Archive for the 'education' category

The Libertarian University

Or, more precisely, a university designed by libertarians.

Over the last number of months, I've featured a fair bit of apocalyptic MOOC Disruptionism in my regular Around the Web posts. Recently, the libertarian think tank, The Cato Institute (Wikipedia) via their Cato Unbound site, has put online a series of essays discussing just how the traditional academic system can be radically reworked and rethought via a highly commercialized online academy. It's interesting because they've also included some responses questioning their assumptions and the overall MOOC triumphalism that's floating around the net these days.

I think it's worth taking a close look at both sets of essays as they very clearly lay out some of the options and possibilities as well as a cautionary, jaundiced eye on the hype.

The second item in the list below, the Tabarrok essay, is the lead essay. The next bunch are response essays, bouncing off the lead. Then, starting with the second Tabarrok essay are items that continue the conversation.

  • Introduction by The Editors

    The Internet has already remade journalism in ways too numerous to count. By comparison, many educational institutions stand relatively unchanged: Students attend in-person lectures from professors at fixed times; they study, do homework, take tests, and receive grades, all more or less as they did before the advent of the digital revolution.

    There is no clear reason why this should be...

  • Why Online Education Works by Alex Tabarrok

    Teaching today is like a stage play. A play can be seen by at most a few hundred people at a single sitting and it takes as much labor to produce the 100th viewing as it does to produce the first. As a result, plays are expensive. Online education makes teaching more like a movie. Movies can be seen by millions and the cost per viewer declines with more viewers. Now consider quality. The average movie actor is a better actor than the average stage actor. If you were making a movie with a potential audience in the millions wouldn’t you hire the best actors? With more viewers it also makes sense to substitute capital for labor, adding special effects, scenery, music and other quality improvements resulting in a movie experience unlike any that can be created on stage. Is there something ineffably great about a live performance? Occasionally, but the greatest stage performances are seen by only a handful of people.

  • Some Skepticism about Online Education by Alan Ryan

    A third is that we shall exacerbate the tendencies of contemporary higher education to turn into a two-tier, or multi-tier, system in which the well-off and well-endowed academically and socially, receive personalized and individual attention, while everyone else gets a mass-produced and uniform product tailored to what the better-off and better-endowed believe are their needs. One recent MOOC involved the broadcasting of a course from the University of Pennsylvania in which you can see the twenty-odd students on the course in the room with their professor, interacting in the usual human fashion, while the unnumbered audience watches. I am not at all immune to the thought that the crumbs from the rich man’s table are better than simple starvation, but it would be nice to think that our technical ingenuity could be devoted to spreading the real intellectual riches of our civilization more equally than we have hitherto contrived to do.

  • A New Era of Unfounded Hyperbole by Siva Vaidhyanathan

    ...Tabarrok conflates being a student with being a consumer. He writes “In the online world, consumers need not each consume at the same time, and suppliers need not produce at the moment of consumption.”

    Higher education is a complex process through which one is merely guided. It’s a series of experiments that test one’s capacities, assess one’s talents, focus one’s interests, and enable the acculturation into the educated middle class. Along the way there are licensing procedures, awards, successes, failures, heartbreaks, and hangovers. There is, of course, a tangle of productions, consumptions, and commercial transactions embedded within higher education. But there is no single act of production or consumption that captures either the purpose or value of higher education.

  • The Radical Implications of Online Education by Kevin Carey

    Tabarrok may be too sanguine about the fate of traditional universities. He predicts that “many institutions will be able to raise the quality and breadth of the classes that they offer.” Perhaps—if they can afford to stay in business. The rise of Udacity, Coursera, edX, and others mean that, from this point forward, high-quality, impeccably branded online courses will be available to anyone in the world, anytime, anywhere, for free, forever. We will take this for granted in the same way that we simply assume free search and social networking as birthrights of the modern age.

    The introduction of “$0” into a market characterized by rapidly increasing prices is sure to matter in important ways. How and when, exactly, is not yet clear. But it seems unlikely that traditional universities will be able to keep charging students thousands of dollars for ill-designed commodity courses in basic subjects when much better courses can be found online for free. And it is these high profit-margin courses that subsidize the cost of smaller, professor-dependent specialty courses in the upper divisions. Take away those revenues and university budgets—already stressed by shrinking public subsidies and the declining possibilities of revenue enhancing price discrimination—will struggle to remain solvent. Ryan calls this “sinister.” I think it’s just an honest appraisal of what is sure to come.

  • A Response to Participants by Alex Tabarrok

    I’d also like to see more comparisons and more empirical evidence. Here’s a question. How large does the typical classroom have to be before an online classroom is superior? Five students? Thirty? One hundred? My answers are that a philosophy seminar with five students is going to be better face-to-face. In a class of thirty, I’d take a good online class over a typical offline class. In a class of one hundred I’d take online every time. What do others say? Where is the dividing line and why?

  • The Accent Is on the "Massive." Should It Be? by Siva Vaidhyanathan

    That most courses in America are taught by struggling adjuncts for absurdly low remuneration is a problem to be solved by increasing their status, pay, and benefits. It’s not a reason to double down on the star system and dream that MOOCs can render those hard-working adjuncts redundant. As someone who has hired, fired, and assessed dozens of adjunct and full-time instructors, I can attest that there is no correlation between one’s status and one’s teaching skills.

The core of the libertarian side of the argument is all very triumphalist and inevitable. Not surprisingly, I'm not so sure myself. On the other hand, the traditionalist side is a bit too long on the nostalgia and short on the data. Is the debate settled? Far from it. And more interestingly, if this discussion would guide us on how we would build a new university today, from the ground up, from first principles, how would we build a new academic library today, from the ground up, from first principles. I don't know, but I'm definitely thinking about it. And will be posting about it too, over the next week or so.

I'm interested to hear what my readers think about the possibilities and perils of the Libertarian University and especially where research, student experience and the library collide.

Have at it!

(The conversation continues at the Cato Unbound site so I probably don't have all the articles yet. When the next issue is published, the conversation will be archived here. I may update this post as new items are added over there.)

2 responses so far

Current/Future State of Higher Education: Week 6: Distributed Research & new models of inquiry !

Nov 13 2012 Published by under acad lib future, academia, cfhe12, education, librarianship

Yes, I've fallen behind a bit on my MOOC due to conferences and other general insanity, but after doing the last week this week I vow to catch up a bit retroactively and do weeks 3, 4 & 5.

My weeks 1 and 2 posts are here and here.

Distributed Research: new models of inquiry (Nov 12- 18)
Introduction - Week Six

Distributed research, or more generally, open science, reflect the next logical progression of the internet’s influence on higher education. Early 2000’s saw the development of open content. Since 2008, teaching in open online courses has gained prominence. Distributed research labs and open science represent the next stage of development of openness in education.

Developing the knowledge of a discipline is a complex process. Currently, new ideas are developed and shared through peer review and peer publications. This process takes time. Years of research are followed by a long cycle of formal peer review and publication. It is not unusual for articles, after they’ve been written, to take 2+ years to be published. During this process, conference presentations and interactions with peers may open new discoveries to critique and review. Even then, discoveries require long periods of work in isolation (or in small labs) followed by publication years later. Responses to those publications, through other researchers validating results and building on the initial research, can take an additional multi-year cycle. Research that is shared early, iteratively, and with engagement through blogs and social media can benefit from the benefit from the small contributions of many (or, in the language of open source software, with many eyeballs, “all bugs are shallow”).

Readings & Resources - Week Six

Michael Nielsen, Open Science TEDxWaterloo video 16:36

Principles of Open Science from Science Commons (pdf)

Michael Nielsen, The Future of Science

Martin Weller, The Digital Scholar

In particular, read the chapter on researchers and new technology

Example of a distributed research lab:

Activities - Week Six

As we conclude this course, reflect on the topics covered and the implications on the future of education. While bold proclamations have been issued by pundits regarding dramatic disruptions to higher education, change in complex fields is multifaceted. Many of the innovations considered - such as MOOCs - appear to add a layer to higher education, rather than replace the entire system of research, service, teaching, and scholarship. As you consider the future of education, reflect on what an integrated system of universities might look like when some components, such as teaching and learning, are distributed and online and other components, such as curriculum and testing, are handled by corporate partners.

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Current/Future State of Higher Education: Week 2 reading list!

Oct 18 2012 Published by under acad lib future, academia, cfhe12, education, librarianship

I'm at the Access Conference in Montreal this week starting today, so I'm a bit behind on the readings for the Current/Future State of Higher Education MOOC I'm participating in. I'm hoping a nice long relaxing train ride will give me the opportunity to catch up.

Anyways, Week 1 was a great introduction to the issues facing higher ed and here in Week 2

Week 2: Net Pedagogies: New models for teaching and learning
Readings and Resources

Blended Learning Models

Online Learning

And this week we do have some interesting learning activities to get ourselves thinking.

Learning Activities: Week Two

  • Map what you are hearing to your institutional context. What parts are relevant to your institution?
  • What might be your role in moving your school to a new model?
  • Write a dialog/argument you would make to sell the administration on the idea of moving to a new model

The learning activities I'm basically just doing in my head rather than writing them down anywhere. And that's partly because my institution is both a little behind on these types of things but is also definitely aiming much higher and hoping to make some progress. As our Provost Patrick Monahan's TEDxYorkU talk ably demonstrated, there is the desire and the will at the very top.

At the same time, I'm also quite aware that the learning activities do make an important assumption that is perhaps not completely justified -- that the correct and only path is finding a new technology-centric model and advocating for moving to that model. Which is I guess not surprising for a MOOC on basically that very topic. But still, I think an equally valid outcome for this course might be rejecting any idea of the inevitability/desirability of such a new model and coming up with an argument for that position.

Open inquiry is open inquiry, right?

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Current/Future State of Higher Education: An Open Online Course: Week 1 reading list!

Oct 11 2012 Published by under acad lib future, cfhe12, education, librarianship

Well, I've done it. I've signed up for a MOOC. MOOC, of course, being Massively Open Online Courses, are all the rage in higher-ed-more-disruptingly-than-thou circles, what with their potential is greatly expand the reach of higher education beyond a campus-bound constituency. But not without criticism, of course. Coursera is a popular example of a company that's offering MOOCs but there are a bunch of them out there now.

Having read so much about them over the last year or so, I thought I'd give one a try.

And as a bonus, this one is about the changes happening in the higher education world.

It's called Current/Future State of Higher Education: An Open Online Course.

In countries around the world, the transition to knowledge and service economies occurring rapidly. Competitive countries are no longer only those that have an abundance of natural resources, but also those with a highly educated populace. Higher education is increasingly recognized as a vehicle for economic development.

University leaders are struggling to make sense of how internationalization, the current economic conditions, and new technologies will impact their systems. Educators are uncertain of the impact of open educational resources, alternative accreditation models, de-professionalization of academic positions, and increased grant competitiveness. What is role of the academy in increasing national economic competitiveness while preserving the “vital combat for lucidity” that defines an open democratic society?

The six week course (which started this past Monday) covers the following topics:

Weekly Topics:

  • Change pressures: What is influencing higher education? (Oct 8-14)
  • Net pedagogies: New models of teaching and learning (Oct 15-21)
  • Entrepreneurship and commercial activity in education (Oct 22-28)
  • Big data and Analytics (Oct 29-Nov 4)
  • Leadership in Education (Nov 4-11)
  • Distributed Research: new models of inquiry (Nov 12- 18)

Weekly Format:

  • Each week will include readings, videos, and recommended activities. Live weekly presentations (2-3 each week) will be held with guest speakers.
  • The content will include peer-reviewed articles that articulate the landscape of educational change. Interactive activities will be included each week to give participants an opportunity to evaluate their understanding of the weekly content.

Course participants will also engage in recommended weekly activities (artifact creation and sharing) to contribute to the knowledge base of the weekly topic

Here in this space I'll be sharing the week's readings and perhaps even reflecting on my progress through the course. I'm not sure I'll be interacting much in the forums or on twitter, but you never know.

The hashtag is #CFHE12.

Week #1

This week's readings set the stage for the rest of the course, with a nice range of items all over the "omg higher ed the world is coming to an end spectrum" of commentary. I like the international perspective on the readings, that's for sure. I also like how they mix things up a bit on the techno-utopian side as well as strong criticisms of the techno-commercial approach. The "status quo is mostly alright" seems to be represented as well. I haven't gone through all of them in detail yet but it promises to be enlightening and entertaining.

I'm tempted to pull in a few suggestions of my own from all my Around the Web posts, but I think I'll just stick with what's on the official readings list for now.

Here goes.

OK, I can't resist including a bunch of items from my York colleague Melonie Fullick:

2 responses so far

Around the Web: Yet more about the University of Virginia controversy

Aug 10 2012 Published by under acad lib future, academia, education, Politics

This is the third and hopefully final summary post on the controversy at the University of Virginia surrounding the forced resignation of President Teresa Sullivan. The previous two are here and here.

2 responses so far

From the Archives: Interview with Michael Morgan of Morgan & Claypool

I'm on my annual summer hiatus for the month of July so I'll be only publishing my weekly Friday Fun posts as well as re-posting some of the interviews I did a few years ago on the old blog with people from the publishing, library and science worlds. Not that my posting of late has been particularly distinguishable from the hiatus state, but such is the blogging life after nearly ten years: filled with ups, downs, peaks, valleys.

This interview with Mike Morgan is from April 24, 2007.


It's time for another in my occasional series of scitech publishing/blogger/scientist interviews. This time around I have a few questions for Michael Morgan, formerly of Morgan Kaufmann and now with tech publishing newcomer Morgan & Claypool. I first met Mike at SLA in New York City a few years ago at a party, still well before the launch of the new product, and his ideas for what became Synthesis really struck me as a terrific idea, in many ways a possible template for the future of "book" publishing in computer science and engineering. I've been happy to support it from the beginning, as I think good work deserves our support, and I'm even happier to give Mike an opportunity to talk a bit about himself and his company's new product. Thanks, Mike!

Q0. Please tell us a little about your education & career path to this point and a bit about the thought processes that lead to the forming of Morgan & Claypool.

I've been in publishing my entire career. I graduated from Connecticut College, one of the great small American liberal arts colleges. I started my publishing career at Addison-Wesley, first as a college traveller (sales representative) and then as a computer science editor. In 1984 I was invited by William Kaufmann (former president of Freeman) and Nils Nilsson (a Stanford computer scientist) to join them in founding Morgan Kaufmann Publishers. We built Morgan Kaufmann as an independent company for 14 years and then merged with Academic Press, a subsidiary of Harcourt.

At Academic Press, I became VP of book publishing and also remained as president of Morgan Kaufmann. After three years, Reed Elsevier acquired Harcourt and therefore Academic Press and Morgan Kaufmann. At that point, I had been at Morgan Kaufmnann for 17 years and it seemed like a natural point to consider doing something else so I left and took some time off. After a few months, Joel Claypool, who was engineering publisher at Academic Press, suggested the key idea behind Synthesis and we started Morgan & Claypool to develop it. Both Joel and I are book publishers. We had observed the transition of journal publishing from print to electronic and saw that there was the opportunity to pursue some interesting publishing ideas with the technology and business models that had been created.
Q1. Could you tell us a little about what Synthesis is?

Synthesis is a large (and growing) collection of original, innovative content in engineering and computer science. We publish across about 30 areas now, for example: bioengineering, computer graphics, signal processing, artificial intelligence and are adding new areas on an ongoing basis. The documents in Synthesis are called "lectures" and are essentially 50-150 page peer reviewed book-like presentations of key topics in research and development written by active researchers. They are shorter and more targeted than typical books but broader and provide more of a "synthesis" than a journal article. Also, since they are created and delivered electronically they can be revised frequently. They can also include multimedia elements such as animations, code, video, audio, etc, although we haven't done much of that yet.

The concept of a short targeted presentation that can be updated frequently turns out to be very powerful. It enables presentation of cutting edge, active research topics that are moving too fast for books but for which there is a need for a tutorial overview. Our target audience is researchers who need to come up to speed in an area outside of their own, graduate students and advanced undergraduates, and engineers who are looking into new ideas for application. Another great application of this model is short pedagogically oriented treatments of more mature subjects that can be used for courses or professional development. Since our license encourages unlimited classroom use of Synthesis faculty can assign a lecture to supplement traditional textbooks at no additional cost to the student.
Q2. In reference to Synthesis, who's harder to convince that the model is a good one, faculty or librarians? Have you had a lot of feedback from teaching faculty and students so far, or are you not getting much from them yet?

Although we have had very gratifying support from our library community, the most active initial excitement came from faculty. I have personally discussed this idea with hundreds of faculty in computer science and have never in my career heard such enthusiasm for a publishing idea. The Synthesis lecture fills the need for a vehicle to present a first synthesis of a new field for students and researchers in other areas. As science and engineering expand and become more interdisciplinary, there is a growing need to understand new areas. Most journal articles are not very useful for this since their purpose is to record new research and not to summarize and synthesize the state of the art.

On the other hand, the business model for traditional books makes them equally unsuitable for the presentation of material that will need updating within a year. Faculty are very aware of this gap since they live with it every day. A strong indicator of their enthusiasm is the number of prominent researchers who have volunteered to author, edit and referee lectures. These are typically people who would not take time from their research to write books but who have seen what a strong contribution a lecture can make to their field. Since most of our content has been published for only a few months we've not yet had much feedback from users on the published lectures other than from usage statistics.

Usage has been growing substantially. For some lectures, we are approaching over 1000 downloads within a few months after publication which is much higher than one would see for a journal article.
Q3. What have been some of the challenges so far, for example, keeping the lectures short, getting good metadata, recruiting authors?

Well, on the content side, our greatest challenge is getting authors to finish. We and our editors have been very picky about choosing authors and all of our lectures are written by invitation. The positive result is that we have been able to recruit some of the most prominent researchers as authors. The negative result is that these are busy people with the most demands on their time. We act as advocates for their future audience and give them every encouragement (translation: nag, plead, beg) to get the lecture to the top of their stack. Then, once they finish a first draft, the manuscript is reviewed by their peers. Our task is then to get them to put in the additional time to revise.

On the library side, I guess our biggest challenge, which is now beginning to diminish, has been gaining credibility. Librarians haven't seen too many new companies start in the last 10 years and they haven't seen many new original electronic content products, most have been digitization of existing print works or aggregations of the same. Also, they have only seen a few undertakings that were really serious about high quality content. Although Joel and I are well known in engineering and computer science, as professional book publishers we weren't known by many librarians. So, in the beginning, we needed to overcome some skepticism. We had strong early support from a group of visionary libraries and librarians who are actively involved in the engineering library community to whom we owe a great deal.

Now that Synthesis has been licensed by many if not most of the top engineering schools and is beginning to be licensed more broadly this is less of an issue for us, at least in North America.
Q4. What's the future of print books in the computing field?

I think that this is very much dependent on what is available in terms of reading devices, electronic paper and personal printers. The main current advantages of econtent are in distribution, availability, search, linking and multimedia features. However, it seems that many people prefer reading in print, especially longer documents such as books. Once we have higher resolution screens, ergonomically enjoyable portable reading devices or even personal printers that can economically print and bind at the desktop, the preference for buying print books should decline. It's likely that this will happen first in engineering and computer science.
Q5. Who do you see as your main competition at this point? Other ebook providers or free stuff on the web? Wikipedia?

There are three potential fronts for competition for Synthesis: for authors, for library funds and for interest from readers. We don't feel much competition from other publishers for authors and content. Most of our authors are interested in a Synthesis lecture because their topics are moving too quickly or are too narrow for books. Also, since we give our authors the right to reuse their lecture material later in writing a longer book for any publisher, they don't have to choose. Our biggest competition for authors is for their time. For library funds, our competition is increasingly going to be other ebook providers as publishers make more of their lists available. Our challenge will be to convince librarians that the content in Synthesis is unique and valuable and that it is not just another ebook collection comprising digitised traditional print books. In terms of attention from readers, most of our content is unique but they are increasingly overwhelmed by the amount of content available. We will need to work hard at marketing, creating awareness and enabling discovery to compete against an increasing amount of noise. Although I am a big fan of Wikipedia, we don't see much competition from it at the advanced level of our content.
Q6. I had to get one Morgan Kaufmann question in -- in all the time you were at Morgan Kaufmann, what's the one thing you're most proud of? Do you have any regrets?

I am most proud of the community of authors and list of great books that we built. I think we were successful in creating a culture of collaboration and respect for authors that produced some great work. I think it's fair to say that several MK books made substantial contributions to computer science and that most faculty in such areas as computer architecture, databases, computer human interaction, graphics, networking and AI would agree.

My one regret is that we didn't keep MK independent. We merged the company with Academic Press to provide an exit strategy for our investors which was only fair to those who had made MK possible in the first place. Many of the original MK staff, especially in editorial, are still there and continuing a tradition of great publishing. It would be very interesting to be developing Synthesis in that context. On the other hand, if we hadn't merged with AP, Joel Claypool and I might not have developed the working relationship that led to the development of Synthesis and Morgan & Claypool. Ultimately, I think that Synthesis and Morgan & Claypool have the potential to make a much more significant and unique impact for our disciplines.
Q7. Finally, what's the best and worst things about your job these days?

The best thing is to be working closely with authors and librarians to do something so worthwhile. I've always worked closely with authors but it's been very rewarding to discover this new collaborative community of librarians. As a professional book publisher you don't have a community of (non reader) customers that is so engaged and knowledgable. For example, I am writing this from a UK library conference where I have spent pretty much every waking moment of the last three days in conversation with librarians, including on the disco floor until 2:30am this morning.

Frankly, there is not much that is bad. If I had to pick something, it would be the sense of feeling stretched too thin. In the traditional book world, most of the innovation is limited to content and everything else is pretty well established. With Synthesis we think about innovation in content, delivery, user experience, discovery, business models, digital archiving, and the list goes on.

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From the Archives: Interview with Eugene Wallingford of Knowing and Doing

I'm on my annual summer hiatus for the month of July so I'll be only publishing my weekly Friday Fun posts as well as re-posting some of the interviews I did a few years ago on the old blog with people from the publishing, library and science worlds. Not that my posting of late has been particularly distinguishable from the hiatus state, but such is the blogging life after nearly ten years: filled with ups, downs, peaks, valleys.

This interview, with Eugene Wallingford, is from July 9, 2008.

I'm hoping to get these out weekly, but we'll see. They're mostly cobbled together in odd moments then scheduled for a few days or weeks later.


Welcome to the latest installment in my occasional series of interviews with people in the scitech world. This time around the subject is Eugene Wallingford, Head of the Computer Science Department at University of Northern Iowa and author of the blog Knowing and Doing. I've been following Knowing and Doing for most of the four years it's been running (Happy Blogiversary, Eugene!) and I've always been impressed by Eugene's insights into the world of computer science, especially from the educational viewpoint. Since it's been quite a while since I interviewed a CS faculty member, I thought it would be a perfect opportunity to see what Eugene thinks about some of the important issues in the field today. I think there's some food for thought in the interview for librarians supporting CS programs and students.

Thanks to Eugene for his thoughtful responses. Enjoy!

Q0. Hi, Eugene, please tell us about yourself, your career path and how you got to be the Head of the Computer Science Department at University of Northern Iowa.

Thanks, John, for asking me for an interview. I am honored to share a few thoughts with your readers.

From the time I was seven or eight, I wanted to be an architect. All of my career planning in school aimed that direction. Academically, I liked everything and so had a full load of math, science, literature, history, and social science.

I started college as an architecture major. While I liked it just fine, something was missing. Somehow, I was drawn toward computer science. I ended up double majoring in CS and accounting, but CS was my passion, especially artificial intelligence. I went on to grad school, specializing in knowledge-based systems. My dissertation focused on the interaction between memory and domain knowledge.

A little over three years ago, we were nearing the end of an interim department head's term. I'd never given much thought to being an administrator, but I saw many ways in which we could improve and thought for a moment that I might be the right person to help us get there. I am now ending my first 3-year term and have agreed to continue on for three more years. Looking back, I see some improvements but, frankly, had hoped to have accomplished more. This is a tough job. It lets me be a computer scientist in some ways but takes time away from doing all of the CS I love. I'm committed to helping us move forward for another term, and then we'll see.

Q1. Do you have a theory of blogging? What got you started blogging and what do you get out of it and what keeps you going? I'm sure all your faithful readers are hoping you can add comments to your blog at some point.

I don't think I have a theory of blogging. I first started because I had things I wanted to say. Every computer I had ever owned was littered with little essays, reviews, and conference notes that no one had ever seen. I'd been reading several blogs for several years and thought that starting a blog was a way to make some of my writing more permanent. If others found it worth reading, all the better.

My blog consists mostly of short pieces connected to my professional life as a computer scientist and faculty member. I make connections among things I read, write, see, and do. My one personal indulgence in writing is running, and I've written quite a bit about my experiences training for marathons. Some of my more interesting pieces in this category have made connections from training and running to software development.

Occasionally, I write something that is purely personal, or something that made me smile and laugh. I don't think anyone really wants to hear about what I eat for meals or who I am voting for in elections, so my blog has never veered in that direction. But readers get to know me as a professional person, and I do think that knowing something about the person on the fringes adds depth to how they read my other pieces.

Comments... Yes, I understand. When I first started blogging -- four years ago today (July 9)! -- I planned to add comments. The tool I use to blog is very simple and didn't make that easy. I've just never gotten around to it.

I read many blogs in which comments make a valuable contribution to the message. In others, they add little. There are many ways in which I would relish an ongoing conversation with readers. Adding comments is still on my wish list.

Q2. You blog a lot about teaching computer science. Do you have a teaching philosophy? How do you think teaching computer science differs from teaching other disciplines?

There was a thread recently on the SIGCSE mailing list about teaching philosophies. Many schools ask job applicants for a statement of teaching philosophy, and some folks think that's silly. How could new Ph.D.s have teaching philosophies when they have spent little or no time in a classroom?

I've been on the CS faculty for sixteen years now, and I can't say that I have a coherent, pat teaching philosophy even now. Were I to apply for a new job, I would have to do what those new Ph.D.s have to do: scour my mind for bits of truth that reflect how I teach and how I think about learning, and then mold them into an essay that captures something coherent about me on this day.

My blog exposes some of these bits of truth as I write about my experiences in the classroom. It will be a wonderful resource the next time I have to write a statement of philosophy.

Thinking back to all I've written in the last few years, I can see some themes. Learning is more important than teaching. Students learn when they do. Students learn when they want to do. What I can do as a teacher is to create an environment where students come into contact with cool and powerful ideas. I can organize ideas, skills, and tools so that students encounter them in a way that might spur their desire. Ask students to write programs and solve problems. Ask them to think about how and why. Ask them to go deep in an area so that they learn its richness and not its surface chemistry. Oh, and show as often as I can and in as many ways as I can how much I love computer science. Show what I learn.

That paragraph would get me started on a philosophy statement.

Computer science is an interesting mix of mathematics and programs. Most people don't realize that it is a creative discipline -- a discipline in which making things is paramount. In that sense, we can learn a lot from how writers and artists (and architects!) learn their craft.

Q3. Another of your favourite themes is how computing is infiltrating all the other sciences -- in other words we're getting to the point where it's computational everything. What got you interested in that trend and where do you see it going?

This is not as new as it might seem. Computer science has always been about applications: creating solutions to real problems in the world. The discipline goes through spurts in which it looks inward, but the focus always turns back out. When I was in college in the first half of the 1980s, there was a lot of talk about end-user programming, and even then that wasn't new. Alan Kay has been talking for forty years about computing as a new medium for expressing ideas, a medium for every person. Before that, pioneers such as Marvin Minsky said similar things.

What's happening now is a confluence of several developments. Computing power has continued to grow at a remarkable pace. Our ability to gather and store data has, too. We realize that there will probably never be enough "computer scientists" to solve all of these problems ourselves, and how could we anyway? Biologists know more biology than I ever will; likewise for economics and astronomy and geography and most other disciplines. We are reaching a point where the time is right to fulfill the vision of computing as medium for expressing and testing ideas, and that will require we help everyone use the medium effectively.

Q4. Enrollment has been an issue in the CS community for a while now. Are you happy with the current levels of enrollment? What do you think are some of the ways to get enough students of all kinds interested in CS and willing to consider it as a major? How can we improve the diversity of the students willing to give CS a shot?

We've started to see a small bounce in our enrollments, and I think this trend will continue for a while. I'm not sure that we will ever see the large growth we saw in the 1980s and 1990s, but that's okay -- as long as we recognize our need to broaden the base of people who can use computing in their own disciplines.

Figuring out how to get more students to major in CS or to learn how to use computing in their own disciplines is not easy. If I knew the answer, my school would have a lot more majors and students! There are a lot of things we can do: tell our story better; help more people to understand what computing is and what we do; introduce our ideas to more students earlier in school. One thing a lot of us have noticed over the years is that most people learn about CS as something "hard", a discipline that requires special wiring in the brain. While it's probably true that not everyone is suited to do academic research in CS, I think that everyone can learn to use computing as a medium for expressing ideas. If we can find good ways to introduce computing in that way across the population, the number of majors and the number of interested non-majors will take care of themselves.

Q5. Could you tell us a little about your research interests?

As I mentioned in my history earlier, I started in the area of artificial intelligence, a field in which computer scientists work with many others in an effort to make computers do ever more impressive tasks. Most of my work was in Knowledge-based systems, a sub-area that focused on how systems with deep knowledge of a class of problems can organize, access, and use the knowledge to solve those problems. In the mid-1990s, I began to move in the direction of intelligent tutoring systems, which are programs that help people to learn. This was probably a natural evolution for me, given my interest in how my students and I learn new areas of expertise.

In the late 1990s, I found myself drifting toward work in the area of software design and development, which led me more toward programming languages. Notions of design and language were central to my interest in AI, but I found the concreteness of supporting software developers attractive.

As a department head, I don't have much time for research. When I do have time, I work on how to provide support to programmers as they write, modify, and manipulate code. Of particular interest is how to support refactoring (changes to programs that preserve their intended behavior but modify their structure) in dynamic languages, which do not provide all of the cues we need to ensure that a modification preserves behavior.

Q6. Being a librarian, you know I have to ask what journals, conferences, etc., you find most helpful. I'm also curious about any search engines you might use, be they commercial ones like INSPEC, Web of Science, Scopus or "free" ones like CiteSeer, Google, or Google Scholar? Or anything I haven't even mentioned.

Google. That's the answer for so many things! It's my primary tool for search to find new articles. It links me to more focused technical tools like CiteSeer and the ACM Digital Library, as needed. But so many articles are now available directly on the web from their authors that the journals themselves become more like convenient packaging devices than essential units themselves. It's akin to the change in the music industry from the album to the single. Singles fell out of favor for a while, but the advent of iTunes and other music services have really changed how most people come into contact with their music today.

I don't read many journals cover to cover anymore. I do subscribe to the Communications of the ACM and am looking forward to its new format. I also follow the bulletins of several ACM special interest groups (programming languages, AI, and education).

Q7. Again, being a librarian, I'm also curious about any CS-related books you've read that you've found useful or inspiring, either recently or in your formative years.

A few years back, before I had a blog, I created a webpage for sharing books with colleagues and students:

I haven't added to that list lately, but it lists most of the CS books I'd recommend yet today, including Abelson and Sussman's The Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs, Peter Norvig's Paradigms of Artificial Intelligence Programming, and the Gang of Four's Design Patterns. It also lists books that are not technically about CS but which might change how someone thinks about computing and software, such as Stewart Brand's How Buildings Learn -- a marvelous book!

One glaring omission from this page are the works of Christopher Alexander, the inspiration for the idea of software patterns. Most everyone recommends The Timeless Way of Buiding and A Pattern Language, and I concur. But I also strongly recommend The Oregon Experiment, which describes Alexander's experience implementing his ideas on a college campus. This is a thin little volume that I found rewarding.

Most of my CS-specific reading lately has been on Ruby.

Q8. I find it interesting that computer science students still seem to be relatively high users of print books and I was wondering about your take on that phenomenon. Is it still the same or is it changing?

Philip Greenspun has described CS as pre-paradigmatic in Thomas Kuhn's sense, which means that books play an important role in how new ideas are shared and disseminated. Computing has always been rich in print books, from timeless works down to skills books with a shelf life limited by the rapid change in technology. I know many publishers are thinking about ways the market might shift into electronic versions, and more and more books are available on-line now, sometimes in their first run.

A lot of my students are reading books on-line more now than in print. A recent favorite is Why's (Poignant) Guide to Ruby, available at To my knowledge, this book is available only on the web and not in print. I'm curious to see how this trend develops. My guess is that individual authors will create most of the ideas that change how we read their works, which will cascade down to how we publish.

This comes back in to some ways to blogs, which seems like a good way to close the circle on this interview. One thing I love about my blog in comparison to the essays and comments I used to write in regular text files is the ability to link directly to other works. When I drop a short piece onto my blog, it often takes its place within a web of related writings and software pages. The connections among these works adds value to what I write by giving my readers a way to find and explore related work. That is so much more convenient than a list of references at the end, even if it is also a whole lot messier.

Thanks again for asking me to contrib

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Welcome to Information Culture, the latest blog at Scientific Amerincan

I'd like to extend a huge science librarian blogosphere welcome to Information Culture, the newest blog over at Scientific American Blogs!

This past Sunday evening I got a cryptic DM from a certain Bora Zivkovic letting me know that I should watch the SciAm blog site first thing Monday morning. I was busy that morning but as soon as I got our of my meeting I rushed to Twitter and the Internet and lo! and behold!

Information Culture: Thoughts and analysis related to science information, data, publication and culture.

I'm always happy to see librarians invading faculty and researcher blogs networks and this is no exception.

What's even happier is that one of the bloggers at the new site is Bonnie Swoger, long-time blogger at Undergraduate Science Librarian. Bonnie is a super blogger and a terrific colleague who I'm always glad to see at Science Online. I'm sort of wondering what's taken so long for a blogging network to snap her up and I guess it's not surprising that Bora's the one to finally get it done.

Joining Bonnie is an equally wonderful but new-to-me blogger, Hadas Shema. Hadas is an Info Sci grad student at Bar-Ilan University in Israel and formerly blogged at Science blogging in theory and practice.

Here's what Bora has to say in his Introductory post: Welcome Information Culture - the newest blog at #SciAmBlogs

How to do an efficient search? How can a librarian help you find obscure references? What is this "Open Access" thing all about? Why is there a gender gap among Wikipedia editors? How do science bloggers link to each other? Can tweeting a link to a paper predict its future citations? How to track down an un-linked paper mentioned in a media article? What is going on with eTextbooks?

And from the new blog itself, a taste of the first three posts:

Introduction post - Hadas Shema

Two questions I get asked now and then are A. "What do you study?" And B. "What is it good for? (as in "Why should my tax money fund you?"). Now that I have an excellent platform like this SciAm blog, I might as well take advantage of it to answer at least the first question (I'll let you decide if it's worth the taxpayer's money).

I study Information or Library Science, and my sub-field is what used to be called Bibliometrics, "the application of mathematical and statistical methods to books and other media of communication," (Pritchard, 1969). The term was invented back in 69′, when official scientific communication involved dead trees. The Russian version, "Scientometrics" was coined around that time as well. Today we have a variety of other terms, perhaps more appropriate for the net age: Cybermetrics, Informetrics, Webometrics and even Altmetrics. But for now, let's stick with Bibliometrics.

Bibliometricians measure, analyze and record scientific discourse. We want to learn what impact scientific articles, journals, and even individual scientists have on the world. Until recently "the world" meant "other articles, journals and individual scientists" because it was next to impossible to research the way scientific discourse affect the rest of the world, or even how scientists affect it when they're not in "official" capacity (publishing a paper or speaking at a conference). Now Bibliometricians not only need a new name, but new indices. That's what I (and plenty of other people) work on. We ask what scientists are doing on the Web, how and why they're doing it and the most important thing - can we use it to evaluate the impact of their work.

You have to share (by Bonnie Swoger)

Understanding how scientists share their results is my job. I am a science librarian.

I work with scientists at my college to make sure that they have access to the information they need to do their work. I teach undergraduates - novice scientists - how the scientific literature works: What kinds of information are available? Where can you find what you need? How can you use the different types of information? I work with researchers to help them understand new developments in scholarly communication: What is a DOI and how can it make your research just a bit easier? Are you allowed to post a copy of your recent article on your website and what are the advantages if you do?

And as I work with students and faculty at my institution, this blog will be a place for me to share some of these concepts with you. I'll share tips to help you find information faster, explain basic concepts related to the publication of scientific results and try to figure out how recent scholarly comunication news


It's hard to stand on the shoulders of giants if the giants are hiding under the bed.

Understanding the Journal Impact Factor - Part One (by Hadas Shema)

The journals in which scientists publish can make or break their career. A scientist must publish in "leading" journals, with high Journal Impact Factor (JIF), (you can see it presented proudly on high-impact journals' websites). The JIF has gone popular partly because it gives an "objective" measure of a journal's quality and partly because it's a neat little number which is relatively easy to understand. It's widely used by academic librarians, authors, readers and promotion committees.

Raw citation counts emerged at the 20′s of the previous century and were used mainly by science librarians who wanted to save money and shelf space by discovering which journals make the best investment in each field. This method had a modest success, but it didn't gain much momentum until the sixties. That could be because said librarians had to count citations by hand.

Run on over and say Hi to Bonnie and Hadas!

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The Canadian War on Science: Stop muzzling Canadian scientists!

May 03 2012 Published by under Canada, education, Politics

The Canadian Journalists for Free Expression has just awarded the Harper Conservative government here in Canada a failing grade in promoting free expression.

Federal scientists' freedom of expression: F

  • Canada's control over the communications of federally funded scientists is alarming. Climate change science coverage in the media has plummeted by 80 per cent since 200, drastically reducing information available to Canadians. Some scientists have been denied permission to talk to the media about their research even after it was published in peer-reviewed journals.

Not to mention that the Canadian Committee for World Press Freedom has awarded the Canadian Science Writers Association (CSWA) and the Association des communicateurs scientifiques (ACS) their annual Press Freedom Award "for their work in exposing government restrictions on federal scientists that prevent or delay the free communication of public science through the media."

CCWPF member Bob Carty says his committee selected these associations for its prize to send a message to the Harper government that "Canadians have the right, through the media, to access the expertise of publicly funded scientists, and those federal scientists have the right to freedom of expression."

"Science is critical to Canadian society. From climate change to oil pipelines, from epidemics to the safety of our food and water, we need to know the results of the scientific work our taxes support. We need our media to be unencumbered by needless government delays and ideological filtering," Carty says.

And we can certainly see the evidence about the government's disdain for scientists and information in general in some recent media reports:

Scientists are told how to behave and what to say at conferences.

Harper government 'muzzlers' are on the prowl at an international polar conference about everything from seabirds to arctic ice.

According to an article by PostMedia News, media instructions have been sent to the Environment Canada researchers attending the week long meeting in Montreal.

"If you are approached by the media, ask them for their business card and tell them that you will get back to them with a time for (an) interview," the Environment Canada scientists were told by email late last week.

"Send a message to your media relations contact and they will organize the interview. They will most probably be with you during the interview to assist and record," says the email obtained by Postmedia News.

The memo, signed by Kristina Fickes, an Environment Canada senior communications adviser, goes on to say that recordings of interviews are to be forwarded to the department's media relations headquarters in Ottawa. Fickes signs off with a signature tagline that says: "Let the sun shine in :)"

Which somehow the Minister of the Environment thinks is a totally normal practice among the science community. Or something.

Controlling the free speech of Canadian scientists who work for the government is an "established practice," says Environment Minister Peter Kent.

Responding to a Postmedia News report, Kent suggested that the government was doing the right thing.


"There is nothing new in the email that was sent to attendees," Kent said in the House of Commons on Monday, in response to questions from NDP deputy leader Megan Leslie.

"It is established practice to coordinate media availability. In fact, many of our younger scientists seek advice from our departmental communications staff."


"Where we run into problems is when journalists try to lead scientists away from science and into policy matters," Kent said. "When it comes to policy, ministers address those issues."


"What we did expect, given your distinguished and extensive background in journalism, was that when a reporter questioned you about the present muzzling of federal scientists by the Conservative government, the 2012 incarnation of the man who was recipient of the 2006 President's Award from the Radio-Television News Directors Association of Canada would have said that not only are you against it, but that if the muzzling doesn't stop, you will be submitting your resignation to the Prime Minister," said the letter.

And yeah, the very same minister used to be an award-winning journalist.

Minister Kent, people are noticing that it's happening. And people, citizens of Canada, know and understand why it's important to stop muzzling scientists and let them speak freely about what they have discovered.

What does this say about us as a society?

For some, there's far more at stake here than a simple opportunity for a biologist or a climatologist to talk about viruses or the ozone layer.

"If scientists working within government are not free to discuss their science and the potential implications of it, then what does that say about us as a society?" asks Jeffrey Hutchings, a professor and Canada Research Chair in Marine Conservation and Biodiversity at Dalhousie University in Halifax.


It is, as he puts it, that "we have somehow deemed it OK or permissible for an Iron Curtain to be drawn across the communication of science in this country."


"We are now seen on the international stage as a pariah and five years ago, or maybe six, that was not the case," Pedersen says.

"Canada was praised internationally for its scientific efforts and its openness as a society. And now we seem to have turned our back on that."

Yup, Canada is a scientific pariah on the international stage.

Some previous blog posts related to this topic:

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Know more about the world and lessen the suffering of others

A fantastic quote from Neil deGrasse Tyson:

The problem, often not discovered until late in life, is that when you look for things like love, meaning, motivation, it implies they are sitting behind a tree or under a rock. The most successful people recognize, that in life they create their own love, they manufacture their own meaning, they generate their own motivation.

For me, I am driven by two main philosophies, know more today about the world than I knew yesterday. And along the way, lessen the suffering of others. You'd be surprised how far that gets you.

The source of which seems to be here.

It's hard to imagine two philosophies more suited to the mission of libraries and librarians in the world.

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