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How The University Works » Uncategorized http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress Mon, 21 Nov 2011 00:40:41 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.2.14 Farewell, Kindle. Buh-bye, iPad http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/286 http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/286#comments Wed, 27 Apr 2011 16:08:36 +0000 http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/286 Yesterday’s U.S. launch of the ASUS Transformer tablet with a detachable clamshell keyboard sold out in minutes on every major online retailer (hours if you were clever and out-thought the tech crowd by actually showing up in the flesh).

Why so popular? ‘Cause Asus clued in to the fact that we produce content with our computers, not just consume it, and addressed that insight with a stable mobile-computing design that everyone else will scramble to imitate.

The Transformer is a $399 full-internet touch tablet, running Flash, and employs the sun-beating IPS (in-plane switching) screen technology. In seconds it “transforms” into a netbook, snapping onto a lightweight keyboard ($149).

Brag alert: last fall, I predicted this design would be the “industry standard in a couple of years.” Lenovo has a similar model coming out this summer, and it seems clear that most manufacturers will have to follow.

Especially clever is the extra eight hours offered by the second battery built into the keyboard. Early reviews offer some modest complaints, mostly about camera quality. For most Windows users or smartphone owners, the Android Honeycomb operating system will feel intuitive, do everything you expect from a Windows netbook, and produce content compatible with your desk machine.

With the events in Japan, current backorders may not get fulfilled until June. Which will be good for all of those manufacturers stuck with tablet-only configurations. Watch for prices of machines that can’t accept a clamshell keyboard to tumble into the sub $300 range, but students, teachers, and parents should resist the temptation to buy.

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NBC’s Education Nation: Policy Summit or Puppet Show? http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/266 http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/266#comments Tue, 28 Sep 2010 21:05:15 +0000 http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/266 I’d like you to imagine the following. Suppose we are going to have a national summit on health care. Do you not suppose that a substantial number of the voices included would be from professionals in health care, including doctors and nurses? Would you have 3 people with just the head of the AMA to represent doctors?

Or how about legal reform – would not lawyers scream if such a conference were organized without a substantial portion of the main participants being members of the profession representing the range of opinions within the legal field?

Why then is it when it comes to education that people think it is appropriate to have major discussions about education without fair inclusion of the voices of those who bear the greatest burden for the education of our children, the parents and the teachers? –Kenneth Bernstein, Cooperative Catalyst

So I tied off my upper arm and mainlined anti-nausea drugs Sunday and Monday in order to stomach hours of biased, dishonest, irresponsible NBC hate propaganda paid for by, you guessed it, for-profit higher ed vendors and foundations devoted to privatizing public schools.

Just as Obama’s pursued the Republican party line on education, NBC has taken a page from Fox News and Oprah. Their lineup on a two-day policy summit with a dozen conference panels –you know, the kind of panels usually filled with folks with credible expertise in the topic–features politicians, astronauts, tv anchors, musicians, corporate executives, and charter school entrepreneurs.

NBC did include one or two figures associated with parent organizations. Just not those representing the the real views of most actual parents–you know, the real parents who on balance are unhappy with Obama’s education policy, who fired a mayor to get rid of Michelle Rhee, and who–when given the chance to vote–overwhelmingly support teacher-run schools over charter-school operators.

But somehow they completely failed to include practicing teachers, scholars of learning, or even recognized analysts of education policy.  All day Monday and Tuesday, the only figure in the summit remotely acquainted with the scholarship of learning wasRandi Weingarten, AFT president. She had to do double and triple duty, since she was simultaneously the only voice for practicing teachers, or for any policy recommendation other than those endorsed by Duncan’s Race to the Top.

Burn the Witch!
Incredibly, Weingarten played the same role all day Sunday. On Meet the Press and other programs, she was consistently positioned as a solitary voice against a solid bloc of panelists and journalists pounding away at the Duncan-Rhee party line. NBC positioned her on the extreme edge of the outdoor panel, literally in the wind, with her hair flying sidewise like the Wicked Witch piloting a broomstick.

Later, she faced an even larger panel completely united against her, this time featuring the propagandists who scored her appearances in Waiting with Superman with ominous chords redolent of Darth Vader.

They can feature both the director and composer of the film who painted her as the captain of the Death Star but not one credible authority on the positions being pushed by the film?

Interestingly, despite the outrageous set-up, on both programs Weingarten spoke more than any other participant–nearly as much all of the other participants combined.

Seems the shows’ hosts had to ask her to talk to nearly every point precisely because she was the only person who could provide any other perspective.

Perhaps also because she was the only person who actually had anything to say?

A Failed Hit Job
The one place where NBC allowed teachers–not scholars of learning or credible policy analysts–to have a few words was in a carefully scripted “town hall” program, segregated from all of the marquee shows and policy conference.

They stacked the audience with school administrators and charter-school teachers, all primed to spout their propaganda: “Teachers are under attack and we should be!” shouted one, on cue. “We young teachers don’t need tenure to do our jobs,” said another.

Even in the complete absence of journalistic scrutiny, the stories of these plants didn’t stand up to their own telling.

One charter-school hero stood up to mouth the no-excuses “challenge education” mantra that anybody can overcome any learning obstacle if they are confronted with sufficiently absurd expectations.

As an example, he cited his willingness to offer free day care to one of his students’ siblings in his classroom from 7am to 7pm, freeing the student from family-care responsibilities and allowing her to do her homework.

While laudable, his willingness to address the poverty of the student’s family in this way is however not, as they say, a scalable solution to the problem. Um, duh, most teachers have families of their own that they can’t and shouldn’t neglect to offer twelve hours of day care to others.

Right on the surface of this vignette is the cruel hypocritical absurdity–that those who are already sacrificing (the half of teachers who don’t quit in despair in the first five years) are not just asked but are really being forced to sacrifice more.

For instance, we could solve a lot of poverty-related issues if physicians or tv journalists or Wall Street banks turned their facililties into day-care centers and staffed them after hours.

Hey, let’s just say that everyone should work twelve hours a day for a teacher’s wage!

Any takers? I didn’t think so.

Nose Ring vs Soul Patch
NBC made the mistake of letting a few actual veteran teachers in the room (actually a tent on Rockefeller plaza). And the atmosphere was apparently charged: anchor Brian Williams called the room “a beehive, a cauldron of activity and emotion,” and joked about being in “physical danger.” (He also called one reporter “honey,” and flirted with one of the teachers on stage. Patronizing and chauvinist much? Guess we really are heading back to the Eisenhower era.)

Because NBC failed to make sure everyone in the room was an administrator or a twentysomething working-slash-volunteering before law school at a charter, we saw a couple of flashes of honest teacher feeling and insight.

These included thoughtful defenses of tenure as due process and analyses of the real issues (funding, poverty, support for professional development, workload, retention).

You could have heard a pin drop on Fifth Avenue when one California principal described her guilt at hiring a new teacher on the salary she was allowed to offer: “I basically condemned her to never owning her own home,” she said.

Astonishingly, one teacher that made it onto the show because she was acquainted with the anchor actually compared Davis Guggenheim to Hitler’s most brilliant propagandist, calling him “the Leni Riefenstahl of 2010.”

Personally I think that kind of comparison isn’t worth the backlash, but I think it could prove the most telling moment of the week.

In my experience, persons reaching for the Nazi comparison are intellectually or emotionally stunted, or else desperate. Since this apparently kind and thoughtful, intellectual person was evidently not the former, I think she was struggling to communicate–in the few seconds she was permitted -the stifled frustration and outrage of the tens of millions of parents, teachers, scholars and students who are being hurtled toward yet more schoolroom misery by this tsunami of pro-Duncan propaganda.

If you want to capture the essence of the tension that kept erupting through this scripted event, just fast forward to the middle of program, the second featured panel.

Comprising a charter-school reading teacher in blond dreadlocks and nose ring, and a public-school science teacher of the year sporting a soul patch, the panel was intended to talk about teaching technique.

Asked to describe how she succeeded as a teacher, Nose Ring was unable to manage a syllable describing or defending her teaching practice. She floundered helplessly (“well, you just show them how far behind they are in the world”) until the moderator let her off the hook, summarizing her philosophy: “Just teach ’em hard, huh?”

Invited to share his own teaching tips, Soul Patch, a public school teacher of the year, gently rebutted much of the propaganda previously circulated. American top students, he pointed out, perform at the same level as the top students anywhere in the world. The problem is inequality and unfairness, he observed.

Asked to celebrate the Duncan-Obama grim focus on STEM fields, science teacher of the year Soul Patch demurred, pointing out that his own practice and education research showed the importance of “right brain” creativity, of “movement and music right in the science classroom.”

Anti-social media
Up until a firestorm of complaint forced them to open the forum, NBC aggressively censored the one place where teachers and parents were mainly allowed to participate–on a Facebook page promoting the event. Even established columnists for national mainstream education journals like Education Week were repeatedly “unfriended” or had their comments removed.

Obama’s Today Show interview
This was only about twenty minutes on education before Lauer moved on, but kudos to Lauer for acting more like a journalist than anyone else NBC has put forward.

To his credit, Lauer only gave the administration props for the one initiative (pre-K schooling) actually supported by research, and showed that research in the video package.  He challenged the president on the unfair demonizing of teachers and teacher unions in Waiting for Superman. He pointed out that most charter schools underperform union schools.

Above all, he kept the focus on funding and support, quoting Clinton: “It’s not just a money thing, but it _is_ a money thing.”  Obama tried to counter with the Republican bromide that it “isn’t a problem we can spend our way out of,” and began mouthing accountability and competition cliches.

But Lauer kept at it finally getting the President to concede that there is no problem recruiting teachers into the profession–just a massive problem retaining them.

Most young teachers find they “can’t afford to stay” in the profession, Obama confessed, “especially when it comes to having families of their own.”

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Kindle or Netbook? http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/241 http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/241#comments Fri, 22 Jan 2010 17:34:25 +0000 http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/241 Ebooks are here to stay, but how will you read them?

As sales suggest, dedicated reading devices–Kindles, Nooks, etc–have begun to meet the expectations of leisure readers and business travelers. (Those expectations have been changing as well, after the socialization represented by a quarter-century of reading on screen.)

Providing fast, inexpensive and even free access to many titles, portability, adjustable type, searchable text, and a growing list of other functions, these devices meet many readers’ needs on both airplanes and nightstands.

But these dedicated devices just aren’t ready for the prime time of academic and professional use. Limitations and glitches in their annotation functions, difficulties with copying text, and even the need to mimic the paperback book experience present real issues for the scholar, student, lawyer and engineer.

Also, rather than remedy these defects: the teams developing next generations of these devices are focussed on other issues–larger screens, color display, the ability to do email, surf the web and upload other documents and media.

Where are these devices going? It seems pretty clear. Larger, a touch heavier, more functional–their competition is driving them all in the direction of becoming netbooks, the lower end of which retail in the same $200 to $300 price range that the dedicated devices are getting, but which already offer tons more functionality.

Which raises a pretty good question.

Why not just buy a netbook?

Both Amazon and Barnes and Noble offer free downloadable e-reader software that gets you access to their e-book lines, generally much lower than paperback retail. Many titles aren’t available in both–Henry Jenkins’ Convergence Culture isn’t offered at Barnes and Noble, for example, but Amazon doesn’t begin to match their rival’s huge line of free classic texts (all of Emile Zola!).

With the netbook you just download both free e-readers and access both lines for the price of one piece of hardware.

These e-reader programs have all the defects of the dedicated readers with respect to annotation and copying, but you can have another program running for notes (and a better keyboard).

Even for night-table reading, I find the netbook e-reader a wonderful experience: no need to disturb anyone else with a light, and supreme choice even after putting your son back to bed at 3 am. Advanced into your bifocal years? No problem–just boost that type size. Are you a speed reader? It’s easy to narrow the width of the page to accommodate those who take big gulps of text at at time.  A $300 netbook has brilliantly backlit screens and lasts nine hours on one charge.

I’m not diminishing the achievements of the codex as a technology, or the marvelous production & distribution associated with these intricate arrangements of wood pulp and chemical ink. I’ve built more bookshelves than most of my colleagues in the humanities and have never sold a book–not one!– or given one away without replacing the title. I have both e-copies and paper copies of certain books, and use the paper for the heavy-annotation work.

But if you are going to tote around a bunch of media in electronic form for professional and leisure use–and you’d prefer just one or two devices, the netbook seems a smarter addition to your phone than the Kindle or its cousins.

Another thing: academic and professional reading increasingly doesn’t need to emulate the codex experience with hypertext and embedded multimedia. The netbook works for that; Kindle doesn’t.

Of course, pretty soon the Kindle will be a brand of netbook, and this will be a moot point.

Just as with paper, the future of electronic reading will offer many options. The one I’d say is potentially the most interesting and promising of all–Plastic Logic’s one-pound, 8 1/2×11 Que, is based on a technology that could lead to computers as light and flexible as a plastic file folder.

Scheduled to ship this spring, this product is clearly at least a couple of years away from serious implementation–offers to review it didn’t get a response, even of the “we’ll get back to you in a month” variety (which tells you what kind of customer service you can expect when your piece of plastic forgets your business docs!).

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“I Re-wrote those Motherfuckers from Scratch” http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/236 http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/236#comments Tue, 05 Jan 2010 20:44:09 +0000 http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/236 Bérubé How many submissions did you receive for The Institution of Literature?
Williams 385, not counting the nine essays you submitted, eight of which sucked, if you don’t mind my saying so.
Bérubé Not at all. I totally respect your opinion when it comes to essays of mine that suck.
Williams Well, they did. As did many of the 65 essays I accepted, 38 of which I had to rewrite.
Lyon That sounds like a lot.
Williams Yeah. I take editing seriously.
Bérubé Well, how much rewriting did you do? We’re talking line edits, right?
Williams Fuck no. I rewrote those motherfuckers from scratch.
Bérubé Really? What did their authors say about that?
Williams I didn’t ask them. Why?
Bérubé Well, because most of the time, when editors make substantial changes to a manuscript, they run them by the authors, that’s why.
Williams Fuck that. If I ran things by people, do you know long it would take me to produce an issue?
Bérubé No, how long?
Williams Too fucking long, that’s how long. There’s no way I have time to send editorial suggestions back to people who’ll only sit on them for four or five months and then get back to me with a bunch of bullshit complaints about what I’ve cut. Besides, do you think that guys like Leitch and Kumar give a shit either way? It’s not like they’re going to notice. Hell, I stuck three paragraphs from the Grundrisse into your first essay and you didn’t say a fucking word.
Bérubé Wait, wait. That whole bit about how “the question of the relation between this production-determining distribution, and production, belongs evidently within production itself”? That wasn’t mine?

–excerpted from Michael Bérubé and Janet Lyon, The Early Years: An Interview with Jeffrey J. Williams

In this fanciful interview composed for the minnesota review roast issue celebrating Williams’ eighteen-year run as editor, Lyon and Bérubé capture the true picture of Williams talking out of school about the task of editing the journal that Paul Buhle called “the standard-bearer for dissenting views on American literature and culture,” read by his students at Brown with “near-religious fervor,” outlasting “nearly all of the journals of its type founded in the 1960s and 70s.”

Profane, forthright, daring and stylish, Williams made editing an academic journal into a platform for public intellectualism to an extent unmatched by anyone of his generation: during Williams’ tenure, mr garnered more mentions in the Chronicle of Higher Education than any other academic journal.

For a warm and frequently hilarious farewell–patched together in just under two weeks from call for papers to shipped print job–wizard managing editor Heather Steffen compiled a mock entry in Jeff’s day planner, a flowchart of his acceptance guidelines for fiction, 4 top ten lists, a mad lib, 4 mock interviews, a previously unpublished actual interview, and 21 funny and touching short notes from grad students to luminaries. You can read the full Lyon & Berube performance, browse the table of contents or download the whole thing (pdf). You can find Steffen’s email address on the contents page if you’d like her to mail you a bound copy.

Kudos to all of the participants for their wit and grace, and special thanks to Steffen for pulling this together in the aftermath of shipping the last scholarly number of the journal under Williams’ aegis, the Feral Issue, which she coedited.

After Four Serious Bids, Journal Moves to Virginia Tech

As previously reported in this space, Williams gave up the journal rather than capitulate when the “quality managers” at Carnegie Mellon demanded that he double his grad students’ workload at minnesota review or else give up his summer pay–a “performance funding” parlor trick intended to transfer piles of loose change from the already-gasping humanities to gimmicks like the Data Truck and scary initiatives like automating the curriculum with standardized course modules (no troubling keeping up with the discipline!) and robotic grading and computerized “feedback” (“I can’t let you do that, Johnny.”)

You know–the kind of “scaling up” and “innovation” that school reform cheerleaders scribbling about college “leaders,” students, and community stakeholders without ever mentioning the faculty, even as an afterthought–“learning,” if that’s what you call it, straight from the mind of the dear leader to the student brain, uncomplicated by scholarship or faculty thought, hurray!

Despite the pressure on humanities faculty everywhere in the past couple of years, Williams received four credible fully-funded proposals from editors at public universities, all meeting or exceeding the reasonable funding standards Williams set for a journal of this stature.  Congratulations to the journal’s new hosts at Virginia Tech, especially incoming editor Janelle Watson and her assistant Grace Mike.

And warm thanks to Williams for eighteen years on the job, and for going out with grace, courage, and principle.

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We Are Our Own Worst Enemies: 5 Minutes with Yours Truly http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/217 http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/217#comments Mon, 05 Oct 2009 19:04:59 +0000 http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/217

Courtesy of AAUP’s new video series, Voices of the AAUP, you can catch me on tape for a change. In the short piece I respond to questions about faculty democracy and work-life balance.

More entertaining video is provided by the Ad-hoc Post-Tenure UnderAppreciated Band, and more important thoughts are shared by faculty serving contingently, for instance Jeanette Jeneault, Jonathan Karpf and Marcia Newfield.

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Upcoming appearances http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/215 http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/215#comments Mon, 28 Sep 2009 15:32:11 +0000 http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/215 October 16. Plenary, Labor in Higher Education conference, sponsored by APSCUF/PSEA.  Harrisburg, Pa.

October 28, 29. Public lecture, University of Kansas Hall Center for the Humanities, (lecture Wednesday, discussion and workshop Thursday).

November 5.  Panel. Graduate Student Sustainability? American Studies Association Annual Meeting, Washington, DC.

November 22-29 Global Learning Visiting Fellow, School of Business and Management, St. Mary University, London.

February 11-12  Plenary, Networks and Enclaves: Open Access and Work in the 21st Century. University of California, Irvine.

June 9-12  AAUP Annual Conference on the State of Higher Education. Washington DC.

June 14-20, MLG Institute for Culture and Society, Antigonish, Nova Scotia.

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Summer Reading http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/110 http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/110#comments Thu, 29 May 2008 19:38:26 +0000 http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/110 My department just circulated its annual call for summer reading suggestions. I have long promised an “academic labor bookshelf” series of entries, and will probably deliver on that in a few weeks.

In the meanwhile, moderately lighter fare.  My three suggestions for summer fiction:

Chris Bachelder, US! (2006). hilarious, relevant political novel based on the conceit that Upton Sinclair (The Jungle, Oil!) is serially resurrected (and serially assassinated).

Thomas King, Green Grass, Running Water. (1993). Hilarious, brilliant, irreverent, captivating and defies description. My favorite North American novel of the past thirty years. If you must describe it, it’s by far the most readable piece of postmodern historiographic metafiction ever written. So full of ideas, so full of references, and all handled deftly, with incisive wit and a light touch.

Upton Sinclair, Oil! (1927). The “base” of There Might Be Blood, which was really an adaptation of Moby Dick–Daniel Day Lewis stumping about the quarter-deck for 3 hours. Oil! is utterly unlike the movie in mood, plot and characterization. It’s astonishingly like a Dickens novel if Dickens also had the range, virtues  and politics of Jack London. Great youth characters, enduringly relevant conflicts and themes. The perfect long summer book.

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