Wednesday, June 30, 2010


Sherry Turtle, Simulation and Its Discontents (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2009) reports on two ethnographic studies done by Turkle over twenty years investigating simulation and its implications in architecture, science, and engineering. She comments on how we have gone from the use of simulation in specific and strategic uses to seeing scientists, engineers, and others working almost full-time employing simulation. Turkle wonders if we can tell where simulation stops and actual science begins, and if we are losing some knowledge.

If the Public Library were invented today, would it be called organized crime?

So is the provocative title of this item over at TechDirt. The article is basically about some of the challenges faced when translating from the physical world into the virtual:

We've seen authors in the past complaining that libraries are engaged in book theft, which is an argument that is pretty laughable -- though, has, at times been suggested by various publishing groups. But, in general, most people recognize the public service a library does by helping to educate people. So when some folks in Bulgaria decided to try to set up a user-generated online library of sorts, you wouldn't think that the site would get raided by the police, be declared "damaging to culture," and have its organizers described as an organized crime syndicate. But, that's what happened.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Study: Negative salary effects of IT

Here is another item that follows yesterday's "doom and gloom" post. Here, a study found that the salaries of low-skilled workers decreased with IT involvement. This points to some "externalities" that must be addressed and considered when automating processes with IT. The answer, of course, cannot be "don't automate" because the alternative would likely be a much larger salary decrease (to $0 for everyone, when the enterprise folds due to competitive pressure). For those of us who do techno-economic studies, it means that the "benefit-cost calculus" must be expanded to include these effects, or at least the mitigation of these effects.

Researchers found that salary actually varied inversely with IT penetration: the more computers were involved, the less workers were paid. Highly educated workers are able to offset this effect with the positive influence of education-IT interaction— they can integrate new technologies into their workflow. Less-educated workers, on the other hand, are left blank-faced in front of a computer screen.

This negative IT effect results from computers' ability to replace workers at unskilled tasks, according to the scientists (for example, word processing software now stands in for typesetters). More importantly, workers below a certain education threshold lack the resources to adapt their skillset. Once they are replaced, they have difficulty finding other work, and it is increasingly hard to find unskilled jobs that haven't been co-opted by IT.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Home computer access results in negative impacts on math and reading

This study is worth reading, especially since its conclusions are rather counter-intuitive:

Using within‐student variation in home computer access, and across‐ZIP code variation in the timing of the introduction of high‐speed internet service, the authors demonstrate that the introduction of home computer technology is associated with modest but statistically significant and persistent negative impacts on student math and reading test scores. Further evidence suggests that providing universal access to home computers and high‐speed internet access would broaden, rather than narrow, math and reading achievement gaps.

Future Librarians

Steve Kolowich, “The Librarian’s Crystal Ball,” Inside Higher Education, June 23, 2010, summarizes an Association of College and Research Libraries report, Futures Thinking For Academic Librarians: Higher Education in 2025, noting these predictions:

“Breaking the textbook monopoly: Most states have passed legislation that requires textbook publishers to make textbooks affordable. Faculty members, sympathetic to their students, have embraced online open educational resources (OERs). More faculty create and share openly their course materials, modules, streaming videos, tests, software, and other tools. Although widely accepted seminal OERs exist for introductory courses, faculty create materials for advanced courses based on their own knowledge and interests, inviting student contributions.

Bridging the scholar/practitioner divide: Open peer review becomes the norm for many fields, speeding application of discoveries. Online publications, by scholarly societies in partnership with trade organizations and professional associations, are open access. They support robust community-based dialogue on articles as soon as they are accepted via traditional editorial procedures. Scholars and practitioners alike discuss the findings, how the theory would apply in practice, and suggest additional research needed.

Everyone is a "nontraditional" student: The interwoven nature of work/life/school is accepted in higher education as life spans increase and students are unable to fund tuition in one lump. Co-op education is widely embraced and faculty increasingly value students' life experience. Knowing what the work force wants, students are active in designing their own learning outcomes, and the personalized curriculum becomes the norm. Faculty members evaluate students on demonstrations of learning -- such as policy documents, marketing plans, or online tutorials -- rather than old measures based on “seat time” and “credit hours.”

Meet the new freshman class: With laptops in their hands since the age of 18 months old, students who are privileged socially and economically are completely fluent in digital media. For many others, the digital divide, parental unemployment, and the disruption of moving about during the foreclosure crisis of their formative years means they never became tech savvy. “Remedial” computer and information literacy classes are now de rigueur.

Right here with me: Students “talk” through homework with their handheld devices, which issue alerts when passing a bookstore with material they need to cite. Scanning the title page, this information is instantly embedded in proper citation style with an added endnote. Checking in on location-based services, students locate study team members and hold impromptu meetings without the need for study rooms. Their devices have whiteboards and can share notes with absent members.”

The ACRL report can be found at

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Study: Face to face is better than on-line for education

This item in the NYT, referring to a recent study, found that “modest evidence that live-only instruction dominates internet instruction. These results are particularly strong for Hispanic students, male students, and lower-achieving students.”

More grist for the mill!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Humanties and Education

Martha C. Nussbaum, Not for Profit: Why Democracy Needs the Humanities (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010), in what she terms a manifesto, makes a compelling case for studying history, literature, and the arts in an era when the emphasis is increasingly on science and technology (and other disciplines testable). It is in the humanities, she argues, that we gain the “ability to think critically; the ability to transcend local loyalties and to approach world problems as a ‘citizen of the world’; and, finally, the ability to imagine sympathetically the predicament of another person” (p. 7). Nussbaum is arguing against the use of standardized tests and large impersonal classes and for small classes where teachers can employ the Socratic method. Despite the clarity of her argument and the marshalling of positive and negative cases to make her point, her position may be something that has already become outmoded because of corporate perspective and political pressures (except in some classrooms where some teachers ad scholars resist the tide).