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Meet members of the 2013-2014 Berkman Community: Jeff Young and Sonia Livingstone

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.

Q+A with Jeff Young

Nieman-Berkman fellow and Tech Journalist
| @jryoung

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 teaching.

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.

Check out Jeff's ebook, Beyond the MOOC Hype: A Guide to Higher Education's High-Tech Disruption, released in October 2013.

Q+A with Sonia Livingstone

Berkman fellow and Professor, Department of Media and Communications, London School of Economics and Political Science
| @Livingstone_S

interviewed in summer 2013 by Berktern Helen Guo

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 recent years? 

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 literacies.

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 opportunities.

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 technologies?

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.

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