Monday, May 31, 2010

News in the Information Age

Jack Fuller, What Is Happening to News: The Information Explosion and the Crisis in Journalism (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010).

Experienced newspaperman Fuller provides an interesting analysis of the state of journalism, tying the fate of news coverage not to the fate of print and ink publishing but to the condition of our society and the need for honest, reliable reporting. Fuller covers the emergence of journalism as a profession, the development of its principles and methods, the challenges offered by television and then the Internet, and suggestions regarding its future. Fuller does not defend traditional journalism, but he, instead, shows where the field needs to accommodate new readers and technologies. While independence and verification must remain, Fuller suggests that other traditional notions, such as neutrality and disinterestedness, may be far less important or relevant.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Rethinking Public Education

Even though Diane Ravitch's new book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education (New York: Basic Books, 2010), concerns K-12 education, there is much in it that ought to be of interest to university faculty. Ravitch, an education professor and involved in a number of efforts to reform public education, recounts how the reform efforts ultimately became a fixation with testing, driven by a business model, with a focus only on a portion of such education (mostly reading and math skills, aspects lending themselves to testing). Ravitch worries about public education being given over to foundations, philantropists, and profit-making corporations and removing this education from the normal democratic safeguards. It is a depressing read, documenting billions of dollars in expenditures and multiple efforts with modest, or often no, success. Much of this is a confession by Ravitch that her support for national curriculum standards and school choice has been misguided. Unfortunately, her concluding chapter while considering a new commitment to a more well-rounded education and stronger support for teacher preparation (among other things) rings hollow; it seems to offer a direction no better than where we have been and suggests that perhaps all we have learned is what doesn't work.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Business Ethics

Max Anderson and Peter Escher, The MBA Oath: Setting a Higher Standard for Business Leaders (New York: Portfolio, 2010) is an effort to bring a new ethical component to business schools, wrestling with the wreckage of recent economic woes and corporate misconduct, and even redefining the very nature of the degree and the curriculum supporting it. Anderson and Escher are recent graduates of the Harvard Business School, where the MBA Oath originated, and they lace their book with many real-life and hypothetical examples that extend beyond the walls of such schools. Anyone interested in professional ethics will want to examine this interesting book.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Having trouble sleeping? Maybe it's your iPad

from the LISNEWS feed today :

May 17, 2010 from CNN:

"Unlike paper books or e-book readers like the Amazon Kindle, which does not emit its own light, the iPad's screen shines light directly into the reader's eyes from a relatively close distance. That makes the iPad and laptops more likely to disrupt sleep patterns than, say, a television sitting across the bedroom or a lamp that illuminates a paper book, both of which shoot far less light straight into the eye, researchers said."

...Although you should read the rest of the story and see the video from CNN, because some people don't agree...go to


Monday, May 17, 2010

A Basic History of Privacy in the US

Frederick S. Lane's American Privacy: The 400-Year History of Our Most Contested Right (Boston: Beacon Press, 2009) is a basic historical overview of privacy debates and perspectives in the U.S. Lane reviews the evolving notions of privacy, considers the implications of the emergence of communication networks (the postal system, the telegraph and telephone, the Internet), political and social campaigns about the protection of privacy (including ample discussion about various federal statutes), the impact of certain documentary forms on the notion of privacy (postcards, photographs, and credit cards), and so forth. Lane's analysis demonstrates our proclivity to give up our privacy when it seems convenient to do so. This is a useful text.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

More data re our "Millenial" students...

From the Internet Scout Report:
[ ]

Millennials: A Portrait of Generation Next [pdf]

Some might ask: What is a millennial? The short answer is "the American teens and twenty-somethings who are making the passage into adulthood at the start of a new millennium." The Pew Research Center first started looking at this group in 2006, and this 149-page report released in February 2010 was edited by Paul Taylor and Scott Keeter. The report notes that the millennials are more ethnically and racially diverse than older adults, and that they are less religious and on track to become "the most educated generation in American history." On this site, visitors will find the complete nine-chapter report, along with the survey methodology and appendices. Visitors can also read an executive summary of the report here,view video from the Pew Research Center regarding the report, and also take a short quiz on millennials.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Amazon Kindle in the classroom: some results

We often hear about schools that make bold (technological) leaps into the future and much less often about how those leaps went. Recently (last year?), some schools made Amazon's Kindle e-book readers mandatory, and the results are in and they're not that favorable (see this):
Darden is one of a handful of schools that decided to give the larger-screened Kindle DX a trial run in select classes to see how well it fared in the academic environment. And, it's not the first to conclude that the Kindle isn't quite right for its students. Arizona State University recently completed its own pilot program for the Kindle DX and wasn't particularly impressed—the university also settled a lawsuit with the American Council for the Blind, agreeing to use devices that were more accessible to the blind in the future. Princeton was also underwhelmed by its Kindle test; one student described the device as a "poor excuse of an academic tool" in an interview with the Daily Princetonian.
I wonder how the outcome of this experiment will bode for those schools who have "leaped forward" with the iPad"?

Monday, May 10, 2010

Academic Freedom

There have been many books written recently about the transformation of universities into corporations, reflecting many different perspectives. Cary Nelson, a professor and president of the American Association of University Professors, adds to the list with his No University Is An Island: Saving Academic Freedom (New York: New York University Press, 2010). In this volume Nelson discusses the threat of the corporate model, the growing dependence on contingent faculty, weakening shared governance, Right-wing polemics, and various financial crises. Nelson takes on all comers (for example, he critiques in an even-handed fashion both Stanley Fish and David Horowitz, one an observer from inside and the other a non-academic looking from outside the university) who have criticized the university, its governance, its societal roles, and the place of the faculty. The book is full of examples of the weakening of academic freedom and how such situations have been challenged or not.

Nelson clusters much of his concern around the corporate university. For example, he concludes, “Many of the values higher education has traditionally promoted – from free inquiry to a commitment to the public good – cannot remain credible if a university adopts the employment policies of a ruthless corporation” (pp. 58-59). Nelson laments the likely failure or loss of interest of the corporate university in “educating students to be critical participants in a democracy” (p. 73). While some may applaud the end of such an educational agenda, the implications are dire: “The flawed public image of our ethical status undermines academic freedom and diminishes every element of our mission. A university that acts like a corporation cannot expect to be viewed as anything else” (p. 78). In this sense, No University Is Like An Island joins a growing chorus of case studies, memoirs, and research about the implications of the corporate university model.

The difference with Nelson’s book, one that is certainly part memoir of his work with the AAUP, is its focus on faculty (individually and collectively) responsibility for what has happened in the academy. There has been a loss of collective memory amongst the faculty: “The loss of institutional memory among the faculty makes for a wonderful opportunity for higher education’s corporate managers: they can remake higher education without objection from a faculty that does not know the difference” (p. 74). Nelson attributes this to tenured faculty who have become self-absorbed and the growth of and reliance on contingent faculty: “Two generations of tenure-track faculty – obsessed exclusively with their academic disciplines – have been distracted and inattentive as the character of campus decision making has been gradually transformed. This trend has been accelerated by the growing number of contingent faculty lacking the job security that undergirds academic freedom and shared governance” (p. 105). One result of such inattention is the potential loss of tenure altogether, creating grand challenges down the road. First, there is the problem of how academic administration will evolve: “The world without tenure is a world of administrative fiat – first over all elements of shared governance, then over academic freedom as it applies to faculty speech in public and in the classroom” (p. 92). Second, there is the matter of just what a future faculty might look like. Nelson states, “We have seen the future, and the faculty is not there” (p. 194).

Despite a lot of pessimism or cynicism, Nelson constantly reminds the reader that there is always the possibility of taking corrective action. He pounds home this point by charting the changes that have occurred with the AAUP in the past few decades, as it has become a more proactive watchdog about academic affairs. Nelson argues that we need to learn from our mistakes: “Bad decisions indeed tend to haunt us, remaining teachable moments that last for decades” (p. 125).

The sense of academic memory and action is what one takes from the book. Indeed, from my own perspective of serving as a program chair and SIS Council Chair I have become concerned about the rapid growth in self-assessment, planning, and other related activities that engage more and more of our time. My concern is not a need to resist such demands, but more about how we can transform the process into useful individual and collective evaluation that strengthens our work rather than distracting us from our research and teaching. This is something I will be wrestling with over the summer as I prepare for a new academic year. I believe we have a long way to go before we learn how to do such work sensibly and in a fashion that protects our own roles as university faculty.

Friday, May 07, 2010

The Internet as an information operating system

I found this item over at O'Reilly to be a very interesting read. O'Reilly begins by talking about what happens during an Internet search, then dives in a little more deeply into what a computer operating system did for application developers before abstracting back to Internet search. At that point, he builds the idea of an "information operating system":
Among many other functions, a traditional operating system coordinates access by applications to the underlying resources of the machine - things like the CPU, memory, disk storage, keyboard and screen. The operating system kernel schedules processes, allocates memory, manages interrupts from devices, handles exceptions, and generally makes it possible for multiple applications to share the same hardware.

As a result, it's easy to jump to the conclusion that "cloud computing" platforms like Amazon Web Services, Google App Engine, or Microsoft Azure, which provide developers with access to storage and computation, are the heart of the emerging Internet Operating System.
Cloud infrastructure services are indeed important, but to focus on them is to make the same mistake as Lotus did when it bet on DOS remaining the operating system standard rather than the new GUI-based interfaces. After all, Graphical User Interfaces weren't part of the "real" operating system, but just another application-level construct. But even though for years, Windows was just a thin shell over DOS, Microsoft understood that moving developers to higher levels of abstraction was the key to making applications easier to use.

But what are these higher levels of abstraction? Are they just features that hide the details of virtual machines in the cloud, insulating the developer from managing scaling or hiding details of 1990s-era operating system instances in cloud virtual machines?

The underlying services accessed by applications today are not just device components and operating system features, but data subsystems: locations, social networks, indexes of web sites, speech recognition, image recognition, automated translation. It's easy to think that it's the sensors in your device - the touch screen, the microphone, the GPS, the magnetometer, the accelerometer - that are enabling their cool new functionality. But really, these sensors are just inputs to massive data subsystems living in the cloud.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Ethics in the Academy

Elizabeth Kiss and J. Peter Euben, eds., Debating Moral Education: Rethinking the Role of the Modern University (Durham: Duke University Press, 2010) demonstrates both that there has been a resurgence of interest in ethics in the academy and that what this means is highly contested. What emerges from the various essays is a sense that one role of the university is to assist students to become morally reflective, not just to absorb information, acquire skills, and obtain credentials. Yet, even with this renewed interest there are problems, such as revealed in David A. Hackema’s essay about the role of ethics in professional schools: “Rather than encourage students to reflect on the qualities that constitute a virtuous character, professional-school ethics courses tend to focus on how many months an engineer or lawyer must wait after resigning from a firm or partnership before going to work for a competitor or a government regulation agency” (p. 253). In other professional schools, ethics are either buried as just one topic among many in various required courses or viewed askance as a soft area in comparison to the hard skills of technical knowledge. This is an important collection of essays, worth reading by anyone concerned about ethical perspectives in their respective discipline.