The Library as a Free Enterprise

Written by Blog Editor. Posted in Academic News

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Library Babel Fish

Mita Williams, of the University of Windsor, recently posted her slides from an amazing talk that she gave last month. Anyone who follows me on Twitter might have noticed my ALL CAPS enthusiasm for what she had to say. It was a wide-ranging talk, but it projected the kind of future we can have if we pay attention to what’s going on and keep hold of one important idea: the future of the academic library is free.

Free as in freedom.  Free as in access to ideas without gatekeepers or tolls. Free as in enabling the creation of new things, of bringing the community to the world instead of the other way around. Free as in . . . well, libraries.

She points to our increasing dependence on corporations for both proprietary content and for access platforms. Library software providers are dwindling in number, being bought and sold like pork bellies by private equity firms, and in spite of all that market fermentation, the catalog still sucks. If academic libraries pooled their funds, instead of each being a customer individually negotiating with a limited number of vendors, we could do so much more. We have let the idea of libraries as nodes in a world of idea-sharing lapse in the face of license agreements and defining our hyper-local value propositions.

We’re also frantically trying to spend our way into making our websites look and act more like Google, which is really hard when we don’t have Google’s deep pockets for R&D investment or its enormous scale. Its stated mission, “;to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful,” is what libraries used to aim for. Now each library is more or less on its own, each one trying to recreate a Google experience by buying expensive discovery layer software that searches multiple databases and the catalog at once, spending countless hours making it work, then pleading with users to use it. From what I can gather, most libraries are marketing it to lower division undergraduates, even though we know students don’t want more results; they are already overwhelmed by choices. So why, exactly, are we doing this? 

So we license our content, we license tools to connect our databases, we license layers to hide all the messiness, and managing all that is messy, too, and while we talk about preserving the past and curation and enabling discovery, it turns out we’re really not doing much of that at all. But we could, and we should.

At about the same time that I read Mita’s post, I read about another talk given by the representative of a major publisher on how publisher and librarians can work together.  We both serve science, she said, publishers by getting reports of scientific research peer reviewed and organized for public consumption, libraries by helping scientists get their hands on it. As publishers’ revenue streams shift from subscriptions to author-side fees, librarians will still be useful because . . . well, we could license software to document our local scientists' productivity, which will help bring grant dollars to our institutions. Also, we can explain everything to students. 

Mita’s expansive vision of the future of academic libraries was exhilarating. In contrast, this felt like being told publishers will do the important work while we can try to make ourselves useful and take a seat at the children’s table because we’re so good with kids. 

No wonder non-librarians have trouble envisioning a future for us. We don’t really enable discovery; people turn to their local library to procure things they identified elsewhere. We don’t curate or organize knowledge; we license packages of it curated and organized by others. We do help students navigate it all, but it’s misleading to say we’re promoting information literacy. We’re teaching college literacy, helping students compete assignments by showing them how to find content that will become unavailable the minute they graduate. This is why Mita's alternative sounds so much more exciting. It's a return to what we originally cared about.

Around the same time I also read a piece by Cathy Davidson about technology and the thirst for education, and that led me to a Forbes article about MOOCs and the potential they have for new kinds of revenue generation by disaggregating education and selling it through giant global corporations, and I thought about Cory Doctorow’s warning about the war on general-purpose computing and all of these things seem strangely connected. We can let others take control of the things we value and hope we can afford to play, or we can do it ourselves, openly, and share it.

David Weinberger has written about the library as platform, as a real-and-virtual place where interactions happen and new things are made and shared. Yochai Benkler has written about the wealth of networks and the potential of "commons-based peer production.” We’ve seen endless hours of labor voluntarily contributed to Wikipedia, a project that hews to old values of providing sources, even-handedness, and the value of making knowledge accessible to all.

We have the capability of deciding for ourselves what we want out of libraries, or education, or technology, but we won’t be free to do that unless we are free to make our own choices. There isn’t an app for that.  


Barbara Fister

Inside Higher Ed | Blog U


Access: A Resounding Theme

Written by Blog Editor. Posted in Academic News

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Law, Policy — and IT?
Access to medical journals so that inventors, including high school students, can innovate to save lives.
Access to copyright materials for the purposes of not-for-profit education as an expanded understanding of the fair use exception in statutory law and further embellished in the doctrine of transformative use in current case law.
Access to higher education, new models for determining credit and programs to encourage completion, or, access to graduation notwithstanding the formidable challenges that contemporary students face.   
Web accessibility for people with cognitive and physical disabilities.
Access Denied:  the results of Berkman Center research into how governments control the Internet, and more recently, courtesy of the United States Senate, for a signature on a U.N. Treaty to include disability rights as a human right, with former Senator Robert Dole, 89 years old, sitting in on the vote from his wheelchair, hopes dashed by the political bug-a-boo among his fellow Republicans about abstract notions of U.S. sovereignty.
Over the course of the next few blogs, I will explore this theme of access and how it resonates in technology and higher education.  As I suggested about the term "privacy," terms such as access gain a transcendental currency often in defense of that which is being lost as it does for that which is hoped.  What does access mean?  Why does it resonate with so many particular issues?  And what policies: global, national and institutional, can help us achieve goals future generations will look upon with admiration.

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On-line Teaching: For Naught or Skill to be Sought?

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04dd8 Education laptopRob Gee is a PhD candidate in the History Department at the University of Maine and a permanent author at GradHacker. You can follow him on twitter at @robgee18.

Rob Gee is a PhD candidate in the History Department at the University of Maine and a permanent author at GradHacker. You can follow him on twitter at @robgee18.

Read more: http://www.insidehighered.com/blogs/gradhacker/collaboration-experimentation-and-solving-worlds-problems#ixzz2DThNT65s
Inside Higher Ed It struck me as a bit odd, given the orientation of GradHacker towards technological tools that can support and promote grad student research, organization, and productivity (basically…life), that online teaching did not make more frequent appearances in the great pantheon of blog topics.  I went back a year or so in a staggeringly unscientific survey of GradHacker offerings and found only two posts dedicated to the topic. One was a piece last spring in defense of online teaching and learning generally, written by Nick Sproull.  The other a great piece last winter from Andrea Zellner about the more nitty-gritty aspects and approaches to online pedagogy—a piece I could not recommend more highly for anyone who missed it.  Because I was sensitive to the criticisms by online and distance education detractors that all of the proponents of online tools and techniques in higher education were coming from the ed, ed tech, and library science corners, I wrote my own defense of it last summer, which you can find here.

It struck me as a bit odd, given the orientation of GradHacker towards technological tools that can support and promote grad student research, organization, and productivity (basically…life), that online teaching did not make more frequent appearances in the great pantheon of blog topics.  I went back a year or so in a staggeringly unscientific survey of GradHacker offerings and found only two posts dedicated to the topic. One was a piece last spring in defense of online teaching and learning generally, written by Nick Sproull.  The other a great piece last winter from Andrea Zellner about the more nitty-gritty aspects and approaches to online pedagogy—a piece I could not recommend more highly for anyone who missed it.  Because I was sensitive to the criticisms by online and distance education detractors that all of the proponents of online tools and techniques in higher education were coming from the ed, ed tech, and library science corners, I wrote my own defense of it last summer, which you can find here.

I'm inclined to leave the technical aspects of online pedagogy and teaching tools to those who, like Zellner and Katherine O'Flaherty (whose piece on Blackboard you can read here), have greater experience and expertise than I.  What I want to talk about here is whether or not online teaching makes sense for you as you strategize your trajectory through graduate school and into whatever professional future compels you.  So this is not about how to do it better, this is about whether, as a graduate student, to do it at all.  As with most questions you encounter in this business, there is no definitive answer—merely a disjointed collection of more questions and things to think about.

Online Teaching in Theory

Despite what critics would have you believe, there is a vast spectrum of online teaching, and what it looks like in practice varies dramatically from one learning management system to another, one institution to another, and one discipline to another.  One thing most experts and probably most students would agree upon is that courses that are created by merely making face-to-face course material available online are among the least successful.  Course content, approaches to instruction, assignments, and assessment and feedback all need to be completely reimagined in order to succeed in an online format.  This means that the work load of delivering an online course may (depending again on the system, institution, and discipline) be wildly out of step with what you've grown accustomed to either as a TA or instructor for more conventional courses.

For starters the semester's timeline will look very different.  While much of the time commitment to a conventional course falls during the semester itself as you write lectures, prepare lessons and activities, and generate and ultimately grade assignments, much of this type of preparatory work in an online context needs to happen before the semester begins.  In my own experience I would take the time spent writing a syllabus and choosing texts and multiply that by, say, 15x to 20x.  Certainly these figures would ease a bit for courses you've offered multiple times.  Additionally course evaluations from online courses demonstrate that students report the best experiences when their instructors are highly visible.  Just as you can't simply transplant content, you also can't transplant the concept that you only need to appear before the students one to three times a week.  You need to carve out time to be active and visible to your online students EVERY day.  Your daily time demands may not be large, but may require different approaches to time management than you're used to. Consider this and be prepared to adapt if you opt to undertake online teaching.

Online Teaching in Graduate School

Generally speaking, I would say that the greater breadth of experience and skills you can amass during graduate school the better.  If you're interested in online teaching there are a number of things you can do to get started.  If your institution offers online courses at any level, they likely also offer faculty development seminars that you can take for free to get some orientation to the learning management systems supported.  Even if you don't seek to teach a course, being able to list these completed seminars on your CV and honestly claim you have some familiarity with them can be a positive step.  You can also seek out faculty members in your department or college who teach courses online and offer to TA or help with grading in exchange for some orientation to the process of online teaching.  Given the need for visibility and frequent contact, many instructors would be overjoyed by such an offer—and may even be compelled to reciprocate with a nice recommendation and/or teaching evaluation, which will come in handy down the road.  Armed with this experience you can develop a course of your own, either for your own institution or for others that may have a broader commitment to online teaching and learning.

A number of institutions also have pre-packaged online courses—not unlike courses at community colleges or business schools where you inherit your syllabus and textbooks when you get hired.  Here you will need to be familiar enough with the delivery platform to maneuver in the course and provide content instruction and feedback, but the development work has been done for you.  While not ideal from a variety of perspectives, these can be a means to some valuable experience, and may yield opportunities to develop curricula and course content down the line.  We can have the philosophical debates about promoting the use of adjunct labor and relocating more teaching away from content experts another time—the fact of the matter is the job market it tight, both inside the tower and out, and if you can position yourself as someone conversant in the issues and technologies germane to your chosen industry, I think you probably owe it to yourself to do that.  And if in the process of doing so you can rake in a little extra gas money (assuming you don't drive much) then that doesn't hurt either.

Online Teaching in the Job Market 

As I've said, experience teaching online, knowledge of the tools, and some sense of pedagogical issues at play are all good things to bring with you into the job market. What you inevitably find when you get there though is that the academy is a far wider and more diverse place than your experience of two or three campuses would ever have led you to imagine.  You may be applying for jobs outside of the discipline in which you were trained, and you may also find that your own discipline is imagined in dramatically different terms, such that prospective colleagues are compelled by a whole different range of issues and priorities than what you've grown accustomed to.  You will find some places very interested in your online teaching background.  You will find other places very NOT.  Try to discern this up front when crafting your cover letters, but certainly take steps to find out before engaging in a phone or campus interview.  A search committee may be interested in your online teaching background because it jives with their own commitment.  They could also believe that online education is the bane of their existence, the origins of their exploitation, or merely the topic of unsavory discussions with their administration.  If they take no interest, ask yourself how important online teaching is to you and if you'd be satisfied to see it relegated to the less active regions of your CV.  If they are interested, ask yourself (hell, ask them) if it's because it is reflective of their institutional mission, orientation and interests—meaning, you'd be joining a team of like-minded professionals—or if it's because someone has told them they need to begin to embrace online teaching and rather than comply and do so themselves, they've opted instead to merely hire someone who will.  If that be the case, ask yourself if you're willing to teach every online course the department offers.

More and more academic job ads feature references to online teaching.  In some cases they make clear what the job will actually look like in that respect.  In most cases though, the reference is vague and underdeveloped—almost as though someone else edited the words in there!  It's the 21st century and regardless of what we might think of its merits or shortcomings, I think we owe it to ourselves to be the strongest job candidates we can be, while recognizing that those jobs, while not as plentiful as we'd like, are actually tremendously diverse.  You do not need to dedicate your life to online teaching, but some familiarity with the tools, and even just the ability to carry on an informed conversation about the future of technology and approaches to higher education may serve you very well—both in thinking about your own research and development of course content and in preparing for your next step.

What's your approach to online education? Let us know in the comments below.

Inside Higher Ed | Blog U


Producing the Most of MOOCs

Written by Blog Editor. Posted in Academic News

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Higher Ed Mash Up

noria(1)Let’s begin with an old story about using technology to innovate in the classroom. In the 1990s, when the Internet was coming into its own, Professor Antonio Gonzalez at Wesleyan University found an early way to utilize this technology to enhance his class. He recited and recorded a poem, by early 20th century poet Antonio Machado, that students would listen to over the internet while they looked at the text of the poem. At a particular place in the poem, students would click on highlighted text to find a picture and explanation of a “noria,” a water well used traditionally in rural Spain, whose circular imagery and use of water are key to the understanding of the poem. When students arrived in his class, instead of listening to Professor Gonzalez read the poem and needing to imagine the symbol’s image and context, students were ready to dive into a discussion of its meaning.

Today more than ever, Inside Higher Ed and other daily higher education reports are replete with new ways of using technology that purportedly will transform colleges and universities.  Truth be told, many are not so new, others are not really scalable, and most are not transformative. As Alexandra Logue argues in her recent essay in Inside Higher Ed, “;it is not the existence of the latest technology or its potential uses that will help us to maximize student learning, but using what we know and have.”

To be sure, there will be major technological innovations that contribute to the shape of higher education.  The expanded use of MOOCs (massive open online courses) may rise to the top of the new ideas and have a very significant impact on higher education.

In the fall of 2011, Sebastian Thrun and Peter Norvig offered a MOOC on artificial intelligence and 160,000 people signed up.  While on-line learning is certainly not new, this course caught people’s imaginations given the large number of enrollees and the fact that the instructors came from Stanford.   Since that time, Thrun announced that he would leave Stanford and form Udacity, a company that specializes in MOOCs.

Within the past year, many prestigious institutions have jumped on the MOOC bandwagon. MIT, Harvard and, subsequently, Berkeley and the University of Texas, formed edX. Coursera was formed with a dozen or so high profiles institutions, Princeton and the University of Michigan among them, and now has 33 colleges and universities on board. Beyond the “;big three” of Coursera, Udacity, and edX, it was recently reported that course management systems, including BlackBoard, will incorporate MOOCs into their platforms. Perhaps the most amazing aspect of the MOOC phenomenon is that there is no clear business model for how this mix of for-profit and not-for-profit entities will generate income.

This rapid rise of MOOCs and their endorsement by the most prestigious institutions in the country suggest that all institutions of higher education need to examine whether and how this innovation will change the way they operate. The question for Mash Up is: what impact does the growth and broad institutional acceptance of MOOCs have on institutions which blend the liberal arts with professional training?

The initial reaction of many of the institutions which strategically provide both liberal arts and professional degrees will be to reject the incorporation of MOOCs into their planning. After all, such institutions would claim that the liberal arts curriculum is about learning higher order skills like critical thinking which cannot be engendered in a class of thousands. They would add that professional training also requires interactions between professor and student as well as between student and student in a way that will build problem-solving skills for the workplace. MOOCs will be beneficial to some students and some institutions, but not ours.

There are many reasons to think again about the value of MOOCs.  All students, especially younger ones, are tech savvy and ready to utilize on-line learning resources.  MOOCs, TED talks, the Khan Academy, and related ventures offer exciting, current content that is difficult to match in a campus lecture hall.  And, most importantly, these on-line resources offer institutions the opportunity to realign their costs so that they can apply resources to strategic priorities.  

It is this last reason that is critical to the future of many institutions of higher education, including those trying to prepare students who are career ready and prepared for life.  Doing so is an expensive proposition.  It involves providing intimate settings where faculty, students and even staff interact and learn from one another.  While these settings are the opposite of a MOOC, they do not need to be in opposition.  Faculty and staff should be asking themselves how students can utilize MOOCs and other on-line resources to enhance the classroom experience. 

The answer could be as simple and elegant as recording a poem and linking to images that add visual meaning or as complex as linking an entire MOOC to a semester of activity in a traditional classroom setting. The goal should be to reserve classroom time for activities that can only be done in the classroom.  Similarly, instead of preparing and giving lectures, faculty time can be reallocated to the more intimate experiences that achieve instructional and institutional goals.  At Educause, Daphne Koller, of Stanford and Coursera spoke about utilizing MOOCs to get the “;mundane content” out of the classroom. She states as a goal to use precious classroom time for activities that can best be conducted in the classroom, for example, “;just-in-time teaching, real-world case studies, and team problem solving.”

Institutions should take stock of their mission and current strategic planning initiatives to ensure that they are not simply chasing after the newest trend in higher education.  It also is critical that they involve faculty and students in the process of determining how to incorporate MOOCs into their specific institutional culture.  If the planning is done in a strategic and inclusive manner and then communicated well to the outside, institutions stand to gain a competitive edge.

Historically, higher education has incorporated technology into the classroom -; e.g., slide projectors, video tapes, computer projection — at a snail’s pace. Because events are moving faster than ever and many institutions are facing existential threats, analyzing the value of an innovation too slowly puts an institution at risk. While at first glance MOOCs may not appear to be useful to you, looking more closely to see where they might be of use is a timely question.

William H. Weitzer is currently a Senior Fellow at the Spencer Foundation. After completing his Ph.D. in Environmental Psychology, he has served for thirty years in administrative positions at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, Wesleyan University, and Fairfield University.

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Debating Pearson’s OpenClass

Written by Blog Editor. Posted in Academic News

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Technology and Learning

Did you check out the Pearson's OpenClass booth at EDUCAUSE?   If not, it is worth spending some time on the new OpenClass site www.openclass.com.  

How would you answer the following questions:

1. Where does OpenClass fit into the LMS ecosystem?

2. If you are doing an LMS bake-off, is OpenClass among your main contenders (with Blackboard and Moodle and Canvas and D2L and Sakai)?  Why or why not?

At EDUCAUSE, Adrian Sannier (SVP of Product Pearson Education) gave a terrific presentation as part of a panel called Disruptive Innovation: Current Trends and Future Directions. (You can get the slide deck for the presentations at the EDUCAUSE session site).

It is worth paying attention to what Adrian thinks about the future of the LMS (and higher ed in general) because a) he is a smart guy with a strong iconoclastic streak, and b) Pearson is a big (and becoming bigger) player in the edtech platform, services and content space.

I've been trying to make sense of Pearson's strategy with OpenClass (to answer question #1 above), and listening to what Adrian has to say is one of our best roadmaps to calibrating where Pearson may go. You can check out a short (4 minute) video of Adrian talking about the vision for OpenClass at this link.

A summary of Pearson's OpenClass strategy would go like this:

A. Course development remains predominantly a "craft" exercise – with individual faculty developing their own courses. Most courses, even blended or online courses, are not "born digital" – rather they are translated from a traditional face-to-face classroom setting.

B. In order to achieve both better quality courses and courses that can scale up to more students it is necessary to move to a course development (and teaching and support) method optimized for the digital world. This means team developed courses, with content pulled in from publisher and open source content, and design strategies benefit from pedagogical research (implemented by learning designers) and continuous improvement driven by data.

C. The value proposition of OpenClass is that it lowers the barriers for a school to adopt the platform (as OpenClass is a free cloud based LMS), and moves the conversation towards the value added services for program or course design / re-design that truly impact both quality and coasts. Pearson is developing more capabilities around value-added services (see the EmbanetCompass acquisition), as well as being able to leverage a large services infrastructure and content / simulation library.

OpenClass is an argument that the LMS is the "least important" part of the learning value chain. By making OpenClass free, Pearson is highlighting what attributes really do add value (course design, content, data driven improvements, learner support, etc.) – and is confident that they can deliver value (and revenues) along these dimensions.

Is that about right? How would you improve my analysis of the Pearson OpenClass strategy?

My argument with OpenClass is that I believe that "free" is more powerful than Pearson recognizes. I think a full-service program/course development model (with learning design, content, support etc.) is only one strategy for improving higher education. An important strategy, one that we will see more with a growing number of non-profit / for-profit partnerships.  But only one strategy.  

I think that there is potential in the market for a Gmail / Google Docs version of an LMS. A free, cloud based based learning management system with the potential for robust integration to the campus student information system (SIS).   

What if Pearson had invested in OpenClass in as big a way that Instructure invested in Canvas? What if Pearson had the faith that building a large community of practice, a large number of adopters, could later be effectively monetized around services and content?

Pearson has deep enough pockets necessary to make a long-term investment in a free OpenClass.  

It would, I believe, be necessary to break the OpenClass team off from the main Pearson Education mothership – to give the unit some independence and autonomy. That autonomy would ease the concerns of the higher ed community about adopting a Pearson product.  This could be done without hurting Pearson's long term play of transitioning from a print product to a digital content and services company.   

I think that a more aggressive and independent OpenClass rollout is the right way for Pearson to move forward.

What do you think?

Inside Higher Ed | Blog U


What’s the “Half-Existence of Understanding?”

Written by Blog Editor. Posted in Academic News

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An interesting question caught my eye recently: what’s the half-life of knowledge, for facts we think we know?  Samuel Arbesman provides an answer in his recent Harvard Business Review article called, “;Be Forewarned: Your Knowledge is Decaying.”

Based on his new book, “;The Half-Life of Facts: Why Everything we know has an Expiration Date,” the article first cites knowledge that entire generations accepted as truths that turn out to be false. For example, Pluto is not actually a planet.  He then touches on data that changes slowly over time, requiring us to constantly stay informed.  For example, he shared that, “;A friend of mine, for example, was speaking recently with an older hedge fund manager who began his story with the following: ‘Since we all know that there are 4 billion people on the planet…’” Actually, now there are over 7 billion people on Earth.  There are more examples, from babies to hand-washing practices, in the TEDx video below.

Arbesman also explains that changes to knowledge do have patterns.  He says, “;Overall, there is a shape to how knowledge grows.”   For example, by looking at the changes in data, he describes how the increases in the number of elements in the periodic table “;obeys regularities,” and how, “;even the number of universities over time obeys regularities -; from the medieval period to the modern day.”


Number of Universities Founded in Europe

Picture 3

Source: TEDx video


The Half-Life of Facts: Sam Arbesman at TEDxKC


It seems the only thing we can predict is that knowledge will keep changing. Clearly, using outdated information to support decisions has the potential to create all sorts of problems. Not only does this reminder about ‘knowledge decay’ encourage the personal pursuit of lifelong learning, but there are implications for every industry, including higher education.

Things are shifting relatively slowly in the higher education world, and as Arbesman points out, “;We should be concerned most about facts that change slowly, the facts that change over the course of years or decades or an entire lifetime.”  

How do you keep up with it all?

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Did MOOCs Just Make Landfall? ten Questions to Take into account

Written by Blog Editor. Posted in Academic News

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It seems we may have another big, unpredictable storm close to home -; MOOCs.   They have been getting a lot of press this year, and here's another recent article from the New York Times – "The Year of the MOOC."

Last week Inside Higher Ed announced a partnership between Coursera and Antioch University to license Coursera courses for Antioch degree programs. 

In short, here’s the business model:  Universities such as Duke and the University of Pennsylvania work with Coursera to produce massively open online courses (“MOOCs”) that are offered for free (at least until this point) through Coursera.  Some schools, like Antioch, may decide to license these courses and will pay Coursera a fee to do so.  Coursera will share the gross revenue and net profit from these licensed courses with the universities that produced the content.  The faculty that produced the course will also receive some revenue.  Schools like Antioch will offer these licensed MOOCs to their students, thus giving them access to a wider array of courses and instructors, including “;rock star” faculty from well-known universities.  Because the cost of licensing the content through Coursera will likely be smaller than the cost of hiring these well-known faculty to teach at the licensee school, universities like Antioch that work through Coursera can pass the savings on to students, thus lowering the cost of a degree. 

From the Antioch University website: “;Each Coursera course will be facilitated by an AULA faculty member who will also be enrolled in the course, thereby enabling both frequent interaction between students and instructor and augmentation of the course through supplemental exercises and projects focused on expanding the learning experience.”

Like a storm, the higher education landscape is in a swirl and small pivots may produce large, important changes.  We wonder whether this might be an early pivot . . . and potentially change who is in the path of the storm and who is considered safe -; for now, until the next pivot.  We’ve written about the dismantling of higher education,  potential business models for edX and content creators and distributors, how at least one student perceived his experience in the first MITx MOOC, and the multitude of factors impacting the higher education market right now, but this is something big -; the market just pivoted. 

Rather than try to predict the exact path -; and force -; of this new development in higher ed, we have a few questions that we all might consider as this unfolds:

1.     Will licensing of MOOCs created by highly-respected schools “;crowd out” faculty from the licensee schools?

2.     How might licensee schools feel about their new role as “;facilitators”?

3.     Will licensing MOOCs increase access?  Might organizations licensing the content decide to focus on fee-paying schools and create two tiers of content -; paid and free?

4.     If all schools have access to all of the same MOOCs, how will schools differentiate themselves in the marketplace to attract students?

5.     If different universities license the same course materials, but have different grading standards, how will we compare outcomes across universities?

6.     Might the difference between schools come from the quality of facilitation/support offered by licensee school faculty, rather than the MOOC faculty, since that will become widely available, and perhaps commoditized?

7.     If more schools use the license model, could we eventually end up with a handful of “;top” schools producing the content and a small number of large schools offering the degrees? 

8.     Will Coursera-type companies become the publishers in the new higher education market?

9.     Who decides what content/teachers are “;best”?  Will it become true that courses from Coursera partners will be viewed as “;superior” to courses from other schools because they are frequently licensed?

10.   Will license deals like this drive a wedge into the higher education market, essentially enhancing the star power of the best-known universities and leaving the schools with less-developed brands weaker?

So, higher education meteorologists, what does your weather satellite read? 

Dayna Catropa
Margaret Andrews

Inside Higher Ed | Blog U


Why I Support an Open Definition of DH

Written by Blog Editor. Posted in Academic News

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College Ready Writing

After I posted my last piece on Who Is Doing DH, I got into an interesting conversation with my colleague/co-conspirator/Twitter-buddy/provocateur-extraordinaire Trent M. Kays about the problems with a “;big-tent” view of digital humanities. Below is that exchange.


[View the story “Is Big-Tent DH a Good Thing?” on Storify]


Trent is working on a post right now expanding on his view, but certainly his view that other academics and scholars (particularly, but not exclusively, in Rhetoric and Composition) have long been doing work that is now being considered digital humanities but have long been unrecognized by their colleagues in English departments and the humanities more generally is accurate and problematic. Roger Whitson acknowledges the blind spot in a recent post, after attending the Computers and Writing conference, as well as being schooled himself on Twitter.

But Roger also gets at, I think, is one of the reasons I contend that DH needs to be open and respectfully appropriate what has been done before (and for a long time):

“But most of these moves [within DH] have done little to change an institutional culture that largely sees preservation, criticism — and probably most importantly reading andwriting as their most fundamental practices. I, too, was swayed when Derrideans made claims that there were no real separations between theory and praxis or between constantive and performative utterances. And yet, what did those arguments actually accomplish except to keep us doing exactly the same thing?”

There needs to be a change in how we do things in the humanities. One of the things that attracted me to DH (other than what I’ve already stated here and here and here) was that there was room to do something different, instead of trying to carve out a small piece of the whatever-has-been-done-before-but-slightly-different. And certainly using technology, even mindfully and critically, can just recreate old patterns in bigger and faster ways. The more popular DH becomes, the more we risk research and work that isn’t innovative, just repetitive (although one could argue if one academic successfully uses a tool to do x to a certain text of body of texts, why it is then “;wrong” to use that same tool and process to do x to a different body of text? Less innovative, perhaps, but if the conclusions are equally insightful and revealing, then why knock it?).

This brings up an important issue that seems to be lurking, and that is the idea of “;innovation” that drives so much of the rhetoric in higher education today. Everything has to be NEW NEW NEW and groundbreaking and innovative; it’s one of the reasons the humanities haven’t faired as well as certain STEM fields (and why other STEM fields haven’t done so well, either). It’s also why DH is attractive -; it will CHANGE the humanities. But if we allow the innovation rhetoric to take over, then we will find ourselves in the cut-throat business (literally) of only seeking what’s new over what is interesting, useful, and insightful.

This is why I think the big tent, or as I call it, the DH collective, is so important. We need people who can do all kinds of different things (innovate, built, create, critique, tweak, and disseminate, among other things). I think anyone who is interested in DH should be welcome into the collective and then be permitted to find their space and their community (or form their own) within the collective. Excluding people because they don’t do x or y recreates the pattern of academia as it stand right now. We might never change what it means to be a humanist, but we can change how higher education operates. That, to me, is the biggest promise DH holds. 

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Friday Fragments

Written by Blog Editor. Posted in Academic News

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Confessions of a Community College Dean

The $ 249 chromebook is the best idea I’ve heard all week.  It seems like the chromebook is finally moving from “;proof of concept” to “;something actual people would actually buy.”  Finally, decent size and specs at a community college price.  This could fulfill the promise that netbooks made, but crapped out on, back in 2009.


Minnesota is banning Coursera? Say what you want about MOOCs, but this is catastrophically stupid. 1001 varieties of internet porn?  No problem! But using the web for unauthorized learning?  Scandalous!  

For those who aren’t fans of MOOCs, the way to defeat them is to offer something better.  Relying on state-level protectionism is not going to cut it. Anyone with a VPN can make a mockery of this, and rightly so.  Honestly, when I think about all of the things that people can, and will, do on the internet, following free academic classes is the least of my concerns.


It will surprise nobody that I plan to vote for President Obama, but I have to admit being annoyed at him.  During the second debate, he continued to use “;community colleges” and “;job training centers” interchangeably.  They aren’t.  Community colleges are important job training and workforce development sites, but they’re also — and I use this word deliberately — colleges.   For many students, taking the first two years of a four year degree at a community college is a viable way to get an education while keeping costs down.  Given that student loan burdens are a major issue, it would be nice for someone in public life to connect those dots.


The Girl is starting to decipher genre.  We’ve watched a few episodes of “;Gilligan’s Island” over the last few weeks; it’s a gobsmacking nostalgia trip for me, and she enjoys the candy-colored slapstick.  As with the old “;Star Trek” episodes, I have to do some serious deprogramming of the casual sexism, lest she get too much of it, but with enough parental counterpoint, it still seems worthwhile.

After a recent episode, she turned to me and said “;I get it!  Gilligan is like SpongeBob, and the Skipper is like Squidward!”

I hadn’t thought of it that way, but she was basically right. What made it gratifying, though, was that she was able to recognize genre.  The goofy, carefree underling who flusters the voluble but basically harmless boss — that could be Gilligan, or it could be SpongeBob.  

Pretty good for a third grader, I think.


This story made me smile, albeit wistfully. Some public universities are going to their legislatures with a proposition: restore subsidies, and we’ll hold the line on tuition.  

In a more perfect world, legislatures would jump at the deal.  But I have no illusions that the current crop will.  

The great virtue of this strategy is that it connects cause and effect.  (More cynically, it provides a palatable excuse for a university to do what it was going to do anyway.)  I’m a fan of reality-based decisions, so I like the idea of pointing out explicitly that much of the recent spike in tuition increases is a function of cost-shifting, rather than a lack of discipline.  If you want to flatten the spike, stop cost-shifting.

Unfortunately, I can imagine a fairly smart argument from the other side: in the absence of a squeeze, higher education isn’t known for cost discipline.  So I’ll suggest a different idea:

Ask the legislatures to fund experiments.  Make money available, conditional on trying something different.  And I don’t mean yet another workforce program.  I mean something that addresses the underlying cost disease of higher education, something that gets at the credit hour and the various structural issues that push up costs at every institution, regardless of local quirks.  If you want a system fix, pony up resources for people to try some.  

Otherwise, we’ll be stuck in annual games of budgetary chicken, with diminishing returns.  The for-profits are already suffering; if we don’t change, we’ll be next.  And asking the legislature to keep Coursera out of town is not a serious answer.

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Time for Action on Copyright Reform!

Written by Blog Editor. Posted in Academic News

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Law, Policy — and IT?

Now is the time for action on copyright reform!

In April of 2001 I began working in the position from which I now write, Director of Information Technology Policy at Cornell. As a law student, I had elected to take a course in intellectual property.  Most of my classmates had engineering degrees and were headed for patent law as a career.  I was another "Eng." major, English Literature, and wanted to know why publishers of the J.D. Salinger biography had pulled it before it hit the shelves.  Turns out, the author had included full texts of letters Salinger had written a long-term lover.  The author had access to the letters, but she did not have the copyright in them.  A fair use defense would not have sufficed under the circumstances.  Consequently, the publishers removed the letters before publication.

I graduated in 1995, just as the Internet was emerging as a world-historical phenomenon.  I also had the very good fortune to be married to a research engineer who introduced me early to that world; I can still hear the screech of the modem and feel the excitement of what it meant to be "on-line."  Peter Martin, pioneer law professor at Cornell Law School early introduced us to "search."  Although one could not find the world "technology" in my vita, I was not as improbable of a choice for the role of "Policy Advisor" as I may have seemed.

I still had a great deal to learn, not least in the area of intellectual property.  Let it be said that copyright has gone from the backwaters of a law school curriculum or specialized legal practice to front and center of American and global politics because content is king.  As fantastic as the technology that supports the Internet is, it would not be the world-historical phenomenon if it were not the vehicle for content, communications and commerce.  Moreover, given the intersection of these three areas, it is no wonder that copyright now has intimate connection with foundational legal principles such as free speech and assembly, global markets and foreign relationship, teaching, learning and research world-wide.  That is why copyright law matters to users everywhere.

A month after taking this position, I attended my first copyright conference in Madison, Wisconsin.  So many heavy-hitters were there, it remains one of the most exciting professional experiences of my life.  Brought up in academia under the historians Eugene and Elizabeth Fox-Genovese, I had attended many academic conferences and learned the proper protocol for listening, challenging and discussing ideas.  At the end of James Boyle's talk I threw protocol to the wind and leaped to my feet in applause.  I was not alone.  When the copyright registrar, Mary Beth Peters, opened her talk by explaining how the airlines lost her luggage, we all sympathized.  But as she delved into the unnecessarily complicated intricacies of copyright law one could feel tension rising.  Why was the law so convoluted, and what market factors made it so?  Slowly the politics of copyright began to rise from the legalize.  Like clouds in the sky, I began to see patterns.  The J.D. Salinger debacle was the tip of a very big and powerful iceberg.

My friend and colleague, Pat McClary, associate university counsel for Cornell, attended the conference too.  I don't know why were at the registration desk at the hotel about half way through the conference, but there stood Miriam Nisbit, now the U.S. Archivist, and at the time legislative counsel for the American Library Association.  I had attended her talk and thought her magnificent in every way: how and what she presented, her manner and her politics in perfect pitch.  I complimented her on the talk and she shared that she was receiving a fax that contained final edits of the TEACH Act.  At the risk of revealing my boon-docks origins, I marveled at being that close to something smart and impassioned that would make a difference in our world.

I marvel to this day.  For over ten years now I have been on some aspects of the front lines of where higher education and copyright meet: copyright education for the constituents of our colleges and universities; observer of how the publishing industry has gone after our universities, and the "copyright wars" between students and content owners as DMCA Agent for Cornell University.

As the problems with copyright law became more clear to me, the anomalies that Internet technologies have created in the technology-legal paradigm established with the last Copyright Act promulgated in 1976 (and by virtue of the Berne Treaty, extended internationally), I began to wonder why wouldn't we call for reform?  Inside-the-beltway sages looked at me as if I were literally surrounded by boon-docks weeds.  "No one wants to open that Pandora's box!"  The fear was that content owners — powerful, experienced lobbyists — would take full advantage of the opportunity to weight the scales further in their favor.  So for ten years, I backed away.

Let's jump into the ring!  The ripples of dysfunction that emerge as a result of our fear outweigh the risk.  With infringement so rampant, displacement of blame a dangerous distraction and so much at stake — from fundamental notions of citizenship for youth to the virtual abetting of organized crime that impedes a healthy global economy — we cannot hold back hope.  How much worse can copyright law get?  What do we have to lose, really?  Finally, take a look around, because there is evidence of a bright new day.

Where?  The concept of "transformative uses" that ripples through copyright case law in the last thirty years.   The Georgia Tech decision.  And this week, HathiTrust.  Notice I did not mention Google.  Whereas ten years ago one might have expected that Google would ride into this conundrum on the white horse of reform, the Internet giant has failed to be our knight in shiny armor.  That's okay.  Not only is it a recognition that Google is a publicly traded company and must observe its own fiduciary obligations that will pull it back from white knight action, but higher education is its own white knight.  Producers and consumers, not-for-profit institutions can raise public policy concerns honestly and in the name of the public good.  We are natural leaders in this area.  Let us have the courage to accept the mission.

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