Technology and collaboration: can DN manage their own learning activities?

To enter in brazilian universities, students must go through the admission process known as Vestibular. This admission process is composed by exams (usually two) with levels of difficulty and dispute compatible to the quality of the University. In Brazil, public universities such as University of São Paulo and private institutions such as Pontifícia Universidade Católica are examples of important qualified universities in the country. To be part of these universities (specially those which are not payed), many of students enroll in specialized prep-courses known as Cursinhos or in expensive schools that more than educate (or instead of), will train them to perform better in these exams.
This process of admissions can be very much questioned both because it leads schools to teach how to be successful in the Vestibular instead of enrolling in an educative enterprise and also because it creates an unfair competition between those who study in expensive and well prepared schools versus those who have no other choice but to go to weak schools. Although that seems to be a cornerstone in brazilian education, it does not seem that many things are going to change right now.
Yesterday, the Estado de São Paulo newspaper published an article about how students are using the Internet to create collaborative activities in order to get better prepared for the Vestibular. According to the article, brazilian students are themselves using tools such as instant messaging, e-mail, and Orkut (the Google Networking Tool that is most popular here, such as Facebook in North America) to create clusters of students who intend to reach a common goal and be better prepared for the exam. In these clusters, the students usually discuss previous exams, exercises they could not solve and debate polemic topics.
My point here is to call attention to how technology is actually empowering these students to find their own paths, their own way to practice whatever they are learning in their own ways. Yochai Benkler, in The Wealth of Networks, states that “as collaboration among […] individuals becomes more common, the idea of doing things that require cooperation with others becomes much more attainable […]”. I believe this article exemplifies how the possibility of cooperating actually enhances learning experiences for students who engage in such type of activity. From this perspective, I might say that these students are actually managing to use the ubiquotous computing in a positive way, instead of having it only as a distracter. On the other hand, I received a comment to my last post, in which a colleague reffered to the fact that these digital natives seem to be, actually, consuming all these tools instead of producing something meaningful, they would be just absorbing information.

All these ideas point me to some questions (and I would love to see some of your thoughts about it):
– Till what extent are we supposed to let digital natives themselves and only handle technology, without any instruction?
– In educational activities, are we supposed to instruct Digital Natives explaining how they should use this or that tool, or should we just provide the tools and let the students themselves figure out how it works best for them?
– What is this movement we can already observe in which the digital natives do not seem to care much about retaining information, once everything can be reached online? What happens with the teacher who now needs to deal with the “teacher as a facilitator” idea?

The mentioned article is an example of how brazilian digital natives have found a path to deal with an specific necessity of them whithin a certain context. Do you see anything like this in your context?

– André Valle

Bring in the Reinforcements: A Conversation in Action

Here at Digital Natives, our wiki and Twitter and YouTube channel and Facebook are our tools. But they are laboratories, too. We use them because they are useful, but also because we want to understand them; because when someone uses the tools in imaginative ways, we want to be there to hear about it.

This week, we had the enormous pleasure of seeing an experiment in one of these laboratories go dramatically right. Andy Oram, editor at O’Reilly, posted a preliminary review of Born Digital to the Digital Natives wiki for comment. After John Palfrey announced this spontaneous forum on Monday, many people jumped into the conversation. In brackets and italics, they etched the discussion into the text of the draft. All of this discussion culminated with Andy posting his review to the O’Reilly news site—a document reflecting not only an opinion, but the embedded nuances of a conversation in action.

We were elated to see Andy using these tools so imaginatively, and excited to have such an in-depth conversation about the marketing, message, and conclusions of Born Digital. While the full wiki conversation is worth reading, I wanted to take a moment to respond to one of Andy’s major points.

Andy kicks off his review with this analysis:

Born Digital postulates a watershed between those born on or before 1980 and those born after. Although the book is advertised as a guide to the latter for those born earlier, I suspect that the marketing became unmoored from the authorship. That’s because the book’s arguments culminate in the message that its lessons need to be learned by “digital natives” most of all, and that they are the ones best positioned to alleviate the social dislocations caused by digital media and the Internet.

He goes on to write about the seeming irreconcilability of this situation: Digital Natives are the ones who need this information most. But they are also—by definition—the ones least likely to even read a paper book, let alone buy one. The question then becomes: if Digital Natives don’t learn this information from a book, where and how will they learn it?

The answer, I think, is deeply tied to the ultimate goal of Born Digital: to facilitate better conversations between teachers and students, parents and children, by seeding those conversations with good information and provocative ideas. Conversations, as the internet has irreversibly proven, are inherently memetic; information travels, mutates, and impacts people along the way. And we’re much more likely to listen to someone we respect and care about than someone we’ve never met.

As pre-teens and teenagers, Digital Natives are acutely socially aware. They put great stock in the opinions of their friends. For parents and educators, this priority schematic can often feel like a brick wall stationed resolutely between their voices and the student’s ears. But the fact remains that, in the grander scheme of things, parents and educators are still easier to respect and care about than disembodied professorial voices—or even a sheaf of dead trees, covered with unchanging words.

It is true that Digital Natives form their own first line of defense. But that defense can be made much stronger by informational reinforcements. Fortunately, those are exactly the tools that parents and educators are best equipped to give their charges. These reinforcements, though, can never be transmitted and utilized if parents and educators don’t have them in their arsenals in the first place. By educating themselves, they can transform their fear of the unknown into a set of questions and a catalog of anecdotes; a lens through which to view their Digital Natives’ activities, and the knowledge to have intelligent conversations about the digital worlds they live in.

The measure of Born Digital’s success will lie not in unit sales, but in conversations started. The entire team here was honored, this week, to participate in the conversation Andy started. We look forward to many more, here on the internet; and hope that even more take place offline, between Digital Natives and the adults who care about them.

Mideast Youth: Providing platforms for public voice

This week’s “Digital Natives Reporters in the Field” series turns the microphone over to Esra’a Al Shafei of Bahrain, the 21-year-old director of student-owned

The mission of MideastYouth is “to inspire and provide young people with the freedom and opportunity of expression, and facilitate a fierce but respectful dialogue among the highly diverse youth of all sects, socio-economic backgrounds, and political and religious beliefs in the Middle East.” fights for social change with podcasts, blogs, social networks, and online video.

In this podcast, Esra’a talks about the ability of the internet to empower minorities with a voice, the mission of, and the change it has sparked in the world.

Listen to the podcast

And learn more about Esra’a, winner of Berkman Award for Internet Innovation, who when not “kicking butt” directing the ever impressive MideastYouth platform, “enjoys drinking flavored milk and writing about herself in 3rd person to remind herself of her existence.”

Searching for Jeeves Atop a High Google Mountain

When a friend gifted me with my own domain name this summer, it felt like he had handed me the keys to a new car. was a URL I could share with contacts; it would be one of the first addresses an acquaintance might type when searching to see if I had a website. In that way, it was a vehicle for controlling my online identity, a tool to help me navigate the information swamp the web has become by preventing confusion with other “Nikki Leon”s. What’s more, it was mine — my friend’s purchasing the domain meant it would not fall into the hands of the porn industry, overseas phishers, or the other Nikki Leons of the world. I imagined that just as the Internet seems to have only one Barack Obama or Seth Godin, I was on my way to someday being the Nikki Leon ordained by Google.

Wishful thinking. I know, of course, that Google doesn’t always care if you buy your own domain name. If you search for Nikki Leon as of today, the “real” me is in the third hit, a Digital Natives Project blog post. My personal blog, to which currently forwards, doesn’t come until halfway down the page. The Nikki Leon favored by Google, it seems, is a twenty-one-year-old Go-Go dancer from Palmdale California whose MySpace profile features pink leopard print and whose latest blog entry is entitled “If He Really Wants You…”

I’m actually not too troubled by this (seems she was meant for the spotlight more than I). It’s better than having the first hit for your name be a Gawker article about the real you, claiming that you “Used to Smoke Opiate of Masses.” This was unfortunately the case for a freshman at Princeton University this year. The student posted a long message to the “Princeton 2012” Facebook group that featured such choice phrases as “we are the 0.0000001% of the world,” and “We are the anti-Christs to save the world from the mercy of God, the self-pity that festers within the masses.” Having read the full post, I’d like to think it was a well-intended, if unsuccessful, satire of the “getting to know you” messages some freshmen write in their class groups (as an undergrad I’ve seen this first hand). Gawker didn’t much care whether or not the post was serious or no. Instead, Gawker bloggers mocked the student and circulated information about her high school and career aspirations, along with a picture of her from her high school website.

On the subject of controlling one’s identity online, a recent New York Times article aptly stated: “If you don’t dive in, other people will define who you are.” That is, if you fail to update your website or social networking profile with current, relevant information, the data others provide about you or themselves will crowd out your own. Diana Kimball wrote a very informative post last February about how to take hold of one’s digital identity. There is of course, a limit to how much the average user can control, and the more of an online presence a young person has, the more information they give others to take out of context, as with the Gawker scenario described above. Viewed in this light, the digital age looks a little grimmer, despite all its possibilities. The freedom to define yourself online is also a burden. With visibility comes vulnerability, and controlling your image becomes a matter of preserving your personhood.

The need to craft an online identity seems, at times, an existential issue, albeit more in the vein of Ask Jeeves than Sartre. Who is Nikki Leon? Google has its answer, though it’s not the one I’d give. So how does one go about maintaining a digital self without getting lost in the shuffle or falling prey to Gawker types? For my part, I’ll continue strengthening my ties to websites and bloggers, getting people to link to my URL, and doing the only other thing I can: praying to the internet gods.

Nikki Leon

(In the spirit of this post, no links to the Gawker article. Their Google rankings are high enough. Cross-posted from my blog.)


(cross-posted from John Palfrey’s blog)

Andy Oram, editor at O’Reilly, has posted something quite extraordinary on the wiki for our book and associated research project. It appears that he has read Born Digital and then posted his review on the wiki for comment before he posts it to the O’Reilly Media web site. I hope others will take up his challenge to comment on it; just the sort of conversation we’re delighted to have, in small measure, provoked. (For the record, this review-in-the-making is an effective critique of the book, which points at several of the inevitable soft-spots in our arguments.) Thanks much, Andy, both for doing the honor of reading and reacting in depth to the book, but also for doing it in this fashion.

Digital Media and Learning HASTAC Competition

McArthur’s Digital Media and Learning HASTAC Competition has announced their 2008 Innovation in Participatory Learning Awards and Young Innovator Awards. The awards support individuals and institutions at the forefront of participatory learning:

Participatory Learning includes the ways in which new technologies enable learners (of any age) to contribute in diverse ways to individual and shared learning goals. Through games, wikis, blogs, virtual environments, social network sites, cell phones, mobile devices, and other digital platforms, learners can participate in virtual communities where they share ideas, comment upon one another’s projects, and plan, design, advance, implement, or simply discuss their goals and ideas together. Participatory learners come together to aggregate their ideas and experiences in a way that makes the whole ultimately greater than the sum of the parts.

This is a great award that supports students and teachers of all ages

to think boldly about “what comes next” in participatory learning and to contribute to making it happen.

For past winners, check out the 2007 Winners Hub, featuring projects like Critical Commons, a fair use guide for educators, and Black Cloud, a participatory pollution monitor.

Also check out social media guru Howard Rheingold, one of the winners, who has been running a HASTAC forum on participatory learning on Seesmic. In the Social Media Classroom Co-labrotory, Howard Rheingold explores the idea of participatory learning with the new HASTAC Scholars explores the affordances of SEESMIC (think YouTube video with responses running along the bottom as the video plays to highlight the conversation) as a learning tool.

For more on the HASTAC awards, check out their website and request for proposal.

Digital Natives around the world: introduction

Hello, my name is André Valle and I will be blogging here in the Digital Natives Blog on fridays. I am a Educational Technologist and undergraduate student at the University of São Paulo, Brazil, interested in researching how different cultures interact with different types of technology, speciffically within the educational environment.

I am now based in Brazil, where I have been living for the past 25 years, and I intend to present to you a different perspective of the Digital Natives concept. In Born Digital, John Palfrey and John Palfrey investigate the Digital Natives’ interpretations of what it is to be connected, they map when this new generation of Digital Natives starts to be born and discuss how they conceptualize the technologies that sourround them, ubiquitously.

Some questions that will drive my blog posts are:

– What is a digital native in places where technology has been developed in a different way, such as developing countries, for instance?
– How to situate the digital natives who have less or no access to technology due to their social or economical conditions?
– How is technology developed according to specific conditions and necessities of a certain area?

To exemplify this concern of mine, I want to tell a story that describes the moment when I realized that we can interact differently with different types of technology.

Sometimes we are so used to the environment that sourround us and the tools that are available for us to do our day-to-day activities, that it is hard to train our observation in order to identify these different layers of interaction.

I was once asked by my grandmother to help her with the task of sending an e-mail. Back then, I was going to leave in Montreal for one year, and she wanted to have the chance to communicate with me by herself. I instantly asked her to have seat and start turning the computer on, which she did exactly as she was taught by her computer teacher. When the computer was ready to work, I asked her to select the Internet Browser and it was only then that I realised that my question assumed a whole lot of premisses that I had never thought of. When my grandmother was trying to select the Internet Browser that I pointed on the screen, I realised that the mouse arrow was actually shaking in a weird and unnusual way. It was only then that I realised that my grandmother did not know how to hold the mouse properly, what demanded an extraordinary effort by her in order to move the arrow.

My point here is the following: obviously, my grandmother does not fit in any of the Digital Natives definitions, but she made me realize that she had to adapt her usual activities to fit them in the computer era, nowadays she knows how to send an email, but she still thinks in a linear way, following always the same path to reach a goal (she cannot understand that we can turn a program off by pressing ALT+F4 or selecting the X on the top-right side of the openned window, she always needs to select File and, then, Close).

While my grandmother had to adapt her way to write, communicate, etc into a computer, I myself remember of the first time I had a computer at home and how my uncle taught me to send e-mails.

My question is: what happens with my cousin, who is now nine years old and, as a baby, had among his toys an old keyboard to play with? How will he interact with the technology that sorrounds him more and more?

In the following discussions, I intend to bring stories that I can find here in Brazil to identify issues related to Digital Natives and their interaction with new technologies. Also, I intend to bring up some stories concerning the Digital Divide, which gets broader as high technologies get concentrated only in hands of some users, while others don’t have any access or don’t want to have it.

– André Valle

Attention Intervention: Digital Natives and the Myth of Multi-Tasking

This summer, I worked at my first real-world job. Forty-hour weeks, company-provided computer, something resembling an office: the whole shebang. Though I was working at a pretty technology-positive company—Microsoft!—I still quickly discovered that my working habits required some explanation. Fifty browser tabs open at once, music softly playing in headphones, cell phone parked firmly by my keyboard: I can understand why my co-workers might have been curious.

What ever happened to old-fashioned “discipline?” This question has come up constantly in my conversations with parents and teachers over the course of my involvement with the Digital Natives project. When parents glance over and see not only 50 browser tabs open on the family computer, but iTunes and a computer game and AIM too—with a book report relegated to a tiny corner of the screen—they’re understandably bewildered. How do kids ever get anything done? “I’m just really good at multi-tasking, Mom,” a savvy student might reply. And, as long as the work gets done, it seems hard to argue with that logic.

However, as a new wave of research on the science of attention makes the rounds of blogs and the popular press, that logic is becoming more vulnerable. In an interview over at Lifehacker recently, Dave Crenshaw discussed his latest book, The Myth of Multitasking. Crenshaw makes a strong distinction behind “background tasking”—reading a magazine while waiting in line, for instance, or listening to music while coding—and “switch-tasking.” Most of the time, when we talk about “multi-tasking,” we’re actually talking about the very costly practice of “switch-tasking.” Every time you switch your attention from one place to another—even from one browser window to another—you take a significant hit to your focus. Though this may seem to be common sense, the science behind the phenomenon is quite sobering. Early in the summer, I attended a talk by neuroscientist John Medina—author, most recently, of Brain Rules—at which he also debunked the “myth of multitasking.” Switch-tasking, he definitively proves, causes you to execute each task more slowly than you would otherwise, with more errors. (Charts and more information here.)

So what, then, is the solution? Specifically, what can parents, teachers, and employers do to help their kids, students, and employees focus their attention more effectively? As a kid, student, and employee myself, I have to say that I believe the solution is emphatically not to limit access—at least not for older teens. Rather, I think the key lies in laying out the facts and discussing strategies. Information overload and the allure of infinite access, after all, are challenges that affect everyone with an internet connection—not just young people. And, though writing a stellar book report might not be a cause compelling enough to warrant total focus, every young person will at some point find a pursuit worth paying attention to. Maybe it’s writing short stories; maybe writing music. Maybe it’s making art. But when that pursuit comes along, they’re going to want to know how to firewall their attention, focus their efforts, and—for once—stop switching. Tools like Freedom, the WiFi-disabler for Macs, can help. But ultimately, no strategy will be effective without the investment of the person executing it. The best strategy, I believe, is actually to help Digital Natives to discover pursuits worth focusing on in the first place. The rest, I think—I hope—will follow.

What are your strategies for “firewalling” your attention? Have you ever staged an attention intervention? What will it take to convince companies to stop venerating “multi-tasking” as a worthy skill? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

Digital Natives Forum Today! & Obama Works: Online Activism Breeds Local Change

Today we’re hosting the third installment of the Digital Natives Forum Series: Youth & Civic Engagement. We’ll be discussing the question “How can digital media tools enable youths to motivate one another to create meaningful change?” with a number of fantastic presenters approaching the issues from different vantage points. Come join us in Cambridge, or check out the webcast, and join us in the IRC or on Twitter!

Along with Dr. Sunshine Hillygus, Keli Goff, Nasser Wedaddy, and Judith Perry, Paul Selker, Director of Outreach and Communications at Obama Works, will be discussing ObamaWorks with us today. Earlier, summer intern Nikki Leon talked to Paul on camera about how online interaction can breed offline activism.

Obama Works is an independent grassroots organization that helps Obama supporters in neighborhoods across the country to organize community service events. The group was founded in early 2008 by a group of Yale students who were inspired by Barack Obama and felt that the energy surrounding his campaign could be channeled to do more than generate votes.

In this video, Paul Selker (a recent Yale grad and one of the group’s earliest members) discusses how the organization came together, how they use the web, and what role the internet has played in enabling people of all ages as activists. Produced by Nikki Leon, with camera work by Kanupriya Tewari, and audio engineering by John Randall.

For more on Digital Natives issues, come back next week for new multimedia, and check out recently released Born Digital, and the reactions.

Koobface: Hacking the Credibility of Friends

In the past two weeks, I’ve received a number of Facebook messages with unprintable subjects and what resembled YouTube links. It turns out I’m a little late on this, but these messages are really the Koobface worm that has been making the rounds on Facebook and MySpace since early August. Suspecting spam, I had deleted the messages right away. But then I took a step back and thought, “Why don’t I see more viruses on Facebook?” This was the first time I had encountered a worm on Facebook, and I can’t find any reports of it happening on the site before.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m perfectly happy with that situation; I’m just surprised more people haven’t taken advantage of it. What the Koobface is worm purposely exploits is the social credibility that drives online networking. We lend more credibility to our friends than a complete stranger, and that difference may be enough to make us click the link. To use Facebook as a particular example, the value of the site lies in how easily it allows users to share and receive information with people whom they care about. Every Page I “fan,” every band I put in my profile, every group I join is essentially an endorsement capitalizing on my credibility within my social network. The Social Ads campaign attempted to monetize this principle, and perhaps the backlash to that campaign, all top of privacy issues, was also colored by the unease of one’s credibility being used for the monetary gain of a third party.

This credibility of friends concept has been thoroughly exploited through email attachment viruses, such as the Love Bug. From a security standpoint, Facebook is in a much better position than individual email hosting services to eliminate any worms in its system. (Perhaps early action is the reason this isn’t more common?) It is in Facebook’s interest to protect the credibility of its users and thus the integrity of its site, so their response has been immediate and serious. A Facebook Security page is dedicated to dealing with these issues.

The whole subject of computer viruses reminded of the excellent Mattathias Schwartz article on trolling in NYT Magazine. It has already been covered from a different angle, but I wanted to pull out a quote that especially struck me. Despite these attacks that aim to undermine the very credibility of friends, the view out is not necessarily pessimistic:

So far, despite all this discord, the Internet’s system of civil machines has proved more resilient than anyone imagined. As early as 1994, the head of the Internet Society warned that spam “will destroy the network.” The news media continually present the online world as a Wild West infested with villainous hackers, spammers and pedophiles. And yet the Internet is doing very well for a frontier town on the brink of anarchy. Its traffic is expected to quadruple by 2012. To say that trolls pose a threat to the Internet at this point is like saying that crows pose a threat to farming.

In drafting up this post, I tried looking for research on how youth determine with credibility of friends and applied that to the digital world. What I found was a good deal more information on youth and the credibility of media, including the excellent “Digital Media, Youth, and Credibility” volume of The MacArthur Foundation’s series on Digital Media and Learning that John Palfrey blogged about just last week. (I had also spent the summer interning at MacArthur – it’s good to be back blogging with Digital Natives.) The issues of friends and credibility are complex and extend well into the offline world, but I’m curious to explore this a little further. If anyone has any resources, insights, opinions to share, leave them and a follow-up post may be in order!

– Sarah Zhang