Been there, done that: Art history as a model for the effect of technology on disciplinary development

Evidence of why it is useful to read outside your main areas of disciplinary interest…

I’ve been reading my way through Revisualizing visual culture (Ashgate 2010), on a number of titles I bought from the Ashgate stand at the the recent DH 2012 conference in Hamburg. Most of the chapter thus far have been relevant to work we are doing with the Visionary Cross project, especially now that we are starting to get usable 3D meshes (as time allows, I hope to post some other small posts about the various chapters in this and my other recent reading). Read the rest of this entry »

All should have prizes: Thinking about citation practice for the Visionary Cross Project

With the first meshes almost ready, and work beginning on writing up some of the results from our work on site in Ruthwell, authorship and credit questions at the Visionary Cross project are beginning to become more pressing.

Good practice, of course, would be to establish a system long in advance and stick to it throughout. The Visionary Cross project, however, has always operated as a relatively loose federation of scholars rather than a single project (more of a society, than a project in many ways) and, due in part to the long time it took to get major initial funding, crediting issues have until recently seemed quite far in the future. Read the rest of this entry »

Ideas have consequences: Prometheanism, the university as corporation, and the leadership debacle at the University of Virginia

One of the books I am currently reading is Public no more: a new path for excellence for America’s public universities. This is a book by Gary C. Fethke and Andrew J. Policano, two business school administrators who explore how market-focussed techniques that apparently are common in U.S. business schools could be applied to the larger enterprise of running a public research university.

One of the thrilling things about this book is just how far out of line it is with what I (and the authors) imagine to be mainstream thought on the purpose of higher education, its relationship to societal and personal benefit, and the definitions of quality and success.  The authors take a fundamentally and completely market-based and competition-driven approach to their analysis, and seem genuinely unable to see any value in (or at times even literally understand) more traditional approaches. Read the rest of this entry »

Visualising grades: An interesting idea from the Globe and Mail

The Globe and Mail ran what looked like a genre piece this morning about badly-written and hard-to-understand report cards–an annual rite it seems to me. But it ended with a side bar that I found quite thought-provoking: what a better-designed report card might look like:

The Globe and Mail’s proposal for a more visual report card.

Read the rest of this entry »

Siva Vaidhyanathan on the value of public research

A great statement today in Slate by Siva Vaidhyanathan about the value of public research:

We Americans take these institutions for granted. We assume that private enterprise generates what is so casually called “innovation” all by itself. It does not. The Web browser you are using to read this essay was invented at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The code that makes this page possible was invented at a publicly funded academic research center in Switzerland. That search engine you use many times a day, Google, was made possible by a grant from the National Science Foundation to support Stanford University. You didn’t get polio in your youth because of research done in the early 1950s at Case Western Reserve. California wine is better because of the University of California at Davis. Hollywood movies are better because of UCLA. And your milk was not spoiled this morning because of work done at the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

 These things did not just happen because someone saw a market opportunity and investors and inventors rushed off to meet it. That’s what happens in business-school textbooks. In the real world, we roll along, healthy and strong, in the richest nation in the world because some very wise people decided decades ago to invest in institutions that serve no obvious short-term purpose. The results of the work we do can take decades to matter—if at all. Most of what we do fails. Some succeeds. The system is terribly inefficient. And it’s supposed to be that way.

Along the way, we share some time and energy with brilliant and ambitious young people from around the world.

Important to realise this is also a selective list. Other things generated in whole or in part by publicly funded researchers and institutions include Unicode and XML.

Can anybody think of others?

This time it’s different: “ever since Plato” department (short)

From Public no more: A new path to excellent for America’s public universities, in which two business school deans explain how following the b-school model will improve higher education:

The belief that higher education should be funded by society dates back at least to the fourth century BCE, when Plato’s academy offered free admission to selected students–a philosophy that prevailed throughout most of history. Today we face a different and challenging environment… (3).

Talk about the need for transformative change!

Read the rest of this entry »

Chasing the (long) tail: Was the Readabilty subscription model really a failed experiment?

More on the changing business models (see my earlier entries, “Won’t get fooled again: Why is there no iTunes for scholarly publishing” and “Does Project Muse help of harm the scholarly community…“).

Readability is an app developer whose main product is software for improving the long-form online reading experience. I’ve not used it (yet), but it seems to involve a combination of applying an optimised style to existing content and suppressing the surrounding ads and navigation clutter (contrary to the comment feed on their blog, Readability doesn’t seem to extract and resell content without producer’s permission: it seems to be more like a specialised kind of browser plugin for viewing content you already have access to).

The original business model appears to have involved collecting subscription money ($5/month) from users who wanted a better reading experience and then distributing that money (minus a commission, I imagine) to the publishers who registered with them. There are aspects of this that you might quibble with–for example, had they thought they could communicate with the owners of every site their user base tried to read using their app? But on the whole it seems like an interesting and innovative idea: extracting some part of the capital required to produce content by selling a better experience in its consumption. And since I’d have thought they probably didn’t need to offer to share the money with the publishers (given that they were only reformatting the content), this is a business model that actually seems to have been constructive rather than purely exploitative.

And apparently one that doesn’t work. Read the rest of this entry »

“And in conclusion, funding for further research will be required”

Globe and Mail reporter Anna Mehler Paperny reported today on research that is pointing to a new treatment for people infected with the Ebola virus. After explaining how the treatment works and its implications, she concludes:

On a pragmatic level, getting this research published in a well-regarded journal could make it easier for Dr. Kobinger to ask for continued government funding in a cash-strapped environment.

What a pleasingly blunt statement about the economics of publication!

Won’t get fooled again? Why is there no iTunes for scholarly and scientific publishing?

In the inaugural BBC John Peel Lecture, The Who‘s Pete Townshend described the music publishing business as being historically like “a form of banking in many ways”:

In cooperation with record labels – active artists have always received from the music industry banking system more than banking. They’ve gotten…

1. editorial guidance

2. financial support

3. creative nurture

4. manufacturing

5. publishing

6. marketing

7. distribution

8. payment of royalties (the banking)

(A full transcript can be found here; video here (full) and here (excerpt))

Mutatis mutandis, much the same can be said for other forms of publishing as well: scientific/scholarly and commercial book publication, even film development and distribution. In each case, historically, the distributors of the content also generally have been responsible to a greater or lesser extent for nurturing and supporting its development. Individual segments of the market have dropped or added to Townshend’s list of functions (adding peer review, for example, in addition to editorial functions, or focus-group testing final product before distribution). But on the whole, Townshend’s list is pretty complete. In the pre-Internet era, publishing was generally the province of highly vertically integrated organisations: the same group tended to oversee the production process from the submission of the original manuscript, idea, or prospectus to the final distribution of sales income.

Read the rest of this entry »

Publish or perish: Should graduate students publish before graduation?

The Graduate Education Initiative (GEI) discussed in Educating scholars: Doctoral education in the humanities was focussed on improving graduate education.

Two important premises of the project were that improvement would involve reducing time-to-degree (TTD) and both reducing and shifting attrition among entering cohorts (so that less people dropped out and those that did dropped out earlier). Driving these premises lay the startling statistics about TTD and attrition in Humanities PhD programmes: about 50% of entering students left their programmes before completion, and about 1/2 of those who stayed failed to complete their degree by the end of their seventh year (the mean TTD across departments was 7 years, 3.5 months).

Speeding up time to degree, however, brings with it potential costs as well: perhaps humanities graduate students are taking so long to write their dissertations because the work is intrinsically time-consuming, or because they are concentrating on quality over speed, or because they are writing articles and otherwise polishing their resumes in preparation for the job market. Does speeding up TTD at the cost of these activities improve graduate education?

Read the rest of this entry »


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