“School play”

As I mentioned in my last blog post, one of the most interesting things about the Totally Wired forum was hearing Katie Salen talk about games in education.

In her introduction (PDF) to a new volume entitled “Ecology of Games,” Salen quotes Nobel laureate Herbert Simon: “the meaning of ‘knowing’ has shifted from being able to remember and repeat information to being able to find and use it.” Salen believes that games are a perfect way to teach these “new media literacy skills.”

The use of games in school is controversial, and it’s easy to see why.

On one hand, learning through play is so fundamentally natural that it transcends species.

Moreover, games are especially relevant to digital natives. A recent study found that games are the most popular use of the internet among kids in the US aged 6 to 11 — far more than homework, email, music, video, or just surfing.

On the other hand, playing games in school clashes with a long held cultural belief in the separation of work and play.

“Education and entertainment are two different processes,” Iowa State journalism professor Michael Bugeja recently told the Chronicle of Higher Education. “They require two different interfaces. Our whole society is being eroded by entertainment.”

Personally, I have no doubt that kids can and do learn a lot from games. Salen has amply proven this with a plethora of ideas and insights she’s gained by looking at education through the eyes of a game designer. I came away from Totally Wired wondering what other sundry subjects could be illuminated by game design, Freakonomics-style.

Still, I wonder how much of this game-based learning needs to happen in schools. Obviously kids need no encouragement to play. Why not focus on making educational games kids will want to play on their own time, and invest school time in activities most kids won’t do on their own, like read Shakespeare, or build robots?

To be fair, kids will undoubtedly learn more from games when guided by teachers and well designed curricula. As for traditional literacies, Salen acknowledges their importance, and believes they should be taught in tandem. In fact, she told the audience last week, “for kids and even for us, it’s not a huge distinction anymore.”

At any rate, soon Salen’s theories will be put to a dramatic test. She’s currently spearheading development of The Game School, an experimental public school in New York City that, according to its website, “will use game design and game-inspired methods to teach critical 21st century skills and literacies.” Talk about an exciting experiment! From a July article in Wired News:

Right now, the ideas are vague but intriguing: Alternate reality games could be used to study science, as those players typically seek out and analyze data, and then propose and test their hypotheses. Salen also envisions harnessing the creative urges that kids already express through fan fiction, blogging and the creation of avatars and online identities.

How well this works remains to be seen. One thing’s for sure though: a lot of fun will be had finding out.

Music, public spaces, civic engagement, and how to not let copyright stand in the way

Just came across Undersound, a very cool project at http://www.undersound.org/

It’s a prototype being developed that fuses Mp3 players, file sharing, and riding the Tube in London and brings it to the next level – kind of a futuristic, interactive labyrinth of music sharing. People riding the Tube upload and download songs from various stations, and from others that are in the same carriage as they ride the tube. The designers‘ goal is to infuse “riding the Tube and listening to the Mp3 player” with social interaction, a sense of place, and a lesson in one’s role in the globally connected world (and that you do have an impact):

“Through the stories that each of the [music] tracks tells us, I can now see that my personal choices have a global effect and, if I so desire, I can alter my course of action with this new knowledge in hand.”

Such a project seems such a logical extension of mobile technology practices and culture of sharing that are the norm in the Digital Native life. It is also so filled with promise – not only in looking towards a solution in issues that are creeping up in regards to the loss of a social public (as Robert Putnam and Sherry Turkle point to) due to mobile technologies (and their propensity to take us “elsewhere” than where we physically are), but also to encourage civic engagement. Our research is showing that youth that are engaged in social or political issues do use digital tools to learn more about, promote and discuss their cause, but it doesn’t *seem* as though the web itself (and the capabilities if offers) actually encourages such engagement. It seems as though a project like Undersound – where you actually see your ripple/global effect upon the system and others, would very much encourage civic engagement among a new generation…and on their own (filesharing) terms.

But how can such a project co-exist with copyright regulations? Well, how about Creative Commons? By allowing a system to only accept files with appropriate CC licenses – projects like Undersound can become legal, and thereby, become reality. In the digital world, when there’s a problem, think about the technological solution! As my colleagues at Berkman point out, systems can be put in place to read the metadata off any file, filtering out any files that are shared with out artist permission. Beyond social and civic potentials in Undersound, one can see how such a project just become a huge opportunity for unsigned artists.

Currently, file sharing happens on grand anonymous scales, and people travel throughout cities often disconnected from the space they’re in, and the people around them – Undersound brings together file sharing and mobile technology, and brings with it the benefits of social connection, of enabling people to see their impact on a larger system, and of course, of sharing music.

Hey, I’d enjoy my morning T-ride a whole lot more 😉

– Miriam S.

Discussing ‘Born Digital’ with European Students

(Cross posted from Dr. Gasser’s blog)

John Palfrey and I are getting tremendously helpful feedback on the draft v.0.9 of our forthcoming book Born Digital (Basic Books, German translation with Hanser) from a number of great students at Harvard and St. Gallen Law School, respectively. Last week, John and I had an inspiring conversation about the current draft with our first readers on this side of the Atlantic: a small, but great and diverse group of law students here at www.unisg.ch. The students, coming from Switzerland, Germany, France, Singapore, and the U.S., were kind enough to share their feedback with us based on reaction papers they’ve drafted in response to assigned book chapters.

Today, the second session took place. John and I are currently revisiting the final chapter of the book. The “final” chapter, of course, is by no means “final” – even not if it once becomes a chapter of the printed book. What we’re trying to do is simply to synthesize some of the things we’ve said so far, and to look ahead once again and ask ourselves how the digital world will look like for our kids given the things we know – and we don’t know – about their digital lives. In this spirit, the last chapter of the book in particular is an open invitation to join the discussion about the promises and challenges of the Internet for a population that is born digital. Against this backdrop, we prepared three discussion questions for today’s session here in St. Gallen.

First, what do you think is the greatest opportunity for Digital Natives when it comes to digital technologies? Second, what are you most concerned about when thinking about the future of the Internet? Third, what approach – generically speaking – seems best suited to address the challenges you’ve identified?

Here are the students’ thoughts in brief:

Greatest opportunities:

  • Democratizing effect of the net: DNs can build their own businesses without huge upfront investments (Rene, Switzerland)
  • ICT enables networking among people across boundaries (Catrine, Switzerland)
  • Encourages communication among DNs (Pierre-Antoine, France)
  • Increased availability of all kind of information, allows fast development and sharing ideas among DNs (Jonas, Germany)
  • Availability of information, DN can go online and find everything they’re looking for; this shapes, e.g., the way DNs do research; as a result, world becomes a smaller place, more common denominators in terms of shared knowledge and culture (Melinda, Switzerland)
  • Efficiency gains in all areas, including speed of access, spread of ideas, … (Eugene, Singapore)

Greatest challenges, long-term:

  • Problem of losing one’s identity – losing cultural identity in the sea of diversity (Eugene, Singapore)
  • Dependency on technology and helplessness when not having the technology available; DNs are becoming dependent on technology and lose ability to differentiate b/w reality and virtuality; other key challenge: bullying (Melinda, Switzerland)
  • Who will get access to the digital world – only the wealthy kids in the West or others, too? Digital divide as a key problem (Jonas, Germany)
  • Addiction: DNs are always online and depend so much on Internet that it may lead to addictive behavior (Pierre-Antoine, France)
  • DNs can’t distinguish between offline and online world, they can’t keep, e.g. online and offline identities separate (Catrine, Switzerland)
  • Notion of friendship changes; DNs might forget about their friends in the immediate neighborhood and focus solely on the virtual (Rene, Switzerland)

Most promising approaches:

  • Teach digital natives how to use social networks and communicate with each other; law, in general, is not a good mode of regulation in cyberspace (Rene, Switzerland)
  • Technology may often provide a solution in response to a technologically-created problem like, e.g., privacy intrusion (Catrine, Switzerland)
  • Don’t regulate too much, otherwise people won’t feel responsible anymore; education is key, help people to understand that it’s their own responsibility (Pierre-Antoine, France)
  • The laws that are currently in place suffice (except in special circumstances); learning is key, but who shall be the teacher (since today’s teachers are not DNs)? (Jonas, Germany)
  • Generic legal rules are often not the right tool, problems change too fast; instead, kids need general understanding of how to handle technology; goal could be to strengthen their personality in the offline world so that they can transfer their confidence, but also skills to the online world (Melinda, Switzerland)
  • Technology will most likely help DNs to solve many of the problems we face today; education is the basis, but focus needs to be on the question how to put education from theory into practice (Eugene, Singapore)

As always, we were running short in time, but hopefully we can continue our discussion online. Please join us, and check out our project wiki (new design, many thanks to Sarah!), our new DN blog, or for instance our Facebook group. John, our terrific team, and I are much looking forward to continuing the debate!

-Urs G.

Kindle: not your parents’ eBook.

On November 19, Amazon.com announced its first foray into hardware: a portable eBook reader called the Kindle. Amazon hopes the Kindle will become the iPod of books – a portable personal library you can take anywhere.

Amazon Kindle (image courtesy Amazon.com)

That same day, the National Endowment for the Arts announced the results of a new study: young Americans are reading less.

So it makes sense that despite obvious similarities, the Kindle and the iPod target very different markets. Whereas Apple turned the iPod into an icon of digital native culture, Amazon is aiming the Kindle squarely at digital immigrants.

Look at the features Amazon is touting. A display that mimics the look of ink on paper. A built in wireless book store so you never have to touch a computer. The ability to change text size. In short, it’s designed for people who hate using computers and have bad eyesight.

Meanwhile, with a screen saver featuring the likes of Jane Austen and the Gutenberg printing press, along with what the popular technology blog Engadget calls “a big ol’ dose of the ugly,” the Kindle is almost aggressively unhip. As one analyst told the Wall Street Journal, “No one is going to buy Kindle for its sex appeal.”

Moreover, digital natives tend to be more comfortable reading from traditional LCD screens than their parents are. Indeed, some of us, myself included, actually prefer reading from a screen. I’d much rather read a book on, say, an iPhone, than have to carry a separate device.

But as the NEA study (3.3 MB PDF) makes clear, most readers aren’t digital natives. If older consumers take to the Kindle in droves, perhaps they could become the digital natives of literature, defining the new paradigm for how we read digital books.

In a sense then, whether knowingly or not, Amazon is performing a large scale social experiment. We can’t wait to see the results.

-Jesse Baer

How does a foundation program officer decide how to make grants?

At the Berkman Center’s lunch speaker series, Gary Kebbel of the Knight Foundation is with us today. I’m not sure that I’ve ever seen such a public, open discussion by a program officer of a foundation about how they do their work in funding great projects. The Knight Foundation has been running the News Challenge for a few years, and they seek to learn and improve their processes each time. This year, they doubled the number of applications and, even more impressive, they reached out successfully to a global set of applicants (good news, we think, coming from the Global Voices-style perspective, as we do here at the Berkman Center). Knight has also continued to innovate with ways for people to submit public or private applications to the consideration process.  One thing I learned: News Challenge applicants are free to read these comments, in the case of an open application, and then go back and revise and improve their application. They’ve also got a blog on PBS called Idea Lab, part of the PBS Media Shift blogging empire (hey! there’s David Ardia).

In the spirit of our interest in young people, Digital Natives, doing innovative things online: The most interesting experiment, from my perspective, is their work with MTV and MTV International on the Young Creators Award. They set aside $500,000 for this award, geared toward those 25-years-old and younger. Of the new young applicants, almost half are international.

Some of the upticks that they are seeing in the applications to this year’s News Challenge: Facebook applications, use of GPS-related tools, and place-tagging for wireless.

Grant-seekers and innovators and young creators around the world, watch Gary explain how the sausage is made when it comes to grant-making at the Knight Foundation. Watch also for commentary from uber-bloggers Ethan Zuckerman and David Weinberger and Lisa Williams, who are in the room here in real-time.

– John P.

This entry is cross posted on John Palfrey’s blog here.

The Future of Books in the Digital Age: Conference Report

Today, I attended a small, but really interesting conference chaired by my colleagues Professor Werner Wunderlich und Prof. Beat Schmid from the Institute for Media and Communication Management, our sister institute here at the Univ. of St. Gallen. The conference was on “The Future of the Gutenberg Galaxy” and looked at trends and perspectives of the medium “book”. I’ve learned a big deal today about the current state of the book market and future scenarios from a terrific line-up of speakers. It was a particular pleasure, for instance, to meet Prof. Wulf D. von Lucus, who’s teaching at the Univ. of Hohenheim, but is also the Chairman of the Board of Carl Hanser Verlag, which will be publishing the German version of our forthcoming book Born Digital.

We covered a lot of terrain, ranging from definitional question (what is a book? Here is a legal definition under Swiss VAT law, for starters) to open access issues. The focus of the conversation, though, was on the question how digitization shapes the book market and, ultimately, whether the Internet will change the concept “book” as such. A broad consensus emerged among the participants (a) that digitization has a profound impact on the book industry, but that it’s still too early to tell what it means in detail, and (b) that the traditional book is very unlikely to be substituted by electronic formats (partly referring to the superiority-of-design-argument that Umberto Eco made some time ago).

I was the last speaker at the forum and faced the challenge to talk about the future of books from a legal perspective. Based on the insights we gained in the context of our Digital Media Project and the discussion at the forum, I came up with the following four observations and theses, respectively:

Technological innovations – digitization in tandem with network computing – have changed the information ecosystem. From what we’ve learned so far, it’s safe to say that at least some of the changes are tectonic in nature. These structural shifts in the way in which we create, disseminate, access, and (re-)use information, knowledge, and entertainment have both direct and indirect effects on the medium “book” and the corresponding subsystem.

Some examples and precursors in this context: collaborative and evolutionary production of books (see Lessig’s Code 2.0); e-Books and online book stores (see ciando or Amazon.com); online access to books (see, e.g., libreka, Google Book Search, digital libraries); creative re-uses such as fan fiction, podcasts, and the like (see, e.g., LibriVox, Project Gutenberg, www.harrypotterfanfiction.com).

Law is responding to the disruptive changes in the information environment. It not only reacts to innovations related to digitization and networks, but has also the power to actively shape the outcome of these transformative processes. However, law is not the only regulatory force, and to gain a deeper understanding of the interplay among these forces is crucial when considering the future of books.

While fleshing out this second thesis, I argued that the reactions to innovations in the book sector may follow the pattern of ICT innovation described by Debora Spar in her book Ruling the Waves (Innovation – Commercialization – Creative Anarchy – Rules and Regulations). I used the ongoing digitization of books and libraries by Google Book Search as a mini-case study to illustrate the phases. With regard to the different regulatory forces, I referred to Lessig’s framework and used book-relevant examples such as DRM-protected eBooks (“code”), the use of collaborative creativity (“norms”), and book-price fixing (“markets”) to illustrate it. I also tried to emphasis that the law has the power to shape each of the forces mentioned above in one way or another (I used examples such as anti-circumvention legislation, the legal ban on book-price fixing, and mandatory copyright provisions that preempt certain contractual provisions.)

The legal “hot-spots” when it comes to the future of the book in the digital age are the questions of distribution, access, and – potentially – creative re-use. The areas of law that are particularly relevant in this context are contracts, copyright/trademark law, and competition law.

Based on the discussion at the forum, I tried to map some of the past, current, and emerging conflicts among the different stakeholders of the ecosystem “book”. In the area of contract law, I focused on the relationship between authors and increasingly powerful book publishers that are tempted to use their unequal bargaining power to impose standard contracts on authors and transfer as many rights as possible (e.g. “buy out” contracts).

With regard to copyright law, I touched upon a small, but representative selection of conflicts, e.g. the relation between right holders and increasingly active users (referring to the recent hp-lexicon print-version controversy); the tensions between right holders and (new) Internet intermediaries (e.g. liability of platforms for infringements of their users in case of early leakage of bestsellers; e.g. interpretation of copyright limitations and exemptions in case of full-text book searches without permission of right holders); the tension between publishers and libraries (e.g. positive externalities of “remote access” to digital libraries vs. lack of exemptions in national and international copyright legislation – a topic my colleague Silke Ernst is working on); and the tension between right holders and educational institutions (with reference to this report).

As far as competition law is concerned, I sketched a scenario in which Google Book Search would reach a dominant market position with strong user lock-in due to network effects and would decline to digitize and index certain books or book programs, for instance due to operational reasons. Based on this scenario, I speculated about a possible response by competition law authorities (European authorities in mind) and raised the question whether Google Book Search could be regarded, at some point, as an essential facility. (In the subsequent panel discussion, Google’s Jens Redmer and I had a friendly back-and-forth on this issue.)

Not all of the recent legal conflicts involving the medium “book” are related to the transition from an analog/offline to a digital/online environment. Law continues to address book-relevant issues that are not new, but rather variations on traditional doctrinal themes.

I used the Michael Baigent et al. v. Random House Group decision by the London’s High Court of Justice as one example (has the author of Da Vinci Code infringed copyright by “borrowing” a theme from the earlier book Holy Blood, Holy Grail?), and the recent Esra-decision by the German BVerfG as a second one (author’s freedom of expression vs. privacy right of a person in a case where it was too obvious that the figure used in a novel was a real and identifiable person and where intimate details of the real person were disclosed in the book.)

Unfortunately, we didn’t have much time to discuss several interesting other issues and topics that were brought up and related to the generation born digital and its use of books – and the consequences of kids’ changed media usage in a changed media environment, e.g. with regard to information overload and the quality of information. Topics, to be sure, that John Palfrey and I are addressing in our forthcoming book.

In sum, an intense, but very inspiring conference day.

– Urs G.

This post is cross posted on Urs Gasser’s blog here.