Letting the Internet Explain Itself – A Video Roundup

Since we first started blogging here in November, we’ve generated a lot of text…but that’s all rather analog, very not digital at all. In the spirit of a more digital post, I’d like to share a few of the best videos I’ve found explaining the Internet. These videos showcase — with the added benefit of graphics and sounds — many of the same ideas we’ve been discussing on this blog and why we find Digital Natives so fascinating.

(For technical reasons, videos can’t be embedded, but hyperlinks are still cool.)

The Machine is Us/ing Us
Michael Wesch, assistant professor of cultural anthropology at Kansas State, put together this insightful and technically brilliant video explaining web 2.0 and the revolution in how we store and process information.

We Think
How the Internet allows for the free flow of ideas across communities. True to form, the book that ties with this video is also editable by you in a wiki.

The Common Craft Show
A YouTube channel that explains all those Internet buzzwords like RSS, Twitter, social networking in plain English and as my fellow intern Diana calls it, “jankety crank animation.”

A History of the Internet
Berkman Fellow Ethan Zuckerman gives a brief history of the Internet from the days of ARPNET. Funny and illuminating, this video show why the Internet was and still is all about connecting people.

So remember when I said we were generating a lot of text but not much else? Not quite true, Digital Native videos are in the works — stay tuned!

– Sarah Zhang

Instructional Technology in College Courses

As more Digital Natives arrive at colleges and universities, professors and instructors of all subjects are trying to use digital technologies to better connect with students. In my personal experience as a sophomore at Harvard, some professors have been quite adept at using online resources – like watching music videos on YouTube during a foreign language class – while others have yet to embrace digital technologies.

Overall, however, most professors who I spoke to here at Harvard were passionate about the opportunity of using the Internet and its resources to improve teaching and make student’s learning experience more engaging. Many wondered where to start, asking which types of tools would be best to help students learn. In an effort to identify what digital “tools” students find the most helpful, I worked with the Romance Language department to survey hundreds of undergraduate and graduate students about their experience with instructional technology. Specifically, we asked them to rank digital technology tools (like blogs, podcasts, and wikis) on a scale of 1 -5, where 1 is “not useful” and 5 is”very useful.” We also asked them to describe their best experience with digital learning and to comment on any negative aspects of using digital technology in college courses.

Average Rating

Consistently, students ranked the posting of course material online and interactive syllabi as the most useful. They believe that all courses should maintain a website that contains readings, notes and other content so they can be accessed easily during the semester. Furthermore, students greatly appreciated interactive syllabi – a list of lectures and assigned readings with links to download them. Both of these features enable easy information access, something that saves time and confusion. However “web 1.0” they may seem, students view them as a necessity.

It was interesting to see how different groups of students ranked newer technologies like lecture videos, blogs, and RSS feeds. For example, undergraduates gave recorded lecture videos a high ranking, while graduate students did not. In fact, graduate students wrote in and note the negative aspects of lecture videos, claiming that they allow undergrads to skip class and take a passive role instead of actively participating in the lecture. Freshmen tended to give higher rankings to “web 2.0” tools like wikis and blogs than did older students, perhaps a sign of digital natives entering the arena of higher education.

Most striking of all, however, was the difference in rankings between students who have used a given technology and those who have not. For nearly all technologies, students who had firsthand experience with tools tended to give them a higher usefulness ranking. This means that students may not know to ask professors to use tools like RSS feeds and podcasts until they have experienced them in another course. This is shown in the graph below.

Average Usefulness by Prior Experience

My favorite part of doing the survey was reading the written responses. Although students expressed concern with digital technologies replacing personal discussions with professors, the vast majority of respondents praised digital tools for making learning more engaging and exciting. The best experiences with digital media where ones in which online content and tools supplemented inspiring lectures and stimulating readings.

Instructors looking to use digital media to improve the learning experience can look to first meet “web 1.0” needs, like easy access of readings and other material, and then incorporate social tools like blogs, wikis and RSS feeds of relevant news.

I encourage anyone who is interested in seeing the details of the study, including many of the open-ended answers, to download the full report at http://blogs.law.harvard.edu/digitalnatives/files/2008/03/instructionaltechnologysurvey.pdf .

Tony P.

The Internet is Not Eroding Our Culture

Whenever I get those personal statements asking me to “Indicate a something that has had a significant influence on you and describe that influence,” I’m always tempted to pick — at the risk of sounding like a maladjusted nerd — the Internet.

Amy Goldwasser’s Salon article about the Internet and and its impact youth culture got me reflecting on this. Refreshingly, it takes a largely positive view of the Internet, defending it against recent surveys proclaiming ignorance in teenagers and writer Doris Lessing’s Internet-condemning Nobel Prize acceptance speech last year. Lessing, using some very harsh language, had said,

How will our lives, our way of thinking, be changed by this internet, which has seduced a whole generation with its inanities so that even quite reasonable people will confess that once they are hooked, it is hard to cut free, and they may find a whole day has passed in blogging etc.

No disrespect to Lessing, but I think her dismissal of “blogging etc” arises from complete misunderstanding of the Internet. Of course we should ask how the Internet has changed our lives and our ways of thinking — that’s one of Digital Natives’ goals, no less — but that impact is surely not so negative. In her article, Goldwasser gets at the true impact of the Internet: it teaches us to be active. She calls the YouTube-CNN debates, cultural phenomenal like MySpace, and especially blogs productive and lauds the teens who produce them. These ideas reminded me a lot Lawrence Lessig’s superb TEDtalk from last year. Although he approaches it from the angle of copyright law, he also argues for the shift from passive to active consumers of culture. It is the Internet that has unlocked this potential.

So when I speak of the Internet as the single most influential force on my life, that’s exactly what I mean. And for the record, I don’t think it’s nerdy, or nerdy in a bad sense, at all. On the Internet, I have not only learned about the Nash Equilibrium and Pedro Almodóvar and copyright infringement, but also learned to engage in discussions about them. The last line of Goldwasser’s article particularly hit home for me.

One of [these teenagers], 70 years from now, might even get up there to accept the very award Lessing did — and thank the Internet for making him or her a writer and a thinker.

In my mind, this isn’t a maybe, but a definitely. There Internet has contributed too much to our culture to not have this kind of impact. We no longer look at a screen passively; we can type on our keyboards and pick up our cameras to post something in response. It is an outlet for active communication and productive discussions. I probably won’t be winning Nobel Prizes, but I will still proudly thank the Internet for teaching me to think.

Update:A Vision of K-12 Students Today is a great video that makes the point I’m trying to make in an elegant multimedia format. It’s no doubt inspired by Michael Wesch’s equally brilliant video about college students, A Vision of Students Today.

-Sarah Zhang

Digital Natives in the Press

Today’s New York Times features an article about differences in content creation among girls and boys:  Pew reports that girls in the US are bigger bloggers and upload more photos, while boys are bigger vidders.  Why?

Just follow socializing of gender for generations – it’s still the same, just migrated online.  As quoted in the NYT:

“With young women it’s much more about expressing yourself to others in the way that wearing certain clothes to school does,” said John Palfrey, the executive director of the Berkman Center. “It ties into identity expression in the real world.”

Harvard Magazine reports about Urs Gasser and John Palfrey’s upcoming book, Born Digital.  Here, Palfrey highlights the issue of the digital dossier:

Palfrey believes companies should be required to disclose—either in plain English or on an icon resembling a nutritional label—what they do with the information they collect. “What is it that you collect and store about me?” he would ask. “Is it only what I put in, or is it my browsing habits? Do you share [data] with any third parties? How long do you keep all of [it]?”

– Miriam Simun

Young People Who Rock: Alexander Heffner

(cross posted from John Palfrey’s blog)

One of the big questions in the digital world is whether the way people use the Internet will lead to stronger democracies — or, in fact, have the opposite effect. This debate is playing out in the United States and around the world. In China, activists use online bulletin boards to organize themselves for the first time across geographic boundaries. In Iran, young people are using blogs to make their voice heard when the state is shutting down established media outlets. At the same time, China and Iran are using the same technologies for quite different aims: to censor what political activists are saying, listening in on their conversations, and putting activists in jail for what they’ve said and done online. The vibrant political blogosphere in the United States has become a political force, to be sure, but many question whether its influence is for good or for ill.

Alexander Heffner and his team at Scoop08 are proving that we have reason for hope. CNN, appropriately, has just made him one of its “Young People Who Rock.” Alexander’s leadership, and the engagement of more than 400 young people, is an inspiration to those of us who have been pushing hard to ensure that the Internet has a positive impact, not a negative one, on politics in the long-term. There’s been a lot written about them: here, here, and here. Alexander has a radio program, too.

Alexander’s work is so important because he is providing a means for young people to prove to themselves that they can have an impact through social action. The Internet is secondary to this story, in a way: the point is that Scoop08 draws young people into a public, civic space. It enables young people to have a voice that is heard all around the world. It demonstrates the power of collective action. It can help teach the responsibility and accountability that come with power, as young people come to see the impact of their words when they have a digital megaphone and are participating in a high-profile public debate.

The output of what Alexander and Scoop08 also gives us reason for hope. Scoop08 is a vibrant community that is helping to bring new and greater perspectives to election coverage around the country. One of the fears about the Internet and democracy is that we’ll each just surround ourselves with words and images from those with whom we’ll agree, famously called the “Daily Me” in the words of law professor Cass Sunstein. Scoop08 doesn’t fall into this trap. The student writers, based around the world, are telling their stories in a positive, careful, generally balanced way. Their coverage is serious and authentic. Their effort is to focus on substantive issues (policy, character-driven) — and distinctive and unconventional beats to generate new interest among young people — rather than exclusively horse-race-oriented coverage. The students writing up the reports are grappling with what it means to write without an exaggerated slant, presenting facts in a more or less neutral way, learning by doing in the process.

I look forward to Scoop08’s first big scoop. It will be a great day when one of Alexander’s extended team breaks a big story in this election, or an election to come somewhere else around the world.

But even before that day, it’s easy to say that Alexander Heffner and his colleagues have already succeeded beyond any reasonable expectations. What they’ve done, and what the good people at Generation Engage and other similar organizations, is no mean feat. Many have failed to get young people involved in politics. As the youth vote continues to rock — upwards — Scoop08 deserves credit for helping to create and sustain the enthusiasm of young people entering the political process for the first time. And the way they’re going about it stands a terrific chance of having a lasting impact on democracy.

(Disclosure: I am an unpaid advisor to Scoop08.)

My favorite DIY videos

There’s been so many great videos this weekend – hats off to the DIY curatorial team for really putting together a great show!  It’s been great fun to see the videos usually seen in tiny little windows on the big screen.  A few videos particularly stood out to me, and not too surprisingly, many of them made by young vidders.

Chongalicious:  a great spoof on the song “Fergalicious”

Slip of the Toungue:  A girl at a bus stop responds to the question ‘what is your ethnic makeup?’

Black Doll White Doll – a strong and sad discussion of race by talented young girls.  Pre-schoolers still choose the white doll.

In My Language – an incredibly original, eloquent and powerful vlog by an autistic woman.  Watch it.

Ballad of Black Mesa  –  this piece that will blow away most of the videos on MTV.  The program describes it as “Half-Life 2 meets iPod commercial meets stomp.”

Bush vs. Zombies – George Bush addresses the zombie threat.

Mad as Hell – walking manifesto about work, life, and vlogging

Bomb, Bomb, Bomb.  Bomb, bomb Iran – scary. funny. scary.  watch this if you’re even thinking about voting for John McCain.

George Bush don’t like Black People – very cool remix about Katrina

The summit will be putting many of the videos screened up on their site soon.   Be sure to check them out!

– Miriam Simun


DIY video: telling stories

We’ve spent much of the past 150 years working to achieve full literacy across the globe.  Information has historically been widely disseminated via the written word:  so, much knowledge required the ability to read,  or have someone who’s judgment you trust relay that information to you.  More important still, if you wanted to produce information, you needed to know how to write.  Crucially, ‘knowing how to write’ means more than just knowing the letters or spellings of words – it’s knowing how to tell a story, one that people will listen to.

In today’s world, information is spread through different means.  Most often, this is video:  TV a main source of news in the US.  Video is very different from text – there are many more elements, more complexities, more tools needed, and some may argue that it is more powerful in conveying message – but in the end, just like writing, it’s about telling stories.  Also just like writing, in order to enter into the conversation and be heard, individuals need to be literate – now, media literate.  Henry Jenkins highlights that beyond access to technologies, we all – and particularly the young people – must learn to be media literate.  How do you tell an effective story, one that will be watched and listened to, with video?  How do you tell your story?

KECT – Los Angeles Community TV –  is doing just this, teaching high school students how to tell their stories and represent their neighborhood.  Mass media images of Los Angeles tend to focus on either the glitz of Hollywood or the violence in the inner city.  Juan Davis explained how KECT set out to show a different LA LA, first by telling stories of a communities and individuals, and next by empowering communities and individuals to tell their own story.   The stories we see on KECT portray a true, positive alternative vision of LA communities.  What do you do when your voice and the your stories are missing from the media? 

Do it yourself. 

 – Miriam Simun

DIY video: what is it, how do we understand it, and so what?

I’m at the DIY video summit at USC, watching some fantastic videos and listening to some great people speak. Today’s panels have discussed state of research, state of art, and the intellectual property dilemma.

The first day  centered around two sets of questions. This post deals with the first set:

what is DIY video? why is it important to study?  what method do we use? and what do we want to know?

What is DIY video?

 DIY video is a mass movement (David Buckingham), it is a culture and a community (Michael Wesch), it is a form of participatory culture (Henry Jenkins), it is widening the public sphere (Yochai Benkler) and it is a product capturing consumer attention (Eric Garland). 

 Some points of contention:

  • Is DIY by definition amateur work?  DB comments that much of citizen journalism, particularly the best of it, is done by amateurs looking to become professional.  Are we moving to the ‘pro-am?’  Mimi Ito has found otherwise, that amateur vidders are motivated by becoming ‘locally’ famous – recognized by ‘people that matter.’
  •  Is DIY content intrinsically critical of the establishment?  Alexandra Juhasz points out the term ‘DIY’ comes from 1970s and 80s American Punks self-publishing movement, one that was overtly anti-establishment in its message.  Does DIY video lose political power if the content is not politica?  Or is DIY video already political in that is other than mass media?  I would argue for the latter…the issues of triviality (and even stupidity) that Juhasz brings up found on YouTube among the most popular videos..the issue to me seems more about why are these the most popularly viewed videos?  That’s largely why they are being created, and that’s where the issue lies.

why is DIY Video important to study?  what do we want to know?

 DB:  To understand if, how and when it is a tool for empowerment.  To understand how people learn skills, and what motivates them to learn.

 MW:  To understand what kind of culture and community is emerging, will emerge and can emerge

 EG:  People are watching it – it is current and future of entertainment.

 HJ:  To understand how to create ‘a world where everyday citizens can take media in their own hands and create media, good, bad and indifferent.’

 YB:  To understand how to create legal, social and technical platforms that facilitate the cultural pushback that is DIY video – to empower users to create and pushback, widening the public sphere.

 Thenmozhi Soundarajan:  To create media justice, and give disenfranchised a voice.

Sam Gregory:  To understand how to use video to motivate political action.

Alexandra Juhasz:  To see what we can learn.  (Not much, Juhasz claims)

Juan Devis: To learn how to best empower people to tell their story.


What methods do we want to use?

 David Buckingham weaves together a theoretical context through which to understand DIY video, bringing thought together from

         media creating as social and cultural practice

         space and role of the amateur

         participatory culture

         creativity in the everyday

         learning  and communities of practice

Buckingham further points to the importance of looking at the different subcultures of DIY video (such as skateboarders, video diarists, and citizen journalists) in their own right – and the danger in understanding them as a collective political movement – as politically, they function in different ways. This is really important in keeping the questions of Soundarajan and Gregory, of how we turn DIY video into concrete political action:  understanding the DIY video movement to be political as a whole hides the differences in different types and cultures of DIY video that are important for us to acknowledge and be aware of as we start to think about questions like “how do we use video to motivate action?”  We need to understand how discrete cultures of DIY video function politically in order to make the most of the possibilities.

 Michael Welsch, together with his students, adopted an anthropological approach through the use of participant-observation.  Entering the world you YouTube by posting videos themselves, students experience first hand the negotiation of identity and the distance between audience and creator. 

 Eric Garland reminded us of the importance not only of examining creativity, but also dissemination.  The viral nature of dissemination of video via internet changes the power of the medium.

 Henry Jenkins traces the history of media, understanding how culture travels and morphs as it moves among different media formats, DIY, mass, and in between.

A few points really stood out to me:

  •  Can we separate the mode of the message from content?  Juhasz points to the loss of ‘anti-establishment’ message in much of YouTube content – or at least in the popular content.  But what about the mode?  Do content which mimick the mass media have no cultural/political value?  Or does DIY video not constitute anti-establishment in itself, in that it is not mass media?  Benkler points out the although Wikipedia started as something that was simply mimicking Britannica, through collaboration it evolved into something Britannica could never have imagined.

In thinking about method David Buckingham made a comment that really resonated:  the method of study must depend on what you seek to learn.  DIY video can be an interesting lens to look at bigger issues, such as communities and social networks, identity and representation, or creativity and agency.  It seems important to understand DIY video as it functions in terms of [insert chosen subject of inquiry here (community/agency/identity/public discourse)] rather than in and of itself.  This will enable us to see the true power of the medium.

– Miriam Simun

DIY video summit at USC

I’m listening to Fred von Lohmann of the EFF right now. He’s talking about how the changes in copyright law changes the type of creativity we see. Here’s one example of fair use that Disney would love to challenge.

Meanwhile, the Youth Media: YouTube-sized: Youth Personas, Protests, Paranoias and Pleasures is playing downstairs. Check it out in Second Life!

More soon.

-Miriam Simun

A song for the world to see: Digital Creators in Van, Turkey

What do you do when you want to learn to play an instrument, but your school music room doesn’t have the funds to buy them? Well, if you’re a digital native, the answer is easy: make a creative plea on YouTube.

Yusuf and Batuhan, two boys from Van, an rural part of Turkey, wanted to raise funds to improve the music room at their school. And so, they decided to ask using the instruments they had – one desk and two voices – and post their song to YouTube.

Not only are Yusef and Batuhan talented musicians, but they’re also two very smart kids. In effort to get as much attention as possible, they decided to rap and drum – surprising the country at what two rural Van boys can do (it would be ordinary to see boys from Istanbul doing such a performance). Not only do Yusef and Batuhan rap and drum, and do it well, but they rap about math!

The math song video made these two Van boys so famous, they were invited to appear on a program with a famous Turkish TV host.

In this video Batuhan and Yusef perform an anti-drinking and anti-smoking song. At the end, one of the boys makes a (very) public plea to his father to quit smoking two packs of cigarettes a day, and they top it all off by a request for musical instruments for their school.

Yusef and Batuhan, two digital natives from rural Turkey, show us the power of growing up in a world with lowered barriers to creativity and participation, and with a different understanding of one’s relationship in and to the world . Batuhan and Yusef have a voice they know will be heard – and they take full advantage of this.

Want to raise money for your school? Do something creative and unique, post it for the world to see, and find yourself on TV.

(thanks to Zeynep Ton and Karim Lakhani for their help on this one!)

– Miriam Simun