The Future of Learning Institutions in a Digital Age Cathy N. Davidson and David Theo Goldberg Wed, 30 May 2007 19:19:31 +0000 en hourly 1 List of Works Cited or Consulted Fri, 05 Jan 2007 20:19:11 +0000 Cathy Davidson Albanese, Andrew Richard. “The Social Life of Books,” Library Journal, 15 May 206.

Allison, Anne. Millennial Monsters: Japanese Toys and the Global Imagination (Berkeley: U of California P, 2006).

Anderson, Chris. The Long Tail: A Public Diary on Themes Around My Book. 26 Sept. 2006. Creative Commons. 25 Sept. 2006 [link]

—, The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business is Selling Less of More. New York: Hyperion, 2006.

Anderson, David M., and Michael Cornfield, eds. The Civic Web: Online Politics and Democratic Values. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2003.

Appiah, Kwame Anthony. Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers. New York: Norton, 2006.

Armstrong, Jerome, and Markos Moulitsas Zúniga. Crashing the Gate: Netroots, Grassroots, and the Rise of People-Powered Politics. White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green, 2006.

Axelsson, Sofie, and Tim Regan. “How Belonging to an Online Group Affects Social Behavior – A Case Study of Asheron’s Call.” Microsoft Technical Report. 2002 July. Microsoft Corporation. 26 Sept. 2006 [link]

Barabasi, Albert-Laszlo. Linked: How Everything Is Connected to Everything Else and What It Means. New York: Plume, 2003.

Barefoot, John C., and Lloyd H. Strickland. “Conflict and Dominance in Television-Mediated Interaction.” Human Relations 35.7 (1982): 559-66.

Barlow, John Perry. A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace. 8 Feb. 1996. Electronic Frontier Foundation. 24 Sept. 2006 [link]

Benkler, Yochai. “Coase’s Penguin or Linux and the Nature of the Firm.” Yale Law Journal 112 (2002).

Benkler, Yochai. The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom. New Haven: Yale UP, 2006.

Bimber, Bruce. Information and American Democracy: Technology in the Evolution of Political Power. New York: Cambridge UP, 2003.

Bleecker, Samuel E. “The Virtual Organization.” The Futurist 28.2 (1994): 9-14.

Boyle, James. Shamans, Software and Spleens: Law and the Construction of the Information Society. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1996.

-., “Mertonianism Unbound? Imagining Free, Decentralised Access to Most Cultural and Scientific Material.” 2004. The Digital Library of the Commons. Indiana University. 26 Sept. 2006 [link]

-., “A Closed Mind about an Open World,” Financial Times 7 August 2006, 20: 24.

Brown, John Seely, and Paul Duguid. The Social Life of Information. Boston: Harvard Bus. School P, 2002.

–, “The University in the Digital Age.” Times Higher Education Supplement 10 May 1996: 1-4.

Brynjolfsson, Erik, Yu “Jeffrey” Hu, and Duncan Simester. “Goodbye Pareto Principle, Hello Long Tail: Modeling and Measuring the Effect of Search Cost on Product Sales Distribution.” 2005 Fall. Kannert School of Management MIS Research Workshop. Purdue University. 22 Sept. 2006 [link]

Brynjolfsson, Erik, Yu “Jeffrey” Hu, and Michael D. Smith. “From Niches to Riches: Anatomy of the Long Tail.” Sloan Management Review 47.4 (2006 Summer): 67-71.

Burris, Beverly H. Technocracy at Work. Albany, New York: State U of New York P, 1993.

Callon, Michel. “Some Elements of a Sociology of Translation: Domestication of the Scallops and the Fishermen of St Brieuc Bay.” John Law, ed. Power, Action and Belief: A New Sociology of Knowledge. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1986.

Caron, Paul. “The Long Tail of Legal Scholarship.” 6 Sept. 2006. The Pocket Part: A Companion to the Yale Law Journal. 24 Sept. 2006 [link]

Chesbrough, Henry W., and David J. Teece. “Organizing for Innovation: When is Virtual Virtuous?” Harvard Business Review (1996 Jan.-Feb): 65-73.

Castronova, Edward. Synthetic Worlds: The Business and Culture of Online Games. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2006.

–, “Virtual Worlds: A First-Hand Account of Market and Society on the Cyberian Frontier.” The Gruter Institute Working Papers on Law, Economics, and Evolutionary Biology. 2.1 (2000) [link]

Cole, Jonathan, Elinor Barbar, and Stephen Graubard, eds. The Research University in a Time of Discontent. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1993.

Connexions: Sharing Knowledge and Building Communities. 15 Aug. 2006. Rice University. 25 Sept. 2006 [link]

Cummings, Jonathon. “Work Groups, Structural Diversity, and Knowledge Sharing in a Global Organization.” Management Science 50.3 (2004): 352-364.

Cummings, Jonathon, Brian Butler, and Robert Kraut. “The Quality of Online Social Relationships.” Communications of the ACM 45.7 (2002): 103-108.

Cummings, Jonathon, and Sara Kiesler. “Collaborative Research Across Disciplinary and Organizational Boundaries.” Social Studies of Science 35 (2005): 703-722.

Cummings, Jonathon, John B. Lee, & Robert Kraut. “Communication Technology and Friendship: The Transition from High School to College.” Computers, Phones and The Internet: Domesticating Information Technology. Ed. Robert Kraut et al. New York: Oxford UP, 2006.

Dartnel, Michael Y. Insurgency Online: Web Activism and Global Conflict. Toronto: U of Toronto P, 2006.

Davidson, Cathy N. “Envisioning the Humanities in a Digital Age,” Nepantla: Views from South, 4.1 (2003): 51-65.

–, “Teaching the Promise: The Research University in the Information Age.” A Digital Gift to the Nation: Fulfilling the Promise of the Digital and Internet Age. Ed. Lawrence K. Grossman and Newton N. Minow. New York: The Century
Foundation Press, 2001.

–, “What if Scholars in the Humanities Worked Together in a Lab?” Chronicle of Higher Education, 28 May 1999.

Davidson, Cathy N. and David Theo Goldberg, “Engaging the Humanities,” Profession, 2004.

–, “Managing from the Middle,” Chronicle of Higher Education, 5 May 2005.

–, “Why We Need the Humanities Now: A Manifesto for the Humanities in a Technological Age,” Chronicle of Higher Education 13 February 2004.

Davidow, William H., and Michael S. Malone. The Virtual Corporation: Structuring and Revitalizing the Corporation for the 21st Century. New York: Harper Collins, 1992.

DeSanctis, Gerardine, and Janet Fulk, eds. Shaping Organization Form: Communication, Connection, and Community. Newbury Park, CA: Sage, 1999.

DeSanctis, Gerardine, and Peter Monge. “Communication Processes for Virtual Organizations,” Organization Science 10.6 (1999): 693-703.

Diamond, Jared. Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed. New York: Viking, 2005.

Elberse, Anita, and Felix Oberholzer-Gee. “Superstars and Underdogs: An Examination of the Long Tail Phenomenon in Video Sales.” Harvard Bus. School Working Paper No. 07-015, 2006.

Essed, Philomena and Goldberg, David Theo, “Cloning Cultures: The Social Injustices of Sameness,” Ethnic and Racial Studies 6, 1 (November): 1066-1082.

Finholt, Thomas, and Gary Olson. “From Laboratories to Collaboratories: A New Organizational Form for Scientific Collaboration.” Psychological Science 8.1 (1997): 28-36.

Fried, Charles. Modern Liberty: And the Limits of Government. New York: Norton, 2006.

Fromm, Jochen. The Emergence of Complexity. Germany: Kassel UP, 2004.

Fulk, Janet, and Charels Steinfield, eds. Organizations and Communication Technology. Beverly Hills: Sage, 1990.

Garber, Marjorie. “Grouch Marx and ‘Coercive Voluntarism’ in Academe,” The Chronicle Review of the Chronicle of Higher Education 10 January 2003.

Ghosh, Rishab Aiyer, ed. CODE: Collaborative Ownership and the Digital Economy. Cambridge: MIT P, 2005.

Grau, Oliver. Virtual Art: From Illusion to Immersion. Cambridge: MIT P, 2003.

Greif, Avner. Institutions and the Path to the Modern Economy. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2006.

Grossberg, Lawrence. Caught in the Crossfire: Kids, Politics, and America’s Future. (Boulder, CO: Paradigm, 2005).

Guernsey, Lisa. “Cyberspace Isn’t So Lonely After All.” New York Times 26 July 2001.

Hajnal, Peter I., ed. Civil Society in the Information Age. Hampshire, UK: Ashgate, 2002.

Harmon, Amy “Sad, Lonely World Discovered in Cyberspace.” New York Times 30 August 1998.

Herz, J. C., ed., The Internet and the University. Boulder: EDUCAUSE, 2001.

Hesse, Bradford W., and Charles E. Grantham. Electronically Distributed Work Communities: Implications for Research on Telework. Working Paper, Center for Research on Technology, American Institute for Research, 1991.

Hick, Steven F. and John G. McNutt, eds. Advocacy, Activism and the Internet: Community Organization and Social Policy. Chicago: Lyceum, 2002.

Hiltz, Starr Roxanne. The Virtual Classroom: Learning Without Limits via Computer Networks. Norwood, NJ: Ablex, Human-Computer Interaction Series 1994.

Hiltz, Starr Roxanne, and Murray Turoff. The Network Nation: Human Communication via Computer. Rev. ed. Cambridge: MIT P, 1993.

Hunter, Dan, “Cyberspace as Place and the Tragedy of the Digital Anticommons.” California Law Review 91 (2003): 439, 454-8, 472-97.

H20Playlist. 16 Sept. 2006. The Berkman Center for Internet and Society, Harvard Law School. 25 Sept. 2006 [link]

Jarillo, J. Carlos. Strategic Networks: Creating the Borderless Organization. Oxford, UK: Butterworth-Heinemann, 1995.

Jenkins, Henry. Textual Poachers: Television Fans & Participatory Culture. New York: Routledge, 1992.

Johnson, Steven. Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities, and Software. New York: Scribner, 2001.

–, Everything Bad Is Good for You: How Today’s Popular Culture Is Actually Making Us Smarter. New York: Riverhead, 2005.

Keohane, Robert O. International Institutions and State Power. Boulder: Westview, 1989.

Kiesler, Sara, ed. Culture and the Internet. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1997.

Klein, Julie. Interdisciplinarity: History, Theory, and Practice. Detroit: Wayne State UP, 1990.

Klein, Julie, Crossing Boundaries: Knowledge, Disciplinarities and Interdisciplinarities Charlottesville: U of Virginia P, 1996.

Kling, Robert. Computerization and Controversy: Value Conflicts and Social Choices. 2nd ed. San Diego: Morgan Kaufmann, 1996.

Kolbert, Elizabeth. “Pimps and Dragons: How an Online World Survived a Social Breakdown.” New Yorker 28 May 2001: 88.

Kolko, Beth E., Lisa Nakamura, and Gilbert B. Rodman, eds. Race in Cyberspace. New York: Routledge, 2000.

Kraut, Robert, Vicki Landmark et al. “Internet Paradox: A Social Technology That Reduces Social Involvement and Psychological Well-Being” American Psychologist 53.9 (Sept 1998): 1017-1031.

–, “Internet Paradox Revisited.” Journal of Social Issues 58.1 (2002): 49-74.

Lastowka, F. Gregory, and Dan Hunter. “The Laws of the Virtual Worlds,” Legal Theory Research Paper Series, Univ. of Pennsylvania Law School. 26 (May 2003).

Latour, Bruno. Science in Action: How to Follow Scientists and Engineers Through Society. Milton Keynes: Open UP, 1987.

Lattuca, Lisa. Creating Interdisciplinarity: Interdisciplinary Research and Teaching Among College and University Faculty. Nashville: Vanderbilt UP, 2001.

Leskovek, Jure Leskovek, Lada A. Adamic, and Bernardo A. Huberman “The Dynamics of Viral Marketing.” 25 October 2005. Cornell University Library. 27 Sept. 2006 [link]

Lessig, Lawrence. Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace, Version 2.0. New York: Basic, 2006.

Lipnack, Jessica, and Jeffrey Stamps. Virtual Teams: People Working Across Boundaries with Technology. 2nd ed. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley & Sons, 2000.

Merrill, Duane. “Mashups: The New Breed of Web App.” 8 Aug 2006. IBM developerWorks. 24 Sept. 2006 [link]

Nakamura, Lisa. Cybertypes: Race, Ethnicity, and Identity on the Internet. New York: Routledge, 2002.

–, “Race In/For Cyberspace: Identity Tourism on the Internet.” The Cybercultures Reader. Ed. David Bell. New York: Routledge, 2000.

Novak, J. D. & A. J. Cañas, “The Theory Underlying Concept Maps and How to Construct Them,” Technical Report IHMC CmapTools 2006-01, Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition, 2006. [PDF]

O’Hear, Steve, and Richard MacManus, eds. “Elgg – Social Network Software for Education.” 11 Aug. 2006. Read/Write Web. 19 Sept. 2006

O’Hara-Devereaux, Mary and Robert Johansen. Global Work: Bridging Distance, Culture, and Time. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1994.

O’Reilly, Tim. “What is Web. 2.0: Design Patterns and Business Models for the Next Generation of Software.” 30 Sept. 2005. O’Reilly Media, Inc. 20 Sept. 2006 [link]

“Our Cultural Commonwealth: The Final Report of the ACLS Commission on Cyberinfrastructure for the Humanities and Social Sciences,” released December 13, 2006. [PDF]

Poster, Mark. “Theorizing Virtual Reality: Baudrillard and Derrida.” Cyberspace Textuality: Computer Technology and Literary Theory. Ed. Marie-Laure Ryan. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1999.

Reid, Elizabeth M. “Hierarchy and Power – Social Control in Cyberspace.” Communities in Cyberspace. Eds. Marc A. Smith and Peter Kollock eds. London, Routledge,1999.

–, “Text- Based Virtual Realities: Identity and the Cyborg Body.” High Noon on the Electric Frontier: Conceptual Issues in Cyberspace. Ed. Peter Ludlow. Cambridge: MIT P, 1996.

Rheingold, Howard. Smart Mobs: The Next Social Revolution. New York: Basic, 2003.

–, The Virtual Community: Surfing the Internet. London: Minerva, 1994.

Sassen, Saskia. Territory, Authority, Rights: From Medieval to Global Assemblages. Princeton: Princeton UP, 2006.

Saxenian, AnnaLee. The New Argonauts: Regional Advantage in a Global Economy. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 2006.

Surowiecki, James. The Wisdom of Crowds: Why the Many Are Smarter Than the Few and How Collective Wisdom Shapes Business, Economies, Societies and Nations. New York: Anchor, 2005.

Taylor, T.L. “Living Digitally: Embodiment in Virtual Worlds.” The Social Life of Avatars: Presence and Interaction in Shared Virtual Environments. Ed. Ralph Schroeder. London: Springer-Verlag, 2002.

–, Play Between Worlds: Exploring Online Game Culture. Cambridge: MIT P, 2006. Thomas, Douglas and John Seely Brown, “The Play of Imagination: Beyond the Literary Mind.” Working paper. August 22, 2006. [link]

Watts, Duncan. “Six Degrees of Interconnection.” Wired. 11.06 (2003 June). 24 Sept. 2006 [link]

Wellman, Barry, et al. “Computer Networks as Social Networks: Collaborative Work, Telework, and Virtual Community,” Annual Review of Sociology 22 (1996): 213-238.

Wilson, Edward O. Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge. Reprint edition, Vintage, 1999.

]]> 4
IV. Conclusion Fri, 05 Jan 2007 19:31:54 +0000 Cathy Davidson A 1998 report by Carnegie Mellon University indicated that the chief reason people turn to social networking on the Internet is because they are “lonely.” A few years later, this study was revisited. It turns out that Internet networkers aren’t that lonely after all. Rather, they are people who enjoy communicating with others who share their specific intellectual or social characteristics but who might be quite removed from them geographically. They are more interested in creating communities of common concern and interest, and the Internet enables them to ignore physical distance.

The gap between these two studies is intriguing for the future of learning institutions. It is indubitably the case that many who seek new knowledge networks and virtual affiliations do so because they are, as the first Pew study implies, isolated–within their field, on their home campuses. They may well have few, if any, other colleagues within their institutions who share their vision. They could be described as “lonely.” However, it is far more productive to see them as searching out colleagues committed to expanding the ways in which new media technologies could be put to productive purpose in pedagogy and research. In the manner of the “long tail” and Web 2.0, we hope that the process of creating this collaborative position paper might well also bring together and represent this vast if distributed community, both virtually and actually. Representation, as we all know, is key to recognition, recognition is key to change. Institutions are mobilizing networks. And, conversely, mobilized networks change institutions.

Following scholars such as Yochai Benkler (The Wealth of Networks), we dispute the idea that learning (or any other “commodity”) must only happen within single, fixed, pre-identified, or static institutions. Indeed, our definition of institutions as “mobilizing networks” offers a challenge to the insularity of lock-box education, libraries, community centers, or any other civic organizations that define their mission exclusively in terms of their turf, and highlights the possibilities of institutions grounded in distributed and virtual social networks (Wellman, Salaff, et al, 1996).

The single most important real estate for the future of learning is that of the imagination. This is why data-mining is the growth industry of Web 2.0 and semantic Web is the big corporate gamble of the future, why Google (itself a Web 2.0 phenomenon) is willing to pay billions of dollars for YouTube. UGC (User-Generated Content) is the corporate byword of 2006–the global capitalizing of the consumerist long tail. Universities guard their UGC just as zealously.

The challenges to learning institutions are formidable, not least to learner-based institutions. Educators want learners to know more or less what they know, or what they had to learn. Learners want to learn what they need. A more limited subset want to learn “what there is to learn,” for its own sake. Finding the productive, interactive modality between those mandates is the challenge.

The challenges to re-imaging institutional configurations are equally considerable. How to support the imaginative possibilities of “smart mobs” (Rheingold, 2002) and other non-traditional institutional arrangements while avoiding merely replicating older, proprietary institutional models is no simple task.

We thus intend to begin our investigation by exploring a series of interlocking questions:

How do networking technology platforms and their applications enable the composition of robust learning communities and collaborative learning environments irrespective of geographical location?

What sorts of community can be thus fostered, and what kinds of collaboration best thrive in such environments?

What learning resources are made available that otherwise would not be?

What challenges are faced by composing and sustaining virtual learning institutions in this way?

Are younger generations of scholars more disposed to such distributed environments, less alienated by the technology, and more drawn to virtual social communities than older generations, and if so why?

Do the academic professions police those (Cummings, 2005) who would innovate outside of normal structures? If so, what can activist scholar/educators do to provide support for adventurous young pioneers of new learning methods and fields? What best learning practices are already in place utilizing Web 2.0 platforms and applications, and what technologies and uses can be envisaged in the near and more distant future?

What will archives look like on these platforms, and what are the best available and most imaginative, user-friendly digital libraries?

How, in short, to play on CalIT2 director Larry Smarr’s insistent questions: How do we “live the future” and “live in the future”?

* * *

These are some of the key questions we hope to address in the evolving, collaborative drafts of “The Future of Learning Institutions in a Digital Age.” We look forward to your comments.

]]> 6
III. Institution-Building Thu, 04 Jan 2007 23:16:01 +0000 Cathy Davidson In preparing the first draft of this paper, Connie Yowell, Program Officer at the MacArthur Foundation, asked us to think about developing a succinct definition of “institution” that would help us all collectively to think about the potentialities of institutions rather than the obstacles–a Web 2.0 redefinition of “institution.”

In response, we propose the following: “Institutions are mobilizing networks.”

That definition is deliberately provocative, intended to undermine both the traditional solidity of “institution” and the utopian fantasy of the Internet as a non-institutional place of free-flowing choice. Indeed, we would argue, drawing here upon Foucault, that even the most powerfully repressive institutions (monarchies, prisons, the military, etc.) themselves admit of both determination and choice, constraint and flow, hierarchy and resistance. And networks do as well.

We have begun with a definition of “institution” as concise as that of Avner Greif’s magisterial yet quite different definition of “institutions” as “equilibria of rules, norms, and beliefs” (Greif 2006). His definition arises from economic game theory. While appreciating Greif’s metaphor of constant retuning, adjudicating, counterposing, and balancing, we would switch to the more active and agentive metaphor of “mobilizing.” Networks need mobilizing–they certainly neither occur nor can be sustained “naturally,” of their own accord, without effort–and in turn, they mobilize the interactive to effective purpose or ends. We use “networks” not to signal egalitarianism (we do not subscribe to the notion that networks are purely or simply egalitarian) but rather to gesture toward the complex, multiple, sometimes self-generating and sometimes contradictory connections, linkages, and flows that occur in all institutions.

Numerous scholars (at least as far back as Plato’s exegesis of the state and justice in the Republic) have argued that institutional structures that seem permeable in their delineations as well as institutions that appear to be draconian and powerfully linear in their organization and administration all admit and (sometimes inadvertently) foster counter-forces and counter-tendencies. Yet, interestingly, historical definitions of “institution” have tended to privilege the foundational, static, formal, and regulatory aspects rather than the human flows within, into, and out of institutions.

Our modification of classic definitions of “institution” (including Rational Choice definitions) is intended to elicit discussion concerning the differences between traditional and peer-to-peer or virtual institutions. What would it mean to start with a definition that emphasized social networks and the processes of creating those networks? In any new definition, something is gained and something is lost. In ours, we are deliberately building upon and pushing at a classic definition of institution such as that offered by political scientist Robert Keohane (1989), of “persistent and connected sets of rules (formal and informal) that, along with norms and beliefs, prescribe behavioral roles, constrain activity, and shape expectations” (3)12. Our intent is to help rethink the institution in terms of agency and movement as a way of making visible continuities and discontinuities between “traditional” and “virtual” institutions. The definition also helps us find points between the poles of organization and chaos–a way of thinking in institutional terms of what Howard Rheingold calls “smart mobs” (2002).13

Below, we offer an elaboration of our working definition of “institution” as a “mobilizing network.” Practicing what we preach, we have called upon over a dozen colleagues in as many fields for insights, feedback, and exceptions that interject cautions (and terminologies) from various disciplinary perspectives, and that make clear that we do not believe that institutions, in and of themselves, are intrinsically good or bad.14

Our definition is intended to apply to both traditional institutions and peer-to-peer institutions.


Institutions are mobilizing networks.

They aggregate, coordinate, disperse, balance, and adjudicate complex flows of resources.

Institutions are also social, political, and economic structures prompting a culture of their own.

They embody protocols of governance and varying degrees of control over their members. Institutions validate and impose norms, practices, and beliefs, seeking to ensure orderly interchange through normative interactions. However, intra-institutional conflict and complexity are not always susceptible to being managed by such norms.

Institutions sometimes disseminate products to a larger public.

Institutional distribution of goods may be prompted and promoted for reasons of profit, influence, policy, institutional self-perpetuation and power, or the public good.

Institutions may occupy a primary site and exercise jurisdiction over constituents.

Institutional sites may be concrete or virtual, and jurisdiction may be legal or social and ideological.

An institution is differentiated from other looser forms of affiliation by duration.

Institutions are expected to include mechanisms for continuity over time, often seeking to provide an archive or repository of their own collective processes and history.


This working definition has been especially useful in helping us (again by way of collaborative means) to think through the full implications of what a peer-to-peer institution might look like. Of key importance is its motivational premise pointing to the institution’s role as a “mobilizing network.” As we think about building the field of digital media and learning, for example, we need to think about forming the kind of institutional base that will be responsible to its members in its role as a purveyor of cultural norms and protocols for wise decision-making. We also need an institutional base that will be a responsive builder of a common language and a set of creative translation functions capable nevertheless of being modified, riffed upon, improvisationally put to practice. And we need an institutional base that is an arbiter of social practices, an honest broker of financial resources, a resource for credentialing and reputation, and a repository or an archive of its own practices–while maintaining its core innovative function as a mobilizing network.

In other words, corporatizing the institution or even reverting to a conventional institutional model subverts the self-organizing operations of the field–those that we most wish to encourage, that are the most like the Linux-model of self-motivated collaboration and creativity (Boyle, 2004) or the industrious and even playful collaborative operations that Yochai Benkler ascribes to Coases’s penguin (Benkler 2002). These kinds of peer-to-peer institutions are what promise to be most responsive to issues of innovative pedagogy and most suited to a field whose goal it is to rethink the future of institutions for young and older people alike, teachers and learners, often the same person–whether civic centers, community centers, libraries, museums, schools, and colleges for a digital age.

For here is the central question: is there a way to sustain a learning network such as HASTAC without creating fixed rules of organization that, inevitably, replicate exactly the institutional silos we are hoping to diminish as part of the process of re-envisioning learning? The idea of a specific site or a standard organizational model such as the Modern Language Association or the Organization of American Historians seems inimical to the potentialities of Web 2.0 social networking and aggregating that we are advocating. What other models are there?

The concept of “emergence” is key to thinking through the future of learning institutions (Ghosh, 2005). Emergence is the complex process of pattern formation that begins to take shape–and to evolve as a result of–continuous interactions across and among more basic constituent parts or behaviors (Fromm, 2004; Johnson, 2001). We know emergence happens constantly in education. New fields constantly emerge. Are there models or principles for how one creates emergent institutions for an emergent field? Contention and resistance are one (familiar) model for field-transformation. And yet, at least as often, new fields emerge in ways that are taken up by and even substantively change the identities of the institution itself. So are there ways that learning institutions can be more innovative and aggressive in support of this latter process?

Over a decade ago, John Seely Brown and Paul Duguid suggested that the university of the future might not even look like a university. They proposed that higher education might itself become something more flexible, flowing, integrated, networked, distributed, inventive–something that “breaks down the monolith” of university credentialing, training, and disciplinary (in all senses) field-definition (Brown and Duguid, 1996; Cummings and Kiesler, 2005). If one looked at universities from on high, one would, indeed, see many tentacles reaching out in complex new collaborative directions that seem to underscore the validity of Brown and Duguid’s prediction. And yet there are other features of universities that resemble nineteenth-century Germany or medieval England far more than they do the networked knowledge-sharing global open learning models of the Net Age. We are not saying the latter are all good, the former all bad. But we ignore the deep changes in conditions and structures of learning–in what and how we learn today, when we learn and with and through whom, by what means and with what interest(s)–at our peril.

Certainly, in its four years of activity, HASTAC has existed as something like an emergent \institution and its constituents and its mission are far from monolithic. We learn with and from each other, we determine in practice and in situ what works and what does not. Mobilizing our institutions as centers of learning–these are inherently collaborative undertakings, experimental ventures, shared failures and productive outcomes. So with the MacArthur Digital Media and Learning Series.

Organizing eighty centers at twelve sites into a coherent year of scheduled, orderly, open source programming–advertised and archived at a central website in order to serve a larger public–is no minor feat. It is also a gargantuan effort to organize the work of ninety scholars into a book series that emerges after a year of individual and collaborative thinking and that addresses pressing topics that contribute to a new “field” (as the MacArthur Foundation has done through its “Digital Media and Learning” series, with its powerful online presence). Major institutions (universities, multidisciplinary centers, foundations) in the traditional sense support each of these developments. Yet the complex, far-reaching, and distributed outcomes of both of these endeavors constitute something like an emergent field, a self-organizing institution.

We need new models for peer-to-peer institutions. At present, there are many routes to stabilization: individual memberships, collective memberships, external grant funding, commercialization, or absorption into a larger, commercially-viable non-profit organization (such as EDUCAUSE). None of these models on its own is a sufficient condition for the creation of a “field.” It is possible that a hybrid model will prove productive in cementing and sustaining a field with sufficient flexibility to accommodate the rapidly transforming conditions of digital learning. We hope in this paper to discover what other models exist, which are the most feasible, and what are the true potentialities for the institution as a “mobilizing network.”

“What other models are there?” We do not intend that as a rhetorical question but an actual one. We hope, through posting drafts of this paper collaboratively as well as by posing this question at our forums and on the list serves of various networks and organizations, that we will be able to accumulate a wealth of possible models that inventive and adventurous learning institutions can aspire to. By the final draft of “The Future of Learning Institutions in a Digital Age,” we hope to be able to present an array of feasible models of collaborative ownership that have the potential to serve in productive and positive ways the digital economy of emergent virtual institutions.


12In our correspondence (9/24/2006) over this definition of “institution,” Keohane indicated that he has modified his 1989 definition, inserting the phrase “along with norms and beliefs” into the original (as we have above).

13Our definition complements but is to be distinguished in emphasis from Actor Network Theory. The latter emphasizes the ways in which people interact with one another to individualized ends. Our concept of institutions as mobilizing networks focuses by contrast on the outcomes of interactive arrangements among individuals.

14This definition is itself collaborative and was written with feedback and input from many colleagues. Our special thanks to: Anne Allison (Anthropology), Srinivas Aravamudan (English), Anne Balsamo (Interactive Media), James Boyle (Law), Rachael Brady (Electrical and Computer Engineering), Jonathon Cummings (Marketing), Neil DeMarchi (Economics), Kevin Franklin (Education and Grid Computing), Lawrence Grossberg (Communications and Cultural Studies), Harry Halpin (Philosophy and Computer Science), Andrew Janiak (Philosophy), Robert Keohane (Political Science), Julie Klein (English and Interdisciplinary Studies), Timothy Lenoir (History and New Technologies and Society), David Liu (Religion), Dana D. Nelson (American Studies and Political Theory), Mark Olson (New Media and Communications), Kenneth Rogerson (Public Policy), Kristine Stiles (Art History), and Kathleen Woodward (English).

]]> 12
II. HASTAC: A History Thu, 04 Jan 2007 23:04:31 +0000 Cathy Davidson In 2001, the Mellon Foundation held a workshop to help invigorate leadership at humanities centers. In the course of the meeting, it became clear that the group was ignoring new digital media, perhaps even seeing it as a threat to the humanities. By contrast, a small minority understood new media not as threat but as an affirmation and reinvigoration of the oldest traditions of the humanities. In particular, new digital media were seen to raise anew concerns with human life, human rights, human ideas, and human communication, with notions of property and privacy, identity and community, as exemplified in human history and as applicable to the present social and academic arrangements.

The repeated lament about the “crisis in the humanities” is a tiresome and outmoded approach. If the humanities themselves understood their full power, they would reassume a central place not only in the academy but in a society confused over these myriad new developments. In the wake of these developments, Davidson and Goldberg began consulting together, soon identifying like-minded humanists, artists, social scientists, scientists, and engineers with a similarly broad and complementary vision. A network of fellow practitioners quickly materialized. Thus began HASTAC.8

HASTAC is not traditional humanities computing.9 While supportive of traditional humanities computing (largely text-based digitization projects), we have been consistent that HASTAC’s mission is in the co-development and analysis of new technologies, not least but not limited to visualization tools, and their implications for individuals and societies. We have also focused on novel and inventive ways of learning with, through, and about New Media.

HASTAC is not an organization in any traditional sense. We are a voluntary networked consortium of individuals and the institutions we represent–a mobilizing network or peer-to-peer institution. We are committed to a different, interdisciplinary, collaborative view of higher education and, by extension, of education more generally in the digital world. We are as committed to issues of social justice as we are to technological innovation, as committed to theory as we are to practice (and vice versa). At present, social credit (not capital) is the main cost of admission to HASTAC. Those who do the work, who produce, and who contribute effectively lead the network (Davidson and Goldberg, 2004).10

While HASTAC has completed many projects to date (such as a “toolkit” of softwares and other resources created collaboratively), one of the most dramatic public outcomes of our endeavors is the shared, distributed, coordinated In|Formation Year (2006-2007). This field-building year offers one public conference or mediated event per month, sponsored by several centers or institutes at one geographical location, then offered up to a global public via webcasts, podcasts, vodcasts, and even cellphone distribution. At the individual sites, whole courses, programs, seminars, and workshops are unfolding during the year, focusing on the site’s particular In|Formation theme. In aggregate, the In|Formation Year is, quite precisely, a field-building year, a way of gathering together those scholars and students dedicated to rethinking what constitutes learning in a digital age.

We began the In|Formation year with a graduate conference, “Thinking Through New Media” (June 2006). The conference was co-sponsored by Duke University and the Renaissance Computing Institute (a high-performance supercomputing organization based at the University of North Carolina and serving the entire state). This graduate student conference had a limited registration of sixty-five (because of space restrictions) and we had to turn away many who would have liked to participate.

Our second event was a skills-building, hands-on workshop, “Cyberinfrastructure for the Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences” (July 2006), conceived and co-organized by the University of California Humanities Research Institute (UCHRI) and the San Diego Supercomputing Center (SDSC). It introduced scholars to an array of learning technologies from GPS and various visualization technologies to semantic Web, data-base conception, construction, and searches, gaming, and other applications widely used in the sciences and beneficial to educators and learners across all domains as well.

This August we held the visionary and ambitious two-week long intensive workshop “technoSpheres: futureS of Thinking” (August 2006), developed, organized, and hosted by UCHRI and attended by approximately sixty-five people (and blogged daily on the HASTAC website as well as on an even more ambitious UCHRI gaming site that was finalized, collaboratively, and put to hard use by the tech-sophisticated SECT fellows during the two-week workshop). Most of the fellows were graduate students or very young professionals, although we were also delighted that several full professors also participated as “students.” (Through the two weeks word got around and some notable names in the field–from John Seely Brown to Lev Manovich–stayed around or dropped in to feel the pulse of an extraordinary event.) As with the previous events, we found that nearly everyone considered themselves to be a loner within their home institutions, a scholar in search of a field. SECT provided a cohort for most of its multidisciplinary fellows. It was an exhilarating two weeks of ideas and interchange and plans for the future. Each day began at 10 with a panel of paired thinkers from different fields: technology leaders (beginning with John Seely Brown), media artists, game designers, electronic publishers, social scientists, and humanists, all dedicated to and with significant experience in practicing new ways of thinking. Afternoons were spent with hands-on project development and break-out groups. Evenings (usually lasting until late at night–invariably we had to send folks home at 11pm) were dedicated to demonstrations, media projects, screenings, and other multimedia events.11

Starting in September 2006 and ending in May 2007, HASTAC is hosting a full calendar of events, all of them collaborative productions of a face-to-face event at the host site and then webcast to a larger audience. For the hosting site, the events require new intellectual boundary-crossing, administrative buy-in to a new concept of what “technology” is and means, and an expansive sense of the arts, humanities, and social sciences assuming a leadership role in the production of novel kinds of content and innovative technologies for both the larger community and for an international virtual audience.

All of the events center on In|Formation themes. Our point is that “information” is not just about hardware and software, nor just about data in a narrow reductive sense. In|Formation indicates the complex ways in which information is produced at the interface of conceptual ordering and technological production, between data, its conceptual layering, instrumentation and effective use. Information, in short, is always and always complexly in formation. Learning is in good part coming to an understanding of the intricate and interactive processes by which information is always in formation, today not least as a result of the overdetermining applications of new information technologies, of new media. With this comprehensive understanding of “information” in mind, our themes for the year are: In|Common, Interplay, In|Community, Interaction, Integration, Injustice, Invitation, Interface, and Innovation. The In|Formation Year is designed as a field-building enterprise that demonstrates the power of peer-to-peer institution-building on local and global levels.

The first of these (“InCommon”), a four-day conference on “Katrina, After the Storm,” exemplifies our expansive idea of what the “information age” means. This conference included sessions on disaster prediction (and the way individual citizens “geomashed” their own data onto government sites for more accurate prediction and reporting), on impacts on Black, Native American, and poor white communities, and on social networks created by community centers to keep people together virtually after the diaspora.

“InCommon” also included a distributed hip hop event for young people, with dj’ing in an interactive sensor space in North Carolina and vj’ing in Illinois, and kids dancing (and learning about new technologies and “information activism”) in Illinois, North Carolina, and Louisiana. Music was partly generated by kids interacting with plastic censors that had been purchased at Home Depot and assembled with the help of the kids themselves as a way to underscore, first, that technology does not have to be wildly expensive and, second, that kids can also help to shape the technologies they enjoy. A rapper (J-Bully) wrote a song about making lemonade from lemons that underscored kids’ potential and creativity. The event was aimed explicitly at middle-school kids from disadvantaged areas of the cities contiguous with vast institutions of higher learning, as a way of underscoring to these kids that they, too, could have access and entrance to the universities which (for many of them) are simply job sites for their families, not possibilities for their own futures.

“Interaction,” the theme of our fourth month, included an interactive event hosted by two sites, UC Berkeley and the University of Illinois, Urbana-Campaign. Dancers at the two remote (physical) sites performed with each other in virtual space. Each dancer performed in real-time physical space with a screen projection of the other dancing remotely simultaneously in a pre-choreographed piece that nevertheless allowed for improvisation. The astonishingly beautiful and even poignant result underscored the essence of dance (the tension of distance and intimacy, separation and touch) while also premiering a new distributed sensor-space technology. At each site, audiences watched the real and projected dancers. Off site, the public watched the project in exquisite webstreamed synchronicity–presence without being present. Even audiences present in either physical space were at times unable to tell which dancer was “real” and which “virtual” in their space. The stunning performance also evoked intellectual questions of embodiment, corporeality, interaction, improvisation, and simultaneity, in short, of space and time, as much for philosophy and engineering as for performance theory and for art itself.

These two events, taken together, illustrate the possibilities for e-enabled interactive collaborative learning. At once structured and improvisational, fueled by sustained knowledge of deep structures and by innovative experimentation, networked learning requires trust and risk-taking, individual and interactive effort, shared knowledge and resources, recourse to the tried and tested and openness to the new, no matter the source. It requires the recognition that theory without embodiment can be alienating, but that data or content or embodiment without the structuring of theoretical principle can be simplistic, ungrounded, confusing. It involves the drive to succeed and a willingness to learn from failure, knowing when to push and when the game is up. And it means being open to the fact that no matter how tough the going gets, learning and teaching should be fun all round.

Unlike most organizations, HASTAC has no committees, only action items. Loyalty is based on a shared mission, passion for the play of ideas and practices, and on clear, observable follow-through and deliverables (Finholt and Olson, 1997). As many commentators have noted, “developing a high-trust virtual community is no easy task” (Masum and Zhang 16). HASTAC has succeeded where many more formal organizations have failed, at least partly through what Masum and Zhang call the “interconnected ecology of socially beneficial reputation systems” (1). And yet we are a tiny network in a vast system of higher learning which, in too many instances, is characterized by lock-box knowledge, competitive IP interests, disciplinary silos, and other subtle and explicit ways of keeping learning local. Sadly, this is as true of public institutions as it is of private institutions, in any case a distinction increasingly breaking down today (many large public institutions, such as the University of California and the University of Michigan, receive less than 25 percent of their annual budgets from local state treasuries). How to move to a more “open” idea of learning is the challenge. So is it a challenge to move to a new definition of “institution” that both recognizes the constituencies that every single university needs to address and offers its constituencies the best possibilities for collaborative learning suitable to the Net Age.


8Some of the fundamental features of HASTAC were presaged in a small but entirely original program created by faculty at Duke University in 1999. Information Science + Information Studies (ISIS) is a certificate program designed to teach those who will be creating the next generation of technology to think creatively, critically, and in a socially responsible manner about its use and application. It is a program where students both analyze and create collaboratively and across disciplines. A recent introductory seminar consisted of fifteen students with fourteen different majors, with as many arts, humanities, and social science majors as engineers and computational science majors. We see programs such as ISIS as a key to the future.

9For a survey of digital humanities that includes a focus of all of the foundational programs in that field, see “Our Cultural Commonwealth: The Final Report of the ACLS Commission on Cyberinfrastructure for the Humanities and Social Sciences,” released December 13, 2006. [PDF]

10While it is not the province of this brief proposal to address the legal rights and responsibilities of virtual institutions, we are increasingly interested in the legal theories being developed for online multiplayer games and their applicability to other forms of distribution and adjudication of virtual real estate, including peer-to-peer institutions (cf. Lastowka and Hunter, 2003).

11Many of the days at SECT were blogged on the HASTAC website. Webcasts of the events are also available at

]]> 6
I. Overview Thu, 04 Jan 2007 22:56:07 +0000 Cathy Davidson Learning is always embedded in cultural environments. Learners carry their cultural commitments with them. The most effective learning strategies pay keen attention to these conditions, shaping strategies to draw on the mobilizing possibilities of learning cultures and environments. Cultural conditions have shifted in the wake of new digital technologies and the possibilities they have unleashed. These cultural shifts pose significant challenges for learning. It is time to reconsider the nature of learning institutions–what they look like, how they operate, and how they can be transformed and supported in new distributed configurations. We offer here protocols for networked learning and institutional emergence in the age of digital culture.

* * *

“Common culture” is dead, claims Wired magazine editor Chris Anderson in The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business is Selling Less of More (2006), the smash bestseller of summer ’06. Anderson argues that the effect of the Internet has been to proliferate the possibilities of preference expression and consumer choice. One can no longer assume that all consumers want the same thing, not when the Internet exposes any individual to limitless niche markets and a global range of product selection, all communicated through interconnected (but distributed) social networks. In contrast to the “Pareto tails” of the standard statistical distribution in the “common culture” regime (where twenty percent of all products account for eighty percent of all revenue), on the Internet ninety-eight percent of all product offerings are chosen by someone, thus skewing the 80/20 ratio (Brynjolfsson, Hu, and Simester, 2004). Anderson argues that the savvy cultural purveyor, like the smart business person, understands that it is now necessary to offer young consumers a plethora of possibilities, including those for personalized or self-designed products and projects.

What are the implications for learning institutions in this new world where choice and customization seem to prevail? Equally important, what are the implications of not addressing changes in the way young people learn and interact? Given the alarmingly high number of high school and college dropouts, we have to wonder if the current institutions of learning are really serving their students’ needs and interests. We continue to push old, uniform, and increasingly outdated educational products on young learners at our–and their–peril.

We urge that we take Anderson’s point to heart about the long tail as an important new pedagogical principle. Because of the deep cultural shifts of our times, in the new modes of on-line learning made available to youth, we believe it is important to identify and comprehend the multiple preferences of a more dispersed learning population. The best way to do this, of course, is to involve youth in the learning process. We would like to advocate new forms of collaborative and self-directed learning and to discover ways to offer learning opportunities lifelong to that distributed, diverse group.

There are many points with which one could argue in The Long Tail. We do not believe educational preferences should be marketed like the various new kinds of cola. We nevertheless agree with some of Anderson’s assumptions about the effects of interactivity on intellectual choices, on the new kinds of affiliations (by self-defined choice) allowed by the Internet, and we are fueled by the new possibilities his insight entails for learning, social action, and intellectual affiliation as a result of the variety of virtual associations supported by the Web.

We are also interested in The Long Tail for a very different reason. As a book, it exemplifies a central contradiction or even ambivalence about collaborative thinking that may be characteristic of the present moment. It embodies both traditional and peer-to-peer models of authorship simultaneously and thus offers us an interesting economic case study. The Long Tail is, in part, a consumer- or user-designed product. It began as an “open-source research project” on Anderson’s blog, with ideas improved and tested by numerous readers. However, it is Anderson and his publisher, in the traditional role of “the author” and producer, who most directly benefited financially from the book’s popularity, not the “open source researchers” who added to or transformed his ideas.1 Who owns ideas in a peer-to-peer environment? It’s hard to say. As a model of authorship, leadership, collaboration, originality, intellectual property, profit, and sustainability, The Long Tail is both a provocation and a cautionary tale.

Issues of collaboration, originality, and sustainability (including public and private sponsorship and support) are also key to the future of learning institutions. It is time to re-examine those key premises and the role they have played in shaping learning institutions in general and higher education more particularly since the turn from the nineteenth to the twentieth century, and especially since the end of World War II. While each of these premises has been commented upon articulately (and often frequently) by writers and scholars in various sectors, from business to education, it is important to attend carefully to the connections between and among several points, some of which are causally related, some of which may be coincidences or contingencies fostered by our particular historical moment. Consider the following, discretely and interactively:

  • Because of the Internet, more and more choices are available to the public, in everything from consumer products to software, social networks, modes of play, knowledge/data-repositories, and cultural archives. Learning, too, has a “long tail” where more and more is exponentially available virtually, to potentially much wider, more distributed, and diverse ranges of people.

  • Because of the emergence of next-generation technologies, we are witnessing the rapid development of Web-engagement from merely searching for information to using the Web as a distributed application platform. These developments have come to be referenced as Web 2.0. They include Grid and network technologies effectively creating super-computers out of the distributed networking of desktop or laptop machines. Grid computing enables both individual access to very large data collections in all fields and instantaneous virtual communication practices. They also include collaborative knowledge-building sites like Wikipedia and aggregated social memory systems such as and other social bookmarking sites based on “Folksonomy,” a term coined by assiduous blogger Thomas Vander Wal, for an aggregated system of classification and organization that emerges organically from the selections made by individual users. Other Web 2.0 examples are social networking services like Friendster, social networking sites like MySpace, or massive multi-player online games (MMPOGs). They are crucially important–a revolution within a revolution, so to speak–because they enable actualization of collaborative engagements, with all their challenges and potential benefits. “Complex adaptive systems theory” (an amalgam of hard and social sciences) is evolving to understand better these aggregated networks (Bogost, 2006).2

  • Because of Web 2.0 and the widening area of distributed social networks, credentialing of the merit and worth of products and ideas is increasingly dependent on peer-to-peer communication and distributed hierarchies of quality (the “Zagat’s model” of merit and preferential ranking). This peer-to-peer evaluation is a logical extension of peer review, the touchstone of present-day U.S. academic evaluation and status-attainment.

  • Access to computers is unevenly distributed. Wealth, formal education, race, and gender are important factors in the certification of what constitutes “merit” and “quality.” Nevertheless, an increasing number of those born after 1983 (the desktop) and 1991 (the Internet) learn through peer-to-peer knowledge-networks, collaborative networks, and aggregated private and open source social spaces (from My Space to Given that the entering college class was born in 1988, we are talking about a cultural change that touches every aspect of the educational system as well as non-formal learning environments for all ages. The so-called “Millenials” are, in fact, not the only age group being transformed by digital technologies. We note in passing that the average age of a World of Warcraft game player is 28 (Thomas and Brown, 2006.)

  • Youth who learn via peer-to-peer mediated forms may be less likely to be excited and motivated by the typical forms of lecture or even seminar-style hierarchal one-professor/uni-directional models of learning.

  • Governmentally mandated programs, including those such as “No Child Left Behind,” tend overwhelmingly to reinforce a form of one-size-fits-all education, based on standardized testing. Call this cloned learning, cloning knowledge, and clones as the product. Such learning models–or “cloning cultures” (Essed and Goldberg, 2003) are often stultifying and counter-productive, leaving many children bored, frustrated, and unmotivated to learn.3

  • High school drop-out rates in the U.S. have soared in the last decade. Nationally, independent surveys indicate that thirty percent of high school students do not graduate within four years, making the United States now 17th among developed nations.4

Alongside these scores and in good part fueled by educational failure is the surging gap between the wealthy and the poor. Incarceration rates, which have soared ten-fold since 1970, correlate closely with educational failure and impoverishment. Seventy-five percent of those imprisoned tend to be illiterate, and roughly the same percentage was earning under $10,000 per year at the time of arrest.5

We do not claim to have solutions for these massively complex social issues, nor do we claim to understand fully the relationships between and among the various developments we have listed. However, we do believe the opportunity now exists to mobilize educators to more energetic and productive learning ends. Interactive technologies and collaborative learning have inspired enormous excitement, and contemporary youth exhibit great facility in negotiating the use of new media. We believe, accordingly, that learning institutions can be developed to do a better job of enlisting the imagination of our youth and to use the excited and specialized interests of young people for the purposes of placing in practice wise and rigorous forms of knowledge-sharing.

To accomplish this end will require that educators rethink their most cherished methodologies and assumptions. It is not easy to rethink knowledge in the Net Age.6 As open source legal theorist and activist James Boyle notes in his witty and terse “A Closed Mind about an Open World” (2006), the last three centuries of capitalism have conditioned us all to have an “openness aversion.” Boyle suggests it is an actual cognitive bias that leads us to “undervalue the importance, viability and productive power of open systems, open networks and non-proprietary production.” To overcome this bias requires that knowledge-producers (all of us involved in the business of teaching, in whatever current institutional configuration) rethink every aspect (from economic theory to citation form) of what we think of us as “knowledge production.”

No school of higher education in the country today has tested in a comprehensive way new methods of learning based on peer-to-peer distributed systems of collaborative work characteristic of the new Internet age. Social psychologists such as Joshua Aronson and Claude M. Steele have established quite conclusively that collaborative learning is beneficial across class and culture. These new modes of distributed collaborative engagement are likely both to attract a broad range of motivated learning across conventional social divisions (think of the anonymous interactions across classes in online gaming) and to inspire new forms of knowledge and product creation. But can we really say, in 2007, that the institutions of learning–from pre-school to the Ph.D.–are suited to the new forms of learning made available by digital technologies? Is there an educational enterprise anywhere in the world redesigned with the deep assumptions of networked thinking core and central to its lesson planning? Has anyone yet put into institutional practice what John Seely Brown is calling a “social life of learning for the ‘Net age’”?7

Our own collaborative learning network, HASTAC, has taken a national and international leadership role in developing an interactive network for scholars that engages the technological, pedagogical, humanistic, and socio-cultural factors crucial in Web 2.0 learning. HASTAC is an entirely voluntary network of scholars who see the connections between these complex technological, sociological, and economic factors as crucial to the future of higher education and learning.

  • Like the peer-to-peer models of learning, social communication, publicity, and communitarian ranking, HASTAC provides a site and set of mechanisms where a loosely defined community of affiliation interacts through peer-to-peer connectivity.

  • The HASTAC network often provides individuals who are isolated, marginalized, and/or sometimes even under-appreciated within their departments or institutions access to a distributed community. Of crucial importance, it is leading to the formative emergence of a complex interdisciplinary “field” within which present (and future) research can be assessed, evaluated, distributed, and utilized.

  • HASTAC embraces a range of diversities as part of its mission and encourages intellectuals at universities without adequate resources to provide leadership grounded in, quite precisely, the collaborative and community networking skills and ingenuities required by the lack of resources. At the same time, these institutions can partake, through webcasts and collaboration, in possibilities available at institutions with far greater financial and technological resources and expertise.

  • HASTAC’s goal, then, is to establish the firm foundations for field-building by reaching out across an extraordinarily wide constituency. In disciplinary terms, this means drawing from humanities and arts institutes, social science organizations, supercomputing and grid computing institutes, and technology and engineering centers. This mix includes the leading institutions of their kind in the U.S. and abroad as well as minority-serving organizations designed to include less advantaged learning institutions.

  • Concretely, HASTAC aims to fashion a generation of scholars equally at ease with current (which is also to say historical) knowledge in the humanities, arts, and social sciences, on the one hand, and with the technological, scientific, and engineering knowledge on the other, with a view to facilitating development of new discoveries and new relations between currently available knowledge sources, in order to digitally prompt new bodies of important knowledge.

We suggest that new learning communities accordingly will engage peer-to-peer interactivity and intercommunicability across distributed learning communities, technologically enhanced. These new learning communities embody a range of distributed diversities–in networking skills, ingenuities and facilities, as well as in resources and background lived experience. They represent robust interdisciplinarity and expansive virtual heterogeneity, as well as an equal ease with their more or less specialized fields of knowledge and with their knowledge of technology. The challenge is to devise institutional learning structures to facilitate, accommodate, and accredit these new learning forms and their outcomes.

We live on the long tail. We aim to be the tail that wags the dog of new learning in the digital age.


1A more self-conscious hybrid is McKenzie Wark’s publication of his new book, GAM3R 7H30RY (Gamer Theory), on a collaborative software environment sponsored by the Institute for the Future of the Book, a project designed to bring readers into the creation of the book (Albanese, 2006) while still offering readers the possibility of one-click pre-ordering of the next iteration of the book (to be published by Harvard University Press). New projects such as the Wikiversity Learning Project are designed to support collaborative models of knowledge-sharing.

2According to Bogost (139), complex adaptive systems draw upon the mathematical graph theory of Leonhard Euler and Paul Erdös, social network studies by Stanley Milgram and Mark Granovetter, complexity and chaos theory that focuses on emergence, and Stephen Wolfram’s dazzling work on cellular automata.

3See Grossberg (2005) for a trenchant analysis of ways that these factors in the lives of youth merge in U.S. national policy and ideology.

4See The Education Trust, “Getting Honest about Grad Rates: Too Many States Hide Behind False Data,” June 23, 2005.

5Cf. The Prison University Project and the Correctional Education Facts from the National Institute for Literacy.

6Although many people use the phrase “Net Age” as a shorthand for “Internet Age,” we are here using John Seely Brown’s particular use of the term to signal both the Internet and networking, the specific combination that O’Reilly calls Web 2.0 and that seems to us a vastly rich model for learning and a specific challenge to most existing forms of learning institutions.

7This is the title for the keynote address that John Seely Brown will deliver at the first international conference of HASTAC, “Electronic Techtonics: Thinking at the Interface,” April 19, 2007, at the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University. A webcast will be available at

]]> 24