Happy Holidays!

Hello everyone!

Digital Natives will be taking a blogging break for the holidays. We’ll be back with more exciting posts beginning January 5th, 2009.

From all of us at the Digital Natives Project: Happy Holidays!! :)

Digital Learning: Sharing is Caring?

I recently found out about the snazzily named RipMixLearners, a student-run Open Courseware Project out of the University of the Western Cape in South Africa. Unlike MIT’s OCW, the project is run from ground-up, with the initiative coming from the students rather than the institution. It’s really quite amazing what the students have been able to do and the impact that they’ve had. Aqeelah, one of the contributors to the site, gave some examples on the Sharing Nicely blog:

Students from Zimbabwe had been asking her for materials on Natural Medicine, and complained that they couldn’t find anything online. She pointed them to the resources that her fellow students had compiled, and which she had been using for a few weeks…
When the lecturer spilt coffee over his computer and lost all of his data, the students provide him with a backup of his lecture notes, which they had stored online. I can just imagine how the students loved it.
Finally, the site became so popular with other students in the class, that they started demanding immediate upload of the notes. Complaints rolled in if the materials had not been uploaded within hours after the lecture.

It’s very interesting to hear about these projects around the world Because there is more institutional and infrastructural support for this kind of project in the United States (whether open or not, lecture videos and notes are usually made available online at most universities), student initiatives have been more focused on sharing student work – notes, solutions, and even old exams. There’s a preponderance of online note-sharing sites: Course Hero, Knetwit, PostYourTest, Koofers to just name a few. This kind of sharing isn’t really what different than borrowing a friend’s notes or the passing along old exams, but the Internet allows it to exist on a much larger scale.

If that description causes a moment of pause, it’s because there are two issues are play: copyright violation and academic integrity. (Full disclosure: I blogged about a couple of my classes on a website called FinalsClub.org, which is currently undergoing changes to become more of a collaborative note-taking site.) A Harvard Crimson article on FinalsClub.org cites both Harvard’s general counsel’s copyright argument, “Under the federal Copyright Act of 1976, a lecture is automatically copyrighted as long as the professor prepared some tangible expression of the content—notes, an outline, a script, a video or audio recording.” and issues of academic integrity from the Student Handbook, “Students who sell lecture or reading notes, papers, translations, or who are employed by a tutoring school or term paper company, are [liable for disciplinary action] and may be required to withdraw.” What’s potentially problematic about Course Hero, Knetwit, and PostYourTest are that they incentivize the upload of material through some sort of point system, sometimes redeemable for cash and sometimes for more access to the website’s resources.

Sharing knowledge, the warm, fuzzy ideal that underlies the open course ware, is easy to support but there are thornier issues when sharing solution keys and old exams. The intellectual property argument certainly doesn’t support this sharing and could there also be a detriment to learning as a whole?
I wonder if the availability of solution keys feed a kind of “get the answers and the answers only” kind of mentality – an unhealthy focus on the solution rather than the process. As a science major, most of my homework is weekly problem sets, which always include a few long and involved problems in the mix. The thing with these hard problems is that there are a finite number of them because as hard as they are to solve, they are also hard to write. Canny students can usually find the solutions online, whether in freely available old exams/problem set solutions or more involved digging through archived course sites and the world wide web.

Say I find the instructor’s solution manual to my math textbook online – is it okay for me to use it? To copy my homework? To check my homework? If it’s freely available online, am I really taking advantage of an unfair edge? But there’s also, arguably, the karmic payback, when it comes to an exam and one hasn’t really learned the material.

The explosion of sharing that comes with the Internet creates new tools for Digital Natives. How these tools will be utilized and how they will change the education landscape remains to be seen.

Digital natives: digital renegades or digital captives?

[Cross-posted on Corinna di Gennaro's blog and Internet and Democracy blog]

A few days ago in the IHT Evgeny Morozov, a Fellow at the Open Society Institute in New York, has published an interesting op-ed entitled: “Digital renegades, or captives?” where he analyzes the role of the Internet in promoting civic engagement in authoritarian regimes. Evgeny asks: “What if the original premise was wrong and the Internet is not a great force for democratic change but rather the clay that keeps authoritarian regimes together?” Evgeny alerts us to the dangers of seeing the Internet as a magic wand, which will necessarily promote democratic change and warns us about the importance of context (America vs. non-Western European countries) when analyzing the role of the Internet in aiding political change and political participation.

Evgeny goes on to argue (and I quote his words, again): “We have to be aware of the fact that the Internet has given the youth living in controlled societies infinite venues for digital entertainment – without any religious or social censorship – that may not necessarily be enhancing their digital sense of citizenship and civic engagement. Risking the comfort of their bedrooms – with their hard-drives full of digital goodies – for the gloom of a prison cell does not appeal to many of them. The governments are all too happy to promote this new cult of ‘cyber-hedonism’.”

In other words, the Internet is just a tool – we must avoid technologically deterministic arguments which stress the effects of technology by taking it out of context, and by devoiding it of social agency. Evgeny suggests two ideal types (a la Weber): ‘digital renegades’ vs. ‘captives’ which I think are much more than just another trendy name, but they are two categories which may well turn out to be a really useful analytical tool in studying young people’s civic engagement.

“Unfriending”: Stealth Tactics and Sensible Responses

Unfriending may not be the most dramatic of online offenses. But it is among the most hurtful—in large part because it’s so stealthy.

Let’s say you’ve been dating a guy for a few months. After a messy breakup, you both change your relationship status to “Single” on Facebook, which shows up in all of your friends’ News Feeds. That’s bad enough. But a few weeks later, you go to look at the ex’s profile, just to see what he’s been up to…and notice that you’re locked out! The two of you belong to different networks (meaning the default is that you can’t see each other’s information), and so the truth comes out: you’ve been unfriended. The breakup was a big deal, but being unfriended stings in a totally new way. It feels like you’ve been cut out of someone’s life completely. Not only does he not want to date you: he doesn’t even want to be friends with you.

What’s wrong with this picture? Let’s look at this from the other person’s perspective for a moment. It’s possible that he really doesn’t want to be “friends” anymore…though communicating that through the interface of Facebook seems aggressively passive-aggressive. Far more likely: he’s just trying to take his mind off the drama for a little while.

The issue with online social networks is that they conflate “I like you as a person” with “I want to read constant updates about your life.” Sometimes—as in the case of a recent breakup—you don’t want to cut someone out of your life forever; it just hurts to read a play-by-play version of that someone’s life. Especially when you’re on the outs with someone, the intrusion of their updates into an otherwise innocuous News Feed can feel like a slap in the face.

A lot of people respond to that slap by “unfriending” the problematic person in question. This definitely excises the person from your News Feed. And if you pay any attention at all to your News Feed, this can feel like a good way to get your mind off the social drama; your stream of consciousness isn’t constantly being interrupted by reminders of the person you’re trying not to think about.

The problem, of course, is that when you unfriend someone, you show your hand. Facebook might not notify those whom you unfriend, but they’re quite likely to discover the unfriending eventually. Everything in the interface of Facebook, especially, implicitly reveals the presence or absence of an official connection—right down to the encouraging “add to friend” text under a person’s picture in their profile.

Removing a friendship on Facebook is often just a way to remove someone’s updates from your News Feed—it’s not always as dramatic as “I never want to speak to this person, ever again.” And, since people use their News Feeds in so many different ways, it’s almost impossible to figure out why someone removed you as a friend without just asking the other person.

So, should you ask? It depends. If the worry is consuming you, then just asking might be the best response. But a better first response might just be to interpret positively, and give the other person the benefit of the doubt. Real-world confrontations about Facebook friendships can start to feel deeply recursive: if you’re talking, then isn’t there something there? Friendships, relationships, and acquaintanceships are complicated: the single binary of “friend/unfriend” can’t possibly capture all the nuances. If you choose to interpret someone else’s action in the least offensive way possible, you’re not only likely to feel better; you’re also pretty likely to get close to the truth.

And if you’re on the other side? As it turns out, “unfriending” isn’t the only course of action you can take if you want to remove someone’s updates from your News Feed. If you scroll down to the very bottom of the feed, you can click on a small link that reads “Options for News Feed.” This link will take you to a page with the “Less About These Friends” dialog:

If you’re on the outs with someone, it’s easy to add them to the list for a while, and then take them off of it later—all without the public drama of “unfriending.”

Being “unfriended” can be very bewildering. Fortunately, it’s just that—a made-up word, couched in quotation marks. Understanding the way Facebook works can help illuminate the weird phenomenon of unfriendship, and with any luck, offer strategies for dealing with the complications of real-world friendships transposed into online streams of consciousness.

Digital Natives as Political Renegades or Captives?

“Are they the “digital renegades,” ready to leverage the power of social networking and text messaging to topple their undemocratic governments? Or are they “digital captives,” whose political and social dissent has been significantly neutered by the Internet, turning them into happy consumers of Hollywood’s digital marginalia?”

Evgeny Morozov has a thought-provoking editorial in yesterday’s International Herald Tribune entitled, “Digital renegades, or captives?” While we have been celebrating Obama’s victory as a symbol of Digital Natives’ influence on American politics, Morozov urges us to look beyond our borders to examine the Internet’s role in politics outside of Western democracies. The picture he paints is not so optimistic.

We have to be aware of the fact that the Internet has given the youth living in controlled societies infinite venues for digital entertainment – without any religious or social censorship – that may not necessarily be enhancing their digital sense of citizenship and civic engagement. Risking the comfort of their bedrooms – with their hard-drives full of digital goodies – for the gloom of a prison cell does not appeal to many of them. The governments are all too happy to promote this new cult of “cyber-hedonism.” Whatever keeps these troubled youths from the streets is inherently a good thing. Digital captives are, after all, cheaper to sustain than the real ones.

What Morozov argues – that the Internet provides infinite venues of entertainment – is essentially true for American teens as well. The Internet is primarily a social and entertainment space, and civic engagement is only a very small niche that exists within that. So why should it be more troublesome under authoritative regimes? The difference is in the stakes – political protest in an undemocratic country can result in jail time or worse. But this is true regardless of whether teens are going online or not, so how does the other side of the equation – this opening up of the entertainment world – change the balance?

There’s an interesting line of argument here that authoritative governments are encouraging this consumption of digital entertainment. These same regimes are also likely to be blocking websites and censoring their own entertainment industries, but for the web-savvy, the Internet is a space for taboos to be broken and censorship to be circumvented. Morozov cites a 2007 survey where 32 percent of Chinese youth said that the Internet broadens their sex life (compared to only 11 percent of Americans). Isn’t this consumption of Western media already a form of protest – if not expressly political? Or is this consumption of illicit content just rebellious enough to satisfy youth without bringing about real change? It seems like government using this method to keep their Digital Natives “captive” have to walk a fine line on censorship.

Morozoc concludes with some thoughts on what could motivate Digital Natives into political action:

In the absence of the local Obama in Russia, China or Iran, young people would continue worshiping Jerry Seinfeld and Paris Hilton (or their local alternatives), leaving the local democratic forces to themselves.

Implicit in his argument is the fact that we, America, needed our Obama too. Political change doesn’t come about in a vacuum. A year ago, there was still rampant skepticism about the Obama’s campaign and whether the mobilization of Internet-savvy youth can be effectively translated into votes. Books such as The Dumbest Generation argued that this generation was increasingly narcissistic and self-centered. In the afterglow of Obama’s victory, it’s easy to celebrate the power of the Internet, but it wasn’t always so clear.

Of course it’s naive to map the trajectory of American politics onto the world, but Digital Natives will surely have a role to play in world politics. It seems unfair to claim that these youth living under authoritative governments are any more easily distracted by Hollywood than American teens. The Internet alone of course cannot be a driving force of political change, but it is a platform that can be utilized for political protest.

Morozov does acknowledge the success of Facebook and other social networking sites in organizing protests in Ukraine and Saudi Arabia. Just last week, anti-government protests in Croatia emerged from a couple Facebook groups against Prime Minister Ivo Sanader on Facebook: “I bet I can find 5,000 people that hate the Prime Minister” and “Tighten your own belt, you gang of knaves.” Niksa Klecak, the creator of the first group, was actually taken captive for real The protest (photos here) drew roughly 3500 people last Friday. Certainly these protesters were not too busy distracted by Hollywood to protest.

I have one last idea to ponder that emerges from Morozov’s question, “Is the Tiananmen Square even possible in the age of Twitter, YouTube, and MySpace?” I don’t think this is the original intent of the question, but it got me wondering how widely distributed photos and videos of protesters online make it easy for governments identify and possibly prosecute protesters. Should protesters worry about this before leaving their homes? The identity of the man standing defiant in front on the tanks at Tiananmen Square is a still a mystery, but if the same thing happened today, wouldn’t someone snapped another photo of him on a camera phone?
-Sarah Zhang

What does it mean to be a student in the Digital Era?

Today I would like to play the devil’s advocate for a bit. Two weeks ago I saw two vídeos that I found to be disconcerting. The vídeos discussed learning today, and raised several issues regarding DNs and how they relate to technology.

The first vídeo is introduced by the following quotation:

“Today’s child is bewildered when he enters the 19th century environment that still characterizes the educational establishment, where information is scarce but ordered and structured by fragmented classified patterns subjects, and schedules.”

As the vídeo goes on, many ideas are introduced. Among them is that computing can be incredibly controversial and ubiquitous: on the one hand, we have the possibilities of the Internet and technology in Education, and on the flip side, we have DNs suffering to keep up with their studies, having to be multi-taskers, using their free time to read thusands of webpages, write e-mails, and surf social networks such as Facebook. The vídeo seems to endorse the idea that although the 19th century saw scarcity of information as a problem, maybe having too much information did not solve the problems per say, but just changed how these issues are perceived and dealt with.

The second vídeo is more education driven. Although it also refers to how DNs have to think today, in learning environments where students are bombarded with information that their professors might not even be aware of. This vídeo reveals the extent to which technology can become a negative force, how it creates new challenges in the way we think, and finally, it portrays how unprepared most of us are to deal with such situations.

In addition to this, we must also take into consideration those who have no access to such technology. As we think of solutions to better engage learners who are imersed in ubiquitous computing, we leave victims of the digital divide aside, increasing the distance between those who have access and those you do not.

What has changed for students since the 19th century? Anbd to what extent are these changes positive? Up to what point do students benefit from the use of technology in their lives, before it becomes a hindrance to learning, rather than an aid?

- andré valle

Guest Post: A Call to Action That Was Answered

Continuing last week’s theme of digital activism, we’re starting this week off with a guest post from Rob Longert of Peppercom on the success of Blog Action Day and the future of digital publishing platforms. –Diana Kimball, DN intern

On October 15, 2008, 12,800 bloggers came together for Blog Action Day and helped spread the word about the issue of global poverty. From a social media measurement perspective, the day was a success, with blogs ranging from personal journals to big-name news sites such as The Huffington Post, TechCrunch and other members of the Technorati’s top 100 blogs posting on the subject. According to the Blog Action Day website, the message reached 13,498,280 “readers” on the internet.

Over at PepperDigital, we decided to post for Blog Action Day because it was for a good cause which allowed us to be part of a community working toward a common goal. I shared my view on creating an online homeless database in the United States, while other blogs made additional suggestions and observations such as Teen Ink Magazine’s post about Poverty Awareness Week and children who live in poverty around the world. Blog Action Day gave all its participants a chance to voice their views on global poverty, pose solutions, and push out a common message.

Blog Action Day put the power of mass communication in the hands of the blogosphere, harnessing the power of digital natives who possess the tools and know-how of communication via social networking, video, mobile, micro-blogging, and other digital tools to implement solutions to the problems of today and the future.

The new media environment offers us the potential to transform “existing structures of knowledge and power,” and harness the “collective intelligence” and “ability of the net and the web to facilitate rapid many-to-many communication,” as stated by Henry Jenkins, co-Director of the MIT Program in Comparative Media Studies, in his writing on the topic of “the collective intelligence of media fans.”

From telemedicine projects in Africa such as the Harvard Initiative for Global Health to helping political candidates stay on top of digital tools, we digital natives have a bright future ahead of us filled with opportunity, but communication is the key. We have our traditional forms of media and dialogue like word of mouth, television, phone (dare I say fax?) and the printed word, as well as newer forms of communication like mobile and online video, the 24-hour news cycle, text messaging, IM, e-mail and microblogging. It is our responsibility to channel and grasp these formats so our messaging and calls to action are heard by the right audiences.

My question to you is which medium will reign supreme? Will blogging stay alive and will we still have the success of Blog Action Day 2008 in 2009 and beyond, or will we be broadcasting our thoughts through a different medium that gets our message across just as well? How can we continue to make calls to action such as Blog Action Day successful, and what mediums will be used?

___

Rob Longert is an account executive at Peppercom, a mid size PR firm with offices in New York, San Francisco, and London. Check out the PepperDigital blog for more commentary from Rob and the PepperDigital team on the current digital landscape.

Cyberactivism and new walls!

The use of the Internet for activism has been widely discussed in the past few years. A few years ago, I watched The Constant Gardener, a movie in which the Internet became the primary tool with which the activist characters fought for their rights.

Over the past yearI have been working with the Berkman Center to develop an online learning program entitled, Copyright for Librarians. Among the course’s main objectives, we intended to provide as much information on copyright in order to inform librarians from over fifty different countries on various copyright issues and how it was being dealt with around the world. Among our goals, we aimed to equip librarian activists with the necessary toolswith which to assist their countries in formulating better copyright policies.

So for this purpose, the Internet has been effective: It allows us to raise our voices, to mobilize the masses, and to propel change on a global scale.

It almost seems too easy. However, thinking of the Internet as an inclusive tool, that allows everyone, with absolutely no barriers, to voice their opinions, might be too good to be true.

Not long ago, a blogger named Zhou Shuguang was barred from leaving China, as an innitiative of national security. According to Wikipedia, “Zhou advocates further reform in China and as a result travels around the country documenting cases of injustice” that are uploaded in his blog, and hosted on US’s servers. This would be an example of how the use of Internet can be used, especially by governments, to work in opposition to activists.

What worries me is that as digital natives, we are always shown that the Internet works as a safe and strong tool for people to work as activists. But the Internet is also a massive tool for classifying people around the world, associating us with our digital dossiers. . So to what extent is activism on the Internet a positive thing and when does it start to become a dangerous trap for activists?

At the same time that the Internet opens possibilities for us to be heard, are we really heading a more democratic world in which people have the right to be voiced? Wouldn’t the Internet work the same way as any other mass media devices, as filtering tools controlled by governments?

- andré valle

Citizen Journalism and Mumbai

In the background of the shock and horror of the Mumbai attacks was another story about the rise of citizen journalism over mainstream media. We now have access to an array of tools to not only consume information but disseminate it ourselves. The media in India was criticized for its lackluster coverage of the Mumbai attacks. But are these problems that can be compensated for by citizen journalism?

Twitter was probably the biggest player in this discussion, so far as to merit rumors of the Indian government asking people to stop tweeting potentially sensitive information (Times Online). It seems like these rumors, despite having made it into the mainstream media, are probably unsubstantiated. The fact that the rumors were started on Twitter, got picked up by the mainstream media, and then debunked on a blog is an interesting feedback loop that illuminates how mainstream media and citizen journalism can interact with each other.

What made Twitter so prominent was its ability to immediately disseminate information, live and from-the-ground. And customized streams based on hash tags (#mumbai) or location (near:Mumbai) made it easy to find the information. Confused of Calcutta has an excellent post rounding up some of the best articles on Twitter and the Mumbai attacks. There’s also an interesting discussion that sprang up in the comments. Mayank Dhingra writes:

While following the #mumbai I realized that how big an echo chamber had it become, every third-forth update was a copy of a previous one(Noise). Similarly there were lots of rumors of sorts. Its particularly difficult to filter out the real and important news in participatory media and as some suggested its time we have an ethics guide for “citizen journalism”.

Joanne McNeil at Tomorrow Museum expresses a similar sentiment and suggests that mainstream media deserves more credit:

Like most of you with access to a television/computer Wednesday afternoon, I was glued to the news. But soon, #Mumbai was crowded with far too cut+pastes to be of much relevance (unless one was searching by location.) It’s like how everyone will join a Facebook group for a good cause — it takes 5 seconds to “retweet” breaking news. Then, there was the bizarre back and forth over whether the Indian government was asking for people to stop tweeting “sensitive information.” If anything impressed me that night, it was the network evening news, who appeared to be the first to put it all in context.

Another thing that is striking is the immediacy but overwhelming nature of all this information. As Alexander Wolfe notes in Wolfe’s Den Blog , the #mumbai tweets from the days of the attack are buried into archives hundreds of pages back. The sheer volume of information makes it, at this point, unsearchable to everyone except the most patient of researchers.

All this focus on Twitter in the role of citizen journalism obscures the fact that Twitter isn’t actually built as a breaking news source. As a listening tool, it’s almost the perfect tool for surveying the opinions of a many people at once, but this aggregation 140 character tweets has its limits. It can’t put into context all of the complex issues surrounding a terrorist attack of this nature. (Though to be fair, confusion was generally the rule for everyone including the mainstream media.) Dina Mehta’s from-the-ground commentary on Mumbai attacks hits the nail on the head on why Twitter was so important for this event, though not necessarily for its ability to disseminate information.

If we want to look toward great examples of citizen journalism, how about this Google Maps mash-up of locations attacked, populated with photostreams and the latest news updates. This Wired blog post also points toward the constantly updated Wikipedia page and Vinu’s Flickr photostream. Global Voices special coverage page is also a fantastic resource for perspectives on major global events from around the world. So citizen journalism does play a vital role in the future of news and Digital Natives themselves will certainly have a role to play.

-Sarah Zhang

PugetSoundOff.org Makes Social Activism Easier than Ever Before

Tyler Goulet updates us on the Center for Communication and Civic Engagement’s latest initiative: PugetSoundOff.org

According to John Palfrey and Urs Gasser in Born Digital, “the ability of networked activist to transform politics in some countries could prove to be the single most important trend in the global Internet culture… If these early signs turn into a bigger movement, politics as we know it is in for big changes.”

We at the Center for Communication and Civic Engagement believe these big changes are right around the corner and we’re trying to make them happen.

So far, things that happen on the internet, and stay on the internet, are not helping social movements grow as much as some hoped. An example of this is when users on social networking sites such as MySpace and Facebook join causes or groups that are dedicated to raising awareness about a social movement. This is often seen as the equivalent of putting a “support your cause” bumper sticker on your car.

However, social networking sites are making it much easier for anyone to connect, communicate, and organize with people in their local area as well as around the globe. The internet has made creating and executing social movements much easier than ever before.
This is great and all, except the most popular social networking sites focus more on gossip within your social network than on creating positive change in your community.

The solution to this is to create a social networking site that focuses on the goal of creating positive change in your community.

PugetSoundOff.org is a revolutionary site that does just that. The focus is to connect teens in the Puget Sound area that care about the same social issues so that they can create positive change in their communities.

Here’s how it works.

Sean, a junior at Bellevue High, loves art. He respects the street art culture, but also knows it creates problems within a community. When an artist paints on the sidewalk or the side of a building, people become upset and damage is done.

To solve this problem, he’d like to have the city install an Art Wall, where street artist can go and display their art legally. However, he can’t do it alone and doesn’t know any of his friends who would be interested in helping him get the Art Wall installed.

Sean decides he’ll hop onto PugetSoundOff.org and write a blog about the problem he sees, what he wants to do about it, and if anyone else wants to help.

A few days later he sees he has 3 comments from people saying they would like to work with him to make this happen. He organizes a meeting with them so that they can do more research on the problem and solution so that they can create an action plan to make it happen.

Now, Sean is in a group of 4 people who really want to make this happen. However, they’ll need more support to really make this happen.

They decide to make a group on PugetSoundOff.org so that they can invite their friends to join the cause.

The group features an information section which teaches people about the problem and solution. It lets people know when they are getting together to talk about and implement the plan. It also has a few documents promoting the cause that people can download, print out, and distribute to their friends.

After a few weeks of hard work and determination the group has grown to 200 people who support the cause.

Now that they have the support they can really start to make an impact in their community.

And so the story goes Sean and his group follow their action plan and get the Art Wall to be installed so that everyone can enjoy the street art culture legally without any problems.

By using the site, Sean was able to connect with other teens that cared about the same problem as him. They worked together to create an action plan and gain enough support to implement the plan so that they could solve the problem they care about.

It’s a beautiful thing. However, PugetSoundOff.org, as a new initiative, is still working out all the kinks.

Check out the site and let us know what you think. What works, what doesn’t? What would make the site easier and better to use? Through comments and suggestions from you we can really make these types of sites powerful political tools.

Tyler Goulet is a Junior at the University of Washington, Seattle, where he is currently triple majoring in Communication, Political Science, and Community Environment and Planning. He has been a Research Assistant for the CCCE for nearly a year. For more information on Tyler Goulet check out www.tylergoulet.com.