Sunday, April 5. 2009
Back in the summer of 2007, Ken posted about homework software for students. In that post he mentioned a site/service called Scribd. Created in the image of Web 2.0 publishing, Scribd is essentially an archive into which authors may upload articles that they have written and want to make publicly available. At first look, there doesn't seem to be any controversy in that. But Aristotle said, "Nature abhors a vacuum," and into the serene and empty space of self-publication, controversy has naturally rushed. From an announcement on the Scribd site posted on March 30th:
"Yesterday, The Times of London published an article claiming that various authors, including J.K. Rowling, were “fighting” Scribd over copyrighted material on our site. Unfortunately, the Times’ article was misleading and included factual errors that must be corrected."Maybe Ms Rowling doesn't want to share the same publishing space as pikers like me, but apparently some others don't mind as much:
"Online document sharing site Scribd has announced that it has partnered with a number of major publishers, including Random House, Simon & Schuster, Workman Publishing Co., Berrett-Koehler, Thomas Nelson, and Manning Publications, to legally offer some of their content to Scribd’s community free of charge. Publishers have begun to add an array of content to Scribd’s library, including full-length novels as well as briefer teaser excerpts."
Of course, for the commercial publishing enterprises, the battle for publishing rights and sites comes down to their business model and their bottom line, but there is an underlying agita about shanghaied content that affects other content producers, too. I won't publish the links, here, but on several occasions, Ken has found Serendiity35 content, taken verbatim with no attribution, on pseudo-blog sites that do nothing but list content to lure browsers to their advertising spam sites. The (admittedly un-enforcable) license under which we publish Serendipity35 content is Creative Commons Share Alike --that license precludes any commercial redistribution of content.
There is a new model for online content and online publishing in the works, but it is not likely to be defined by existing precedents or the notion of ownership. What that model may turn out to be might look more like the law of the Wild West (it already does to a degree) than a codified set of principles, but it will almost certainly be something that redefines or eliminates what we think of as copyright, today.
Saturday, March 28. 2009
New Jersey Institute of Technology (DISCLAIMER: It is where I work) is not immune from the economic taint that has infected public and private enterprises since the near global collapse last September 18th. Though our undergraduate applications have increased more than any other state school in New Jersey, it is unclear if the prospective incoming students will be able to afford the discounted tuition that is available to in-state residents.
NJIT has a long history of academic excellence. We graduate top-notch engineers, architects, programmers and information management professionals, but because of our narrow geographic recruitment area, many potential students don't even know who we are.
That changed yesterday.
NJIT is taking its fundamental strengths and areas of expertise --excellent academic instruction and distance learning-- and we are offering them to the world.Online.njit.edu was launched, yesterday, as a comprehensive recruiting tool to attract master level and graduate certificate candidates across the country. Available online, this new initiative offers the expertise and excellence of NJIT's graduate programs to students all across the country. From the web site's main page:
"If you’re searching for an online master’s program or a “hot topic” graduate certificate, you should know this about NJIT:the university pioneered distance learning. Working in the late 1970s,two NJIT professors created the software, and the teaching methods, used to support some of the first distance-learning classes. In fact,the phrase, Virtual Classroom® was coined and registered as a trademark at NJIT"Tuition and fees for out-of-staters have historically been a major impediment to cross-country recruiting for any of the NJIT programs, but that is expected to change, too:
"Know, also, that NJIT has affordable tuition. This year, the Princeton Review named NJIT one of the nation’s Best Value Colleges. And this spring, NJIT is introducing an online tuition rate that,pending approval in April by the NJIT Board of Trustees, will help online students who live outside New Jersey save on tuition. So if you’re considering an online master’s program or a graduate certificate, know this: NJIT will give you the skills you’ll need to work successfully in the 21st century global marketplace."The University Vice President and visionary for this new initiative, Dr Gale Tenen Spak, has emphasized programs which lead directly to jobs in the unsettled marketplace:
"We offer short term, graduate level certificate programs and fully accredited, fully online master degree programs that can make you more employable and help you advance your career and give you a leg-up on your competition"The entire thrust of this new initiative is to target areas of study which lead directly to existing, high-paying jobs all across the country. While funding for professional studies has become harder to obtain, the proposed reduced tuition rates will make those training dollars spend further towards an advanced degree. More from the web site:
"The majors that NJIT offers -- majors in engineering and science, technology and management -- are those most sought after by employers. Every year, the National Association of Colleges and Employers publishes a list of majors that attract the highest salaries. And every year the majors offered at NJIT top that list. "Does this mean that the trend in graduate education will pave a new road to advanced degrees and professional excellence? No one wil know the outcome of this initiative until the Fall, 2009 semester begins. Does this impact the undergraduate applicants ability to afford the tuition required to attend NJIT? No, that is a problem to be solved in some other way. But to the swarm of new applicants that hope to attend NJIT as undergraduates in the Fall, the prospect of enrolling in a school in which they can affordably continue their education through their bachelor degree while receiving the excellent support that their graduate studies might require, the innovative environment that the university provides at all levels, is a fundamental reason to enroll.
Wednesday, March 25. 2009
When the Employme! training program at NJIT officially ended in January, the job search for its graduates began in full swing. Though included in parts of the soft-skills curriculum segments each week during their training, the number of the program's yet-to-be-employed graduates called for a shift into more intense post-skillset instruction in how to find (and actually achieve) full gainful employment.
The employment backgrounds of the students were diverse. Some students were trying to reenter the workforce after catastrophic injuries ended their former occupations. Some students were disabled from birth and had never held down a real paying job. When paid internship opportunities were offered to the remaining unemployed students, a curious pattern began to emerge: students who had been employed were eager to interview for (and get) an internship; students who had never been employed, while at first excited by the prospect of the opportunity, began to express concerns about why they couldn't take one of the intern positions.
One student began to have misgivings about the commute from home to work (he was a student who showed up for classes so often that he was likely to be inhabiting one of our labs on days when class wasn't scheduled). Another student, one who graduated 2 complete programs in the Employme! curriculum, declined an interview --even after he was assured he'd have full access to the adaptive technologies he used in the classroom-- because he thought vision difficulties might make him too slow to do any actual work.
There was more than self-confidence (or its lack) in play, here. When questioned about their general interest in an internship, students disabled from birth listed reasons why the internship wasn't a proper fit; students recovering from disabling injuries listed the reasons why they would be an asset to their potential boss. To those students who had been separated from their jobs due to injury, employment opportunity offered then a chance to climb back in the saddle, again. Those students who had grown up never expecting the possibility of employment, had never even seen the horse. Not participating in the work environment, despite their skills training at NJIT, was something that their life experiences outside the classroom reinforced every day.
The available internships at NJIT are to provide assistance to the instructional designers to support NJIT's course catalog transition from WebCT/Blackboard to Moodle. Interns will be expected to provide support directly to the instructional designers and faculty as course materials are migrated to the new environment. The intern's tasks will include editing course summaries, reformatting existing content and assisting faculty solve incompatibilities between the retiring LMS and Moodle. In order to reconcile the disconnect between students who have general concerns about their abilities to perform the duties of real employment and the needs of the instructional designers to have productive interns complete assigned work, the decision was made to use Moodle to teach Moodle.
I created an instance of Moodle that will solely be used to have students practice support tasks with Moodle. Each student, regardless of their expressed interest in an internship, has been provided an empty practice course in which to learn the basic tasks of course creation and modification. They will be given tasks to perform involving course material editing within their own course to practice the types of tasks a Moodle support person might be required to perform. They will be trained in course resource creation and editing and other tyical tasks that fall within the job description of the internship. The students who are eager to return to the workplace will have a chance to learn marketable skills, the students who are hesitant to pursue the internship opportunity will be directly exposed to the tasks they would be required to perform as if they were already working as an intern.
The challenge the students will face is not so much how to configure Moodle and edit course materials, but it will be to demonstrate to themselves that they can perform in a workplace enviromment as well as anyone and through their accomplishments realize that they can be gainfully employed. Once they recognize the horse, the hope is that they will try and climb into the saddle for the very first time.
Monday, March 23. 2009
Beginning this week, the Adult Education initiative at NJIT will supply undergraduate and graduate class information and course offerings using text messaging to cell phones and SMS capable devices. Need to burnish that resume in this chaotic economic climate? Need to find a program that will let you finish an undergraduate degree that is tailored for working adults? Need to enhance some graduate classes by organizing them into a graduate certificate? Don't spend hours that you don't have searching through schools and programs looking for that combination of instruction that will broaden your learning horizon. Simply send message to 35350 (a number to be listed on the adultlearner.njit.edu website) and you can get a phone call from a customer service representative armed with the answers to the questions you might have.
Don't have time for yet-another-phone-call? Simply browse to the adultlearner mobile page, enter your phone number, check off the programs (present or future) that interest you, and details of those programs will be sent via text to your phone or e-mailed to you so you can consider them during your ever-diminishing leisure time. If you decide that the track is not for you, text QUIT to the service, and your SMS door will not be darkened again.
Once you sign up and as the programs offered change, you can be notified immediately of updates, changes and enhancements to the offered programs. If you register for one of the offered courses, you can even study the class materials in the micro online environment. Classes (and entire graduate certificate programs), offered in Moodle will require only a mobile browser (and the usual hard work and study) to complete the entire curriculum. If eye-strain isn't a concern or problem, the mobile nature of the information and courses allow complete portability of the learning environment and the virtual classroom merges into our personal living space wherever we define it.
One of the first class exercises in the iPhone Development course I teach was the development of a web app that accessed this blog in a mobile device format, so if the information you seek isn't inside of a degree-oriented curriculum, you can still read Serendipity35.
And, who knows, once in a while, you might even make a telephone call.
Wednesday, March 18. 2009
A few weeks ago I was catching up on a PBS television show I particularly enjoy: Nova. I had missed the original airing of this particular show in November, 2007 but I settled in for 50 minutes of enlightenment to watch: Judgment Day Intelligent Design on Trial. What I discovered was that education, once wholly a subset of enlightenment, had become barely an intersecting form. From the Nova program description:
"In 2004, the Dover school board ordered science teachers to read a statement to high school biology students suggesting that there is an alternative to Darwin's theory of evolution called intelligent design—the idea that life is too complex to have evolved naturally and therefore must have been designed by an intelligent agent. The teachers refused to comply. (For more on this, see Board vs. Teachers.) Later, parents opposed to intelligent design filed a lawsuit in federal court accusing the school board of violating the constitutional separation of church and state."
As the program progressed, the arguments and positions of the main characters were examined in detail: Bill Buckingham, an advocate and contributor to the Intelligent Design approach and in charge of the school board's curriculum committee: the plaintiff's lawyers for Tammy Kitzmiller et al (school district parents), and the presiding Judge, John Jones, III. After much testimony and lawyering, the case was decided in favor of the plaintiffs with the judge finding that Intelligent Design ""cannot uncouple itself from its creationist, and thus religious, antecedents." The implication of the decision was that Intelligent Design was a backdoor method to have Creationism, disguised as science, taught in the classroom.
The trial, itself, was conducted in 2005 and the result is well known. I wasn't impressed by the pro and con arguments or the merits of the case, but I was shocked at the ignorance of the entire undertaking.
Is it too much to ask that education establish that Science as a discipline is a system of explanation and not a system of belief or faith? Those with a grounding in science have no more standing to disparage Creationism than creationists have standing to declaim science (and Natural Selection) as atheistic. Biblical creation, the Orphic creation myths, Hesiod's Theogony, the Upanishads (and many more), belong in the realm of Religion and Philosophy. While science has had some standing in philosophy --Aristotle was a Natural Philosopher-- since late 5th/early 4th century Greece, science has been refined as a systematic approach to the explanation of phenomena in the natural world. There is no default disconnect for a person who believes in Creationism, but understands the scientific explanation of natural selection just as there is no default disconnect for a person who doesn't believe in Creationism but accepts the explanations of evolution.
The persons who claim to believe in evolution demonstrate their ignorance; you can't believe in a system of explanation. The persons who claims to accept creationism and use science to support their belief are equally ignorant (see this search). Belief and Explanation are 2 separate paradigms; they do not merge, they do not offer support to each other: and they have been, and always will be, apart.
The underlying failure in Kitzmiller v. Dover was not the argument for or against the petitioners. The failure was the lack of recognition of the empirical difference between belief and explanation, and that is the fundamental failure of their education.
Sunday, March 8. 2009
A few months ago I posted about CRMs for education. At that time, my division at NJIT was in a quandary about our future management of customer relationship management software mainly because our educational product, Edgenuiti, had fallen on non-supported times and its anointed replacement, RubyCampus, was full of dependency exploits in its back-end code. I admit that my final recommendation was vTiger because it was the easiest to learn and its functionality, while important, was a feature that landed in second place. I am in the position to support software for our division, and I chose vTiger at that time because I knew that if I selected a more feature rich, but difficult to learn, software package, I'd be the one managing our marketing campaigns because everyone else would claim that the software was just too hard to use. The fact is that none of the other CRMs were too difficult to use, but in an environment where academic credentials trump actual skill sets, it wasn't likely that anyone would develop the skills needed to use the software.
The most pleasant surprise for me (in a month where most surprises aren't pleasant, but regressive) was that vTiger is actually an easy-to-use CRM that is built with a tremendous amount of transparent flexibility. Built primarily for commercial use, vTiger has scads of features that are fully customizable for the education market. I can import all of my old data from Edgenuiti and create or edit fields that are designed to support businesses, and tailor them exactly to the needs of student-search marketing. I can change "products" to "programs of study;" I can create fields that store academic completion levels; I can create marketing campaigns that highlight courses and degrees rather than products and services. Bulk e-mailing via templates is also supported and those templates are, of course, fully customizable and I can blast prospective student e-mails announcing events like Open Houses or Special Lectures, or even, news announcements from NJIT.
The primary way we collect student data is from advertising and web-form based solicitations that prospective students can fill out and submit. Our forms are everywhere and in all kinds of formats (java, asp, .NET, php, html) and its has always been a headache to get these diverse forms to post in a uniform way to our database: field content often didn't match expected data, form-based security played havoc with our database's willingness to accept internet data, old forms out in the wild of the internet and forgotten about or archived and linked from sites from which we didn't control woild return errors to the posters and their data would never arrive. With vTiger's built in SOAPfunction and web-forms add-ons, the errant posts can now find a home, and with its graphical displays of incoming data with each bar clickable to drill down to the stored data, it is a snap to discover where data is coming from, which data is current or obsolete and a simple way to set up a campaign to address any dynamic issue.
Another feature of vTiger is its "Customer Portal" which is a webpage available to stored contacts to directly request more information about a topic, review dynamicaly built FAQs, or report a problem with forms, classes or the interface itself. These customer portals deliver messages directly to targeted staff whose job it is to handle exactly the kinds of requests that have been made. vTiger doesn't even require a login to the web interface. There are plug-ins for Outlook, Thunderbird and even an iPhone app that can track and manipulate information stored in vTiger's database
The requirements to host vTiger are an Apache webserver with the php5 language installed, and a MySQL database. Though the most common operating systems that host vTiger are Unix and Linux; the code is written in such a way that hosting it on a Windows server is certainly possible, too. Coming soon in the v5.1 release is the ability to use more databases than MySQL (PostgresQL is in beta) and the ability to have timed e-mail campaigns, once scheduled, launched on any future data and the ability to send targeted auto-response messages to people who have filled out a form and "opted-in" to the information flow.
Sometimes in software with flexibility comes increased complexity, but this vTiger product was designed from the beginning to stay flexible and simple. It gives me something to smile about, this week, anyway.
Friday, March 6. 2009
Earlier this week, on Tuesday, my Kindle 2 showed up at my house. I breezed through the simple set-up instructions and before you could say "Stately plump Buck Mulligan," I had my first book, James Joyce's Ulysses, (an 80 cent download) installed on my new reader. The purchase and download of this 700 + page book took less than 60 seconds. Wow.
Boggled by the idea of having 1400 books at my fingertips, I searched the Amazon/Kindle bookstore for more more more. I did a search for some Sylvia Plath -- rats, no poetry just some biographical and analytical stuff. Her poetry is magical; her life was tragic. I wanted her words, not her history. I switched back to Joyce and searched for Finnegans wake, another misfire: more critical essays, no actual book. Ok, on to some philosophy and to a book I didn't actually have in print: Spinoza's Ethics. Bingo! $2.60 (and 30 seconds) later, I had my Spinoza.
I started reading right away in my dimly lit den and it was apparent I had to turn on another light to clearly see the Kindle's screen. I was a little disappointed with the brightness of the display (it has no back lighting), but the following morning on the train that takes me to NJIT, I found the display to be clear, legible and easy on my eyes. The electronic ink that the Kindle uses to draw each page is actually an ink-like substance and because there is no backlighting of the display and the electronic ink only requires power while it is drawing a new page, the battery life is reported to be about 2 weeks per charge. The time between charges depends on, I suppose, how many pages one turns.
So what does this have to do with the iPhone? Lifehacker.com reported a brand new iPhone application before I even got through all of Spinoza's definitions. The iPhone app, a free download, displays the user's Kindle books, keeps bookmarks and pages, and even will pick up on the page the reader closed the Kindle. My Kindle was in my office on the other side of campus and, when I opened the Kindle app on my iPhone, it automatically synced itself with the last page I was reading in both Ulyssess and Ethics. Ok, so reading weighty books on a 2 inch screen isn't exactly my idea of cuddling up with a good book, the existence of an even more portable library than the Kindle offers, is quite a feat in itself. And the built-in backlighting of the iPhone's display makes the text more readable in low-light environments. The Kindle app does not make use of iPhone's multi-touch --the ability to "pinch" and expand certain areas of the screen, but the font and the display was easy enough to read that I didn't miss that feature at all. There is the ability to select the font size that is displayed.
The iPhone app doesn't support all of the Kindle's features. There is no ability to highlight text and use the Kindle's built in dictionary, there is no Text to Speech function, no ability to annotate notes, and no access to buy new books from the Amazon/Kindle Store. The app is mostly a utility to provide a window to the Kindle's basic functions and those basic functions are impressive.Jeff Bezos says that there are currently 240,000 titles available for the iPhone; the stated goal is every book ever printed. I'm fairly certain that for the short term I'll continue to search and read the classics on my Kindle 2, but when I need a more mobile quick fix of James Joyce or Spinoza, I'll pull out my iPhone.
Sunday, February 22. 2009
On February 18, 2009, the Manasquan High School Chess Team attended the Shore Conference Chess Tournament at Monmouth Regional High School in Monmouth County, New Jersey. A learning experience in wider area tournament play, the Squan team lost all five of their main board games but, as this final tournament was post-season, they expected to retain their first-place standing in the conference.
After the tournament was completed, the Blue Warrior chess team was surprised to find out they had slipped to third place in the final standings. Sometime around mid-season, the chess team adviser left his position coaching the black and white squares of the Blue Warrior chess team for greener pastures.
Though he occasionally came back to supervise conference play, practices were canceled because of the lack of supervisory staff and postponed conference competitions were never rescheduled for play. Despite the absence of high school support staff,team members --about 15 students-- found rooms in the high school where they were undetected by faculty. When chased around the high school by after-school staff, parts of the team would gather in cramped quarters like their guidance office, roll out their game mats and play until the remaining staff chased them home.
In the 2007-2008 District Narrative portion of the NJ Department of Education's school report card summary, The high school principal writes:
"In addition to their academic involvement, over 80% of the students participate in some form of extra-curricular activity. Of particular note is the participation of our band at the 1998, 1999, and 2000 World Series and Ticker Tape Parades, the bi-annual drama presentations, and the Fine Arts Show. The Key Club, Peer Helpers, French, Spanish, and National Honor Societies continue to get involved in community service project activities throughout the various sending districts."
It is an impressive list of accomplishments from a decade ago, back when the current principal was someone else and school budgets had greater flexibility This past year, the Blue Warrior football team won a state championship. They didn't have their head coach leave and never be replaced. They didn't forfeit any games because of postponements. They didn't have dedicated gamers scrambling around the school grounds looking for places to practice. They do have the full support of the board of education, the high school's administrative staff and the school district's budget.
Football may always get the collective attention of the high school's sending district. The chess team may always struggle to get any recognition at all. But if I were to guess at which had the more intrinsic academic value I might choose a thoughtful Giucco Piano opening over a pep rally and a touchdown.
Tuesday, February 17. 2009
When Louis Braille, back in 1821, first developed a system of forming letters from rectangles of embossed dots, he probably was not thinking too much about how to display letters on tactile devices hooked up to a computer. In the last 100 years, Braille has gone through content revisions mostly relating to syntax and typography, but the basic design of the embossed alphabet has remained the same. To accommodate users for whom audio computer screen readers were not an appropriate solution, braille displays --tactile consoles that act as computer monitors and read monitor output line by line-- were developed.
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