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The Blog on Emerging Academic Technologies


August 2010 Archives

Not all data mining is equal!

In his blog, Bruce Schneier outlines a useful taxonomy of social networking data. He divides all the data that is collected on an individual into six types, each with its own privacy concerns.

I see this as a useful step forward when talking about privacy within the context of a social network. One might release a particular type of data knowingly and willingly and with an eye toward intentionally broadcasting something. Other data, for instance when someone tags you in a photo or when a company traces your browsing behavior, may be information you want to keep more private. Distinguishing among data types, then, can help us conceptualize the larger universe of our data profile and can teach us more about how to shape it, project it, and preserve it.

Higher Education

The New York Times reviews Higher Education: How Colleges Are Wasting Our Money and Failing Our Kids -- and What We Can Do About It. I find the title susprising -- "Our kids"? Is this a critique of higher education or grade schools? In any case, it's one more in a series of serious questions about the future of higher education, and echoes popular sentiment that college faculty are isolated, pampered, and more interested in research than teaching. I like the reviewer's take that research vs. teaching is a false dichotomy.


One fun, lightweight, and fairly simple tool you might use is Wordle ( It takes a bunch of text and creates a word cloud. Here's one based on the 2010 National Educational Technology Plan. (Click for a larger view.)


Wordle: National Educational Technology Plan


Here are three suggestions for using Wordle in teaching and learning... I've seen the first one used successfully, and would be curious how others are using word clouds. Please share in the comments.

  1. If you have an online chat, bulletin board, Twitter stream, a class blog, or some other text generated by the class you can use Wordle to show a snapshot of what people have been talking about. Though a superficial snapshot, it can be a fun way to begin the discussion. Are there any words that emerge that are surprising?
  2. Students can also use Wordle on their own, creating word clouds from texts and documents. This is certainly no substitute for reading or careful analysis of a document, but, as with a discussion, can be a fun entry point to a more thoughtful discussion.
  3. Students can do snapshots of their own papers, learning journals, short stories or notes. This can be a way to "share" their work with others without having to share all the details. The word cloud conveys thoughts and feelings without being very personal or detailed.

Teaching Without Technology

The Chronicle's College 2.0 series interviews a couple of teachers who have dropped all digital technology from their classes. The author penned a similar piece last summer.

Since all of the evidence presented is anecdotal, it's only useful as a point of discussion. I don't think we can learn much from the fact that some instructors don't like technology, and indeed I think you overplays the "digital divide" among instructors. That conversation feels about fifteen years old.

However, I think dropping technology can engage students for the same reason using technology did fifteen years ago: it's something different, that both wakes students up and compels instructors to re-think their teaching.

Recently the Librarian of Congress released the new rules on Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). On Twitter and on many blogs, the main focus of attention was on new rules that now allow people to jailbreak their iPhones. As Jonathan Zittrain explains in this interview, the rule on smart phones is a "key, symbolic victory for the open campaign-- but in many ways, a legal paper tiger." (In the first few moments of the video Zittrain provides a good overview of the DMCA.)

A new rule on using video in the classroom received far less publicity, but for educators should be just as newsworthy. The new rules allow "college and university professors" and "college and university film and media studies students" to incorporate "short portions [emphasis mine] of motion pictures into new works for the purpose of criticism or comment." This is excellent news, as the previous rule granted this exemption only to film and media studies professors. The previous rule was much too narrow given that film and television has so many educational uses across academic disciplines. I appreciate that the new rule is more in tune with the realities of teaching, and that conversations about managing copyright now can be a little more straightforward.

On the other hand, the new rule simply seems to affirm what normally would be fair use if not for that additional layer of digital rights management. Moreover, the new rule on student uses of media once again seems too narrow. Now that all instructors are included, educational uses of motion pictures on DVDs is restricted to film and media studies students. This is baffling to me, especially when I hear about innovative student media assignments across the University.

Accessible web services and technology providers

By Eric Stoller August 3, 2010 4:15 am

Five years ago, I was speaking with a technology provider about the accessibility of their service. A lot of their functionality was delivered via a Flash-based interface. Knowing that content in a Flash file could not be read by screenreaders, I inquired about the accessibility of the soon-to-be purchased technology solution. The response was lackluster. Section 508 and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) were not mentioned. Instead, the vendor's solution was to move the website from a ".edu" web domain to a ".com" in order to "circumvent the rules." While web site accessibility was on my "radar," unfortunately, it was not present in the boardrooms of a lot of technology providers in 2005. Frames, Flash, and images without ALT attributes dominated the web scene. It was not a good time to be a web browsing university student with a visual impairment.


Read the entire piece at

Generation Plagiarism

The New York Times features a story today on the problem with plagiarism in Higher Education in the digital age.

Are students these days more likely to commit plagiarism, and less likely to understand and value authorship? Or are the handful of anecdotes similar to past generations of students who cheated and made crazy excuses when caught?