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MIT work

I'm a graduate of MIT's Comparative Media Studies program. The big idea there is to study the way people interact, shape, and communicate through media and technology. The program is similar to a cultural studies program with a focus on media and technology. I do a lot of ethnographic work. Not unlike the confusingly similarly named Media Lab, we make media projects. However, we're not as hardcore with the engineering and the programming. We think critically about the history of media and its political and social implications.

I earned my Masters of Science in June 2006.
Unschooling Media:
Participatory Practices among Progressive Homeschoolers

Sadie shows me one of her zines. I profile her family in Case Study #5 DIY Subculture: Zines & Collective Participation

My thesis includes five original case studies from fieldwork and interviews I conducted over the course of 2005-6. As far as I know, this is the first academic work that explores media and technology in the realm of specifically progressive homeschoolers.

Unschooling is not widely known or understood by the general public, and in part, that was what drew me to the topic. Unschooling is a type of homeschooling that for the most part eschews curricula in favor of lifestyle based on a 'love of learning,' child-led learning,' or 'informal learning.' Unschoolers seek to extend the learning environment certainly beyond the school, but beyond the home as well, by integrating the child's homelife with the community and increasingly the world at large through the internet.

Most unschoolers do very well. At a time when our public schools are undergoing so many challenges, how should we think about the unschooling philosophy? What are the naturalized ambient conditions under which these kids thrive? What are the skills that these families privilege? And how does the rapidly changing landscape of emerging media and technology foster more satisfying learning or present distractions?

This thesis analyzes unschoolers’ attitudes and practices with media and technology for 'free learning.' While I conclude that unschoolers have their finger on the pulse with their emphasis on researching, networking, authoring, collaboration, communicating, role-playing and improvisation; at the same time, some unschoolers question media and technology. This can only be understood in light of the unschoolers’ particular cultural, historical and political relationship to the mainstream. For many of these families, unschooling appeals to their sense of the organic and natural, deeply rooted in 1960s radical thought of Illich, Kozol, Holt and others. Some unschoolers view technology and media as dehumanizing and alienating. I compare and contrast these points of view throughout my work, especially in my chapter on the History/Historiography of the movement.

I wrote this thesis in an informal, documentary/anthropological manner. The case studies are full of photos and anecdotes I collected from the families I interviewed. These are folks who care passionately about learning and made some bold choices.

•Case #1 Peter's Opera Record: Haphazardly Accessing the Cabinet of Curiosity

•Case Study #2 Eli's Coop: A Civil War Role-play

•Case Study #3 Carsie's Network: Connecting a Geographically Dispersed Population

•Case Study #4 Unschooling the Researcher: Legitimizing IM & TV

•Case Study #5 DIY Subculture: Zines & Collective Participation

Please have a look at the excerpt downloadable to the right. I'd love to hear what you think.

Unschooling Media: Participatory Practices among Progressive Homeschoolers

download PDF excerpts:

Introduction to the 5 Case Studies

Case Study #3
Carsie’s Network:
Connecting a Geographically Dispersed Population

I’m pursuing publishing this material either as academic articles or as a book.

Please contact me if you have any interest in reading the rest of my thesis or advice on getting it published: vanbertozzi(at)

Henry Jenkin's blog post on PBS Mediashift in which he discusses my thesis.
We tested the Transmedia Improv with kids at the Youth Voice Collaborative at the YWCA.

At MIT, I was a research assistant for Project New Media Literacy. The MacArthur foundation funded our department and PI Henry Jenkins to create activities for high school and middle school kids. Our goal is to demystify media production and encourage critical thinking about media and technology through fun, hands-on interactions with media. All our materials are free and open-source to schools and afterschool programs, or anyone for that matter.

For instance, we created the Transmedia Improv, a storytelling 101 workshop in which kids roleplay aliens from Star Wars and appropriate materials to remix their own stories. While kids learn the core elements of storytelling such as character, location, and plot, they're also working together to use new media audio, still images, animation, text. We've built in discussion questions about ethics of representation and authorship.

I shot and edited a short video meant to be a conversation-starter for teachers who want to discuss the meaning of media and stories in kids' lives. This man-on-the-street video poses the question "What do you think about the War of the Worlds?" Very surprising responses reveal the multitude of meanings we draw from media. Both media forms and content can be compared and discussed. You can watch it through Many Dimensions: War of the Worlds (video).

I shot and edited the beta video for our collection of profiles of media-makers. Of course, I used my cartoonist brother Nick as a guinea pig. These videos are intended to demystify the production process but also to be used as tools for learning about and through different media forms. They'll each have downloadable activities for kids. At present we have comicbook artist Nick Bertozzi, special effects director Matthew Lamb, blogger-science-fiction writer Cory Doctorow, and radio documentary producer Sean Cole.

Additional pieces I developed: an outline for scaffolding Digital Storytelling (FreeMindMap) & started a ProjectNML flickr group (photo-sharing website).

Project NML, fall 2005-present
One of my students interviewing survivors of the 1960 Chilean tsunami.

I was a TA for MIT's Terrascope Radio course. Terrascope is an interdisciplinary program for MIT freshman interested in the earth sciences. The group of about 40 students picks an environmental problem in the fall. One year was drilling in the Arctic, another was sustainable development in the Galapagos. The year I taught was earthquakes and tsunamis in Chile.

They research and develop original solutions. In the spring term they all design and build a museum exhibit to communicate their ideas. Over spring break, we traveled to Valdivia, Chile, where the largest earthquake and tsunami ever recorded happened in 1960. My group of students conducted interviews and made field recordings. They wrote and edited their own original radio documentary. You can listen to it through Public Radio Exchange (PRX): Valdivia: Stories of Survival

We climbed a volcano. To our terror, we found out we had to slide down the glacier in order to get back down. This was crazy.

Terrascope, spring 2006
We did some interviews with students in a local Catalunyan high school about their mobile devices. This girl had the latest Shakira ringtone.

Elens is a mobile media project at MIT's Media Lab in collaboration with the Generalitat of Catalunya, Spain. The project head was Bill Mitchell of the Smart Cities Lab and the Design Lab.

I took part in the development stage of this location-aware device, meant fot the Catalunyan citizen. We conceptualized and did preliminary prototyping of an interacitve system of applications. We traveled to Barcelona, where we did some field research and met with the Catalunyan government. The idea is that you'd be able to point this device at tags in the city, which would then launch applications adn deliver services and information. And you'd be able to generate content as well, leaving your mark on the city and using the device for your own purposes.

Elens, fall 2005
My collaborator Viviana interviewing Fabio, a master glassblower.

Summer 2005, I lived in Venice, Italy, for a month to work as a new media producer for History Unwired. History Unwired is a mobile media initiative started by graduates of MIT and the University of Architecture Venice.

Here you can read more about the project and see a storyboard I did for this PDA walking tour.

History Unwired, spring/summer 2005
Antonia who does Harry Potter cosplay.

In fall 2006, a chapter Henry and I wrote will be published in the anthology 'Engaging Art: The Next Great Transformation of America's Cultural Life.' The book will explore transformations in participation in the arts in the US. It's sponsored by the Wallace Foundation and the Curb Center for Art, Enterprise, and Public Policy at Vanderbilt. Henry and my chapter focuses on young people making unconventional art and pushing the definition of art and of we traditionally consider participation in the arts.

I made an accompanying Young Artists website that features audio, video and images from the young people we interviewed.

Young Artists, fall 2004-present

I made this photo essay for an anthropology and photography class:
Anime cosplayers

Here are a few additional Kraftwerk cosplayers.

cosplay photo essays

3 short promos
from a work-in-progress Vintage Dancers.
A quick little experiment in Flash animation called Time Poem.


I did this interview for Andrea Taylor's class 'New Media, Power, and Global Diversity.' It's an interview with Rob Greco, an unschooling dad and technology teacher at a private school in California. Our class also blogged about digital divide issues.

Harvard Graduate School of Education class

In 2005, I organized a visit for my brother Nick Bertozzi and three other comicbook artists¨®¨®Dean Haspiel, Jess Abel, and Paul Pope¨®¨®to give a lecture at MIT on comicbooks and independent publishing. We also had a fun time touring the Media Lab after hours.

Comix Colloquium
© Vanessa Bertozzi 2001-6