Year of the MOOC: What are they and why do they matter to higher education?

This presentation reviews the recent history of the rise of MOOCs and documents my experience with several course examples in the past year.


Review of Alone Together by Sherry Turkle

Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each OtherAlone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other by Sherry Turkle
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What does it mean when we live in a world where robots are beginning to care for the elderly or children? What does it mean when children look at a Galapagos tortoise in a zoo and say that a robot would be “alive enough” to do what it is doing. How do we engage with the world around us when we have the potential for 24/7 network access? What does the blending of the physical and virtual worlds mean for our psyches and identities?

Thirty years of research on how computers and technology affect how we think and think about ourselves is compellingly covered in Sherry Turkle’s Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Our Technology and Less from Each Other. Turkle balances down-to-earth examples of her daughter’s use of technology with a wide body of psychological research on adults and children’s interactions with computers and technological gadgets. Her’s is a measured and helpful voice within the group of writers exploring cultural change due to technology; neither blindly condemning it, nor uncritically trumpeting the wonders of new applications.

Centered at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) she is steeped in cutting edge technologies and innovation. She applies her knowledge as a psychoanalytically-trained psychologist to ask reflective questions about how the computer is changing us. She says that this book is a culmination of two previous books on the effect of computers on the mind. Second Self was published in the 1984 and centered on how one on one interaction with a computer re-shaped our thinking. Later, her 1995 book Life on the Screen, explored the emerging Internet and how the ability to connect through computers changes us. This book is a combination of these issues with the addition of the possibilities and pressures of mobile and personal devices.

Some stories she shares are lightly amusing like some of the students she interviewed about Facebook shared with her their exhaustion with the demand on their time to maintain their social “face” saying, “How long do I have to keep this up?”. Others are more troubling and really challenge how we think about relationships with our technology including humans who prefer the company of robots or their smart phones over members of their own family.

Whether you are curious about the social and psychological effect of Facebook and the Internet or are curious about more advanced robotic technology and artificial intelligence this book will challenge you to think about how technology impacts you, your family, and the world around you in a new and deeper way.

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What does Marshall McLuhan have to do with libraries? His Medium and his Message

The following two statements from library colleagues motivated me to understand more deeply how the Internet and Web are influencing libraries and librarians:

Web pages are still being used as if they are pieces of paper in the same way that TV programs were created as if they were radio programs that people can see. (2005)

The Medium is the message, right? (2012)

Gavin Brown, Web Manager at Enoch Pratt Free Library in 2005 and Tim Senapatiratne, Reference Librarian at Bethel Seminary Library in 2012 respectively, led me to seek out the meaning of the statement the “Medium is the Message” by Marshall McLuhan. The first statement brought the significant societal shift driven by the Internet and the World Wide Web to my attention particularly as it applied to libraries use of the Web. However, it was not until after graduate school, several years as a practicing librarian, and leading our library’s web redesign that the second statement drove me to seek out the true meaning of that famous phrase.

Because I am so deeply involved in transforming analog materials into digital form through digital collections and library services through the Web, I feel the responsibility to understand the impact that these activities, and the medium that they are delivered through, have on people.

In 1964, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, introduced McLuhan’s phrases and concepts that he contributed to our society; ‘global village’, ‘hot and cool media’, and ‘the medium is the message’. In the Preface to the third printing of this book,  he addresses the criticism about his chapter on the “Medium is the Message” by explaining that he doesn’t focus on content and instead explores the greater cultural effect of the medium; “The section on ‘the medium is the message’ can, perhaps, be clarified by pointing out that any technology gradually creates a totally new human environment. Environments are not passive wrappings but active processes” (vi-vii).

With this in mind, moving cultural artifacts and documents to the Web changes their nature, as does providing library services over the Web instead of in person. These are not reasons to cease digitization or service over the Web, but they are important factors to understand when our mission is to serve the best interests of our community.  Knowing the impact of the medium as well as the information content of what we do is a key part of our responsibility as stewards of our intellectual and cultural heritage.

Another significant aspect of this book is how it explores the effect of a broad scope of technologies throughout history starting with the “spoken word” to print to electronic media like radio and television. The chapters on “the Written Word”, “The Printed Word”, and “The Telegraph”, are particularly relevant to our philosophical underpinnings as librarians and as citizens of Western culture. Even though he died in 1980 and never experienced the internet, his chapters are prophetic in how they anticipate the many social and technological manifestations of electronic information including the Web over the Internet.

If one wishes to be a reflective practitioner of librarianship then having some understanding of McLuhan and his media metaphors is a critical task. Eric Schnell from the Ohio State University Libraries, is one example of a librarian who has named his blog after McLuhan’s phrase “The Medium is the Message” and explores “libraries, technology, innovation and trends (with respect to Marshall McLuhan)”.

McLuhan’s metaphors are both rich for exploration and courts much controversy so this will be the first of many posts on this theme.

Georgia State Copyright Case Decided After Year of Deliberation

courthouseIn a May 30, 2011 Chronicle of Higher Education article,  “What’s at Stake in the Georgia State Copyright Case?”, set the stage for a potentially landmark copyright case that focused on fair use in the context of higher education’s user of e-reserves, and by association, course management systems. A clip from the above article best describes the core issues involved:

At issue before the court is the practice of putting class readings on electronic reserve (and, by extension, on faculty Web sites). Cambridge, Oxford University Press, and SAGE Publications, with support from the Association of American Publishers and the Copyright Clearance Center, are suing four administrators at Georgia State University.

The article mentioned that there would be a decision in several weeks but it extended into a year-long deliberation by the judge, Orinda Evans. Her final 350 page ruling (pdf) is posted courtesy of Nancy Sims‘ at the University of Minnesota if you want to read the full document. Jenny Howard followed up on the case in the Chronicle of Higher Ed Long Awaited Ruling on May 13, 2012. Up to this point, there was very little information about these specific kinds of uses online (e-reserves, course reserves) and now the community can interact with some of these points that were more ambiguous. The Association of Research Libraries put together an excellent issue brief of the Georgia State case (pdf) and a clear exposition of these points on May 15. For a good review of the background of this case, starting in 2008, see Hoffelder’s May 13 post.

James Grimmelman, a New York University Law Professor, summarized the implications this way on his blog, Laboratorium:

Thus, the operational bottom line for universities is that it’s likely to be fair use to assign less than 10% of a book, to assign larger portions of a book that is not available for digital licensing, or to assign larger portions of a book that is available for digital licensing but doesn’t make significant revenues through licensing

Kevin Smith in his Scholarly Communications @ Duke Blog has a helpful legal and educational analysis of the Judge’s decision and its implications for fair use. The findings (which are still subject to appeal and plaintiff creation of injunctions based on this ruling) include mostly encouraging and some frustrating news for libraries and higher education institutions. Here are some of Smith’s key points:

The Good

1. It is more likely that items can be used more than one semester if fair use applied in the first one.

Limiting the claim of fair use for an item for more than one semester or the “Subsequent Semester” rule is “an impractical, unnecessary limitation” (p. 71) according to Judge Evans.

2. Of the 99 claims made by the publishers, 95% were dismissed.

3. Revenue for permissions does not significantly impact the market value of the publishers content.

This is helpful for claims regarding the Fourth Fair Use Factor – Impact on market value.

The Bad

1. She chose 10% or one chapter as the allowable portion of a work to claim Fair Use.

This is much less flexible than the language of the original copyright law would allow.

2. it “heavily favors” the plaintiffs IF a license for the appropriate format is readily available at a reasonable price.


Online Education and the Cultural Shift in Higher Education

Who will fill these seats?

Anyone paying attention to the news or non-fiction section of booksellers will see that Higher Education is under increasing public scrutiny for its cost and its efficacy. Books like Academically Adrift hit the marketplace and stimulate discussion about what is being learned and at what cost to the student. Top institutions are now embracing the Web to reach new audiences by offering free classes through services like, Coursera, a partnership of Stanford, Michigan, Princeton, and Penn and EdX, a partnership of MIT and Harvard.

These efforts bring to the forefront another aspect of institutions of higher education; their heterogeneous cultures. Engaging the Six Cultures of the Academy by Bergquist and Pawlack discusses four core cultures and two emerging ones that are interrelated and support and challenge each other. The six cultures are the collegial, managerial, developmental, advocacy, tangible, and virtual.

These new models of free college courses illuminates the last two but first let’s define all six briefly:

Collegial: Describes the faculty of an institution who have deep knowledge of a field and deeply value the autonomous pursuit of it.

Managerial: Hierarchical system determined to produce results and influenced by Catholic or Community College structures as well as a strategy needed as institutions grow larger.

Developmental: Grew out of the need to help faculty members develop their teaching skills and collaborate with different disciplines.

Advocacy: Born out of the desire for equal treatment for all and in part as a reaction to efforts of the managerial culture to control the institution.

Virtual: Globally concerned and connected group enabled by technology to communicate and connect.

Tangible: Institution that values roots in history and tradition and a learning experience grounded in face-to-face contact.

The Virtual and Tangible cultures were already in tension with the maturing practice of online education and for-profit Universities. These free classes add an additional dimension to this balance because more people can access these educational resources and it brings the difference between the Tangible and Virtual into greater focus.

Take the Computer 101 course from Stanford as an example. The participants will be close to the same age between 18-22 in most cases and money will be a factor. A computer science course in a traditional, tangible liberal arts school will likely consist of students who either can afford the cost or have been supported to overcome the cost barrier. Because the school is limited in space in California in the United States students will predominantly be from the US with variety that a top-tier institution would normally include.  This free online course includes hundreds of people from all over the world and spanning the ages of 14 to 70s.  There are even parents who are taking the class with their teenage children. This is a feature of the Virtual culture that is both very exciting and very challenging.

Appreciating how all six cultures contribute to the academic setting is immensely more helpful than the tired polemics of how online education is either ruining or saving higher education.  Engaging these new models of delivery and placing them in context is one of my goals for taking this course and along with a better understanding of computer science, I hope to have a better understanding of how higher education is changing and productively and wisely adapt and move forward.

[Image from Fredjk – Stock.xchng]

Stanford Computer Science Class for Free Professional Development

NPR featured the consortium of top Universities that are partnering to provide some of their courses for free to anyone who wants to take them. The start-up is called Coursera and it features a wide range of courses from the Humanities, Social Sciences, and Natural Sciences from Stanford, University of Pennsylvania, University of Michigan, Princeton University.

This struck me as a great opportunity for some professional development. I’ve wanted to devote some time to learning more about computer programming and to beef up my knowledge of the foundational principles of my IT colleagues as well. The Computer Science 101 course from Stanford beginning April 23 looked like a good bet.

I signed on to Coursera and completed the first week’s lectures and assignments and was impressed. The lecture video and corresponding documents were well laid out and included quizzes and exercises within to engage and test what students’ retained. I learned some basic coding and also developed a better understanding of the nuts and bolts of digital images; giving me a glimpse of how the underlying code of software like Adobe Photoshop would work.

Computer Science 101 Stanford University

I would recommend this course, Computer Science 101 by Nick Parlante to any librarian who is interested in developing their understanding of computers and how they work. If you want to be a digital librarian or become a better one, I encourage you to join me on this journey in the class itself or at the blog where I am documenting what I’ve learned –