Big Thinkers: Howard Gardner on Digital Youth
The founder of multiple-intelligences theory discusses the challenges ethics and education face as digital media become more prevalent.
Release Date: 5/27/09
1. What are specific ethical issues you see kids struggling when they use digital media?
2. How is our sense of identity changing in the digital world? How can adults learn from kids and guide them at the same time?
3. Digital tools make it extremely easy to communicate with anyone in the world. What are the opportunities and challenges for kids?
4. Do you think digital media are having a negative impact on kids' attention span? What are the implications for home and school?
5. How does teaching and learning change in a world where information is at your fingertips?
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Big Thinkers: Howard Gardner on Digital Youth (Transcript)
I'm Howard Gardner, I'm a psychologist at Harvard, 65 years of age. I'm certainly not an early adapter, but I guess there are two things I'd mention, number one, whenever something makes my life easier, that I go right to it, but the other thing is that when you're a researcher, it's very important to avoid repeating yourself, and to have new ideas, and for someone like me to immerse myself in the digital media, is a way of rejuvenating myself, and I hope it works.
We call our project, The Good Play Project, and it is built upon work we've been doing the last 15 years, on the ethical sense of young people. And young people know what it means to be ethical, and some of them achieve ethics in youth, but a disturbing finding among American youth is, often they say, someday when I get to be rich and famous and important, I'll be ethical, but for now I'd like a pass, I'd like to be able to do what is most convenient. And so when we began to think about the new digital media, one of the questions we asked is, what does it mean to be ethical in the new digital media. And that's not a question which, as far as we know, has been asked very much, so our project, called, Good Play, is to look at five ethical issues, sense of identity, sense of privacy, sense of ownership-authorship, trustworthiness and credibility, and what it means to participate in a community. And it took us a year just to define these issues, but then we made, what I would call our first discovery, and that is, once you enter in the digital world, you are a member of a community of unknown size and duration, and so the notion that you're just among friends in a neighborhood, or among family, no longer holds, and so you're kind of thrust into a territory with ethical challenges and ambiguity, as soon as you become a member of any digital community.
In truth, you know, one could always have pretended to be somebody else in the pre-digital world. You can be an actor, so the notion of trying on different masks is not new, and it's not necessarily bad. But what's happened now is, it's very, very easy to create numerous kinds of identities, and this can both be confusing to the person himself or herself, but it can move into deception, and in the worst case, into doing real harm to yourself or other people, and that's the role that's played by parents or teachers, or by older people who help young people understand that, you know, trying on a different mask is okay, but not to the point when you're going to hurt somebody else or hurt yourself.
What strikes me most about the new digital media, is the huge amount of information available, the ease of accessing it, and the possibility of being in touch, as much as you want, with anybody else on the planet, who has access to these digital media as well. But no medium itself is benevolent or malevolent in itself. You can use a pencil to write sonnets, or poke people's eyes out, and so the fact that we have the new digital media does not at all mean that they're going to be used in benign ways. Also it doesn't necessarily mean that the kinds of things that were valued in the past, will necessarily be picked up easily. I mean, I worry a lot about the ability to stick to something for a long period of time, to follow lengthy arguments wherever they go, to be able to synthesize vast amounts of information. You know, when I went to school, you know, you went to the Encyclopedia Britannica, and that was that. Now you start at Wikipedia, and you go to any website, you can be there forever. And so for each of the premises of the new digital media, new challenges arise, and it's up to those of us who care about young people, and who care about the future of the planet, to understand these forms, but not to let them dictate what's right, because those forms -- the forms will not do that, they will just open up access and provide information.
So I think, if anything, good education is going to be more difficult. I see teachers more and more, as coaches and as role models, because I think many of the didactic aspects of teaching are not needed anymore, because the information is so prevalent. The -- I think the best hope of the new digital media, is that they can provide information access which used to be more elusive, to a very wide population, but only if that's wedded to models and to judicious elders who can help people to use that well, where we have an edutopia rather than an edu-nightmare.
Produced and Directed by
- Ken Ellis
- Lauren Rosenfeld
- Amy Erin Borovoy
- Doug Keely
- Sam Painter
- David Mitlyng
Senior Video Editor
- Karen Sutherland
This 2009 work by The George Lucas Educational Foundation is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.