Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Open Access Research

Open Access logo, converted into svg, designed...Image via Wikipedia

Open Research

In these days of budget cuts, free, open access to academic research is more important than ever. Cable Green put up a link to a video that I want to share here as well along with some resources and tips for accessing open research. College of the Redwoods had to cut some journal databases from their library budget. Publishers need to know that this is going to basically backfire on them. Technology is changing the way that we access information and there is no room in education for profiteers! Why aren't we boycotting? The students need to get involved in this: they are paying more and more for education and getting less and less.

Open Access 101, from SPARC from Karen Rustad on Vimeo.

Open Research Organizations

Right to Research

Open Research Journals, Repostories, and Search Tools

  • Journals
    • The Directory of Open Access Journals lists more than 2,800 journals that provide free access to the full text of their articles. You can search for a specific journal or browse by subject area.
    • The SPARC Publisher Partner Program features non-profit organizations that are pursuing innovative business models to provide affordable, if not open access, to peer-reviewed research.
  • Subject repositories: These archives provide open access to articles by scholars in particular fields. Some only include articles with free, full-text access, while others also include articles with only an abstract. They may also include theses, conference presentations, working papers, or other types of scholarly content. This is a sample list.
  • Search tools
    • OAIster is a tool to search archives compliant with the Open Archives Initiative metadata standard. This can include open-access journals, institutional and subject repositories, as well as other digital archives, which may include educational or historical content in addition to scholarly journal articles.
    • The Directory of Open Access Journals also includes a tool to search the content of some journals listed.

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Monday, April 26, 2010

The Art of Describing

Camera obscura in Encyclopédie, ou dictionnair...Image via Wikipedia

There are often connections between my artistic life and my work in education that are surprising. I am reading a book called "The Art of Describing" by Svetlana Alpers. It is a book about Dutch art in the 17th century and it feels pretty far removed from my work in instructional design and distance education. It is not a new book but I am giving myself a crash course in art history and criticism to work out some ideas that are important to the current novel I am writing. Additionally, I am just interested in art in general. My current novel hinges on ideas of art, identity and authorship. In her book, Alpers talks about Dutch art as descriptive rather than being a narrative art like the Italians (she gives notable exceptions, of course) and in the second chapter, talks about how lenses and the camera obscura began to change how the Dutch defined art, seeing, and knowing. There are two important terms describing art for the 17th cent. Dutch - "naer het leven" (after life e.g. painting from a live subject) and "nyt den geest" (from the mind). Alpers writes "while naer het leven refers to everything visible in the world, nyt den geest refers to images of the world as they are stored mnemonically in the mind" (p.40). This is pretty exciting territory for me because there is an intersection here between this work I am doing for my art (fiction) and the work I am doing in instructional design, which involves visual pedagogy. The 17th century was an important turning point in science and art because the inventions of the lens and the camera obscura were changing how we understood optics and images. Kepler wrote about optics Alpers sums up Kepler's arguments when she writes "To understand our view of the sun, or moon, or world, we must understand the instrument with which we view it..." This is very radical. It implies that there is no concrete "actual" image out there - just a view of the world that is an interpretation by an instrument which could be a lens, a camera obscura, or the eye itself. I think this was a common view of all technology back then. It comes from a fundamental mistrust of the senses and an understanding that all tools for observation are really tools of interpretation and the tool you choose shapes that interpretation.
The lense we are looking through now is the series of connected databases, documents, images, texts and people that make up the internet. Understanding how the technology determines our interpretation of knowledge on the internet is critical. I believe that we are only going to be able to fully understand how we can do that by looking at how we processed technical innovations in the past.
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Friday, April 23, 2010

Open Education Resources at College of the Redwoods

I sent this invitation out to our faculty:

Are you concerned about the high cost of education for your students?

Have you ever wished that there was something that you could do to bring down that cost?

One of the ways you can do that is to consider choosing an “open” textbook for your class. Open textbooks are free electronically or available to students for the printing cost. These textbooks have been written by instructors but have been released to other educators through public domain, Creative Commons, or other means of flexible copyright. In this presentation, we will look at collections of open source textbooks that have been created by instructors and subject matter experts and made available to schools right here in California and across the country. We will learn about organizations who vet these books for the state of California. We will look at new business models that provide free and low-cost textbooks to students and still manage to compensate instructors for their work.

I was delighted to find that two of our faculty, Dave Arnold and Bruce Wagner, are way ahead of the curve here and have written two Math textbooks (with contributions from other instructors).

Intermediate Algebra & Pre-Algebra

From what I understand, this was an individual as well as a dept. effort. I plan on interviewing them and putting that up here in the near future.

We have another faculty member interested in a music theory textbook and a couple who are interested in psychology. This is going to be a good year for the students!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Sven Birkerts in the Digital Age

Honoré de BalzacImage via Wikipedia

Sven Birkerts wrote an article in the American Scholar called "Reading in a Digital Age" where the tagline claims that his essay discusses "why the novel and the Internet are opposites and why the latter undermines the former and makes it more necessary." My meditation here begs to differ. The novel and the internet are not opposites; one informs the other and makes both necessary. There are things I like about Birkerts; he is a careful and thoughtful reader of books. I appreciate what he reads. I appreciate his reveries about books, binding, and paper. I like his reading lists. He reads authors that matter. That said, I would not turn to him to understand the internet, hypertext, or what is happening in social media and its connection to writing.

His arguments tend to be false dichotomies. It is not either/or. The internet is used for one thing and novels are used for another. How is one the opposite? Is a sailboat the opposite of a car? Information on the internet tends not to invite sustained meditation and reading on a linear level. It is organized as a series of connections, and this is how most people read. The mind links information, previous readings and experiences into a reading of the text. A lovely old leather bound book is still, in the end, a hypertext in the mind of the reader - even if that process is slow, thoughtful, and meditative. With that said, I can find the complete works of Dickens on the internet, download them and read them in a slow and thoughtful way.

Birkerts also indulges in the "digital natives" argument about technology - that young people get it (and are therefore cyber-addled cretins) and older people don't (and are therefore thoughtful and meditative). The problem with this argument is obvious to anyone not working in the Ivy Leagues - it is a class issue. I have many students in the community colleges who have had a limited exposure to technology. Their lack of critical thinking skills comes an education system that has seriously failed them and from the teachers who have forgot to keep up in their field who are supposed to teach them those skills. Students are stuck with teachers who think the only way to transmit information is through a two year old, $140 textbook. If a student can get though a class while surfing the internet, that curriculum needs to be revised.

I am currently using the internet to write a novel. It is not a book of postmodern fractured narrative (although I appreciate that approach) but a thoughtful examination of identity, projection and art. I am using Wikimedia to research examples of art that I am exploring, Google Docs as my word processor, and an online concept map program to outline the work. I don't do this because I am trying to use the latest technology (cool factor) but because I have a full-time job and have to be able to write and work anywhere on a moments notice; time spent at home, a break at work, a fleeting moment in a cafe, or an hour in the public library. Technology allows me to merge those moments fairly seamlessly. Yes, I would like a room of my own or an office somewhere, but that will have to wait for another lifetime. My room of my own exists virtually and asynchronously.

I know plenty of people who are proficient in the world of novels and the world of technology and the internet. I can show you hundreds of examples in Facebook - a community where hundreds of authors share information, announce readings, and despair of their vocation. A friend of mine who I consider highly proficient in technology (one of the first people in our little state college to work with researchers abroad via modem) is also a man who is in the middle of reading all of Balzac's novels. This represents nearly a hundred and twenty volumes of text.

What I find interesting about Birkerts' writing style is that all of the novels, magazine articles and movies that that he names feel like mere name dropping: they do not move his argument forward, support his argument, or at least, they do not tell us exactly why novels are the opposite of the internet. The article that he mentions on neuroscience is a single article and not a sustained argument based on even a casual review of the literature. I want to read those books and articles, but for now, they seem to be a distraction, like so many blips and beeps on the screen. In the end, he admits that he reads for entertainment - he doesn't say it that way - he uses words like "resonance."

So why is the novel the opposite of the internet? Is it because one is easier to read lying down?

The same human mind that came up with La Comédie humaine also came up with the internet. The connections between the novels and the internet are more important than the differences. Humans are connective thinkers. A direct example of this kind of thinking is in Robert Burton's Anatomy of Melancholy. Each sentence requires a knowledge of Medieval and Renaissance medical history, religious lore, literary history, and Latin - all in the same sentence! How can you read one paragraph of that book and not know that Wikipedia was inevitable?
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Thursday, April 15, 2010

Ning is Our Wake-Up Call

Ning just recently announced that they will no longer support free sites. I belong to a lot of Ning sites. Ironically, the Open Textbook Advocate Trainers website is a Ning site. That site is (was?) dedicated to open source textbooks. It really makes you rethink exactly what tools you use and why. I have a lot of materials in Google Docs that I think I am going to be backing up at home more often. I used to use Flickr a lot until I one day they emailed me to say that I was over the limit and they down-graded my account so I could not upload anymore or see pictures in full resolution until I sent them some money. This "premiumware" happens when something is free to drum up a customer base and then they "offer" you an "upgrade." Very effective when the company is holding your files and network hostage. Google does say they have a commitment to education but we will see what the economy dictates here. George Siemens warned about this too.

I use a lot of "free" online tools but I have some redundancy in there in case one fails - for instance, I use Slideshare and Slideboom for my online presentations. I use Google Docs and I use Scribd. I decided this early on in case someone's server was on the fritz and I was travelling. Now this redundancy is especially important when companies are looking to "monetize their assets." It is amazing how short-sited business people can be. How do you monetize a network? What do you charge for the learning and connections that happen? All of the great work that people did in these networks is swept away to "capture a big opportunity." Why not partner with education institutions, UNESCO, and other governments to harness those networks for everyone's benefit? That would be a far greater opportunity (and maybe even more lucrative) than any current business model could conceive.

In the meantime, we should be pushing more for open source tools, platforms, and public hosting of those open source tools.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Surviving Campus Politics

Here is something that they do not teach you in grad school. What do you do when you are at a campus that is in turmoil? I have not completely lived up to these verses, but they are certainly a goal and my better days are informed by them.

The Eight Verses of Thought Transformation
By His Holiness the Dalai Lama at Dharamsala, India 1981Published in 2005 in the LYWA publication Teachings From Tibet.
1. Determined to obtain the greatest possible benefit for all sentient beings, who are more precious than a wish-fulfilling jewel, I shall hold them most dear at all times.
The first thing we need to do is to remember our purpose. Think about why you got involved in education in the first place. There was some moment in your life when you got why all of this is important. Remember that and let it be the center of your day.

2. When in the company of others, I shall always consider myself the lowest of all, and from the depths of my heart hold others dear and supreme.
Graduate school does not teach humility. Remember that you are coming from a position of privilege. St. Luke wrote "and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more." Teaching is a vocation of service; you are here for others.

3. Vigilant, the moment a delusion appears in my mind, endangering myself and others, I shall confront and avert it without delay.
There are many delusions that arise on a college campus. Some might be: my program is the most important thing going; things will never change; if things do change, all change is bad; this president is the worse one (or the last one and certainly the one after), my feelings, dignity, salary, benefits (insert attachment here) matter more than teaching.

4. Whenever I see beings that are wicked in nature and overwhelmed by violent negative actions and suffering, I shall hold such rare ones dear, as if I had found a precious treasure.
No matter what someone says to you, no matter how personally hateful - they speak from a place of suffering; the same suffering you feel or have known.

5. When, out of envy, others mistreat me with abuse, insults or the like, I shall accept defeat and offer the victory to others.
I am still learning from this one. The turn the other cheek bit is hard and if you ever doubt the existence of your own ego wait for someone else to take credit for your work or to slander you behind your back. You will find out just how attached you are to your ego. I find myself returning to #4 an awful lot.

6. When somebody whom I have benefited and in whom I have great hopes gives me terrible harm, I shall regard that person as my holy guru.
Isn't that wonderful? You didn't know there were so many gurus around did you?

7. In short, both directly and indirectly, I offer every happiness and benefit to all my mothers. I shall secretly take upon myself all their harmful actions and suffering.
So if we are aware of the sufferings of others we can act from compassion and make a difference. It is one thing to be aware and another to act - if you are going to complain, ask yourself "how will complaining make a difference?" Maybe you feel like you need to raise other's awareness of a problem, but how will you ease the sufferings of others? As Ghandi said "be the change you want to see in the world."

8. Undefiled by the stains of the superstitions of the eight worldly concerns, may I, by perceiving all phenomena as illusory, be released from the bondage of attachment.
The important thing here is the "all phenomena as illusory" bit. Kissinger once said that "university politics are vicious precisely because the stakes are so small." Things do change - politics, budgets, and programs, and each day is an opportunity to participate in ways that will make a positive difference in the lives of others. Nothing in the college is more important than teaching and serving the students.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Open Education, Authority and Money

This is one of those blog postings that write themselves. The electronic version of this book on open education is $97.60.