This week we are featuring our first
installation of a series of interviews showcasing individuals in the 2013-2014 Berkman community. Conducted by our 2013 summer Berkterns, the mini-series highlights the
unique and multidisciplinary group of people within the Berkman community
exploring the many dimensions of cyberspace. Our first set of interviews coverNieman-Berkman fellow Jeff Young’s interest in the way technology affects education and fellow Sonia
Livingstone’s study of connected learning, as well as both of their exciting
plans for the upcoming year.
Interested in joining the Berkman
Center’s community in 2014-2015? We’re currently accepting fellowship
applications - read more here.
interviewed in summer 2013 by Berkterns
Tomas Reimers and Olivia Conetta
Why are you interested in Berkman?
JY: I see myself primarily as a
tech journalist, and I’m fascinated by how technology changes people’s lives.
I’ve gotten to know the Berkman Center by covering a few of its events and
interviewing people there, and it has always struck me as a unique place
tackling big questions of technology and society. I did a Master’s program
several years ago at Georgetown’s Communication, Culture, and Technology
program, which has a similar interdisciplinary spirit, and I’m excited for the
chance to work with people from a range of perspectives.
What attracted you to teaching?
JY: Fortune and glory, foremost.
Actually, great teachers--including both my parents--have inspired me to see
the world in new ways, and have given me the confidence to explore and learn on
my own. I hope very much to do that for others.
What do you think has been the most exciting change in how
technology affects education in the past couple years?
JY: Technology hasn’t really
delivered on many of the most-hyped promises that have come along over the
years in education. I’d say the most exciting thing I’ve seen recently is a
change in the conversation among professors and college leaders. People seem
more willing lately to talk about making big changes, and in challenging basic
assumptions in higher education, like rethinking the lecture model. There have
always been early adopters and tech evangelists on campus, of course, but these
days the discussion is happening in the mainstream, and it’s moving past the
simplistic rhetoric of whether technology is “good” or “bad” for education.
What do you think will be the most exciting change in how
technology affects education in the next couple years?
JY: There’s something of a
renaissance right now in education research at the college level. MOOCs are
part of that -- there hadn’t been many experiments involving tens of thousands
of students at a time. Now, Big Data is coming to college, and it seems bound
to reveal something new about how teaching and learning work.
What do you anticipate as the biggest
hurdle in how technology integrates with education in the coming years?
JY: It’s hard to say whether money
or politics will be the highest hurdle. There’s still some question about
whether MOOC providers can find a viable business model to pay for all these
free courses, for instance. And you’re seeing an important debate right now on
campuses about the degree to which technology should be used in college
We see you use many different forms of media in your work.
Which one do you enjoy working with the most and why?
JY: This week I edited a podcast
and wrote a long-form piece. I got a charge out of both, and I most enjoy
working in a mix of media. Text, video, audio, infographics, interactives, and
other modes all have their strengths and weaknesses. I think journalists these
days need to be comfortable with at least two or three of those, and ideally at
least somewhat literate in all of them. If I had to pick a favorite, though,
I’d still say writing. I hope doing some audio and video storytelling has made
me a better “print” journalist because it has helped me notice more sights and sounds
as I report.
What do you hope to work on in the coming year?
JY: My main efforts will be spent
hunting for new and surprising ideas about how teachers teach and how students
learn. I’d like possibly to produce a podcast as I go. I’m also interested in
exploring subjects that rarely come up in my regular job -- like guitar. I also
have this idea to create a MOOC platform to teach the basics of multimedia
journalism to a general audience -- basically aimed at citizen journalists
rather than people who want to work in the field. People carry smartphones in
their pockets that can capture high-quality audio and video, and everyone can
publish their work on YouTube and Twitter, but I think people (not to mention
online audiences) would like more guidance on how to shoot and shape their
stories in compelling ways.
Where do you see the connected learning
process to the youth’s use of new media technologies?
SL: What’s exciting about the idea
of connected learning is that digital media networks could really make a
difference in linking up the sites where young people learn – at school, at
home, with friends, in libraries and clubs, etc and, of course, online.
It has always been a promise that society could build infrastructures that
enable and resource young people’s pathways to knowledge in a way that is
valued by their family and friends and also recognized and rewarded by their
school. Yet this has been surprisingly difficult to achieve, as my current
project, The Class, is showing. At the same time, the project suggests several
ways in which online connections could have significant real-world
consequences, if only they were supported and scaled up.
Is there any shift in your research in
SL: I find myself concentrating
more and more on the normative challenges of creating a stimulating and
supportive society for young people in relation to the fast-changing media
environment. In terms of theory, I am now drawing on the UN Convention of the
Rights of the Child, especially for its conception of rights in terms of
provision, protection and participation. In my empirical research, I try to
integrate the work I do on the risks and harm of internet use (in my
multinational comparative project, EU Kids Online) and work on the
opportunities of internet use for children (in The Class, part of the Connected
Learning Research Network). I am also drawn into ever more policy-related work
– on themes of online rights, risks and opportunities, and media/digital
What projects or research work will you
work on with Berkman fellows? Can you elaborate more about your next book?
SL: The Class was an ethnographic
exploration of a class of 13 to 14-year-olds attending a fairly typical London
comprehensive school over the course of school year. The purpose was to
examine how the ideals and practices of connected learning enter the everyday
experiences of ordinary children. The book – which I am writing now - is
subtitled ‘living and learning in the digital age’ because many out-of school
social experiences and youthful forms of knowledge are now developed within and
expressed through the use of a complex and changing array of media and
information technologies. But although the digital attracts huge public
attention, it is only one of many interlinked strands of change that mark out
differences between today’s childhood and that of their parents and teachers.
And these other changes – in the social, economic and cultural structures
shaping children’s lives and prospects – are also important, sometimes enabling
but often constraining young people’s educational, social and digital
What are the challenges in your
research regarding children and youth’s use of new ICTs?
SL: It’s a fast moving field, so
one challenge is keeping up to date with the changing policy, regulatory and
technological environment. Although I try to read as much as possible to keep
up with developments, it’s also important to keep going to multistake-holder
events to learn what is topical or controversial. Most important, of
course, is staying in touch with children and young people’s experiences – that
means maintaining a flow of projects that get me out there, into homes and
schools so that I keep talking to young people and their parents and teachers.
There are all kinds of ethical and methodological challenges in researching
youth and digital activities, as well, and periodically I like to reflect on
and write something about these also.
Recently there has been controversy
about the new legislation the United Kingdom has been pushing forward to
regulate the Internet and filter pornography. What do you think the industry
and other related aspects should do to protect children’s use of new media
SL: It’s been an extraordinary few
months in terms of the policy debate, and somehow the intersection of children,
technology and sex is always explosive in terms of public contestation. But
it’s exciting that stakeholders of all kinds do want to know what the research
says, even though it’s a challenge translating the research findings (which are
never as comprehensive or strong as I would like) into these debates in a way
that isn’t misunderstood. On the LSE’s Media Policy Blog, I’ve been linking the
research findings and policy suggestions, as clearly there’s more than
industry, schools, governments and others can do. In essence, I argue that
industry should provide more effective end-user filtering tools and safety
guidance materials that parents can have confidence in; that government should
establish an independent body that holds industry to account in terms of the
effectiveness and transparency of their tools and their other mechanisms for
ensuring internet safety; and that schools should embed internet safety matters
into how they teach children about sex, relationships, health and rights, so
that children are empowered to be confident, resilience and informed about
their own development and choices both online and offline.