Wow, has it been two weeks since I last posted? Ashamedly, yes. See? This is why I never wanted to start a blog. I didn’t want to feel as if I was required to regularly update it. And of course I can never keep up with Henry, who manages to write thousands of words a day. C’est la vie.
So here’s something today that makes me very, very happy. It’s a story about a woman who defended her PhD thesis in her underwear. That’s the headline, anyway. It’s really about her project, which is a sensor system for playing videogames. In order to control the game, you and your partner touch each other’s “sensors.” Pretty fun, eh? Good idea.
Two weeks ago I went to the Berkman Center’s Internet and Society Conference. Unfortunately the conference’s main organizer, Charlie Nesson, was rushed into minor surgery that day and couldn’t attend. He was missed. The overall conference seemed a bit of a mess, to be honest, and fairly disorganized. I was told by folks later that my disappointment would have been nonexistent had Nesson been there. I’m sure that’s true, but aside from a rousing debate over the RIAA and saving internet radio, I was fairly bored. The standard IRC backchannel for the conference was equally boring until someone turned me on to a back-backchannel room that was a *whole* lotta somethin’ fun. I’m convinced that backchannel talks make absorbing lectures much more interesting, rich and fun. But I realize I’m the minority in that case. Most folks I talk to ask me to make the case why that doesn’t distract from the speaker’s message. I often point out that the speaker’s message is rarely that interesting to begin with, but that’s beside the point. By being able to talk about it with others, to search for references and tag them, to prepare a question in chat before it’s posed to the speaker… all of those are great things that regularly go on in backchannel, which makes for an overall better experience for everyone. Does it distract? Yup. Are we really hanging on every word to begin with? Hardly. It’s always amazing to me how folks seem to think that technology detracts from a communication space rather than adding to it. It’s been my experience that the notion that what’s going on in the room absent these communication technologies is a huge myth to begin with.
This week I went to the Games for Change conference in New York City, where I got to see a bunch of friends who are now part of the MacArthur network of digital learning grantees. I was excited to see how much the conference has grown since Ben Stokes started the G4C movement a few years back, and it was especially nice to know that there were many new folks there as well. Some highlights included a presentation from Barry Joseph and the Global Kids project he runs in New York, a talk from Eric Zimmerman on designing games for change, and a panel discussion from Frank Lantz and Karen Sideman, and ever-wonderful speakers Katie Salen and Doug Thomas, who are always intellectually rigorous and strong presenters. The full program from the conference is here for those interested.
Yesterday I spoke with Kevin Honeycutt, a terrific educational technologist from Hutchinson, Kansas, who interviewed me about games and learning on a videopodcast for his site. It was fun to get to talk with such a hard-working and smart guy who’s really interested in making a chance for educators and learners. Kevin is also part of a network on Ning called Classroom 2.0, which appears to be a great resource for educators working with technology.
Next week I’m writing, writing, writing. I’m pushing through David Weinberger’s new book, Cass Sunstein’s Infotopia, and Tapscott’s Wikinomics (finally getting around to that). Tuesday I’ll take some time out to say hi to danah boyd, who’s speaking about her research on teens in MySpace at the Berkman Center up at Harvard Law. Hopefully that will give me a chance to find out more about this Digital Natives project started by John Palfrey, et al. I’m admitedly a bit skeptical of generational arguments and of terms like “born digital,” but we’ll see. I’m happy to be wrong, but as of now the arguments I’m seeing on their wiki are falling flat. It’s difficult to make some of these claims without seeming technologically deterministic, patronizing, and divisive. It’s true that with the use of some of the newer digital technologies we can see changes in cognitive processing, social networking, and uses of texts and contexts. But is that something that a younger generation is “native” to? Yes and no. I realize the argument needs to be put out there in order to generate discussion. And if I didn’t think it had a grain of truth to it I wouldn’t engage in the discussion. So there is something there, I think, but just what it is I don’t know quite yet. It’s a fun question to chew on for a while.
That’s it for now. In a week I go to the National Media Educators Conference in St. Louis, where I’ll get a chance to learn about this whole world of media literacy education that I’m not quite up-to-speed on. I also get to lead a workshop at my sister’s information design company XPlane on visualizing new media literacy concepts.
Oh, and I’m currently in love with my new backpack from Australian company STM. If you’re in the market, it’s a good one to pick up.