Academic Freedom Media Review-November 13-19, 2010

photo: Chris Hildreth

Compiled by Scholars at Risk

The Scholars at Risk media review seeks to raise awareness about academic freedom issues in the news. Subscription information and archived media reviews are available here. The views and opinions expressed in these articles are not necessarily those of Scholars at Risk.

Second Azerbaijani ‘Donkey Blogger’ Freed
Claire Bigg, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 11/19

Azerbaijani Activist Detained On Georgian Border
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 11/19

Nobel Winner’s Absence May Delay Awarding of Prize
Andrew Jacobs and Alan Cowell, The New York Times, 11/18

Law students march to support UP professors
ABS-CBN News, 11/18

SINGAPORE: Yale partnership to go ahead, NUS says
Stanislaus Jude Chan, University World News, 11/18

Law clinics that go beyond theory face attacks
Sarah Cunnane, Times Higher Education, 11/18

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Journalism and Online Discourse

However, while blogs have created hundreds of prominent new voices in the national media, social networking sites like twitter have only reinforced the position of people and institutions who were already prominent in other media.  Not a single person has risen to become a prominent national media figure just through their tweeting.  However, popular TV shows, musicians, and politicians have gained two million followers or more through the medium.

Given this, it is a legitimate worry that the decline of blogging, and the rise of social networking, will mean that the media status quo that was once threatened by the Internet will now be reinforced by it.  Rather than new media functioning as a democratizing force, it  could become yet another tool of the status quo.  Maybe once in a while it will be used by street demonstrators against a totalitarian regime, as it was in Iran, but most of the time it will just make the already famous and the already dominant even more so.

–via “Social networking sites reinforce the status quo

Those are the conclusions that Chris Bowers  draws from a report by the Pew Internet Centers on Social Media and Young Adults that finds that blogging is on the decline among teenage users of the Internet. Teens are also commenting less on blogs. Use among older Americans, on the other hand, remains the same.

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Three Interesting Links from Morocco

This post is simply to pass on a few links, all relating to Morocco.

The first is to the site for the Maroc Blog Awards. The title is slightly misleading because you don’t just vote on blogs. There is an award for the photo, Facebook group, and Twitterer of the year, among others. Morocco and Moroccans don’t have a huge online presence. It’s a small country. But they took to the internet relatively early in the global scheme of things. I attended a conference about the internet in Morocco in the mid 1990s and it was packed. It is also a pretty well wired country and lots of Moroccans who are active in online media outside of Morocco still prominently identify their online selves as Moroccan, so there is some good stuff for voters to choose from. It will be interesting to see, however, if any of the recently arrested bloggers. The latest was on December 8.

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NITLE’s New Online Presence

Revised NITLE Site

Revised NITLE Site

Some of you may have already noticed, but NITLE’s web site has gotten a face lift or, more accurately, a radical redesign of the sort that would be worthy of an episode if anyone were ever to launch and “Extreme Web Makeover” series. I couldn’t be more pleased and I’m very grateful to the task force that coordinated this project for the new public face they have given us.

This is my personal blog and I don’t often use it to talk so much about work, but I can’t help myself, so let me point out just three things that, for me, are highlights of the new main site and its complementary presences.

I should point out that while we were asked for our opinions of the site at various points in it preparation, I was not part of the task force. So I am approaching the site as a user or visitor like you, not as a guide involved in its design who can tell you why things were set up the way they were. I am also expressing my opinions, which may not necessarily be representative of NITLE policy.

We might as well start at the main page. There is a lot of information presented on this page, and yet it is done clearly and in a manner that is easy to navigate and that quickly takes on into sought after information without multiple stops en route. If you are interested in something on the front page and you click on a link, more often than not you end up directly on a page containing the information you need, even if that click takes you out of the NITLE site.

That, in fact, is the other thing I like more about the front page. It sends a clear message from the start that NITLE is an organization that works in partnership with our participating colleges so the page itself presents a dialogue.

I also like that it brings together, right up front, all that is going on with NITLE. We’ve got some cool projects in the queue for the NITLE labs and we’ve got some good programming coming up, too. In the Daily NITLE Column you will find items from NITLE’s new blogs.

Liberal Education Today has been re-focused and revamped to become Liberal Education Tomorrow, fitting for a blog covering emerging technologies. Perspectives is geared toward the technology leadership at a liberal arts college. Techne, the one which I will be contributing to most regularly, is about integrating technology for teaching and learning at liberal arts colleges.

There are other things I like as well, but I said I would mention only a few. There are bugs and glitches, too. I’ve already pointed out two that are being corrected. But this is the world of information technology and everything is always a work in progress. That’s why things move forward at the pace they do. And that’s why we need you comments.

We’d all like to know what you think of these sites, so visit them and post your comments or contact our staff.

Iranian Blogger Said to Be in Solitary Confinement – The Lede Blog –

Violations of Press Freedom should be of concern to us all.  When journalist are intimidated, then authoritarian forces can act with impunity. Here is the case of one Iranian blogger.

On Friday, an Iranian blogger and human rights activist, Mojtaba Samienejad, reported that a fellow blogger who had been working as a journalist for a reformist newspaper, Fariba Pajouh, has been in solitary confinement in Tehran’s Evin Prison for three weeks.

A version of Mr. Samienejad’s report was published on the English-language section of a Web site maintained by the group Human Rights Activists in Iran. Ms. Pajouh’s father told Mr. Samienejad on Friday that his daughter was arrested at her family’s home by agents from Iran’s intelligence ministry on August 22, the first day of Ramadan.

via Iranian Blogger Said to Be in Solitary Confinement – The Lede Blog, September 11 –

Quick Takes: The Cost of Journals — and Their Future

A new report from the National Humanities Alliance finds that the average cost per page of a sample of eight humanities and social sciences journals is $526, almost twice the costs for science and technology journals. The analysis of the eight journals was conducted to help disciplinary associations get a better understanding of the economics of their publishing ventures, at a time of increasing pressure to embrace the open access movement, in which research is available online and free. The humanities alliances report finds that open access would not be a “sustainable option” for the journals studied. At the same time, the report suggests that a more complete study — going well beyond the eight journals — is needed. Such a study might better examine differences among journals in the humanities and social sciences disciplines, the current report says. The new report may be found here. Analysis of it from the American Historical Association may be found here.

via Quick Takes: The Cost of Journals — and Their Future – Inside Higher Ed.

So how’s that for a shocking little piece of information?  What’s even more tragic is that the readership of those journals is often quite small.  Being published is the ultimate goal in academia and when it happens it can represent many months, sometimes even years of work beginning with research, defining and argument, writing, editing, submitting and to journals, bringing it into line with their editorial expectations, and then simply waiting.  And yet once the article comes out, it is met with little reaction or even deafening silence.  Few people read academic journals until they themselves have to write articles.

But there’s the rub.  The system is not suited to the times and it hasn’t been for some time.  For the most part traditional academia and the processes through which it grants diplomas to students and tenure and promotion to faculty is geared toward print and different time when the book and the printed word were the be all and end all.  Not only did you have to understand an idea or an argument and the processes by which one arrived at a conclusion, but you had to have memorized all the supporting evidence.  Knowledge wasn’t a few mouse clicks away, so we had to store massive amounts of it in our heads.

Most importantly, the printed word was immutable.  It was not easy to publish a book and it was not cheap either.  So if something went into print and was made public, it had to be worth it.  The book and writing have been sacred in almost every culture at some point and to some degree.

And so our system has us write papers.  I wrote my first research paper in 8th grade.  We took field trips to the city library to do the research, turned in note cards at steps along the way, then a draft, and then finally a 8-10 page paper.

There were more in high school and college.  I generally got very good grades on them, but no one read them but me and my teachers, or sometimes peers in the more humanities oriented classes where we did peer correction.  Technology now offers lots of strategies to break out of this pattern, but that’s for another day.   Then, of course, there is the Master’s Thesis and the Ph.D. Dissertation.

My job has shielded me for the pressure of “Publish or Perish” academia, but I do have a number of articles floating around out there.  I’m proud of them and they represent a lot of work.  I’ve received responses on them from people I don’t know who found them useful and interesting, but no one has every disagreed with me.

When I publish something online, however, do get feedback, immediately.  Sure, most of it is useless, be it positive, negative or neutral. Whether someone tells you you are an idiot or a genius, the utility of the comment is pretty much zero unless they engage your argument. But some people do, and it is very rewarding.  Moreover, even if no one engages you at all, you can sometimes see the argument ripple.  It may be reposted or linked to, and you  can find that in the visitor statistics in your site.

Depending on how content is made available (free or to subscribers, password protected or open access, etc), the internet make every single connected computer a potential reader for your work.  A journal, only those readers who are subscribed to the journal, who access it at their library, or who have access to a journal database that contains it.  Of course academic journals are not found in your average public library.

The real dirty little little secret is that many academic journals serve little other purpose and to provide scholars with publication vehicles.  Because if they didn’t, there would be no way for scholars to advance.  The really important “journals of record” simply do not have space for all the research at the produced, especially in the digital age.  That is not to say the research published in these other journals is necessarily second rate.  It may well be, third rate even.  But it could also be better.

And that brings me to my final point, which is the utility of the research.  Let’s suppose for a moment that I am a Shakespeare scholar and I have a particularly interesting and provocative way to looking at his work, a startlingly original way that elucidates the text and from which we can extrapolate a whole new school of literary criticism.

Which is really the more desirable approach.  That I go on leave next year and sit in the library writing up my argument in meticulous detail so that by the end of my leave year I have an article submitted to a handful of journals that I will hear back from several months later, or that I harness my excitement and take it public immediately in my blog.  Maybe I begin teaching my students the text using this approach and they engage the texts using lesson plans I share.  Others share theirs too, and we set up a wiki, diigo group, etc.

This is scholarship in action, scholarship the contributes, and scholarship that allows the academic to play the role of public intellectual, so desperately needed in todays bleak media landscape.

But now you will ask me about assessment and evaluation. How do we judge performance in such a system?  How do we evaluate an online resource?  I didn’t say I had answers.  Besides, it’s late in the day and this is is my random thoughts and ideas.  So what do you think?

The Wired Campus Asks, “Can Twitter Turn Students Into Better Writers?”

As educators interested in how online tools can make students better writers, we are finally getting some systematic studies to back up anecdotal evidence about how the more widely used tools, blogs and Twitter, are impacting writing skills and the evidence so far is positively inconclusive.  That is the gist of an interesting post from Wired Campus today, which takes note of the contradictory conclusions drawn from two studies.

Mark Bauerlein, professor of English at Emory University, turned in a Brainstorm blog post on Saturday, August 29, 2009 arguing that while it is true that young people today write far more than any previous generation in the form of online postings, text messages and the like,

we don’t see any gains in reading comprehension for 17-year-olds on NAEP exams, the SAT, or the ACT.  The last NAEP writing exam showed some improvement at the very lowest end, but no improvement in “proficient” or “advanced.”  Remedial reading and writing course enrollments are heavy, and the Chronicle’s survey of college teachers found only six percent of them claiming that students are “very well prepared” in writing.  And businesses keep spending billions of dollars each year on remedial writing training for employees.

On the other hand, early results of five-year study from Stanford draw an opposite conclusion.  The study examined close to 14,000 pieces of student writing done for courses and beyond.

Though final data analysis has not been done, early results indicated that in their Internet writings, students took pains to cultivate tone and voice, and to address a particular audience. “The out-of-class writing actually made them more conscious of the things writing teachers want them to think about,” said Paul M. Rogers, an assistant professor of English at George Mason University who is involved in the study.

So there you have it.  These are only two studies.  More have been done and more are being undertaken.  I am sure it will be a while before the debate is settled.

To my mind, however, a correlating, and perhaps even more important question, might be whether or not we are teaching students the right kind of writing.  In other words, is the nature of written discourse being so radically altered that we need to supplant or at least supplement teaching the forms and styles we teach now with newer forms and styles for the digital age?

SAR Academic Freedom Media Review

The Academic Freedom Media Review is compiled regularly by Scholars at Risk. Here is the review for July 31-August 7, 2009

Police clash with Honduran students
BBC News, 8/5

Researcher Resists Coptic Pressure (in Arabic)
Ad-Dustour, 8/5

Shift in Middle East Studies?
Scott Jaschik, Inside Higher Ed, 8/4

Reforms to Women’s Education Make Slow Progress in Saudi Arabia
Andrew Mills, The Chronicle of Higher Education, 8/3

Scandals Lead to Promises of Reform in Australian International Education
Shailaja Neelakantan, The Chronicle of Higher Education, 8/3

IRAN: Iranian-American academic detained in Tehran
Jonathan Travis, University World News, 8/2

Barriers to Religious School Graduates lifted
Brendan O’Malley, University World News, 8/2

NIGERIA: Supreme court reinstates sacked academics
Tunde Fatunde, University World News, 8/2

Professor Speaks on UN Arab Human Development Report 2009 (in Arabic)
Al-Fayhaa, 7/31

Note: For more about the United Nations Human Development Reports, see the UNDP site.

Study Abroad Blogs

Recently I was asked for information on blogs associated with abroad programs. I’m posting the information here in case it is useful to anyone else. It’s just a few links that came to mind. I know there are many others and I will post them when I remember them. Please, also, post them in the comments if you know of any.

Student blogging from abroad, in a structured manner, is common. What is less common is innovative or pedagogically sound uses of it. There is a very interesting project supported by National Geographic called Glimpse. This is a user-generated, professionally edited website in which students and others post blogs, images, travel tips, etc. In addition to the site, there is a magazine that you can pick up a newsstands here and there. It’s a handsome, glossy publication.

One of the earliest projects of this sort (2005-2006) that I am aware of was the Blogging the World project involving Middlebury, Haverford and Dickinson.

Some International Education offices use a blog for practical reasons, simply to post news, such as this from my undergraduate alma mater, VCU.

Others, like Bucknell, consolidate student postings into a central blog.

At Cornell students maintain blogs and the links are collected on a central page.

There are some study abroad podcasts, too. Here’s the Japan Study Abroad podcast.
I haven’t listened to it because I don’t speak Japanese, so I can’t tell you what is it about.

Here are Pacific University’s Study Abroad Podcasts.

There are more study abroad podcasts in the iTunes podcast directory, if you go to iTunes and simply search on “study abroad.”

Glimpse – Your Stories From Abroad

This is an interesting site, supported largely by National Geographic.  It’s composed of user-generated content, but it is professionally edited which, to be honest, I find to be a nice balance.

Glimpse is a community of globally minded young people who like sharing stories about life abroad. All of our content comes from people who are living or have recently lived overseas.

via share your story – Glimpse – Your Stories From Abroad.