Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Pew Internet: Digital Footprints

Ellen pointed me to this new report from the Pew Internet and American Life Project entitled "Digital Footprints". Quoting the teaser blurb:

Internet users are becoming more aware of their digital footprint; 47% have searched for information about themselves online, up from just 22% five years ago. However, few monitor their online presence with great regularity. Just 3% of self-searchers report that they make a regular habit of it and 74% have checked up on their digital footprints only once or twice.

Indeed, most internet users are not concerned about the amount of information available about them online, and most do not take steps to limit that information. Fully 60% of internet users say they are not worried about how much information is available about them online. Similarly, the majority of online adults (61%) do not feel compelled to limit the amount of information that can be found about them online.

Cyberinfrastructure and the liberal arts

Given our recent success with the Mellon Foundation, you might find this of interest. In introducing this special issue of Academic Commons, David Green writes:
Made possible by dramatic advances in networking technologies, cyberinfrastructure promises to combine new computing capabilities, massive data resources and distributed human expertise to enable qualitatively different creative product from new generations of "knowledge environments." Introducing this timely collection of observations on how this will affect liberal arts disciplines and institutions, David Green reviews the distance we've come in the last 15 years and identifies the main themes of the essays, interviews and reviews that follow.
Happy reading!

Friday, December 14, 2007

Design at Cisco

I found this article interesting. It describes how Cisco, a classic engineering-focussed network equipment company, is now paying attention to customer experience.

He [Ratzlaff] and his dozen-or-so staffers have created a blueprint for how Cisco's products should work together for customers. With the support of CEO John Chambers and other top brass, they are trying to impose it on the San Jose company.

Their degree of success will help determine whether Cisco can reach beyond the business of selling routers and other basic networking gear, an area it dominates, into faster-growing markets for products that make use of those networks. "Cisco is respected for their technology and for their financial success, but nobody really knows what they do," says Hartmut Esslinger, founder of consultancy frog design.

I think that this is a great example of what should be an i-School like project ... what kinds of information do network managers need, what kind of interfaces do the job, etc.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Study Finds 90 to 95 Percent of All Email in 2007 Spam

You might find this item interesting (and not surprising):

A study conducted by Barracuda Networks suggests spam email has accounted for 90 to 95 percent of all email sent in 2007. The study, based on an analysis of more than one billion daily email messages sent to its more than 50,000 customers worldwide, found a staggering percentage of all email sent in 2007 was spam, increasing from an estimated 85 to 90 percent of email in 2006.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Free for All in the Public Library

Every so often, an amusing book about some aspect of the information professions surfaces, such as Don Borchert’s Free for All: Oddballs, Geeks, and Gangstas in the Public Library (New York: Virgin Books, 2007). The discovery of this book came just before our December 07 graduation ceremony, and I used it in my brief remarks, as follows:

Our School has been educating individuals to function as librarians for well over a century. The LIS program is internationally recognized for preparing public, school, children’s and youth services, medical, academic, digital, and special librarians, as well as archivists and preservation administrators. Some of these positions are quite new in their origins. Now you might one working as a Webmaster or an Electronic Records Specialist, jobs the first graduates in 1901 could never have imagined. We also have graduates of our program teaching in countries around the world as well. And we are happy to be recognizing the most recent graduates of our program today, hoping they understand the proud legacy they will be part of here in just a few moments.

All of you will face new and exciting challenges. Don Borchert, in a humorous book just published, Free for All: Oddballs, Geeks, and Gangstas in the Public Library, provides a sense of these challenges: “Libraries are a footnote to our civilization, an outpost to those unfamiliar with the concept, and a cheap, habit-forming narcotic to the regular patron. Walk into a public library and it is usually as calm and inviting as a warm bath. It is clean, well kept, and quiet enough to do the Sunday crossword puzzle (the one you brought with you from home, not the one torn surreptitiously out of the library’s copy of the paper while no one was looking). . . . The staff is invariably professional, courteous, and unobtrusive. They are almost always educated – not just disillusioned college grads who could find nothing in their own field but majors in Library Science, a degree as arcane as alchemy or predicting the future by reading the entails of a recently slaughtered lamb.”

Now, some might not agree with Borchert’s assessment, and his book is a bit of a trip, but we know you are ready for your new careers. And, we know as well, that if you don’t know what alchemy is or lack experience reading lamb entails that you know where to find the information about such activities and then preserve it for others to use.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

For college students, if it's Facebook, it's love - Yahoo! News

This article reminds me of Prof. Hirtle's statement "if it isn't on the web, it doesn't exist":

When a couple was "going steady" in the 1950s, the young man might have let his girlfriend wear his Varsity team sweater or given her his fraternity pin. But the 1960s swept aside those rituals. Now the Facebook link has become a publicly-recognized symbol of a reasonably serious intent short of being engaged or moving in together.

"For those in a relationship, the theme that kept echoing was that Facebook made it official," said Nicole Ellison, an assistant professor of telecommunication and information studies at Michigan State University who has studied social networking sites. "That was the term they used. And when the relationship fell apart, when you broke up on Facebook, that's when the breakup was official."

Monday, December 03, 2007

Internet Usage in the EU

You might find this item, which reports some internet usage statistics from the EU interesting. The report looks at % of households with broadband connections, gender and IT use, and internet skills (not by age or gender, though).

The Importance of Intellectual Community

Today’s Chronicle of Higher Education features an article – George Walker et al, “The Importance of Intellectual Community” -- about a new study of American doctoral education coming out next month. The five-year study was run by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching examining “84 departments in six fields: chemistry, education, English, history, mathematics, and neuroscience.” It emphasizes the notion of “intellectual community” and here are some excerpts:

“What qualities make intellectual communities more vibrant, enriching, stimulating, welcoming, and suited to the formation of scholars and the building of knowledge? First, they have a shared purpose -- a commitment to help students develop into the best scholars possible so that they, in turn, may contribute to the creation and growth of knowledge. Strong intellectual communities are also:

Diverse and multigenerational. True intellectual exchange must include a wide range of opinions that challenge and inform thinking. Scholars who are not actively involved in an environment of diverse viewpoints and healthy debate may find their work intellectually malnourished. Often doctoral programs approach the topic of diversity as a concern for numbers of people who can be counted in different ways and attention to access is a crucial agenda. But an equally important motivation for diversity is to ensure access to a wide range of viewpoints that enrich intellectual exchange. In addition, a vibrant intellectual community is one in which students are integrated as junior colleagues. Indeed, a key finding of our research is just how great a contribution students, who bring fresh perspectives, can make to the intellectual life of a department.

Flexible and forgiving. Mistakes can be a source of strength. Unfortunately, however, departments are often structured and supported in ways that leave little time and few resources for projects that might not pan out, and in an academic culture that increasingly values "productivity," the need for reflection and thought is profoundly undervalued. Creating a space “literally and metaphorically”to try out new ideas, to "take a flyer," to play, and to step back and reflect on what has been learned is essential.

Respectful and generous. Without creating a climate of political correctness, it is necessary to treat one another respectfully regardless of differing opinions. Understanding that one person's success does not come at the expense of another's, scholars should also share opportunities ("Have you seen this grant application?"), intellectual resources ("Here are three articles you might find helpful"), and connections ("Let me introduce you to Professor X because you will find each other's work interesting"). Generosity seems to flourish when senior faculty members are confident in their own expertise and assume the responsibility to serve as mentors to the next generation of scholars.

Strong intellectual communities also:

Engage students fully in the life of the department. A department with a healthy intellectual community involves students in serving on committees, hosting outside scholars, planning events, being mentors to junior students, and shaping policy. Students (especially those at the beginning of their program) need explicit invitations and routines for such engagement. For instance, in response to the type of problem that we described at the beginning through Anna's story, the history department at the University of Pittsburgh has instituted a rule for one of its seminar series: The first three questions must come from students. That small gesture speaks volumes.

Collaborate on the curriculum. Like the work that goes into a set of departmental goals, curriculum design and course development can bring people together around questions of purpose, as they often quickly move from discussions of specific content to larger debates about what knowledge scholars in the discipline should acquire. For instance, faculty members in the School of Education at the University of Colorado at Boulder engaged in lengthy discussions about what students should know and be able to do. Although the process was often contentious, there is now a clear understanding, among both faculty members and students, of what course work and thus what content and skills are expected of all students. That understanding informs a continuing revision of other aspects of the doctoral program, including comprehensive exams and expectations for the dissertation. Similarly, in the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor chemistry department, doctoral students have opportunities to work with faculty members on the design of undergraduate curriculum—again a chance both to debate ideas and build professional community.

Share research across boundaries. Every department has program subareas, and those are often lively intellectual communities in themselves. One strategy for creating intellectual community is to create research seminars that bridge subspecialties; such connections are especially important as disciplinary boundaries blur. Connections with others in different subareas can lead to new collaborations, especially if the department invites students to organize such activities.

Open classroom doors. For graduate students, seeing how and what others teach is an opportunity not only to expand their pedagogical repertoire but also to observe various modes of explanation, different metaphors, and other models for transforming key ideas in the field. For faculty members, that approach communicates an interest in the work of colleagues and students and also provides a chance to reflect on their own teaching. Departments where classroom doors are open, metaphorically and otherwise, are settings for building a particular kind of intellectual community that some are calling a "teaching commons."

Set aside time for reflection. Many of our partners in the Carnegie Initiative on the Doctorate use departmental retreats as a time to step away from day-to-day demands. Agendas vary from a focused attempt to solve a specific problem to a wide-ranging program that includes many different opportunities to think, discuss, argue, and create. Setting aside time to think and to build the community in which careful thought is possible sends a powerful signal.

Create physical spaces for community. Much of the research on organizational culture points to the value of informal interaction. Although, by definition, that is not something that can be planned, the chances that it will happen increase when there are kitchens, lounges, bulletin boards, and electronic spaces where department members can connect with others. In that spirit, the English department at Texas A&M University at College Station provides refreshments for students each week at a regular time and invites them to get together in a new lounge to talk about whatever issues are important to them.

Encourage social events. Although intellectual community requires more than potlucks and softball games, social activities clearly strengthen a community that already has intellectual ties. Many math departments, for instance, have a tradition of afternoon teas—informal times when students and faculty gather to discuss ideas and problems. Such events allow students to get to know faculty members in a relaxed setting.

The full essay can be found at http://chronicle.com/daily/2007/12/862n.htm. The book will be published by Jossey-Bass.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Toothpicks and Design

Henry Petroski is a rare individual, an engineer who writes (and well) about engineering for the lay public. In his most recent book, The Toothpick: Technology and Culture (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2007), Petroski relates how he had found an “engagingly simple device that would serve to illustrate some basic principles of engineering and design and that at the same time would help reveal the inevitable interrelationships between technology and culture” (p. xi). Petroski writes an engaging, informal history of the toothpick, the machinery supporting the manufacture of toothpicks, and the difficulty of finding information about the toothpick (as it turns out the industry is ultra-secret about how it works). As Petroski relates, “Trying to divine how a toothpick was made is no mean feat. Ironically, more complicated things – like automobiles and cellular phones – might be more readily reverse-engineered than the very simple. . . . Things of a whole cannot be disassembled because they have no component parts” (p. 173). This is a good read.