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In the introduction to Born Digital, Palfrey & Gasser write:

We are at a crossroads. There are two possible paths before us—one in which we destroy what is great about the Internet and about how young people use it, and one in which we make smart choices and head toward a bright future in a digital age. The stakes of our actions today are very high. The choices that we are making now will govern how our children and grandchildren live their lives in many important ways: how they shape their identities, protect their privacy, and keep themselves safe; how they create, understand, and shape the information that underlies the decision-making of their generation; and how they learn, innovate, and take responsibility as citizens. On one of these paths, we seek to constrain their creativity, self-expression, and innovation in public and private spheres; on the other, we embrace these things while minimizing the dangers that come with the new era.

The website which accompanies Born Digital has a video for each chapter. Here is the video for "Identities":


If you want to watch more of the videos which accompany this book, please visit the Born Digital web site.  


What do you think about this "crossroads" or any other aspect of what you read in the book excerpt? How do you think this affects our role as educators?




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Some random first thoughts as I read this Palfrey excerpt (plan on reading the rest of book this summer):


  1. I was again struck by the generational divide (of course understanding that I am generalizing here) around the sensibility toward technology (I guess another variation/sub-set of the native vs. immigrant idea)
    1. In fact is the issue of safety really a concern, or an inflated one, that is only held by those who are not “born” into this new environment?
    2. If we believe in backwards design, in he area of technology education,  probably the most important issue arising from this article is – what should every BB&N student know, and be able to do upon graduation (and by inference every teacher)?
      1. – and if we can identify these skill/content how do we make sure they are being taught?
      2. What would effective teacher PD in the area of technology look like at BB&N in order to make sue we are really teaching these things?
      3. Is BB&N’s reluctance to adopt new pedagogical technologies (such as on-line learning) a wise decision based on quality control of an overly conservative approach because it will change our traditional educational landscape (a threat?)
      4. Finally, at least for right now, are we willing to embrace the “creativity, self-expression, and innovation” that the technological age can/will produce but with far less control (and safety) by educators?  And if we are how will that fundamentally change the way we do business at BB&N?
Is there a real internet safety concern or is it inflated?

I find this question interesting because I never gave any thought to the fact that internet safety concerns may in fact be inflated. However, after reading the question I began to think about the issues, albeit incomplete, and at this point I do think that while although Internet safety should be our number one concern, the concern can be inflated if it turns into fear of using internet for educational purposes.

When reading the question what first struck me was the word safe and how sometimes protecting ourselves is a natural instinct while other times, like this, it is not. This is especially true when we don't have a grasp of the actual dangers facing us. Since at this point in time it is obvious that internet safety is not a natural instinct, kids get into unsafe waters because there is a lack of education and action on the part of those in charge of child safety- namely schools and home.

Schools may think they can only go so far in what their students are allowed to do at home, and this is true, but it doesn't mean we shouldn't make the extra effort in education and action. As educators we need to ask our families what precautions they take when it comes to the internet and if they have their computer settings set properly. Some may say this line of questioning is a bit invasive but with new freedoms come new responsibilities. According to a source I read this summer, can't remember the source, "Part of societies job is to raise children to take their part in the world when they grow older and become adults. This is a transmission of culture from one generation to the next. In American society families, schools, and daycare facilities usually dominate as the ones responsible for cultural transmission because this is the social environment the child most interacts with." If we find this statement true, which I personally do, then the job of educating and protecting children is the communal effort of home and school.

It's true that educators cannot control what happens in the home but schools can go beyond the basics of giving families a list of what they should be doing to protect their loved ones. As a school is it enough to have a parent night or handout saying what to watch out for and what needs to be done to protect the home from cyberspace? Or do schools need to follow up? At home are we being responsible and looking out for our child's safety when we give them smartphones? Who is accountable for these children? In my opinion, as mentioned above, the combination of families and school.

In wrapping up my thoughts I am not ignorant to the dangers of the internet just as I am not ignorant to the dangers of smoking and not wearing a seat belt. However, to be afraid of using the internet for educational purposes because of the danger of chat rooms, predators, and social sites that can potentially destroy an adolescents reputation is a bit extreme. There is great danger everywhere, Internet included, but the internet would be safe if adults were educated and stepped to the plate and acted upon necessary precautions, such as site blocking, facilitating computer use, and not getting a young person a smart phone.
My direct response will be to Charlie's 2.3 question/point - about BBN's reluctance...there are great benefits to where we are with respect to our positioning on this issue as a result of a conservative approach - I think at BBN we foster skills such as "creativity, self-expresssion and innovation," but not necessarily through our use of technology or our digital approaches. BBN is a school that most likely aims to reach many of NAIS's Digital Guiding Principles already but we have not as of yet employed a school wide 21st Century digital approach as explored in the NAIS report. This brings me back to the first idea, which is, because we have waited a bit and haven't jumped all in, we have the benefit from learning from others' failures and struggles and for us to really decide what it is we want our students to learn and what we want our school to be. I don't think the change will come easily to the school, but I think it will come eventually and when it does, I imagine a structured and organized approach based on the successes and failures of schools who have gone before us. Additionally, since the landscape is currently still changing relatively quickly (Tablet-Mania), waiting even a few more years might be beneficial as well - who knows - the norm in two years might be iPads in every student's hands. That said, there is value in having discussion (say the first day of meetings) about what skills, given the current environment, do we (faculty, staff, administrators) think that a BB&N student should graduate with - and then formulating a plan from there - and making implementation goals on each campus, as in the process from the E.E. Ford Achievement Gap study.
In response to Charlie's question 2.2: What would effective teacher PD in the area of technology look like at BB&N in order to make sure we are really teaching these things.

Effective PD in technology at BB&N would need to take into consideration that there is probably a greater divide between the tech skill levels of our teachers than there is between our students. Learning a new technology to use with our students often comes with an expectation that the teacher has a basic level, or in some cases more intermediate level, of skills already known to them. This assumption of basic knowledge can cause a teacher withou this base set of skills to shy away from learning about new technology because they already feel behind......embarrassed to sit in a session with their colleagues and admit they don't know how to use the digital calendar to begin with, never mind focusing on a new type to use interactively with their students.

Effective PD for the teachers would require some type of skill assessment so that teachers could know what "level" they are at. PD could be offered at different "levels" and teachers would know what their individual next step is and sign up accordingly. Yes, I know, I am suggesting a differentiated instruction model for tech PD, but I think if we really want all teachers to move forward, we need to clear the air of embarrassment some have about asking how to do the basics. We have to set an expectation that with the right model, each teacher must embrace moving to the next level, wherever that is for them.

While I might be comfortable typing this response from my smartphone, I realize that not all teachers may even be accessing the Internet from their phones. We can't weave into our teaching, and our students learning, what we don't know. In the area of technology I think many teachers feel frustrated by all that has passed them, and they feel too overwhelmed to try to catch up.

This thread/forum (as do several others) reminds me of one of Howard Gardner's most recent publications: Truth, Beauty, and Goodness Reframed: Educating for Virtues in the 21st century. I think his ideas are relevant to our work with our students and worthy of discussion with them as well.... how has the advancement and proliferation of technology changed how truth, beauty and goodness are defined and perceived? Think about how the interwebs have influenced the recent uprisings around the world and our own individual views of what is "right" and "wrong."  As educators, I believe we have a responsibility to engage with our students on these topics.


An interview with Gardner on RadioBoston:


Re. Charlie's #3, wise decision or overly conservative...  What's out if something comes in?  Don't we ask ourselves that at BB&N all the time? Certainly in content we adapt fairly readily (Good-by Ernest and F. Scott, welcome Toni and Amy.  And in style ("yes, I'm aware of your challenges with auditory processing here's a written overview of the week...").  Do the new technologies offer challenges that are fundamentally different from challenges of the past?

What should we hold on to and what can we jettison as the web makes new demands and proffers new opportunities

strikes me as best engaged in thoughtful department discussions and lone musings.

Just finished reading this excerpt and Charlie's comments above.  Much of the computing that kids learn is inherent in their day-to-day activities, and Palfrey illustrates this point with many examples of how digital natives think and learn.  With all the shortcuts and benefits of ready access to the world it is important to remember how we navigate through the world, so  I appreciate that Palfrey recognizes the temptation to push legal and ethical limits in the digital age. (Not saying that this push didn't happen in other ages, just that there are new boundaries for one to reflect.) 

The Born Digital excerpt resonated profoundly with me since I have a daughter (now 19) that was born a year after the WWW made its debut. I even have a picture (now digital) of her operating the computer when she was only a little over 2 years old.  Being a mother I worry about everything - diseases, friends, education - you name it.  I agree with Anthony R. regarding the dual responsibility of home and school to be accountable for children's safety regarding digital items.  I have, however, taught my daughter to swim in deep water, drive a car as safely as possible on Rt. 128, AND use technology wisely.  Since she is dyslexic she has profited greatly with all of the new technologies that help those with learning issues.  I have a smile on my face when I see her balancing digital along side the old time method of reading a book with pages.  Digital is here to stay and has many benefits.  We can't let fear get in our way as educators. 

Balancing the opportunities of this new terrain and the challenges of the unknown will be the ongoing issue here.  As I reflect on both the original questions stated in Charlie’s lead-in and the observations of the next posts, I, too, am struck by the enormity of our task. 


We can focus on backwards design and proceed with our articulation of specific skills & content in this area across the grade levels, but this is only one piece of the complex puzzle; we will quickly discover that we have only hit the tip of the iceberg. In my role, I spend a great deal of time with parents and my current lens is about our role and responsibility with them. Already, the expectations of schools have grown over a short period of time and we are spread thin ~ what’s a realistic approach?


Our sphere of influence is limited. There is such discrepancy among families about beliefs, expectations and “social norms” when it comes to technology.  Parents are the ones facilitating most access at the younger age levels and monitoring (and more often not) our young people. As a school, we need to be clearer ourselves about our beliefs and expectations and then share them with families for meaningful progress. Our own internal dialogue is an effective first step, but for a true partnership with families and effective results, it would take a deep commitment on our part as a school to truly engage families over time in this ongoing work.  Are we prepared to do that? Are there other more creative and realistic options?


The true nature of life is constant transformation, and there is always change & adaptation. At a cellular level already, what we are now is not exactly the same as what we were a few minutes ago, and this will not be the same in a few minutes from now. The issue described in this very thought provoking excerpt is that technological changes are happening at the speed of light and before we can anticipate their consequences.

Again, using the analogy of our body, our physical self can adjust to an array of incredibly challenging situations; yet, it can also fail if it cannot handle either the amount of change or its intensity. We can be precipitated into a dangerous condition. What we are presently witnessing is already of a global nature. How will our mind & body, our society, and our world adjust? Not being born in this digital age offers some of us a different perspective and appreciation of the situation. Our own body, although it keeps changing, still requires homeostasis to survive. Our society, although not at all as adaptable as the human body, is struggling to establish political, social, and economic systems that would create a healthy balance between progress and happiness access for everybody. Now, as pointed out by the authors, we are at a “crossroads,” and probably a greater effort than ever before is needed to integrate the excellent advantages of this digital medicine while making sure that it will not kill the patient!

As teachers and advisors, we are in a privileged position because we can directly witness our students & how the digital world affects them. And although, most of their digital activities take place out of school, we can still get a good sense of how it is influencing their lifestyle. We can also help them understand the benefits of technology while providing them with safeguards against potential dangers. The clip regarding Andy’s Digital Dossier is another eye opener regarding the two-way street that technology provides. While it gives us a multitude of capabilities, it also tracks everything we do. And, as educators, one of our roles is to share the fine print with our students.

Future and even science fiction technology is already on the way. Before people can learn how to master the basics of a digital tool, a new one appears and makes the previous one obsolete. (Of course, the consumption of this wonderful technology is a very lucrative industry. The global stage is unfortunately not set just for the possible increase in brain skills but also for big profits.) Brain development and learning both take time, and as educators, one of our ongoing challenges is to create an environment that allows healthy growth to take place. Another goal should be to judiciously integrate technology and use its power while keeping a clear sense of the human qualities that we’d like our students to cultivate.

Choose your term of choice -- crossroads/epoch/tipping point, etc. The moment seems to be upon us. 

Teachers know how much energy and inspiration it takes (and how necessary and rewarding it can be for their students and themselves) to change aspects of their curriculum content. Revolutionizing the learning mode to provide the most effective educational experience for children who are digital "natives" is likely to require exponentially more energy -- and we need to embrace this change, as radical as it may feel to us non-natives.

BB&N has made laudable progress incorporating technology into the learning environment, yet we all know that as a whole we are still in the early stages of the effort, relatively speaking. As posted in Beth Brooks' discussion forum: "Today, learning environments that do not offer highly engaging learning systems with both a superior level of technology-based connectivity and the teacher-as-learning architect/modeler at their center are at great risk of quickly becoming archaic and out of touch with children." As educators, and as an independent school, is this something we are willing to risk?

This has been a fascinating thread of commentary for me to follow; and I really appreciate being able to do so "virtually." Yet, I also find myself missing the chance to have these face-to-face exchanges in the "old days" before we became "wired." As an educator (with 30 years) as well as the parent of two young children (11 and 7), I easily see myself in the intersection of these crossroads -- with the sense and appreciation of a rich past as well as the excitement, opportunities and fear that go hand-in-hand with being "in the middle." As much as I want to embrace the changes that technology is affording us (and NOT wanting to make change just for the sake of change), I am also very much aware that doing so WILL require letting go of techniques and lesson plans that have been very successful previously. (And this is not even including those aspects of technology that we may not be able to fully grasp, yet.) Scary stuff -- YES! -- because as teachers many of us learned to approach our classes like a trial lawyer might -- constructing lesson plans around anticipating potential areas of concern and knowing where we wanted the conversation to end before we started (and therefore being able to better instruct / guide our students and children accordingly). This approach also aided us in feeling more comfortable and confident   with our subject matter as well as our approach to being in the classroom (classroom management) and as we became more experienced, it was possible for us to gradually broaden our comfort zone (in part because we were more in control of the classroom environment.) I'm also struck by the realization that if we wish to remain relevant in the lives of our students as teachers (and our children as parents), then we need to work at becoming more comfortable with the unknown, with constructing open lessons (where we may not know ahead of time exactly where a lesson plan will take our students, but feeling comfortable with that uncertainty) and exploring new technologies with a willingness that we may not feel (at the time). Yes, we have benefitted from not having jumped on the technology bandwagon at the beginning, but the cost has been that we do need to play catch-up, and we need to do so in an environment that we see and feel changing at a seemingly rapid rate of change. We owe it to our students (and children) now to try and embrace this as best we can. While our past experiences may not serve us as well as the indicators of future activity like they did in a simpler time, accepting this challenge now gives us the opportunity to model for our students an approach to acquiring the skills and mindset that we have already identified as being critical to their success in the 21st century. It can also perhaps "level the playing field" in technology because of the give and take that can come from our interacting with students as they see us grappling with new stuff, but not shying away from the challenge that goes with being life-long learners.


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