University and Cyberspace

The upcoming conference University and Cyberspace: Reshaping Knowledge Institutions for the Networked Age is shaping up nicely and is looking to be an event to be reckoned with. Here is something from the blurb:

Universities are entrusted with the increasingly important responsibility of creating, sharing, and fostering use of knowledge on behalf of society, and to that end, are the recipients of tremendous investments of time, money, space, authority and freedom. Universities have embraced this role in diverse fashions, varying by tradition, period, and discipline, but we now ask them to go further. As we progress ever more deeply into a networked age, our knowledge institutions are faced with concomitant opportunities. They are challenged by society to become a driving force to create and disseminate knowledge – using innovative, effective, and dynamic approaches – derived from and for the networked world.

This multi-disciplinary conference is organised by NEXA Center for Internet & Society and the Berkman Center for Internet & Society and is part of the COMMUNIA project and thanks to generous contributions the public-at-large will be able to attend.

Confirmed speakers include: Prof. Stefano Rodota (University of Rome), writer and futurologist Bruce Sterling, Prof. John Palfrey (Harvard Law School, author of “Born Digital”, one of the first studies on digital natives), Prof. Jef Huang (EPFL, architect), Prof. Terry Fisher (Harvard Law School). The final program will be made available by early June.

So I recommend that you are in Torino 28-30 June!

Free Knowledge

Let me begin by admitting that I really cannot stand working out to music. It bores me to no end. Particularly if I am running, if the wrong song shows up I just lose the will to jog.

Sad as I am I really enjoy listening to lectures while working out. Sad I know. That’s why I really become happy when I find more free courses online. This happiness increased when I came across 250 new course online (via PhilosophyBytes)  after browsing a few minutes I was already downloading:

  • HannibaliTunes – Patrick Hunt, Stanford.
  • Introduction to NonviolenceiTunesStream Audio and Video – Michael Nagler, UC Berkeley
  • GlobalizationiTunesFeedMP3s – Robert Acker, UC Berkeley
  • European Civilization, 1648-1945 – iTunes – YouTube – Download Course – John Merriman, Yale
  • The Roman EmpireiTunesFeedMP3s – Isabelle Pafford, UC Berkeley
  • Theories of Law and SocietyiTunesFeed – David Lieberman, UC Berkeley
  • History of InformationiTunesFeed – Paul Duguid, UC Berkeley

Virtual marketing for university course

Since being given permission to hold a course on the Vulnerable IT-Society I have been very busy in trying to market the course. The course was approved far too late for it to be included into the ordinary university course catalog so I have been left to my own devices. Basically I have had two months (last date for applications is 15 April) to make people aware and to get them to apply to a course that has been totally unknown.

The attempts to market the course have kind of taken a life of their own and I think that it may be interesting to write an article on the way in which university marketing may work. The first thing I did was to start a blog on the 23 Febuary. The content of the blog mirrors the topics which the course will address and over the last weeks I have added pages of information of literature, course information, lecturers and web2.0 stuff.

A couple of days ago I started a Facebook group and added information to the site. Actual spamming has been relatively low impact and has not resulted in all too much visible results. Finally I have posted notices around town and at various university libraries the results of this have yet to be measured. At the begining of the course I intend to poll the students to find out which information the students found and which had the most effect on them. My hopes for the course is that it will be a big success even in the number of applicants.

The figures so far (all based on the blog stats)

Total views up until today: 2,890

Busiest day: 248 views (February 27, 2009)

Total Posts: 74 & Comments: 70

Over 250 views of the about the course page

All in all this has been a successful blog but will the blog transfer to applications? And will the applications eventually turn into students attending the course? All remains to be seen.

Should you be friends

Micheal Zimmer reports that a Milwaukee-area school district has enacted a policy banning communication between school staff and students on social networking Web sites and instant messaging services.

According to this report, the school board seems to be concerned over the fact they can’t provide “adequate oversight” for these communication methods. Since communication between school staff and students are generally considered to be public records and are subject to public inspection, the district apparently wants faculty to only use district-sponsored applications/devices, which presumably provide better archiving and auditing of communciations.

Micheal raises the interesting question of whether faculty and students should be “friends” on social networks and wonders how this friendship affects the traditional teacher-student relationship?

This is a very interesting area since it brings into question the concept of “friendship” both in the on and offline varieties (but the focus here is online). It is also interesting to see how social networking affects the areas or zones of offline friendship. Previously your workfriends, golf buddies, neighbors, ex-university friends did not need to be in the same circles. They were all your friends but they were not necessarily friends with each other. With social networking “all” your friends can see each other. Indeed one may ask if parents should be “friends” with their children on social networking sites.

Add the teacher/student relationship into the mix and this gets interesting. Micheal asks: “Should teachers have access to personal details, photos, news feeds, etc that come with “friending” on Facebook? Should a student have access to a teacher’s profile?” It is easy to see that there are a large number of situations where it is better for these groups not to mix.

But then again the format of social networking is flawed since it is two-dimensional: we are friends or we are not. There is no casual acquaintance, no higher or lower orders of friendships. Cory Doctorow wrote a theory of why Facebook would eventually fail

You’d think that Facebook would be the perfect tool for handling all this. It’s not. For every long-lost chum who reaches out to me on Facebook, there’s a guy who beat me up on a weekly basis through the whole seventh grade but now wants to be my buddy; or the crazy person who was fun in college but is now kind of sad; or the creepy ex-co-worker who I’d cross the street to avoid but who now wants to know, “Am I your friend?” yes or no, this instant, please.

So when it comes to teachers/students the problem is what to do when a student asks to be a friend? When it is the teacher who asks it seems just creepy – but what about when the student asks? Maybe a Milwaukee policy isn’t such a bad idea. That social networks in general are not uncontroversial is well known.

Some education related scandals:  In 2006 a scandal emerged when a university professor posted a topless image of herself on Flickr & an art teacher was forced to resign for topless art photos of herself on flickr. In 2007 the president of Salisbury University removed her profile on the Facebook social networking site after news reporters asked her about apparently unprofessional pictures on her site. This year a member of York University’s Council has been accused of racism after posting a picture on his Facebook profile.

Disclaimer: I have been trying to figure out the point of Facebook since I joined in 2007 (yeah, I was a late entry) in the begining I felt more popular when I added friends. Then it became strange. I currently have more friends “online” than I do offline. In addition to this I am unsure who some of my friends are. On the other hand I have several students and ex-students among them and I have never felt threatened by there access to my information. This could of course be due to the fact that as a blogger and a user of flickr/facebook/twitter user I have already but my life online.

The Vulnerable IT Society

The formalities are cleared and I will be responsible for a new course at Göteborg University begining after summer. The course “The Vulnerable IT Society” (Det sårbara IT-samhället) will be in Swedish and there is some more information here.

Naturally the new course already has a blog which will focus on the vulnerabilities of the information technology society. So basically I am looking for students, bloggers and general interest in the subject – but all in Swedish this time.

Wikipedia Academy

On Wednesday and Thursday I will be attending the first Wikipedia Academy in Lund Sweden. The event will be spread over 1,5 days and deal with many different aspects of Wikipedia as a phenomenon and as a tool for research and teaching. The conference has brought together the Swedish Wikimedia group who will hold practical workshops and several different scholars to discuss issues as far ranging as trustworthiness of the sources, the inclusion debate and legal issues.

It should be a very interesting meeting…

Video Game Table

After lecturing at Södertörn University College I was given a tour of the department and to my joy I came across a functioning tabletop version of Pong.

Pong is a first generation video game released originally as a coin-operated arcade game by Atari Inc. on November 29, 1972. Pong is based on the sport of table tennis (or “ping pong”), and named after the sound generated by the circuitry when the ball is hit. The word Pong is a registered trademark of Atari Interactive,while the term “pong” is used to describe the genre of “bat and ball” video games. (wikipedia)

Check it out its beautiful

Just check out the amazing controls for the game!

Universities pimp out students

Information and news tends to come from many strange source but I was really surprised to find a nasty piece of news in the Göteborg Uni student newspaper. To put it bluntly Göteborg University has made a series of larger or smaller errors. Some just bad ideas while others really bad ideas.

In order to ensure that all students can be reached and to be able to take full advantage of information technology someone decided to provide all students with “official” emails ending with – on the face of it this may seem like a good idea but I really have no idea why. It would have been better to allow/demand/require all students to register an email address but I don’t want to get into that part right now.

The second mistake was to decide to manage the email system themselves. Which resulted in a couple of years of mismanagement, a lot of frustration and a final collapse of the whole system. Ok, so I am exaggerating it was not a collapse but basically the university admitted defeat – and it is here where the local student newspaper comes in – and have handed the administration of the email to Google.

Now this is a development which has been happening without much fuss all over the world Trinity College Dublin, Arizona State University and Linköping University (another Swede) but it kind of hits me square in the nuts when my home university adopts the scheme.

So why does it bother me that Google has taken over student email at Göteborg Uni? Why does it seem that I am the only one who is bothered by what is supposed to be a comforting fact that the students will still have as their mail?

What really bugs me is that the university has basically sold its students. Not only that, but the university is a public authority and as such should not be promoting a private company in this way. The University of Gothenburg has approximatly 50,000 students (25 000 full-time students) and 5,000 employees.  This public authority is then used to demand of it’s 50 000 clients that they must become reliant on a private company.

As if this wasn’t enough the recent Swedish FRA law allows surveillance of all communications that pass through Sweden. Since Google’s servers are outside Sweden this means that all the students email will be under surveillance.

This is wrong in so many ways but nobody seems to be reacting to the fact that univesities are pimping out their students for the sake of technical simplicity – when this is not necessary!

In praise of fearless academics

In the olden days Swedish professors had extraordinary job security. Much like a judge, a Swedish professor could not be fired for his or her opinions. The reason for this job security was to ensure and encourage an independent acadmia who would, without fear, couragously attack established, encrusted thought, to bravely rattle cages and knock over pedastals. In theory at least this was what was supposed to happen. In practice not a lot of knocking down took place.

Less than two decades ago this changed. The traditional job security was removed. More academics were produced. More professors, associate professors and PhDs were pushed through the academia factory. At the same time web communications made talking noisly an easy occurance. But when a blogger shouts on the web – does anyone listen?

Many PhD students, part time teachers, project based researchers and jobless PhD’s murmer (not loudly) about the dangers of blogging your mind or writing couragous, critical arguments in the media. Of course your future employers google you – what were you thinking? You didn’t think you could be appointed to the committee after writing “that” in the local newspaper?

But this picture is not as bleak as it may seem at first. There is a group of disrespectful, uncringing, loud academics who speak their minds. Online and offline. Some are quitely and discretely punished but in the long run developing reputations for being fearless, courageous and blunt is an advantage to the academic – even if he or she recieves a few knocks on the way.

Just wanted you all to know that you are seen and appreciated – you know who you are!

ps this post has nothing to do with, but was inspired by a particularly fearless local academic Prof Bo Rothstein who consistenly charges forward knocking over pedastles, rattles cages and challenges hypocracy wherever he sees it.