Things I learned while not attending SXSW 2010

Many may not realize it, but South by Southwest (the well-known music and film conference/festival held annually in Austin, TX) also includes an “interactive” conference. Over the last few years, the interactive conference (often referred to as SXSWi) has begun to acquire a reputation for presenting emerging technologies and ideas (for example, Twitter “launched” at SXSWi 2007).

While none of us at CIT actually attended SXSWi this week, we’ve been able to pick up some of the more important bits and pieces via blogs, news feeds, and of course, Twitter (#sxsw). Three sessions in particular included information which may be useful/interesting/thought-provoking for those of us in higher ed:

Universities in the “Free” Era

University of Miami’s Glenn Platt and Peg Faimon gave a presentation that generated quite a response on Twitter. Here’s the blurb from the SXSW site:

“MIT, Yale, Stanford, and others put lectures online. Chris Anderson argues all university lectures should be free. From Academic Earth to TED, it’s free. So what is the value-add of a university education? What models of higher education will survive? How will universities leverage the social web to reinvent themselves?”

I’ve embedded slides from the presentation below.

As mentioned above, following the Twitter feed (#universitiesfreeera) for the session provided several additional thoughts and ideas…here’s a sampling:






You can also go back through the entire archive of tweets for the session, or visit the Google Doc with links to several resources.

Before moving on, a quick plug for our annual CIT Showcase seems appropriate here – as several sessions will be tackling these issues, especially in terms of experiential learning and exploring open education resources.

danah boyd – “Making Sense of Privacy and Publicity”

danah boyd is a Social Media Researcher with Microsoft, though many in academia know her better for her work as a Fellow at Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society. She provided the opening keynote (or ‘Opening Remarks’) for the interactive conference. Though some of her talk focused on issues with several current social technologies (Facebook, Chatroulette, and of course, Google Buzz), Boyd also provided an excellent summary of the endlessly complex private/public situation we find ourselves in:

“For starters, know that there’s no magical formula for understanding privacy and publicity. There’s no equation, no easy algorithm to implement. Privacy and publicity are living things, a stew of complexity that’s at the crux of humanity. They are fundamentally processes, grounded in needs, desires, and goals, situated in contexts and transformed by technology. Regardless of how you’re trying to engage in privacy and publicity, know that there’s no answer. What you’ll want today will be different than what you want tomorrow and what you want may be different than what your neighbor wants. This is what makes technological inflections so unbelievably messy.”

“For the parents and educators in the room… Many of you are struggling to help young people navigate this new world of privacy and publicity, but many of you are confused yourself. The worst thing you can do is start a sentence with “back in my day.” Back in your day doesn’t matter. What does matter is that you care and that you too are trying to figure out how to make sense of an ever-changing environment. Rather than approaching teens and telling them how things should be, why they shouldn’t be putting material online, please consider the value of opening up a dialogue. You have a lot to learn from what teens are trying to do; you once had to make sense of public life too. The difference is that they are doing it in the new environment. Take what you know and then actively listen to teens. Through their struggles, you can see what is new and different.

The key to guiding teens – and for that matter, yourselves – is to start by asking questions. What are you trying to achieve? Who do you think you’re talking to? How would you feel if someone else was looking? What if what you said could be misinterpreted? Start these conversations when your children are young and help them learn how to evolve. There’s no formula for them either.”

Read boyd’s entire paper from the talk. ReadWriteWeb also posted a good summary.

How The Other Half Lives: Touring The Digital Divide

Jessamyn West and Jenny Engstrom gave, by several accounts, a very entertaining and informative session on the digital divide. For those who may think we’re beyond this sort of discussion (at least in the US). Via an exploration of rural Vermont and urban NYC, West and Engstrom provide plenty of info to the contrary, including some alarming statistics, for example:  41% of Americans don’t know what “JPEG” is, and 44% don’t know what an “operating system” is.

Here’s the official blurb for this session:

“People who have been online since there was an online have no idea about the day-to-day realities of people just learning about computers. Two librarians, one rural and one urban, will talk about the challenges they face teaching basic technology skills and doing usability testing with brand new technology users.”

They’ve made their materials (and additional resources), including their PowerPoint presentation, available online. The Twitter feed for the session is #digitaldivide