Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Humanities and the Current Age

There is an interesting article in today’s NY Times by Patricia Cohen, “In Tough Times, the Humanities Must Justify Their Worth.” Starting with the idea that over the generations there has been the idea that a “traditional liberal arts education is, by definition, not intended to prepare students for a specific vocation. Rather, the critical thinking, civic and historical knowledge and ethical reasoning that the humanities develop have a different purpose: They are prerequisites for personal growth and participation in a free democracy, regardless of career choice,” Cohen then focuses on the notion that many are now arguing that the current economic situation challenges such a belief. Cohen points to recent surveys, news about the cancellation of faculty searches in areas like religion and philosophy, and the need for the humanities “to justify their existence to administrators, policy makers, students and parents. Technology executives, researchers and business leaders argue that producing enough trained engineers and scientists is essential to America’s economic vitality, national defense and health care. Some of the staunchest humanities advocates, however, admit that they have failed to make their case effectively.” She cites individuals who are trying to emphasize the practical value of the humanities.

Schools like ours, with strong interests in information technology and a focus on professions such as librarianship and archives, may be in a good position to demonstrate this link between the humanities and needed vocations such as represented by the information professions. The majority of archives students continue to arrive with a background in the humanities, and it is a necessary background for understanding the history and evolution of archives and recordkeeping systems. We need to consider how to capitalize on this relationship, partly as a demonstration of why humanities backgrounds are still vitally important in our present era of technocratic and other priorities.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Tech Innovations

From Diann Daniel, “7 Tech Innovations That Changed the World,” at

PBS Nightly Business News took a close look at tech innovations and innovations from other fields. To celebrate its 30th year on television, the news show partnered with Knowledge@Wharton to select the top 30 innovations in the past 30 years—innovations that may seem standard now, but whose creation changed the way business is conducted, directly affected quality of life, broke new ground, and more.
Here are seven technology innovations from that list.

RFID and applications (#23)
Long before Nike+ used radio frequency device to tell you how fast you're running, the technology was being used in World War II radar systems. In the '80s it was put to use in automated toll payment systems, enabling speedsters everywhere the ability to fly through the tolls.

GUI (#21)
The first graphical user interface was invented by Douglas Englebart in 1968, and in the late '70s and early '80s GUI design advanced, largely thanks to Apple. Because of these pioneers, we can take it for granted that we interact with our computer using a mouse and have easy-to-understand icons and other graphical controls instead of having to remember a bunch of computer commands.

Social networking via internet (#20)
Internet-based social networks really are very new. (1997) is the earliest social network site, according to PBS, but it wasn't until MySpace, which launched in 2003, that social networks began to appeal to the masses. Now, of course, there's Facebook, which gives you endless opportunities to have worlds collide, and Twitter, which empowers you to become your own paparazzi by dropping life tidbits, wisdom, and your comings and goings to your anxious followers.

Online shopping/ecommerce/auctions (#15)
Where would we be without Amazon, eBay and other online stores? Stuck in traffic on the way to the mall, that's where. Thanks to the Internet being opened up to commercial use, the ability for companies to capitalize on electronic transactions took off. As did our hunger for a more peaceful shopping experience.

Mobile phones (#3)
Take a look at your tiny little cell phone and be thankful. The first mobile phones, which Motorola unleashed on the market in 1983, were confined to the car (until a few years later when they became more mobile) and were the size of a briefcase.

PC/laptop computers (#2)
1981 was a big year for computers: IBM launched the 5150 model (which it called a "personal computer") and the Osborne 1 became the first portable computer. Weighing in at 24 pounds, it challenges our current notion of laptop.

Internet/broadband/WWW (#1)
Coming in at #1 is the Internet. Our slavery to Google, our addiction to Twitter, our ability to keep up-to-date on any given news topic, our ability to send and receive far too many e-mails...The Internet enabled so many other phenomenon that it's startling to realize the Internet as we know it only arrived in the '90s. But it didn't take long to change our lives forever.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Scholarly Publishing and Piracy

Pirates vs. University Presses
It’s not exactly news that the Internet is a perfect tool for violating copyright. In book publishing, the big concern has been best sellers that can be scanned and uploaded, with the idea that there is a worldwide audience for the latest Harry Potter installment or Oprah recommendation. While most university press books don’t have quite that commercial appeal, they are finding that they can still be the targets of pirates.

Press officials don’t want to provide too many details about what they’ve found as they don’t want to encourage people to download free copies of monographs, as they can do now in some cases. But those involved with anti-piracy efforts say that university presses are now targets of a number of sites. In a particularly disturbing trend, some presses are reporting that pre-publication digital editions are ending up on these piracy Web sites, raising concerns about the need to better track who has access to such versions.

Princeton University Press has emerged as something of an expert on the issue — a distinction the press wishes it didn’t have. Over the summer, an author the press declined to identify informed the publisher that his book was being made available for downloading in its entirety on one of these Web sites. For several months, Princeton had a staffer focused on identifying piracy sites with its books, and following up with “take down” notices that threaten legal action for keeping the books up. Some of the Web sites take the books down, but then others pop up. Most of these sites operate outside the United States and take advantage of countries with relatively loose copyright laws, at least as applied to digital publishing.

Daphne Ireland, director of intellectual property for the Princeton press, said that in the last year, it has succeeded in having several hundred books removed from Web sites where they were being offered free, in violation of copyright. About a half dozen of those books were in Internet galley form.

While the press is pleased with the progress it has made, regular vigilance is required to find more violations of copyright, and they keep popping up, Ireland said. While Princeton now does these checks regularly, it realizes it is missing things. “We have a limited amount of time to dedicate to it,” Ireland said. “It’s a real black hole you can get into, trying to find them all.”

Ireland said that it is also important for presses to spread the word that such sites are not harmless and in fact hurt academic publishing. “We have to make our readers aware of the importance of university press publishing, and why they should not say ‘It’s OK for us to pirate this book.’ “

Some of the pirate sites themselves are proud of their role.

Peter Sunde, one of the founders of the Pirate Bay, a Swedish operation that is at the center of these disputes, said via e-mail that he doesn’t care if university presses are bothered by his organization’s actions. “If I say the world is flat, does that make it true?” he asked.

He said copyright was irrelevant because “we’re letting anyone share whatever they want with whomever they want. That’s it.... Blaming us for what people do is like blaming the people who build roads for helping people rob banks, for God’s sake.”

In an action that publishers consider long overdue, Pirate Bay is facing a lawsuit in Sweden — but while the university press world may have no sympathy, The Wall Street Journal reported that the start of proceedings featured a courtroom full of piracy supporters. In court, the Pirate Bay founders are arguing that they only operate a search engine.

Some university presses — along with other publishers — are trying to join forces to deal with the problem. The Association of American Publishers has helped a group of publishers jointly support the monitoring of pirate Web sites to identify violations. Edward McCoyd, who leads the effort for the association, said that while he did not want to release a list of members, university presses are involved. “We’ve found quite a bit of activity, including books from university presses,” he said. At this point, the pirate sites are going after “every sector of publishing.”

Peter J. Givler, executive director of the Association of American University Presses, said he expects the piracy issue to gain more attention in academic publishing. While fighting piracy is “labor intensive and expensive,” he said presses couldn’t ignore the issue or assume it wouldn’t hit them. He described the Princeton experience as “a jolt” to other presses.

“We have all operated for the last few years with the idea that online piracy was something that publishers of Tolkien or science fiction had to worry about, but who would bother with the specialized books coming out of university presses?” Now, he said, it’s clear that many will bother.

— Scott Jaschik

The original story and user comments can be viewed online at

Monday, February 16, 2009

Behavior data from games and virtual worlds

This article from Ars Technica describes some ongoing research that is looking at 60 TB of data from a game in collaboration with Sony. The interesting aspect of this is that the researchers named in the article are from Communications, Engineering, or Computer Science although the research seems (to me) to be suitable for an iSchool.

Digital School Librarians

From Today's NY Times
February 16, 2009
The Future of Reading
In Web Age, Library Job Gets Update
It was the “aha!” moment that Stephanie Rosalia was hoping for.

A group of fifth graders huddled around laptop computers in the school library overseen by Ms. Rosalia and scanned, a Web site that, unbeknownst to the children, was intentionally peppered with false facts.

Ms. Rosalia, the school librarian at Public School 225, a combined elementary and middle school in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, urged caution. “Don’t answer your questions with the first piece of information that you find,” she warned.

Most of the students ignored her, as she knew they would. But Nozimakon Omonullaeva, 11, noticed something odd on a page about Christopher Columbus.

“It says the Indians enjoyed the cellphones and computers brought by Columbus!” Nozimakon exclaimed, pointing at the screen. “That’s wrong.”

It was an essential discovery in a lesson about the reliability — or lack thereof — of information on the Internet, one of many Ms. Rosalia teaches in her role as a new kind of school librarian.

Ms. Rosalia, 54, is part of a growing cadre of 21st-century multimedia specialists who help guide students through the digital ocean of information that confronts them on a daily basis. These new librarians believe that literacy includes, but also exceeds, books.

“The days of just reshelving a book are over,” said Ms. Rosalia, who came to P.S. 225 nearly six years ago after graduating at the top of her class at the Queens College Graduate School of Library and Information Studies. “Now it is the information age, and that technology has brought out a whole new generation of practices.”

Some of these new librarians teach children how to develop PowerPoint presentations or create online videos. Others get students to use social networking sites to debate topics from history or comment on classmates’ creative writing. Yet as school librarians increasingly teach students crucial skills needed not only in school, but also on the job and in daily life, they are often the first casualties of school budget crunches.

Mesa, the largest school district in Arizona, began phasing out certified librarians from most of its schools last year. In Spokane, Wash., the school district cut back the hours of its librarians in 2007, prompting an outcry among local parents. More than 90 percent of American public schools have libraries, according to federal statistics, but less than two-thirds employ full-time certified librarians.

Lisa Layera Brunkan, a mother of three in Spokane, said she recognized the importance of the school librarian when her daughter, who was 7 at the time, started demonstrating a PowerPoint project. “She said, ‘The librarian taught me,’ ” Ms. Brunkan recalled. “I was just stunned.”

School librarians still fight the impression that they play a tangential role. Ms. Rosalia frequently has her lessons canceled at the last minute as classroom teachers scramble to fit in more standardized test preparation. Half a fifth-grade class left in the middle of a recent session on Web site evaluation because the children were performing in a talent show.

“You prepare things to proceed in a logical sequence and then here comes a monkey wrench,” Ms. Rosalia said. “We are teaching them how to think. But sometimes the Board of Ed seems to want them to learn how to fill in little bubbles.”

In New York City, Ms. Rosalia is a relative rarity. Only about one-third of the city’s public schools have certified librarians, and elementary schools are not required to have them at all.

Ms. Rosalia ran beauty salons with her husband and volunteered in her sons’ school libraries before pursuing her graduate degree. She was recruited to P.S. 225 by Joseph Montebello, the principal, a brother of a middle school librarian in Brooklyn.

In the school, just a block from a bustling stretch of Brighton Beach Avenue with its overflowing fruit stands and Russian bakeries, Ms. Rosalia faces special challenges. More than 40 percent of the students are recent immigrants. Language barriers force her to tailor her book collection to readers who may be in seventh grade but still read at a second-grade level.

Before Ms. Rosalia arrived, the library was staffed by a teacher with no training in library science. Some books in the collection still described Germany as two nations, and others referred to the Soviet Union as if it still existed.

Ms. Rosalia weeded out hundreds of titles. Working with just $6.25 per student per year — compared with a national median figure of $12.06 — she acquired volumes about hip-hop and magic and popular titles like “Oh Yuck! The Encyclopedia of Everything Nasty.” With the help of grants from the City Council and corporations, she bought an interactive white board and 29 laptops.

Ms. Rosalia introduced herself to her new colleagues as the “information literacy teacher” and invited teachers to collaborate on lessons. The early sessions focused on finding books and databases and on fundamental research skills.

Soon Ms. Rosalia progressed to teaching students how to ask more sophisticated questions during research projects, how to decode Internet addresses and how to assess the authors and biases of a Web site’s content.

Even teachers find that they learn from Ms. Rosalia. “I was aware that not everything on the Internet is believable,” said Joanna Messina, who began taking her fifth-grade classes to the library this year. “But I wouldn’t go as far as to evaluate the whole site or look at the authors.”

Combining new literacy with the old, Ms. Rosalia invites students to write book reviews that she posts in the library’s online catalog. She helped a math teacher design a class blog. She urges students to use electronic databases linked from the library’s home page.

Not all of Ms. Rosalia’s efforts involve technology. The license plate on her black BMW says “READ,” and she retains a traditional librarian’s passion for books.

During a lunch period earlier this month, Gagik Sargsyan, 13, slunk into the library and opened a laptop to research a social studies paper on the 1930s and 1940s.

“Have you looked at any books?” Ms. Rosalia asked.

A look of horror came over Gagik’s face. “No,” he said.

Ms. Rosalia, who has a bubbly manner, went to a shelf and returned with a stack of volumes on the Empire State Building, fashion in the 1930s and life during the Great Depression. Gagik recognized the Empire State Building as the place he spent his 13th birthday and started paging through the book.

At the end of every week, Ms. Rosalia opens the library for classes to come in solely to check out books. One Friday, she wore a T-shirt imprinted with the words “Don’t make me use my librarian voice.” Whirling from child to child, she swiftly pulled volumes off the shelves as third graders requested books on sharks and scary topics. By the end of one period, more than 30 students stood in line at the circulation desk.

Still, Ms. Rosalia understands the allure of the Internet. Speaking last fall to a class of a dozen seventh graders who recently immigrated from Russia, Georgia, China and Yemen, Ms. Rosalia struggled to communicate. “We have newspapers in all of your languages,” she said. She turned to the digital white board.

When she clicked on the home page of Izvestia, the Moscow-based newspaper, the Russians in the group cheered.

“Does anybody like books?” Ms. Rosalia asked. Several students stared blankly. The Russians, who spoke some English, shook their heads.

So Ms. Rosalia pulled up the home site for Teen People magazine, and Katsiaryna Dziatlouskaya, 13, immediately recognized a photograph of Cameron Diaz. Ms. Rosalia knew she had made a connection.

“You can read magazines, newspapers, pictures, computer programs, Web sites,” Ms. Rosalia said. “You can read anything you like to, but you have to read. Is that a deal?”

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Something to Think About In Regards to Distance Ed

We know the world is changing, and we know that includes the university. We need to consider the implications of everything we do, and the following essay about distance education provides some food for thought:

Professors Regard Online Instruction as Less Effective Than Classroom Learning


Online courses may be gaining a foothold in higher education, but substantial skepticism over their effectiveness remains, according to results of two recent surveys. The surveys, conducted by the National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges, also found "widespread concern" that budget cuts would hamper distance-learning programs.

The preliminary results of the surveys, which polled faculty members and administrators separately about their opinions of distance-learning programs, were unveiled here Monday at the American Council on Education's conference.

The survey of faculty members found that while a majority of faculty members acknowledge that distance instruction offers students increased accessibility and flexibility, developing and teaching online courses can be burdensome.

"What faculty tell us is, 'It takes me more time; it takes me more effort,'" said Jeff Seaman, chief information officer for the Sloan Consortium, who is helping Nasulgc oversee the faculty survey. The consortium works with institutions to improve online education.

Instructors' extra time and effort aren't being rewarded financially or professionally, and what's more, online education doesn't translate into better learning outcomes, said respondents in the faculty survey. More than 10,000 faculty members at 67 public campuses responded to the survey.

While 30 percent of faculty members surveyed felt that online courses provided superior or equivalent learning outcomes when compared with face-to-face classes, 70 percent felt that learning outcomes were inferior. Among faculty members who have taught online courses, that figure drops to 48 percent, but that still represents a "substantial minority" holding a negative view, Mr. Seaman said.

The survey also found that a majority of faculty members felt that institutions provided inadequate compensation for those taking on the additional responsibility of teaching online courses. And many respondents said that students needed more discipline before they could benefit from online instruction. Low retention rates among students and the lack of consideration of online teaching experience in tenure-and-promotion decisions were also cited as barriers to faculty interest in online teaching.

The survey of administrators, which received responses from officials at 45 public institutions, found concerns about how budget cuts and economic uncertainty may affect distance-learning programs.

"People would say, 'This is what we're doing now, but my hunch or my gut fear is that six weeks from now … we can't say that we'll be on the same path or trajectory,'" said Sally McCarthy, a research consultant for Nasulgc.

Administrators surveyed also cited the need for institutions to incorporate online learning into their mission statements, create a single office to oversee online-learning programs, and bring people from across the institution in on discussions about online learning.

Full survey results are scheduled for release in April.

This is from today's Chronicle of Higher Education;

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Digitizing Library and Cultural Resources

Charles B. Lowry, executive director of the Association of Research Libraries, has an interesting article, “Let's Spur Recovery by Investing in Information,” in the Chronicle Review, calling for federal aid in digitizing library and other cultural resources as part of the economic incentive plan intended to create jobs. I am sure we will see many more such calls.

“Investing in an open, universal digital commons will help ease the current economic crisis by creating jobs, equipping workers with 21st-century skills, and laying a foundation for innovation and national competitiveness in business and research.

There is a growing bipartisan consensus that extensive federal spending on public-works projects is needed to roll back unemployment and modernize the nation's aging infrastructure of highways and facilities.

Talk abounds about the need for projects that will be "shovel ready" in a matter of months, but that phrase belies the reality of our infrastructure.

Roads and bridges are essential, of course, but we should also build our digital infrastructure and equip workers with skills they can use in the years ahead — skills for the information age.”

The full article can be read at

Plagiarism and Student Culture

There is a description of a new book, My Word! Plagiarism and Student Culture, written by anthropologist Susan Blum. Here are some teasers about the culture generating plagiarism:

“In terms of explaining student culture, Blum uses many of the student interviews to show how education has become to many students more an issue of credentialing and getting ahead than of any more idealistic love of learning.”

“Then there is the student concept — or lack thereof — of intellectual property. She notes the way students routinely ignore messages from colleges and threats of legal action to share music online, in violation of business standards of copyright. As with plagiarism, she notes, the student generation has embraced an entirely different concept of ownership, and students who would never shoplift feel no hesitation about downloading music they haven’t purchased.”

“But faculty members do have a role in promoting academic integrity, she writes. In her conclusion, she describes the importance of talking frequently with students about the value of higher education and learning (aside from professional advancement), and the need for classes to regularly consider the nature of originality, of appropriate citation, of doing one’s own work and so forth. But in those discussions, she writes that professors need to move beyond their views of these issues. For example, professors should talk with their students about why they tend to value books (and read books) less than their professors did.”

You can read the story at