Saturday, April 28, 2007

Lies and the Information Age

For a somewhat different perspective on the so-called modern information age, I recommend Ken Adler's The Lie Dectectors: The History of an American Obsession (New York: Free Press, 2007). Adler examines the origins of the lie detector in the 120s and its emergence, use, and controversies -- as well as an array of colorful supporters -- during its few decades. Adler is intent on trying to figure out how and why a machine, so often criticized, has managed to survive, ultimately concluding, "The lie detector cannot be killed by science, because it is not born of science. Its habitat is not the laboratory or even the courtroom, but newsprint, film, television, and of course the pulps, comic books, and science fiction" (p. 251). This is an engaging exploration about the relationship of technology, science or pseudo-science, and society.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Debate and Discourse in Library Science

There is an interesting essay about debate and the nature of library science discourse in today’s Inside Higer Education
Steven J. Bell, “Good at Reviewing Books But Not Each Other,” available at

Here is a sample --
“Perhaps what the library profession needs to do, if it wants to be taken seriously as a science, is to realize that we need to be accepting of rigorous discourse. We need to learn that there’s something special about it, and that we do a disservice to ourselves and our profession when we fail to do all we can to encourage it. Despite the chill factor that has descended on the library profession there may be some hope. We need to look at how other disciplines stimulate and support discourse. At our conferences and through online communities we need to engage in discussions about how to encourage discourse and appropriate ways in which to engage. We need to hear from scholars in other disciplines with experience in discourse so that we can better understand how to inspire ourselves and our colleagues to be both constructively critical and accepting of criticism. We need to focus on the content, and resist the temptation to make it about personalities.
Library educators should begin to integrate into the curriculum more opportunities for verbal and written discourse, as well as present students with case studies that serve as good examples of discourse and how it advances professional knowledge. What contemporary issues are deserving of discourse that might provide good examples? The role of reference services and the future of the reference desk are topics that emerge every few years, but that issue is now re-energized as new technologies make the need for traditional desks less important. Arguing the values of face-to-face interaction versus the immediacy of delivering services virtually is certainly fertile ground for debate. As future professionals, students would undoubtedly find challenges in discussing the qualifications required of academic librarians. With new professionals without library degrees, such as Web programmers and Ph.D. bibliographers, increasingly join the ranks of MLS degreed librarians, there is opportunity to debate the relative merits of an evolving new class of non-MLS professionals in the academic library. What academic librarianship shares with other disciplines is a seemingly never ending parade of controversial issues and challenges that invite the sharing of multiple, strong perspectives. If our future professionals can learn to appreciate and be inspired by the collegial expression of disagreement, and it would serve well the future value of scholarly discourse in librarianship.”

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Chronicle: Distance ed increasing

You might find this article interesting. Apparently, we have no shortage of competition in this space:
Inspired by the growth of Phoenix and other online colleges, two big public research institutions, the University of North Carolina and the University of Illinois, are quickly moving to establish their own distance-education spinoffs.

Making money is a key motivation, since state funds for public colleges are drying up. But campus officials also want to reach more working students, who are unable or unwilling to learn in a traditional classroom.

By all accounts, demand for online education is expanding. About 3.2 million students took at least one online course during the fall of 2005. That's 39 percent more than the 2.3 million the previous year, according to the Sloan Consortium, which promotes standards for online learning.

Chronicle: Federal Support for Research

Many of us should find this article interesting. Quoting the article:
University scientists have been vocally telling anyone who would listen that federal financing of their work is under severe pressure, threatening the progress of research that could advance health care and economic competitiveness. New projections from the National Science Foundation, however, suggest that the sky is hardly falling.

The NSF estimated in a report released last week that federal funds for all academic research and development had increased by nearly 8 percent in 2006, to $31.22-billion, compared with 2005. Meanwhile, inflation was around 3 percent.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

The "myth of outsourcing"

This article may be useful for recruitment, given the beliefs that are prevailing:
High-tech employees are back in demand. The U.S. technology industry added almost 150,000 jobs in 2006, according to an Apr. 24 report by the American Electronics Assn. (AeA), an industry trade group. That was the largest gain since 2001, before the implosion of the tech bubble resulted in the loss of more than 1 million jobs in three years.

The findings counter concerns—sometimes voiced by opponents of outsourcing—that high-tech jobs are being sent overseas.

Of course, the AeA isn't exactly objective ...

The USA Today also has this story that cites the same report (but more discussion)

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Data destruction

We tend to spend much of our time in SIS on preservation of data, so it is easy to imagine that we might overlook the problem of (appropriate) data destruction. Fully and completely removing electronic records (such as e-mail) can be an important part of an organization's information management policy. This article discusses techniques for destroying data. Though I am hardly an expert in this matter, I would imagine that similar techniques for archival selection could apply to the destruction of data.

ICT literacy test

We have had on-again, off-again conversations about "IT literacy". Educational Testing Service (ETS) has re-packaged its test into "iSkills". See this website for details.

Should our undergraduate program offer courses to help undergraduate students pass this test? Should it be required of incoming graduate students?

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Offshore outsourcing of Engineers

You might find this article in Issues in Science and Technology interesting. The paper, written by researchers at Duke is one outcome of a project that has
sought to assess the comparative engineering education of the United States and its major new competitors, India and China; identify the sources of current U.S. global advantages; explore the factors driving the U.S. trend toward outsourcing; and learn what the United States can do to keep its economic edge.

The paper does a fairly detailed analysis of graduation statistics in India and China with an eye toward establishing reliable estimates. They also surveyed corporations that have outsourced some engineering projects. The findings include:
Degree requirements. We were surprised that the majority of respondents said they did not mandate that job candidates possess a four-year engineering degree. Forty percent hired engineers with two- or three-year degrees, and an additional 17% said they would hire similar applicants if they had additional training or experience.

Engineering offshore. Forty-four percent of respondents said their company’s U.S. engineering jobs are more technical in nature than those sent abroad, 1% said their offshore engineering jobs are more technical in nature, and 33% said their jobs were equivalent. Thirty-seven percent said U.S. engineering employees are more productive, whereas 24% said U.S. and offshore engineering teams are equivalent in terms of productivity. Thirty-eight percent said their U.S. engineering employees produced higher-quality work, 1% said their company’s offshore engineering employees produced higher-quality work, and 40% said the groups were equal.

Engineering shortages in the United States. We asked several questions about company policies in hiring engineers to work in the United States. First, we asked about job acceptance rates, which are an indicator of the competition a company faces in recruiting staff. Acceptance rates of greater than 50% are generally considered good. Nearly one-half of the respondents had acceptance rates of 60% or higher. Twenty-one percent reported acceptance rates of 80 to 100%, and 26% of respondents reported 60 to 79% acceptance rates. Eighty percent said acceptance rates had stayed constant or increased over the past few years.

It is common in many industries to offer signing bonuses to encourage potential employees to accept a job offer. We found, however, that 88% of respondents to our survey did not offer signing bonuses to potential engineering employees or offered them to only a small percentage of their new hires. Another measure of skill supply is the amount of time it takes to fill a vacant position. Respondents to our survey reported that they were able to fill 80% of engineering jobs at their companies within four months. In other words, we found no indication of a shortage of engineers in the United States.

Reasons for going offshore. India and China are the top offshoring destinations, with Mexico in third place. The top reasons survey respondents cited for going offshore were salary and personnel savings, overhead cost savings, 24/7 continuous development cycles, access to new markets, and proximity to new markets.

Workforce issues. Given the graduation numbers we collected for China and India, we expected to hear that Indian corporations had difficulty hiring whereas Chinese companies did not. Surprisingly, 75% of respondents said India had an adequate to large supply of well-qualified entry-level engineers. Fifty-nine percent said the United States had an adequate supply, whereas 54% said this was the case in China.

Respondents said the disadvantages of hiring U.S. engineers were salary demands, limited supply of available people, and lack of industry experience. The disadvantages of hiring Chinese engineers included inadequate communication skills, visa restrictions, lack of proximity, inadequate experience, lack of loyalty, cultural differences, intellectual property concerns, and a limited “big-picture” mindset. The disadvantages of hiring Indian engineers included inadequate communication skills, lack of specific industry knowledge or domain experience, visa restrictions, lack of proximity, limited project management skills, high turnover rates, and cultural differences.

Respondents said the advantages of hiring U.S. engineers were strong communication skills, an understanding of U.S. industry, superior business acumen, strong education or training, strong technical skills, proximity to work centers, lack of cultural issues, and a sense of creativity and desire to challenge the status quo. The key advantage of hiring Chinese entry-level engineers was cost savings, whereas a few respondents cited strong education or training and a willingness to work long hours. Similarly, cost savings were cited as a major advantage of hiring Indian entry-level engineers, whereas other advantages were technical knowledge, English language skills, strong education or training, ability to learn quickly, and a strong work ethic.

Future of engineering offshore. The vast majority of respondents said the trend will continue, and their companies plan to send an even wider variety of jobs offshore. Only 5% said their overseas operations would stabilize or contract.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Laptops vs. Learning

Anyone have a policy about laptops in the classroom at SIS?

Laptops vs. Learning

By David Cole
Saturday, April 7, 2007; A13
Washington Post

"Could you repeat the question?"

In recent years, that has become the most common response to questions I pose to my law students at Georgetown University. It is usually asked while the student glances up from the laptop screen that otherwise occupies his or her field of vision. After I repeat the question, the student's gaze as often as not returns to the computer screen, as if the answer might magically appear there. Who knows, with instant messaging, maybe it will.

Some years back, our law school, like many around the country, wired its classrooms with Internet hookups. It's the way of the future, I was told. Now we are a wireless campus, and incoming students are required to have laptops. So my first-year students were a bit surprised when I announced at the first class this year that laptops were banned from my classroom.

I did this for two reasons, I explained. Note-taking on a laptop encourages verbatim transcription. The note-taker tends to go into stenographic mode and no longer processes information in a way that is conducive to the give and take of classroom discussion. Because taking notes the old-fashioned way, by hand, is so much slower, one actually has to listen, think and prioritize the most important themes.

In addition, laptops create temptation to surf the Web, check e-mail, shop for shoes or instant-message friends. That's not only distracting to the student who is checking Red Sox statistics but for all those who see him, and many others, doing something besides being involved in class. Together, the stenographic mode and Web surfing make for a much less engaged classroom, and that affects all students (not to mention me).

I agreed to permit two volunteers to use laptops to take notes that would be made available to all students. And that first day I allowed everyone to use the laptops they had with them. I posed a question, and a student volunteered an answer. I answered her with a follow-up question. As if on cue, as soon as I started to respond, the student went back to typing -- and then asked, "Could you repeat the question?"

When I have raised with my colleagues the idea of cutting off laptop access, some accuse me of being paternalistic, authoritarian or worse. We daydreamed and did crosswords when we were students, they argue, so how can we prohibit our students, who are adults after all, from using their time in class as they deem fit?

A crossword hidden under a book is one thing. With the aid of Microsoft and Google, we have effectively put at every seat a library of magazines, a television and the opportunity for real-time side conversations and invited our students to check out whenever they find their attention wandering.

I feel especially strongly about this issue because I'm addicted to the Internet myself. I checked my e-mail at least a dozen times while writing this op-ed. I've often resolved, after a rare and liberating weekend away from e-mail, that I will wait till the end of the day to read e-mail at the office. Yet, almost as if it is beyond my control, e-mail is the first thing I check when I log on each morning. As for multitasking, I don't buy it. Attention diverted is attention diverted.

But this is all theory. How does banning laptops work in practice? My own sense has been that my class is much more engaged than recent past classes. I'm biased, I know. So I conducted an anonymous survey of my students after about six weeks -- by computer, of course.

The results were striking. About 80 percent reported that they are more engaged in class discussion when they are laptop-free. Seventy percent said that, on balance, they liked the no-laptop policy. And perhaps most surprising, 95 percent admitted that they use their laptops in class for "purposes other than taking notes, such as surfing the Web, checking e-mail, instant messaging and the like." Ninety-eight percent reported seeing fellow students do the same.

I am sure that the Internet can be a useful pedagogical tool in some settings and for some subjects. But for most classes, it is little more than an attractive nuisance. Technology has outstripped us on this one, and we need to reassess its appropriate and inappropriate role in teaching. The personal computer has revolutionized our lives, in many ways for the better. But it also threatens to take over our lives. At least for some purposes, unplugging may still be the best response.

David Cole is a professor at Georgetown University Law Center.

Friday, April 13, 2007

NEH and Digital Humanities Projects

From today's Inside Higher Education

Into the Digital Domain
Andy Guess
The National Endowment for the Humanities is ready to shed the stodgy image of the classical scholar hunched over ancient parchment with a quill and magnifying glass — even its chairman, Bruce Cole, admits that he’s traded in his manual typewriter for a BlackBerry.

The institution has been taking tentative steps into the digital realm for years, but those efforts began to culminate Thursday in the kickoff to a summit meeting to plan a national network of “digital humanities centers” — usually, independent or interdisciplinary university entities that apply digital techniques from the sciences, such as computer science, to the traditional humanities. The NEH wants to expand these existing institutions into a coalition of centers that would help it coordinate digital humanities projects and distribute grants.

It’s doing that by assembling, for the first time, representatives from both digital humanities centers across the nation and funding organizations, including some of the biggest names in the business — Google’s “chief Internet evangelist,” Vint Cerf, gave a plenary address — including the Library of Congress; the National Science Foundation; the U.S. Department of Education; the Mellon, Sloan and MacArthur foundations; and the J. Paul Getty Trust.

“It’s a new frontier for the humanities,” said Cole. What began as earlier digital efforts within existing NEH divisions has led to a desire for more collaboration between existing digital humanities centers as well as the creation of new ones. If there was a sense that these efforts have become more urgent, it was thanks mostly to the American Council of Learned Societies’ Commission on Cyberinfrastructure for the Humanities and Social Sciences, whose 2006 report informed much of the discussion at yesterday’s session.

The NEH has already started a number of initiatives pushing the institution toward a more digital focus, committing “a great deal of time, energy and resources,” according to Cole. Digital Humanities Start-Up Grants, for example, offer seed money to scholars who want to apply digital methods to their humanities research. Most of the applicants, Cole said, are first-timers.

But NEH’s digital push isn’t necessarily proceeding without friction. Some scholars have contended that certain requirements for grants have favored applicants whose archival work is available online, which might hamper important work that cannot easily be digitized. Cole, however, said, that “we are not going to be draconian” about digital requirements.

James Harris, dean of arts and humanities at the University of Maryland at College Park, noted at the beginning of the meeting that “digital humanities centers across the country are at the center of this revolution.” Some of the goals of these institutions, he noted, include making digital archives available to the public — with free access — as well as engaging “diverse audiences” on new platforms, such as cell phones. The group of digital centers isn’t officially designated, but prominent examples are the Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities and the Center for Computing in Humanities, Arts, and Social Science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Representatives of the NEH and several digital humanities centers wouldn’t predict the outcome of today’s proceedings, but the consensus seemed to be that if successful, the meeting would lead to a greater understanding — and hopefully more meetings. At those future gatherings, and others, the NEH’s vision of a digital humanities coalition would — with funding — become more of a reality.

The original story and user comments can be viewed online at

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Technology and History

Another interesting book on the role of technology in society is David Edgerton's The Shock of the Old: Technology and Global History Since 1900(New York: Oxford University Press, 2007). Edgerton, among other things, argues that the notion of a "futurology of the past" affects how we view history and the present. We focus on "invention and innovation" and lose sight of how older technologies persist, take on new roles, and continue to be important in our society. We confuse descriptions of technology, usually written a philosophical or conceptual perspective with an eye on what's ahead, with the realities of the impact, past and continuing, of the technologies themselves.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

GAO: Forces that will Shape America's Future

I found this report, derived from the GAO's strategic plan, to be interesting. Some of the items that are discussed are of interest to SIS as we consider our actions, since we must operate in the context of the environment described in this report.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Against Rankings

From today's Chronicle of Higher Education (

Maybe we need to figure how to downplay these as well. . . .

Letter Circulating Among College Presidents Asks Them Not to Participate in Rankings Survey

A letter urging presidents to distance themselves from college rankings circulated last week as the leaders of several liberal-arts institutions renewed their criticisms of U.S. News & World Report's college guides.

Last Monday, a dozen college presidents received the letter, a copy of which was obtained by The Chronicle, which describes college rankings as "misleading" data that "degrade the educational worth for students of the college search process."

The letter asks presidents to make three "commitments," including refusing to fill out the U.S. News "reputational survey," a measure the magazine uses to assess administrators' opinions of peer colleges (the results account for 25 percent of a college's ranking).

The letter also urges presidents to refuse to promote their institutions' rankings or refer to them as an indication of institutional quality, though it stops short of advising against referring to rankings at all.

"In accord with these commitments, you may want to provide a link on your Web site to information about how you are ranked," the letter states, "but to do this in a way that simply provides information, not in a way that suggests you value the specific ranking or support the ranking project."

Douglas Bennett, president of Earlham College and a co-author of the letter, said the rankings implied a false level of authority and failed to account for differences among diverse types of colleges. "The aggregation of lots of data, none of which is based on sound measurements, is crap, deep and deep through," Mr. Bennett said. "The reputational survey is the passing along of rumors."

As copies of the letter zipped through academe last week, reaching officials at dozens of institutions, several presidents in the Annapolis Group, which represents 124 private liberal-arts colleges, said they had stopped filling out the reputational survey this spring. Others said they were considering doing the same next year.

Christopher B. Nelson, chairman of the Annapolis Group and president of St. John's College (Md.), said members of the organization would discuss the possibility of taking a collective stand against the rankings at their next meeting, in June. Although he did not speculate on whether he thought such an action was likely, Mr. Nelson said he detected increasing frustration about the rankings among his colleagues.

"In a culture where everything is measured, commodified, and quantified, one gets a little tired of thinking that we ought to play this game, because a liberal education is not something one can measure," said Mr. Nelson, whose college has long declined to participate in the U.S. News rankings.

The anti-rankings letter was circulated by the Education Conservancy, an Oregon-based nonprofit group that opposes commercial influences in college admissions. Lloyd Thacker, the organization's director, said he was encouraged by the initial response to the letter, which also urges presidents to work with the Education Conservancy to develop "better approaches" to evaluating colleges, including measures that would assess student learning.

Mr. Thacker plans to send the letter -- with signatures from the first group of presidents -- to the leaders of nearly 600 colleges and universities later this spring.

"This is a big step," Mr. Thacker said, "in an experiment to call college presidents to demonstrate their leadership as trustees of education, to speak beyond institutional self-interest and to a greater cause."

Representatives from U.S. News have previously said that the reputational survey is a meaningful assessment of institutional quality, and that the magazine could develop alternative ways of compiling it if a large number of presidents stopped participating in the measure.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

CMU and Robotics

I recommend Lee Gutkind, Almost Human: Making Robots Think (New York: W.W. Norton, 2006) providing an inside look into the CMU Robotics Institute, with comments about the research, funding, personalities, and teaching associated with this program

Monday, April 02, 2007

ICT drives 50% of EU growth

See this press release. From the press release:
The ICT sector continues to grow faster than Europe's overall economy, according to the i2010 second annual report. ICT contributed nearly 50% of EU productivity growth between 2000 and 2004, with software and IT services currently the most dynamic growth area (5.9% for 2006-2007).

The report also shows that businesses are investing in new and more mature ICT solutions, and Europeans are quickly embracing new online services. This is supported by a record number of new broadband connections: 20.1 million new broadband lines (see IP/06/1122), connected in the year to October 2006, with high broadband penetration rates in The Netherlands (30%) and the Nordic Countries (25-29%). The online content market is forecast to grow rapidly for the next five years, as already seen with the explosive growth of online music sales and user-created content (see IP/07/95).

France's Digital Library

You might be interested in this article that describes France's contribution to the European Digital Library. Selections from the article:
The French national library BNF has launched a prototype version of its contribution to a European digital library aimed to be one of the European alternatives to US digitalisation of books and documents.

Europeana – as the cyber library is named – currently offers access to some 12,000 public domain full-text documents but is set to have by 2010 over 6 million books, movies, photographs and other documents from across the European Union countries.


US Internet search giant Google triggered an international race to build an online library when it announced plans in December 2004 to digitise books and documents from a handful of big libraries.

US Internet and software giants Yahoo, Microsoft and Amazon soon announced separate plans while France, angry that private companies took the lead, instead pushed for the creation of a public digital library.

Europeana so far also has the support of 23 public libraries in Hungary, Italy, Germany, Poland and Spain.

Another European library project is also under way and is already receiving co-funding from the European Commission.

The library is to be based on the infrastructure of an already existing European network that allows access to digital resources held in national libraries.

It also aims to display around 6 million books, photographs and films available to all internet users by 2010.

The main difference between the two online libraries is the language of the website itself. Europeana is in French while the European Library is in English.