09/28/2010

Open Access Week & The Right to Research Coalition

The Digital Natives are Getting Restless: The Student Voice
of the Open Access Movement

Open Access Week takes place October 18th through 24th "everywhere" in support of open access scholarly research.

The above talk given by Nick Shockey, Director of the Right to Research Coalition is featured on the Open Access site and discusses the demographic concept of the "digital native", which with he self-identifies, and open access to scholarly research as a right.

Related Cultural Research Coverage:
Resources: Open Access Videos, Alliance for Taxpayer Access

09/20/2010

Microlender Kiva Now Offering Student Loans

As the cost of college in the U.S. spirals higher and the levels of student debt become ever more crippling, the assumption that getting a college degree is always the smartest financial move is increasingly coming under question. While I'm certainly a supporter of education, I'm much more interested in learning than in degrees and we all know there's a big difference between receiving degrees and getting educated.

That said, in settings where higher education has been out of reach for most, earning those degrees can have a much stronger financial impact than in the U.S. So I'm very excited to see that Kiva, a U.S. based nonprofit microlender, is now facilitating small loans to students in Lebanon, Paraguay and Bolivia with more to follow. They're starting in those countries because they have evaluative depth there due to their work with small businesses. Now they're going to leverage that expertise in evaluating student loans.

It's an exciting move and I look forward to seeing what happens because these are students that have had no access to student loans as we know them in the States and these funds will do so much more in their countries than they would here. And they certainly won't be taken for granted.

09/16/2010

Personal Disaster Planning in Higher Education

Courtney Danforth guest posts at ProfHacker on the topic of Disaster Planning and the Academic Career. It's an interesting use of disaster related perspectives for academics as they face the inevitable fact that disasters happen.

Planning for disaster is good advice for everybody. But I've discovered that when one attempts risk analysis in an everyday setting, people just don't want to think that way and remain unprepared for the things that can go wrong.

I'm mentioning this topic here at Cultural Research not because I want to encourage professors or even everyday people to get into disaster planning. What I want to see is risk analysis and disaster planning in graduate curricula.

For my own part, everybody I worked closely with in my graduate training were incredibly encouraging and supportive, yet none of them helped me prepare for the disaster of not getting a job in higher ed. In fact, once I got beyond writing and research, they appeared to have very little to offer related to anything practical that went beyond the aspects of their jobs that they valued.

Beyond my own education, I also found that many college professors have ways to avoid the topic of their involvement in a system that seems to ensure that a majority of doctoral students will NOT get a job doing what they're training to do.

For example, I remember talking to a faculty member from a different school who generally treated me like a colleague, a reasonably common occurrence given that I was an "adult" student publishing and presenting original, solo research at major conferences beginning in my MA program. I was pointing out some of the shoddy behavior I was encountering in the job application process, including things that seemed to undermine all parties involved. Her immediate response was to say that "not everybody gets jobs." Unfortunately, I was so taken aback that I have no idea what would have happened if I had pushed to clarify that she was missing my point.

But I recognize her response at one level as a pragmatic way of dealing with a very touchy situation. I also recognize the manner in which it was deployed as a coping mechanism that indicated that she wasn't actually hearing what I said. I think she basically slotted my observations into a category that didn't actually fit and then attempted to end that topic of discussion.

In fact I found with most faculty that having an honest conversation about any aspect of the higher ed job situation during the period when I was actively looking for a job to almost always be uncomfortable and to always require me to work them past their initial assumption that I was simply complaining about my own situation. And even when we got past their incorrect assumptions, I never met anyone in higher ed who seemed to have a clue about how to begin to address the situation. At the end of the day, they mostly seemed helpless and in denial.

But my point is not that I encountered clueless people in academia who were avoiding the harsh realities of the system that paid their bills. That's universal given that cluelessness is randomly distributed at all levels of society. My point is that if folks were having honest discussions in grad school about job prospects and that if risk analysis and disaster planning perspectives were included in those discussions, grad students would be better prepared for the actual world and faculty might have a productive basis for looking at what's happening within their own institutions.

But you know what? I believe we're more likely to see the continued destruction of the professoriat as higher education continues its current transformation to the degree that such concerns will overwhelm academics' opportunity to address the underlying issues. And that's unfortunate because when smart people avoid dealing with obvious problems when they're not being forced to address those problems, they won't have the requisite skills to handle the unavoidable disasters when they hit.

09/14/2010

University of the People: World Computer Exchange, Library Services Advisory Committee

I'm going to be doing some catch up posts with fairly recent news that should indicate the emerging focus of this blog. Of particular interest, given the disruptive nature of free as a pricing choice, is the news that the tuition-free University of the People and the World Computer Exchange are partnering to:

"expand UoPeople's reach in developing nations and strengthening their shared missions of democratized access to education. WCE is now beginning outreach to our Partners and contacts in the following six countries: Bangladesh, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Liberia, Palestine and Zimbabwe."

That's a great development for UofP given that the idea is to reach students with limited resources which would extend to issues of internet access, a particular concern for online learning.

In other UofP news, I contacted them a while back about offering my skills as a web librarian and have gotten some info but that opportunity is still under development. However, they did recently announce the creation of a Library Services Advisory Committee which probably took a bit of work. I look forward to sharing future developments.

08/29/2010

Reboot: Cultural Research, Disruptive Innovation & Higher Education

Just a quick note to let you know I'm thinking about how best to focus at Cultural Research.  Going forward I'm going to be using the blog as a place to connect my academic research background and library training to the topic of disruptive innovation in higher education.  That will include libraries but more so the forces affecting libraries and radical changes at libraries as opposed to a more general focus on innovation in academic libraries.

More soon!

08/17/2010

Where I've Been: Selling, Relaunching, Planning Ahead

Though I think about posting here on a fairly regular basis, other projects are consuming my time at the moment.

I've been negotiating the sale of a couple of entertainment websites and I'm hoping that will be wrapped up soon.  Meanwhile, I have to keep running them!

I've also been relaunching College Textbook News and getting it ready for a promotional drive so that people know it exists.  I need to be blogging there more as well but everything else involved in running the site, from posting press releases to making sure all systems are functioning smoothly, seems to be falling into place.

Look for an official launch announcement next week accompanied by a bit more posting here since the two projects cause me to follow related news.

05/15/2010

Higher Education Online: Disruptive Innovations and the Disaggregated Future

Michael Fienen draws together some excellent resources in a Sept. '09 post, The Online Education Game is Changing, that sketches out some of the fascinating changes that have been drawing my attention.

He begins with a look at StraighterLine, a company that is attempting to offer web-based, low-cost, easy-to-transfer college credits, that he discovered through an article about the company by Kevin Carey.

Fienan then goes on to explore some of the aspects of such companies that make them disruptive rather than sustaining innovators and therefore a threat to established players.

He closes with the slideshow by David Wiley embedded above. It's well worth a look and, yes, I checked out all 85 slides, a rare event in my world!

Interestingly enough David Wiley is not only an active faculty member at Brigham Young University but he's also a "founder and board member of the Open High School of Utah and Chief Openness Officer of Flat World Knowledge." That means he's viewing the situation from multiple angles with experience in both sustaining and disruptive innovation.

Related Cultural Research Coverage:
Understanding Sustaining vs. Disruptive Innovation
in Higher Education and Academic Libraries

Understanding Sustaining vs. Disruptive Innovation in Higher Education and Academic Libraries

I take the concepts of sustaining and disruptive innovation from Clayton Christensen whose book, The Innovator's Dilemma, I highly recommend. Like all good concepts, the related terms are used to mean other things by other people. Here's what I mean:

I typically use "sustaining innovation" to mean innovations that can be incorporated into the existing practices of organizations including innovations that disrupt standard modes of practice but that can be integrated into the already existing structures of dominant players.

"Disruptive innovations" are disruptive in an even deeper way than simply forcing changes in existing practices in that they disrupt existing models of success. Disruptive innovations are initially inadequate to the jobs performed by current solutions. Perhaps worse for those with a currently successful business model, disruptive innovations require different models to succeed, models which dominant players are unable to effectively pursue because their skillsets are based on past success rather than emergent realities.

For example, the call quality of mobile phones meant that they were inadequate to many of the needs of fixed line callers but for those who needed mobility, poor call quality was an acceptable trade-off to be able to conduct business or keep up with one's friends.

Over time the quality of mobile phone networks improved but, by the time mobile phones became a threat to existing landlines, incumbent players were too far behind to catch up. Though the full story is more complex and landlines have not disappeared, their role is shrinking at a rate that no one would have expected even a few years ago.

Disruptive innovators perform like stealth companies in plain view. Everyone can see them yet those who are threatened cannot see what they are until it's too late. Such shifts may take years to become overnight successes but suddenly everything will have changed and brands that seemed all powerful will be laid low.

A recent example in education has been the uptake of Google Apps for Education as an alternative to Microsoft Office. At first, nobody would have thought free online services could replace Microsoft Office, given the software's incredible ubiquity and complex development, but it's happening.

An example still in the "there's no way that will every be a threat" category is the University of the People (UoPeople), described as the "world’s first tuition free online academic institution". The UoPeople has gathered some serious support and, from what I recall but can't currently find online, their first entering class had a sizable percentage of students from the U.S.

Whatever you think of such an institution's potential threat to established universities, consider the fact that this school does not have a library or employ librarians and does not appear to offer a separate course in information seeking skills. Since disruptive innovations succeed when key chunks of soon-to-be outdated business models are removed, it's incumbent on librarians to take a proactive stance, one that goes far beyond simply finding new allies or incorporating new technologies within a structure that may well collapse unexpectedly.

Steven Bell Explains Why Triage May Be a Key Skill for the Survival of Academic Librarians

Steven Bell recently wrote a pretty staggering column on the implications of the humanities PhD crisis for academic librarians. I have to respect anybody within academic walls that is willing to point to the failure of humanities scholars to create sustainable positions [collectively] in academia, a failure shared by many sectors of higher ed, and to say, it's time to focus librarians' energies on stronger allies.

That's called triage and it's startling to see such a hard-edged calculation from a librarian in the halls of academia. But he puts it all rather politely in the end and I think the ultimate goal is to encourage librarians to become more proactive at analyzing the landscape and transforming their roles accordingly. I just wonder if upgrading allies will do the trick.

04/17/2010

Why Not Turn George Washington's Late Fees Into a Library Fundraising Campaign?

So apparently George Washington and some other historical folks have late fees for unreturned books at the New York Society Library. While getting anything more than a publicity boost out of this situation may seem difficult, there is a way to monetize the moment and raise some funds for the library.

What if they came up with a figure based on the accumulation of those late fees to date, the article mentions $300k for Washington's fines alone, and launched a public campaign to raise funds by getting people to pay off the library debts of George Washington and other famous people with such uncollected fines?

Sorry, I can't hear your response to that question, the "KA-CHING" sounds in my brain won't stop going off!