Thursday, November 30, 2006

Home Movies

Here is an interesting story from today's NY Times

From the Desk of David Pogue: Saving Home Movies From
Disappearing Formats

Well, it's all over. The first six episodes of "It's All Geek
to Me," my new TV series, are in the can. I've spent the last
couple of months writing and shooting it, which explains why
there haven't been any Pogue videos at for
awhile. (Never fear -- they'll return shortly.)

Now, I've done TV *segments* for years, but this is my first
actual series, in which I'm the writer, creator and host. The
show will air next spring on three relatively tiny Discovery
Network channels: Discovery HD, Discovery Times (which will
have a new name), and Discovery Europe. I tell myself that
there's a silver lining: if the show tanks, at least it will
be on a quiet corner of the cable dial, so I can learn from
the mistakes and do better the next time.

One episode was especially educational -- for me, I mean:
Rescuing Old Memories.

In this show, we wanted to cover the increasingly important
problem of decaying or disappearing formats: home movies on
film, VHS tapes, vinyl records, data on floppy disks, and so

Turns out you can transfer audio records and tapes yourself,
with terrific results, using a CD recorder, Ion's iTTUSB
turntable, or a preamp directly into your computer. (Those
solutions produce far better-sounding copies than the Teac
all-in-one turntable I reviewed recently
VHS tapes aren't so hard, either, especially if you buy a
combo VHS-DVD deck.

Old reels of film, however, seemed like a tougher nut to
crack. My plan was to demonstrate, on the show, the old
"mirror box" gadget that's designed to bounce the light from
your old projector into the lens of a modern camcorder, thus
transferring the footage--except we couldn't find one. The
manufacturers told me they stopped making these things about
five or ten years ago.

We finally did find an old used one on eBay, though. It was
actually in great shape. But good grief, I pity anyone who
thinks that it's the solution to the decaying-reels problem.
It took an hour to get the projector lined up with the mirror
box, the box lined up with the camcorder, and everything in
focus and adequately bright.

The results looked reasonably close in quality to the film
reels--but the problem was the quality of the film reels! The
home movies from the 70's were red, red, red, as though shot
on Mars. (As film deteriorates, red is the last color to go.)

That's what's wrong with the drugstore and cheap mail-order
transfer places, too: they transfer the footage, but don't
color-correct or fix it. We actually got to see the machine
they use. It's called the Elmo, and it looks like a projector
except that, in essence, it has a camcorder sensor built
right in. You can connect the video output to any recording
device, like a DVD recorder. But the results, again, can be
really disappointing.

There is a way to restore old movies to their original color
and brightness, though: send your reels away to a
professional transfer house.

Later in the episode, we visited such a place. There, the
reels are first inspected by hand to make sure the actual
film is intact. Then they're run through this amazing, ten-
foot-tall cleaning machine that gently, gently lifts off dust
and particles.

Finally, a technician at a huge, NASA-style bank of video
computers in a darkened room watches every part of every
scene, color-correcting as he goes. He can program color and
brightness changes that fluctuate, even within each scene;
later, at the moment of transfer, his computers replay his
adjustments in real time.

It's jaw-dropping to see the kind of restoration they can do-
-but jeez Louise, it's pricey. About $700 for an hour of

I was amazed to learn that the target format for many of this
company's customers is VHS tape--not DVD. Yes, people will
pay $700 to have their movies transferred from one old,
obsolete format to another one with even less quality!
Even when transferred to DVD, though, the news doesn't get
any better. Home-burned (or transfer company-burned) DVD's
have an unproven longevity record.

They're not the same thing as commercially *pressed* DVD's
from Hollywood; recordable DVD's instead have patterns etched
into organic dye on the underside. And nobody knows how many
years they'll last.

"Eight to ten years," is what the transfer company told us.
Of course, the company has a vested interest in triggering
panic (and repeat business).

But it sure is depressing to realize that, even with all the
technology in the world, we still have no truly permanent
storage format for our data, audio and video. Think about it:
punch cards, tape drives, music cassettes, Zip disks,
floppies--how long does a typical recording format last
before society abandons it? Usually less than ten years.

Ten years from now, maybe I'll have to do another show:
"Rescuing Memories from Your Old, Decaying CD's, DVD's and
Hard Drives."
here is another blick on a wiki: This one counts MIT and the Wharton School at Penn among its sponsors....and uses a wiki model to create a textbook in business. Hmmm? Be sure to click on the link for the wiki itself: We Are Smarter Than Me


CRS report on "sensitive but declassified" information

Several of us have an interest in information policy. As a result, this report written by the Congressional Research Service might be of interest. These reports are not available directly from CRS as a matter of (their) policy. The Center for Democracy and Technology has created the Open CRS project to make these reports available to the public (which is how I came across this report).

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Academic blog portal

The Wired Campus Blog posted a reference to the Academic Blog Portal. You might find the listings interesting and useful. Since this portal is done Wiki-style, you can create an account and log in and add your own (I added mine ...).

Technology Matters

I read over last weekend a book that I believe could be used profitably in the undergraduate service course we have been discussing. Below is the publisher's blurb about it.

Technology Matters: Questions to Live With
David E. Nye
MIT Press, 2006

Technology matters, writes David Nye, because it is inseparable from being human. We have used tools for more than 100,000 years, and their central purpose has not always been to provide necessities. People excel at using old tools to solve new problems and at inventing new tools for more elegant solutions to old tasks. Perhaps this is because we are intimate with devices and machines from an early age--as children, we play with technological toys: trucks, cars, stoves, telephones, model railroads, Playstations. Through these machines we imagine ourselves into a creative relationship with the world. As adults, we retain this technological playfulness with gadgets and appliances--Blackberries, cell phones, GPS navigation systems in our cars.

We use technology to shape our world, yet we think little about the choices we are making. In Technology Matters, Nye tackles ten central questions about our relationship to technology, integrating a half-century of ideas about technology into ten cogent and concise chapters, with wide-ranging historical examples from many societies. He asks: Can we define technology? Does technology shape us, or do we shape it? Is technology inevitable or unpredictable? (Why do experts often fail to get it right?)? How do historians understand it? Are we using modern technology to create cultural uniformity, or diversity? To create abundance, or an ecological crisis? To destroy jobs or create new opportunities? Should "the market" choose our technologies? Do advanced technologies make us more secure, or escalate dangers? Does ubiquitous technology expand our mental horizons, or encapsulate us in artifice?

These large questions may have no final answers yet, but we need to wrestle with them--to live them, so that we may, as Rilke puts it, "live along some distant day into the answers."

David E. Nye is Professor of American Studies and History at the Center for American Studies, Odense University - SDU.

Monday, November 27, 2006

NAS Report: Renewing Telecommunications Research

Take a look at this report from the National Academy of Sciences. In it, the authors make a case for a concerted renewal of research in telecommunications, calling for the creation of a coordinating body (Advanced Telecommunications Research Activity) that takes some of its guidance from DARPA and others from Sematech.

WiFi Phones and access point usage

This article in the on-line NY Times (free registration required) should be of interest to more just me. The article discusses how a new generation of wifi phones make it possible to freely use "open" access points. How would you react if the following happened to you (quote from the cited article):
Gary Schaffer looked out his window here last week to discover a reporter standing on his lawn, pirating his wireless Internet access to test a new mobile phone.

The phone, made by Belkin, is one of several new mobile devices that allow users to make free or low-cost phone calls over the Internet. They are designed to take advantage of the hundreds of thousands of wireless access points deployed in cafes, parks, businesses and, most important, homes.

The technology’s advocates say that as long as people are paying for high-speed Wi-Fi access in their homes, they should be able to use it as a conduit for inexpensive calls and an alternative to traditional phone service.

But, in a twist that raises some tricky ethical and legal questions, the phones can also be used on the go, piggybacking on whatever access points happen to be open and available, like that of Mr. Schaffer.

[stuff deleted]

For his part, Mr. Schaffer said he would mind only if it had an adverse effect on him — which in theory it could, if the voice data caused congestion on his network. There is no clear indication to a network’s owner that a phone call is taking place, so most will not have the chance to object.

Not everyone is so open to walk-by talkers. “I don’t like it,” Kevin Asbra, another San Franciscan, said. “It’s an abuse of the system. I pay my bills. Why should you call for free?”

His wife, Karen Seratti, begged to differ. A Web site usability tester, she says she regularly looks for open access points so she can check e-mail when she is traveling or away from the office.

[more stuff deleted]

“There’s a big debate going on right now,” said Jennifer S. Granick, executive director of the Center for Internet and Society at Stanford Law School. Ms. Granick said some people believed that using a connection without permission constituted unauthorized access to computers, which is a crime, while others disagree.

Traditional analogies are hard to come by, she said, adding that she does not believe using Wi-Fi is the same as trespassing, since the signals travel beyond property limits. “People say that you can’t go inside somebody’s house; but I say, you can sit outside and listen to the radio,” Ms. Granick said.

To me, this raises a number of policy and ethical questions. To some extent, the way in which you resolve these questions hinges on what you imagine the future of the telecom industry to be.

The Digital Ice Age

This article in Popular Mechanics was suggested by Ellen. It does not deal with global warming, but with the evolution of digital storage formats and its challenges for preservation ...

Thursday, November 23, 2006

IT, Speed, and Quality of Life

Here is an interesting essay about the impact of information technology on society, perhaps with some implications about quality of life issues we sometimes discuss. For example, Levy writes, "I will argue that our more–faster–better attitude, which is intimately connected with the striving for technological advance, is driving out slower practices that are essential to our ability to govern ourselves with maturity. Without adequate time to think and reflect, time to listen, and time to cultivate our humanity, and without spaces that are protected from the constant intrusion of information and noise, I do not see how we can respond to the innumerable social and political challenges of the new millennium with the quality of attention they deserve. In order to rectify this state of affairs, I will suggest that we take steps to design spaces and times for reflection and contemplation. Much as the modern–day environmental movement has worked to cultivate and preserve certain natural habitats, such as wetlands and old growth forests, for the health of the planet, so too should we now begin to cultivate and preserve certain human habitats for the sake of our own well–being."

More, Faster, Better: Governance in an Age of Overload, Busyness, and Speed by David M. Levy
First Monday, special issue number 7 (September 2006),

Here is the abstract: While today’s information technologies provide powerful means to connect us to one another and to vast sources of information, there is increasing evidence that they are also having the opposite effect: disconnecting and distancing us from ourselves and the world around us. Indeed, information overload and the accelerating pace of life — conditions the technologies encourage if not determine — appear to be contributing to health problems, decreased work satisfaction and productivity, as well as to the diminishment of our ethical, social, and political faculties. This paper will focus on the ways current conditions may be limiting our ability to control or govern ourselves, both personally and politically, by driving out slower, “endangered” practices, such as time to think and reflect, time to listen, and time to cultivate our humanity. Drawing a parallel with the environmental movement, it will argue for cultivating and replenishing these endangered habitats, designing spaces and times for reflection and contemplation in the service of mature governance.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Internet applications, bandwidth, network neut, etc.

It may not surprise you that I have been following the so-called "network neutrality" discussion with considerable interest (there are numerous posts on my blog on this subject). With the new Congress in January, we might even see revived efforts to regulate the Internet along these lines. So, when Forbes published this article today, it brought this discussion back to mind for me (I posted this item on my blog that contains excerpts from the article).

It seems to me that this article reinforces exactly what the carriers have been saying in this debate ... that network upgrades are necessary and costly, that both content providers and users benefit from this, and that they (the carriers) should have the right to be able to charge any parties who benefits for the service. On the other hand, the article is mum on the concern of content blocking that might arise from vertical integration. But then, this issue has been a matter of concern since the 1860s (no, this is not a typo) when Western Union and AP hammered out an agreement that protected each market from the other. To me, "net neut" is a replay of this discussion. Aside from Madison River, it is very difficult to find a case in which this kind of vertical integration has limited consumer access to applications. So isn't it a bit premature to regulate?

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

System science in IEEE Computer

Ian Foster, in his blog, posted this summary of the November issue of IEEE Computer. Given the interest in identity and branding that was raised by the Board of Visitors, some of you might find both his summary and the articles interesting. You should be able get access to the full text PDFs from a Pitt computer (thanks ULS!). Two of the articles in this issue are directly related to our Cyberinfrastructure RIG, and another to the Health Information Systems RIG.

Study on "spectrum harmonization"

You might find this report interesting, written at the behest of the European Commission by the consultancy Booz Allen and Hamilton. In case you're wondering what they mean by "harmonization", you might find this definition helpful:
Harmonisation in this study means defining technical conditions, including spectrum, band plan and technology, at a global and regional level, to ensure efficient spectrum use, seamless services over wide areas including roaming, system co-existence and global circulation of user equipments across borders.

Then again, maybe not ...

Not suprisingly, they find benefits in harmonizing spectrum, though others would argue that a free market approach confers more benefits on the end users in the end. They present some data, like SMS use, to bolster their argument. To me, this is a misuse of the data, since they fail to mention that SMS use is higher in Europe in large part because of high per-minute costs. Similarly, they show rapid growth in mobile usage ... if they are counting telephone numbers in use, they may not account for the fact that many people in Europe have multiple SIM cards to avoid high roaming costs.

Nonetheless, this paper is useful to read ... parts of it do a pretty good job of laying out the issues and at least they are attempting to address the question with some data ... how refreshing!

Could Our Blog Be More?

We have had a number of discussions about "branding" as a way of marketing our program. A number of us, myself included, recognize that the diversity of our faculty expertise is a strength.

What if we started a blog, maybe called Pitt SIS Faculty Reports on the State of the Information Scoeity, where we posted reviews of publications, Web sites, reports, new legislation, media discussion of issues concerning the use of information technology, and so forth?

We could agree about an acceptable length (maybe limited to 500-750 words), pace them out on a daily basis, and have one individual serve as the manager/gatekeeper to keep the blog on track. Maybe this could be a doctoral student working with a faculty member. Maybe it could be a faculty member.

We could discuss this as a mechanism for supporting the development and teaching of the undergraduate course and the work on developing one graduate course (2000) across the programs.

This could be fun, useful, and draw some attention to our school. With 30 faculty members, I doubt that keeping a daily blog going five days (or even seven days) a week would be insurmountable as a problem. It could help bring us across our own boundaries.

We also could report on our own research, publications, that of our students, guest talks by leading experts, and so forth.

What do people think?

Big Brother Technology

This Week in Ubiquity:

Volume 7, Issue 45

November 21, 2006 – November 27, 2006)


In "The Next Step: Privacy Invasions by Biometrics and ICT Implants," Karsten Weber argues that both libertarian/liberal and communitarian arguments necessarily will support a kind of ³democratic² Big Brother scenario. Weber is at the University of Opole, Poland / European University Viadrina Frankfurt (Oder), Germany.

40 Years of Higher Education
From the issue dated November 24, 2006

After 40 Years of Growth and Change, Higher Education Faces New Challenges
40 Years of Higher Education | By the Numbers | Opinion: 40 Years Later


Winston Churchill, it is reported, would openly weep whenever he heard "Forty Years On," the song of his old school, Harrow. The 40th anniversary of the founding of The Chronicle of Higher Education is a cause not for weeping but for celebration. It is difficult now to imagine the world of higher education without it.

But what of higher education itself over the course of those 40 years, weeping or celebration? That's a more complex question.

Consider, first, the context in which The Chronicle began publication on November 23, 1966. On that day, The New York Times reported that Joe Frazier had knocked out Eddie Machen, that the Soviet Union's emphasis on civil defense reflected concern over China's growing nuclear capacity, that Dick Gregory would travel to North Vietnam, that President Lyndon B. Johnson aimed to reduce federal programs by $3-billion, that the Syrian government and the Iraqi Petroleum Company faced a "crisis," and that the D'Oyly Carte Company opened a run of Ruddigore at the City Center and "delivered it to the avid audience with a sparkling air of wicked innocence."

In that year, Medicare was introduced, the FDA declared "the Pill" safe, a first-class stamp cost 5 cents, and the Oscar for the best movie was awarded to The Sound of Music. Like the present, the country was engaged in a widely unpopular war, but, unlike the present, there was also a student draft. To those who lived through them, the 1960s will always be remembered not only as a time of educational change, but also as the great age of campus disruption. Protests convulsed the campuses.

It is easy to forget just how tumultuous those days were. Led by Berkeley, Columbia, and Harvard, campuses across the nation erupted in strikes, protests, and building takeovers. "Nonnegotiable demands" were presented on an almost daily basis. In 1969-70, at the height of student protests, there were, according to research by Helen Horowitz, a professor of history at Smith College, "9,408 outbreaks; 731 of them led to the intervention of police and arrests; 410 of which involved damage to property; and 230, physical violence." What a time to create a newspaper devoted to the coverage of higher education.

The scene in 2006 is vastly different. In retrospect, it seems remarkable that the nation's colleges and universities emerged relatively intact from those contentious days. But institutions have changed, and it is worth noting some of those changes.

Colleges and universities have continued to multiply to accommodate the nation's expanding population. In 1966 the total U.S. population was 196,560,338; this fall it hit 300 million. In about the same time, the number of colleges and universities rose from 2,329 to well over 4,000, including branch campuses. Each category of institution has seen a growth in newly created campuses.

The net addition of more than 900 four-year campuses and more than 900 two-year campuses represents a remarkable national commitment to higher education. That increase in overall numbers of campuses involved the closure of some existing institutions, as well as the creation of new ones. Some 583 colleges and universities closed their doors during this period, 48 of them public and 535 of them private. Natural selection, it seems, exists in higher education no less than in nature.

For-profit institutions have gained prominence. They now account for about 8 percent of student enrollment in colleges eligible for financial aid. That has been one of the biggest changes in the educational landscape. In 1966 such institutions were largely unknown. Today there are some 908, and the largest, the University of Phoenix, has an online enrollment of almost 116,000 students.

The proportions of students enrolled in public and private institutions have shifted. The percentage of students at private institutions has dropped from about 32 percent in 1966 to 25 percent — a trend that has persisted since the end of World War II.

The demographics of the student body have changed, and access has improved. Female enrollment has increased almost four times as rapidly as male, and the representation of women and underrepresented minority groups continues to increase, especially in fields in which they had earlier been seriously underrepresented.

For example, female degree recipients now outnumber men at every level except the doctorate, but even there women now earn 48 percent of the new Ph.D.'s, compared with 12 percent in 1966. Indeed, the growth in the proportion of women in both graduate and professional schools has been especially marked. In 1966 women earned just over 4 percent of all first professional degrees awarded; this year it is estimated they will receive almost 52 percent.

Minority groups have also made significant gains. African-American students have grown from 5 percent of the freshman class at four-year colleges 40 years ago to more than 11 percent today. We have no adequate data from 1966 for Latino students in the freshman class, but they now make up 7 percent. Asian-American students make up 8 percent, compared with 0.7 percent; American Indian students 1.7 percent, compared with 0.6 percent.

Colleges and universities are becoming increasingly international. More than 500,000 international students — about a quarter of all international students worldwide — were enrolled in American institutions in 2004, although other countries now outpace the United States in growth in that market. The number of American students studying abroad has exploded from fewer than 25,000 in 1965-66 to nearly 206,000 in 2004-5. American institutions offer degree programs in at least 42 other countries.

An increasingly well-educated population has arisen from those changes in enrollment patterns. Between 1960 and 2000, the percentage of the population age 25 and older with a bachelor's degree or higher more than tripled to almost one-fourth. By 2005 more than 18 percent of American adults held bachelor's degrees, and about 10 percent held graduate or professional degrees.

Developments in information technology have transformed colleges and universities. The rise of computers has had a huge and largely beneficial impact on instruction and learning, research, student life, and countless other aspects of higher education. The world and all its knowledge are now literally at the fingertips of today's undergraduates. The relationship between such computerization and the quality of learning is not easily quantified, and the impact on college costs continues to be a matter of debate. Distance learning, however, is here to stay and will only continue to influence our institutions in the future.

Student backgrounds and attitudes have shifted. The survey of freshman students at four-year institutions conducted each fall since 1966 by the Higher Education Research Institute at the University of California at Los Angeles depicts in strong relief the gains that women have made in higher education. The percentage of freshmen whose mothers had college degrees grew from just over 20 percent to more than 52 percent, and the percentage with mothers with graduate degrees increased more than fivefold to 18 percent. Such trends have been accompanied by a striking decline, from 35 percent to less than 10 percent, over the last 30 years in the percentage of students who listed their mother's occupation as homemaker.

Similarly, the aspiration of freshman women to pursue graduate and professional work shows a fourfold increase between 1966 and 2005 in the percentage of women aspiring to law degrees, an almost fivefold increase in interest in medical and dental degrees, and an almost threefold increase in doctoral degrees.

Student attitudes show striking changes over the past 30 years, with declining support for laws prohibiting homosexual relationships and for those who believe the activities of married women are best confined to home and family. Today's students appear to have more intellectual and social self-confidence and a greater belief in their abilities in many areas, including leadership and motivation. Fewer expect to be satisfied with college, but more expect to graduate with honors and more expect to work to support themselves in college.

The numbers of students applying for admission to three or more colleges has more than doubled since the mid-60s. Meanwhile, the reasons for deciding to go to college have changed in emphasis, with many more students attending because they are following their parents' wishes or hope to make more money.

The percentage of students expressing enthusiasm for cleaning up the environment has waned by half since the early 1970s, to 20 percent, while the percentage of those saying they desire to develop a meaningful philosophy of life has plummeted from 86 percent to 45 percent, and of those wishing to keep up with political affairs has fallen from 60 percent to 36 percent. Meanwhile "being very well off financially" has become far more important (75 percent of students compared with 42 percent in 1966). In terms of political views, somewhat fewer of today's students than their predecessors in the early 1970s characterize themselves as liberal (27 percent compared with 36 percent) and rather more as conservative (23 percent compared with 17 percent).

Few data are available that allow us to compare the broader cultural landscape in higher education over a span of 40 years. There are, no doubt, marked differences between various types of colleges and universities, and even perhaps within them. But a number of continuing trends seem to raise general concerns.

The public universities — especially the flagships — have suffered from a prolonged period of shrinking state support as a portion of their revenues. The University of Michigan, for example, now receives only about 8 percent of its total annual revenue from the state, and the University of California at Los Angeles only 15 percent. Although the situation has somewhat improved recently, the long-term tightening of state budgets has led increasingly to what several writers have called the privatization of public universities. But that "privatization" is one-sided: The universities have been required to raise more of their support from private sources, including tuition, but are still not allowed much freedom to manage their own affairs. The fate of the flagships should be a matter of public concern because their contributions to higher education — graduate and professional, as well as undergraduate — are major. It is time for the states to give them the freedom they need to develop their programs and to then hold them accountable for reaching specific goals.

Collegiality within academe seems to be a vanishing trait. Instead "the university community" has become a euphemism for an assemblage of conflicting interests. Perhaps "community," like youth, is never what it was, but the practical effects of the loss of meaningful dialogue and collegiality are serious. In education, the increasing departmentalization and fragmentation of the curriculum represent a growing threat to the quality of the undergraduate experience. Meanwhile, the great overarching challenges of our time — climate change, energy supplies, sustainability, poverty, hunger, conflict and war, health and disease — sprawl across the boundaries of the disciplines. With faculty appointments and awards jealously preserved within the confines of traditional departments, the academy is ill equipped to bring the full weight of its expertise to bear on such vital issues.

Faculty members' allegiances to their institutions have eroded. Such loyalty has been replaced by a greater commitment to the invisible scholarly guild: the professional associations, scholarly societies, and online scholarly conclaves. Some will argue that this change is an inevitable reflection of the scholarly fragmentation I have just described and of the relative reduction in the proportion of tenured or tenure-track faculty members, which has slipped from 57 percent to 35 percent of the academic work force over the last 30 years. Perhaps. Others will claim that it is less of a problem in liberal-arts colleges than in research universities. I hope that is so. But if I am right, both our institutions and our students are the poorer for the change.

Structural reform remains elusive in the academic culture. The structural imbalance between goals, tasks, and resources seems to have shown little improvement since 1966. The rigidity of departmental structures of faculty appointments continues to limit the ability of colleges to adapt and respond to new circumstances. Any change tends to be laboriously incremental, with a significant time lag between the decision to make it and the ability of the institution to carry it out.


Respice, prospice. Surveying the landscape over the past 40 years, we can find much to celebrate, much to praise. But looking forward, our celebration must be calibrated against both the situation within our own society and the achievements of the rest of the world. Against that background, recent commentators have found little about which to cheer.

Education Secretary Margaret Spellings, commenting on the report of the Commission on the Future of Higher Education, for example, has declared:

"Our universities are known as the best in the world. And a lot of people will tell you things are going just fine. But when 90 percent of the fastest-growing jobs require postsecondary education, are we satisfied with 'just' fine? Is it 'fine' that college tuition has outpaced inflation, family income, even doubling the cost of health care? Is it 'fine' that only half of our students graduate on time? Is it 'fine' that students often graduate so saddled with debt they can't buy a home or start a family? None of this seems 'fine' to me. Not as a policy maker, not as a taxpayer, and certainly not as the mother of a college sophomore.

"The commission drew a similar conclusion. In their words, 'Higher education has become at times self-satisfied and unduly expensive.' In fact, times have changed. Nearly two-thirds of all high-growth, high-wage jobs created in the next decade will require a college degree, a degree only one-third of Americans have. Where we once were leaders, now other nations educate more of their young adults to more-advanced levels than we do."

The four major issues raised by the Spellings commission — accessibility, affordability, accountability, and quality — have all increased in significance since 1966. They will never be "solved" but must continually be confronted if colleges and universities are to play their fullest role, continue to enjoy the public trust, and retain their independence. Although there will be federal and state efforts in each of these four areas, real change, if it is to come, must come from within institutions.

Distinctively American Aid

Do past events encourage hope for such change? Consider, for example, the closely linked concerns of affordability and access. Looked at over a 40-year time span, America's higher-education institutions are now as accessible as any in the world to all students, providing they can afford the tuition charges and demonstrate their competency to perform the work required. Virtually all our colleges charge for their services and require certain minimal standards of academic preparation, in contrast to countries with free tuition and open admission. Over the past four decades, that has produced a pragmatic and distinctively American pattern of financial aid, with a mixture of grant aid and student self-help in the form of loans and work.

Tuition and fees have been steadily rising, which is scarcely cause for surprise. What is a matter of public concern is that they have risen so sharply. Over the last quarter-century, average tuition and fees have increased more rapidly than rates of inflation, per-capita personal income, consumer prices, prescription health care, and health insurance. And that has a direct bearing on access. The unmet financial need of students from the lowest family income group (less than $34,000) has grown by 80 percent since the early 90s.

Colleges are quick to respond that higher education is labor intensive, that at public institutions those sharp increases reflect substantial losses in the proportion of state support, that at private institutions the fastest-growing expense has been financial aid. All that is true. But there is also nagging public concern, forcefully expressed in the Spellings commission report, about what seems to be declining teaching loads, a growing emphasis on buying bright students with merit awards, and an increase in the proportion of students taking more than four years to graduate.

We in higher education would be unwise to ignore such concerns. We shall see a steady increase in the number of high-school graduates over most of the next decade, but the changing geographic distribution; age range; racial, ethnic, and economic characteristics of those students; as well as their level of preparation, will place substantial new demands on higher education. We should respect warnings and complaints from colleges about ill-advised demands for increases in efficiency and productivity, but the problem of costs is real and will not go away.

Closely related to the issue of access is the academic preparation that students need to enter college and succeed there. If that is to improve, the states, the federal government, businesses, and colleges must all play a role. We can argue forever about who is responsible for failing schools, and there is enough blame to cover all of the players. But the urgent task facing the nation is to improve school performance. Better teacher education, partnerships with elementary and secondary schools, cooperation in curriculum planning, distance learning, remedial programs, and advanced placement will all enhance academic preparation. And improving that will, in turn, improve all levels of work in the schools.

Accountability is the other big "A." The Spellings commission urged institutions to make graduation rates, time to degree, and other performance measures available to the public. There will be legitimate debate as to the wisdom and effectiveness of using various assessment instruments, but the call for greater academic "transparency" is not one that colleges should neglect.

What about quality, the fourth issue the commission raised? Although no simple test can compare the achievements of the graduates of our 4,216 colleges, there are troubling signs. In surveys employers have raised questions about the critical abilities of recent graduates, and whatever surveys of student ability that do exist are also cause for concern. America has some of the world's best colleges: The sweep of the "scholarly" Nobel prizes this fall by our nation's faculty members confirms that. But we need to take seriously the call for quality and accountability. If we in higher education do not find some way to demonstrate the effectiveness of our programs and represent the abilities and skills of our graduates, others — for instance, the federal and state governments — may determine to do it for us.

Finally, we are constantly reminded that we live in a global economy, in which science, technology, invention, and innovation are the keys to survival and success. Thirty-five to 45 years ago, we led the world in the proportion of our adult population holding both high-school diplomas and college degrees. No more. We now rank seventh internationally in the percentage of 25- to 34-year-olds holding college degrees.

Of special concern is the lack of a significant increase in science, mathematics, engineering, and technology graduates. According to The Economist, India graduates 400,000 engineers and 200,000 IT professionals each year, and the cost to employ an Indian graduate is about 12 percent that of an American one. Talent, as it has been remarked, is now the world's most sought-after commodity. Ranking in international educational comparisons may well indicate future rankings in national economic success.

Even as we celebrate the achievements of higher education since The Chronicle's founding in 1966, we should also confront the issues the Spellings report has raised. Our national interest and our people's well-being, our growing population and its rapidly changing demography, our depleted planet and its changing climate, all create an added sense of urgency.

"The task of a university," Alfred North Whitehead once declared, "is the creation of the future, so far as rational thought, and civilized modes of appreciation, can affect the issue." Forty years on, we should welcome, embrace, and reaffirm that high calling.

Frank H.T. Rhodes is president emeritus of Cornell University.
Section: Special Report
Volume 53, Issue 14, Page A18

Monday, November 20, 2006

Libraries beckon, but stacks of books are not part of the pitch

This article by Christopher Conkey in the Wall Street Journal, October 21st, 2006 issue talks about how university libraries are reshaping themselves to cater to and attract students back into libraries. Here is a link to EBSCO that will point to the full text. You probably need to click on this from a Pitt computer.

Whatever Happened to the Faculty?

Interesting brief interview with author of new book on faculty in higher education; good food for thought.

Nov. 20

‘What Ever Happened to the Faculty?’
Mary Burgan, former general secretary of the American Association of University Professors, is not happy about the trends she sees with regard to faculty rights. Traditional governance models are being replaced with strict hierarchies, and too many faculty members have too little influence in crucial decisions, she writes, in What Ever Happened to the Faculty? Drift and Decision in Higher Education, just published by Johns Hopkins University Press. Burgan recently responded to questions about the themes of her book.

Q: You have a chapter on the “myth of the bloviating professor” and you frequently talk about other misconceptions about professors. What are the most dangerous misunderstandings of the professoriate and why are they so widely held?

A: The most dangerous stereotype is that professors are overpaid and underworked. Such a view focuses only on the faculty in privileged positions where the teaching schedules are gauged to inspire research productivity and the pay, though never so astronomical as pay for outstanding achievement outside the academy, makes for a nice life — especially given the pleasant environment of reasonably well kept campuses. But such faculty are a diminishing group, for the bulk of academicians in today’s environment of downsizing, outsourcing, and unbundling of professional work do not have such cushy lives. Further, under this diminishment even privileged, “full” faculty find themselves burdened with increased administrative and supervisory responsibilities as well as the unending mandate to “keep up with the field.” I don’t want to overplay their pity story, of course; those who manage to get tenure in higher education are indeed fortunate. They can spend their lives thinking and teaching and serving the higher good in many ways; that kind of autonomy is rare.

But I do want to emphasize the fact that the source of the stereotype is a devaluation of intellectual work in general. Our culture tends to think that the only work worth paying for is work that produces some tangible, often short-term profit. And so professors who produce computer scientists, MBA’s, or genetic technicians may be considered worth their salaries. All the others are simply ... overpaid and underworked. Such a devaluation of the complexity of knowledge fails to address the value of such mental activities as puzzling through difficult crises in human history, understanding the diversity of cultures, learning the languages of the rest of the world, or patiently and critically clarifying the values we should live by. Current history shows that failure to honor such work can lead to catastrophic results.

Q: You are quite critical of distance learning. Do you think distance learning is by definition bad, or just that the examples you cite reflect certain programs that may not have been well planned and thought out?

A: I wouldn’t condemn distance learning outright, of course, just as I wouldn’t condemn the book — that older technological discovery that changed education for everyone. Both of these innovations can be lifesavers for those who can’t get education any other way. What I do deplore is the notion that because some students can learn through such resources, they offer the magic key to all learning. I do not believe that higher education can dispense with real time and place contacts — which require campuses and teachers — by turning it over to the Internet, albeit with generous accommodation of chat rooms and the like. That notion is convenient economically; it relieves society of having to provide expensive campuses and professors for everyone, and it facilitates an entry of the profit competition into higher education as never before.

But the hype for distance ed ignores the essential social contract involved in the teaching/learning exchange as enacted in live settings. Most cultures have viewed such an exchange as a sacred, communal duty — one that involves socialization as well as the intake of information. In setting up their educational systems, they have also declared the usefulness of a “moratorium” for learners, especially adolescent learners, so that such novices can test their understanding in environments that permit exploration of individual talents, encounters with unfamiliar personality styles, and the experience of life in the context of communal effort. Further, the presence of teacher and learner in such traditional systems leads to mutual insights that are essential in intergenerational understanding. I don’t think that this rich process can happen in distance education — valuable as individual courses can be for the mastery of particular bits of knowledge or practice. Finally, a pressing concern about distance education is that it has been the tool for entrepreneurs who seek to turn higher education into a corporate enterprise — complete with advertising come-ons, lobbying for access to federal funding and accreditation, and questionable accountability. Such enterprises can’t offer the benefits I value, and don’t think they ought to.

Q: How do distance learning and other trends — such as the quest for research that will produce patents and royalties — play into the relative power (or erosion of power) of faculty members?

A: The conversion of colleges and universities into knowledge factories that produce profit also turns faculty into cogs in the machine, or gigabytes in the hard drive. They can be rewarded fabulously, or course, if they hit the right discovery or win the right patent, but when the only power in the academy is money power, faculty influence dwindles. It’s not just that the money-makers get all the respect, they get all the resources too — colleagues, staff, graduate students. As an English professor, I worry about the eclipse of those core faculty who do the basic, foundational work of undergraduate education — like teaching critical thinking, writing, basic math and science — by those who do graduate teaching and research only. Some faculty members have bought into this system, but many more worry about the way it diminishes their control of educational standards. I share that worry.

Q: One of the major trends in the academic job market these days is the growing use of adjuncts. Does that trend make it impossible for professors to regain more power over higher ed?

A: I believe that the faculty as a whole must address the issue of adjuncts by embracing all their instructional colleagues as integral members of the professoriate. Without incorporating the rising numbers of adjuncts, the faculty is permitting its power to leach out into an increasingly potent mixture of managerial faddism and rank exploitation that is too often characterized by bureaucratic carelessness. As the system has become more and more dependent on adjuncts, “regular” faculty have little contact with them. Tenured and tenure-track faculty members frequently have little idea about the number of adjuncts their institutions depend on, for example, and few confront the stark facts about how much individual adjuncts teach and for how little money. Thus faculty in many schools abet a stratification that blinds them to the inequities of their situation, and so work in a constant state of bad faith. It may be that faculty unionization is the only force that can turn the tide, but such collective action will need to command the respect of faculty at all levels to be really successful.

Q: When administrators hear faculty complaints about governance, a frequent reply is: I’d love professors to be involved, but they hold endless committee meetings and are afraid of making tough decisions. What would you say to those who say professors are responsible for being excluded from decisions because of the way they act?

A: Administrators do find it annoying to have to listen to people who are trained to be suspicious of bureaucracies. But they are frequently right about the faculty’s lack of executive drive or political good sense. I believe that every graduate program, in every discipline, should institute some kind of course in academic citizenship. Such a course, or course segment, would be designed to inform potential faculty members about the basics of self-governance. By “basics,” I mean not only theories about governance, but also practical texts like Robert’s Rules of Order, the local faculty handbook, and the AAUP Red Book. A short survey of the history of American higher education would be useful too. And the course might want to take a look at some Dilbert cartoons to understand how organizations can tangle themselves up in stupidities. Of course, Dilbert also reveals that governance idiocy is not limited to university and college campuses!

Q: What is your advice to faculty members who want to see professors play more of a role in the way academe is run?

A: I would advise them to serve conscientiously on important departmental and school committees (and to know which are important and which aren’t worth their time). I would also advise them to stand for office in their faculty senate and/or to be active in their local faculty union; neither of these instruments of faculty authority can be effective without participation by rank and file faculty. I would urge them to be aware of and support the wider range of civic activities in their professional organizations. And finally, I would say that unless they are deeply concerned about teaching at all levels, including K-12, they will not be able to make much of a difference. Traditional faculty power has derived not only from research achievements but from the American academy’s engagement with our public schools. In turning away from training and supporting school teachers as a primary responsibility in every major department — not just in the School of Education, higher education has lost a lot of its credibility with the public.

My book is titled What Ever Happened to the Faculty? By that title I meant to imply that the faculty have been made irrelevant in many discussions and decisions about education through forces that are almost beyond their control. But teaching is not beyond their control, and so my title also challenges my own colleagues. I am haunted by the image of a first-year student, just out of high school, wandering through some campus searching for a real, live teacher there.

— Scott Jaschik

The original story and user comments can be viewed online at

Friday, November 17, 2006

high school student view of -- maybe we should recruit this one for the BSIS?

This site has a interesting take on, from the perspective of a high school student from the suburban Baltimore/DC metro area:

pokoj, Ellen Detlefsen

Going Postal

I posted this on my own blog today -- but thought it would be interesting to some others here

Most Americans take for granted the daily arrival of mail at their doorsteps. Some may have reflected on the existence of the postal service only because their increasing use of electronic mail has affected how, when, and why they choose to write a letter, affix a stamp, and drop it into a corner mailbox.

Historian David M. Henkin has reintroduced us to the era when the postal system was just becoming established and Americans were just learning how to use the mail in his The Postal Age: The Emergence of Modern Communications in Nineteenth-Century America (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006), ISBN-10:0-226-32720-5. Henkin leads us through a discussion of the establishment of the postal service and the communications revolution it generates, the emergence of the post office as a local institution, the transformation of the idea of the personal letter, and the rise of the notion of junk mail. Individuals interested in how personal documents changed in the nineteenth century certainly will want to read this book.

Henkin reminds his readers that the old style postal service remains important even in our digitally networked age and that its nineteenth century version laid the “cultural foundation . . . for the experiences of interconnectedness that are the hallmarks of the brave new world of telecommunications” (p. ix). As he demonstrates over and over again in his study, “Before telephones, before recorded sound, before the transcontinental railroad, and even before the spread of commercial telegraphy, postal exchanges began habituating large groups of Americans to new expectations of contact with distant places” (p. x). The postal service was initially established to serve business, but like the later experience with the telephone, it quickly became a critical system for supporting individuals in their personal and family lives (as Henkin richly describes in his chapters on letter-writing in the California Gold Rush and Civil War). Henkin points to the experiences with the post during the American Civil War as particularly important: “None of this intense and enduring interest in solders’ letters is remarkable, and it is hardly surprising that Americans on both sides of the conflict preserved, circulated, and published Civil War correspondence – and have continued to so ever since. What is worth noting, however, is how a national investment in these letters as historically significant and personally poignant served, in the 1860s, the secondary cultural function of dramatizing the role of mail in everyday life. By 1865, the war experience had given most Americans additional reasons to think of the post as the repository and conduit for the sort of epistolary self-representation that united families across great distances and preserved family identity over time” (pp. 145-146).

What Henkin tracks is certainly a major transformation in American life. Over less than half a century, Americans move from being a people who experience the arrival of mail rarely to being accustomed to receiving it daily. Rich with statistical data and embellished with particular examples and cases, The Postal Age is a major contribution both to the origins of our modern information society and our understanding of how individuals created and maintained personal documents. Henkin identifies the rich documentary reserves for such a study: “Despite the exaggerated aura of secrecy and privacy that surrounds personal correspondence (and despite the flimsy materials, ephemeral purposes, and unheeded wishes for self-destruction that attended so much epistolary contact), an extraordinary number of letters have survived, filling historical societies, manuscript collections, and private attics throughout the country. The sheer volume and diversity of this archive is daunting – and potentially confusing – but there is no better repository of information concerning the uses to which Americans put their increasingly accessible postal network and the expectations they brought to it” (p. 6). Henkin also draws on diaries of the period, mixing their discussion about the mail and reading letters in with newspaper accounts, literary journals, government reports, etiquette and letter-writing manuals, and an array of other documentary materials. Using such sources, Henkin reveals how the letter, and mail in general, became such a pervasive and desired item that many social commentators of the day warned of its more pernicious influences on the morals of youth, women, and others, especially as strangers could now interact more freely and threaten one’s privacy, livelihood, and time.

The Postal Age is an important addition to our understanding of both the evolution of personal recordkeeping and the origins of the modern information era. Archivists and other records professionals will learn a great deal about how the common person began to use the increased potential of a postal service to build networks of personal, family, and business arrangements. Those interested in the idea of a modern information age or its particulars, from telecommunications to concerns with privacy and secrecy, also will be illuminated. Too many assume that what we are experiencing today is the result exclusively of computer technologies, but Henkin shows that there were immense social, political, economic and other factors involved in laying the foundation for our presented global networked age. As Henkin concludes, in relating our present era to the earlier one, the “persistence of mail as a slower, seemingly more immanent form of communication in the age of instantaneous electronic exchange is potentially misleading. Despite all the changes that separate us from the postal culture of the mid-nineteenth century, our pervasive expectations of complete contact, of boundless accessibility, actually link us back to the cultural moment when ordinary Americans first experienced the mail in similar terms. The world we now inhabit belongs to the extended history of that moment” (p. 175).

Defending the Lecture


Friday, November 17, 2006

A glance at the current issue of Change: A defense of lecturing

In an essay adapted from her forthcoming book, What Ever Happened to the Faculty?: Drift and Decision in Higher Education, Mary Burgan, a former general secretary of the American Association of University Professors, argues against academic reformers who believe an effective professor should be "a guide by the side" rather than "a sage on the stage."
Ms. Burgan, who is also a former professor of English at Indiana University at Bloomington, says the "honorable tradition of lecturing" has found opposition in recent years because of concerns over student diversity and technology.

The worriers, she writes, believe that lectures may be too rigid to accommodate students from a plethora of backgrounds. They also suspect "that modern students may be so wedded to the shifting imagery of an ever-more-iconic technology that they cannot attend to talking heads," she says. Many reformers, therefore, suggest that universities replace lectures with seminars in which faculty members "facilitate students' exploration of the material," Ms. Burgan writes. This "rosy vision," as she puts it, leaves no room for "the learned expert in charge of a lecture hall." And most faculty members will reject it, the author writes, because they know that "students are apt to slack off without the support of a structure that makes some demands upon them."

Faculty lecturers, Ms. Burgan says, are irreplaceable. At least in a lecture, she writes, it is easier to witness information going over a student's head: "Students can act out their incomprehension and boredom more successfully en masse than in a small group." Another positive feature of lecturing, she says, "may be the student's relief at having an expert rescue him from mistakes a novice might make along the way -- and also save him the irritation of having to spend his precious time listening to the opinions of classmates rather than a clear presentation of known facts and issues."

Most important, she writes, is that because "excellent lecture sessions raise questions in ways that inspire students to seek answers together," they offer "the possibility of being 'plugged in' to a learning process that is shared in reaching understanding."

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Ofcom report on telecommunications research

Ofcom, the telecommunications regulator in the UK, issued a report summarizing some of their research activities (see this post on my blog for the details). There was a significant emphasis in this report on topics such as dynamic access to spectrum and mesh networks that reflect research going on at SIS.

Open Records in Pennsylvania -- Not!

Shadowy slots: The public deserves more openness on records
Thursday, November 16, 2006

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

In the high-stakes world of casino gambling, it's best to go in with eyes wide open so that unwitting citizens aren't thrown for a loss. We're not talking about slots customers; we're referring to host communities.

Last week the Pittsburgh Gaming Task Force, a broad-based independent panel appointed by former Mayor Tom Murphy to scrutinize and assess the applications for the city's sole slots license, went to Harrisburg to examine the latest records submitted to the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board. They came away surprised and disappointed, saying they were denied access to building and site plans, architectural drawings and traffic studies.

We understand the need to keep certain information confidential, like corporate financial data and details of personal background checks. But it's hard to imagine what justifies the shroud of secrecy over the basic elements of the license seeker's package.

The public, whether as individuals or as groups with official standing like the Pittsburgh Gaming Task Force, have reasonable concerns about the advent of Pennsylvania's first casinos. Among the issues are traffic, public safety, business impact and aesthetics. The records being sought by the task force would have provided insight and information on these subjects.

A spokesman for the state gaming board told the Post-Gazette that architectural drawings are private because they could show the positions of security cameras or money storage. He said updated traffic and impact studies will be available once the licensing hearings are finished (hearings on the Pittsburgh applicants will take place next week). He didn't know why the task force was refused access to site plans.

Lame, lame, lame.

When the state gaming control board was installed, it pledged openness and accessibility. What the good citizens from Pittsburgh got in their records search last week was neither.

If the state wants the public to have faith in its licensing decisions, it must open more of the record for public inspection. These casinos may be private businesses, but they will be licensed to operate, after all, at the pleasure of the people and in the people's community.

It's better for all that our prospective new neighbors put their cards on the table before they move in.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Digital Library Education Study

This is useful and important, I think.

D-Lib Magazine
November 2006

Volume 12 Number 11

ISSN 1082-9873

go to

The Core

Digital Library Education in Library and Information Science Programs

Jeffrey Pomerantz1, 2, Sanghee Oh1, Seungwon Yang3
Edward A. Fox3 and Barbara M. Wildemuth1

1School of Information and Library Science
University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC 27599-3360
2+1 919-962-8366;
3 Department of Computer Science, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, VA 24061


This paper identifies the "state of the art" in digital library education in Library and Information Science programs, by identifying the readings that are assigned in digital library courses and the topics of these readings. The most frequently-assigned readings are identified at multiple units of analysis, as are the topics on which readings are most frequently assigned. While no core set of readings emerged, there was significant consensus on the authors to be included in digital library course reading assignments, as well as the topics to be covered. Implications for the range of assigned readings and topics for digital library education in library science education are discussed.

CHE: Employers prefer on-line certificate programs

This article in today's Chronicle of Higher Ed is relevant to our ongoing discussions. The article reports research from Eduventures, which finds that employers prefer on-line to "traditional" formats for certificate programs. This apparently does not include degree programs.

Boys and Toys

I haven't read this -- and I have no intention of doing so -- but I thought this was worth noting. What follows is from the publisher's site. . . .

Boys and Their Toys: Understanding Men by Understanding Their Relationship with Gadgets By Bill Adler, Jr. (AMACOM, 2006)

First he showed readers how to outwit he’s going to show them how to outwit their men.

The key to understanding men is in understanding how they relate to their gadgets. Just because they may seem to show more interest in their computers...or their remote controls...or their fancy watches or their power mowers or their stereos...doesn’t mean that their toys are really the most important things in their life. In Boys and Their Toys, bestselling author Bill Adler, Jr. explains how men use toys to assert their independence and freedom, relieve stress, connect to their lost childhood, and even express their nurturing side (without having to admit it). Written in Adler’s fun, humorous style, the book reveals how women can:

• learn how a man’s interest in particular "toys" can be used to predict his behavior
• know when a guy’s passion for gadgets crosses the line into obsession and what to do about it
• take advantage of the human-gadget relationship to improve the human-human relationship

Smart and funny, Boys and Their Toys helps readers understand what makes their men tick...and grow closer with them in the process.

About the Author

Bill Adler, Jr. (Washington, DC) is the president of Adler & Robin Books, Inc., a book packaging company. He has written more than a dozen books, including the runaway bestseller Outwitting Squirrels. He has been featured on NPR, The Rosie O’Donnell Show, The Maury Povich Show, Hard Copy, and many other nationally syndicated programs.

Students, Academic Freedom, and Pennsylvania

A little bit closer to home. . . .

Wednesday, November 15, 2006 Chronicle of Higher Education

Pennsylvania Panel Urges Colleges to Protect Students' Academic Freedom but Says Campus Bias Is Rare

A special committee of the Pennsylvania legislature that investigated complaints that liberal professors had treated conservative students unfairly has issued a draft report that stops short of calling for a statewide policy guaranteeing students' rights to academic freedom. But the report recommends that Pennsylvania's public colleges and universities review their own policies and ensure that students' rights to free speech are protected.

The report was drafted by the Pennsylvania House of Representatives Select Committee on Academic Freedom in Higher Education, which plans to vote on it by the end of this month.

The panel was established in July 2005 to investigate claims that professors' ideological views were influencing what they taught and how they treated students whose views clashed with their own (The Chronicle, July 7, 2005). The committee held four public hearings over eight months. While the draft report says the panel was urged to endorse a statewide policy guaranteeing students' rights, it says the committee felt such a step was "unnecessary" because violations of students' academic freedom "are rare."

Still, the report says that just as colleges have policies guaranteeing professors' academic freedom, they should have similar policies guaranteeing students' rights. The draft report says colleges should adopt such policies and post them on their Web sites.

Students should be informed, it says, of what to do if they believe that professors have violated their rights, including how to lodge grievances. Students who want to file complaints, says the report, should be able to do so with someone outside their departments. The report also recommends that colleges add questions to course evaluations, asking students whether they feel free to say what they believe during class discussions.

State Rep. Gibson C. Armstrong, a Republican from Lancaster, Pa., introduced the resolution, known as HR 177, that established the House committee. During hearings, according to the report, he said he had received dozens of complaints from students at Temple University who said professors used their classrooms to spread liberal views.

In addition, the committee report quotes the conservative activist David Horowitz, who testified before the panel. He said he had interviewed more than 100 students in the state who complained that their professors "railed against George Bush, the war in Iraq, and the policies and attitudes of Republicans and conservatives."

Mr. Horowitz has encouraged Republican lawmakers in several states to enact a measure, known as the academic bill of rights, that he says will make college campuses more intellectually diverse. He could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.

But Stephen H. Balch, president of the National Association of Scholars -- who criticized the "intellectual one-sidedness of the professoriate" when he testified before the Pennsylvania panel -- said on Tuesday that he was pleased with the draft report.

"The object of the hearings was not to legislate for universities," he said, "but to coax them to come up with appropriate and creative solutions."

A New View of Information Literacy

This is an interesting story given some of the discussion at the BOV about developing a university-wide undergraduate course from here.

Nov. 15 From Insider Higher Education

Are College Students Techno Idiots?

Susan Metros, a professor of design technology at Ohio State University, says that reading, writing and arithmetic are simply not enough for today’s students. What is important for learners is information: how to find it, how to focus it, and how to filter out nonsense. But for many students, their main source for information is Google, which Metros finds troubling.

Last year, she was surprised to learn at a conference that most people look only at the first few hits that come back from a Google query. In fact, only a tiny percentage of Google users even bother to glance at the second page of the search results. “It is well below 1 percent,” she said.

Overreliance on Google is only one of many technology problems facing college students. A new report released Tuesday by the Educational Testing Service finds that students lack many basic skills in information literacy, which ETS defines as the ability to use technology to solve information problems.

The original impetus for the study came from librarians and professors who have found that students can use technology for socializing or entertainment but still have problems finding information, evaluating it and then putting it to use, said Irvin Katz, a research scientist with ETS. “It’s not only in academics,” he said, “but also in the workplace that people don’t have the necessary critical skills to access information.”

For the study, information was gathered from over 6,300 students found at 63 universities, colleges, community colleges, and high schools (seniors). Each institution selected participants to take an information and communication technology literacy assessment. Because the institutions did not make random selections, caution should be taken when evaluating the results. The challenge was to see if students could identify trustworthy information, manage that information, and communicate it effectively. The results do not inspire confidence.

Few test takers demonstrated effective information literacy skills, and students earned only about half the points that could have been awarded. Females fared just as poorly as males. For instance, when asked to select a research statement for a class assignment, only 44 percent identified a statement that captured the assignment’s demands. And when asked to evaluate several Web sites, 52 percent correctly assessed the objectivity of the sites, 65 percent correctly judged for authority, and 72 percent for timeliness. Overall, 49 percent correctly identified the site that satisfied all three criteria.

Results also show that students might even lack the basics on a search engine like Google. When asked to narrow a search that was too broad, only 35 percent of students selected the correct revision. Further, 80 percent of students put irrelevant points into a slide program designed to persuade an audience.

“It doesn’t surprise me,” said Emily Sheketoff, the associate executive director of the American Library Association. “Not enough students are getting the skills they need in information literacy.” Sheketoff said that this is especially problematic in states like California which is not hiring enough certified librarians for elementary schools. These librarians, she said, have the technical skills and teaching ability to train young students to access information.

Metros said that her institution, Ohio State, recently placed information literacy into its core requirements for undergraduates. More colleges are looking to do this in the future. “It’s not a lot yet,” said Metros of this trend in core curriculum. “But we are starting to see this.”

Katz said that he hopes the results will inspire more universities to support initiatives to improve information literacy. “These abilities need to be learned,” he said. “Students just don’t pick them up on their own.”

— Paul D. Thacker

The original story and user comments can be viewed online at

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Digital Texts

Here is a publication also posted to my blog, "Reading Archives"

The challenges of maintaining digital records have energized discussions among archivists, librarians, museum curators, historians, and other scholars for the past generation. Peter L. Shillingsburg’s From Gutenberg to Google: Electronic Representations of Literary Texts (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), ISBN-13 978-0-521-86498-5, is another useful contribution to the growing scholarly literature on digital representation and maintenance, this one from the world of literary studies and documentary editing.

Shillingsburg, an English professor and experienced editor of standard literary texts, places his book in the genre of those whose aim is to help understand the shift from print to digital that so many have tried to document, applaud, or criticize, reminding us that we are “but 15-20 years into an era whose counterpart introduced a 500-year reign” (p. 4). Shillingsburg commences by ruminating on the meaning of manuscripts, books, and texts, pausing to give praise to the “great job that librarians, collectors, and archivists have done to preserve the physical materials of textuality” (p. 23). The author also considers the continuing advantages printed books still have over digital texts, seeking to see where the roles of the differing presentations of texts might be taking us, society and scholars alike.

Shillingsburg draws on “script act theory,” considering the act of creating texts, but also “Every sort of act conducted in relation to written and printed texts, including every act of reproduction and every act of reading” (p. 40). The author argues for the utility of this theoretical framework: “For a study of literary works for which the genesis, production, and reception of the work become relevant aspects, script act theory provides a theoretical framework for representing the work as a series of related historical events, each leaving its record in manuscripts, proofs, books, revisions, reprintings, and translations” (p. 50). Shillingsburg’s book is, then, an interesting example of the value of theory for considering a text, whether it is book or document, and it suggests how having a larger working sense of the creation and use of a literary text can inform our own present understanding of the shift from print to digital. Shillingsburg reflects, briefly, on the fact that electronic book has meaning because we have a perception of a printed work by which to compare it, with an interesting observation about how we might need to annotate an earlier writer’s allusion to books because we have lost our own sense of them.

There is a lot of discussion about the problems posed by the lack of standardization found in literary studies and textual criticism as well as that offered by the use of varying types of software and hardware. Some of these challenges sound very similar to what others such as librarians and archivists have been commenting on, such as Shillingsburg’s comment that “creating an electronic edition is not a one-person; it requires skills rarely if ever found in any one person” (p. 94). Another example of such a statement is the author’s observation that “academic institutions and funding agencies as well as the small world of scholarly editors have all failed as yet to come up with a full-scale solution to the complex problem of funding, training, development, maintenance, and distribution of large scholarly projects” (p. 104). Such comments ought to resonate among librarians and archivists who have faced similar problems for a long time in converting their traditional materials to new digital formats and processes. Shillingsburg indicates that we must be flexible, forgetting a standardized one-all solution, but rather needing to hold to a goal for a “score of stand-alone and fully compatible tools able to be used with a growing number of knowledge sites built around individual literary works. No one is likely to produce a comprehensive software solution, but together we can form a community of interchangeable modules in a flexible, expandable structure of software and edition constructions” (p. 113).

The use of the Web for disseminating literary texts also ought to generate many issues, such as questions about the provenance and accuracy of the texts. Shillingsburg is not very sanguine about what he sees: “The unsophisticated replication of texts on the Internet, like the proliferation of relatively cheap paper texts, reflects a widespread assumption: that a literary text consists only of letters and punctuation and will mean the same thing wherever and however it appears. That false assumption also underlies the construction of classroom anthologies. . . . But communication theory and critical reflection suggest that each bibliographical event, like each verbal utterance, is significantly affected by its constituting context and medium. As students of texts, we care about provenance, contexts, histories, bibliography, and the accuracy of texts because all these affect how we read and how we understand the text” (p. 140). These are issues archivists care about as well. As Shillingsburg provides a sense of the need for close analysis of texts, so archivists must have the ability to conduct close readings of the documents in their care, understanding how they have been created and how they came to be in an archives. From Gutenberg to Google will help archivists to reflect on such matters, reminding them of some of the debates and discussions they have indulged in concerning electronic records management.

Adventures with Wikis
From the issue dated November 17, 2006

Adventures in the Land of Wikipedia

The biggest and arguably the best general online encyclopedia, Wikipedia, started in 2001 and now includes more than a million entries in 200-plus languages. It is not infallible, but then again, as Nature magazine pointed out in a head-to-head comparison, neither is the Encyclopaedia Britannica. (The latter "was first published progressively from 1768-71 as Encyclopaedia Britannica, or, A dictionary of arts and sciences, compiled upon a new plan." I found that on Wikipedia.) The most powerful insights I've gleaned from Wikipedia, however, could never have been plucked from Britannica or any traditional reference source. That knowledge comes only from the act of sharing.

I can trace my fascination with Wikipedia back to my first technology thrill in 1979: A freshly minted English Ph.D., I was working at the Modern Language Association office when I saw bibliographical data streaming from one source to another through an acoustic coupler fitted to a telephone. (Not exactly the moon landing, I know, but bear with me.) Captivated by the potential of technology to transform content into electronic formats that could be replicated and widely distributed, I moved into cable and satellite television, and then into digital media.

My second turning point came in 1994, when I sailed forth on the World Wide Web via a Mosaic browser. "This is going to be big," I predicted to my then bosses at the National Football League. A few months later, we launched, followed by, where real-time, play-by-play data streamed from NFL press boxes to fans anywhere on the planet became our most popular feature.

Since then my pursuit of new opportunities created by digital media has led me from the stadium box back to the university and the creation of Fathom, an online learning company. Technology even left its mark in the evolution of my first book, despite its subject matter. Sala's Gift, to be published this month, is a historical memoir that tells the story of a secret collection of 350 letters and photographs that my mother, Sala Garncarz, received during five years in Nazi work camps in western Poland. My mother kept that remarkable archive hidden in a cardboard box for nearly 50 years, until she was facing cardiac surgery.

The book had a long gestation period, with roots in a predigital era. I did most of my research the old-fashioned way, logging hours in libraries and archives — but as the years passed and I adopted the tools of the modern historian, I turned to Wikipedia as an excellent first stop for some new thread of inquiry or a quick fact check on, say, the provisions of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of 1939.

How many people would read my book? How long would it stay in print? Scary questions for a first-time author. My family was aware of the historical importance of Sala's letters — for the light they shed both on the privations in the daily lives of Jews after the Nazis annexed Poland and on this particular network of labor camps where some 50,000 Jews were forced to work — and we had already donated the originals to the New York Public Library. The library exhibited the letters to the general public last spring and created a permanent online exhibit ( A traveling exhibit, a documentary film, and a play were already in various stages of development. Still, like any author in love with her subject, I wanted everyone, everywhere to know about my discoveries.

So when Wikipedia replaced the Onion as my teenage son's home page, I noticed. My informal and unscientific sample of inquiring minds among his Net Generation strongly suggested that their research inevitably started with Google and Wikipedia. I also knew that student research often ended there. If I posted to the online encyclopedia, I could vouch for the integrity of my own work, but I worried about the company I would keep. Who were the other people using, writing, and editing the entries? Would the sacred trust of my mother's letters be compromised? Was I ready to publish something that was instantly accessible to anyone in the world, without regard to the intellectual-property rights in which I had been so carefully schooled? Would I squirm under the scrutiny of strangers who didn't have the usual credentials of peer review or professional editors?

Curiosity overcame caution. For my first entry last spring, I selected Ala Gertner, who was hanged publicly at Auschwitz in 1945 for her role in the only armed uprising at the camp. Ala met my mother on October 28, 1940, the day they were both deported from Sosnowiec, Poland, to a labor camp. She became a surrogate big sister to my mother and began writing to her a year later when they were separated, continuing until just before she and her husband were sent to Auschwitz in 1943. There she was assigned to the munitions factory, where she joined a secret plot to smuggle gunpowder.

Ala has been my muse for 15 years. Always on my desk is an arresting photograph of her and my mother, taken when they were on a brief furlough from the labor camp in 1941. I had interviewed people who knew Ala during the war, and I knew some of her letters by heart. But while her name appears occasionally in the extensive documentation on the Auschwitz uprising, she left no family survivors, and the little that is published about her is not always factual. She is a footnote in the history of the Holocaust. I wanted to set the record straight.

I didn't need to ask an editor's permission. Anyone can write a Wikipedia article. And "anyone" does, since the writers are anonymous. Amateurs or scholars, they are usually people who care passionately about a subject and want to share their knowledge — free. In fact, if you look up a name or subject that comes up empty on Wikipedia (which helpfully underlines potential new subjects in red), you are invited to fill the gap.

I studied some of the Wikipedia tutorials to get me started. House style: "NPOV," the scrupulously enforced "Neutral Point of View." That was something I was used to in scholarship. So far, so good. But when I tried to format my article, I was trapped in the quicksand of HTML codes that lie behind the pretty pages of a Web site. My page was a mess. Many hours later, I had created the equivalent of a short and sloppy freshman draft. But at least the words were there. My entry on Ala sounded like a Wikipedia article, even if it didn't look like one.

I returned to the site a few days later and behold, I had been Wikified! My words had not changed, but the entry now looked professional. By clicking on the "History" tab, I could see that the article had been scrubbed several times by automated software programs, known as wiki bots, and by human beings who had fixed my formatting mistakes and added subheads, paragraphs, and proper fonts. Those editorial elves were drawn to the task by a Wikipedia alert that identifies all new entries (and probably flagged mine as that of a struggling neophyte). There are reportedly thousands of volunteers who review entries for the sheer fun of improving them, like the successful investment banker who specializes in editing articles on baseball. He describes his daily edits and fact checks as his "solitaire," a relaxing brain game for multitasking moments. (For insight into the amazing commitment of such people, take the Wikipediaholic Test, measuring addiction: "Do you hook up to Wikipedia over a wireless Internet connection?" "Is that connection in a restaurant?" "Do you edit Wikipedia while waiting for your meal?" "During your meal?" "While eating?" See

It is that process of collaborative editing that is the heart and soul of Wikipedia. So far, no one had edited my words or challenged my facts — although I know that such controversies are not uncommon. Some entries have triggered litigation, as well as long and soul-searching arbitrations within the Wikipedia community. But in my maiden voyage, I was charmed by the swarm of nanoeditors who descended upon my page to polish away its rough edges.

Emboldened, I tuned up the language in the article and discovered that I could overcome being HTML-impaired by copying lines from other entries, literally cutting and pasting the formatting codes. Soon I had learned the most important trick of all: how to add hyperlinks that would bring me readers from other relevant Wikipedia articles. Ala was soon in the virtual company of Roza Robota, another heroine of the Auschwitz uprising, and of Oskar Schindler, who turned his factory and labor camp, once part of the same Nazi bureaucracy that enslaved Ala and my mother, into a refuge for Jews. Other helping hands then linked Ala to the categories of Women in World War II, the Holocaust, and the long and excellent Wikipedia entry on Auschwitz.

Alas, the article still looked bland. I had hundreds of multimedia assets at my disposal, but I couldn't figure out how to add a single one. Even if I could have, I was alarmed when Wikipedia confronted me with a bewildering set of copyright options. I had gone to considerable lengths to retain the copyright of the letters and photographs I had donated to the New York Public Library. Did I need to consult a lawyer again? I stopped right there.

The next time I checked the entry, I was shocked again. There was a photograph. I knew this portrait well, the only other known picture of Ala besides the one saved by my mother. And whoever had added it had correctly attributed it to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. I studied the history tab closely. From the dates in the audit trail left when changes are made, I ruled out the mechanical engineer from Mumbai, the faculty member from the ethnology and cultural-anthropology department of Warsaw University, and the computer-science student at a place identified only as RPI. It had to be "Danny." I linked to his personal information.

An hour later, we were trading e-mail messages, and later that day, we talked on the telephone. Danny turned out to be the remarkable Danny Wool, one of the few full-time employees of the Wikimedia Foundation, who lists "Jewish stuff" among his 10 areas of interest and is a former staff member at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York City. From Danny I learned that because it is getting harder to find a major subject uncovered, Wikipedia's emphasis is now on enhancing the quality of its entries and incorporating multimedia links. The Wikipedia gold standard is the "featured article," distinguished by its thoroughness, the quality of its writing, the comprehensiveness of its sources, and its technical proficiency. Pretty much the same things that would distinguish any other reference work, except that the author would not usually be the designer.

My technical difficulties and copyright confusion were no surprise to Danny. "We haven't done a good job on the user interface," he told me. We brainstormed about whether Wikipedia volunteers could serve as "buddies" to newcomers and talked about adding some of my mother's videotaped interviews about Ala and about digitizing images of her letters.

Wikipedia is free, its entries part of the global digital commons. Danny says the encyclopedia is trying to be a leader in that free-culture movement. My experience made me a believer: What an extraordinary resource, especially for users in developing nations, where it is the best library in town. I admire Wikipedia's volunteer culture, its open-handed approach to sharing knowledge, and the way it combines two hallmarks of 21st-century learning — collaboration and "just in time" knowledge. I'm comfortable with the protean nature of its articles, which seems appropriate to this shape-shifting world of ours.

Wikipedia will face interesting challenges. I am still thinking about whether to keep my digital assets to myself until Wikipedia writes better copyright guidelines or I get smarter. I wonder, too, whether the site can continue to operate with its current small staff and board of directors, and whether it will face challenges from competitors that are more specialized. Consider this conundrum: Anyone can lift Wikipedia content and place it on an independent, advertising-supported site. I checked, and there was my Ala Gertner entry framed by ads generated by Google for a cheesy art site, a billing service, and a store that sells Polish DVD's. I may shrug my shoulders, but it may prove tricky to sustain Wikipedia's growth in wholesome ways that do not estrange its volunteer community.

Many of Wikipedia's next steps are laden with political implications within that community, even the decision over making it easier to write an entry. Users are debating whether an easy word-processing-like format might alienate some of the "old-timers," who seem to consider technical prowess as something approaching a moral litmus test. Let's hope that Wikipedia moves in the direction of usability, since some of those who can't figure it out may be the best scholars and thinkers in their fields.

For now, Wikipedia works. I can hardly wait to start another entry drawn from my research. After my experience receiving an excellent assist from this anonymous knowledge army, I'm prepared to believe that Wikipedia's millions of eyes will continue its evolution and improve its quality. But don't take my word for it. Google Ala Gertner, and you'll see my entry as one of the first search results. Or you'll see what I started, since what started as my entry now belongs to Wikipedia's readers. It will be different by the time you get there.

Ann Kirschner is dean of City University of New York's Honors College and former director of Columbia University's for-profit Fathom. Her book, Sala's Gift: My Mother's Holocaust Story, is being published this month by the Free Press.
Section: The Chronicle Review
Volume 53, Issue 13, Page B10

Monday, November 13, 2006

User needs for independent living

The information needs of aging populations is a recurrent theme at SIS (thanks in large measure to Ellen!). So, this paper, which is the result of an EU workshop on independent living, might be of interest. Happy reading!

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Web 3.0 on New York Times

The semantic web is making news in mainstream media. Please see article titled "Entrepreneurs See a Web Guided by Common Sense" by John Markoff in the NY Times dated November 12th. It talks about the next wave of startups looking at making the web a guide (by mixing AI with the web) rather than just a catalogue and going beyond mash-ups.

Friday, November 10, 2006

BusinessWeek's Worst Web Censors

On the eve of this academic year's first lecture on Information Policy and Ethics, BusinessWeek saw fit to publish this article. How appropos. The article is derived from a recent report from Reporters Without Borders.