Report for Harvard University's Internet and Society Conference
May 31 and June 1, 2007
At the beginning of June, the Berkman Center for Internet and Society hosted the Harvard Internet & Society Conference (IS2K7), which was driven by the theme of University: Knowledge Beyond Authority. We asked participants to think about the role of University in cyberspace and to envision how University might reinvent itself in this new digital age. As is our custom, we developed the conference with the goal of examining these questions from diverse perspectives, hoping that our discussions would reflect interdisciplinary angles, new connections among stakeholders and innovative approaches.
IS2K7 presented a unique opportunity for a varied cadre of thinkers and doers--scholars, students, geeks, entrepreneurs, pirates, administrators, free culture advocates, funders, bloggers, librarians, counsels, members of corporations and other parties with a vested interest in University to come together under the big tent of University and consider where their needs and interests might overlap. Guided by Berkman founder and ringleader Charlie Nesson's premise of University as an overarching idea and an ideal, a concept and a powerful actor linking a matrix of individuals and institutions across cyberspace, we interrogated many of the questions sparked by the convergence of the Internet, digital media, and new information technology in the academic arena. If Universities are indeed about the production, dissemination, and utilization of knowledge, how do these new technologies change who we are, what we do, and how we do it? The two days were both thoughtful and passionate, characterized by in-depth discussions of shared interests and potential fissures; an energetic exchange of ideas and perspectives; and, most importantly, connections between and across various organizations. We hope these conversations will foster productive and lasting collaborations.
As the sixth conference in Harvard's Internet & Society series, IS2K7 picked up many of the themes that tend to dominate conversations about University in the digital landscape, a surprising number of which had been explored in past conferences. However, IS2K7's focus on the potential agency of University and it partners in shaping these issues brought fresh frames to familiar debates.
With such a wide range of participants and viewpoints, we weren't able to capture them all in this space. This is our first attempt; and we hope this synopsis will stimulate a joint exploration and on-going conversation. To complete the picture, we ask you to contribute to this process and to build upon the participation that characterized IS2K7. We hope you'll fill in the ideas that we couldn't include and help us to keep pressing forward on developing actionable solutions.
The initial conversations were launched online and in person in the months leading up to the conference. They consisted of a series of meetings at Harvard and were supplemented by the IS2K7 website, which included a question aggregator, voting system, and wiki that invited discussion of underlying IS2K7 themes. These conversations drove the creation of the working groups and much of the conference itself. Top questions asked were: What is the role of University in cyberspace? How are universities similar to and different from for-profit businesses? What are the implications for their rights as owners and users of intellectual property? Should all publicly funded research be in the public domain? Will becoming more open threaten the standing of University or would it enhance it? How do we create open access journals that are fiscally sustainable? With over 6,000 votes on the user-submitted questions, the IS2K7 website and wiki generated great momentum that flowed through the conference.
In line with Charlie Nesson's vision of creating a kind of "meta-negotiating table" that would bring together representatives from various University sectors - students, scholars administrators, librarians, professors and counsels - with nonprofit representatives, industry, content-holders, and publishers to clarify their needs and interests and to discuss where they might intersect and overlap, the first closed-day sessions were designed with the intention of examining, clarifying and hopefully strengthening those relationships. A provocative question helped to initiate consideration of the University context: What is the nature and identity of University in an age when both students and information are "born digital", while University (especially Harvard) was most certainly not? As University engages in this "new" environment, it must reconceptualize the role of libraries, reconfigure its relationship with corporations and other private entities, reconsider the ways in which digital property and fair use shift in the digital environment, and redefine the University mission and experience. To encourage the candid exchange of ideas and open communication, the first day was governed by the Chatham
House Rule, which attributes statements only to the group rather than to any individual or organization.
A conversation between Harvard's President Derek Bok, Provost Steve Hyman and Berkman Faculty Director Terry Fisher asserted a broad conception of University and its responsibility to both its constituencies and society at large through engagement with pressing political, social, and economic challenges. As the digital space reveals opportunities for University to enhance its mission by bringing its research and human capital to the farthest reaches of the globe, it simultaneously presents dilemmas concerning the free exchange of information and wide dissemination of knowledge - through, for example, unclear guidelines on use of intellectual property. The conversation highlighted the need for balance between University's neutrality, which allows it to create a safe space for seeking truths that may inform public policy; and its political engagement in response to issues such as RIAA prelitigation notices and copyright concerns, or models such as open courseware, that not only affect University interests directly, but also influence a wider public debate.
Fred Friendly Socratic Dialogue
A Fred Friendly session cued up many overarching IS2K7 themes. The hypothetical case of Professor Dudley Do-right and his attempts to include a short TV clip in the web-based syllabus for his strategic thinking class brought Dudley into contact with the sectors represented by twelve participants, including industry executives, counsels from content and search corporations, university faculty and administration, librarians, students and public media executives. As the panelists considered how the scenarios might play out in real life, their discussions centered on the role of University as client.
One of the dialogue's most engaging turns depicted Dudley navigating the challenging terrain of fair use. This scenario elicited near agreement among panelists that not only was the fair use exception legitimate and use of the copyrighted material appropriate without clearing rights in many academic instances, but also, that it was in every party's interest to make the process less burdensome. Back in real life, however, many felt that these exceptions were in fact only rarely asserted internally or acknowledged externally -- severely limiting content use and taxing the systems of all parties. In response, many panelists supported the development of a more stream-lined and transparent licensing system and a collaborative articulation of best practices, the sum of which would comprise an effort to develop guidelines for the "course pack of the future." However, despite general support for these types of multi-sectoral initiatives, the panel also recognized that these points of connection would require a great deal of compromise and challenging work to drive them forward
The issue of knowledge dissemination also sparked a particularly illuminating discussion as the majority of panelists considered the challenges that University faces in publishing a journal intended to serve the wider global community and universities in less developed countries. Participants drew a distinction between the digital dissemination of copyrighted works for the same use as originally created and the ability of content owners to be flexible within the realm of alternative, non-profit uses. Public broadcasting norms provided a salient parallel, in that public broadcasters have a mission similar to that of University, promoting wide access to knowledge and attempting to negotiate openness by standardizing use and copyright parameters.
Another key perspective that came out of the dialogue was the notion that, in general, University and non-profit voices often seem to be the loudest voices on issues related to intellectual property and fair use, and there are fewer opportunities for industry interests to be heard in the same space. The panel generally agreed that the university environment can provide a zone for multiple stakeholders to negotiate and consider new financial and business models that might overcome these barriers.
Working Group Themes
The main ideas that emerged from the same-sector and intersectoral working groups built upon the core ideas of the Fred Friendly session. Participants were asked to consider the broad questions: What do you want from your relationship with University in a digital world? And how do we work to achieve these goals?
A huge number of suggestions came out of the working groups, and certain sessions produced innovative ideas that may provide platforms for further action. The librarians advocated for the creation of clear guidelines to govern a sustainable multi-institutional repository to house the "wide world" of university resources, including classroom presentations, multimedia materials, and other university-produced works. MIT Open Courseware provided an instructive and inspiring example, and it was proposed that librarians play a role in efforts seeking clarity on intellectual property regimes. The librarians also saw an important entry-point for their sector in developing a network among university research and archiving sectors and in articulating standards for how data are preserved and maintained across universities.
The general counsels took up the issue of copyright by contemplating how universities might, both individually and collectively, develop a coherent and industry-wide response to the complaints and requests of content owners. Such an approach may help to balance the tension between keeping enforcement costs down while meeting the interests of students and faculty members. The foundations group recommended processes and relationships that capture broader understandings of University--beyond the Ivy League and into state and community colleges
The most prominent intersectoral themes to build on were: first, increased multi-stakeholder dialogues and partnerships, particularly with regard to efforts to clarify the norms and practices that govern fair use and copyright; and second, the creation of a space - often in the form of University - that provides a neutral zone in which to debate these issues. Participants generally perceived the most dominant fault lines in the role of University to be: copyright enforcement; the murky definitions surrounding fair use; and the misconceptions between sectors as to other organizations' willingness to compromise. In detailing where shared interests were evident, many groups pointed to the need for continued dialogue between actors within this community, the possibility of multi-stakeholder efforts to drive forward guidelines and best practices (despite differing opinions on where lines should be drawn), and better licensing systems.
May 31 participants and those arriving for June 1's proceedings piled into the symbolically significant Harvard Law School library for cocktails, continuing conversations, and a rousing presentation from Nicholas Negroponte, Chairman of the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) project, who urged the crowd not to confuse means with ends or nifty technologies with improved access to knowledge and improved education around the world.
June 1 Public Conference
Conference co-chair Charles Ogletree bridged the first and second days by both evoking images of University's (often checkered) historical identity with respect to access, while envisioning its future by suggesting how its democratizing power could be identified and leveraged through cyberspace. His comments dovetailed with two driving conference questions: How does the Internet change social and intellectual models of authority? And what does this mean for Harvard, arguably the most "authoritative," or at least best known, university in the world?
Berkman Executive Director John Palfrey's keynote address also reiterated key themes by introducing the concept of university students as "digital natives" and considering how their lifelong immersion in digital media is transforming classroom dynamics, research and writing practices, and student life. How can we understand the gap between students as "natives" and professors as "immigrants" within the digital world? How can that generational demarcation be bridged or understood in the classroom? As digital natives develop their identity, friendships, and creativity using technology as a platform, they are implicitly questioning and redefining the norms and expectations of the previous generation. The tools they use to navigate their world, create their social space, engage with each other, and access information inevitably influence the flow of knowledge within the academic environment and beyond.
The ambitious agenda for the remainder of the day consisted of ten working groups, focusing on some of the most pressing issues affecting University in the digital age. Groups discussed a wide range of topics, including an agenda for fair use, alternative models for scholarly publications, the concept of intellectual property, the connection between University and localized curricula, and the connection between University and its library. Topics also included consideration of University and its approach to RIAA and Open Access, as well as questions related to building relationships with and within University, conceptualizing the digital identity of University, and engaging and creating communities that emerge from University within the digital landscape.
Encapsulating all of the diverse outputs and thoughtful recommendations that emerged from these working groups is one of our primary goals as we press forward with developing an action-oriented agenda for the future. To that end, we invite you to share your thoughts on the sessions on the post conference wiki, with the idea of highlighting the elements and ideas that may provide the best opportunity for future work and collaboration. What were the most important suggestions that came out of these groups? Did the discussions provide an alternative way of looking at these issues? Are there issues that should have been explored further? How can these ideas be translated into future action?
These conversations led into the final session of the day, which was facilitated by Berkman Fellow Karim Lakhani and provided an opportunity to step back and debate where certain needs and interests coalesced. As the general audience considered how the tensions that arose during the day could be bridged, a flexible roadmap was outlined.
Many participants suggested that, at the policy level, University adjust and expand its mission to engage more effectively with these questions: first, by providing the means and space for multiple stakeholders to come together to debate and negotiate; second, by playing a decisive role in clarifying intellectual property norms and best practices; and finally, by reconceptualizing antiquated understandings of knowledge as hierarchical or authoritative. In the economic arena, new business models for both universities and companies were discussed, in addition to hybrid models that might serve the interests of both sectors. Technological innovations were considered in terms of opening up clogged infrastructure, standardizing data and metadata, and overcoming leaky technologies. At the session's end, the discussion centered on social tensions, such as those between digital immigrants and digital natives and between systems that favor expertise before broad participation and top-down, as opposed to bottom-up, flows of knowledge. Many participants' comments harkened back to the overarching question: how can we, both within and in partnership with University, play a role in shaping how knowledge and authority are redefined, transformed, and distributed in the digital age? A closing statement that went unchallenged reminded the group that opening up and providing access to knowledge resources requires work - staff, financial, and technical commitments.
Pulling It Together
In his closing remarks, Berkman Fellow David Weinberger both synthesized the day's discussions and echoed IS2K7's core ideas by focusing on the flow of knowledge in the digital world and by connecting it to notions of "knowledge beyond authority." Weinberger sounded an impassioned call to take seriously this linking of University with a challenge to structures of authority in the world of knowledge. He urged the audience to go beyond entrenched understandings of knowledge as binary and to explore the opportunities for indefinite redefinition in metadata-driven cyberspace. For Weinberger, the value of knowledge rests in a collective conversation that transcends individuals and their individual contributions. In its open and participatory form, the Internet invites collaboration in the creation, evolution, and dissemination of knowledge, asking users to dispute it or build on it, mash it up or praise it. This opportunity for the opening up of knowledge and the continuous restructuring of its parameters in cyberspace can be led by University in concert with the other sectors and organizations it encounters through its digital identity.
At its heart IS2K7 was a reflection of and upon our broadening understandings of knowledge and the role that University can play in shaping how it is constructed, identified, taught, and learned through the environment of cyberspace. Through the general interactive sessions, small group discussions, individual presentations, and the Fred Friendly panel, we were able to unpack and examine a wide variety of themes focused on how diverse Internet constituencies might best collaborate with one another.
In line with Professor Nesson's vision of finding common ground, participants considered how our relationships, especially those around intellectual property, might be strengthened in order to better serve our collective needs. From a variety of perspectives across the landscape of University and beyond, we determined multiple intersections that may provide opportunities for future collaboration and action. Indeed, the enduring emphasis throughout both days of the conference was the need for clearer understanding across institutional boundaries - and the need for ongoing engagement.
Berkman thanks you for your thoughtful and enthusiastic participation. As we celebrate our tenth anniversary over the next year, we hope you'll join us in our efforts to pick up the most actionable ideas and transform them into solutions. We invite you to join us by taking up the challenge of continuing to develop and build upon the topics and threads that characterized the conference. Please share your comments, fill in the gaps, and point out opportunities we may have missed - by subscribing to the post-conference discussion mailing list, visiting the website, filling in the wiki, contributing your comments, tagging your photos and links "is2k7" so that the tools and relationships that develop from IS2K7 reflect the broad and diverse discussions that made it unique.