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Blackboards or Backchannels: SXSW Liveblog & Video

blackboards or backchannels panel

On Sunday, Alex and I spoke on a panel at SXSW Interactive called Blackboards or Backchannels: The Techno-Induced Classroom of Tomorrow. Austin, TX was rainy and cold for most of the weekend, but the sun came out on Sunday, and I walked away from the panel overwhelmed by energy and ideas. It was hours later before we realized the whole thing had been liveblogged at! The post includes a 10-minute video from the panel, and selected quotes from each of the panelists. I highly recommend checking it out. Thanks definitely go to austinchic for the coverage and tvol for the photograph—the internet is sometimes a wonderful place.

Quitting or Letting Go: Sweeping Away Digital Tracks

Last month’s outcry over the change and then quick reversal in Facebook’s Terms of Service proved that users will demand an active role in control over their own information. It brought to the forefront the issue of our digital dossiers. My digital dossier compromises of much more than a Facebook profile of course – in fact it’s a little alarming how much information is thrown in there – and it is often difficult to know exactly what is in my digital dossier and how much (or how little) control I wield in creating it.

PC Magazine recently published an excellent and comprehensive article on how to delete accounts on 23 popular web services, ranging from Google to eBay to Friendster. It reminded me of how much information comprising my digital dossier is strewn all over the web, especially in abandoned accounts of forums and services I had long forgotten. In various public and private spheres hold, reams of data and my old idle Internet musings are stored. There is a “Registrations” label in my email dedicated to verification emails from signing up for online accounts. I haven’t been too diligent about keeping up with this label recently, but even browsing emails accumulated in the previous years, I found some surprises: I have an account on a gymnastics forum? What is xixax?

I’ve never found the need to go back and close these accounts, mostly because they were named after old Internet handles that have since phased out of use. In fact, I almost enjoyed the way they defined a certain period of my life, providing a snapshot of my interests three or four years ago.

What struck me while reading PC Magazine’s roundup was how difficult it is to close some of these accounts. Not for technical reasons or obstacles put in place by the companies (though this too was the case sometimes), but emotionally. Facebook especially appeals to your emotions. Before letting you deactivate an account, Facebook shows you tagged photos of you and a friend along with a caption of, “[Name of friend] will miss you.” It’s not just the severing of these ties that make Facebook difficult to quit but also the massive trove of data that will be deleted. In the three or four years I’ve been on Facebook, I’ve accumulated thousands of messages and shared hundreds of photos. When I delete my account, poof, it’s all gone. Granted, most of these messages are silly and I can’t think of too many reasons to reread them, but the same principle applies to what may be more valuable photos on Flickr and blog posts on Blogger.

What I realized is how much I relied on the Internet as a personal archive. Google, especially, stores vast parts of my life. The PC Magazine article goes into some of the difficulties of deleting partial accounts (for example: deleting a YouTube account linked to a Google one or Yahoo Mail without opting out of Yahoo services). None of the information is of more than personal interest here, but I would certainly feel a sense of loss. Information online is both especially transient and permanent. Sometimes it can be deleted with the click of a mouse and sometimes it becomes saved forever on servers halfway across the world. It’s an odd tension, but we as digital natives should be conscious of our digital dossiers and how we use them.
– Sarah Zhang

Answering for Ourselves: An Antidote to Alarmism

Last Thursday, Alex and I were lucky enough to be interviewed by Steve Hargadon for the Future of Education interview series. The experience was quite remarkable, in a number of ways; our conversation felt a like a tele-unconference, with everyone bringing ideas and energy and questions to the table, thoughtfully pursuing answers. The full audio of the interview and the parallel chat transcript are now up at The Future of Education. We had a compact but enthusiastic set of teachers in the audience, listening live, and I was transfixed watching their comments fly by on the backchannel. The audience members responded to and augmented our interview in real-time. As a result, so did we.

My mind has been racing recently, trying to see the bigger picture here. Working on the Digital Natives Project means that I have quite a distorted view of reality: everyone I encounter through it is at least trying to understand “what’s going on with kids today and technology.” If they weren’t trying, they never would have stumbled upon this project in the first place. One aspect of our interview with Steve, actually, was something that Sarah and I encountered in the Born Digital book talk at Google DC, too: as Digital Natives, we’re often asked to answer for our generation/population. “Can you really focus on instant messenger and class at the same time?” “Is there anything worthwhile on the Internet at all?” and “Do students even read books anymore?” are all very serious questions, often asked with a hint of alarm. More often than not, in interviews as on this blog, we end up answering these questions from personal experience.

But if the picture I get of educators today is skewed by selection, the picture that Sarah and Alex and I can draw of students today is severely distorted, as well. All of us, as Digital Natives interns, think the Internet is great, an incredible tool; we’ve all had more positive than negative experiences on it. We wouldn’t be interns on the project otherwise! We’re invested in convincing other people that technology can be great, too. In the pursuit this persuasion, though, I know I often obscure the hard work and serendipity that goes into making the Internet a safe and educational place. During the interview with Steve, I mentioned that I spent 4 or more hours per day on instant messenger in middle school and high school. Sometimes, much more than 4 hours. It was truly consuming, and really did affect other aspects of my life negatively. But one day in high school, I just decided that I was giving it up. I didn’t log on for a month; when I returned, it seemed somehow less compelling than it once had. The next year, I gave it up for another month. After that, I never really felt like going back. Through a spontaneous act of willpower, a serious timesink was suddenly just no longer a part of my life.

I sometimes look back on all the hours I spent instant messaging, and wonder what I learned from them. So many hours wasted! Well, maybe. I was in middle school, after all. I was trying desperately to figure out my identity, my writing style, my social circles. Not only did instant messenger allow me to experiment with those things, it also gave me a way out of the insular social circles and popularity contests of my schooldays. Through the internet, I (cautiously) made friends with far-away bloggers who wrote about music and their interesting lives. To this day, we remain close friends. I’d be hard-pressed to say the same about my middle school lockermates and classmates.

At an even more basic level, I know that my early days of instant messenger meant that my typing improved dramatically and fast. No typing class could have sped up my words per minutes more effectively than the desperate desire to communicate with a crush or a new friend over instant messenger. So that’s the thing: even habits that appear to be horrifying timesinks often have peripheral, invisible benefits. Preteens eventually become twentysomethings; they won’t be on Club Penguin forever. Though they are, admittedly, likely to transfer their allegiances to a service like Facebook or MySpace, the point is that growing up itself demands a series of habit inventories. Some things, you just outgrow. There comes a moment of decision, when you decide to transition to something new. As habits evolve, though, whatever unpredictable skills were gained from previous fads don’t just fade away. If a kid obsessed with MySpace comes away from her teenage years with a little more knowledge of HTML, that is all to the good. It doesn’t necessarily work that way. But sometimes, it does.

If you read this blog regularly, these ideas should come as no surprise. But since the questions keep coming up, I thought I’d address them outright. Sarah’s, Alex’s, and my experiences are all, we hope and believe, examples of the Internet gone right. Since we so seldom hear about the Internet going right, I wanted to pause for a moment to point out that even when it looks like it’s temporarily going awry—when all of a sudden, technology or a social network or anything else online becomes an all-consuming obsession—there may be important things happening in the background. Those are worth our attention. In the end, they might well be worth the students’ obsession. As parents and educators, though, this isn’t just “wait and see.” It’s “wait and see and give young people the benefit of the doubt, and talk about things along the way.” At many points in my life, a conversation with a respected adult has been the tipping point in deciding to change a habit. If those conversations aren’t actively pursued, they might not ever happen. If they do, they may become their own antidote to alarmism.

Thanks again to Steve Hargadon for such a thought-provoking interview. The Future of Education talk is available here.

On the topic of peripheral knowledge gains, I found this article on social networks as learning tools extremely illuminating.

And finally: Alex and I will be speaking at SXSW Interactive this Sunday, on Blackboards or Backchannels: The Techno-Induced Classroom of Tomorrow. If you happen to be in Austin at SXSW, we hope to see you there!

Music, Downloading, and the Fan Community

I’m going to wax lyrical about the humble hyperlink – it’s quite remarkable where just clicking links can take you sometimes! One of my favorite blogs is Nerdcore, partly because its mishmash of German and English keeps me up on my German while throwing me a few lines of English when I get stuck. Plus, like its name implies, it’s got all sorts of cool stuff that appeals to nerds and Digital Natives like me. Last week, a post on Nerdcore quoted linked and quoted liberally from a five-part Hypebot series on Digital Natives and the music industry. Some of the words and themes definitely sounded familiar, so lo and behold, it was good to see Born Digital quoted in part 5 of the series.

The entire series is fantastic, by the way. Hypebot’s associate editor Kyle Bylin draws on many of his personal experiences to offer up thoughts on the relationship between Digital Natives and the music industry. The most pressing issue is, of course, digital piracy. When John Palfrey, Diana, and I were invited to speak at Google DC last fall, one of the most salient questions posed was why Digital Natives seemed to have so few moral qualms about illegally downloading music from the Internet. Diana wrote a follow-up post exploring some of these reasons in terms of simple interface. Bylin, in Hypebot’s five-part series, delves into some of the deeper cultural issues that lead Digital Natives to illegally download music.

Bylin especially talks about the fan community that surrounded his interaction with music:

A digital community had been formed that transcended our own niche interest in Linkin Park or posting lyrics. It was as if the more individualized we became, the closer we were drawn to each other. Bound no longer by our musical taste, but our desires to participate, challenge, and push whatever envelope that appealed to us. Through MSN and the message board, from various parts of the world, we created, connected, and directed a fan experience that shaped our collective identities on and offline. >>

While I didn’t share an experience as intense as Bylin’s, I have to agree that my own music tastes were largely shaped not by my friends immediately around me but an online community. These days though, it’s a little unsettling how many of the new artists I discover are through Pandora! What implications does this fan community model have on the future of music though? Nancy Baym is quoted to further elaborate:

As the experiences of music fans shifts from the offline world to those encountered online, Nancy Baym states in her keynote, ‘Online Community and Fandom,’ that, “The Internet has transformed what it means to be a music fan. Fans can and do build communities more rapidly and successfully now than ever before, with consequences not just for their own experience of music, but for everyone involved in the creation, distribution and promotion of music in any capacity.” Elaborating further that, “fandom is social interaction.” because it lets fans share feeling, build social identity, pool collective intelligence, and interpret collectively. Interaction in this domain not only creates the possibility for digital communities, but it enables fan empowerment. Highlighting these five qualities of the Internet, Nancy says that it has made fans powerful because it, “Transcends distance and extends reach, provides group infrastructures, supports archiving, enables new forms of engagement, and lessons social distance.” >>

It also makes sense that the feeling of community comes hand in hand with peer-to-peer filesharing. What is obvious to all is that the music industry’s business model must evolve to incorporate the increased strength of digital fan communities. Since Radiohead first offered its album for free download, artists and record labels seems to have gone the road of deemphasizing mp3s as a major revenue source. U2’s latest album is available on Amazon for only $3.99.

More thoughts on digital piracy.

– Sarah Zhang

Born Digital in the News

Just yesterday, we got word that Born Digital — written by DN’s own John Palfrey and Urs Gasser — was named one of Library Journal’s “Best Science and Technology Books of 2008.” This is quite an honor, particularly since it’s the only book to appear in the Computer Science category!

We were especially excited to see Born Digital make the Book Reviews blog for the River Forest Public Library as Joanna’s March Recommendation. According to Joanna, “It’s a must read for anyone who works with teens on a daily basis.” When the Digital Natives project began, that’s exactly what we were hoping for: to be able to get the right information to the right people at the right time, to make the prospect of interacting with and mentoring Digital Natives a little more legible. Thanks to Joanna for the kind words and strong recommendation.

Also, starting today and through the month of March, Born Digital is being featured in Borders’ stores in their 2009 “Original Voices” series which “highlights exceptional original writers.” Even though I gave John and Urs a hard time when I was line-editing the book last fall, I have to agree that they are definitely exceptional writers. But if you’d like to judge for yourself, you can read an excerpt from Born Digital here.

In other news, new DN intern Alex Leavitt and I will be featured in this Thursday’s Future of Education Forum. We’ll be talking about our experiences as students and as interns on the Digital Natives Project, and previewing some of our thoughts for our upcoming panel at SXSW Interactive, Blackboards or Backchannels: The Techno-Induced Classroom of Tomorrow. The Future of Education Forum starts this Thursday, March 5, at 8pm EST. We can’t wait!

The Internet is Frying Our Brains?: Keep Calm and Carry On with Research Please

If you just skim the headlines, it seems like we might be screwed: “Social websites harm children’s brains: Chilling warnings to parents from top neuroscientist,” “Facebook and Bebo risk ‘infantilising the human mind: Greenfield warns social networking sites are changing children’s brains, resulting in selfish and attention deficient young people,” “Oxford Scientist: Facebook Might Ruin Minds” or going straight for the punch, “Is Social Networking Killing You?

Got your attention? These articles were based on an interview with Oxford neuroscientist Lady Susan Greenfield with the Daily Mail, in which she put forth some hypotheses about online social interactions and fractured attention spans. Similar concerns about youth and their reliance on digital networking have been trotted out by the press and in books on several occasions, but Lady Greenfield’s prominence in the neuroscience has merited her substantial coverage. The crux of her argument is this:

If the young brain is exposed from the outset to a world of fast action and reaction, of instant new screen images flashing up with the press of a key, such rapid interchange might accustom the brain to operate over such timescales. Perhaps when in the real world such responses are not immediately forthcoming, we will see such behaviours and call them attention-deficit disorder

As a neuroscience student, I tend to approach articles about the brain with my critical scientist hat on, so while reading the previous linked articles, I kept looking for evidence backing up these claims. I found none. In Greenfield’s quote above, her language clearly shows that she is too only speculating about the harmful effects. This is fine – it’s how science moves forward: we put forth hypotheses, but we have to test them before coming to conclusions. In a follow up interview with The Guardian, she admits this too. (audio)

Interviewer: Is this based on your suspicions, Lady Greenfield, as a leading neuroscientist or is it based on evidence that’s actually been collated?
Greenfield: No, the whole point of my making this speech in the House of Lords is to draw attention to this issue and to hope that people will start to set up investigations.

I am entirely behind the hypothesis that increased social interactions online is changing the way our brains process information, but there hasn’t been enough research to corroborate these claims. Many of the issues Lady Greenfield brings up have been dealt with in blog posts here on digital information overload, drawing on our own experiences and what little research that has been done. But for newspapers to be running such inflated headlines that mislead readers into believing neuroscientists have actually proven such effects is nothing but alarmist.

connectomeTo put into perspective how wildly speculative it is to talk about “rewiring” the brain, as ars technica frames the issue, let’s see how much we already know about the wiring of the brain. Not much. The cutting-edge of connectomics – the study of how neurons are connected with one another – is being carried out by Jeff Lichtman here at Harvard using novel imaging techniques on the mouse brain. (We are nowhere close to being able to study the human brain with the same degree of detail.) Earlier this month, a paper was published with the first ever connectome, or neural map, from a mammalian nervous system. What this connectome (left) shows is all the neurons connected to one tiny muscle that controls the movement of a mouse’s ear (photo credit: HarvardScience). This is as much as we know so far of wiring in the mammalian brain. The human brain comprises an estimated 100 billion neurons, each of which connects to on average 7000 neurons. The simple understanding of the brain’s circuitry is a daunting task in itself, let alone understanding how these circuits develop. There are talented neurobiologists working on these questions – I happen to work in the lab of one of them – but we certainly not ready to make grand claims about the brain.

I definitely agree there are interesting questions that remain unanswered, allowing for plenty of room for potential research, even if this research won’t be easy. Longitudinal research on the long term effect of digital interactions will take years, even decades, before producing relevant data. Additionally these studies are incredibly hard to implement, as where do you get a control group of study subjects who never interface with a screen? Greenfield is right to ask for further research, but let’s wait for research before making solid claims. The issues aren’t exclusively for neuroscientists though – psychologists, policymakers, parents, even us digital natives, we all have a stake in this.

– Sarah Zhang

The Digital Classroom: First Encounters

How viable is the digital classroom?

I’ve only ever approached this question from the perspective of a student. For me, it’s always been a personal question rather than a policy decision. It’s taken four (four!) years of college to get things straight: will I really be able to devote my full attention to a lecture or discussion with a laptop in front of me? If the lecture is slow, will I be better off staying awake by accessing more information channels, or watching my mind start to wander as I try to focus on just one?

This semester, though, I’ve found myself on the other side of things. For the past few weeks, I’ve been working as a teaching assistant for a class at Harvard Extension School. It’s about Technologies and Politics of Control, and offered in association with the Berkman Center for Internet and Society (also home to the Digital Natives Project). Tonlycompletely digital; many of them are taking the class at a distance. In order to instruct those students with some level of parity, we’ve been using all sorts of strategies. In the process, some of the ideas and suspicions I’ve had about the digital classroom are quickly confronting reality. Incidentally, so am I. A few things I’ve learned so far:

If students are motivated, the digital classroom is quite viable. For the two hours every week that class is held in person, it’s my job to man the webcast (switching between computer-view and professor-view as needed) and watch the question tool, adding discussion points as they surface. The experience is completely engrossing for me; there are so many streams of information to manage at once. In a way, that multi-stream experience more closely matches the way I navigate the Internet on my own time. Managing 3+ information sources at once means that even when an attention switch occurs, it’s just switching to a different channel on the same topic. The discussion in last week’s question tool (a kind of class-wide chat room, with threaded discussions) was incredibly lively. Cultivating information overload during classtime, as strange as it sounds, seems like a way to keep students more engaged.

Interestingly, though, the digital classroom seems to work better when it’s all-digital: webcasted lecture, live chat discussion, real-time class wiki updates. The dozen or so students who sit in the physical classroom every week all bring their laptops, and seem to take notes assiduously. But they’re far less likely than the distance students to participate in the question tool, or add links to the class wiki during class itself. It’s the students who are sitting at desks—at home or staying late at work—who add the most to the online discussion. The goal of providing so many rich channels for real-time online interaction, after all, was originally to make the distance experience more closely approximate the in-class one. Ironically (and promisingly, at least for the future of distance education), I feel like I know the question-tool students and their interests better than the students I meet in class. In class, it’s a fleeting hello. Online, it’s lively discussion, affirmation, debate. The difference is striking.

A corollary of the all-digital advantage is the advantage that comes from having teaching staff dedicated to the digital front. I’m one of two teaching assistants for the class; it also has two professors, and enjoys substantial support from the rest of the staff and fellows at the Berkman Center. In terms of student-to-teacher ratio, even counting distance students, that’s close to 10:1. The class works, in part, because the teaching staff can pay so much attention to all the many online streams of information that are happening. Especially thinking about what the world of teaching is like in elementary, middle, and high schools—even in most colleges—you’d be hard-pressed to have that many teachers devoting their attention to a group of students all at the same time. It’s an anomaly. Discussion on the question tool is lively, because everyone’s involved, and there are two hours per week when everyone can involve themselves in it simultaneously. By contrast, my instant-messaging office hours are often quiet. When there’s no real-time event to pull students together, they often don’t pull together at all.

These are just some preliminary observations, but I hope more surface as the semester progresses. So, what do you think? In your experience, how viable is the digital classroom? And, more importantly, what practices and tools can improve its viability? I’m currently preparing for a panel at SXSW Interactive in a few weeks on a panel called Blackboards Or Backchannels: The Techno-Induced Classroom of Tomorrow. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the digital classroom and technology in education more generally; I’d be especially grateful for any reports from the front lines of trying to teach younger Digital Natives, outside of the college setting. If you’d be willing to share your observations in the comments, or even email me — at dkimball a t fas dot harvard dot edu — I would truly appreciate it.

Building Communities: Tumblr and Freedom of Expression

What a week for controversy! As the hubbub over Facebook’s of terms of services is dying down, Tumblr just weathered its own round of controversy over its ToS. Tumblr hasn’t permeated the mainstream as much as Facebook, but it’s remarkable how much the situations mirror each other. In both cases, a sudden top-down policy decision sparked a user revolt that led to the company backpedaling and reverting to their original policies.

Last week, Tumblr suspended five accounts, known as anonyblogs, which functioned solely to reblog posts with snide and mocking commentary. On Tuesday, the Tumblr staff posted an entry… on their official tumblelog explaining their decision and adding a new section to their Content Policy making harassment a la anonyblogs grounds for suspension. What followed was an outpouring of commentary especially among those decrying suppression of free speech. The New York Times Lede blog has a superb, link-rich account of the events that along with incisive commentary. Yesterday – a day after its first public acknowledgment of the issue — Tumblr reversed the changes in its content policy with an essentially “I’m sorry, we screwed up” post by its founder David Karp.

There are several interesting issues at play here. Seen in parallel with Facebook’s ToS controversy, it is a clear marker of users demanding more accountability. (If you think about it, it is pretty remarkable: here users are taking advantage of a free service and they actually are telling what the companies providing said free service to them can and cannot do.) Both companies were called on to defend their actions in public and ended up concluding the users were right. Also notable is how quickly the events transpired – the turnaround was a matter of a few days. Transparency, whether it’s with the government or private companies, seems to be much in these days.

There’s another question on my mind though, and that’s why would Tumblr seek to suspend accounts that were nasty, though not illegal. And even if its users were posting illegal content, Tumblr as a website is not liable for content generated by its users because of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which is also at the heart of the still-going AutoAdmit case. The crux of the matter is then, what does Tumblr want to be – a platform or a community?

Ironically, it’s the very features of community building that facilitate the existence of anonyblogs. Following someone – much like Twitter and what’s now been implemented in Blogger – allows you to see all their updates in your Dashboard. Reblogging of posts is especially interesting because it leaves an electronic trail for each post. (See photo) If someone was reblogging your content, for example, everyone who follows you sees their posts as well. So anonyblogs takes advantage of following and reblogging to be a particularly pernicious to their targets.

Because of its size, Tumblr is also small enough to foster a sense of community among its users. There was a Tumblr Secret Santa exchange last December and location-based Tumblr Meet-ups are fairly common. (In fact, there was supposed to be a Harvard tumblr meet-up last night – sadly I couldn’t make it!) Try to envision a Facebook meetup—uh, that’s just like going to class. In addition, its user base is still fairly homogenous in demographic and interests, which is also the thrust of many meta-jokes in the community. Of course, this is all likely to change as Tumblr grows, much in the way Facebook grew from Ivy League students to encompass everyone and their mom.

In the end, Tumblr decided its users should be in charge of moderating their own communities. A Block tool was rolled out – frankly, I’m surprised this wasn’t in place earlier – that allows you to ignore certain users. This is quite similar to the way Facebook rushed out user controls for News Feed after the initial outcry. Rather than enforcing communities, Tumblr is giving users control of their own.

– Sarah Zhang

Terms of Service: Facebook’s Switcharoo and the Importance of Knowing Your Rights

Over the past few days, my information sphere (comprising a haphazard cross-section of RSS feeds, Twitter, and Tumblr) has been dominated by one slightly alarming piece of news: Facebook has changed its Terms of Service. And now it has the rights to everything, ever.

“Everything, ever” might be an exaggeration, but it’s not much of one. In an important article by Amanda French comparing the Terms of Service for MySpace, Flickr, Picasa, YouTube, LinkedIn, and Twitter with Facebook’s revised ToS, she concludes that Facebook’s terms are “extraordinarily grabby and arrogant,” consisting of the following gems (excerpted from Amanda’s article):

1. Facebook apparently wants to keep all its rights to your stuff after you remove it from Facebook, and even after you delete your Facebook account.
2. Facebook claims it can do whatever it wants with your content if you put a Share on Facebook link on your web page.
3. Other sites point out in their terms of service that you still own your content: Facebook doesn’t mention that little fact.

The technology professionals, college students, and academics I interact with online are outraged. Some are even considering abandoning Facebook altogether (even though doing so would only “protect” their future content, and under the new ToS would do nothing to salvage their rights to the content already posted.) The outrage will circulate, I’m sure, for the next few days. It may even make some major news outlets, if it hasn’t already.

But then what? With 175 million users already, and another 600,000 joining every day, Facebook can afford to lose a few naysayers. Of the people left behind, most will never even hear about the Terms of Service, let alone read them. They will continue to use the service, regardless of the terms, because the change was largely invisible. Facebook risked the ephemeral wrath of the techno-obsessed in order to implement a much more insidious and permanent shift. It is eroding the information rights of users who might not even know they have them. And as long as Facebook remains the place where the un-techno-obsessed congregate, even the naysayers will, for the most part, remain in the system. Losing the social graph that Facebook has aggregated—a social graph that, unlike most places on the Internet, actually has a shot at mirroring real-world interpersonal connections because so many are on it—will ultimately prove more frightening than the greedy implications of Facebook’s new Terms of Service.

These new terms, though grim, may indeed not be worth quitting Facebook over; that calculus is one that each user will have to make for himself. But it’s hard to make the right decision when you don’t know you’re making a decision at all; Facebook’s quiet ToS shift means that it will escape most everyone’s attention, and suddenly they’ve “agreed” to something they never really agreed to.

Education for a digital age requires not just knowing how to use the tools, but knowing how they’re using you. Facebook’s changed Terms of Service, and Amanda French’s article linked above, offer an ideal starting point for discussion.

Update 02/19: Facebook has reverted to their previous terms of service. That was a quick turnaround!

The New Liberal Arts: Call for Submissions

Our blogging colleagues over at Snarkmarket are publishing a book, and they’ve issued a challenge to the blogosphere: invent the new liberal arts.

The challenge, from their post on the project:

It’s 2009. A generation of digital natives is careening towards college. The economy is rebooting itself weekly. We have new responsibilities now — as employees, citizens, and friends — and we have new capabilities, too. The new liberal arts equip us for a world like this. But… what are they?

They’re accepting pitches for entries in the “course catalog” of this new world, and we’d love to see an avalanche of submissions from the Digital Natives community. You can add your ideas in the comments here!