Maclean's sucks up to the U of A

Post ImageI don’t know about you, but today I lost all remaining respect that I had for Maclean’s magazine. The annual ranking of Canadian universities came out, and the University of Alberta placed first in the reputational ranking. Kind of suspect, don’t you think, considering the U of A led the charge to boycott the rankings due to suspect methodologies. If there was any doubt about why the U of A and 26 other universities chose to boycott the ranking, I think it’s gone now. Nothing says guilty like sucking up.

If you’d like to see past results, the University of Waterloo has a handy page with all the data – not surprising considering they have ranked first in 13 out of 16 years the rankings have been produced.

For its part, the University of Alberta stands by the earlier decision, though Provost and Vice President (Academic) Carl Amrhein said placing first “certainly feels good.” I guess that’s a fairly diplomatic answer.

Read: Maclean’s

Podcasting Professor Has Website Suspended

Post ImagePodcasting and education – I think it’s only a matter of time, once the issues that make educational institutions uneasy are worked out. And to be sure, educators are already experimenting with podcasting, like communication and technology professor Robert Schrag. The problem is that he decided to charge for his podcasts, and NC State University didn’t like that too much (via Podcasting News):

Schrag had made his lectures available to students and the general public online for a fee of $2.50. The University questioned whether this practice was ethical, referring to the inconsistencies in opinion concerning intellectual property and decided to ask Schrag to suspend the Web site until copyright-issue clarifications could be made.

Besides wanting to make a small profit, I don’t know why Schrag was charging for his podcast. I highly doubt he gave the money to the university to cover his (probably very small) bandwidth costs. Interestingly enough, when he asked his class about the situation, only four of them said the podcasts should be free, and no one said the site should have been taken down.

This situation brings up a bunch of questions. As a paying student, is recording what the professor says for my own consumption any different than frantically trying to write everything down? Does the university own the content that the professor delivers, or does the professor himself/herself retain ownership? Why should I as a student have to pay extra to get an audio file of the lecture?

And perhaps most important of all, is podcasting just something universities need to embrace in order to keep up with the times? I think it might be, kind of like replacing blackboards with whiteboards or overhead projectors with digital projectors and computers. Schrag has the right idea:

“I’m not sorry I made the choice and I hope I can get back to giving the information,” Schrag said.

After all, isn’t the primary function of a university to disseminate information? We call it teaching or learning, but really, a university is just a fancy way to spread information and knowledge to the population. Podcasting then should be viewed by universities as just another tool to help them spread information.

Read: Technician Online

Podcasting University Lectures

Post ImageBlogMatrix has a post up today about podcasting university lectures – particularly appropriate since I start classes again for the Fall semester bright and early tomorrow morning. While I fully intend to go to at least the first week of classes, all bets are off after that. And no, it’s not because I am lazy, or going shopping or anything like that, I simply have a business to run. Sometimes business and school conflict, and you need to make a decision – which is more important, this meeting, or a lecture? Most times, for better or for worse, I choose the meeting.

I wouldn’t miss anything though if the lecture was being recorded and made available as a podcast.

While the BlogMatrix post is more a point-form plan for how to implement such a thing, and how it would work, it touches on a few important points that deserve to be highlighted.

Podcasting a lecture is for the students in attendance too!
Of course there will be people like me who skip the lecture to do something else and simply want to listen to the podcast later. More importantly though, podcasting a lecture is useful for the students in attendance, as BlogMatrix points out: “students, instead of taking notes (or only notes), would record the time of a particular interesting or salient comment”. That would be incredibly useful. This point needs to be made very clear to the decision makers in a University, as they will most certainly protest the idea initially, citing fears that no one will go to class. I think such fears are baseless – there is value in attending the lecture, such as being able to participate in the conversation.

(As an aside, if the lecture contains no interaction and is just the professor standing at the front talking, then I’d be GLAD if podcasting it made attendance drop to zero. It’s ridiculous that students pay $500 for something like that, because you know most of the fees go to paying the professor anyway. It’s examples like this that show just how antiquated and bureaucratic the university system can be.)

The Wisdom of Crowds
Or in this case, the wisdom of students in the class. Let’s assume students can bookmark parts of the lecture – perhaps the most important or interesting parts. As noted in the BlogMatrix post, this is powerful stuff: “Collecting all these bookmarks across all students (and potentially across time) will provide collective intelligence/data mining/insight into what is really import in the lecture”. The ability to tag lectures and specific segments would further this collective wisdom.

Is security really an issue?
I don’t think so. The University doesn’t want people getting the lectures for free – I understand that. But how is making an MP3 file available any different than having some random person walk in off the street, sit in the class for an hour with a recorder, and put it online later? Especially in a lecture with 400+ students, I am surprised this doesn’t happen more actually. As long as sensitive or personal information is not included in the podcast, I don’t see security being much of an issue. I do agree with BlogMatrix though: “I don’t believe it’s the place of the vendor (i.e. me) to dictate requirements to a client”. If a university really wanted to integrate security, it shouldn’t be that difficult, as all universities have pretty extensive systems in place already.

Now, let’s look at this from the perspective of Podcast Spot (if you want a test account, email me). Could our technology support such a thing? With a few tweaks here and there, I believe so. We’ve got all the basics covered (like tags and comments), as well as a few of the more interesting requirements (such as random access). And there’s a bunch more features on the way too (such as improved methods of working with segments). It’s not going to happen (because I better graduate in April) but it sure would be cool to see Podcast Spot being used in my school. Maybe I’ll see it as an alumni 😉

I think podcasting will catch on in schools and other similar institutions, but it will take time. People inside the education world need to grok the benefits of podcasting, and still more have to lose their fear of the technology. When that happens, I think everyone will benefit.

Read: BlogMatrix

Want to build a satellite?

Post ImageWhat would you do if you could launch your very own satellite? What would you design your satellite to do? I don’t think I know enough about the possibilities to even hazard a suggestion! Check this out:

An ambitious program called CubeSat, developed at Stanford University and California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, is giving students and companies the opportunity to build and launch functional satellites into low Earth orbit, or about 240 to 360 miles above the planet.

The satellites are tiny–they weigh a kilogram and generally measure about 10 centimeters on each side–but they cost far less than conventional commercial satellites. A CubeSat unit costs roughly $40,000 to build and only $40,000 to launch. As part of the program, Cal Poly takes care of the bureaucratic and logistical hurdles.

By contrast, a conventional satellite can run between $150 million and $250 million to build and $100 million to launch.

Think of this like the start of computing. Computers were finally “inexpensive enough” for an individual to buy (though far more expensive than they are today), and so they did. And look what happened! Is the information age going to have to make way for the true space age, where it’s not governments exploring the galaxy but you and me?

Read: CNET News.com

No books in your new library!

As some of you probably know, I prefer bits and bytes to paper. So it should be no surprise that I rather like that the University of Texas at Austin has replaced the books in one of their libraries with a digital friendly study space:

By mid-July, the university says, almost all of the library’s 90,000 volumes will be dispersed to other university collections to clear space for a 24-hour electronic information commons, a fast-spreading phenomenon that is transforming research and study on campuses around the country.

Note that the books are not being removed completely, just moved to other library locations. There are many educators who will frown upon this decision by the University of Texas, but I think they are just unwilling to change their way of thinking. Does it really make sense to start with books? Books are definitely valuable resources, they have been for a long time, and will continue to be for a long time. However, searching through shelves of books or stacks of documents isn’t efficient. Start with the computer to get to the right book.

It should be noted too that many universities and their libraries are making books and other print material available in digital form. Combined with the transformation of certain libraries into digital centres, I think what we’re seeing is more of the “on demand” culture. Thanks to TiVo and similar services, you can get TV on demand. Thanks to podcasting, you can get audio on demand. There’s definitely a trend here, and all the University of Texas’ decision proves is that libraries and books are not immune.

“There’s a real transition going on,” said Sarah Thomas, past president of the Association of Research Libraries and the librarian at the Cornell University Library in Ithaca, N.Y. “This is not to say you don’t have paper or books. Of course, they’re sacred. But more and more we’re delivering material to the user as opposed to the user coming into the library to get it.”

What you want, when you want it, and where you want it. Welcome to the future of, well everything, it seems!

Read: New York Times