Thursday, June 23, 2011

Universities & the Media, Part 2: Why the Media Matter

Yesterday I wrote about some of the main themes we find in current media coverage of post-secondary education, and of universities in particular. Much of this coverage is highly critical of various aspects of university education and in many cases these criticisms are entirely justified, particularly from the perspective of students and parents, who represent a large audience for education coverage.

In spite of highlighting relevant issues, the critical arguments made in the media and in the "crisis literature" (and even in the comment sections of news websites) often seem ill informed. So while there are serious problems with some of the changes happening in universities, the debates that happen in the media don't necessarily contribute to public debate in a productive way.

This is why one of the themes throughout the WorldViews conference was the presence or absence of "trust" in the university-media relationship and the ways in which the university can be "mis-represented" when it does not actively seek to inform publics about the nature of its role, its functioning, and its usefulness to society.

The assumptions underlying many critiques of post-secondary education tend to be the same assumptions that then frame suggestions for the reform, or renewal, of universities. It's often argued that we must either return to (the best aspects of ) the university of the past, or destroy the institution utterly and begin again with a lighter, cheaper, more innovative and adaptable model, one that can somehow resolve the weighty tension between democratic and meritocratic that has become so much more evident in recent years; all the while becoming financially self-sustaining.

By some commentators, the techno-futuristic (and somewhat libertarian) argument is made that the introduction of new disruptive technologies, particularly the Internet and digital media, will force universities to change themselves and offer "value beyond content" as it were--since all "knowledge" will be available to students on the Web.

I think these arguments often ignore or discount the relational nature of education and conflate information with knowledge, assuming that education is the "delivery" of a product. They also reflect commitment to technological determinism, the idea that technologies drive social and cultural change; and they seem to assume that a high degree of individualism is necessary/desirable.

One issue I did not hear discussed at the WorldViews conference was whether post-secondary education earns more media attention now than in the past, and whether the nature of the coverage has changed over time. Because this question informs a part of my dissertation, I had it in my mind throughout the conference. I became interested in the question through having done media discourse analysis in the past, and through analysing universities' public relations materials for my MA project.

The small amount of preliminary research I've done shows an increase to the amount of coverage universities receive, over a 30-year period. I'll need a much more exhaustive corpus of news coverage from the 1970s and 1980s before I can say for sure, but I think the coverage has probably changed quantitatively as well as qualitatively, and that that's the case then there are plenty of reasonable explanations for the change. (I was focussing only on one university, as well; I'd love to expand that and study the issue in more depth for a larger project.)

For one thing, universities now receive far more "exposure" to different publics; more people come into contact with universities than in the past. This is a process that began decades ago and has waxed and waned over time, but at the moment PSE enrolments are higher than ever before and so the student exposure alone has increased significantly. This process of massification (which I've also discussed here) was mentioned by Philip Altbach at a panel on the second day of the conference, but that was the only time I saw the issue raised explicitly.

Not only are there more students in the universities, but these students are paying more for their education. Tuition tends to be on the rise in the U.S. (e.g. in the collapsing California system), in Canada, and most notably of late, in the U.K. where the government has raised the tuition cap from about £3,000 to £9,000. The cost of education is being transferred onto the individual even as the value of education to the individual is seen to be in decline.

This form of privatisation tends to encourage a consumerist attitude towards education, and changes the dynamic between universities, students, parents and also the media. Rankings tables create comparisons between institutions that allow for informed consumer "choice" (among other things); Macleans magazine designs its yearly university rankings issue as a guide for student/family stakeholders. Because students are assumed to rely on their parents or families for this money, parents too become increasingly invested in the "quality" of university education.

Universities have responded to marketisation, and to the privatisation/diversification of their funding sources, by investing more in strategic communication including advertising and branding, various forms of public relations, and reputation building efforts aimed at different key stakeholder audiences (public/taxpayers, students, parents, the government, granting agencies, donors, alumni and so on). These efforts tend to affect media coverage as well.

Why does media coverage matter? With all the trends taken into account, it's clear that government policy, not only in post-secondary education but also in science and technology, intellectual property, and other knowledge policy areas, affects more people than ever. It's therefore more likely to be the subject of heated public debate.

Universities need to pay closer attention the ways in which universities and PSE in general are discussed in newspapers, on TV, in magazines, and on the Internet, because these media have a strong hand in setting the terms of that important discussion. This is also where the terms of policy may be set out openly, where members of the voting public begin to make choices about what they support politically.

Attitudes and beliefs are circulated, reinforced, and re-formed both in the news and in the discussions that happen that are based on or triggered by media coverage. And what people believe, they tend to act (or vote) on. Universities have ramped up their efforts to present themselves positively, yet coverage of university education has been dominated by overwhelmingly negative discourses.

What is the disconnect happening here, and what can universities do to better inform the debate about them that ultimately happens beyond their walls, and beyond their control? How do universities adapt to this fast-paced communicative context wherein critiques and problems are amplified so rapidly? I think this is one of the major challenges not just for universities but for all organisations, at a time when negative messages can easily "go viral" through social media.* Universities, with their deep institutional roots and their immediate connection to young people, may feel this pressure even more. They'll also need to find an answer to it, since the (real and mediated) experiences of today's students will eventually shape the decisions they make about the educational systems of tomorrow.

[*I'm interested to see whether universities begin to engage differently with students who already attend, and to enlist them in ongoing efforts to build reputation and shape expectations of future students and their parents.]

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Universities and the Media, Part 1: What They Say About Us

Last week I attended The WorldViews Conference on Media and Higher Education, which ran from the 16th to the 18th of June, 2011 in Toronto. I was able to spend the full three days at the conference, and was lucky to meet face-to-face many of the people with whom I’d already chatted on Twitter (notably, Mary Churchill and Lee Skallerup), and whose articles I had read in the press or academic journals.

I made a Twitter list of conference Tweeps, based on tweets using the #WV2011 tag. I also wrote a live blog during the sessions I attended at the conference; here are the links to my rough notes from day one, day two and day three of the conference, if you're interested in seeing the content in more detail. There's an archive of tweets from the conference (created by Caitlin Kealey) available here.

The conference addressed an array of issues including the effects of international rankings on university governance; the role of science journalism; the relationship between academic experts and journalists; the continued under-representation of expertise from women, people of colour, and members of developing/Global South countries; and, of course, the nature of media coverage of higher education.

What exactly does current (mainstream) media coverage of post-secondary education look like, and why does this matter?

One of the primary organising themes in media coverage of PSE is that of the value of education, usually its economic value (as measured by the additional income generated for individuals from a PSE credential). The question of value is usually posed as one of whether a degree is “worth it”—“it” being the cost of tuition and living expenses, or in some cases the debt that a student may incur if s/he cannot pay up-front. I've even addressed this theme a number of times here in my blog.

Advocates of the continuing value of PSE tend to argue that average post-graduation lifetime earnings justify the rising short-term cost of a university education, and/or that the non-monetary benefits of PSE should be recognised. But the chorus of critics has begun to drown out these optimistic (and often over-simplistic) arguments. Now that so many people are receiving university degrees, in an increasingly unstable global economy, there's no "guarantee" that going to university will land you a job, let alone help you become "upwardly-mobile". Since living costs and tuition are increasing rapidly, the calculation of "risk" and "reward" in higher education becomes more of a focus. More students are taking on loans, which increase the risk involved (one needs to be able to repay one's debts from the additional income generated later).

Some coverage also focusses on how undergraduate students are "cheated" by a university system brimful of over-privileged professors who do very little work for high pay, and who would prefer not to have to deal with students at all. The university is already perceived as an arena for the elite, always somehow disconnected from "real" life and work, and such myths are reinforced by articles like this one from The Weekly Standard.

The assessment of value has also been applied to graduate education, and there's a raft of commentary on the futility of the PhD, particularly in the Humanities. The “ponzi scheme” image is invoked as a means of highlighting the relationship between the "production" of new PhDs and the (proportionally) shrinking number of tenure track academic positions available.

The latest critiques link higher education directly to economic tropes, invoking concepts such as "sub-prime education" (a comparison between sub-prime mortgages in the United States, and student loans) and the idea of higher education as an economic "bubble", popularised by PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel.

News media articles, blog posts and think-tank reports are joined by books that represent not merely criticism but a "crisis literature," like the infamous Academically Adrift in which the authors claim that universities are not performing well enough in their educative role (i.e. students are not "learning" anything), and even the more recent Lowering Higher Education: The Rise of Corporate Universities and the Fall of Liberal Education from James Côté and Anton Allahar in Canada (both of whom also co-authored Ivory Tower Blues). While these books contain many valid critiques, and they do "stimulate [public] debate" as their authors usually intend (Côté & Allahar, 2011, p.3), the critiques are often presented in a sensationalistic or reductionist way.

Along with the many public arguments made about the failings of universities to educate students, there is a parallel if more specialised thread of critique. Often found in the business section of newspapers, this argument invokes "innovation" and commercialisation as under-developed in Canada--that universities should play a more effective (economic) role in their research and development capacity, too. It's worth noting that this criticism has been levelled at universities, and at Canadian industry and funding councils, for decades (Dufour & de la Mothe, 1993, p.12).

In a second post tomorrow, I'll take a look at the implications of some of these criticisms and the assumptions underlying them, as well as some of the reasons why media coverage of universities is important for students, faculty, and parents, and for politicians and policy makers.

Reference: Dufour, P. & de la Mothe, J. (1993). The historical conditioning of S&T. In De la Mothe, J. & Dufour, P. (Eds.), Science and technology in Canada (pp. 6--22). Harlow, UK: Longman.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

"Live" Blog from Worldviews Conference 2011: Day 3

0924: First panel of the day: Do rankings in the media drive university priorities? Moderator: Scott Jaschik; Bob Morse, US News; John O'Leary, Times Good University Guide; Simon Beck, Globe & Mail; Mary Dwyer, Macleans; Indira Samarasekera, University of Alberta; David Naylor, University of Toronto.

Bob Morse: Citation analysis; are we creating bad behaviour? There's a large impact on academia from our best college rankings, no doubt. Many academic studies showing that the US News Best College Rankings influenced decision within the university, influenced priorities and strategies. These actions the schools take could be argued as both positive and negative. An example from a recent study (May 2010), NACA (admissions counsellors in high school, Canada & US); study on US News rankings on admissions counsellors perspectives. Rankings have grown in influence over the past 5 years. The majority hold a negative opinion of the rankings. 90% believed the rankings put pressure on the schools to maintain ranking; 46% believed that their schools make programmatic changes (other schools do it; we don't).

From a ranker's perspective, the academic reality is that you can be heavily criticised by Provost, President, but the campus can still be using the rankings for marketing and alumni. Is this hypocrisy?
Should be viewed as part of US higher ed accountability movement. Education policies and fund expended, how much they learn, whether the students earn enough to pay off their loans.

Rankings created a competitive environment in higher ed that didn't happen before; some see this as an improvement. Rankings are no an annual public benchmark against which academics measure themselves. Moving up in the rankings has become often a very public goal for universities.

College presidents are able to say that rankings have become a management tool. They're able to say if they move up in rankings, that means that our educational policies have worked; they've made "progress". Make administrators do the wrong thing? Is the sole purpose to improve in the rankings? Are the decisions good for students, do they foster learning? Are those policy choices good or not? When a school makes an effort to improve graduation rates... [he assumes this means that schools fund more classes; but I would disagree.] Students "benefit" from the rankings. They can attract better faculty and students.

Some call ranking a case of extreme unintended consequences; there have been a lot of these consequences. But rankings have become a reality and they've become the forefront of higher ed. I think the rankings are here to stay.

09:32: John O'Leary: It would be naive to believe that there's been no effect. Very different effect in the UK but still a major influence. Started in 1993. Influence that "no ranker wants": most don't want any influence because this distorts the ranking process as well as distorting education, But they do have an effect. What isn't affected are the universities in a position of strength at the top. Oxford and Cambridge have been first and second every year.

Southampton university was deciding whether to take in a college of education and were concerned about the effect of this on their ranking. They realised and still took in the college. Ranking dropped but then rose again after a few years.
Main drivers are the governors of universities and to some extent the alumni.

Effect on applications; but not for all universities. But the rankings do effect prestige and the international market. Concern that it'll distort the mission of universities further down the tables, particularly those that want to open access (this would lower the average entry grade of students coming in). Research is only one measure of 8, in the domestic case (UK).

Some beneficial effects; the UK rankings most ehavily weighting factor was teahcing quality, which made universities pay a lot more attention than they had before the rankings existed. Eventually the universities had the system abolished; there are now student satisfaction measures, having the effect also of paying more attention to students. Happy to admit that there is an effect on behaviour but not all negative.

Simon Beck: Canadian University Report Globe & Mail for past 10 years; not a ranking, student satisfaction survey. Annual survey of students is based on grades, we do compare and contrast universities but it's based purely on a survey of undergraduates.
Larger schools tend not to do as well on the survey.

One past UT President's reaction to not getting a good result on the survey: "Why the hell should we care what students think about the burgers in our cafeteria?"

An increase in response to the student survey from Canadian universities. Student satisfaction has gone to the top of universities' agendas. "You're providing a service to a consumer, students are paying customers and their quality of life is important. [Note: annoying when things like class size are linked to consumerist attitudes. Class size is important but why should this be something driven by a consumerist perspective?]

Universities have been influenced by rankings but this is not always a positive thing [all panelists seem to agree on this so far. Ironic?]

Focusing attention on the quality of life of undergraduate students. Criticism of international rankings is that there's too much emphasis on research. As long as universities are paying attention to rankings for the right reasons this is a positive thing [what exactly are the right reasons?]

[Note: it's very evident from what these panelists are saying that rankings contribute significantly to marketisation of university education, including the references to students as consumers.]

09:45: Mary Dwyer, Macleans: 2 decades of ranking. I gather that the rankings DO have an influence on university priorities, to what extent and effect, it's harder to say. I've heard of both positive and negative effects.
No perfect mechanism for comparing universities across the country; the universities vary quite a bit. When we set up the rankings we had many consultations with universities and education experts to decide what should be included.

Is there too much focus on research? In Macleans, 5 years ago we changed how we did the ranking; switched to collecting third-party data from sending a long survey to universities. Having to work now with available data.
Macleans, there IS more of a focus on research funding.

What would be some of our "dream" indicators? What about quality of teaching? We can look at faculty teaching awards; but this is a very difficult thing to measure, there's no data there that just show what this quality level is. Same with student outcomes; and student satisfaction; interested in results of the NSSE survey [too bad there have been many methodological flaws in that one as well].

Rankings are just one tool that can get the ball rolling for students. The rankings issue still sells very well after 20 years; there's a strong interest in this information. Students can look at data for every indicator and see the numbers. They can compare the schools [again: this is a marketisation tactic--comparing schools means "consumer choice" is invoked.]

09:56: Common university data for Ontario. One of the organisers behind CUDO saying "we don't really expect students and their parents to be looking up this data." A lot of this kind of information does get presented in the media but interested readers can dig deeper.

Indira Samarasekera, President, University of Alberta: Speak to the Canadian context; students tend to stay close to home, to go to school in their home market. Because of this the comparison of universities across Canada has little effect on the majority of students.
University priorities: David Naylor and I decided that we didn't want to use public money to support rankings that we at the time didn't believe were serving the university mission of teaching and research. We boycotted the rankings; the data avilable publicly was used. I think we stood for a principle that rankings shouldn't consume university resources.

Second difficulty; individual indicators are potentially useful b/c they show what colleagues and peers are doing; but put "in a blender" they become a meaningless number. Our students never pay attention to this; we pay no attention either. No-one noticed this on campus when we went up in the rankings. It depends on how institutions have viewed the rankings.
Drive uni priorities to the extent we value the data Macleans outs out because it provides comparison to peers, not because we want to change our position. Our priorities are reall driven by our teaching and research mission; most concerned about undergrad student experience. Funding in Canadian universities has been on the decline.

If they did use measures that were meaningful, maybe we would use them to make changes.

People use proxies for education quality rather than actual measures of educational quality. You can't measure educational quality directly. Student-faculty ratio? One metric for a whole university? Same with class sizes. An outstanding professor with 1,000 students is better than a crap professor with a class of 2 students. Students have no way of comparing their experiences to those of someone in another class; they tend to respond according to their easiness of the class, whether they got a good grade, and so on.

10:05: David Naylor: compares university rankings to a colonoscopy ;-)
Aggregation of a mixed bag of measures--even if they were perfect--that causes concern. You're looking at a certain reductionism.
There is a certain cynicism about this.

Issue of measurement is inevitable; part of the ethos of our time. Public accountability is inevitable and reasonable. If you don't have god measures you can end up with a quite misleading portrait of an institution. Ranking agencies that have disaggregated data: a good idea, very helpful for students and families.
Yes, I worry about the burgers. The reality is that food service is a part of the student experience.
Broad academic priorities: the rankings don't drive what we do. We also respond to labour markets, to research priorities, and so on.

Disaggregate rankings by types of institutions. Yes the categories are arbitrary but at least we can try to avoid the comparison of highly different institutions.

Yes, universities shamelessly flog the rankings when it's to their advantage. You want to call this hypocrisy? I call it creative adaptation.

10:15: New open sourced modes of collaboration for academics online. Speakers: John Willinsky, UBC & Stanford; Mia Quint Rapaport.

Emphasis on a lot of "openness": and focussing in on specific projects.
Publishing as a form of scholarly communication.
The journal is a carry over from the 17th century; how is open source changing that? What are the instruments used in open collaboration?

Public Knowledge Project: an urge to do something about sharing knowledge.
Faculty of education: we try to get teacher candidates interested in research before they get sent out into the classroom.

Something wrong with this picture: we want to share knowledge, but you're not allowed to share academic knowledge because it's restricted. Contradiction in terms and in practice.
What would it take to make research available to the public?

1999: How can we get our journals online? We've always been a print journal!
Undergrads explained: a new open source movement. This gave a focus, to build something that could be shared.

Open Journal Systems: as a platform for people to publish. A way to do a traditional practice. You pretend to change only one thing. Say to journal editors: there's only one thing that'll be different. You can still do all your traditional practices; but you'll have a copy online. The platform was free and distributed for free; shared software.

Scholarly communication needs a series of platforms, places where we can come together and work, to reduce costs.

What's your excuse for not sharing your knowledge? What are the technical barriers?
Everyone will download and no-one will buy journal anymore. But this isn't what happened. There's been a continued subscription in print.

9,300 journals have used the software. What are the implications for this? Starting figure in journal publishing was... we don't know how many journals there are. About 25,000; some say 50,000.

New kinds of platforms create new communities, more forms of communication and collaboration. We couldn't even send people an email unless they asked for it. They could download the software without us knowing. It could be modified; it was theirs to develop and build upon. Open source economy is very different.

10:45: Scholar-publishers: an ancient phenomenon that virtually disappeared in the face of commercialisation of journals. Losing access because of the high price of journals; corporate consolidation. Increasingly buying up smaller publishers. Creating an alternative channel; a non-proprietary, non-market economy. 9,000 journals that aren't part of the 25,00 journals; a good proportion were new but a good amount were also already "alternative", outside the notion of commercialism.

Scholars come together--low barrier to publishing; ability to circumvent both commercial publishers and societies. Built in all the processes used in journal publishing; emulated this in a workflow. Including double blind peer review and so on.

Half of the journals that are using OJS are in developing countries. 4,500 visible journals, visible and searchable on Google Scholar (for example). Biggest continental "user" is Latin America. 30% have more than five editors; collaborative basis; once it's on the web, people can edit from anywhere. Rejection rate: distribution among the journals. 70% to 30%; it's a range. A profile that matches traditional journals.

In the "old days" you'd find scholars in the print shops [note: this is a great point; printers, writers, and others would all mingle in the print shop as a space of meeting and collaboration, discussion, debate.]

How do people contribute in terms of the software? Now: OJS, editors taking things back into their own hands. Core team of developers run through SFU library. 3,500 people participate on online forum, providing code and plug-ins and constructive criticism.

11:02: No official university policy around developing open source software. This is very important for biological and scientific research. Online global communities of academics have been developing.

Google Scholar approached us: they wanted to improve the indexing of the OJS journals. Open source projects are often under the radar. Google worked closely with us.

11:11: Emphasis on non-commercial vs. anti-commercial. Most important issue of academic freedom; open source software is at least one part of the future of academic freedom. To have your work reviewed and respected for what it's worth.

11:20: New panel: What are the emerging issues in higher education that the media could cover? Moderator: Stella Hughes, UNESCO. Panelists: Jane Knight, OISE; Vanessa Bridge, U of Leeds; Paul Fain, Widmeyer Communications; Philip Fine, University World News; Glen Jones, OISE; Mike Schoenfeld, Duke University.

Biggest story that I see right now is the lack of trust in higher ed. There are a ton of stories about the higher ed bubble. [Disruptive innovation!]

Major topics and themes in higher education right now: sports, salacious behaviour, salaries, tuition and cost, and for elite national media, the constant competition for admission to most selective universities in U.S. Policy environment, also media coverage, shows a huge amount of skepticism, but there's still a very high degree of trust in higher education institutions.

Economic impact of higher education: institutions of higher ed especially with medical centres have become some of the largest employers in the US. But you wouldn't know that from the higher education news coverage. Linkage between K-12 and higher education; they tend to look at the two as discreet, different entities. No connection between them.

Changes in the nature of teaching and learning. Media coverage tends to be focused on what are they not learning; or how is technology going to change the way we teach and learn. There's a lot of interesting things happening out there, that are NOT part of the media lexicon. [Very, very good points here!]

Stella Hughes: What do you think is one of the most significant issues that could suddenly come into the spotlight in the media? "Stir of interest".

Glen Jones: Quality of national data about higher education. The state of national data infrastructure has been in severe decline. E.g. Statistics Canada long form; [also YITS and others have lost funding; Canada Council for Learning]. The way we make policy decisions is based on data, but we know almost nothing about students and faculty and this is a huge detriment. There are some provincial data systems but most provinces are reliant on national data. Government is increasing release times on data as well; this is a very important story about how we make policy decisions; but it's a "dull" story, so it doesn't tend to make the media.

11:45: Higher ed should be more aggressive in trying to tell the stories about what it actually does.

Media are "transfixed by a very traditional notion of higher education". It's a romantic, quaint notion, describing a rapidly shrinking minority of the students engaged in higher education. No story arc for the less traditional forms of higher education. Students are going to come back to college/university multiple times; so the 4-year degree with 18-year-olds is becoming a very outdated notion.

Glen Jones: Internationally: the notion of increasing markets for faculty and for students is where things are going. Student recruitment student mobility; international student market. But less coverage about parallel story of faculty, "arms race" for top faculty [see yesterday's blog for more on that!]. Increasing differentiation of faculty careers in different countries and within countries. Opportunities vary a lot for different groups/people. It's not just a matter of getting more students in, we have to provide a good learning environment as well.

"Incredible renewal" of faculty upcoming. [Prob is that we've been hearing this for years and years.] More diversity.

Lack of understanding of who faculty members are. In the US we haven't had the conversation about this. Universities are hiring adjuncts in huge numbers without discussing whether that really makes sense.

Glen Jones: Lots of focus in the media on research universities, but relatively little conversation about changes to publication, of ratings and rankings and research productivity. Most major publications are associated with only a few large international companies. Destabilisation of traditional mechanisms of higher education. What does this mean for tenure and promotion, broader hierarchies of institutions, etc.

Paul Fain: "DIY U" [book that's out right now.] But a lot of free lectures are created by higher education research institutions.
Straighter Line; breaks courses into individual, cheap, online courses that you can buy from the company.

Mike Schoenfeld: Crowdsourcing, Wikipedia, etc. have already created an environment that's de-linking knowledge from credentials. Now you can get the knowledge without the credential. Where will the value end up? This is a new issue that the media will grapple with over time.

Paul Fain: Send a powerful message; Peter Thiel offered the scholarships of 100K to young people if they don't go to university. One of the most public examples at the moment.

Stella Hughes: What political battles are on the horizon, for faculty and students, national and international?

3:27PM: Wrap up panel: The role of media and higher education in promoting democratic culture. George Fallis, York University; John Burness, Duke University; moderated by Noreen Golfman.

George Fallis: Democratic culture: what is a democracy? How do we define it? Is Canada a democracy? The idea is rooted in political equality, an idea that all human beings are equal. (Universal Declaration of Human Rights) That's the root of a democracy. The idea is that people can govern themselves because they're free and endowed with reason [Liberal political discourse].

3:35: Academic literature: basic intuition is fine, but the actual definition of democracy is always ongoing. Not synonymous with freedom; negative and positive liberty [freedom from; freedom to]. "Thick" and "thin" definitions of democracy. Who are the opponents of democracy? It's about people governing themselves, so one of the opponents of democracy is "experts". It's never achieved; it's an ideal, and it's always under pressure.

There's even a ranking of democracy, and it looks somewhat like the university rankings. E.g. minority rights; peaceful transfer of power, and so on. Another category in the index: freedom of speech, thought, freedom of association, equality before the law, freedom of speech and so on. What about the political culture of a country? You can have institutions, but you might not have a vibrant democracy without characteristics of civil society.

3:37: The press/the media are clearly "there" in a democracy; everybody understands the role of the media in a democracy [really? I'd contest that one!]. The media monitor the state of democracy in a country [again--highly contested idea]. New technologies are opening up possibilities for a more vibrant discussion. The notions of author and distributor are being broadened.

Universities are virtually never mentioned in the literature about democracy. And in the definitions and index of democracy they say very little about education. What's the role that professors can play in democratic life? They contribute in ways that can be very like what the media do.

A government FOR the people? Basic characteristics of democracy--provide the positive liberty so that people can flourish to their full potential. The university has a significant role in this. But we haven't begin to reflect much about how good citizens are "created". The historic literature on education has much to contribute. The Greek notion of education was rooted in the idea of how good citizens are created.

3:41: Liberal education; the most important role that universities can play in a democracy is how they educate their students; we're now doing a poor job b/c we've pushed this away, we focus on employability, on research culture, and so on. While universities must conceive and evaluate themselves as institutions of democracy, we must be honest that our record on supporting democracy is not that great--universities weren't places where transformation to democratic life took place; and tough education breaks down some inequality, it also creates another level of inequality around "merit". So while we have equality of opportunity we're creating inequalities through a meritocratic system.

We have to acknowledge that much of what we do creates an inequality that's problematic in a democracy. We also create experts who try to shape/frame the public debate, which democracy is about the wisdom of citizens to govern themselves.

Academic freedom: in a democratic society, when that government provides the money to allow us to do what we do, there's a deep tension between parliament's responsibility to be accountable, and our desire for academic freedom. Some of the tensions we're facing are laudable in the sense that it's a democratic society asking to understand what we do and whether we do it well and whether the outcomes we claim are following from our work are what people want, and are being achieved. Tension between government support and academic freedom.

John Burness: Importance of linguistics. What do the terms mean that we're using? E.g. very different ideas of who the media are and what they do.

In the U.S. higher education is such a diverse enterprise that the label "higher education" is seen as an aggregated enterprise, when it's anything but. It's not a monolith, but it tends to be seen that way in a lot of the reporting that happens.

University mission statements: is the promotion of democracy part of the mission statements of universities? Academic freedom: encourages academics and others within the university to have the kinds of debates that are supposed to happen in the broader societies. Universities are places where people are encouraged to disagree. Younger people should be able to take these viewpoints and come to their own conclusions [critical thinking].

Friday, June 17, 2011

"Live" Blog from Worldviews Conference 2011: Day 2

09:12: Panel now beginning: Science research, science journalism, and science policy. Hosted by Bob MacDonald of CBC's Quirks & Quarks. Participants: Penny Park, Science Media Centre; Pallava Bagia, Science; Valera Roman, Clarin.

09:19: Bob MacDonald: I know how hard it is to get journalists out of bed in the morning!
We don't ask for opinions, only for the basic stuff. Sometimes this gets frustrating because I'll have a scientist who's an expert raise a "red flag" about something; then I see how the politicians do not act. Or people who aren't scientists have an agenda and put out info to mislead the public. This is what science journalism is for--to set the record straight. Sometimes we're up against some powerful forces that don't want those messages to get out there.
Movies and sciences--scientists are always "mad", even if they start out good they turn into the bad guys or women; I love how science is misrepresented. Superman--defying the laws of physics, and not just in the superhero way. Lois Lane shouldn't have survived even being caught by Superman; he couldn't have caught her with "arms of steel" without her getting pulped. Nice!

Pallava Bagla, chief correspondent for Science for South Asia; New Delhi TV; author of multiple books.
India has a large population that is illiterate; the way to get the message of science out was through TV and I opted for that.
Report came out--glaciers of Himalayas would melt by 2035. These are 3rd largest accumulation of water in the world. Over 1.5 billion people depend on this water. I realised there was a problem with the reports. A lone journalists against a couple of thousand scientists, not an easy task. Glaciers don't behave the same way in the Himalayas as they do in other parts of the world. Just before the Copenhagen conference we put out a story on TV. I was attacked by several members of the IPCC. How can you take a pot shot at such a learned party.

I didn't attack--I just out a fact out that highlighted your error. Finally they offered their regrets.
A case where the best and the worst of science came together in the space of a few weeks.

Several other stories that went against the tide.
1998 India exploded a nuclear bomb, for the second time. I questioned the size of the bombs, whether they were large or small.

09:30: Times of India: largest English-language paper in the world.
Policy: 80% of research, funding comes from the government. Increased public funding, India has decided that it wants to increase private sector funding for research.
India sent its first probe to the moon. International partners on Indian mission. I broke this story in 1999, for the next 6-8 years I reported on this extensively. In 2009, when the probe dies prematurely, having reported on this some people felt I was as much a part of the space association as any of the scientists. Space and nuclear are two very secretive areas of work and I reported on both of them.
Same moon probe came up with first evidence of water on the moon.

09:36: Valera Roman, Clarin; Vice President of the World Federation of Science Journalism.
Reveals barriers to teaching evolution in Argentina.

Science journalism is a way to learn new things every day; I live in Argentina which is a developing country so we need to improve the situation there. It's a difference with journalists in developing countries because we feel the journalism is a way to change the environment.
While I work for a national paper, after MIT I thought I should work as an activist for science journalism. I started to organise some workshops and meetings to bring together science journalists. We had a big problems because science journalists work for multiple institutions at once (conflict of interest). But this is a norm, we have these "two hats". it's a problem to face.
In Argentina we have a lot of stories to tell about science because the situation has been brewing, so we have more scientists in the country a lot of people who were overseas came back, so we have a new science initiative.

Last week Argentina launched a satellite. We work to reach the general public with scientific evidence. In developing countries most political decisions are taken without considering science. So we're trying to fill this gap. A good example is the tobacco control issue in Argentina, for 30 years the tobacco industry has been lobbying against any regulation.

The industry paid doctors to say that second-hand smoke is not harmful. They paid off journalists and politicians, it was a big problem. But the past 5 years, the media have paid more attention to the scientific evidence for controlling tobacco. This past year--2 weeks ago--there is a new law and the country has become a smoke-free country. So we have to face a lot of problems, but I think science journalists can make a big difference.

09:44: Penny Park, Science Media Centre executive director.
Science Media Centre is a new organisation that's been set up to help journalists cover science.
Our goal is to raise the level of discourse in this country. There are few specialists in reporting science in Canada, but science issues are part of the stories we need to discuss in a democracy. The idea is based on one that started in the UK about 10 years ago, partly in response to the terrible tabloid journalism that had been going on relating to GMOs, for example. An organization that would help journalists get access in a timely way to good, evidence-based, accurate information. That's the sort of thing we do.

Who reads the media? We all use it; policy-makers, legislators, entrepreneurs, scientists, are the audience. Making sure the info they have access to is accurate. We're trying to improve the discussion rather than presenting any one particular point of view. Science needs to be part of the discussion at the table. Policy: science should be "sitting there". Other aspects of policy--economics, values--should be part of the discussion. We need evidence-based research. In Canada we've has some interesting discussions.

E.g. safe injection site in Vancouver; should money be going to this? The science says "yes".
yesterday we had a discussion with a Canadian Stem Cell researcher who was running a clinic at U Michigan, and the state had legislation that didn't allow for that kind of research; so he was part of the move to change the legislation in the state (Proposition 2) and was up against a lobby group that spent 10 million to try to shut down stem cell research in the state.
Climate change, nuclear energy..all these issues we need to be discussing as a society; ensuring that science is part of the discourse; that's what we're trying to do.

09:57: [Great discussion with questions on this panel; science journalism has a special role as science has such an influential role in our society, and many issues are fraught with tension because lobbyists, corporate sectors, scientists and so on, all have an interest in these outcomes, and the outcomes (especially policy on major science-related issues) have an effect on the general public.]

10:22: Keynote: Are you listening? Has the "cross-dressing" of media and academia created better understanding between these worlds, or do they remain two solitudes? by Michelle Stack. Moderated by John Fraser, Massey College. Includes Adam Habib; Cat Warren; Nicole Blanchett; Ann Rauhala; Jerrfrey Dvorkin; Sandy McKean.

10:40: Our understanding of education in contemporary society; universities under pressure to brand themselves in current context. Issues around branding and neoliberalism are important. But we have needed a conference/discussion that goes beyond critique; need to dialogue and work better together (journalists and academics). Public policy debate and policy about what is a good and worthwhile education in a democracy society. Who gets invoked as an expert?

The media has a direct effect on policy making. Of course! Policy making is mediated. The public come to know about policies through media. So how do journalists decide what is a good education story?

Are academics and journalists two solitudes? There are impediments to this relationship, they are central to which voices policy makers hear and listen to.
The door's left wide open for policy makers to provide "false choices".

10:45: Issue of impediments to engaging the public: decline in newspaper audiences and large cuts to budgets; journalists have less time for fact checking and investigative reporting. Journalists experience the pressures of intensification of work conditions just as academics do.

Journalists and academics often reinforce each other in circulating discourses about education. E.g. rankings: circle of mutually-reinforcing reiteration? Journalists use rankings to talk about the "best universities".

Journalists as watchdogs? What about the lapdog? Friendly, small, obedient to government and business, who provide regular "meals" (information, issues to write about). Academics--the ivory tower--a symbol of virginal purity. This metaphor is used to show the academy's "distance and disdain from "reality". But these metaphors don't reflect the complexity of academics and journalists.

Sometimes journalism can be stronger than academic research. E.g. immunisation debate over vaccines and autism: the Lancet published this piece, which gave the author/researcher a "launching pad of credibility". A reported did journalistic research to uncover shabby academic research.

Cross dressers? Noam Chomsky: got involved in politics in the 1960s; he wanted to critique the academy and had to engages with the public in order to get this message across. He used his research to create opportunities for understanding. Barbara Ehrenreich: Nickel and Dimed. Did investigative research on low-income workers in the U.S. She realised that PhDs were not immune from sexism; she quit her job and became a full-time journalist. Both these people are public intellectuals. Ehrenreich became a journalist, Chomsky because a media figure. They both found ways to transcend the definition of their fields.

10:58: Perhaps we're asking the wrong question when we ask "is this work academic or journalism?" What are the methods, the beliefs about responsibility and the public that underpin this work?

Solitudes and configurations of power: Is that person a "real" researcher or a "real" journalist? E.g. the Daily Show--provides more news than anything on FOX or CNN.
Debates/relationships are different in different places (e.g. different countries).
Different models of academic public engagement. But a new model means nothing if issues of inequity are not highlighted and challenged.

Structural biases in both professions: most had not considered why most experts are white and male. Academics in the Global North: making careers talking about their research on globalisation, whilst excluding those most affected by globalisation.

Knowledge dissemination: WHO is invoked as an expert, who is the beneficiary of expertise? Certain groups are more quoted in mainstream media than others. I.e. white men. In media women's foundation: women 1/3 of full-time journalism workforce in one survey of 500+ companies. Studies point to power configurations that invoke some as experts, others as beneficiaries.

Internal power configurations of respective fields (e.g. political economic issues). Journalists and academics: what are the implications of these systemic issues for the quality of public debates? We need to have serious conversations about who has access to the mechanics of power within and across these two fields.

Disciplinary/professional "solitudes": re-frame the question in terms of what are the ethos that frame journalistic and academic knowledge about education? To expand conversations about public education, we need more comparative research, and more conversations like the ones facilitated by this conference.

Graham Hingangaroa Smith: Encouraging public rather than privatised academics.
Work going on in New Zealand :-) More examples: University of Venus; Informed Opinions (works with female academics to get them to engage with media).

Educational activism is important: but activism without attention to media is not sufficient. Academics must become media literate. Solitude can be a lonely place though it can also be an important space. But eventually we have to come out of these "solitudes" and engage in new ways, especially as a means of informing a democratic/pluralistic society. It's imperative that we consider the engagement of media & academia as vital networks for invigoration of public spaces, and development of research/information literacy of the public.

3:12PM: Panel on "The research arms war and the battle for researchers". Includes Wisdom Tettey, Noreen Golfman, and Philip Altbach. Moderated by Glen Jones of OISE.

Wisdom Tettey: the African context and African researchers in the global research architecture.
Significant competition globally for research and researchers; reputation, researcher support; excellence begets further research and support. Situation yourself as attractive partner for research collaborations; ranking (implications).

Global architecture: everyone wants the "best minds" no matter where they're located. Implications for academics around the world who want to be part of this network but aren't being provided the resources for this.
Institutions in the North are trying to attract academics from around the world.
How that struggle to attract people will affect research relevance.
EU has a "blue card" system to attract researchers, for example.

GDP in African countries lags behind the rest of the world [so there are fewer resources for research]. No granting councils in many of these African countries.
Implications for publishing capacity of the institutions. How do they find the resources and the outlet.
Reality of "knowledge architecture". Recognition that's given to knowledge networks around the world tends to marginalise certain kinds of researchers.
Implication beyond individuals is that institutions are mimicking what the "leading" institutions are doing; implications for diversity of research.
Who defines the research agenda and how that shapes the location of African research.

How uncritical institutions are when engaging in these partnerships-?
Will engagement open up doors to the global stage?

3:20PM: Recruitment drives going on as institutions engage in what's euphemistically called "internationalisation"--commodification of knowledge.
Media; tendency to focus on African primary and secondary education.
Universities, what goes on it often disconnected from the public in general.
Institutional support for engagement? Many universities have public engagement but they haven't made significant efforts to open up spaces for engagement.

Philip Altbach: Global knowledge economy does affect the way knowledge moves around. "true academic revolution" propelled by two main things.

Massification: dramatic increase in enrolments. Move to "universal access".
In many countries, this has led to a differentiated and increasingly segmented system of HE. What that means for this topic is that we're talking about a tiny top of this huge massified system. No global arms race for community college teachers. Only for the people at the topic of the system. Active researchers.
[Note: this is the interesting conflict between "meritocracy" and "democracy".]
Decline in the quality of the higher education systems around the world; though in Canada it seems that the overall quality has been "protected".
Top universities may be less great than systems where there is a more formal tiered system (like in California). [Note: not sure if California is really the best example for us to look at right now...the whole system is practically falling apart right now.]

Beginnings of global language and scholarship, i.e. English; it's the Latin of the 21st Century. English isn't the medium of instruction globally.

The peripheries are "bleeding" to the centres that's a characteristic of the academic "arms races". The academic world is also becoming more "multi-polar"; different parts of the world are now building research centres and infrastructure (e.g. China).

3:38: South Africa is "bleeding" to the US and Canada, but it's stealing from its neighbours; South African scholars, mainly (but not all) white, are going to the U.S.; Saudi Arabia is hiring from other Arab countries, e.g. Egypt and Syria. And the Americans steal from everybody. The U.S. pays the best salaries still [question: is that overall, or just for tenure-track faculty?].
Unequal, centre-periphery, but highly mobile work context/dynamic.

[3:42: Canada Excellence Research Chairs issue comes up in a question. No, there were no women candidates; and all CERC hires were international. This is a program that highlights the equity issues involved in these high-stakes competitions.]

4:30PM: I'm late for this panel after walking back down from the Munk Centre, but happy I didn't miss all of it. Panel: "Muted Voices and Higher Education Media Coverage". Shari Graydon, John Miller and Vinita Srivastava, moderated by Minelle Mahtani.

4:48PM: Globe & Mail [I don't have this speaker's name--she wasn't on the program]: Huge role for communications departments at universities. [Note: I take it this means public relations comms rather than Communication Studies ;-)]

The media tend to pick the same person again and again due to time constraints and so on. But there are ways of building up these relationships without being "sought out". Academic blogs can be one way of doing this; creating contacts with trusted individual reporters/journalists. Men may be more comfortable being self-promotional. Downside: time consuming and journalists may want a reductionist or simplistic version of research points. Even emailing the paper to find out what happened to your op ed can be a good idea.

Leaders impact who gets air time, who has access to influencers. Not caught up with demographic shift; nonwhites are completely under-represented in the media AND in universities and colleges. 70% of leaders in GTA in business, nonprofits, media, education, and so on, are non-white. Companies that track and count diversity actually get better results; a lot of subconscious bias can be overcome in this way; diversity doesn't "just happen" on its own. The media, something like 4% of leaders are from diverse backgrounds; and these are the people shaping public attitudes, no surprise that there's not very good representation in the op-ed section.

4:50PM: Vinita Srivastava on using social media.
Importance of media representation: mainstream media has historically marginalised racialised groups. Media sparks public dialogue.

How social media might make space and influence the dialogue: The public prefer the "authentic voice" over expert opinion/coverage (?).

Is bypassing the media a good thing? You need to get your voice into mainstream media, but this relates to building social capital (first).

One in ten African Americans using Twitter every day, far higher than whites and Latino/a users. [How do we interpret that data? What does it "mean"?]
Many people/groups have been "left out", are social media helping people to feel "empowered"?

Benefits of using social media: access to a community of scholars who aren't necessarily around you (geographically/physically). Less isolation; direct communication with students; changes to self-perception/ego.

5:27PM: Last panel for me today: Should universities and colleges, drawing on the experience of academia in science, politics, economic development, arts and culture, and community affairs, bypass the mainstream media?
Includes: Moderater Paul Fain, plus Wilf Dinnick of Open File, Jenny Leonard of Futurity, Andrew Jaspin of The Conversation, Hanson Hosein of University of Washington.

Jenny Leonard, Futurity publication--launched in 2009. Promotes research.
The kind of stories that can engage the imagination.

Andrew Jaspin: We're just 10 weeks old. Similar to Futurity except that we focus on analysis, commentary and news, and issues such as academic freedom. E.g. death threats to climate scientists in Australia (recent issue covered). Major series on debunking the climat change denials, actually using peer review on the climate denials.
We also engage in real time; a team of 14 editors engaging with the news cycle; all writers are academics, and there are 1,000 of them; a larger virtual newsroom than any mainstream media in Australia.
Mainstream media are bypassing themselves; they've had "bypass operations", they are their own worst enemies. E.g. the Globe and Mail five years ago was a much larger and very different paper.
Offer an alternative service that is based on reliable and trustworthy content.
We were able to produce much more quickly a very deep analysis of Osama Bin Laden's death/assassination.

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, 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.

"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; 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 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?

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Communication, not Edutainment

This entry was originally posted on March 3, 2011, at University of Venus blog, Blog U, Inside Higher Ed.

How do we, as tutorial leaders or professors, deal with the revelation that students find classes or entire subject areas "boring?" And to what extent is it our responsibility to get them "interested?" These were questions that came to mind as I read Itir Toksöz’s recent UVenus post about “academic boredom”. While she was discussing the boredom she experiences in conversation with colleagues, my first thought was that boredom is not just (potentially) a problem for and with academics, but also for students.

I see boredom as something other than a mere lack of interest. I think of it as a stand-in for frustration, which can, in turn, stem from a sense of exclusion from the material, from the discussion, from the class, from understanding the point of it all; ultimately an exclusion from the enjoyment of learning. This can happen when the material is too challenging, or when the student doesn’t really want to be in the class for some reason.

Boredom is sometimes about fear, the fear of failing and looking “stupid” in front of the instructor and one’s peers. In other cases it can also be a symptom that someone is far beyond the discussion and in need of a deeper or a more challenging conversation. All these things can be called “boredom” but often they are more like communicative gaps in need of bridging.

In other words, boredom is often a mask for something else. We need to remove this mask, because of the negative effects of boredom on the learning environment and process. It causes people to "tune out" from what's happening, and in almost every case it creates or is accompanied by resentment for the teacher/professor and/or for the other students. As a psychological problem, this makes boredom one of the greatest puzzles of teaching, and one of those problems that most demands attention.

It’s even more important to uncover the causes of boredom now that many students have access to wireless Internet and to Blackberries and iPhones, in the classroom. Professors and TAs complain that students are less attentive than ever while in class, because of this attachment to their devices—something I’ve encountered first-hand with my current tutorial group.

I think the attachment to gadgetry comes not from the technology itself, but from the students. In my blog I've written about the issue with students using technology to "tune out" during lectures, and they do it in tutorial as well; they're "present, yet absent". To understand this behaviour we need to keep in mind that the lure of the online (social) world is reasonable from the students’ perspective. Popular media and established social networks are accessible and entertaining, and provide positive feedback as well as a sense of comfortable familiarity. Learning is hard work, and the academic world is often alienating, difficult, and demanding. It's all-too-easy to crumple under the feeling of failure or exclusion. Facebook is welcoming and easy to use, while critical theory is not.

The other side of this equation is that in the process of negotiating and overcoming "boredom" there's a certain point at which I can meet students halfway, as it were—but I can't go beyond that point. Like everything else in teaching and learning, boredom is a two-way street, and the instructor is the one who needs to maintain the boundary of responsibility. I'm not there merely to provide an appealing performance, which leads to superficial “engagement.” I’m not “edutainment”.

However, I think it's part of my job when teaching to "open a door" to a topic or theory or set of ideas. I can't make you walk through that door (horse to water, etc.) but I can surely do my best to make sure you have the right address and a key that fits the lock. And that means using different strategies if the ones I choose don’t seem to be working.

Holding this view about boredom certainly doesn’t mean I’ve solved the problems with student attention in class; I’m reminded of that frequently. It just means I have an approach to dealing with the problem that treats their boredom as something for which there’s mutual responsibility. In an ideal learning environment there must also be mutual respect—but unfortunately mutual “boredom” is easier and often wins the day. My hope is to help cultivate the former by finding ways of unraveling the latter.