Thursday, June 16, 2011

"Live" Blog from Worldviews Conference 2011: Day 1

9:02: After some struggles with wireless issues, we're finally online and I can start making comments about the talks :-) We've seen an introduction to the conference, and another welcome from the editor of Inside Higher Ed.

9:05: Dr. Glen Jones from OISE: We're trying to understand "truth", that's a commonality between higher education and media. But there are differences of scope and scale, academic focus is usually much more narrow than what journalists can report. The timelines are very different as well; in the academic world, time moves much more slowly than in journalism.

09:08: Dr. Glen Jones: Two communities (universities/academic and media/journalists) don't necessarily interact; they have a lot to learn from each other. Faculty need to learn more about how the media works. Media may need to understand more about the complexities of the academic world. Through critical analysis we need to understand more about ourselves (academics, the university). The greatest potential lies in finding new ways to build these relationships, to allow these communities to work better together. The goal is create an informed society and we all play a role in that.

09:18: UNESCO representative Stella Hughes introduces the first session. Why would anyone trust the media? :-)

Academics can't "trust" the media to tell the "whole truth" because that isn't their job. They're not there to be exhaustive; and there could be a disconnect here in terms of understanding. So trusting the media to "do their job" doesn't necessarily mean trusting them to tell the "whole truth".

09:30: John Burness of Duke University: Who covers university issues? Often, this coverage is in the financial section of the paper, not in a section dedicated to education. He thinks the areas where changes have occurred have been within universities & colleges as organisational structures and how they manage themselves.

Stella Hughes: Is institutional change something that isn't yet "grasped" by the media? Is this because there's an ambiguity within higher education about its roles and responsibilities? Mass higher education--almost a contradiction in terms. Is this not seen as an issue for the media, i.e. the transformation of the whole sector?

Tony Burman of Al Jazeera: Higher education's not a monolith, it's not one single institution. There's a "dumbing down" that happens in the coverage.

09:35: Stella Hughes: Media seem to engage in cherry picking of the better stories or the "hottest" stories. They tend to home in on anxieties. Will I get a job? Is it worth doing a degree? And so on. Aren't we losing something by always homing in on those issues and failing to look at what we want, as societies, from the higher education system. Discussion should be more similar to how we talk about the health system and even the school system.

My note: as a formerly elite for of education, postsecondary ed doesn't have that long-term discussion/discourse going where there is a public debate about what would be "good for everyone".

Tony Burman: There's a variety of coverage; it's not all the same.
Hughes: To what extent could the authority of universities, their expertise, be a stumbling block to actually analysing the problems with the system? Are people reluctant to look at the "fundamental challenge" of mass higher education?

09:40: John Burness: Mentions a key point, which is that the responsibility for failing public schools is also being somewhat uploaded to colleges and universities which are expected to fill a skills deficit. We can't even "fix" our own problems, how can we fix these issues as well?

09:45: Hughes: Positioning of higher education in the "knowledge revolution"--shouldn't we be in the best position in this debate? Yet some of the most vital parts of this revolution are think-tanks, silicon valley, other places "outside" universities. "Think tanks are the bridge between knowledge and power." So isn't it important for higher education to claim some ownership of that?

Burness: Higher education needs to create knowledge and disseminate it, which is what it does best. Different issue with think tanks: they are tied to the political process. Their job is less to provide objective info, more to reinforce views from one side or another.

Burman: In Washington [DC] the explosion of news channels shows that more academics are on TV, there's more visibility than ever before.

My note: expertise is very regulated though (i.e. how experts from academe are "chosen"); it's also gendered (more men than women). The people chosen as "experts" even from academic professions are often the same people over and over, and not always commentating on their actual areas of expertise.

09:56: Stella Hughes to Tony Burman: Can you tell the difference when you're interviewing an academic if they've had proper media training?

Tony Burman: Depends where you are. In Canada, the US, Europe, that would be the case. With Al Jazeera we bring in so many academics from so many different backgrounds that there isn't really a combative relationship; we're as interested as they are to make their point clearly, to get through to the audience.

10:05: Great question/comment session. Are universities really doing enough to "defend" themselves from attacks that come from think tanks, from critics through the media, and so on? Why do they move slowly to respond? There is a constant barrage of criticism in the media, much of it not based on any thorough understanding of how universities actually work.

10:20: New session beginning. Time for Keynote talk #1 with Adam Habib, University of Johannesburg, moderated by Karen MacGregor of University World News.

Habib: Scale of meaning in important--when someone says there's a crisis in higher education in the U.S., "part of me says "you don't know what that means.""
When you think about "crises", they mean fundamentally different things in different parts of the world. We need to pay attention to these differences.
The relationship between the university and the media is one that hasn't been sufficiently explored. One reason this needs to happen is for inclusive development: that speaks to the interests of everyone in society. Not just a technocratic and policy process, but a political process about accountability.
For that to happen, the higher education sector and the media must play the roles they need to play; these create political conditions for a robust public discourse about these issues.

10:31: Summarising the role and social function of both the university and the media.

Universities: Role is to provide high level graduates for the economy; to provide a critical citizenry for society; to provide cutting edge research; to enable and enrich the public discourse; to produce the social values of the society and its dominant values in particular; and to harbour intellectual dissidents who ask "hard questions of society".

Role of the media is to keep people informed; to provide voice for citizen & society stakeholders; enhancing accountability of political system; to reflect the voice of corporate and other dominant elites; to expose corruption and the violation of ethics; to enrich the political and policy discourse in society.

Suggests that they should be natural allies and partners even if this partnership will at times be strained.

10:41: Relationship takes between universities and media takes 4 distinct forms:

1. Universities are the subject of reporting and investigation; sometimes this isn't understood/appreciated by those in universities; but universities in particular represent a huge investment of public resources and this is partly where that interest comes from. This is entirely legitimate considering the role of the media in ensuring accountability. The problem is how they think the question through: they approach it with the mentality of an accountant, rather than the substantive, reflective sense.

2. The media is a service provider through which universities enhance academic teaching and research profile particularly through branding and marketing. Many people see marketing as part of corporatisation dynamic. But universities can benefit enormously from appropriate branding and marketing.

3. Universities and media can be partners to enrich the public discourse. Partnering with sections of the media as has happened, successfully, in South Africa. Political accountability and inclusive development.

4. The media acts as an agent of advocacy on behalf of the university. Including sources like Chronicale, Inside Higher Ed, Times Higher Ed, and so on. They report but also advocate on behalf of the sector. The choice of articles often highlights the best aspects of the sector, legitimating the sector.

But when major, politically charged problems have arisen in the universities, both now and in the past, are the university-aligned media recognising this and bringing attention to it? For example, structural adjustment programs in African countries.

10:57: Habib describes transnational issues for universities and media:

--Responsiveness of research questions in the academy to the specific concerns of the developing world. E.g. renewable energy and climate change. Much of the debate in the global academy is focussed on bio-fuels, solar panels, etc.; but how feasible are these kinds of solutions on the African continent? 80% of people there don't have access to energy at all; both cost and energy access need to be considered.

--How legitimate are traditional indicators of university productivity, and rankings? These things must be questions; blind peer review, for example, is not easily achieved in small academic communities. Citations are often talked about, but they're largely influenced by the size of national academies. What is the impact of the spread of international university rankings? Is the media sufficiently aware of how these rankings can subvert national development goals? Rankings can force universities to behave in unhelpful ways.

--Academic book production is declining in many parts of the developing world; this is a product of the measures of academic productivity, which favour journals. A research unit is defined as a journal article, not a monographs; they can get more "research units" credited to them in this way.

--Nature of the global inequality of universities. Good academics in South Africa, for example, want to be published in influential places. But are their issues prioritised? Most of the time, no.

--Annual cost of academic and research journals has been increasing rapidly, seriously compromising the academic project in less developed parts of the world. This is becoming a truly difficult burden for smaller or less well financed institutions. This is no longer just an issue for the developing world, but one that is affecting universities in Europe and the United States (for example). How legitimate is it for academic journals to be housed under and academic banner? Should these not be organised towards public service ends?

1:38PM: Back to live-blogging after a lunch break!

Bill Ayers:
Responsibility of intellectuals and academics entering the public sphere.
"Something of a Stunt Intellectual"...the intellectual that other intellectuals call when they want to jump off a bridge"

Pay attention, be astonished, and then say something about it. God advice for living a moral life, for being a citizen. We are not simply academics. We don't take off our citizenship when we enter the academy. We all have this responsibility, to see everything in its complexity, to be astonished; the joy of living; then to say something about it, to comment on it.
--What are we not seeing today? What are we not opening our eyes to today? As with slavery in the past.
If you take that rhythm, opening your eyes, that's not something you can do "once" a lifetime or once a week, it's an infinite dynamic ongoing world, opening your eyes is something that you must do again and again and again." We're horrified and delighted and we speak up.
We have to doubt that wheat we've seen is all there is to see, that what we've said is all there is to say. There's always something new, new insights, new perspectives. f we avoid the last step then we slip easily into dogma.

1:41PM: Bill Ayers: Nothing precious or special about academics speaking in the public sphere; we shouldn't remove ourselves from what's happening.
Academic freedom is an instance of free speech; a particular place of free speech, a kind of free speech. We should defend on the basis of universality of free speech, not specialness of free speech (in the university; in society).
Cold wind blowing through the academy: it silences academics but it also silences everyone else. When academics are attacked publicly, what does that mean to everyday people, to teachers, when even a powerful celebrity intellectual can be brought down? We need to defend academic freedom because it's a part of general freedom of speech.

We don't need freedom of speech to repeat established and accepted ideas. We need it to question those ideas. The ways in which common sense comes to normalise insane ideas. Academics have a special responsibility to push back against that.

1:46PM: A general problem: the shrinking of the public square, something that should concern everybody. It gets shrunk because we take an anemic view of what democracy is or could be. This kills the spirit of democracy, a spirit of dialogue and mutual respect, rests on a precious and fragile ideal: the incalculable value of every human being

We have to push the notion that democracy requires dialogue. The fullest development of all of us is the condition for the fullest development of each of us.
Democracy by its nature is dialogical and dialectical. Whatever new consensus we arrive at, we have to re-examine, re-look. It's never finished: it's a project always in the making. It requires an alter, attentive citizenry. It requires the arts.

Education should be a place where we imagine the "alternatives". The arts show us world world in another way. This opens the space for real democratic thinking.
The way we're living is not adequate. We are more, that definition doesn't limit us, we could be more.
Our job as intellectuals is to always make things more complicated. Teaching the taboo: teaching what we don't know. Teaching how to ask the questions that need to be asked. it's always the next question that's interesting.

1:52PM: Art is what urges voyages: if you think about education broadly, including the media and advertising and public debate/discussion, education does not require obedience and conformity; the excising of the arts from the curriculum is always a big message to everybody else. It's a public pedagogy.

Guilt by association is the real danger. If anyone (dissident) shared a church, a neighbourhood, with Obama, he would be tainted by association: but this should be a virtue, not a sin; to leave the path and spend time around diverse groups. When strange and weird and wild winds can blow, that's when we stand the best chance of living in a real democracy that has real substance.

2:14PM: Social Media on Campus keynote talk.

Alfred Hermida (moderator): Social media is an elusive term--it's hard to explain to someone who doesn't know what it is.
Characterised by collaboration. Can disrupt hierarchical systems. As educators we're figuring out, how do we navigate these media?
Social media are about networked, asynchronous, distributed dynamics. Participation, collaboration, sharing, fluidity.

Sydneyeve Matrix (speaker): social web: commerce, culture, information...digital proclivities; web first.
Teaching the connected cohort: everyone has a camera, everyone has a phone...technologies that work as social cohesion.
Building a shared economy

Facebook generation: parents, teachers;
bringing expectations that are "super-disruptive". Personalise the experience of the campus, personalise their experiences of the campus, of courses, of course content.
Infovores...consuming and creating digital media.

Real time information must be "super-fresh". Sometimes instant isn't even fast enough. Students will crowdsource every single lesson. News-sharing.

tech-forward initiatives; strongly appeal to "Generation Y". We know we can get buy in from this; students will also do better this way.
Plugged-in courses, plugged-in campus; these drive student engagement.

2:29PM: Leading to "better outcomes" by using technology.

Teaching in the age of Wikipedia and Google. Students push back every time they need to "memorise" something. Do we NEED multiple choice exams? When we have Wikipedia? Those are conversations we aren't really having in mainstream news.

Personal learning environments, on campus, and reportage; we have a tech skills gap. In terms of faculty administrators, staff, C-suite, and so on; and students have expectations, and some profs are already trying to make change and having a hard time.

Reverse techno-mentoring? A fix for these problems. Grabbing someone young and getting them to show you what they do with technology.
What are we doing on campus already? Social media on campus is about Q&A right now. How do I get in, where do I get my meal card, etc.

2:39PM:
"Like a Little" --"flirting" on campus. (Example of how students adopt technology)
Privilege intergenerational relationships; helps us to keep up.

Launching a web site for a class and socialising it. Page must change every hour; social recognition is the currency of the web, and they can get it when their content is being splashed across the class page/feed.

Need to teach where the students already are; e.g. teaching on Facebook.
--Teaching on niche social networks like Ning. Niche sites are gated communities, so what's different about twaching on Facebook and teaching somewhere like Ning?
--Wordpress: open-source teaching, student blogging, and so on. You get a lot of traffic on a blog/website when you do this.
--Social publishing: microcontent "purpose-built for sharing".

High proportion of students have smart phones.
We need to be smart phone ready. If this isn't a priority for you and your content but this is your demographic, you should be thinking about it.
iTunes U: do students like to listen to lectures? Definitely. Lots of demand for Podcasts and videos.

"Comfort of ambient connectivity". "Digital pain": what happens when students don't get their WiFi, their plugs for electronic devices, and so on. How do we manage this?
--Get text and email (SMS) reminders before assignments are due? Only 8% of students opted into this. Students didn't want their private/personal phones; they didn't want to hear from the prof through SMS.
--Backchannel: Twitter is [apparently] already "old school".

2:44PM: "Just in time learning"?--"I'm not going to worry about that exam in December.
[My note: why on earth would we want to encourage this kind of learning habit?]
QR codes: students want to scan things. [What about students who don't have a Blackberry? Or who can't afford a SmartPhone?]
Students want to "add value" to the community, add value to the course web site. Integrate mainstream media into the classroom as well as social media.

Losing control: what happens when students "over-share"? Example of the girl who posted a racist video. Any example of unfortunate Twitter or Facebook status updates.

4:31PM: Panel on "What do new media offer that mainstream media don't?"

Wilf Dinnick, Open File: readers have the oportunity to suggest stories which we then follow up with professional reporters; stories that readers suggest are almost always more popular in terms of readership (metrics). In academe you have a huge potential to source information that you may not have known was "out there".
Set out to engage the public differently than the way the mainstream media do. Huge potential to tap into an audience or group that has expertise.

Vinita Srivastava, Ryerson: Level of coverage, e.g. post-9/11, is not critical or informative enough.
Social media and bloggers can't necessarily "lead" a news cycle; we still need resources in the mainstream media, and with media consolidation fewer and fewer investigative reporters are employed and available to provide in-depth reporting.
There's a "gap" in mainstream media, a "disappointment"; some of that is being filled by the way users employ social media.
"Going viral": otherwise obscure issues can become very, very public through dissemination, such as the student who was tasered on campus; YouTube videos circulated and made the mainstream media.

4:42PM: Daniel deVise, Washington Post: Su Meck, story of the woman who re-made her life after she lost her memory; it was on the front page of the Post yet it circulated far more through "new media" channels, and many people didn't even know that it has been a Washington Post story. "Vast army" of people who are reiterating, restating all over the place; people "take the stuff that we write and replicate it", which is great because it's dissemination. The Post is just one piece of "thing huge thing", the newspaper is now like "one massive op-ed page". Many many more people are "out there" writing their opinion of things; great writers, brilliant people, wonderful content. We've tried to match new media, through blogs and Twitter. This also brings content to the paper that wouldn't ordinarily be there. Finite number of news producers, large number of circulators and commentators.

4:49PM: Mary Churchill, University of Venus: New media as a game-changer for Gen-X women in higher education. Blog was started over a year ago. Started on WordPress blog with just 8 authors. Reading things online and reporting and commenting. 4 months into the project, Inside Higher Ed offered a spot on their site. 90,000 viewers from a couple of hundred (!). Twitter was one way through which this happened. Found new readers and also new writers, also international not only in the United States and Canada. Presence on Facebook, page now has 800+ "likes". Facebook gives very good demographic shots; shows the readers tend to reflect the topic of the blog. Another development: relationship with Guardian.co.uk; over 250 comments on "Women and leadership in Higher Ed". [My note: see my post called "Leading the Pack"]. This led to further blog posts by UVenus writers.
Shared tactics; new knowledge; community building; etc. With new readers come new writers.
New media provides a new playing field; subjectivity; insider knowledge; build community; solve problems.

5:16PM: Next panel time--> Alfred Hermida, JAmes Compton, Patric Lane, Mary Churchill. Social Media from the university and College Perspective: What are the Implications?

Mary Churchill: University of Venus--GenX women in higher ed--tired of being silenced; junior faculty were told that they were like children.
The most compelling piece in social media was having a story to tell.
Making sure that writers were in different countries, where they had different audiences; this helped to bring in new writers. Huge diversity of authors and issues.

5:30PM: James Compton, U Western Ontario [President of Faculty Association]: Collective bargaining. Faculty Association web site; creation of Facebook Page (launched about 2 weeks before strike deadline). Op-ed piece in student newspaper "I [heart] librarians"; worked very well on web site & elsewhere. Lots of people within the librarian community across Canada joined this page. With faculty it was a different scenario, Facebook site didn't do anything helpful. Difference in cohorts; librarians all know each other, a small community; they come together to support each other. The faculty didn't have the same existing real-world social network to tap into.

5:42PM: Patric Lane: Health & Science editor at UNC Chapel Hill. Former journalist--bringing the "Voice of the Devil's Advocate". :-)
Many people are still not very familiar with social media.
Positive benefits of social media [Mark Twain quote]? "[Social media] is fatal to prejudice, bigotry..." Like travel.
"Digital Natives"? [Note: he seems to be using this term uncritically; and I know many of us would disagree with this!]
Continuing the metaphor of travel...help people navigate. Build a social media presence/s; you need to help people find the channels that will prove useful to them. Practical tools: at UNC, a social media directory helps people to find what they need.
"Speak the language clearly": To reach an audience, don't use jargon.
Other destinations: How to draw in social media "travellers"?
Required skills and experience: to make a case for proper use of social media...extreme cat-herding; built-in institutional and social GOS; Devil's advocate; ability to boil watched pots.

5:51PM: Alfred Hermida on social media--representing ourselves in a specific way; blurring the professional and personal. How does our social media "personality" show as a representation of self to peers, students, etc.
Conversations: all archived, searchable, retrievable.
Sharing: at the heart of social media; being social implies some kind of exchange. Social media as the "gift economy". Extends the "reach" of your academic research. But there's more to this than just promotion. Who are your contacts in the network? Groups have different interests; share links to jobs, because students might be looking. Colleagues might be interested in research you come across.
Relationships: How we connect and extend ourselves to different people. Nature of connections determines the "what" and the "how" of social interaction.
What is your network expecting from you?
All factors come together as part of our reputation on social media. How do we rate our social media reputation? In some ways it's all about peer evaluation. How do we assign value to what we do on social media and how we do it? How does this relate to other professional activity?

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