Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Stallman and Cloud Computing

I set aside some time today to prepare for a class on the free and open source software (FOSS) movement. As luck would have it, the first email message I opened included a quote from Richard Stallman, founder of the Free Software Foundation and creator of the GNU Project.

The quote was taken from an article in the September 29, 2008 issue of The Guardian. In that piece, Stallman stated that cloud computing (one definition is that your “stuff” is out there on the Internet rather than being on your computer or an office server – Gmail is one example) is a trap. He continued by arguing, “It’s stupidity. It’s worse than stupidity. It’s a marking hype campaign.” According to The Guardian he is not alone in these thoughts – Larry Ellison, the founder of Oracle, expressed a similar sentiment a week prior to Stallman's comments. Stallman continues his argument against cloud computing by stating that “you should not use Web applications to do your computing is that you lose control. It's just as bad as using a proprietary program.”

Monday, September 29, 2008


There is a brief article in the Sunday New York Times (9/28/08) on the increase in text messaging and the decrease in cell phone usage. In fact, more people are texting than phoning (Nielsen Mobile). The increase is being attributed to the QWERTY-style keypads available on many cell phones. Not surprising, teens (ages 13-17) are the biggest fans of texting - Nielsen Mobile claims they send or receive 1,742 messages a month. In another study on teen cell phone, Harris Interactive found that 42% of teens claim that they can text while blindfolded.


Springer (yes, the STM book/journal publisher) has just released the findings of a new study on ebooks. The white paper, which is a follow up to the Springer 2007 survey on ebook adoption rates and benefits, outlines the end-user perspective on ebooks (e.g., how familiar they are with ebooks, as well as the frequency with which they access these resources). While the 2007 survey included six institutions, only five institutions participated in the 2008 round. It appears that the University of Florida and Victoria University (Australia) were involved in 2007 but not 2008. A new addition in 2008 was JRD Tata Memorial Library Bangalore, India.

The results from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) were highlighted by the authors. At this institution, research and study were the top reasons students use ebooks. Leisure was trailing behind 68 percentage points. Reference works were also mentioned by respondents at the other institutions. Conference proceedings and textbooks received high marks as well.

While the respondents were familiar and used ebooks, they also pointed out advantages and disadvantages with these types of resources. The primary advantage of ebooks was full text searching. Convenience and easy assess were two others. However, reading from a screen prevented some from not using ebooks more frequently. Users are comfortable with print books and have a long history with that format. In the future, the respondents believe that they will access ebooks for certain types of reading such as looking up research/references materials but will continue to prefer print books for other types of reading.

In the end, the authors of this white paper conclude that "While eBooks will not replace print books in the near future, users are rapidly adopting them as complementary to print books" (p. 8).

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Jeff Jarvis and Digital Media

In this piece, Jeff Jarvis, a journalism professor at the City University of New York, addresses people's fears and complaints about the Internet (e.g., it's full of junk, it's inaccurate, people online are rude, etc.) and claims, "The internet is life. Life is messy. Get used to it"

The Global Campus

Less than a year after its launch, the University of Illinois Global Campus is going to be restructured. Here are some question the group hopes to answer as part of this restructuring process:
  • So what will the formal structure of the fourth campus look like?
  • What academic review procedures will be in place to maintain quality?
  • How can the university handle faculty who work or consult with Global Campus while also receiving a paycheck from their home campus in Urbana, Chicago or Springfield?
The powers that be didn't think about these things from the beginning??? Yikes! Wonder what the current student cohort thinks?

UPDATE 9/30/08: On Tuesday, Inside Higher Ed published an article about the spinoff of the Global Campus. Check out the interesting discussion that follows.

A "new" generation?

RenGen, really?

Sunday morning coming down

Last night, as I was finishing up some projects for the coming week, I was listening to the music of David Bromberg. David, who studied with the Rev. Gary Davis (or as he said, he led Davis around to different music venues, primarily church), is one of the guitar masters. While known for his instrumentals, including a song titled, "Oh, Sharon," Bromberg's stories are captivating. I could listen to him talk about his days performing at the "basket houses" or coffeehouses in Greenwich Villege for hours.

In the 1980s, Bromberg took a hiatus of sorts from the performing scene to focus on violins - not playing them, but making them and studying their history. He moved to Chicago and graduated from the Kenneth Warren School of Violin Making. Bromberg and his wife, Nancy, now own and operate a violin shop in Wilmington, Delaware.

Another David who is a major source of inpiration for me is David Bryne. I have been a fan of David's work since his days with the Talking Heads. He's expanded his creative endeavors beyond his solo performances to include a new collaborative effort with Brian Eno. The story behind this partnership and the music are available online. (You can purchase the album in a variety of formats or stream it for free.) If that isn't enough, David is also actively involved in blogging, art, and his Battery Maritime Building project.

Both Davids are fascinating individuals and worth checking out.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Ich Bin Ein Paradigm Shifter

Suzanne Vega blogs about "Tom's Diner" among other things in The New York Times. The timing of this post was perfect given that I've been putting together a few slides for Monday night. Why? Because in this post, Suzanne mentions that her mother is a computer systems analyst, her daughter is very techie (does HTML for fun on a Saturday afternoon), but she is not (or at least doesn't perceive herself to be techie, which is a very female thing, according to the literature). Some mothers nag their daughters about cleaning the house, Suzanne's mother nags her about cleaning out her computer applications.

Suzanne was born in 1959, which places her in the Baby Boomer generation (or in some cases, the Generation Jones generation). And even though she does not consider herself to be techie, she is known as the "Mother of the MP3 player." Because of "Tom's Diner," the sound quality of the MP3 player (created by Karl-Heinz Brandenberg - Suzanne's description of him is great) is what it is today.

Talkin' about my generation

Monday's night's R685 class will be discussing neomillennials and generational learning styles. In my portion of the class, I will be reviewing the outcome of three quizzes that assess the students' digital nativeness, if you will. My job is to tell the students what this all means (good luck with that). So, in preparation, I have been reviewing some of the articles I've collected on the topic of the generational myth for my qualifying. One short piece I was re-reading tonight was written by Siva Vaidhyanathan, a media studies professor at the University of Virginia.

In his article aptly titled, "Generational Myth," Viadhyanathan dismisses the notion of a digital native. He beings his argument by pointing to books that tout the existence of these tech-savvy individuals, and then counters those claims by pointing to his own classroom experiences and interactions with students. According to Viadhyanathan, today's students are not a homogeneous group in terms of technological skills. Sure, they know how to access Google, but how effectively are they really using it? This is not to say that Viadhyanathan has not encountered students who possess multiple gadgets and are adept at using them. He has. But, he has also met students who cannot afford many of these devices or simply prefer a more non-technical option (i.e., instead of reading online, they prefer a printed copy).

Viadhyanathan also points to statistics to support his argument. He notes that most high school graduates do not go on to graduate from a four-year institution with a bachelor's degree. Are college grads more tech-savvy than their non-college degreed peers? What about Bill Gates? He doesn't have a bachelor's degree. Viadhyanathan goes on to suggest that for any generation there are examples of those who embrace technology and those who do not. Sam and Zack are perfect examples of this. Based on some generational charts, both fall in the Generation Y category. Sam is not into technology, but Zack is. The other day, Sam called to say he learned how to scan a file and turn it into a PDF. He also learned how to use a flash drive. His first few weeks as a doctoral nursing students and already he's accomplished a lot.

As the article nears the conclusion, Viadhyanathan mentions scholars who have written about this topic as well. Eszter Hargittai, Susan Herring, and Kathryn C. Montgomery are just a few of the scholars mentioned. Also included in this discussion are Howe and Strauss - authors known for their generational books and their thoughts on the Millennials. As Viadhyanathan points out, the generational categories conveniently carve out target markets for corporatations. However, the dates that differentiate one generation from another are arbitrary. And what does it mean if you're on a Generation Jones according to one timeline and a Generation X according to another? The baby boom was an actual event, but what about Generation X? What event was that - slackerfest?

Not only are the generation dates arbitrary, but so are the quizzes. Based on the results of one quiz, I was a Baby Boomer; however, another one determined that I was a Millennial. The funny thing is that I am neither. Maybe it's because I'm just a misplace zygote.

Back to virtual school

The September-October 2008 issue of EDUCAUSE is devoted to education in virtual worlds, particularly Second Life. For those well-versed in the virtual world literature, most of the contributions (i.e., utopian love-fest) will not be new. If you want to see what's being discussed by educators today, this issue is a quick read. The most "balanced" contribution in the collection is the last one. So, if you're pressed for time, focus your attention on Chris Johnson's "Drawing a Roadmap: Barriers and Challenges to Designing the Ideal Virtual World for Higher Education."


Students and guidance

Virtual worlds and constructivist theory are typically linked. According to educational technology proponents, virtual worlds are attractive because they enable students to create their own knowledge (among many other things such as become immersed in an authentic environment that allows them to explore - exploring is a very popular educational approach at the moment). For those following the Clark-Kozma debate that has spanned at least 20 years, however, there are questions as to the effectiveness of technology in improving student outcomes. Put simply, they disagree on whether it is the medium (Kozma) or the method (Clark) that impacts student learning.

In an article by Kirchner, Sweller, and Clark (2006) on guidance and the failure of constructivist teaching methods (as well as other minimally guided approaches - discovery, problem-based, experiential, and inquiry-based learning), the authors examine cognitive load and how minimally guided efforts thwart the constructivist approach to learning. Kirchner and his colleagues argue that learners rely heavily on their long-term memory and draw extensively from past experience. This based experience serves as the learners' knowledge based from which they can build upon. Ultimately, the goal is to create a learning experience that places the newly acquired knowledge firmly in the long-term memory bank.

Many scholars who support a constructivist approach also suggest that learning must be situated within an authentic context. Or, as Brown, Collins, and Duguid (1989) would argue, learning occurs through a combinaton of the activity, context, and culture. To learn scientific practices, for example, the model should be based on the way the experts learn in their field. However, Kirchner argues in his earlier work (1991, 1992) that experts do not learn about their fields in the same manner in which they carry out their work activities. Kirchner and his colleagues (2006) continue the confusion surrounding the concept of the expert by referring to Hurd's (1969) rationale of the scientist. They also argue, "The practice of a profession is not hte same as learning to practice the profession" (p. 83).

The authors of the current article continue by discussing the research on guided and unguided instruction. In terms of their review of the unguided instruction literature, the group led by Kirchner conclude that this approach did not work. However, the authors also note that teachers who attempted to create a constructivist environment provided a considerable amount of guidance and scaffolding to students. Students in these situations who did not receive guidance were lost, frustrated, and confused. The authors believe this suggests that the students "lack proper schemas to investigate new information with their prior knowledge" (p. 80). It is worth noting that students who are exposed to the unguided approach report that they like it even though the learn less from the process.

In the conclusion, the authors question why unguided instruction is so popular when it is a "failed approach." Why are educators readily adopting methods that are not the most effective? Today, virtual worlds - spaces that support a constructivist model and encourage unguided learning - are viewed as the latest educational utopia, or at least an alternative to textbooks and labs (e.g., Steinkuehler & Duncan, in press). But why? Where's the evidence? While some scholars claim that the move into these virtual spaces for teaching and learning purposes is done on "leeps of faith," the tech-savvy students may not be following. According to the latest Pew report on teens and video games, only 10% of teens are frequenting virtual worlds. This is in contrast to the 74% of teens who play racing games.

Some scholars claim that educators are appropriating unguided approaches and spaces to satisfy the demands of today's students. But, the students aren't visiting some of these sites during their free time. Instead, the popular locations are more guided and rule-based (racing and puzzle games are two of the favorites). So, going back to the question raised by Kirchner and his colleagues, "Why are educators emphasizing an unguided approach?"

Friday, September 26, 2008

What my copy editor taught me

I need a Helene.

Spare time reading

Here are a few titles of interest:
  1. Walk the Blue Fields - Claire Keegan
  2. A Map of Home - Randa Jarrar
  3. Nobody's Home - Dubravka Ugresic
  4. The Rest is Noise - Alex Ross (who was recently named a MacArthur fellow)

Open Teaching

In August 2008, David Perry, a professor at the University of Texas at Dallas, announced that anyone could take his class for free. People from outside the course could access lecture materials, listen to the class sessions, and participate in the online discussions. The only drawback was that no credit would be given unless you enrolled in the course (i.e., paid the course fees). According to Perry, “The knowledge is free, the degree will cost you money.” Experimenting with technology is not new to Perry. In February 2008, The Chronicle of Higher Education reported that this professor was using Twitter in his "Introduction to Computer-Mediated Communication" course.

Today's issue of The Chronicle outlines three new courses to add to the open teaching experiment. They include:
  1. "Connectivism and Connective Knowledge" taught by Stephen Downes and George Siemens.
  2. "Open, Connected, Social" taught by Alec Couros, information and communication technology coordinator for the School of Education at the University of Regina, in Saskatchewan
  3. An open-education course taught last fall by David Wiley, then a professor at Utah State University and now at Brigham Young University
Jeffery R. Young is the author of this article, and posts his thoughts on the open teaching experiment here.

Virtual education in Second Life

With the start of a new school year comes new articles and journal issues about education. In the past few months, there have been new entries to add to the virtual worlds bibliography.

The first entry is an article by Kemp and Haycock (2008) that examines the potential of SL to extend the physical classroom. These authors begin by reiterating the notion that educators are attempting to create more learner-centered, participatory, constructivist learning spaces. Virtual worlds, the authors argue, enable students to explore, interact with new people, experience different cultures, and engage in collaborative activities. Thus, environments such as SL are attractive to many educators. One interesting fact is that the top three role playing virtual worlds in terms of popularity and use are World of Warcraft, Lineage, and Runescape; the most popular worlds for educational initiatives are Active Worlds, NeverWinter Nights, and Second Life (p. 91).

In summer 2007, the San Jose State University SLIS program conducted a graduate course in SL with no f2f component. Fourteen students participated in this course - 79% female, 60% part-time students, 32 years of age (on average). While 93% of the students agreed that playing computer games is fun, they complainted about unpleasant encounters with residents unaffiliated with the university. Yet, the authors claim that the "SLIS campus itself was basically free of outside disturbances" (p. 95). While Kemp and Haycock view their SL campus as a safe haven, the students viewed it differently.

Also, the Kemp and his colleague note that SL is not particularly well-suited for reflection and deep learning. They encourage the use of a course management system such as Blackboard, which is used at SJSU, to supplement the SL curriculum. As Sir John Daniel (2007), President and CEO of the Commonwealth of Learning, noted in a debate with Dr. Robert Kozma, "there is no magic medium and never will be. Each technology has its strengths" (n.p.).

Young people and IT

Last week, Pew released a report about the pervasiveness of video games in the lives of today's young people - Teens, Video Games, and Civics. An earlier Pew report, one that concentrated on the gaming activities of college students, suggeted that the percentages were high: 70% of college students played digital games at least once; 65% were regular players. The latest numbers suggest that playing video games is a part of everyday life for almost all young people in America.

Here are some of the current numbers:
  • 99% of boys and 94% of girls play video games
  • Younger boys are the most enthusiastic players; older girls are the least enthusiastic about these activities
  • Gaming is a social activity - 65% of gaming teens play with other people who are physically in the same room
  • Teens play video games with people they know
  • Parents are more likely to monitor the game playing activities of boys and younger children
  • 49% of teen players have seen "people being hateful, sexist, or racist" during their game play activities
This morning I read a piece by Linda Jackson and her group (2008) on the new digital divide and the role race and gender play in IT use. The researchers surveyed 515 children (172 African Americans; 343 Caucasian Americans) whose average age was 12 about their IT use. These researchers found the following:
  • African American males were the least intense users
  • African American females were the most intense users (often surpassing the male Caucasian Americans)
  • African American females were more likely than Caucasian Americans to text message friends via cell phone
  • Children whose parents had higher income and education levels had been using IT longer
  • Children who had been using IT longer had higher grades in school; children who played video games more had lower grades in school
While African American males were less enthusiastic about IT in general, they were avid video game players. In fact, their game play levels were as high as the Caucasian American males. Thus, one of the recommendations the authors make is to utilize the African American males' game playing activities to increase their interest in IT.

This reminds me of an chapter by Kurt Squire (2008) that explored the possibility of using Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas (GTA: SA) for educational purposes. In that study, Squire interviewed Caucasian and African American teens who were avid GTA: SA players. Based on his experiences with teens, Squire argues that "games could be an excellent bridging mechanism for disengaged students, particularly adolescent boys, many of whom are labeled ADHD and cause many problems at school" (p. 184).

Thursday, September 25, 2008

The state of online learning?

From The Chronicle of Higher Education: The Wired Campus:

U of Illinois President Wants to Make Online Campus Independent

AP also has a story about the Global Campus program

I'm shocked. President White expected existing faculty to add more to their plate by developing online courses and programs. This in addition to their current workload that includes teaching f2f courses, conducting research, writing grants and publications, performing service obligations, creating high-profile start-up companies, etc... Hard to believe the faculty wouldn't immediately jump on board with the online course idea, especially when it probably doesn't count much in the P & T process.

Virtual World Resources

Here are a few new articles, pre-pubs, journal issues related to virtual worlds...
  1. How Videogames Blind Us with Science (Wired)
  2. Scientific Habits of Mind in Virtual Worlds (pre-pub - Journal of Science Education & Technology)
  3. Finding the Real-world Value in Virtual Worlds: Issues and Challenges (Cutter Consortium - free but registration at the site is required)

Recent Pew Reports

On Monday night, two students and I were discussing the Pew readings for the week available here and here. One topic we discussed was calling landline phones to conduct surveys. Pew Research Center for the People & the Press has posted a short piece on the difference between cell phones and landlines in survey research. Because there is the possibility of bias when using landlines in survey research, Pew will be including cell phone samples in their election polls.

Another report that Pew launched yesterday (9/24/08) takes a look at networked workers, the technologies they use, and the impact those devices have on the lives of today's workers. For anyone who uses technology in their jobs, the results will not be surprising. Here's just a selected few from the report:
  • 53% of American adults who say they're currently employed, 62% qualify as networked workers (Pew definition)
  • Networked workers are more likely to own a cell phone, a desktop computer, a laptop, and a PDA.
  • 80% of the respondents said the technology makes their lives easier
  • 46% said that the technology increases the demands to work more hours
  • 49% said the technology increases job-related stress
  • 49% said that the technology makes it more difficult to "disconnect" from work and on weekends

Talkin' about my generation

I've been preparing for a very brief talk on digital natives and generational learning that will take place on Monday night (9/29). Prior to class, the students have been asked to take an "Are you a digital natives?" type of quiz. I found three that will work, but none of them really rocked my world. Maybe it's because I fit into the label categories (e.g., Boomer, Gen X, Millennials, etc.) in terms of age but not in terms of technological interest or capabilities. Depending on the quiz, I was labeled a Boomer and even a Millennial. I am neither.

One of the better quizzes I stumbled upon was created by Penelope Trunk. The quiz is based on data Trunk collected from an interview with Margaret Weigel who has worked at MIT and Harvard on digital media engagement. While Margaret has taken a hiatus from her blog postings, an earlier post does refer to an interesting report titled, Information Behaviour of the Researcher of the Future, that attempts to debunk the digital native "myth." This is a British Library/JISC study that reviews the literature (86 papers) to determine "whether today's tech-savvy young people are really different from earlier generations.

Some interesting tid-bits from the report:
  • There is a lack of literature comparing age groups. (Shock! Seems to be the story with a lot of research these days.)
  • Children have been using the web for homework since the late 1990s.
  • Downloading music is not a new interesting. Young people have been engaging in these recreational activities since the 1990s. Moreover, concerns about illegal downloading (at least in England) have been present since the early 1980s.
  • Young people using natural language queries to find information pre-dates the web.
  • No change in recent years in the way young people evaluate information. It's been a problem for 10-15 years.
  • Young people have difficulty navigating electronic library resources; thus, they prefer Google, because it's easier to use.
  • None of the literature has examined students who do not have/use the tech gadgits.
  • Young people are reading!
  • Students want convient, easy ways to complete assignments; exploring isn't the focus. "Power browsing and viewing are the norm for all" (p. 19).
  • No evidence that young people are better multitaskers than others.
For those interested in generational labels, p. 29 has an interesting list.

Where did the summer go?

So much for thinking I would have time to blog during the summer. Thanks, in part, to helping Dr. Curt Bonk with his Web 2.0 and Participatory E-learning course this semester, I'm finding a plethora of interesting resources. Some are related to my qualifying paper/dissertation work, some are not.

Hope to be posting more about these tchotchkes in the coming days, weeks, and months.