholarship with each student embodying one of the legs of their "tripod" and developing their ideas in conversation with the others. They have used a nonlinear format to allow readers to trace multiple paths through the diverse case study examples and interviews with media producers (including Mary Flanagan, Katie London, Colleen Macklin, and many others) they have assembled.

Yet, they also are creating multiple points of synthesis where their insights come together and produce  understandings that none of them individually would be able to reach. Outside this innovative framework and presentation, some of these games might be understood through a lens of avant garde art practice, others through the lens of education or activism, but we would be unlikely to see the connections between them. I strongly recommend this report to anyone who wants to better understand the potentials of mobile games for facilitating new forms of civic learning and expressive practice.

A Pedagogical Response to the Aurora Shootings: 10 Critical Questions about Fictional Representations of Violence

The horrifying and tragic news of the shooting in Aurora, Colorado this weekend requires some degree of reflection on our parts. As someone who found himself very much involved in the national debates surrounding the Columbine Shootings in the late 1990s, there is a terrible sense of deja vu: we all know all too well the twists and turns the national debate will take and the dangers of what happens when "moral panic" spins hopelessly out of control.

I was deeply moved this weekend by a video blog produced by a young woman -- Lauren Bird -- from the Harry Potter Alliance who has so many thoughtful things to say about the social value of popular entertainment, the shared ritual of the midnight movie, and the dangers of pathologizing our desire to participate in the culture. (But, of course, the national AMC chain has already announced that they are banning the wearing of any costumes into their theaters, as if the problem with the shooter in this case was that he was a "crazy fan" who showed up in costume.)

Today, I wanted to share some pedagogical materials which I developed through the New Media Literacies Project in the aftermath of the Virginia Tech shootings, where, once again, anxieties about popular culture substituted for serious reflections on the many root causes of violence in American culture.

To be extra clear, I do not think media is where this debate should be focused. The conversation needs to be centered around the root causes of violence and the need to develop a much stronger infrastructure around mental health issues in this country. But, media violence issues are often used as a distraction from serious conversations about public policies in the aftermath of such incidents. If we are going to be discussing "media violence," we need to do so with sufficient nuance to have a meaningful discussion, and ideally, we need to do so in a way which moves us from thinking about simplistic models of "media effects" towards a focus on the meanings of representations of violence as understood in the context of the work as a whole. See my essay on "The War Between Effects and Meanings" in Fans, Bloggers, and Gamers, for an explanation of this distinction.

First, I wanted to share a passage from a statement about violence I wrote for teachers, which expresses something I was unable to meaningfully communicate via Twitter in an online exchange yesterday:

Why is violence so persistent in our popular culture? Because violence has been persistent across storytelling media of all kinds. A thorough account of violence in media would include: fairy tales such as Hansel and Gretel, oral epics such as Homer's Iliad, the staged violence of Shakespeare's plays, paintings of the Rape of the Sabine Women, and stained glass window representations of saints being pumped full of arrows, or, for that matter, talk show conversations about the causes of school shootings. Violence is fundamental to these various media because aggression and conflict are core aspects of human experience. We need our art to provide some moral order, to help us sort through our feelings, to provoke us to move beyond easy answers and to ask hard questions.

Our current framing of media violence assumes that it most often attracts us, that it inspires imitation, whereas throughout much of human history, representations of violence were seen as morally instructive, as making it less likely that we are going to transgress against various social prohibitions. When we read the lives of saints, for example, we are invited to identify with the one suffering the violence and not the one committing it. Violence was thought to provoke empathy, which was good for the soul. Violence was thought to make moral lessons more memorable.

Moral reformers rarely take aim at mundane and banal representations of violence, though formulaic violence is pervasive in our culture. Almost always, they go after works that are acclaimed elsewhere as art--the works of Martin Scorsese or Quentin Tarantino, say--precisely because these works manage to get under their skin. For some of us, this provocation gets us thinking more deeply about the moral consequences of violence, whereas others condemn the works themselves, unable to process the idea that such a work might provoke us to reflect about the violence that it represents. The study of literature offers a remarkable opportunity to engage young people in conversations about such issues, expanding the range of stories about violence which they encounter, introducing them to works that encourage reflection about the human consequences of revenge and aggression, and broadening the range of meanings they attach to such representations.

In order to encourage such reflections in the classroom, I developed a set of basic questions we should ask about any representation of violence. There are persistent references throughout this to Moby-Dick because it was part of a teacher's strategy guide for Moby-Dick. Our book on this larger project, Reading in a Participatory Culture , is coming out from Teacher's College Press later this year. I was struck re-reading this today that I had already written here about the role of violence in the Batman saga, though this came out prior to the Dark Knight films by Christopher Nolan.


1. What basic conflicts are being enacted through the violence?

Literary critics have long identified the core conflicts that shape much of the world's literature: Human vs. Human, Human vs. Nature, Human vs. Self, and sometimes Human vs. Machine. Such conflicts spark drama. Moby-Dick can be understood as including all three conflicts: the conflict between Ahab and Starbuck embodies deeper divisions within the ship's crew over the captain's decision to place his own personal goals above their collective well being or above the business of whaling; the conflict between Ahab and Moby Dick may be understood as a human being throwing himself full force against the natural world; Ahab struggles with his own better nature and Starbuck searches his soul trying to figure out how to respond to his conflicting duties. Any of these conflicts can erupt in violence--directly against other people, against the natural world, or against ourselves.

You might ask your students to identify which of these forms of conflict are most visible in contemporary video games, on television, or in the cinema and why some forms of conflict appear more often in these media than others. For example, video game designers have historically found it difficult to depict characters' internalized conflict (human vs. self), in part because contest or combat are central building blocks of most games.

2. Do the characters make conscious choices to engage in acts of violence? How do they try, through language or action, to explain and justify those choices?

In the real world, an act of violence may erupt in a split second: one moment, people we care about are alive; the next, they are dead. The violence may be random: there is no real reason why these victims were singled out over others; they were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Yet, works of fiction often focus our attention on moments when characters make decisions, often based on aspects of their personalities which they little recognize or control, and those choices may have repercussions that echo across the work as a whole.

So, the act that took Ahab's leg may have been totally random, and we see several examples throughout the novel where a split-second decision may cause a character to be wounded or killed. We might compare Ahab's amputation with the events that lead to Pip being thrown from the boat, left adrift, and ultimately driven insane, or to the unnamed man who falls from the ship's mast and drowns. By contrast, the novel invites us to consider the choices Ahab makes at each step and how the other characters respond to those choices. Melville shows us many points where the ship could turn back and avoid its fate. He spells out what the characters are thinking and why they make the decisions they do.

The events could take a different shape, though the shape of a plot can give depicted events a sense of inevitability. Some forms of tragedy, for example, rely on the notion that characters are unable to escape their fates, no matter what choices they make, or that the final acts of violence and destruction flow logically from some "tragic flaw." In trying to make sense of a fictional representation of violence, you want to encourage your student to seek out moments where the characters make choices that ultimately lead towards acts of aggression or destruction. Often, authors provide those characters with rationalizations for their choices, offering some clues through their words, thoughts, or actions about why they do what they do.

At such moments, the work also often offers us alternatives to violence, other choices the characters could have made, though such choices may remain implicit rather than being explicitly stated. Different works and different genres may see these alternatives to violence as more or less plausible, attractive, or rational. So, if you are being chased by a mad man waving a chain saw in a horror film, engaging him in a conversation may not be a rational, plausible, or attractive alternative. Genre fiction constructs contexts where the protagonist has no choice but to resort to violence, though what separates heroes from villains may be their relative comfort in deploying violence to serve their own interests. In many American movies, the hero is reluctant to turn towards violence, seeing it as a last resort. By contrast, the villain may deploy violence in situations where she has other alternatives, suggesting cruelty or indifference.

In dealing with violence in video games, then, you may want to ask what options are available to the player for dealing with a certain situation. In some games, there may be no options other than violence, and the game itself may spend very little time offering the character a rationalization for such actions. It is fight or flight, kill or be killed. Many games are simply digital versions of the classic shooting galleries: the game space is designed as an arena where players can shoot it out with other players or with computer-controlled characters. In other games, there may be options that allow the protagonist to avoid violence, but they may not be emotionally satisfying; they may put the player at a significant disadvantage; they may be hard to execute. So, helping students to interpret the options available to characters in a literary fiction may help them to reflect more

consciously on the more limited choices available to them as gamers.

3. What are the consequences of the violence depicted in the work?

Many popular stories don't pay sufficient attention to the consequences of violence. Rambo may slaughter hundreds and yet, much as in a video game, the bodies simply disappear. We get no sense of the human costs involved in combat on such a scale. Many medieval epics consisted primarily of hack and slash battle sequences; yet, periodically, the action would stop, and the bard would enumerate the names of the dead on both sides, acknowledging that these warriors paid a price even if their actions help to establish the nation state or restore order to the kingdom. Gonzala Frasca has argued that video games inherently trivialize violence because they operate in a world where the player can simply reboot and start over if their character dies.

In contrast, westerns follow a basic formula: the protagonist (most often male) would resort to violence to battle other aggressive forces that threaten his community; his heroic actions would restore justice and order, but the hero could not live within the order he had helped to create and would be forced to ride off into the sunset at the end of the story. Susan Sontag has written about "the Imagination of Disaster," suggesting that films about apocalyptic events often create a rough moral order in which characters are rewarded or punished based on the values they display under extreme circumstances.

Moby-Dick can be said to have its own mechanisms for punishing violence: Ahab's search for vengeance at all costs means that he and his crew must pay the ultimate price.

4. What power relationships, real or symbolic, does the violence suggest?

In many cases, storytellers deploy violence as a means of embodying power. We should not be surprised by this tendency given the way sociologists have characterized rape as the deployment of male power against women or lynching as the enactment of white power against blacks. Historically, wars have been seen as a way of resolving conflicts between nations through the exercise of power, while trial by combat was a means of deploying power to resolve individual conflicts and disagreements.

Media representations of violence can give viewers a seductive sense of empowerment as they watch characters who are hopelessly out-numbered triumph or they watch segments of the population who seem disempowered in the real world deploy violence to right past wrongs. Some have argued that young people play violent video games, in part, as a means of compensating for a sense of disempowerment they may feel at school.

Conversely, stories may encourage our sense of outrage when we see powerful groups or individuals abusing their power, whether in the form of bullies degrading their victims or nations suppressing their citizens. This abuse of power by powerful forces may prepare us for some counter-balancing exercise of power, setting up the basic moral oppositions upon which a story depends.

As you teach students to think critically about representations of violence, a key challenge will be to identify the different forms of power at play within the narrative and to map the relations between them. Which characters are in the most powerful positions and what are their sources of power? Which characters are abusing their power? What sources of power are ascribed to characters who might initially seem powerless, and to what degree is violence depicted as a means of empowerment?

5. How graphic is the depiction of violence?

One of the limits of the study on violence in American cartoons released by the American Academy of Pediatrics is that it counts "violent acts" without considering differing degrees of stylization. In fact, children at a pretty young age--certainly by the time they reach elementary school--are capable of making at least crude distinctions between more or less realistic representations of violence. They can be fooled by media which offers ambiguous cues, but they generally read media that seems realistic very differently from media that seems cartoonish or larger than life. For that reason, they are often more emotionally disturbed by documentaries that depict predators and prey, war, or crime, than they are by the hyperbolic representations we most often are talking about when we

refer to media violence.

While most of us have very limited vocabularies for discussing these different degrees of explicitness, such implicit distinctions shape the ways we respond to representations of violence within fictions. We each know what we can tolerate and tend to avoid modes of representation we find too intense or disturbing. Most ratings systems distinguish between cartoonish and realistic forms of violence. We need to guard against the assumption, however, that the more graphic forms of violence are necessarily "sick" or inappropriate. More stylized forms can make it much easier to ignore the gravity of real world violence through a process of sanitization. In some cases, more graphic depictions of violence

shatter that complacency and can force us to confront the human costs of violence.

Literary critics have long made a distinction between showing and telling. We might extend this distinction to think about media representations of violence. An artist may ask us to directly confront the act of violence, or she may ask us to deal with its repercussions, having a character describe an event which occurred before the opening of the narrative or which took place off stage. Some very famous examples of media violence--such as the torture sequences in Reservoir Dogs or Pulp Fiction --pull the camera away at the moments of peak intensity, counting on the viewer's imagination to fill in what happens, often based on cues from the soundtrack, or in the case of Pulp Fiction , the splattering of blood from off-camera. Again, we need to get students to focus on the creative choices made by the storytellers and artists in their construction of these episodes, choices especially about what to show and what not to show.

6. What function does the violence serve in the narrative?

Critics often complain about "gratuitous violence." The phrase has been used so often that we can lose touch with what it means. According to the dictionary, "gratuitous" means "being without apparent reason, cause, or justification." So, before we can decide if an element in a fictional work is gratuitous, we have to look more closely at why it is present (its motivation) and what purposes it serves (its function).

Keep in mind that we are not talking here about why the character performs the violent act but rather why the artist includes it in the work. An artwork might depict senseless killings, as occur at certain moments in No Country for Old Men where the killer is slaughtering people seemingly at random. This doesn't necessarily mean that the violence is "gratuitous" since in this case, the violence sets the action of the story into motion, and the work is very interested in how other characters react to the threat posed by this senseless violence. There is artistic motivation for including the violence, even if the directors, the Coen Brothers, are uninterested in the killer's psychological motives.

An element in a work of fiction may be motivated on several different levels: it may be motivated realistically, in the sense that a story about contemporary urban street gangs might be expected to depict violence as part of their real world experience; it might be motivated generically, in the sense that people going to see a horror movie expect to see a certain amount of gore and bloody mayhem; it may be motivated thematically, in the sense that an act of violence may force characters to take the measure of their own values and ethical commitments; it may be motivated symbolically, in the sense that a character dreams about performing violence and those dreams offer us a window into his or her thinking process. In each case, the violence has a different motivation, even though the actions depicted may be relatively similar.

By the same token, we might ask what functions an act of violence plays in the work. One way to answer that question is to imagine how the work would be different if this element were not included. Would the story have the same shape? Would the characters behave in the same way? Would the work have the same emotional impact? Some acts of violence motivate the actions of the story; some bring about a resolution in the core conflict; still others mark particular steps in the trajectory of the plot; and in some rare cases, the violent acts may indeed be gratuitous, in that their exclusion would change little or nothing in our experience of the work

But keep in mind that the violence which disturbs us the most on first viewing is not necessarily gratuitous and is often violence which has ramifications throughout the rest of the story. Describing a scene as "gratuitous" is easy, especially when it shortcuts the process of engaging more critically with the structure and messages of the work in question. For example, the film Basketball Diaries became the focus of controversy following the Columbine shootings primarily because of a single scene in which the protagonist wears a long black coat and imagines shooting up a school. Those discussing the sequence failed to explain that it was a dream sequence, not an action performed by the film's protagonist, and that it is part of a larger story which explores how a young man overcame his rage, his addictions, and his antisocial impulses to become a poet. Without the representation of his aggression, the power of the story of redemption would be weakened, whereas the scene removed from context seemed to endorse the antisocial values the work itself rejects.

7. What perspective(s) does the work offer us towards the character engaging in violence?

Media theorists have spent a great deal of time trying to determine what we mean when we say we identify with a character in a fictional work. At the most basic level, it means we recognize the character; we distinguish the fictional figure from others depicted in the same work. From there, we may mean that the work devotes a great deal of time and space to depicting the actions of this particular character. Typically, the more time we spend with a character, the more likely we are to see the world from her point of view. Yet, this is not always the case. We may be asked to observe and judge characters, especially if their actions and the values they embody fall outside of the stated perspective of the work. We may grow close to a character only to be pushed away again when the character takes an action we find reprehensible and unjustifiable.

There is a distinction to be drawn here between the structuring of narrative point of view and the structuring of moral judgments on the character. Part of what helps us to negotiate between the two is the degree to which we are given access to the thoughts and feelings of the character (and in the case of an audio-visual work, the degree to which we see the world from his or her optical point of view).

Consider, for example, the use of first person camera in a work like Jaws where scenes are sometimes shot from the perspective of the shark as it swims through the water approaching its human prey. At such moments, we feel fear and dread for the human victims, not sympathy for the sharks. Filmmakers quickly learned to manipulate this first person camera, sometimes duplicating the same camera movement, tricking us into thinking the monster is approaching, and then, demonstrating this to be a false alarm.

So, it is possible to follow characters but not get inside their head, and it is possible to have access to characters' thoughts and still not share their moral perspective.

And indeed, all of these relationships may shift in the course of reading a book as we may feel the character's actions are justified up until a certain point and then cross an implicit line where they become monstrous. Homer shares Ulysses's point of view throughout much of the Odyssey, but we still are inclined to pull back from him at a certain point as he brings bloody vengeance upon Penelope's suitors in the final moments of the epic.

Wyn Kelley identifies a similar pattern in Moby-Dick where we are invited to experience what whaling would be like from the point of view of the whale, and in the process, we are encouraged to reflect on the bloody brutality of slaughtering an innocent animal, stripping the meat off its bones, and boiling its flesh to create oil. Here, a break in the following pattern gives us an opportunity to reassess how we feel about the characters with whom we have up until that point been closely aligned. We might think about a common device in television melodrama where we've seen a scene of conflict between two characters who believe they are alone and then at the end, the camera pulls back to show the reaction of a previously undisclosed third-party figure who has been watching or overhearing the action. Such moments invite us to reassess what we've just seen from another vantage point.

In video games, the category of "first person shooters" has been especially controversial with critics concerned about the implications of players taking on the optical point of view of a character performing acts of violence; often, critics argue, the player doesn't just watch a violent act but is actively encouraged to participate. Gamers will sometimes refer to their characters in the third person ("he") and sometimes in the first person ("I"), pronoun slippages that suggest some confusions brought about by the intense identification players sometimes feel towards their avatars.

Yet, even here, we need to be careful to distinguish between following pattern, optical point of view, and moral attitude. In games, we typically remain attached to a single character whom we control, and thus we have a very strong following pattern. In first person shooters, we see the action through the optical point of view of that character, though we may feel no less connected to the characters we control in a third person game (where we see the full body of the character from an external perspective). The Second Person video game confounds our normal expectations about optical point of view, inviting us to see the action from an unfamiliar perspective, and thus it may shake up our typical ways of making sense of the action.

Those who have spent time watching players play and interviewing them about their game experiences find that in fact, identification works in complex ways, since the player is almost always thinking tactically about the choices that will allow her to beat the game. Winning often involves stepping outside a simple emotional or moral connection with an individual character. Players are encouraged to think of the game as a system, not unlike taking a more omniscient perspective in reading a work of fiction, even as other aspects of the game's formal structure may encourage them to feel a close alignment with a

particular character whose actions are shaped by their own decisions.

Game designer Will Wright (The Sims, Sim City) has argued that games may have a unique ability to make players experience guilt for the choices their characters have made in the course of the action. When we watch a film or read a novel, we always reserve the ability to pull back from a character we may otherwise admire and express anger over choices he or she has made or to direct that anger towards the author who is reflecting a world view we find repugnant. Yet, in a game, because players are making choices, however limited the options provided by the designer, they feel some degree of culpability. And a game designer has the ability to force them to reflect back on those choices and thus to have an experience of guilt.

8. What roles (aggressor, victim, other) does the protagonist play in the depiction of violence?

Many of the media texts which have been most controversial are works which bring the viewer into the head of the aggressor--from the gangster films of the 1930s through contemporary films like Natural Born Killers and American Psycho, television series like Dexter and The Sopranos, and games like Grand Theft Auto. All of these works are accused of glamorizing crime.

As we've already discussed, we need to distinguish between following pattern, optical and psychological point of view, and moral alignment. Many of these works bring us closer to such figures precisely so that we can feel a greater sense of horror over their anti-social behavior. Consider, for example, Sweeney Todd, which depicts a murderous barber and his partner, a baker, who turns the bodies of his victims into meat pies she sells to her customers. We read the story from their perspective and we are even encouraged to laugh at their painful and heartless puns about the potential value of different people as sources for human meat. Yet, our strong identification with these characters allows us to feel greater horror and sorrow over the final consequences of their actions.

At the other end of spectrum, literary scholar James Cain describes how a whole genre of literary works arose in the Middle Ages around representations of saints as victims:

"The persecutions of early Christians gave rise to an extraordinary collection of tales commemorating the supernatural endurance of victims who willingly suffered heinous atrocities and ultimately gave their lives bearing witness to their faith. From accounts of the stoning of the first martyr, St. Stephen, to the broiling of St. Lawrence on an open grill, the strapping of St. Catherine to a mechanical wheel of torture, the gouging-out of St. Lucy's eyeballs, the slitting-open of St. Cecilia's throat, the slicing-off of St. Agatha's breasts, the feeding of St. Perpetua and St. Felicitas to the lions, the piercing of St. Sebastian with a barrage of arrows--the graphic brutality undoubtedly exceeds even the most violent images in media today.... The strong emotional responses these images conjured up in their observers were deliberately designed to produce lasting impressions in people's memories and imaginations, to enable further reflection."

Far from being corrupting, representations of violence are seen as a source of moral instruction, in part because of our enormous sense of empathy for the saints' ability to endure suffering.

Most American popular culture negotiates between the two extremes. In the case of superheroes, for example, their origin stories often include moments of victimization and loss, as when young Bruce Wayne watches his mother and father get killed before deciding to devote his life to battling crime as the Batman, or when Peter Parker learns that "with great power comes great responsibility" the hard way when his lack of responsibility results in the death of his beloved uncle. In the world of the superheroes, the villains are also often victims of acts of violence, as when the Joker's face (and psyche) are scarred by being pushed into a vat of acid. The superhero genre tends to suggest that we have a choice how we respond to trauma and loss. For some, we emerge stronger and more ethically committed, while for others, we are devastated and bitter, turning towards anti-social actions and self-destruction.

A work like David Cronenberg's A History of Violence is particularly complex, since we learn more and more about the character's past as we move more deeply into the narrative and since the protagonist moves from bystander to victim and then reverses things, taking his battle to the gangsters, and along the way, becomes increasingly sadistic in his use of violence. Cronenberg wants to have the viewer rethinking and reassessing the meaning of violence in almost every scene of the film.

The filmmaker Jean Renoir famously said "every character has his reason." His point was that if we shift point of view, we can read the aggressor as victim or vice versa. Few people see themselves as cruel; most find ways to justify and rationalize acts of even the rawest aggression. And a literary work may invite us to see the same action from several different perspectives, shifting our identifications and empathy in the process. So, for example, the moment when we see the hunt from the whale's point of view reverses the lens, seeing Flask and his crew as the aggressors and the whale as the victim, a perspective we don't get in the rest of the novel.

Even when the artist doesn't fill in these other perspectives, critics and spectators can step back from a scene, put themselves in the heads of the various characters, and imagine what the world might look like from their point of view. Consider the novel and stage play, Wicked, which rereads The Wizard of Oz from the vantage point of the Wicked Witch and portrays Dorothy as a mean spirited trespasser who has murdered the witch's sister.

9. What moral frame (pro-social, antisocial, ambiguous) does the work place around the depicted violence?

Some fictions focus on violence as the performance of duty. The police, for example, are authorized to use certain sanctioned forms of violence in the pursuit of criminals and in the name of maintaining law and order. Some of these--for example, the television series The Shield--find great drama in exploring cops who "cross the line," seeing brutality or unnecessary use of force as a symptom of a police force no longer accountable to its public.

Similarly, much fiction centers on themes of war, with works either endorsing or criticizing military actions as forms of violence in the service of the state and of the public. There is a long tradition of national epics, going back to classical times, which depict the struggles to establish or defend the nation with violence often linked to patriotic themes and values. In the American tradition, this function was once performed by the western, which depicts the process by which "savagery" gave way to "civilization," though more recent westerns have sometimes explored the slaughter of the Indians from a more critical perspective as a form of racial cleansing.

So, even within genres that depict the use of force in pro-social or patriotic terms, there are opportunities for raising questions about the nature and value of violence as a tool for bringing about order and stability.

On the other hand, many stories depict violence as anti-social, focusing on criminals, gangsters, or terrorists, who operate outside the law and in opposition to the state or the community. The cultural critic Robert Warshow discusses the very different representations of "men with guns" found in the western, the gangster film, and the war movie, suggesting that all three genres have strong moral codes which explain when it is justifiable to use force and depicting what happens to characters who transgress those norms. The westerner can not live in the community he has helped to create through his use of force; the gangster (see Scarface for example) frequently is destroyed by the violence he has abused to meet his personal desires and ambitions; and the hero returns home at the end of the war, albeit often psychologically transformed by the violence he has experienced.

Just as fictions that seem to depict the pro-social use of violence may contain critiques of the abuse of power by the police or the horrors of war, fictions which depict the anti-social use of violence may include strong critiques of the gangster lifestyle. Robin Woods has famously summed up the basic formula of the horror films as "normality is threatened by monstrosity." In such a formula, there are three important terms to consider--what constitutes normality, what constitutes the monstrous, and what relationship is being posited between the two. Some horror films are highly moralistic, seeking to destroy anything which falls outside of narrow norms; others use the monster as the means of criticizing and questioning the limits of normality.

In many works, there is a core ambiguity about the nature of the violence being depicted. We may be asked to identify with several characters who have different moral codes and thus who see their actions in different terms. Our judgments may shift in the course of the narrative. The characters may understand their actions as pro-social even as the author invites us to read them as antisocial. Or the work may be saying that there's no simple distinction to be drawn between different forms of violence: it's all equally destructive. We might even imagine a truly nihilistic work in which all violence is justified. It isn't that we want students to fit works into simple either/or categories here. Rather, asking this question can force them towards a more complex understanding of the moral judgments the work is making--as opposed to simply those being made by the characters--about the value of the violence to society.

10. What tone does the work take towards the represented violence?

We've already seen the importance of distinguishing between the forms of violence being depicted in a work and the position the work takes on those actions. We've seen that identification with a protagonist is fragile and shifting across a work, so that we may sometimes feel a strong emotional bond with a character for much of the story and yet still feel estranged from her when the author reveals some darker side of her personality.

A work may depict the pro-social use of violence and either endorse or criticize the Establishment being depicted. A work may depict anti-social forms of violence in ways which are conservative in their perspective on those groups who use force outside legal contexts. Or a work may depict forms of violence that are hard to classify in those terms and thus invite readers to struggle with that ambiguity.

Similarly, we need to consider the range of different emotional responses a work may evoke through its use of violent images. Some fictions about violence, such as the action sequences in an Indiana Jones movie, may thrill us with exciting, larger than life heroics. Some, such as Saving Private Ryan or Glory, may appeal to our sense of national pride towards the brave men who gave their lives defending their country. Some, such as the scene in Old Yeller where the boy is forced to shoot his dog, may generate enormous empathy as we feel sorry for the characters who are forced to deploy or suffer violence against their will. Some, such as depictions of human suffering around the world, may seek to shock us into greater social consciousness and civic action. Some, such as slapstick comedy, may encourage us to laugh at highly stylized depictions of physical aggression. And still others, such as Saw or Nightmare on Elm Street, may provoke a sense of horror or disgust as we put ourselves through a series of intense emotional shocks in the name of entertainment.

We can not understand what representations of violence mean, then, without paying attention to issues of tone, and part of teaching close reading skills is helping students identify the subtle markings in a text which indicate the tone the author is taking towards the depicted events. Popular texts tend to create broadly recognizable and easily legible signs of tone, though many of the works of filmmakers like Tarantino or Scorsese generate controversy because they adopt a much more complex and multivalent tone than we expect from other texts in the same genre. We might compare Tarantino or Scorsese to certain writers--William Faulkner or Flannery O'Connor come to mind--who also seek complicated or contradictory emotional reactions to grotesque and violent elements in their narratives.

Participatory Politics: New Media and Youth Political Action

Over the past few blog posts, I have been sharing updates on some of the work being done by my Civic Paths research group at USC -- first, the special issue of Transformative Works and Cultures on fan activism, and second, Arely Zimmerman's white paper exploring the ways undocumented youth and their supporters mobilized through and around new media in support of the DREAM act. But, as I have noted, this work fits within a larger initiative launched by the MacArthur Foundation -- a research hub on Youth and Participatory Politics, headed by Political Science Professor Joe Kahne from Mills College, and involving a multidisciplinary mix of researchers who are combining a range of different approaches, both qualitative and quantitative, to better understand how young people are using new media as a resource for political participation. A few weeks ago, Kahn and another Political Scientist, University of Chicago's Cathy Cohen, released an important report representing the first phases of this research -- Participatory Politics: New Media and Youth Political Action. Here's a rich and provocative interview with its primary authors, thanks to MacArthur's Digital Media and Learning team.

The white paper does two things which are really important for people seeking to better understand the interplay of new media and citizen participation -- first, it offers a new conceptual framing for thinking about what our research network is calling "participatory politics" and second, it shares the findings of the team's first large scale survey which seeks to capture the current state of youth, new media, and civic participation, recorded just after the Midterm Elections and prior to the current presidential campaign season.

Here's a key passage of the report which seeks to explain our core concept and what we think it will add to the existing understandings of the political lives of American youth:

The Youth and Participatory Politics study defines participatory politics as interactive, peer-based acts through which individuals and groups seek to exert both voice and influence on issues of public concern. Importantly, these acts are not guided by deference to elites or formal institutions. Examples of participatory political acts include starting a new political group online, writing and disseminating a blog post about a political issue, forwarding a funny political video to one's social network, or participating in a poetry slam.

Participatory political acts can:

␣ reach large audiences and mobilize net- works, often online, on behalf of a cause;

␣ help shape agendas through dialogue with, and provide feedback to, political leaders (on- and offline); and

␣ enable participants to exert greater agency through the circulation or forwarding of political information (e.g., links) as well as through the production of original content, such as a blog or letter to the editor.

Four factors make participatory politics especially important to those thinking about the future of American politics.

1. Participatory politics allow individuals to operate with greater independence in the political realm, circumventing traditional gatekeepers of information and influence, such as newspaper editors, political parties, and interest groups.

2. Participatory politics often facilitate a renegotiation of political power and control with the traditional political entities that are now searching for ways to engage participants. Witness how newspapers and cable television stations now try to facilitate a controlled engagement with their audience through the use of social media.

3. Participatory politics as practiced online provide for greater creativity and voice, as participants produce original content using video, images, and text.

4. Participatory politics afford individuals the capability to reach a sizable audience and mobilize others through their social networks in an easy and inexpensive


This definition emerges from three years of intense discussions amongst the participating researchers, as well as consultations with leading scholars and activists, all of whom are thinking deeply about media change and its political consequences. It think it is safe to say that this reconceptualization would not have emerged anywhere except in the radically multidisciplinary space which Kahne and the MacArthur Foundation have helped to establish. We bring ideas from our own disciplines into conversation with those from profoundly different frames of reference, and in the process, we have begun to map a space which is inadequately covered by any given field.

In the case of media and cultural studies, the report comes as we are seeing sharper distinctions being drawn between different forms of cultural and political participation, where-as on the Political Science side, it emerges from ongoing discussions about the shifting nature of politics as a human activity, especially the shift of focus towards nongovernmental forms of political action.

The report shifts the focus from "Twitter Revolutions," which place the emphasis on new forms of networked technologies, and onto specific sets of political and cultural practices, which deploy those tools in relation to older media technologies, to help redefine the dynamics of political debate and mobilization.

A second key point to make has to do with the relationship between participatory politics and more established and institutionalized forms of politics, a question to which Kahne and Cohen addressed in the interview that accompanies the report's release:

Participatory politics can allow for greater creativity and voice, but voice may not necessarily lead to influence. What sort of shift must occur in order for these practices to become influential?

Kahne: We have thought about this a lot, and it's something we as a field need to learn more about. There is no doubt that practices that amplify the voice of young people are a significant thing, especially given the marginal status that so many young people have in relation to mainstream institutions. Those institutions are places where young people generally don't have significant voice. Participatory politics can give them that voice. At the same time, it's key to realize that if youth are circulating ideas among their networks without understanding how to move from voice to influence, they may well not achieve the goals they value. In our work with youth organizations, digital platforms, and youth themselves, we have to find ways to help youth connect to institutions act strategically to have influence and to put pressure on the places - whether corporate or governmental - to prompt the change youth want to see occur.

Cohen: Participatory politics is never meant to displace a focus on institutional politics. We might think of it as a supplemental domain where young people can take part in a dialogue about the issues that matter, think about strategies of mobilization, and do some of that mobilizing collectively online. That said, we have to always recognize that there is important power that exists largely offline. The Occupy movement is a classic example of both participatory politics and offline institutional politics coming together to not only amplify voice but also provide influence and power -- even temporarily -- for a group of primarily young people around class and equality issues.

This new framework for thinking about "Participatory Politics" helps us to make sense of some of the significant findings of the national survey. I can hit on only a few key insights here (read the report for more):

Large proportions of young people across racial and ethnic groups have access to the Internet and use online social media regularly to stay connected to their family and friends and pursue interests and hobbies.

Contrary to the traditional notion of a technological digital divide, the YPP study finds young people across racial and ethnic groups are connected online. Overwhelmingly, white (96 percent), black (94 percent), Latino (96 percent) and Asian-American (98 percent) youth report having access to a computer that connects to the Internet. A majority or near majority of white (51 percent), black (57 percent), Latino (49 percent), and Asian American (52 percent) youth report sending messages, sharing status updates and links, or chatting online daily.

Youth are very involved in friendship-driven and interest-driven activities online.

78 percent send messages, share status updates, or chat online on a weekly basis.

58 percent share links or forward information through social networks at least once a week....

I was delighted to see this last question, dealing with the practices around what I call Spreadable Media, included in the survey, since events like Kony 2012 have established that acts of circulation can be an important part of how young people are participating in political debates.

Over-all, 64 percent engage in at least one interest-driven activity in a given week, and 32 percent engage in three or more interest driven activities a week.

Participatory Politics are an important dimension of politics.

41 percent of young people have engaged in at least one act of participatory politics, while 44 percent participate in other acts of politics.

Specifically, 43 percent of white, 41 percent of black, 38 percent of Latino and 36 percent of Asian-American youth participated in at least one act of participatory politics during the prior 12 months.

Participatory politics are an addition to an individual's engagement rather than an alternative to other political activities:

Youth who engaged in at least one act of participatory politics were almost twice as likely

to report voting in 2010 as those who did not.

A large proportion--37 percent of all young people--engages in both participatory

and institutional politics.

Among young people who engage in participatory policies, 90 percent of them either vote or engage in institutional politics.

Participatory politics are equitably distributed across different racial and ethnic groups:

The difference in voting in 2008 between the group with the highest rate of turnout according to the U.S. Census Bureau--black youth (52%)-- and the group with the lowest rate of turnout-- Latino youth (27%)--is 25 percentage points.

These findings challenge many key stereotypes which shape dominant discourses around youth, new media, and political participation, suggesting that:

  • participatory politics and culture are not simply activities involving white suburban middle class youth but they are widespread across all ethnic groups, and indeed, the group most likely to engage with the broadest range of such practices are African-Americans
  • new media politics does not come at the expense of more traditional forms of political participation but rather is more likely to amplify patterns of voter-participation
  • participatory culture and politics seems to be an important equalizer of opportunities for engagement in the political process.

One other conclusion seems important for readers who are invested in media literacy: According to the survey, 84 percent of youth indicate that, given their reliance on online sources for news and information, "would benefit from learning more about how to tell if news and information you find online is trustworthy." So, contrary to the stereotype that young people are indifferent to the credibility of the information they access online, many of them are seeking support from adult educators to help them acquire skills at more meaningfully parsing what should be trusted.

Educators and policy makers alike will benefit from looking more deeply at the rich data and insights found in this report. I am sure to be drawing more on this report through upcoming blog posts around these topics.

For those who want to learn more about the report, I've embedded here the video of a recent chat session featuring Kahne, Cohen, and others, talking about the report with Howard Rheingold through the MacArthur Foundation's Connected Learning Seminar series.

Joe Kahne is the John and Martha Davidson Professor of Education at Mills College. His research focuses on ways school practices and new media influence youth civic and political development.

Cathy Cohen is the David and Mary Winton Green Professor of Political Science at the University of Chicago. She is the founder of the Black Youth Project and author of The Boundaries of Blackness and Democracy Remixed. Her research focuses on political engagement by marginal communities.

Documenting DREAMS: New Media, Undocumented Youth and the Immigrant Rights Movement

Civic Paths is a team of graduate students, faculty, post-docs, and staff researchers within the USC Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism, who are seeking to better understand the role of new media tools and practices in shaping the political socialization and mobilization of American youth. The faculty leads on the research team are myself and my Journalism colleague, Kierstin Thorson while Sangita Shreshtova is the Research Director. The team is linked to a larger research hub on Youth and Participatory Politics, headed by Mills College Political Science Professor Joe Kahne and funded by the MacArthur Foundation. Our team's contribution consists of developing a series of ethnographic case studies of innovative networks which have proven effective at encouraging youth to become political activists. Next time, I will be sharing some quantitative research recently released by Kahne, Cathy Cohen, and other members of the YPP network.

Civic Paths recently released the first of the white papers which over the next two years will start to emerge from our research: this one written by our Post-Doc Arely M. Zimmerman and dealing with the groups of undocumented youth who have been trying to rally behind the DREAM Act. The report was released the same week that President Barack Obama announced a major shift in the country's immigration policy that reflected in many ways the success of these DREAM activists in reframing the public's perception of the experience of being undocumented and in calling out the fact that the Obama administration had deported more people in its first three years in office than George W. Bush had in his two terms as president.

Zimmerman's white paper takes us behind the scenes, identifying the tactics which had led to this political victory and sharing the stories shared with her by the participants in her study.

Zimmerman's research was the focus of an earlier blog post, describing a program we hosted at USC where young immigrant rights activists talked about their use of new media to mobilize supporters.

You can find the full report on the DREAM Activists online at the Youth and Participatory Politics homepage. But, to give you a taste of the report, I wanted to share two excerpts here today. The first comes from the introduction to Zimmerman's report:

On October 12, 2011, five undocumented youth wearing graduation caps staged a sit-in at the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) offices in downtown Los Angeles to urge the Obama administration to stop deporting undocumented youths. The sit-in launched the national E.N.D. (Education Not Deportation) Our Pain campaign, comprised of a network of immigrant youth organizations and allies demanding an immediate moratorium on deporting youth eligible for the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act. This proposed legislation would grant conditional legal status to those brought to the United States under age 16 if they attend college or join the military.

The action took place on a busy Wednesday morning when most Angelenos were at work and most students were in school. Fearing a low turnout, Dream Team Los Angeles, a local youth-led community group, and their allies used social media to send links of a live broadcast of the action from a free video-streaming site. While 300 people attended, over 4,000 users watched online as the youth entered ICE headquarters and demanded a hearing with officials. The attendees and online audience looked on as handcuffs were placed on the youth. Immediately after the arrests, users were able to make donations and petition for the arrestees' release through another website.

The E.N.D. campaign's direct action is an example of a strategy to amplify youth voices in the immigrant rights movement by combining traditional community organizing

with new media strategies. One of the arrestees and leader of one of the DREAM advocacy groups in Los Angeles acknowledges that a mixed media strategy is key for reaching diverse participants:

You have to be able to use Facebook and Twitter, but you have to be intentional about it, and strategic. At the same time, you have to also utilize traditional media outlets because our 'tios' and 'tias' are not using social networking. They are still watching Univision and the nightly news. So you have to engage in both.

DREAM Activism is an exemplar case of youth capitalizing on new media affordances to recruit, mobilize, and sustain broad-based youth political participation. While initial organizing in 2001 focused on states with high immigrant populations such as California, Illinois, and New York, undocumented youth and student organizations are now active at the national level with chapters in 25 states. The California Dream Network, a network of undocumented youth organizations, boasts chapters on over 30 college campuses. Student and youth organizers credit both their rapid growth and public outreach to the power of new media. Prerna Lal, co-founder of DreamActivist.org, a media-centered youth organization, states in an online video, "New media has indeed taken a small group of undocumented students to new heights and fueled a movement that was stagnant."

Immigrant youth's participation in the DREAM movement provides an opportunity to examine the intersection of new media and grassroots youth-led social movements in the context of a politically disenfranchised and legally vulnerable community. Drawing from field research, event observations, media content analysis, and 25 semi-structured interviews with DREAM activists residing in California, Illinois, Georgia, and Texas, this report examines the role of new media in mobilizing undocumented youth's participation in the movement.

Only three of the youth I interviewed were U.S. citizens. While Mexico was the primary country of origin, some of the youth came from Colombia, Nigeria, El Salvador, Poland, and Chile. All but three of the youth were enrolled in an institution of higher learning or had completed their bachelor's degree at the time of the interviewee. The semi-structured interviews allowed me to reconstruct the history of Dream Activism and account for existing organizational networks through youth's narration of events, stories of participation, and the re-telling of their experiences as members of Dream activist organizations. On an individual level, the interview protocol was directed at capturing youth's stories of involvement, the contextual factors and supports that sustained their civic participation, and their use of new media platforms and practices. Additionally, I probed how their participation in the Dream movement had shaped their experiences of inequality and identity, feelings of membership and belonging, and conceptions of citizenship.

As the effects of new media on political participation continue to be sharply

debated, this case study suggests that youth's online and political participation are

mutually reinforcing. Despite the barriers they face because of their legal and socio-

economic status, undocumented youth activists in this study are highly engaged online as bloggers, documentarians, artists, or social media activists. The positive correlation

between levels of civic engagement and online participation is due to several factors.

Online communities have served as spaces to develop associational bonds, forge social

networks, and amass forms of social capital that are particularly useful given the legal

and political vulnerability of face to face activism. Online communities have also

increased youth's sense of political efficacy by offering spaces for collective identification and shared memory. The sophisticated use of new media by undocumented youth has enabled youth to negotiate, resist, and respond to their political and socio- economic marginalization. Through new media, undocumented youth have uplifted the voices, experiences, and stories of an often-ignored segment of the immigrant population in the United States. Simultaneously, these activists have brought attention to the youth voice within the social justice community more broadly....

The second selection from the white paper comes from the conclusion and focuses more directly on the personal trajectories of the DREAM activists that Zimmerman interviewed for the project. She deals honestly with the challenges these undocumented youth confront, both in preserving personal dignity in their everyday interactions and in finding ways to access the digital media which is so vital to their efforts. This passage gives us a snap shot of how people are living with and working around the digital divide and the participation gap and the ways these inequalities of access are tied to larger social, political, and economic inequalities. Their stories help us to understand how current immigration policies are squandering the potential of a generation of young Americans who seek to make a contribution with their lives but who are often blocked from doing so as a consequence of the political stalemate which surrounds efforts to change the process for acquiring citizenship:

During the research on this MAPP case study, I met many individuals who defied the presumption of civically and politically disengaged youth. Like Jose, who used Facebook to confront the social isolation he felt by posting photos of his drawings online, these youth have used new media tools to overcome rather than succumb to barriers to their political participation. Sammy, an aspiring filmmaker, did not have the means to buy a camera with HD capabilities, but produced a short documentary on the plights of undocumented students. El Random Hero was an avid blogger and yet did not have a computer at home. He accessed the internet through public libraries. The stories of these youth provide a glimpse into the positive impact that new media can have on the ability of youth to become civically and politically engaged.

Through this research, I also met disaffected undocumented youth who were less engaged both in their schools, communities, and empowering forms of digital social networks. Though these youth had access to new media, they had not used this access to empower themselves and engage politically. Anna, a high school student, felt that

Facebook was a detriment at times even, pulling her into a web of high school "drama" causing her to deactivate her account. Anna was graduating high school that summer and hadn't any idea of what she would do next. Would she be destined to work in a low- skilled job for minimum wage?

These varied DREAMer youth experiences show the range of outcomes that are possible. For those individuals that experienced positive outcomes in their civic, political and digital lives, it seems to be a result of access to new media combined with a range of other contextual supports. One important contextual support is institutional, namely the college campus. Most of the youth in this study who were politically engaged are also college graduates or on the way to obtaining a degree. Of course, there are exceptions. El Random Hero, for instance, has not been able to afford to attend community college. But for the most part, DREAMers seem to become more involved once they're enrolled in an educational institution. Students like Agustin, who had been exposed early on to Chicano or Ethnic studies, had a framework to understand their struggles in relation to historical patterns, increasing their sense of belonging and group pride. Several youth in this study started their activism by joining a college campus group. Others found each other online. Some later become active in community-based organizations or national coalitions, but they generally began when a peer or a mentor introduced them to a student support group for undocumented students. This happened both online and face-to-face.

While much research needs to be done in this regard, this study suggests that new

media do provide extended opportunities for political advocacy and social engagement

for undocumented youth. DREAMers find each other online. They strengthen their sense

of community through collective storytelling. They mobilize for action using social media. They use their online media savvy in combination with more traditional social movement tactics. The youth use new media to make the DREAM movement personal, networked and visible. What remains a question is whether the degree of empowerment and the sustainability of youth's political participation in this movement relates directly to institutional supports and contextual capital. If so, how can we strengthen these to create powerful avenues for broader youth participation in politics and the public sphere?

While community groups like Dream Team Coalition of Los Angeles or the United We Dream national network are youth-driven, these groups have also successfully drawn on resources and support from more traditional allies in the advocacy and nonprofit sectors. These contextual supports may enhance DREAMer youth's new media affordances towards more sustained political action. For example, in the Los Angeles area, community-based organizations such as the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA) and UCLA's Labor Center have been at the forefront of undocumented youth organizing. These centers provide both formal and informal supports such as mentorship, scholarship, organizing and leadership development, along with access to the broader social justice community. In 2011, the Labor Center sponsored an event called "Dream Summer", which provided 60 undocumented youth with paid internships and a trip to Washington DC. Such programs help sustain youth's political activism and involvement by providing a means of both emotional and financial support and motivation.

In California, especially in cities like Los Angeles, the immigrant rights community has well-established organizations with a long trajectory of facing an uphill battle to organize and sustain their political involvement. While new media and online social networks are a way to counter social and political isolation, DREAMer youth may benefit by seeking out the support of institutions that can help sustain their activism. Kendra and Jenny, for instance, found it hard to plug into the social justice community in their hometowns in Texas and Illinois, respectively. Because immigrant rights are often framed as a Latino issue, most organizations cater to Spanish speaking, newly arrived immigrants. Kendra and Jenny were not Latin American and were not Spanish speakers. The lack of ethnic ties made it more difficult for them to participate in local organizing activities, so they turned to the Internet. Kendra was more successful than Jenny at connecting to a social network of undocumented students, but she also was pulled further into the immigrant rights struggle when she visited Washington, D.C. for a collective action. Joining others in a solidarity march on Capitol Hill was a catalyst in her political activism.

Clearly, there is still more research that needs to be done in understanding why some undocumented youth become politically and socially empowered, while others, to put it in their words, remain "in the shadows." Further analysis of this research will begin to answer these questions as well. Still, it is already clear that new media placed in the hands of DREAMer youth, inspired by a collective vision and supported by the community, has created a powerful movement for social change.

Civic Paths is very proud of the timely and ground-breaking work which Zimmerman has done on this case study, and we hope you will take the time to check out her full report.

Future Civic Paths white papers will deal with the network of fan activists around the Harry Potter Alliance, the Nerdfighters, and Imagine Better; the activities and institutions supporting the Students for Liberty movement; and the politicization of Moslem-American youth in the wake of 9/11.

Up, Up and Away!: The Power and Potential of Fan Activism

As I continue to catch up on events which occurred while I was out of the country, I want to direct my readers to the special issue of Transformative Works and Cultures on "fan activism" which I co-edited with Sangita Shreshtova and the members of our Civic Paths research team. The initial call for papers appeared on this blog several years ago and thanks to your help, we were able to pull together an exceptional range of articles, representing many different forms of fan activism from around the world. The issue is now online and has already started to generate a fair amount of attention, but I wanted to make sure my regular blog readers had a chance to see what we produced. As you will see, many of my talks across Europe drew on this material, and our team is continuing to do work around this topic with the goal of producing a book length study of new forms of cultural activism in the not-too-distant future. Below, I share the introduction to the special issue I wrote with Shreshtova. It should give you some sense of the range of materials we have assembled here. You are strongly encouraged to go to the online journal itself to read any or all of the essays described here.

Up, Up and Away! The Power and Potential of Fan Activism

by Henry Jenkins and Sangita Shreshtova

[Fandom] is built on psychological mechanisms that are relevant to political involvement: these are concerned with the realm of fantasy and imagination on the one hand, and with emotional processes on the other...The remaining question then becomes whether and how politics can borrow from the elements of popular culture that produce these intense audience investments, so that citizenship becomes entertaining.

--Liesbeth van Zoonen, Entertaining the Citizen

Scratch an activist and you're apt to find a fan. It's no mystery why: fandom provides a space to explore fabricated worlds that operate according to different norms, laws, and structures than those we experience in our "real" lives. Fandom also necessitates relationships with others: fellow fans with whom to share interests, develop networks and institutions, and create a common culture. This ability to imagine alternatives and build community, not coincidentally, is a basic prerequisite for political activism.

--Steven Duncombe, "Imagining No-Place"

In 2011, American political leaders and activists were surprisingly concerned with an 80-plus-year-old popular culture icon: Superman. When presidential candidate Rick Perry was asked by a 9-year-old child during a campaign stop which superhero he would want to be, the tough-talking Texan chose the man from Krypton, because "Superman came to save the United States!" (Well 2011). At almost that same moment, conservative commentators were up in arms because in an alternative universe DC comics story, Superman denounced his American citizenship to embrace a more global perspective: "I'm tired of having my actions construed as instruments of US policy. 'Truth, Justice, and the American way!'--It's not enough any more." Right-wing rage was expressed by one FoxNews.com reader: "This is absolutely sickening. We are now down to destroying all American Icons. How are we going to survive as a Nation?" (Appelo 2011). Such responses suggest a widespread recognition that popular mythologies may provide the frames through which the public makes sense of its national identity.

Meanwhile, immigrant rights activists were questioning when Superman ever became an American citizen or whether he even possessed a green card, given that he entered the country without permission and, we must presume, without documentation, a refugee from a society in turmoil who has sought to hide his origins and identity from outside scrutiny ever since.

Hari Kondabolu, a South Asian comedian, recorded a video entitled "Superman as Immigrant Rights Activist," distributed through Colorlines , asking why no one ever tried to deport Superman for "stealing jobs" and suggesting that other immigrants might wear glasses, like Clark Kent does, to mask their identities. Photographer Dulce Pinzon produced a powerful set of images depicting a range of (mostly Marvel) superheroes performing the jobs often done by undocumented workers. As Thomas Andrae (1987; see also Engle 1987) has noted, at the time of his origins in the late Depression era, Superman adopted an explicitly political stance ("the champion of the oppressed") rather than the more vaguely civic orientation of subsequent decades. As Matt Yockey demonstrates in regard to Wonder Woman in this issue, superheroes have long functioned as mythological figures or rhetorical devices for debates around identity politics. Even DC Comics has described Superman as "the ultimate immigrant" (Perry 2011).

Arely Zimmerman (forthcoming), a postdoc with the Media Activism and Participatory Politics Project (part of USC's Civic Paths Project), interviewed 25 undocumented youth activists involved in the campaign to pass the Dream Act. She was struck by how often superheroes cropped up in her exchanges. One respondent described the experience of discovering other undocumented youth online as like "finding other X-Men." Another compared their campaign, which involved youth from many different backgrounds, to the Justice League. A third suggested that posting a video on YouTube in which he proclaimed himself "proud" and "undocumented" had parallels to the parallels to the experience of Spider-Man, who had removed his mask on national television during Marvel's Civil Wars story line. A graphic created for an online recruitment campaign used the image of Wolverine to suggest what kind of hero youth volunteers might aspire to become.

On the one hand, we might read these various deployments of the superheroes as illustrating the trends Liesbet van Zoonen (2005) describes: groups promoting social change are tapping the affective and imaginative properties of popular culture to inspire a more intense connection with their supporters. In this issue, Jonathan Gray shows similar appropriations of images from Star Wars and a range of other popular media franchises during labor rights protests in Madison, Wisconsin. Gray argues that such images (which have also been widely associated with the Occupy Wall Street movement) proliferate because popular culture, especially blockbuster franchises, constitutes a common reference point (shared between fans and more casual consumers) within an otherwise diverse and fragmented coalition of protestors and observers. Gray stresses the morale and community-building work performed through the remixing of popular culture for those gathered in an icy Wisconsin winter to express their support for collective bargaining. Zimmerman (forthcoming) also suggests that the Dream activists' use of pop culture references might be understood as part of a larger strategy to signal their assimilation into American culture. Given how much contemporary speech of all kinds is full of snarky pop culture references, it is not surprising that such references are also reshaping our political rhetoric, especially as campaigns seek to speak to young people who have famously felt excluded from traditional campaigns and have often been turned off by inside-the-beltway language. Buffy the Vampire Slayer goes to Washington!

Yet as the epigraph from Duncombe (this issue) suggests, such popular culture references also reflect the lived experiences of activists who also are fans, whether understood in the casual sense of someone who feels a strong emotional connection to a particular narrative or in the more active sense of someone who has participated in a fan community or engaged in transformative practices. Civil rights leaders in the 1960s deployed biblical allusions because part of what they shared were meaningful experiences within black church congregations. Zimmerman's Dream activists referenced superheroes because reading and discussing comics was part of their everyday lives as young people, because these references helped them think through their struggles, because they offer such vivid embodiments of heroic conflicts and deep commitments. Unlike Perry, who had only a faint recollection of Superman's mythology and acknowledged that he was no longer actively reading comics, these allusions to superhero comics were apt rather than opportunistic, grounded in a deep appreciation of who these characters are and how their stories have evolved over time. That is, they show the kinds of mastery we associate with fans. Here, we see what Duncombe describes as the fan within the activist.

However, we can push the idea of fan activism one step farther: by now, the capacity of fan communities to quickly mobilize in reaction to a casting decision or a threat of cancellation has been well established, going back to the now-legendary letter-writing campaign in the 1960s that kept Star Trek on the air. Fan groups have also had a long history of lending their support to the favorite causes of popular performers and producers, or more generally working in support of charity. Some slash fans, for example, have been motivated to march in gay rights parades, raise money for AIDS research and awareness, or, more recently, work in support of marriage equality. Fans have rallied to challenge attempts to regulate the Internet, restrict their deployment of intellectual property, or censor their content. For example, in this issue, Alex Leavitt and Andrea Horbinski trace the responses of Japanese otaku, involved in the creation of dôjinshi (underground comics), to metropolitan Tokyo ordinance Bill 156, which they perceived as an attempt to curtain their artistic freedom.

More recent efforts (such as Racebending, the Harry Potter Alliance, Imagine Better, the Nerdfighters) deploy these same strategies and tactics to support campaigns for social justice and human rights, inspiring their supporters to move from engagement within participatory culture to involvement in political life. Fan activism of the kinds we've known about for years models many effective approaches for using social media to create awareness and mobilize supporters--tactics now being adopted by even traditional charities and activist organizations as they adapt to a networked society.

All of this suggests the urgent need for scholars to explore more fully the many different potential relationships between fandom and political life, since fan studies as a research paradigm has something vital to contribute to larger considerations of the relationship between participatory culture and civic engagement. Fan studies has long depicted fandom as a site of ideological and cultural resistance to the heteronormative and patriarchal values often shaping mass media. Such work is and remains highly valuable as we seek to understand the place of fandom in contemporary culture, but our focus here pushes beyond abstract notions of cultural resistance to focus on specific ways that fan culture has affected debates around law and public policy. Many fans have resisted efforts to bring politics into fandom, seeing their fan activities as a release from the pressures of everyday life, or preferring the term charity rather than the more overtly political term activism to describe their pro-social efforts.

Our goal is not to instrumentalize fandom, not to turn what many of us do for fun into something more serious; fandom remains valuable on its own terms as a set of cultural practices, social relationships, and affective investments, but insofar as a growing number of fans are exploring how they might translate their capacities for analysis, networking, mobilization, and communication into campaigns for social change, we support expanding the field of fan studies to deal with this new mode of civic engagement.

Political participation and fan activism

This issue's two editors are part of the Civic Paths Project research group, housed in the Annenberg School for Communications and Journalism at the University of Southern California. This group has partnered with the Spencer and MacArthur foundations to try to document new forms of political participation that are affecting the lives of young people. Our work is part of a larger research network that is trying to develop a model for understanding what is being called participatory politics. Through our internal discussions, we had begun to identify the concept of fan activism as central to addressing larger questions about what might motivate young people, who are often described as apathetic, to join civic and political organizations. We had located a core body of scholarship, such as the work of van Zoonen (2005), which examined how the playful, affective, and fantasy aspects of fandom were starting to inform political discourse, or the work of Earl and Kimport (2009), which discussed fan online campaigns as part of a larger exploration of what networked politics might look like, or the work of Daniel Dayan (2005), which debated the similarities and differences between audiences and publics. We had already identified some powerful examples of how fan-based groups had helped support civic learning and had developed resources and practices that could quickly mobilize supporters behind emergencies, charities, or human rights campaigns.

We knew that there must be many more examples out there. Still, after we released the call for papers, we were blown away by the range of submissions we received from all over the world, describing other examples of fan activism in practice, debating why calls for fan participation sometimes yield spectacular results and other times fall flat, contesting the borders of fan activism, speculating about its contributions to the public sphere, and making important distinctions between top-down celebrity-run models and bottom-up participatory ones. As you will see, this issue is overflowing with cutting-edge work that takes fans seriously as political agents and that draws on a range of different theories of citizenship and democracy to explain what happens when fans act as citizens. Examples here encompass a wide variety of fandoms--Harry Potter, The X-Files, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Colbert Report, comic books, pop music, and Bollywood.

Essays in this issue

The Civic Paths team is well represented here, with a cluster of three essays offering multiple and complimentary frames for discussing fan activism, and two other contributors (Ritesh Mehta and Alex Leavitt) are active group members. Taking a deep dive into the existing literature around cultural and political participation, Melissa M. Brough and Sangita Shresthova provide an overview of core debates surrounding fan activism, including the diverse forms that participation may take, the tension between resistance and participation as competing models, the value of affect and content worlds, and the criteria by which we might measure such campaigns' success and sustainability. They argue that the study of fan activists may make a significant contribution to cross-disciplinary debates about citizenship and political engagement.

Henry Jenkins maps the history of fan-based activism, providing a context for understanding the Harry Potter Alliance, perhaps the most highly visible of the new generation of fan activist groups. Jenkins defines fan activism as "forms of civic engagement and political participation that emerge from within fan culture itself, often in response to the shared interests of fans, often conducted through the infrastructure of existing fan practices and relationships, and often framed through metaphors drawn from popular and participatory culture" (¶1.8). By exploring the concept of "cultural acupuncture," a phrase coined by HPA's founder, Andrew Slack, Jenkins explores how fannish borrowings from J. K. Rowling's fictions inspire and inform the group's diverse interventions (from an initial focus on human rights and genocide in Darfur to more recent campaigns pushing Warner Bros. to tie their chocolate contracts to fair trade principles).

Neta Kligler-Vilenchik, Joshua McVeigh-Schultz, Christine Weitbrecht, and Chris Tokuhama share some of the results of Civic Path's extensive fieldwork, interviewing young participants from the Harry Potter Alliance and Invisible Children, the latter a San Diego-based human rights organization that deploys various forms of participatory culture to motivate high school and college students to become more aware of how Ugandan warlord Joseph Kony has kidnapped and conscripted child soldiers. Tracing the trajectories by which these young people become more deeply involved in these efforts, the authors suggest the importance of shared media experiences, rich content worlds, and a desire to help in changing how young people see themselves as political agents. From an initial focus on fan activism, the Civic Paths project has expanded the scope of its research to consider the participatory culture practices associated with Dream Act activism, the efforts of college-aged libertarians, the work of the Nerd Fighters and Imagine Better, and the political and cultural activities of Muslim American youth, each offering models for understanding the cultural and political factors affecting the lives of contemporary American young people.

Ashley Hinck extends this special issue's consideration of the Harry Potter Alliance, drawing on core concepts from the literature of social movements and the public sphere. Focusing primarily on their campaign around Darfur, she argues that the HPA taps into the world of Hogwarts to construct what Hinck calls a "public engagement keystone," defined here as a "touchpoint, worldview, or philosophy that makes other people, actions, and institutions intelligible" (¶4.6). The fact that Harry Potter is so widely read, known, and loved not only by hard-core fans but by many who are not part of fandom makes it a useful resource for bridging the two, helping to revitalize public discourse around human rights concerns in Africa. Lili Wilkinson also explores the value of content worlds from popular culture in facilitating new kinds of political interactions, in this case through an application of Foucault's notion of heterotopia to understanding the links between John Green's young adult novel Paper Towns and his involvement in the Nerdfighters, an informal network of young people who use social media and video blogging to "reduce world suck." Though coming from different theoretical backgrounds, Kligler-Vilenchik et al., Hinck, and Wilkinson all converge around the importance of reimaging the world through shared fantasies.

Another central strand running through the discussion has to do with the differences between efforts of celebrities (authors such as John Green, pop stars such as Hong Kong's Ho Denise Wan See, cult television actors such as Gillian Anderson, filmmakers such as Kevin Smith, television show runners such as Joss Whedon, and comedians such as Stephen Colbert) to mobilize their fans around their pet causes and more grassroots efforts by fans to draw resources from popular culture to help fuel their own efforts at social change. A group like Nerdfighters straddles the line between the two--they are partially a response to the ongoing cultural productions of the brothers John and Hank Green (as Wilkinson suggests) but also a much more open-ended, participatory space, where anyone who wants to claim the nerdfighter identity can produce media and rally support behind his or her own ideas about what might constitute a better society. Lucy Bennett offers a critical review of the literature surrounding celebrity-based activism, exploring how such causes often take off because of the sense of intimacy the stars create with their following. Bethan Jones challenges a tradition of research that has tended to pathologize the parasocial relations between media fans and celebrities by describing the ways that X-Files cast member Gillian Anderson was able to inspire her fans to raise money for various charities. Tanya R. Cochran examines the efforts of Joss Whedon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Firefly, Angel, Dollhouse) to use his blog to increase awareness about sexual violence against women. Cochran sees Whedon's promotion of feminism as consistent with the focus on strong female characters across his television series, reinforcing the themes that draw fans to his properties in the first place.

The idea that the personality of celebrities, as much as the themes of popular fictions, may shape what issues fan activists embrace (and in this case, which issues generate little or no response) is further explored in Tom Phillips's exploration of the failed attempt by Kevin Smith (Clerks, Chasing Amy, Dogma) at stimulating fans to write letters to Southwest Airlines when the filmmaker was removed from his flight because he was viewed as "too fat to fly." Although the incident sparked online conversations around "corporate practice, body image, and consumer rights" (¶0.1), Smith's fans were not able to cohere around a strategy for exerting pressure on the airline. Cheuk Yi Lin explores why a sexually ambiguous pop star in Hong Kong has offered fans new language and images to represent their own erotic identities, but her queer fans have not coalesced into institutional politics around the rights of sexual minorities. Any urge toward more overtly political responses are dampened both by the cultural traditions of Hong Kong and by the institutional structures surrounding the fandom.

Although the first wave of research has stressed the potentials for fan activism, such practices are still relatively rare, with most forms of fandom stopping at the level of creative expression and not translating into collective action. For this reason, studies such as those by Phillips and Lin, which help us to understand the constraints on fan activism, may prove as useful in the long term as those studies which document successful models for translating fan investments into social change. Further challenging a utopian view of fan activism, Sun Jung explores antifandom around the K-Pop star Tablo, showing how some fan discourse may incorporate intense nationalism and even racism, even as other groups actively and productively challenge these discourses.

Contributing to van Zoonen's notion of the entertained citizen, several articles engage the direct connection between the political sphere (as traditionally defined) and participatory cultures. Andreas Jungherr investigates the German federal elections in 2009, arguing that citizen use of new media platforms and practices challenges the candidates' top-down communication practices. Contrasting design and deployment of such strategies across the German political spectrum, Jungherr finds that the participatory possibilities of emerging political practices vary depending on ideology. Jungherr concludes that the more liberal German Social Democrats (SPD) were more successful in designing an online environment that supported grassroots participation than the German conservative party (CDU). In the United States, The Colbert Report, a satirical late-night television program featuring Stephen Colbert, a character who is a parody of conservative media personalities, further blurs the lines between politics and entertainment. Marcus Schulzke shows how the program encouraged audiences to remix content and otherwise manipulate the words and images of political figures in ways that foster critical media literacies. By now, the idea that young Americans are as apt to learn about the political system through such news-comedy programs as from traditional journalism has become commonplace, while the program producers have sought to link creative expression and political participation to what it means to be a fan of their shows.

The simultaneously transnational and local dimensions of fan activism are another strand that runs through this issue. With examples of fan activism that include South Korea, Japan, Hong Kong, Germany, Australia, and India, the essays in this issue expand the transnational dimensions of fan activism. These examples highlight some of the similarities between various instances and discussions of fan activism (including the role of communities and content worlds, catalyzing moments, and challenges to sustained mobilization), but we are also acutely sensitive to the local dimensions and specifications of these mobilizations. In sharp contrast to the United States, where we are constantly working to establish participatory culture links to the political sphere, Aswin Punathambekar aptly observes that the connection between participatory culture and politics is "not news to anyone in India." Punathambekar goes even further, observing that the struggle in India is to, in fact, demonstrate the "ordinariness of participatory culture." Complementing this observation, and using a public protest inspired by the a Bollywood film to demonstrate his argument, Ritesh Mehta proposes "flash activism" as a crucial element of India's civil society.

Kony 2012

The power and challenges of activism through fanlike engagement with content worlds came into sharp focus with Invisible Children's Kony 2012 campaign, an effort to increase public awareness of the human rights violations and genocide conducted by a Ugandan warlord. At the time of writing, the 30-minute Kony 2012 film released at 12 PM on March 5, 2012, has topped 76 million views on YouTube to become one of the most viewed and fastest-spreading videos in YouTube history. In The Daily Show's coverage of Kony 2012 on March 12, 2012, host Jon Stewart sets up the popularity of the film by saying, "This guy Kony is probably dropping some sick beats." The show cuts to an excerpt from Kony 2012 in which Jason Russell's voice describes the war crimes committed by the LRA set to images of what we gather are victims of those atrocities. We now cut back to a shocked Jon Stewart who goes on to exclaim, "So a thirty-minute video on child soldiers has gone viral--how popular can this thing be? I am sure it's not teenage girl sings song about day of the week hot." The show cuts to mainstream news media coverage of Kony 2012 focused on its extraordinary reach.

Given this almost overwhelming visibility, the film--and with it Invisible Children as an organization--was the subject of sharp debate. In the following days, IC's financials, their activities in Uganda, and their support of military action to "bring Joseph Kony to justice" were examined, debated, and critiqued ad nauseam in news media, through discussion forums, and on IC's own public Facebook page. The importance of these issues notwithstanding, these debates have by and large failed to recognize why the IC has been so incredibly spreadable (to borrow Henry Jenkins's term). Yes, the film is very well edited, and yes, its message, "make Kony famous," is compelling. But as Henry Jenkins (2012) points out, the success of the Kony 2012 YouTube campaign owes much to the fanlike support IC has built around its films over its past eight years of existence. In asking their supporters to reach out to a range of celebrities and policy makers who have a high level of visibility through social media, the organization also tapped into the desire of fans to see their favorites take a stand on issues that matter to them. With Kony 2012, IC activated this supporter base, which then willingly, strategically, and enthusiastically tweeted, posted, and then reposted the film to set its phenomenal spread in motion. They supported it with such fervor that they surpassed IC's goal of getting 500,000 views by the end of 2012 within a few hours.

IC and its supporters were caught off guard by the barrage of criticism levied at Kony 2012. Some, such as Ethan Zuckerman (2012), have suggested that the rapid spread of the video was a consequence of its simplification of complex political issues, wondering how online networks might be deployed to further complicate and nuance the frames that it proposes. As Civic Paths researcher Lana Swartz (2012) suggests, IC focused more on having their media be spreadable (widely circulated) rather than drillable (open to deeper investigation). For example, before Kony 2012, few IC supporters were encouraged to actively seek out more information about the Lord's Revolutionary Army, the militia that Kony heads. Instead, they were generally content with carefully replicating the accurate but somewhat simplistic narrative they received through IC's media. Fans of many media franchises have sought to drill deeper into their content worlds, trying to encapsulate everything that was known about what happened on the island in Lost or expanding the story line through fan fiction writing projects. In this way, fandom's search for hidden depths in seemingly simple texts offers an alternative model for how a group like IC might achieve the more nuanced framing Zuckerman sought and might give their rank-and-file members greater skills at parsing competing truth claims made about what is happening on the ground in Uganda.

In our call for submissions, we set out to understand how the imaginative practices supported by fandom, at times facilitated by digital media, may inform civic and political mobilization and how we may rethink our understanding of engagement in the civic and political spheres through the lens of fandom. The articles included in this issue not only exceed these objectives, but they also point to the extreme timeliness of this endeavor. From undocumented superheroes to humanitarian assistance in the name of Harry Potter, fandom clearly has a lot to teach us about activism in the age of social media and participatory culture.

5. Acknowledgments

Based at the University of Southern California, the Media Activism and Participatory Politics Project (MAPP) is part of Civic Paths Project. The project gratefully acknowledges support from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Youth and Participatory Politics (YPP) and the Spencer Foundation.

We thank the authors in this issue, whose original work makes TWC possible; the peer reviewers, who freely provide their time and expertise; the editorial team members, whose engagement with and solicitation of material is so valuable; and the production team members, who transform rough manuscripts into publishable documents.

The following people worked on TWC No. 10 in an editorial capacity: Henry Jenkins and Sangita Shresthova (guest editors); Kristina Busse and Karen Hellekson (editors); Anne Kustritz, Patricia Nelson, and Suzanne Scott (Symposium); and Louisa Stein (Review).

The following people worked on TWC No. 10 in a production capacity: Rrain Prior (production editor); Beth Friedman, Shoshanna Green, and Mara Greengrass (copyeditors); Wendy Carr, Kristen Murphy, and sunusn (layout); and Kallista Angeloff, Amanda Georgeanne Michaels, Carmen Montopoli, and Vickie West (proofreaders).

TWC thanks the journal project's Organization for Transformative Works board liaison, Francesca Coppa. OTW provides financial support and server space to TWC but is not involved in any way in the content of the journal, which is editorially independent.

TWC thanks all its board members, whose names appear on TWC's masthead, as well as the additional peer reviewers who provided service for TWC No. 10: Katherine Chen, Bertha Chin, Matthew Costello, Ashley Hinck, Ian Hunter, Alex Jenkins, Jeffrey Jones, Rachael Joo, Deborah Kaplan, Flourish Klink, Michael Koulikov, Bingchun Meng, Christopher Moreman, Nele Noppe, Amy Shuman, Fred Turner, Emily Wills, and Ethan Zuckerman.


1. These quotes are excerpted from interviews carried out by Arely Zimmerman for the Media, Activism, and Participatory Politics Project between December 2010 and July 2011. Institutional review board approval was secured for this research.

Works cited

Andrae, Thomas. 1987. "From Menace to Messiah: The History and Historicity of Superman," in American Media and Mass Culture: Left Perspectives, edited by Donald Lazare. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Appelo, Tom. 2011. "Superman Renounces US Citizenship, as Warners, DC Comics Bids for Global Audiences." Hollywood Reporter, April 28.

Dayan, Daniel. 2005. "Mothers, Midwives and Abortionists: Genealogy, Obstetrics, Audiences and Publics." In Audiences and Publics: When Cultural Engagement Matters for the Public Sphere, edited by Sonia Livingstone, 43-76. London: Intellect.

Earl, Jennifer, and Katrina Kimport. 2009. "Movement Societies and Digital Protest: Fan Activism and Other Nonpolitical Protest Online." Sociological Theory 27:220-43. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9558.2009.01346.x.

Engle, Gary. 1987. "What Makes Superman So Darned American?" In Superman at Fifty: The Persistence of a Legend, edited by Dennis Dooley and Gary Engle. Cleveland, OH: Octavia.

Jenkins, Henry. 2012. "Contextualizing #Kony2012: Invisible Children, Spreadable Media, and Transmedia Activism." Confessions of an Aca-Fan, March 12. http://henryjenkins.org/2012/03/contextualizing_kony2012_invis.html.

Perry, Alexander. 2011. "The Immigrant Superman." Arte Y Vida Chicago, September 1.

Swartz, Lana. 2012. "Invisible Children: Transmedia, Storytelling, Mobilization." Working Paper, March 11.

van Zoonen, Liesbet. 2005. Entertaining the Citizen: When Politics and Popular Culture Converge. Lanham, MA: Rowman & Littlefield.

Well, Dan. 2011. "Candidates' Favorite Super Hero: Superman Chosen by Four," Newsmax, December 29.

Zimmerman, Arely. Forthcoming. DREAM Case Project Report. Media Activism and Participatory Politics Project, University of Southern California, Los Angeles.

Zuckerman, Ethan. 2012. "Unpacking Kony 2012." My Heart's in Accra, March 8.

What We've Learned About Games and Learning: An Interview with Kurt Squire (Part Three)

In the book, you discuss, in relation to Montessori Schools, the concept of "normalization," to explain why some learning environments support students in their natural desires to learn. Yet, implicit in that critique is the recognition that some of this desire to learn has been trained out of the current generation of students through standardized testing and other familiar schooling practices. Given this, what steps would we need to take to create a mind-set among students which would allow them to fully benefit from the kinds of playful, participatory and passion-based modes of learning you describe in the book?

Absolutely. In writing the book, I became captured by how profound this idea is that learning should involve a cycle in which people 1) develop an interest or curiosity, 2) engage in activity to satiate that curiosity (usually developing skills in doing so) and then 3) wrap up and reflect upon that work. For Dr. Montessori, that was the core "game play cycle" of learning, and it works for me. To really embrace this, we'd have to acknowledge that any time you're learning something "for school" or "for a test" it's arguable whether or not you're learning.

As an example, James Wertsch did some excellent studies around the fall of the Soviet Union in which he asked if History had to be believed to be understood. Wertsch was interested in to what extent Estonians "bought" the history of the Soviet Union that they had been taught along side their own family histories. It turns out that Estonians didn't fully resist Soviet sponsored history but didn't entirely buy it either.

And that's a good metaphor for what happens in school. Studies of students' experience in history, chemistry or physics reveals that they can parrot back what they're supposed to know pretty well (more or less), but only when we're truly engaged does it make a change upon us as people. Restated, learners (perhaps adaptively) don't always make themselves available to being changed by formal schooling.

Playful, participatory learning to me does a lot of things. Play, as Eric Zimmerman describes, often times involves an invitation to come and try on a new mode of being. It suggests a mutually agreed upon suspension of disbelief. Participatory culture involves a commitment that if you invest in this activity, you can and should have opportunities to shape its outcomes, including the rules by which it operates.

To make this vision a reality, I think we need to acknowledge that learning requires something like Mimi Ito's cycle of hanging out, messing around and geeking out. We need spaces in which there is low stakes involvement in new ways of being, and then clear trajectories toward becoming fully functioning participants. I don't think it's feasible to reorganize schools tomorrow by this logic by any stretch. However, we can use the edges of the system (summer school, extended school days) to introduce spaces for hanging out and then (ideally) use more formal, organized periods for geeking out.

All of this involves the assumption that learners are autonomous, sense making agents who organically seek out learning experiences, though.

When people talk about bringing games into the classroom, they often act as if there were only one kind of game. Yet, throughout the book, you are attentive to the issue of genre, both in terms of the affordances of different kinds of games for teaching different kinds of content, and in terms of different kinds of gamers having preference for different kinds of game play experiences. How central do you think issue of genre should be to discussions of games-based learning?

One of the first questions I remember asking you, Henry, when I got to MIT was about genres. Educators are not trained to think about genres. Social scientists tend to think about stable lists of features inherent to fixed categories. Genres, in contrast, are historically contextualized and serve as one mechanisms to organize communication across cycles of production and consumption. Without them, we have only horrible art film that no one understands or cares about unless they are paid to do so. Genres also embody crystallized patterns of story, character, interaction and so on that are known to work which provide designers springboards to work from. Hopefully I didn't bastardize your position too much.

Educators designing games need to understand and use genre in very specific ways. Educators struggle with the fact that our audiences have differential experiences with game genres. As an example, I can't assume that every student in a class has played First Person Shooters and intuitively understand the genre's controls or tropes (such as move through spaces to clear it of enemies). If you've never done it, it's fun to sit down with someone new to a genre and watch them puzzle through the most basic of ideas (why can I interact with one object but not another?). Genre knowledge is a bizarre and interesting thing, and it makes you re-realize one more reason people enjoy parody.

As the lead of a design shop, we use genre all the time in very strategic ways. For example, we're currently working on a game about stem cells that we hope will some day teach most every adult the basic concepts of what stem cells are (and are not) and how they might contribute to a science of regenerative medicine. Our designers, Mike Beall and Ted Lauterbach had this brilliant insight that you could build a game around stem cells through "virtual life mechanisms" represented through a Bejeweled type interface (see figure 1).

Building on Bejeweled bought us a lot of things for free. If you see this interface, already you know that you're going to be manipulating symbols that might interact with one another toward building an overarching pattern. This is a form of computer interaction that 10,000,000s of people know about. We can use it to communicate ideas, much as documentarians use the mystery genre to tell stories in history or science.

Other times, we want to be in the business of inventing new genres. Trails Forward is a game that tries to take the rhythm and timing of fantasy sports, as well as sense of playing with reality, and create a new genre of "real life data prognostication" (or something like that). Basically, we're experimenting with the idea that the world is full of data that makes an excellent game board. There should be game experiences we can build by giving people compelling choices on top of these data systems, and then as researchers we should be able to study what they do.

We'll see how it works, but both examples capture the idea that you always design in terms of genre, but sometimes you're trying to reach a goal (reach a lot of users, sell a lot of games) which requires using well understood genre conventions, and other times, you're trying to innovate which means building on genres but also being open to new ideas.

In terms of building teams, I think it's crucial to have people who share a common love for certain genres but who secondarily are well versed across them. Games borrow across genres so rapidly and productively that you can't afford to have a group locked into one.

Your phrase, "replaying history," is interesting because it implies both reimagining the past through "what if" scenarios and it also implies replaying the game, changing variables, and seeing how they impact the outcome. Both seem to have been part of the practice when you brought Civilization 3 into a world history classroom. Both imply an understanding of history as a process, a logic, a system, rather than as a body of content. How does this relate to current understandings of how history should be taught?

Current thoughts on History tend to focus on moving away from names and dates and toward understanding history as cycles of interacting systems. Definitely history as a process (and, geography as well) are key to how people think about it in those domains. My own thinking with Civ is colored by the idea that world history is a unique challenge in that the world across 6000 years not bounded by nation states requires letting go of organizing categories, which isn't easy to do.

One key difference may be that history as a field is very wedded to the concept of narrative. History through games involves narratives but not in the same ways. Some of the most interesting work in history seeks to use tools like AR engines to get kids playing and building historical games.

One common concern about bringing games into the classroom is that they are still heavily gendered outside of school with boys more likely to be heavy gamers. What insights has your research brought us into the different experiences of girls and boys working with games-based learning?

So far, our research has shown that consistent with broader research in education, games themselves aren't as important (as a medium) as the content of the games. Meaning, building a game that involves non-obviously stereotyped genders in which players use science to make a difference in the world tends to increase girls self efficacy. For example, we built a game in which players are doctors analyzing CT scans to help patients. In our studies, girls began with lower self efficacy than boys but after playing the game, passed them along several measures. These results match results others in science education in which teaching science in the service of helping others tends to promotes girls' development. (Oddly, we also found that girls did better with Supercharged).

So far, counterintuitively we're seeing that games tend to work better for girls, compared to boys.

One thing I'm reminded of as we do these studies is that school, as a game, really stinks for girls (especially in middle school). The classes we observed with Supercharged involved girls mostly trying not to stand out during class discussions for fear of being branded a nerd. Games disrupted this to the point where they were able to participate along new lines in which they were much less at risk for being socially ostracized.

As I look at games and education for girls, I'm much less struck by how this medium will systematically exclude girls and much more by how gender in our schools advantages and disadvantages boys and girls in different ways at different periods in time. I'm especially concerned with the plight of low income boys (including whites) who construct identities entirely oppositional to schooling and how games could be a route to re-engage them. Poor boys (including whites) aren't especially beloved in this society, and reports abound at how they are gumming up principal offices and sucking up teacher time through behavioral issues.

Games offer an opportunity to speak to each of these populations and potentially tailor learning experiences to each. We're a long way from getting there, but disruptive technologies like the iPhone, iPad and disruptive forces like iTunes suggest that the predominant order of schooling could change sooner rather than later.

Kurt Squire is an Associate Professor of Digital Media in Curriculum & Instruction at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Interim Director of the Education Research Integration Area at the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery. He is the author of over 75 workson digital media and education and most recently Video Games & Learning: Teaching and Participatory Culture in the Digital Age.

What We've Learned About Games and Learning: An Interview with Kurt Squire (Part Two)

In the design world, "fail and fail often" has become a mantra. What were some of the most instructive failures you experienced working on the first phases of the Games to Teach project and how did they inform later developments in games-based learning?

Oh, there are so many. I have to start with Supercharged, though, which I still get requests for to this day (and the longer it sits, the better it becomes in my memory). We de-emphasized art production and style prioritizing the real-time simulation, for reasons including too few artists at MIT, the fact that scientists didn't really care if it looked good but did care if it was an accurate simulation, and funders' interest in having a fully 3D game. We could -- and probably should -- have prototyped much more in 2D and put the story and fiction through more cycles of refinement.

The biggest failure, though, is that we weren't up front enough about these limitations and failures. The nature of academics (in this area, at this time) required foregrounding successes (which we had). I wish, though, we had been more candid about our failures and implored our colleagues not to make the same mistakes we did.

This is one area I gain inspiration from the game developer's community. It's not uncommon to see a game developer throw down at GDC and challenge designers to stop making the same mistakes. In fact, they create a space for it through sessions such as the game designer's rants. I can easily imagine Harvey Smith or Eric Zimmerman threatening to disown any colleagues who repeated their mistakes. We don't have any space for that.

A few things we did right: Offering a suite of games instead of "one game to rule them all". Mapping out genres and affordances. Using academics as a chance to explore concepts like Augmented Reality. Experimenting with commercial game engines and tools like Neverwinter Nights to understand their potential for education. In retrospect, I wish we would have been even more daring. The work on Environmental Detectives has blossomed to the point where there's now a Spanish class at the University of New Mexico that uses iPods to get kids in their community learning Spanish, and there's a direct line between a conversation between Eric Klopfer, Walter Holland, and Philip Tan at MIT and a classroom full of kids who realize that they can learn Spanish by becoming actively engaged in Spanish speaking neighborhoods, and that's pretty cool.

Throughout the book, you address the constant push for "evidence" that games-based learning works and for measures to assess participatory culture's value in the classroom. What is the current state of our knowledge about the success of such practices? What criteria should we use to evaluate the kinds of projects and programs you are describing?

The current state of the evidence is that we've privileged certain questions (i.e. "Is this working to meet educators' learning goals) over basic questions such as "Is this a good game, when judged by the standards of participatory culture?" We haven't had, that I'm aware of, an educational game that has inspired fan fiction, for example. We need to stop evaluating games primarily by evidence for learning gains along relatively constrained measures and develop more robust measures to understand whether games are inspiring interest in target domains, connecting learners to new social networks, or leading them to produce things.

These critiques aren't wholly new, but I think as educational researchers, we may have copped out on answering these questions. It's easy to blame No Child Left Behind or even Race to the Top, but the real challenge and opportunity is to design a game that might, say, connect youth to more wide reaching social networks and then to empirically demonstrate how a game succeeds in doing so. (Fortunately, the geographically-based nature of school districting and "sequestering" model of educational assessment ensures that schools will look relatively weak as comparisons).

I want to see mechanisms for measuring if playing an educational game inspires youth to create a work of fiction, a film, or build a game. We need to develop longitudinal research programs that analyze youth development over time and begin to model how youth who participate in such a game playing (and production) network differ from those in more traditional environments. This means getting beyond statistical models borrowed from agriculture (which involve simple causality), and looking more broadly toward areas like data mining or machine learning. These kinds of analyses happen now in marketing through sites like Facebook; let's hope it finds its way to education.

Early in the book, you cite Will Wright as saying that anyone who wants to design an educational game should "start with systems." What do you see as the value of games for teaching systems-thinking and why is this approach so central for redesigning American education?

Most games can be productively understood as simulations -- representations that seek to depict systems evolving over time. It's one thing that games (especially Will's) do that other media do less well. Even relatively linear fighting games include fighting "systems" that must be mastered to excel. You might argue that even adventure games -- the most linear of games -- require players to take a step back and to understand the game as a system in order to succeed.

The importance of systems understanding is something near and dear to me personally. My own undergraduate education was in Interdisciplinary Studies, and my course work involved studying natural and social phenomena as systems rather than as discreet disciplines. The world itself does not naturally occur by disciplines, which is something I think we often forget the longer we live with categories such as biology, chemistry and so on. Research on the cutting edge of each of these disciplines crosses over into others as we try to understand phenomena.

The global challenges we face today -- from global warming to poverty to the Middle East -- won't be solved by single solutions. The painfully simple, yet still instructive September 12th game arguing that a war that kills innocent civilians only breeds new terrorists is a good example of something games do more easily than other representational systems.

We have to guard against fetishizing systems thinking, I think, just as we need to guard against computational, design, logical, procedural, metacognitive, or critical thinking, all of which at one point or another were offered as "the new Latin" (or the new Algebra, or more recently Logo). There is no panacea, but there certainly are models of thinking that are of increased importance in today's work. So far, none of these ideas has itself cured the world's problems. We might also go too far in dismissing how Latin / Algebra / Logo may not have solved all of society's ills, but they can be robust ways of thinking (or toolsets) that people employ. I've met many people who trace their love of language to an inspiring Latin teacher or their love of programming to Logo. But I digress.

As you note, many teachers express concern that games are not "perfect simulations," that there are built in biases in the ways they represent the world. How valid is this concern?

I don't see this as a valid concern, any more than the concern that a book would have authorial bias or that a filmmaker would employ a frame. We need more, not less critical understanding of how particular media shape the kinds of messages they tend to produce (to paraphrase McLuhan). I'd rather see a teacher use a horribly biased game and use it as a springboard for conversation than to treat a text as the ultimate authority.

You advocate passion-based learning, such as that which surrounds games, yet, as you note, many educators insist that learning is a discipline and that students should value learning for learning's sake. How can we resolve this disagreement about the role of pleasure and personal interest in schooling?

My wife, Constance Steinkuehler likes to distinguish between "learning for learning's sake" and "learning the things that I want you to learn for learning's sake". Meaning that when pushed, even the most liberal educator who wants to inspire a love of learning may not be entirely comfortable with a student who loves learning about monster trucks or bow hunting. Indeed, it's hard to separate the ideal of learning for the intrinsic value of learning from the content itself.

For example, the scientists I've met working at the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery, for example, tend to describe their work in terms of a passion for understanding the universe, or even unraveling the mystery of how stem cells form IPS cells and then somehow know how to self-organize into tissue and organs. They don't, however, spend a lot of time talking about learning for learning's sake although many (not all) come across as genuinely inquisitive.

So, we have evidence that most people will throw themselves into passion-based learning, whether it's a passion for bow hunting or a passion for writing fan fiction around The Gilmore Girls, which schools usually don't recognize. We have a set of values that are recognized in formal schooling, although it often doesn't match up well with what people in the world care about.

I like the idea of promoting genuine inquisitiveness as a value (or passion) that schools should produce. I can't think of any better way to kill inquisitiveness than No Child Left Behind, which depending on the day, I might chalk up to being an unfortunate consequence of that legislation or a designed attempt to stifle independent thought.

Either way, we need to acknowledge that most people organically develop passions for things. These passions may not be the same that parents, teachers, or society might want them to have. Liberals like me tend to offload this concern toward a general "love of learning" without really considering that there are certain things we "want" them to love or develop passions for. I think we'd be much better off if we did, and asked, "What kind of a curriculum would truly inspire a love for history, biological systems, or an inquisitiveness toward the world?".

To borrow a page from James Paul Gee (and yourself Henry), we do (in America at least, I think) have an uneasy relationship with pleasure, particularly with kids. Perhaps it's our Puritanical roots, but Americans seem peculiarly suspicious of pleasure, which in most cases I've studied, is wrapped up in learning (as is perhaps pain). Pleasure is often something to be denied (especially so for women, who are socialized to care for others before themselves). One of my favorite political thinkers, Al Giordano often challenges his (very liberal) readers to fully embrace pleasure, and you can almost see them wince at this challenge to simply do things that make them happy. Fortunately, Henry, this isn't a quality I associate with you.

Kurt Squire is an Associate Professor of Digital Media in Curriculum & Instruction at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Interim Director of the Education Research Integration Area at the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery. He is the author of over 75 workson digital media and education and most recently Video Games & Learning: Teaching and Participatory Culture in the Digital Age.

What We've Learned About Games and Learning: An Interview with Kurt Squire (Part One)

In his new book, Video Games and Learning: Teaching and Participatory Culture in the Digital Age, which is one part memoir, one part research report, Kurt Squire -- now one of the country's top researchers on games, learning, and society -- tells the story of how we met. Squire, then a young graduate student from Indiana University, working on games-based learning, "crashed" a salon I was hosting at the Game Designer's Conference, and struck up conversations with Will Wright, Brenda Laurel, Randy Heinrichs, and Warren Spector. Over the course of one heady evening, he demonstrated to all of us that he was someone who was on the cutting edge of thinking about the challenges and opportunities of bringing games into the classroom. We met at the right moment, because back at MIT, we were launching Games to Teach, a Microsoft-funded initiative to explore what kinds of games for what kinds of subjects might have an impact on American education. Half way through the night, I went up to Alex Chisholm, the red-haired wonder who was my primary advisor in those days, to ask "Who is that guy?" and by the end of the night, Alex came to me to suggest we seriously hire him to be the research director for our serious games initiative. To this day, I think we all hold up that night as an illustration of the importance of seizing every opportunity that presents itself and being ready when there's an opening in the conversation to share what you know.

In this book, Squire recounts his own remarkable history at the intersection of games and learning, going back to when being an expert player of Pirates! bailed him out of a tough spot in a history class, through the work he did at MIT as the driving force behind Games to Teach, through his projects at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he helped to establish the Games, Learning, and Society conference, now the keystone event in the movement to explore the many different models for how what we learn through games might be brought into formal education.

The Games to Teach Project started with the idea of developing conceptual prototypes for a wide range of different kinds of games which might be pedagogically valuable, exploring different disciplines, different game genres, different contexts where gaming could be deployed. We wanted to jump start the conversation. At the time, the models for learning games seem impoverished, and we thought if we could create vivid "thought experiments" that might inspired people to start building actual learning games. As it happened, when we were done mocking up screen shots and developing design documents for these imaginary games, they were so vivid that people found the documentation on line and tried to order the games for their classes. Moreover, the game designs were so forward thinking that we still get such requests, although fewer of them, down to the present day.

The thinking became so vivid for all of us that Microsoft was soon pushing us to build actual games -- not part of the original grants as written - and giddy with excitement, we tried to build some stuff despite not really having at the time the full technical capacity to create what we envisioned. As a result, we built two (barely) playable games -- Supercharged!, which was focused on electromagnetism, and Revolution, which was focused on Colonial Williamsburg.

The efforts at MIT evolved into the Education Arcade, which has now succeeded in completing games like Labrynth which is very much out in the world, under the direction of Eric Klopfer and Scot Osterweill. And Alex Chisholm is one of the leaders of the Learning Games Network, a non-profit organization that aims to support innovation in the design and use of games for learning. Another book about a subsequent Education Arcade venture, iQue, will be appearing later this year.

Squire's book, Video Games and Learning, is incredibly engaging and enlightening -- both in terms of its account of how games-based learning took shape as a paradigm in American education (the guy has a knack for being at the right spot at the right time and pushing things forward) and about why and how games might inform a shift in how we think about the learning process. If you've been wondering what all the fuss about games is about, the book is for you, but I have to say, as someone who has been invested in this space for more than a decade, there was much that I also learned by reading through this book (even about our own projects!)

In the following interview, which I plan to run over three installments, Squire explores what we have learned across the past decade plus of research, what the current state of the field is, and where the next phases of development may lie. As always, Squire is bold, original, provocative, but also deeply grounded in both gaming culture and educational research.

Throughout the book, you draw on your own experiences as a gamer, designer, and teacher to help construct your arguments. In what ways has your approach been informed by being part of the first generation to grow up playing Super Mario Brothers? Will the views of teachers and parents towards games shift as more and more of them also played games in their youth (if not now)?

Thanks again for inviting me to do the interview, Henry. That intermingling of gamer/ designer/ teacher was indeed deliberate, somewhat stolen from you.

It remains to be seen how the Nintendo generation ultimately will react, but my suspicion is that the overall constraints of schooling select out people interested in promoting participatory learning from the teaching profession, with the exception of select mavericks. The evidence so far (consistent with other research on teacher practices) suggests that many teachers initially teach the ways that they themselves were taught. The surveys we've done reveal that it's a unique breed who enters the teaching profession straight out of school. If you like computers, mobile devices, or social networking, it's often times the last place you go. Those who enter and stick with the profession often times align with the values of schooling as it exists.

There are these windows of time for those who make it past that 3-5 year window where we find teachers who are incredibly creative and do wonderful things with games that surpass anything I'd ever do. We worked with Tina Kurz and teachers in Oconomowoc Wisconsin who, for example, took our stock "game curriculum" and built an entire course around kids building games for mobile devices based on their local community. Jeremiah McCall has a wonderful book, Gaming the Past that is the clearest discussion of how to teach with games that I've seen. A team of teachers and principals here in Madison recently took a games course and redesigned their school to be all about place-based inquiry -- not turning it into a school about games -- but rather remaking their school to be both responsive to local needs and the broader reality of participatory digital culture.

One interesting historical footnote (I think) is that many of us exploring games and learning actually were raised with Atari, and then after the crash in the 1980s, moved to the Commodore, Apple, or other computers, when there were no more games available. Computer gaming post Atari (which Steven Kent covered nicely in The First Quarter, featured an organic oscillation between game play and game creation as we bought books teaching us to program games in BASIC and then modified them to do more interesting things. Alex Games and I wrote about this in "History of Computer Games in Education" and tried to capture how during that brief window, games for learning existed and thrived, but more importantly, digital gaming had this real sense of tinkering associated with it. I think a lot of people who have used games for learning actually came from that era, and it provides a good template for both thinking about consumption and production as well as authentic participation.

The logic of the book follows the shift in the field of games-based learning from designing games for use in school (or bringing existing games into the classroom, as you have done with the Civilization series) to developing games-based literacies which encourage kids to think of themselves as designers. What do you see as the advantages and disadvantages of each approach? Can you explain some of the factors which led to this shift in emphasis?

One advantage to teaching with games that already exist is that creating a fun, engaging game is no easy task, and when you work with an existing game, you (should) have something that is capable of developing and sustaining interest. Many good teachers actually use this as their starting spot: Give me a good engaging game that is about the content and I'll create the contexts to help kids go beyond the game.

The down side is that few games are connected well to particular theories of learning or pedagogical goals in a domain, so it's actually a lot of work for teachers. Something Jeremiah McCall does, which I like, is to treat games as interpretations that students are challenged to critique. This move immediately positions students as critical consumers of information and opens the door to design, which is just brilliant. Many of us hope, though, that some day a suite of games will capture the intrinsically interesting aspects of academically valued domains and / or require thinking in those domains to play them well right out of the box, which requires a mature field of educational games.

One of the interesting historical tensions, I think, is that in the learning sciences, there's an inclination to design learning interventions based on theory as a way to test that theory (see Ann Brown's excellent work on design research), but relatively little explicit value for elegant design. No one design necessarily flows logically from theory, and good designs often have connections to multiple theories. I think James Paul Gee's work does a nice job of demonstrating how good commercial games can be understood through a variety of lenses (to pick up on Jesse Schell's metaphor of lenses). Most games even use Skinnerian reinforcement schedules in the service of more intrinsically driven learning, which suggests how what works in the wild may actually be captured by quite a few theories of learning.

Through our work on the Games to Teach project, we were among the first to map what games-based learning could look like. What do you see as the biggest changes in the space of games and education over the past decade plus since we did our initial prototypes? Why do you think we still have so few functional models of what games that teach look like, despite the enormous interest which has been focused around this topic at both games and learning science conferences?

Now we have multiple groups that take for granted that we should design educational games in direct conversation with entertainment games. Many educational games employ entertainment games tools, build on entertainment game design processes, and seek to map game mechanics on to ways of thinking. Although none of them have been a runaway hit, we can point to games like Resilient Planet, Labyrinth, Game Star Mechanic, Kodu, iCivics, Dimenxian Algebra, Surge, and Cosmos Chaos (to name a few) are all legitimate learning games and operating in this space. We're way beyond Reader Rabbit.

We also understand games as media much better now. In 2002, Salen & Zimmerman's Rules of Play was just coming out, as was Gee's influential book. More recently, papers like the Mechanics, Dynamics, Aesthetics framework or books like Jesse Schell's Game Lenses and Traci Fullerton's Game Design Workshop have advanced how with analyze and build games. We now have designers in the field who read these works as high school students and undergrads.

The big challenge though is that we still underestimate design and aesthetics. Too few educational designers do what The Education Arcade did and brought someone like Scot Osterweil into a design team so that you have talented game designers, educators, and pedagogical experts working side by side. Many funders would considering it "wasting money" to invest in such talent. On a basic level, University HR, which has to approve such hires, often times will reject such a hire because it doesn't fit their models of academic staff. Further, the funding mechanisms for games research systematically devalues design expertise, treating design as an afterthought, existing only to serve the research.

We also don't invest in groups enough over time, instead treating projects as one offs. We need groups (and communities) to work collaboratively over time to build on ideas, test them, iterate and improve upon them and then release them to the public. As an example, there is a constellation of ideas around role playing to learn science where you can trace a real intellectual lineage connecting Chris Dede's River City, Sasha Barab's Quest Atlantis, Eric Klopfer's role playing games, Filament Games' Resilient Planet, and then our game Citizen Science, which is a collaboration with Filament. (Note that those project each involve dozens of people and are far from solo efforts). There's a model of civic engagement through multiplayer role playing games just waiting to be scooped up by industry, once the market is there.

Educators / Academics also don't understand the importance of what many in the industry call polish. What constitutes "good enough" for most educators wouldn't cut mustard in the competitive marketplace of entertainment games. Grant funding and the academic research enterprise systematically pushes against creating anything with polish (grants notoriously promise too much and are given too little, and then are asked to skimp on design and not cut corners on research).

I think that educators also systematically undervalue art and aesthetics. Educators (especially academics) most often thrive in text-driven cultures and rarely equipped to understand -- let alone build -- visual and interactive media. The approach I'm pursuing now is to really invest heavily in Art Production and Aesthetics, taking these ideas very seriously and seeing if we can't brand our lab for creating games that don't skimp on either of these areas. Whether it pays off remains to be seen.

Kurt Squire is an Associate Professor of Digital Media in Curriculum & Instruction at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Interim Director of the Education Research Integration Area at the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery. He is the author of over 75 workson digital media and education and most recently Video Games & Learning: Teaching and Participatory Culture in the Digital Age.

How to Earn Your Skeptic "Badge"

Learning today happens everywhere But it's often difficult to get recognition for skills and achievements gained outside of school. Mozilla's Open Badges project is working to solve that problem, making it easy to issue, earn and display badges across the web. The result: recognizing 21st century skills, unlocking career and educational opportunities, and helping learners everywhere level up in their life and work.

Get recognition for new skills and achievements

The web and other new learning spaces provide exciting ways to gain skills and experience -- from online courses, learning networks and mentorship to peer learning, volunteering and after-school programs. Badges provide a way for learners to get recognition for these skills, and display them to potential employers, schools, colleagues and their community.

Through a simple framework that's open to all

Using Mozilla's Open Badges infrastructure, any organization or community can issue badges backed by their own seal of approval. Learners can then collect badges from different sources and display them across the web -- on their resume, web site, social networking profiles, job sites or just about anywhere. Unlocking new career and learning opportunities. 
By displaying skills and achievements that traditional degrees and transcripts often leave out, badges can lead to jobs, community recognition, and new learning opportunities. -- from Mozilla Open Badges Wiki

Let me make a few things clear from the start: First, I was an Eagle Scout. Technically, I am an Eagle Scout since what you learn in scouting is something you carry with you for the rest of your life. I not only made Eagle but I had multiple additional palms, which means that I earned a hell (pardon my un-Scout-like language) of a lot of merit badges through the years.

I certainly valued the learning which went into each of those badges, but I also took pride and joy in that full sash of merit badges, in and of themselves, and I was motivated to see how high a rank I could earn before I aged out of the organization.

Scouting does several things right where badges were concerned: there are some badges which every Scout is expected to earn if they want to move up rank but there are also a vast array of different badges which a scout chooses from as they map their own route through scouting. The badges I remember most vividly were those having to do with journalism, communications, drama, and photography, all aspects of the person whom I would become when I grew up. The skills which the badges represented were in most cases skills which we actively deployed in our life in Scouts, so they were not simply things which I learned to earn a badge. Well, there were a few of those -- in my troop, Basket Weaving was the joke badge we all earned at summer camp because the requirements were simple and pretty lame and it was funny to have the badge on your sash. We can say that Scouting thus combines intrinsic and extrinsic motivations to create a system within which the badges are meaningful to those who opt to participate.

That said, even as a lad, I knew that Scouting and its badges were not for everyone. Many of my friends, especially during the late Vietnam War era, did not like the idea of wearing a uniform of any kind, they did not really understand the appeal of badges, they did not want adults telling them what to do. (Today, I might add my own increased questioning of the values of the organization, which has today embraced overt homophobia in its dealing with queer scouts and scoutmasters.)

For the most part, the current drive for badges in education is being pushed by people like me -- people who were proud to wear merit badges, get good grades, or otherwise, display their achievements. The problem is that badges are being designed for people who may or may not share those values and assumptions.

Second, I believe fully and totally in the value of informal learning, seeing much that youth learn outside of school as more essential to who they are and who they become than the more narrowly restricted curriculum imposed by the national standards. I was always someone who learned more outside the classroom than inside, even if I played the game of school well enough to progress to a high place in the system. Scouting was part of that and so I was glad it had such a flexible framework. But, many of the things I did outside school -- like watch and develop a knowledge of 1930s monster movies, which, ultimately, led me to get graduate degrees in cinema studies -- were not something anyone every gave me a badge for. I see the importance of recognizing, respecting, supporting, and deploying the expertise developed through informal learning and fear that when schools seek to close it out of their formal practices, they also shut what is learned in school for what kids do with the rest of their waking hours.

I fully support the ideas about "connected learning" which were announced by the MacArthur Foundation at the recent Digital Media and Learning Conference. Something very important occurs when we develop a more integrated learning ecology and when kids know how to map what they learn outside of school into categories that they can meaningfully deploy inside the system. That's part of the power of Scouting -- to convert the activities into badges into ranks which can be read and appreciated as accomplishments by adult authorities, including those who decide whether we get jobs or can move through the system of higher education.

That said, I remain deeply skeptical of the massive push going on right now to promote the use of badges across a broad array of different informal learning contexts. I am writing this as I wait in the airport on my return from the DML conference, and what I heard there was a push for badges as if they were a one-size-fits-all-solution to a range of ills in the current educational system (at least from the podium) and then a lot of people on the fringes of the party asking each other whether we really believe that badges are uniformly the way to go. Many of us fear that MacArthur, Mozilla and other foundations have jumped too quickly on the badges bandwagon. I was happy to support badges as one interesting model for thinking about how to insure greater respect for the value of informal learning; I am less prepared to accept the premise that badges might someday be the universal currency by which young people get credit for (or in some models get motivated to participate in) a range of informal learning activities.

As someone who helped to build up the current field of Digital Media and Learning, I am concerned that, if badges start to feel too much like a "party line," many are going to feel excluded from the field. This has the potential to be the first major divide in a field which many of us see as our intellectual and spiritual home. We remain silent because we do not want to disrupt the party and because we respect the leadership of the DML initiative so much, but there is much that is at risk in that silence.

So, let me spell out some of the reasons why I want to see us go slower and think through the advantages and disadvantages of badges:

1. Many young people have deep ambivalences about the kinds of "credit" adults choose to give (or withhold) around their activities. There are plenty of smart kids who don't say things in class, may not do as well as they can on assignments, and certainly would not join an organization like scouting because these kinds of achievements are not "cool" within their peer cultures. Many of these kids are learning now outside of school through participating in activities that are intellectually demanding and socially rewarding without bearing the imprint of adult approval. Some of these activities even have an air about them of transgression or subversion which make them safe for their participation. So, what happens when the scoutmasters move into these spaces and start giving out merit badges, gold stars, cookies, whatever they do, to single out those kids they think are doing what the system wants them to do. Do we not run the risk of chasing away the kids who need these kinds of informal learning the most? Admittedly, there is a value in helping these youth find ways to value what they are doing as intellectual pursuits and there is a value in seeking to validate these experiences and help them learn how to mobilize that knowledge as they learn to work through the formal structures that exert power over their lives. Much of that value may come in helping them articulate for themselves what they are getting out of these kinds of experiences. But, making the badges too central to the process may alienate them before they have a chance to exert ownership over the knowledge they are acquiring. (This problem only grows when we seek to move the system of badges from its original American context into a global phenomenon, since badges will mean very different things across a range of different cultural contexts.)

2. Badges run the risk of becoming "gamification" by another name -- that is, a system which does not trust the power of intrinsic motivation and feels the need to add a layer of extrinsic motivation. Again, scouting, I would argue, succeeds in doing both. James Gee argues that games-based communities do also. But, some forms of gamification rely so heavily on points schemes that there is far less effort to make the activities meaningful in and of themselves, and it can be easy to replace learning with "playing the game." American education is already gamified: for too many students, even good students, it is already about collecting badges and they calculate carefully what they need to do to make the 'A'. I worry that badges can become just another points system and as a consequence, undercuts the motivational structures which have historically led young people to engage in these kind of practices. Otherwise, do we run the risk of turning game modding or fan subbing into the contemporary equivalent of my Basketweaving merit badge -- something kids do because it is an easy way to get recognition or because they think it is a joke. And, as they do so, what happens to those kids who value these activities on their own terms.

3. What's working about the kinds of informal learning which takes place in participatory culture is that it is emergent and ad hoc: activities spring up, last as long as they interest participants, disappear again; young people feel empowered to create their own activities and set their own goals within these organizations; young people can feel like the experts in a subject matter which has not yet been fully integrated into the systems of formal learning. Not every child participates in such activities, and our goal should be to expand the range of options available and to provide stronger motivations and scaffording for their participation. But, informal learning works because it is informal. Yet, any coherent system of badges requires systems and structure; there have to be requirements which help to standardize forms of participation and which rank some kinds of contributions as more valuable or at least more central to the group than others. In that sense, too quick a move towards badges runs the risk of destroying the complex but fragile ecosystem within which participatory learning thrives. Our philosophy should be above all do no harm. There is a high potential of harm in a badging system which is badly applied.

4. Another thing that's working about these informal learning communities is that they are relatively nonhierarchical. They are often spaces where youth and adults interact without fixed relations of power and authority -- the adults are not parents and not teachers, they are people who share interests with the younger participants, and the mentorship that emerges is organic to the activities in which they are engaged. In some cases, the adults even learn from youth who have developed greater expertise or have more experience. This fluidity of relations across generations is threatened by a system where some people (you can call them Den Mothers or Scout Masters, Teachers or Principals, you can even call them Fearless Leader and Grand Poohbah) are giving badges to others (who are now seen as their subordinates). These roles will not necessarily break down along conventional adult-child lines, but there's a high likelihood of those roles reasserting themselves into the process, especially if the granting of badges becomes more bureaucratic or requires communications with more formal institutions and organizations.

5. Badges may work well in some circumstances or for some participants. They should certainly be explored as one way of validating and supporting informal learning. But, the rush to badges means that we have not spent as much time in the past few years as we should be trying to understand what other mechanisms for promoting participatory learning might be. It means that we are overlooking or over-riding systems of support which already exist in many of these sites of informal learning. So, even if we think badges are a potentially good idea in some contexts (and, again, my first response to this badges talk was generally supportive), we may not think it is the best or only possible solution in every situation.

6, No system of badges is going to be adopted uniformly. Mozilla's description of where learning takes place encompasses mostly forms of learning which schools and employers are likely to already recognize as valuable -- "from online courses, learning networks and mentorship to peer learning, volunteering and after-school programs." Yet, much of the early work in DML focused on informal learning sites which many adults did not yet fully appreciate -- from gaming communities to fandom. If we move to see badges as a common currency of achievement in informal learning, then what happens to those activities which chose, on principle, not to give badges or which lack the formal infrastructure to even decide who should be issuing badges. Do these activities, in fact, become even more marginalized, because they are now neither part of the formal system of schooling or part of the informal system of badging. This is another way that badges potentially disrupts what's working about participatory culture.

I guess what I am saying is:

  • Experiment with badges but really experiment -- that is, try to figure out if these mechanisms really do what you hope they will do and be particularly attentive to the ways that they have unintentional consequences and damage the very activities you are seeking to recognize.
  • Also seed other kinds of research and experimentation which looks more closely at other mechanisms for promoting and appraising participation, including those which may already be in place within such communities of practice.
  • Be aware that the process of badging is going to make things more comfortable to those who are comfortable with getting recognition from adults and may make things less comfortable for those who have not yet fully bought into the values of the current educational system.
  • And above all, if you are embracing badges, make sure you are doing so because you agree with the core premises, because it's the right thing to do for your group, and not because someone is offering a bucket of money to those who are willing to "give it a try."