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1. The other side of El Sistema: Music education, discipline, and profit

The Venezuelan youth orchestra scheme El Sistema is perhaps the world’s most famous music education program today. It’s lauded as a revolutionary social program that has rescued hundreds of thousands of Venezuela’s poorest children. Simon Rattle has called it “the most important thing happening in music anywhere in the world.” Classical music education is back in vogue, now aligned with the rhetoric of social justice.

However, the training of social or ethnic Others (the poor, the destitute, the non-white) as classical music performers is hardly a new idea, and delving into its long history may improve understandings of El Sistema outside Venezuela, which are currently very limited. While this training might have provided a helping hand to the most disadvantaged in society, it also had less benevolent aspects.

The music conservatoire has its roots in the conservatorios, or orphanages, of Renaissance Venice. Young female orphans were trained in music at institutions such as the Ospedale della Pietà, where Vivaldi worked. These institutions served a clear charitable purpose, providing for destitute children and aiming to turn them into productive citizens. Yet it’s worth noting a couple of further points: discipline and profit.

The Ospedali Grandi’s purpose was primarily to regulate the city’s social environment, and along with the opportunities provided to impoverished girls went strict control over their day-to-day lives. As Vanessa M. Tonelli notes, the young musicians had to submit to an inflexible monastic routine: silence, lots of work, and little leisure time. When the English music historian Charles Burney visited in the eighteenth century, he noted “good discipline observed in every particular,” and he described the orchestra as “under the most exact discipline,” with its musicians “under that kind of subordination which is requisite in a servant to a superior.” Clearly, then, musical training was an extension of the Ospedali’s social control. It also had an economic angle: concerts by the orphan girls became a major attraction, and the Ospedali were thus able to turn their musical talents into profit, enriching the institutions and their administrators by eliciting larger donations.

Naples, too, had a conservatorio system, in which, as David Yearsley writes, music “was drummed into thousands of children in a system of forced labor…. There was huge international demand for the fashionable Neapolitan style, and the conservatories fed it.” Employing a training system that was “often cruel,” these “music mills” forged highly trained performers for export across Europe. Their art “belied the inexorable regime of study, discipline, and punishment that lay behind it”: Burney described sweatshop-like conditions, with students practising ten hours a day with only a few days off per year.

Caracas_Brass
Caracas Brass, El Sistema. By Agonzalez. CC-BY-SA-4.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Yearsley posits a “dialectic of musical enlightenment: on one side of the split screen was the musical workhouse of the poor orphans, on the other, the courtly chamber filled by the most elegant music played by bewigged and fully-trained instrumentalists.” Enchanting music emerged from conditions of control and exploitation.

The alliance of coercion and beauty was not limited to Europe. The Spanish Conquest of the Americas saw missionaries fanning out across the continent and founding schools that taught music as a core subject. A key aim was to instill in the indigenous population what the Spaniards called policía–order, Christianity, and civilization. Music education thus served as a handmaiden of colonialism.

In nineteenth-century Britain, music education was promoted among the poor as part of a drive for moral and religious improvement. Howard Smither argues that a key motivation was the political protection of the upper and wealthy middle classes. Music was seen as a way of keeping the workers out of taverns, increasing their productivity and decreasing their opportunities to discuss revolutionary ideas. Similarly, David Gramit underlines how nineteenth-century educational reform in Germany reaffirmed the social and economic order; music education proponents “sought to create a disciplined but docile labor pool” and thus promote more efficient capitalism. Grant Olwage explores how the perceived efficacy of music education as social control in Britain made it an obvious tool for disciplining and “civilizing” the black population in its colony in South Africa.

What all these programs had in common was an attempt to order and control social Others. They reveal music education in its guise of disciplinary practice, and thus as profoundly ambiguous. As Michel Foucault argues, discipline is effective and productive, as the high level of performing skill attained by many of these musical trainees attests. But discipline also “imposes unequal, asymmetrical, non-reciprocal relations” (James Johnson), and produces docile, apolitical subjects. Music education thus brings benefits, but they often accrue as much to the educators as the educated (as economic and symbolic capital) and may be accompanied by significant (if hidden) costs.

Training, discipline, profit: these three threads run through the history of music education of social or ethnic Others. Let’s now turn to Venezuela.

El Sistema has been lionised by the international press as a revolution in artistic education and a beacon of social justice. Clearly, then, there has been a failure to connect it to similar music education initiatives stretching back half a millennium and to take account of the darker side of music education. For all the contemporary talk of a “revolutionary social project,” El Sistema offers little that is new—its core ideas were presaged in sixteenth-century Latin America and nineteenth-century Europe–and such programs have historically been reactionary, not revolutionary.

Historical precedents alert us to the possibility that alongside El Sistema’s undoubted productivity lie discipline and profit. And indeed, the Venezuelan program displays a familiar urge to control social Others and benefit from their musical activities. Founder José Antonio Abreu has said: “As an educator, I was thinking more about discipline than about music.” Gustavo Dudamel and the Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra, meanwhile, have become mainstays of the global music industry, attracting the kind of international praise and wonder that Venetian orphan musicians did centuries earlier, and generating considerable revenue in the process. Like the Neapolitan conservatorios, it drills young performers intensively to fulfill the desires of audiences across Europe; once again, the musicians’ “naturalness” is celebrated, their unbending training regime overlooked.

To understand El Sistema, we need to remember music education’s two faces. The press and public have fixated on one–“rescuing” and training the poor–and have largely ignored the other: discipline and profit. Only when the second is fully grasped can a proper assessment be made.

Headline image credit: ‘Maestro. Orchestra. Conductor’. Public domain via Pixabay

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2. Music teachers on Facebook: separating the wheat from the chaff

I just reviewed yet another “hot off the press” piano composition. It was posted on Facebook by someone I don’t know – either as a person or by reputation. It looks good, but that is only because note-writing software has become so easy-to-use that anyone with the most basic knowledge can quickly crank out a “could-have-been-published” looking piece.

This particular piece doesn’t sound very good. It is mismatched. The notes themselves are at an upper-beginning level, yet it’s written with a complicated key signature and accidentals only an advanced student could understand. There are notational errors. Yet, I know that many unknowing teachers will print it off and rush it to their unfortunate students before the day is out without knowing better.

My professional life is better because of my Facebook presence that I control from the comfort of my hilltop home in a small town. I have made connections with numerous wonderful teachers I might not have met otherwise. I have discovered new books and interesting repertoire and also have contributed my two cents when I felt called to do so. I recognize, however, that I have been thrown without rank or file, onto a massive heap of piano teachers. Perhaps I stand out because of my reputation, but probably not. Up until recent times, the gatekeepers of quality have included respected publishers and one’s reputation through professional associations. Facebook’s format equalizes everyone regardless of accomplishment or education. There is no gatekeeper here.

I work in an unregulated industry as an independent music teacher in the United States. No professional degrees, training, or licensing of any kind is necessary to start up a studio. One simply needs to hang a sign and gather willing students. While this has been a longstanding issue in our field, recent trends in social media have combined with advances in technology to make everyone look equally valid on the screen. It is impossible to discern from a glance whether one’s content is senseless, stellar, or stolen.

With the ease of creating websites, music teachers have jumped into the writing arena. No credentials are needed to set up a site, write something, and post links in every professional music group on Facebook. The volume is overwhelming and often includes blog posts that are only copies or rewrites of someone else’s work. From appearances on screen, there is no way to sort the good from the bad and unethical.

Likewise, when questions are posed in groups, anyone can answer. There are no algorithms measuring the veracity or usefulness of an answer, or even the level of competence of the person responding. Running parallel to this is an anti-educational drumbeat that attempts to elevate those who have no formal education in their field to the highest level of achievement simply because they have passion for what they do. “People don’t know what they don’t know” as the old saying goes, and on Facebook no one seems bashful in rushing to confirm the truth of this statement. On the ubiquitous blue and white screen we all stand as equals — or at least we look like we do.

Adding to this are the wearisome writers who purport that “having fun” should supersede the steady and sturdy learning that is required to gain success in any field. Certainly, there is nothing wrong with fun, but students subjected to a form of “teaching” with only pleasant, mindless activities devoid of content or educational merit will never see a reasonable level of achievement — certainly not enough for them to gain entry into a respectable music school.

Untrained teachers whose main goal is keeping kids happy are falling into this trap by droves by using well-marketed, but substandard and mostly self-published literature that is woefully lacking in sound pedagogy. There is a bandwagon mentality of rushing to download the latest composition or method, which leads to a sense of belonging to the coolest group in high school – I mean – on Facebook. But, when one method advertises that “Our teachers do not need to possess advanced playing skills, prior teaching experience or a music degree. They must simply love to play the piano…” where is it all headed?

Parents would never allow their children to study math with someone who simply had a passion for adding up numbers, yet many sign them up for music lessons without researching the qualifications of the instructors or the soundness of the materials. The books are slick, the websites dynamic, and the appearances on Facebook omnipresent. But does the emperor actually have any clothes?

With 8,000 piano teachers in one group and several thousand in others, it is an unmanageable task to separate the wheat from the chaff. I suspect that these groups will have short shelf lives moving forward as their members begin to realize the unreliability of the information and the questionable value of material shared. What this backlash will create is yet to be determined, but I trust it will be a positive, quality-driven platform. For me, this can’t happen soon enough.

Image courtesy of Deborah Rambo Sinn

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3. FOUR TITLES FROM OWLKIDS BOOKS

OwlKids Books promotes awareness of our world to encourage young readers to become more astute observers of how their choices can affect the natural world. OwlKids Books appeal to readers who enjoy bold graphics with quick facts using minimal text. Why We Live Where We Live Written by Kira Vermond; Illustrated by Julie McLaughlin ISBN: 9781771470117 Grades 4-6 Vermond takes readers on a

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4. Questions surrounding open access licensing

Open access (OA) publishing stands at something of a crossroads. OA is now part of the mainstream. But with increasing success and increasing volume come increasing complexity, scrutiny, and demand. There are many facets of OA which will prove to be significant challenges for publishers over the next few years. Here I’m going to focus on one — licensing — and discuss how the arguments seen over licensing in recent months shine a light on the difference between OA as a movement, and OA as a reality.

Today’s authors face a number of conflicting pressures. Publish in a high impact journal. Publish in a journal with the correct OA options as mandated by your funder. Publish in a journal with the correct OA options as mandated by your institution. Publish your article in a way which complies with government requirements on research excellence. They are then met by a wide array of options, and it’s no wonder we at OUP sometimes receive queries from authors confused as to which OA option they should choose.

One of the most interesting aspects of the various surveys Taylor & Francis (T&F) have conducted on open access over the past year or two has been the divergence between what authors say they want, and what their funders/governments mandate. The T&F findings imply that, whilst there is generally a shared consensus as to what is meant by accessible, there are divergent positions and preferences between funders and researchers as to what constitutes reasonable reuse. T&F’s surveys always reveal the most restrictive licences in the Creative Commons (CC) suite such as Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial No-Derivs (CC BY-NC-ND) to be the most popular, with the liberal Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) licence coming in last. This neither squares with the mandates of funders which are usually, but not always, pro CC BY, or author behaviour at OUP, where CC BY-NC-ND usually comes in a resounding third behind CC BY and CC BY-NC where it’s available. It’s not a dramatic logical step to think that proliferation may lead to confusion, but given the conflicting evidence and demand, and potential for change, it’s logical for publishers to offer myriad options. At the same time elsewhere in the OA space we have a recent example of pressure to remove choice.

Creative Commons. Image by Giulio Zannol. CC BY 2.0 via giuli-o Flickr.
Creative Commons. Image by Giulio Zannol. CC BY 2.0 via giuli-o Flickr.

In July 2014, the International Association of Science, Technical and Medical Publishers (STM) released their ‘model licences’ for open access. These were at their core a series of alternatives for, and extensions to the terms of the established CC licences. STM’s new addition did not go down well in OA circles, as a ‘Global Coalition’ subsequently called for their withdrawal. One of the interesting elements of the Coalition’s call was that, in amongst some very valid points about interoperability, etc. it fell back on the kind of language more commonly associated with a sermon to make the STM actions seem incompatible with some fundamental precepts about the practice of science: “let us work together in a world where the whole sum of human knowledge… is accessible, usable, reusable, and interoperable.” At root, it could be interpreted that the Coalition was using positive terminology to frame an essentially negative action – barring a new entry to the market. Personally, I don’t have a strong opinion on the new STM licences. We don’t have any plans to adapt them at OUP (we use CC). But it was odd and striking that rather than letting a competitor to the CC status quo exist and in all likelihood fail, some serious OA players felt the need to call for that competitor’s withdrawal.

This illustrates one of the central challenges of the dichotomy of OA. On one hand you have OA as a political movement seeking to replace commercial interests with self-organized and self-governed communities of interest – a bottom-up aspiration for the common good, often suggested to be applied in quite restricted ways, usually adhering to the Berlin, Budapest, and Bethesda declarations. On the other you have OA as a top-down pragmatic means to an end, aiming to improve the flow of research and by extension, economic performance. The OA pragmatist might suggest that it’s fine for an author to be given the choice of liberal or less liberal OA licences, as long as they meet the basic criteria of being free to read and easy to re-use. The OA dogmatist might only be satisfied with the most liberal licence, and with OA along the terms they’ve come to believe is the correct interpretation of their core precepts. The danger of this approach is that there is a ‘right’ and a ‘wrong’ and, as can be seen from the language of the Global Coalition in responding to the STM licences, that can very easily translate into; “If you’re not with us, you’re against us.”

Against this backdrop, publishers find themselves in a thorny position. Do you (a) respect author choice, but possibly at some expense of simplicity, or do you (b) offer fewer options, but potentially leave members of the scholarly community feeling dissatisfied or disenfranchised by your standard option?

Oxford University Press at the moment chooses option (a), as we feel this is the more inclusive way to proceed. To me at least it feels right to give your customers choice. But there is an argument for streamlining processes, avoiding confusion, and giving users consistent knowledge of what to expect. Nature Publishing Group (NPG), for example, recently announced that as part of their move to full OA for Nature Communications they would be making CC BY their default, and only allowing other options on request. This is notable in as much as it’s a very strong steer in a particular direction, while not ruling out everything else. NPG has done more than most to examine the choice issue – changing the order of their licences to see what authors select, sometimes varying charges, etc. Empirical evidence such as this is essential for a viable and credible resolution to the future of OA licensing. Perhaps the Global Coalition should have given a more considered and less emotional response to the STM licences. Was repudiation necessary in a broad OA community which should be able to recognise and accept different variants of OA? It would be a shame if all the positive impacts of open access for the consumer come hand in hand with a diminution of scholarly freedom for the producer.

The opinions and other information contained in this blog post and comments do not necessarily reflect the opinions or positions of Oxford University Press.

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5. Five key moments in the Open Access movement in the last ten years

In 2014 Oxford University Press celebrates ten years of open access (OA) publishing. In that time open access has grown massively as a movement and an industry. Here we look back at five key moments which have marked that growth.

2004/05 – Nucleic Acids Research (NAR) converts to OA

At first glance it might seem parochial to include this here, but as Rich Roberts noted on this blog in 2012, Nucleic Acids Research’s move to open access was truly ‘momentous’. To put it in context, in 2004 NAR was OUP’s biggest owned journal and it was not at all clear that many of the elements were in place to drive the growth of OA. But in 2004/2005 NAR moved from being free to publish to free to read – with authors now supporting the journal financially by paying APCs (Article Processing Charges). No wonder Roberts adds that it was ‘with great trepidation’ that OUP and the editors made the change. Roberts needn’t have worried — NAR’s switch has been a huge success — its impact factor has increased, and submissions, which could have fallen off a cliff, have continued to climb. As with anything, there are elements of the NAR model which couldn’t be replicated now, but NAR helped show the publishing world in particular that OA could work. It’s saying something that it’s only ten years on, with the transition of Nature Communications to OA, that any journal near NAR’s size has made the switch.

NAR Revenue Streams  2004
NAR Revenue Streams 2004
NAR Revenue Streams 2013
NAR Revenue Streams 2013

2008 – National Institutes of Health (NIH) Mandate Introduced

Open access presents huge opportunities for research funders; the removal of barriers to access chimes perfectly with most funders’ aim to disseminate the fruits of their research as widely as possible. But as both the NIH and Wellcome, amongst others, have found out, author interests don’t always chime exactly with theirs. Authors have other pressures to consider – primarily career development – and that means publishing in the best journal, the journal with the highest impact factor, etc. and not necessarily the one with the best open access options. So it was that in 2008 the NIH found it was getting a very low rate of compliance with its recommended OA requirements for authors. What happened next was hugely significant for the progress of open access. As part of an Act which passed through the US legislature, it was made mandatory for all NIH-funded authors to make their works available 12 months after publication. This was transformative in two ways: it meant thousands of articles published from NIH research became available through PubMed Central (PMC), and perhaps just as importantly it legitimised government intervention in OA policy, setting a precedent for future developments in Europe and the United Kingdom.

2008 – Springer buys BioMed Central (BMC)

BioMed Central was the first for-profit open access publisher – and since its inception in 2000 it was closely watched in the industry to see if it could make OA ‘work’. When it was purchased by one of the world’s largest publishers, and when that company’s CEO declared that OA was now a ‘sustainable part of STM publishing’, it was a pretty clear sign to the rest of the industry, and all OA-watchers, that the upstart business model was now proving to be more than just an interesting side line. It also reflected the big players in the industry starting to take OA very seriously, and has been followed by other acquisitions – for example Nature purchasing Frontiers in early 2013. The integration of BMC into Springer has happened gradually over the past five years, and has also been marked by a huge expansion of OA at the parent company. Springer was one of the first subscription publishers to embrace hybrid OA, in 2004, but since acquiring BMC they have also massively increased their fully OA publishing. It seems bizarre to think that back in 2008 there were even some who feared the purchase was aimed at moving all BMC’s journals back to subscription access.

2007 on – Growth of PLOS ONE

The head and shoulders of Janet Finch, pictured on the platform as a guest speaker at the 11 November 2003 General Meeting of the Keele University Students' Union. KUSU Ballroom, Keele, Staffordshire, UK. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.
The head and shoulders of Janet Finch, pictured on the platform as a guest speaker at the 11 November 2003 General Meeting of the Keele University Students’ Union. KUSU Ballroom, Keele, Staffordshire, UK. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

The Public Library of Science (PLOS) started publishing open access journals back in 2003, but while its journals quickly developed a reputation for high-quality publishing, the not-for-profit struggled to succeed financially. The advent of PLOS ONE changed all that. PLOS ONE has been transformative for several reasons, most notably its method of peer review. Typically top journals have tended to have their niche, and be selective. A journal on carcinogens would be unlikely to accept a paper about molecular biology, and it would only accept a paper on carcinogens if it was seen to be sufficiently novel and interesting. PLOS ONE changed that. It covers every scientific field, and its peer review is methodological (i.e. is the basic science sound) rather than looking for anything else. This enabled PLOS ONE to rapidly turn into the biggest journal in the world, publishing a staggering 31,500 papers in 2013 alone. PLOS ONE’s success cannot be solely attributed to its OA nature, but it was being OA which enabled PLOS ONE to become the ‘megajournal’ we know today. It would simply not be possible to bring such scale to a subscription journal. The price would balloon beyond the reach of even the biggest library budget. PLOS ONE has spawned a rash of similar journals and more than any one title it has energised the development of OA, dispelling previously-held notions of what could and couldn’t be done in journals publishing.

2012 – The ‘Finch’ Report

It’s difficult to sum up the vast impact of the Finch Report on journals publishing in the UK. The product of a group chaired by the eponymous Dame Janet Finch, the report, by way of two government investigations, catalysed a massive investment in gold open access (funded by APCs) from the UK government, crystallised by Research Councils UK’s OA policy. In setting the direction clearly towards gold OA, ‘Finch’ led to a huge number of journals changing their policies to accommodate UK researchers, and the establishment of OA policies, departments, and infrastructure at academic institutions and publishers across the UK and beyond. The wide-ranging policy implications of ‘Finch’ continue to be felt as time progresses, through 2014’s Higher Education Funding Council (HEFCE) for England policy, through research into the feasibility of OA monographs, and through deliberations in other jurisdictions over whether to follow the UK route to open access. HEFCE’s OA mandate in particular will prove incredibly influential for UK researchers – as it directly ties the assessment of a university’s funding to their success in ensuring their authors publish OA. The mainstream media attention paid to ‘Finch’ also brought OA publishing into the public eye in a way never seen before (or since).

Headline image credit: Storm of Stars in the Trifid Nebula. NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA

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6. Is American higher education in crisis?

American higher education is at a crossroads. The cost of a college education has made people question the benefits of receiving one. To better understand the issues surrounding the supposed crisis, we asked Goldie Blumenstyk, author of American Higher Education in Crisis: What Everyone Needs to Know, to comment on some of the most hot button topics today.

A discussion on the rising cost of higher education.

What does the future of higher education look like?

Are the salaries of university presidents and coaches too high?

A look into the accountability movement in higher education today.

Featured image credit: Grads with diplomas by Saint Louis University Plus Memorial Library. CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 via Flickr.

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7. The Kubert School is having a open house tomorrow

kubert school open house The Kubert School is having a open house tomorrow

The longest running stand alone school to teach cartoonist is having an open house tomorrow from 1-4. Prospective students will meet faculty and get a tour.

Open houses at The Kubert School are a great way to learn about the school and program. Any prospective student and their family is welcome to attend. A tour of the school, teacher demonstrations, and meetings with our faculty are a part of the Open House experience. Scheduling a time is not necessary.

Founded by the great Joe Kubert, the school is currently run by his family, including Andy and Adam Kubert. Grads include Amanda Connor, Shane Davis, Skot Collins, and many more.

 

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8. In person online: the human touch

What is the human touch in online learning? How do you know if it’s there? What does it look and feel like? My epiphany on this topic occurred when a student told me “I thought I would have done better if I had a real teacher.”

This pronouncement triggered a cascade of questions: Why didn’t she see me as real? Because we weren’t in the same physical space? The physical separation of instructor and students creates a psychological and communications gap, and the missing element is the perception of people as real in an online environment — the human touch. Did she think the computer produced the instruction and the teacher interaction? How could this happen when I felt deeply involved in the course — posting detailed reading guides and supplementary materials, leading and participating in discussions, and giving individual feedback on assignments? Was technology getting in the way or was it the way I was using it? In the online classroom we hope that the technology becomes transparent and that students just have a sense of people interacting with other people in an online learning community. And this issue isn’t limited to students. Instructors are sometimes concerned that they won’t be able to achieve the energy of the face-to-face classroom and the electricity of an in-person discussion if they teach online. It’s a matter of presence and personal style.

Internet Cafe after Jean Beraud
Internet Cafe after Jean Beraud. Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.com, CC BY 2.0 via Flickr

We can create the human touch by establishing an online presence – a sense of really being there and being together for the course. To be perceived as real in the online classroom we need to project ourselves socially and emotionally, and find ways to let our individual personality shine through whatever communications media we’re using. We can look to our own face-to-face teaching style for ways to humanize an online course. What do we do in a face-to-face classroom to make ourselves more approachable? We talk with students as they arrive for class, spice up lectures with touches of humor and relevant personal stories, treat discussions as conversations, and sometimes depart from what we planned so we can follow more promising asides.

To translate these techniques for the online classroom we can look to the issue of physical separation. We use the terms “face-to-face” and “online,” but online isn’t synonymous with faceless and impersonal. In fact, faces can contribute to the human touch. Pictures of the instructor and the students, brief instructional videos, and video-enabled chat all provide images of real people. They add a human touch and contribute to a more vivid sense of presence — of being perceived as real. And posting short introductory autobiographies helps course participants establish personal connections that pave the way for open communication and collaboration. With the use of strategies like these the technology may begin to recede from consciousness, the focus can shift from technology to people, and ultimately the technology may even seem to disappear as people just interact with each other.

Once you’ve established a sense of presence, you want to maintain and extend it. Regular, brief, informal announcements like those we typically make in a face-to-face class — a welcome message at the beginning of a course, reminders of due dates for assignments, current news items relevant to course content — help make our presence felt and assure students that we’re there, we’re working along with them, and we’re interested in their progress and success. Using our normal conversational tone for any online instructional posts (the agenda for the week, descriptions of readings, instructions or prompts for discussion posts) reinforces that sense of personal style. A practice of poking your head in to asynchronous discussions and making brief comments lets students know you’re there and available for help, but avoids the impression of dominating the discussion. Audio or video-enabled synchronous meetings provide a place where people can be themselves, join in informal discussions, show their enthusiasm for their subject matter with individual presentations, or experience the energy of brainstorming sessions — much as they would in a face-to-face classroom. All these techniques can contribute to that human touch, helping us reveal our real selves and engage our students in a vital online learning community.

What personal touches have you used online? Have you found particularly successful techniques you’d suggest others try?

Headline image credit: Headphones. CC0 via Pixabay.

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9. Writing Videos

Brian Sanderson has posted videos of all his lectures from his 2013 creative writing course.

http://www.writeaboutdragons.com/

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10. What is the most important issue in music education today?

Fall is upon us. The temperature is falling, the leaves are turning, and students are making their way back at school. To get a glimpse into the new school year, we asked some key music educators share their thoughts on the most important issues in music education today.

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“The history of music education in the United States is integrally linked to general educational policies and initiatives, as well as American culture and society. Rationales for why music is an important component of students’ education have utilized utilitarian, aesthetic, and praxial arguments, often attempting to connect the goals of music learning with the educational priorities of the day. In the “data driven,” high stakes testing milieu of today’s educational reform movement, music educators find themselves having to defend not only music programs, but also the teaching profession in general. Political rhetoric and shrinking budgets have too often resulted in the false choice of ‘basic subjects’ over other areas of study, such as music and art, that can provide meaningful ways of understanding the world and equipping individuals to live a ‘good life.’ In this environment it is important that music teachers remain strong, articulate advocates for the value of music in the complete education of children, and to not resort to superficial reasons for music’s inclusion in school curricula. All persons deserve the opportunity to experience a life enriched through active musical participation that includes creating, performing, and listening to music. Robust school music programs help to provide the foundational understandings to make that possible. As Karl Gehrkens, former president of the Music Supervisors National Conference, stated in 1923, ‘Music for every child; every child for music.’”

Dr. William I. Bauer, Associate Professor and Director of the Online Master of Music in Music Education program at the University of Florida, and author of Music Learning Today: Digital Pedagogy for Creating, Performing, and Responding to Music

  *    *    *    *    *

“Access to quality music instruction is the most important issue in music education today. Some American children have a daily opportunity to make music during school with a certified music teacher who assists them in creating music, performing music, and responding to music. However, many children do not have this opportunity. In some cases, children may have daily access to a music teacher, but that music teacher may not organize instruction in a way that offers the opportunity to create, perform, and respond to music. Many children have access to a music teacher only a few times per week and oftentimes the lack of resources for that music program leads to a subpar experience for students. Due to a lack of state level policy regarding music education, many children have no music teacher in their school building. Although there are rich opportunities for outside of school community music in the United States, many children cannot afford to pay for music instruction outside of the school setting. Citizens interested in making a difference in music education must advocate for a well-prepared, certified music teacher in every school building. Music needs to be mandated at least twice a week in a dedicated space at the elementary level and every secondary student should have the opportunity to participate in choral, instrumental, and general music.”

Colleen M. Conway, Professor of Music Education, School of Music, Theatre & Dance, University of Michigan, Editor-in-Chief of Arts Education Policy Review, and the editor of The Oxford Handbook of Qualitative Research in American Music Education

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“The most important issue in music education today is one that has existed for as long as has formal music education: assessment. The term raises many eyebrows, and I believe in viewing assessment for both its positive attributes and for the dangers it can present. Assessment of student work is vital for accountability, curriculum development, and instructional planning, but assessment can be dangerous when it accounts only for standardized measures, when it is used punitively, and when it does not properly inform educational decision-making. Good assessment of student work in music should help students to understand their own progress, and allow them to explore music creatively. Assessment of music teachers’ work is just as crucial because music teachers must be outstanding musicians, pedagogical thinkers, and instructors. Similar to assessment of student work, assessment of teachers should help to inform teachers of their strengths and areas for growth. Good assessment of teachers should provide feedback for improvement of planning and instruction, and should encourage teachers to incorporate new ideas, technologies, and types of interaction with their students. Assessments of teachers should be based on their actual performance rather than on that of their students, as is the unfortunate case in many high-stakes testing scenarios. Thoughtful, positively focused assessment can be a powerful motivator for educational progress and change, and can help students and teachers alike to participate creatively in music.”

Jay Dorfman, Assistant Professor in Music Education at Boston University, and author of Theory and Practice of Technology-Based Music Instruction

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“With the current trend towards turning student evaluations into teacher accountability measures, we risk narrowly focusing music education to those skills based elements that can be easily measured.  As music teacher educators we need to resist the urge to succumb to the standardized testing movement and broaden our students’ notions of what it means to be musical. We need to ensure a learner centered music education for all students that fosters creative thinking and divergent outcomes, such as composing, improvising and other forms of sonic exploration and expression through traditional and non-traditional approaches to music making.”

Gena R. Greher, Professor of Music Education at University of Massachusetts Lowell, and co-author of Computational Thinking in Sound: Teaching the Art and Science of Music and Technology

*    *    *    *    *

“The most important issue in music education today is the lack of understanding shown by policy makers, school leaders, local politicians, and governments of the value of systematic and successful music learning across the lifespan, especially for our children and young people. Engaging in active music learning over a sustained period generates measurable physical, psychological and social benefits (as well as cultural benefit) that are long-term for the individuals and groups involved. The scientific evidence of music’s value (from clinical science, neuroscience, and social science) is increasing every day. Although we don’t yet understand clearly all the mechanisms of how music learning can promote long-term benefit, there can be no doubt that music can make a powerful and positive difference to health (physical, emotional, cognitive), whilst supporting different aspects of intellectual functioning (such as literacy) and fostering social inclusion and cohesion amongst and across diverse groups. Investing in high quality music education should be a priority for all, not just the lucky few, because music can transform lives for the better, across the lifespan.”

Graham Welch, Professor, Institute of Education, University of London, and co-editor of The Oxford Handbook of Music Education, Volume 1 and Volume 2

Headline Image: music-classical-sheet-music-piano. Creative Commons License via Pixabay

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11. A Path Appears

Kristoff hi-res jacket frontToday’s blog post is an excerpt from A Path Appears: Transforming Lives, Creating Opportunity, the latest book from New York Times’ columnist and best-selling authors Nick Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn.

In A Path Appears, which was released yesterday by Random House, Nick and Sheryl highlight “some of today’s most successful local and global initiatives to fight inequality.”  The book “makes clear how typical citizens can drive the momentum of worthy solutions to our world’s most pressing social problems.”

We are honored that Kyle Zimmer, First Book president, CEO and co-founder, is one of many social entrepreneurs featured in the book:

“While visiting the homes of those children, she noticed that there were few if any books. When she gave some children books, they would confide: This is my first book. That gave her the idea to found First Book, a nonprofit to deliver books to children living in poverty and then encourage them to read. She started the endeavor with two colleagues originally as a hobby organization, but it turned out to be impossibly tough to hire a good manager for it: “We had about $1.30 in our bank account.” So she quit her corporate law job in 1995 and took on the role of chief executive…

There were plenty of missteps. When First Book started asking [publishers] for book donations, Zimmer arranged for a few trucks to pick them up. “I was sitting here thinking I knew what I was doing, and I started rounds of calls to get books donated,” said Zimmer. “The publishers were wonderfully generous, and the fire hose of books for turned on.” First Book soon was scrambling for pickups, larger trucks – any form of transport. When one employee found a distributor willing to transport the books, Zimmer was delighted. But they had some explaining to do when a truck with a beer company logo pulled up in front of the schools to unload boxes of books…

First Book now distributes books to church groups, libraries in low-income neighborhoods, Head Start programs, homeless shelters, youth outreach center, and pediatrician’s officers through Reach Out and Read. After twenty years – and significant transformation – First Book has distributed some 115 million books to 90,000 organizations.* In 2013, First Book accounted for 2 percent of the children’s books distributed in the United States. Not bad for a nonprofit.

*Since A Path Appears went to press, First Book has continued to grow and expand. To date, we have distributed 120 million new books to a network of 140,000 schools and programs.

Excerpted from A Path Appears by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. Copyright © 2014 by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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12. The Red Pencil, by Andrea Davis Pinkney






We begin with Amira's 12 birthday.  She is finally old enough to wear a toob yet young enough to enjoy her Dando lifting her to the sky.  Amira lives on a farm in South Darfur surrounded by friends and family, but changes are afoot.  Amira's best friend Halima and her family are packing their things and moving to the city.  They say the city has more opportunities.  Amira wishes she could go with them to Nyala and attend the Gad Primary School with Halima.  Amira is not so sure about her Muma's old fashioned ways.

                  "She does not like the idea of Gad,
                    or any place where girls learn
                    to read
                    or write,
                    in Arabic or English
                    or think beyond a life
                    of farm chores and marriage." (p. 13 arc)

Soon, the extra chores of 12, missing Halima, and trying to solve the ongoing bickering between her father and villager Old Anwar seem anything but troubling.  The relative peace of her village is shattered when the Janjaweed  attack, changing Amira's very existence.

Amira and the other survivors must pick up the pieces and leave the ruins of the village to find safety.  Their trek takes them to the refugee camp Kalma - the Displaced People's Camp.  Amira doesn't like this space surrounded by fences and barbed wire.

                    "Everywhere I look,
                      I see
                      people, people, and more people.

                      I'm glad to stop walking.
                      I'm glad we have finally reached who-knows-where.
                      But already I do not like this place." (arc p. 139)

It would be easy enough to give up in such a desperate place with no real end in sight.  Amira and her family have lost so much.  But when Amira meets Miss Sabine and is given a gift of a red pencil she discovers some things about herself, her family and those on the journey with her.

Written in free verse, The Red Pencil is a story of family and loss and hope.  It was eye opening for me on a number of levels.  One is that it is so easy for me not to see what is happening in the world from my perch here in NYC.  The horrors of Darfur in the early 2000s seemed so far away in time and place that I wonder how many people in North America are aware of what was happening.  I find myself very impressed with the deftness of Andrea Davis Pinkney's hand when it came to writing the passages dealing with the violence.  She truly tells the story from a 12 year old's point of view, and the free verse format allows for silences that speak volumes.  The illustrations by Shane W. Evans are playful within this serious book and somehow bring a feeling of safety to the pages.

A must read for librarians, teachers and students.


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13. Making Math Fun

Getting kids excited about math can be a challenge.   Because there are expected to be more than eight million STEM jobs in the United States by 2018, math skills are becoming more and more important for today’s student. If today’s student lacks math skills, three million of tomorrow’s jobs may go unfilled.

MathStart is an award-winning series filled with visual representations of math concepts through light-hearted, kid-inspired stories.  Vetted by a team of math teachers, MathStart makes math skills for kids ages three to seven interesting by showing young characters using math in everyday experiences.  Plus, each book comes with teaching tools and activity suggestions for educators.

To inspire kids to enjoy math and to meet the challenge of creating a strong workforce for the future, First Book teamed up with the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM) to bring this collection of books to the First Book Marketplace.

The First Book Marketplace now carries two books from each level of the series:

Jack the Builder ThumbJack the Builder (Age 3+):  Jack uses his imagination and all shapes and colors of his blocks to create different creatures and objects teaching kids beginning number operations and counting.

 

Just Enough Carrots ThumbJust Enough Carrots (Age 3+): Join young rabbit at the supermarket to compare what items each character is buying and learn about addition, subtraction, “more,” “fewer” and “the same.”

 

Elevator Magic ThumbElevator Magic (Age 6+) :  Brian rides the elevator at his mother’s work and discovers new things on each floor.  Along the way kids learn the number line and subtraction.

 

 

Tally O'Malley ThumbTally O’Malley (Age 6+):  On a family vacation the O’Malleys start a tallying competition to pass the time, teaching kids how to keep track of numbers as they count.

 

Lemonade for Sale ThumbLemonade for Sale (Age 7+):  The member’s of Elm Street Kids’ club decide to sell lemonade to raise money to fix their clubhouse, tracking their business on a bar graph.  Kids learn gathering data, charting and comparing results.

 

Shark Swimathon ThumbShark Swim-A-Thon (Age 7+):  This fun story about a team of sharks swimming laps to raise funds for camp helps reinforce the skill of two-digit subtraction.

 

Do you work with kids in need?  Sign Up with First Book today to gain access to this great math series.

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14. Learning with body participation through motion-sensing technologies

Have you ever thought that your body movements can be transformed into learning stimuli and help to deal with abstract concepts? Subjects in natural science contain plenty of abstract concepts which are difficult to understand through reading-based materials, in particular for younger learners who are at the stage of developing their cognitive ability. For example, elementary school students would find it hard to distinguish the differences in similar concepts of fundamental optics such as concave lens imaging versus convex lens imaging. By performing a simulated exercise in person, learners can comprehend concepts easily because of the content-related actions involved during the process of learning natural science.

As far as commonly adopted virtual simulations of natural science experiments are concerned, the learning approach with keyboard and mouse lacks a comprehensive design. To make the learning design more comprehensive, we suggested that learners be provided with a holistic learning context based on embodied cognition, which views mental simulations in the brain, bodily states, environment, and situated actions as integral parts of cognition. In light of recent development in learning technologies, motion-sensing devices have the potential to be incorporated into a learning-by-doing activity for enhancing the learning of abstract concepts.

When younger learners study natural science, their body movements with external perceptions can positively contribute to knowledge construction during the period of performing simulated exercises. The way of using keyboard/mouse for simulated exercises is capable of conveying procedural information to learners. However, it only reproduces physical experimental procedures on a computer. For example, when younger learners use conventional controllers to perform fundamental optics simulation exercises, they might not benefit from such controller-based interaction due to the routine-like operations. If environmental factors, namely bodily states and situated actions, were well-designed as external information, the additional input can further help learners to better grasp the concepts through meaningful and educational body participation.

learning body participation
Photo by Nian-Shing Chen. Used with permission.

Based on the aforementioned idea, we designed an embodiment-based learning strategy to help younger learners perform optics simulation exercises and learn fundamental optics better. With this learning strategy enabled by the motion-sensing technologies, younger learners can interact with digital learning content directly through their gestures. Instead of routine-like operations, the gestures are designed as content-related actions for performing optics simulation exercises. Younger learners can then construct fundamental optics knowledge in a holistic learning context.

One of the learning goals is to acquire knowledge. Therefore, we created a quasi-experiment to evaluate the embodiment-based learning strategy by comparing the leaning performance of the embodiment-based learning group with that of the keyboard-mouse learning group. The result shows that the embodiment-based learning group significantly outperformed the keyboard-mouse learning group. Further analysis shows that no significant difference of cognitive load was found between these two groups although applying new technologies in learning could increase the consumption of learners’ cognitive resources. As it turned out, the embodiment-based learning strategy is an effective learning design to help younger learners comprehend abstract concepts of fundamental optics.

For natural science learning, the learning content and the process of physically experimenting are both important for learners’ cognition and thinking. The operational process conveys implicit knowledge regarding how something works to learners. In the experiments of lens imaging, the position of virtual light source and the type of virtual lens can help learners determine the attributes of the virtual image. By synchronizing gestures with virtual light source, a learner not only concentrates on the simulated experimental process but realizes the details of the external perception. Accordingly, learners can further understand how movements of the virtual light source and the types of virtual lens change the virtual image and learn the knowledge of fundamental optics better.

Our body movements have the potential to improve our learning if adequate learning strategies and designs are applied. Although motion-sensing technologies are now available to the general public, massive applications will depend on economical price and evidence-based approaches recommended for the educational purposes. The embodiment-based design has launched a new direction and is hoped to continuously shed light on improving our future learning.

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15. True or False: facts and myths on American higher education

American higher education is at a crossroads. The cost of a college education has made people question the benefits of receiving one. We asked Goldie Blumenstyk, author of American Higher Education in Crisis? What Everyone Needs to Know to help us separate fact from fiction.

True or False? It doesn’t pay to go to college.

False: Generally speaking, college is still worth the money in the long run. According to the latest figures from the College Board, the median earnings for a person with a bachelor’s degree was 65% greater than those for someone with just a high-school diploma over a 40-year working career. Those with associate degrees, typically earned in community or technical colleges, had earnings that were 27% higher. What’s more, the job market of the future will continue to offer more opportunities to those with post-secondary education. By 2020, experts predict two-thirds of jobs will require at least some education and training beyond the high school level. Forty years ago, only about 28% of jobs required that higher level of education.

It costs hundreds of thousands of dollars to go to college.

False: While there are colleges that charge upwards of $50,000 a year for tuition, room, and board (at least 175 of them, counting the half-dozen or so public universities that charge their out-of-state students that much) most colleges cost a lot less. Last year half of all four-year public-college students attended an institution where the annual in-state tuition rate was below $9,011. Some 85 percent of them attended a college where tuition charges were below $15,000. Private colleges charge more but with student aid from the federal and state governments and the colleges themselves, the price students actually pay is often substantially lower than the “sticker price.” Last year the average “net price” at a four-year private college was $12,460. And the average tuition at community colleges, where about four out of ten undergraduates now attend college, was about $3,300 a year.

Student debt is unmanageable.

True (and False): About 40 million Americans now carry student-loan debt and for many of them, particularly recent graduates struggling to get established in a tough job market, student-debt burdens are a real challenge. That’s evidenced by the rising rate of defaults on student loans. But according to the latest data from Project on Student Debt, for students graduating from college with debt, those who attended four-year public colleges had an average debt burden of $25,500. For comparison sake, a new Ford Focus automobile costs anywhere from about $17,000 to $35,000, depending on the options. The average debt level for graduates from four-year private colleges was $32,300. About 40% of student debt is for balances smaller than $10,000, according to the College Board.

Of all the factors that have propelled college prices up faster than the costs of most other goods and services over the past for 40 years, the cost of all those tenured professors isn’t one of them.

True: Actually, while college costs have been rising, the proportion of faculty members who are tenured professors, or on track to be considered for tenure, has shrunk precipitously during the same period. In the mid-1970s according to the American Association of University Professors, about 45% of all faculty members were tenured or on the tenure track; today only about one-quarter of them are. Full-time professors are well paid, but colleges now increasingly rely on faculty members who they hire annually, adjunct professors who they pay only about $2,700 per course, on average, and graduate teaching assistants. Meanwhile, factors that do seem to more directly drive up costs and prices include: growing numbers of administrators, new facilities, major reductions in state support, and the costs for student aid.

Online education takes place primarily at for-profit colleges like the University of Phoenix and DeVry University.

False: For-profit colleges like those were among the first to use distance education-technologies to expand their enrollments, but online education is now increasingly commonplace in more traditional public and private colleges. According to the latest available data, more than five million students — about a quarter of the student population — took at least one course that was fully or partly online in fall 2012. About half of them took a class that was exclusively online. The medium, however, still seems more popular for certain fields of study. For both graduate and undergraduate education, the most common courses and degrees offered via distance education are in business, marketing, computer- and information-technologies, and health-related fields. In the future, students can expect to see more and more classes that use distance-education technology in a hybrid format, mixing face-to-face instruction with online components.

Headline image credit: Graduation By Tulane Public Relations, CC-BY-2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

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16. 10 ways to survive being a psychology student

How do you survive as a psychology student? It might be a daunting prospect, but we here at OUP are here to give you a helping hand through three years of cognitive overload. Here are our top tips:

1. Do some essential reading before you start your degree! Psychology is a very broad subject, so build some strong foundations with a wide reading base, especially if you’re new to the subject. Check out our Essential Book List to get you started (and recommendations welcome in the comments below).

2. Stay up-to-date with current affairs. Psychology is a continually evolving subject, with new ideas and perspectives emerging all the time. Read blogs, journals, and magazines; watch TED talks; listen to podcasts; and scan newspapers for psychology-themed stories.

3. Always keep your eyes and ears open. University is your chance to learn beyond the classroom. Pay attention to life – just watching your favourite TV programme can give you an insight into how a theoretical concept might actually work. Use everyday events and interactions to deepen your understanding of psychological ideas.

4. Learn from everyone around you. Psychology asks questions about how we as humans think – so go and think together with some other humans! Compare and contrast different ideas and approaches, and make the most of group learning or other opportunities, like taking part in other people’s surveys or experiments. Joining your university psychology society is a great way to learn from your peers and to balance work with play.

Photo by Reidaroo CC BY-SA 2.0  via Wikimedia Commons
Business Student. Photo by Reidaroo CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

5. Learn how to study independently. This is your chance to learn what you want, not what you have to. You will have much greater academic freedom than ever before. Wherever you choose to study, you will have to take on your own independent research, and if you see yourself building a career in psychology, then independent investigation is crucial.

6. Hone your note-taking / diagram-making skills. On your laptop, tablet, smartphone — or with paper and pens — you’ll be writing a lot of notes over the course of your degree. Referencing and formatting might not seem like the most exciting aspects of your degree, but good preparation and organisation will make them more bearable (and quicker!). Get to know how best you learn, remember and process information.

7. Get enough sleep. Sitting up late staring at textbooks and computer screens is easy, but it’s not the healthiest habit to get into. Studying well is less about the number of hours you put in, than how effectively you spend those hours. Keep up a balanced diet, stay hydrated, do regular exercise, and find someone to talk to if you’re feeling stressed.

8. Don’t be afraid to admit to your own weaknesses. Psychology is a demanding subject, and questions are more common than neat answers.

9. Try to enjoy your studies. There are many ideas to explore, from behaviour to dreams, memory to psychoanalysis. Keep looking at different topics that interest you to stay motivated. When it does get too much, don’t be afraid to step back and take a break.

10. Finally, remember what psychology is about. You can get lost in surveys and experiments, theories and concepts, but try to always keep in mind what drew you to psychology in the first place. In studying psychology you’re taking part in a great tradition of questioning how the human mind works and behaves – be proud of that.

Heading Image: Student. Photo by CollegeDegrees360, CC BY-SA 2.0 via Flickr

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17. 187 Reasons Why a Teacher Needs Books

Today’s guest blogger, Sarah Kilway, wrote to us after receiving hundreds of new books for her students. We couldn’t resist sharing her story with you.

Davis 9th grade center 7_croppedI teach 187 kids at Ben Davis Ninth Grade Center in Indianapolis, IN. The majority of my students live in poverty. Most have only one parent at home.

Not many of my kids own books, nor were they read to as children. Even as 9th graders, they lack basic common knowledge of fairy tales, fables and iconic book characters.

Our school has many great resources, but when something is lacking, my colleagues and I step in. This often means spending my own money on books and other items for my students, but it’s totally worth it. I also have First Book.

Davis 9th grade centerThanks to First Book, I was recently able to give a new book to every single one of my students – all 187! A few told me it was the first book they’d ever owned. Some said it was the first book they have ever finished. Such a proud moment for me and them – one that I wanted to share with you.

My students now ask me to go to the library on a daily basis.

Please give to First Book today so I can continue helping them discover and enjoy reading, and so other teachers can too. Your support puts a whole new world within their reach.

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18. Changes in digital publishing: a marketer’s perspective

We all have a great deal of resources at our disposal most of the time, we look things up on our tablets and phones immediately, and are able to retrieve information on almost any topic at any time, almost anywhere. We’ve never been so connected globally. As a marketer, I’m intrigued and excited by engaging with this global community; working in global online product marketing, I’m keen to embrace new technologies and digital resources so we can fulfill our aim to disseminate content to everyone and anyone who wants and needs it. I think about digital resources a lot, mulling over the best way to use new technologies to tell people that these resources exist, reflect on how I can best show people what they can do, and ponder what they have to offer students, academics, and professionals. (You just haven’t lived the full life of a marketer until you wake up thinking of how to best run a digital advertising campaign.)

This is because I work in the online product marketing department at Oxford University Press and am responsible for the marketing of several online products, including Oxford Scholarship Online and University Press Scholarship Online.

I started my OUP life in the medicine marketing department. It was here that I learnt about how to market a list of books. And not just any old books, but ones that help save lives. I learnt about how to pick out the key features and benefits in order to draw the reader into what the essence of the book is about, I learnt about what makes a good book-jacket design, how to produce creative and engaging material to tell our audience about these books. I traveled abroad to all sorts of conferences to show doctors, nurses, and psychiatrists directly the academic content we had to offer.

In the almost four years I’ve worked at OUP a not insignificant shift has taken place towards an online environment, as more and more people begin their research online (who doesn’t start everything with a Google search?), connect with colleagues and peers through social media, and increasingly use online resources in their teaching to be able to reach students across the globe. As a result of this shift more and more of our books were placed onto various online resources (in medicine this largely took the form of Oxford Medicine Online) and as marketers we relish rolling with the changes, adapting, embracing, and championing this new way of providing content to people.

It was a big shift and involved a change in the way we thought about our lists and marketing. But the skills and aims at the heart of what we do remained the same: how can we best engage with you, our audience?

This has led to our ways of working continually changing with this shift to digital (and this is true of all marketing departments and companies everywhere). We are now able to reach and interact with a global audience through our digital campaigns, no longer having to solely rely on printing and mailing thousands of leaflets without knowing if anyone ever read them. We now tweet, post on Facebook and Tumblr, create podcasts, videos, write blog posts, and encourage authors, contributors, librarians (the wonderfully named Tumblrians spring to mind) to join our communities and get involved. The way we relate to our audience has changed; there is an increased desire for a dialogue between publishers and users of our content. We want to talk and listen to our community — we are closer to people than we’ve ever been before. In this brave new world people can tell you what they think in hardly any time at all via a Facebook post or tweet — a scary, but exciting prospect.

As for what the future holds for marketing, I think the communities that continue to grow and evolve are vital. It is the people who use and value what we make who are going to be sharing, commenting, contributing, and making us better.

I can’t wait to see how we’ll be communicating in another ten years’ time!

Featured image: Computer by kropekk_pl. Public Domain via Pixabay.

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19. Publishing tips from a journal editor: selecting the right journal

One of the most common questions that scholars confront is trying to find the right journal for their research papers. When I go to conferences, often I am asked: “How do I know if Political Analysis is the right journal for my work?”

This is an important question, in particular for junior scholars who don’t have a lot of publishing experience — and for scholars who are nearing important milestones (like contract renewal, tenure, and promotion). In a publishing world where it may take months for an author to receive an initial decision from a journal, and then many additional months if they need to revise and resubmit their work to one or more subsequent journals, selecting the most appropriate journal can be critical for professional advancement.

So how can a scholar try to determine which journal is right for their work?

The first question an author needs to ask is how suitable their paper is for a particular journal. When I meet with my graduate students, and we talk about potential publication outlets for their work, my first piece of advice is that they should take a close look at the last three or four issues of the journals they are considering. I’ll recommend that they look at the subjects that each journal is focusing on, including both substantive topics and methodological approaches. I also tell them to look closely at how the papers appearing in those journals are structured and how they are written (for example, how long the papers typically are, and how many tables and figures they have). The goal is to find a journal that is currently publishing papers that are most closely related to the paper that the student is seeking to publish, as assessed by the substantive questions typically published, the methodological approaches generally used, paper framing, and manuscript structure.

Potential audience is the second consideration. Different journals have different readers — meaning that authors can have some control over who might be exposed to their paper when they decide which journals to target for their work. This is particularly true for authors who are working on highly interdisciplinary projects, where they might be able to frame their paper for publication in related but different academic fields. In my own work on voting technology, for example, some of my recent papers have appeared in journals that have their primary audience in computer science, while others have appeared in more typical political science journals. So authors need to decide in many cases which audience they want to appeal two, and make sure that when they submit their work to a journal that appeals to that audience that the paper is written in an appropriate manner for that journal.

Peer reviewer
Peer reviewer for Scientific Review by Center for Scientific Review. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

However, most authors will want to concentrate on journals in a single field. For those papers, a third question arises: whether to target a general interest journal or a more specialized field journal. This is often a very subjective question, as it is quite hard to know prior to submission whether a particular paper will be interesting to the editors and reviewers of a general interest journal. As general interest journals often have higher impact factors (I’ll say more about impact factors next), many authors will be drawn to submit their papers to general interest journals even if that is not the best strategy for their work. Many authors will “start high”, that is begin with general interest journals, and then once the rejection letters pile up, they will move to the more specialized field journals. While this strategy is understandable (especially for authors who are nearing promotion or tenure deadlines), it may also be counterproductive — the author will likely face a long and frustrating process getting their work published, if they submit first to general interest journals, get the inevitable rejections, and then move to specialized field journals. Thus, my advice (and my own practice with my work) is to avoid that approach, and to be realistic about the appeal of the particular research paper. That is, if your paper is going to appeal only to readers in a narrow segment of your discipline, then send it to the appropriate specialized field journal.

A fourth consideration is the journal’s impact factor. Impact factors are playing an increasingly important role in many professional decisions, and they may be a consideration for many authors. Clearly, an author should generally seek to publish their work in journals that have higher impact than those that are lower impact. But again, authors should try to be realistic about their work, and make sure that regardless of the journal’s impact factor that their submission is appropriate for the journal they are considering.

Finally, authors should always seek the input of their faculty colleagues and mentors if they have questions about selecting the right journal. And in many fields, journal editors, associate editors, and members of the journal’s editorial board will often be willing to give an author some quick and honest advice about whether a particular paper is right for their journal. While many editors shy away from giving prospective authors advice about a potential submission, giving authors some brief and honest advice can actually save the editor and the journal a great deal of time. It may be better to save the author (and the journal) the time and effort that might get sunk into a paper that has little chance at success in the journal, and help guide the author to a more appropriate journal.

Selecting the right journal for your work is never an easy process. All scholars would like to see their work published in the most widely read and highest impact factor journals in their field. But very few papers end up in those journals, and authors can get their work into print more quickly and with less frustration if they first make sure their paper is appropriate for a particular journal.

Heading image: OSU William Oxley Thompson Memorial Library Stacks by Ibagli. Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

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20. The Common Core & the Cornerstone



  by Sally Matheny
Common Core
   
     Common Core. 
     Two simple words have created a divisive buzz in the educational realm. All sides agree on providing fair and excellent opportunities for students. But there’s little common ground on how those are obtained. 



     
     Beyond the educational segment, there’s also another division throughout the population. The stressed foundation of the Common Core prompted a few thoughts about a strong Cornerstone. 


     The United States’ “school chiefs and governors recognized the value of consistent, real-world learning goals and launched [the Common Core State Standards] to ensure all students, regardless of where they live, are graduating high school prepared for college, career, and life.”
      
     Not everyone agrees with the implementation of the Common Core, but many have to follow it, regardless of their opinion. How many have adopted the Common Core? Forty-three states, the District of Columbia, and four territories.
          
     There are over 7 billion people in the world. A common core exists in all of us. But unlike the state’s educational standards, each person has the freedom to accept it or not.
     Amazingly, every one of those 7 billion people is unique. No two are exactly alike in mind or body.  However, we all share one thing. We have the same Creator.

 “Rich and poor have this in common: The LORD is the Maker of them all.” Proverbs 22:2 (NIV)
 


     Some parents and teachers do not feel comfortable with the educational system’s new standards. They’re not sure the Core will produce the outcomes for which they had hoped.

     What hope do we have in God’s teaching?

     Isaiah 42:4b-7 says,

 In his teaching, the islands will put their hope.
This is what God the Lord says—
the Creator of the heavens, who stretches them out,
    who spreads out the earth with all that springs from it,
    who gives breath to its people,
    and life to those who walk on it:
 “I, the Lord, have called you in righteousness;
    I will take hold of your hand.
I will keep you and will make you
    to be a covenant for the people
    and a light for the Gentiles,
to open eyes that are blind,
    to free captives from prison
    and to release from the dungeon
 those who sit in darkness.


     Don’t we all want someone to take us by the hand and care about us? Isn’t it our desire to be a guiding light to those still blinded by the darkness of ignorance? Everyone is a student. Everyone is a teacher.

     A common list of standards was the basis for the development of the states’ educational goals. Even when schools comply though, it is debatable whether all will have the ability to achieve the objectives.
     However, for all the people in the world—their purpose is based on the cornerstone, which is Jesus Christ.
     Obtainment of the highest goal is guaranteed for every person in the world, except for those who reject the standards of His Cornerstone. For it’s only through following His principles that we become accredited.
    
Jesus is the Cornerstone
     It appears the original Common Core State Standards are suffering a few stress fractures. Tweaks and changes are necessary. 
     However, Jesus Christ, the Cornerstone remains complete and steadfast.
     When we allow God to adopt us into His plan, He provides training for the journey. And while our life experiences vary, we stand on equal ground at the foot of the cross.
     Christian classmates, I’m thankful during the tests of life (and especially on the final exam) we have the Cornerstone in common.
    




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21. Challenges facing UK law students

Making the leap between school and university can be a stretch at the best of times, but for UK law students it can be a real struggle. As there is no requirement to study law at school before beginning an undergraduate programme, many new law students have a very limited knowledge of how the law works and what they can expect from their studies.

We asked a group of 77 law students from around the UK about how they prepared for their courses. It turns out, only a third of them did any reading before starting, but a vast majority would have done, if only their university had given them a bit of advice.

infographic_web

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22. Law careers from restorative justice, to legal ombudsman, to media

What range of career options are out there for those attending law school? In this series of podcasts, Martin Partington talks to influential figures in the law about topics ranging from restorative justice to legal journalism.

Restorative Justice: An interview with Lizzie Nelson

The Restorative Justice Council is a small charitable organisation that exists to promote the use of restorative justice, not just in the court (criminal justice) context, but in other situations of conflict as well (e.g. schools). In this podcast Martin talks to Lizzie Nelson, Director of the Restorative Justice Council.

 

Handling complaints against lawyers: An interview with Adam Sampson

In this podcast, Martin talks to Adam Sampson, Chief Legal Ombudsman. They discuss the work of the Legal Ombudsman, how it operates, the kinds of issue it deals with, and some of the limitations the office has to deal with matters raised by dissatisfied clients.

 

Reporting the law: An interview with Joshua Rozenberg

Joshua Rozenberg is one of a very small number of specialist journalists who cover legal issues in a serious and thoughtful way. He has worked in a wide variety of media, including the BBC, The Daily Telegraph, and The Guardian. In this interview, he describes how he decided to become a journalist rather than a practising lawyer and comments on the challenges of devising ways to enable legal issues to be raised in mass media.

 

Headline image credit: Law student and lecturer or academic. © Palto via iStockphoto.

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23. Changing legal education

Martin Partington discussed a range of careers in his podcasts yesterday. Today, he tackles how new legal issues and developments in the professional environment have in turn changed organizational structures, rules and regulations, and aspects of legal education.

Co-operative Legal Services: An interview with Christina Blacklaws

Co-operative Legal Services was the first large organisation to be authorised by the Solicitors Regulatory Authority as an Alternative Business Structure. In this podcast, Martin talks to Christina Blacklaws, Head of Policy of Co-operative Legal Services.

 

The role of chartered legal executives: An interview with Diane Burleigh

The Chartered Institute of Legal Executives sets standards for and regulates the activities of legal executives, who play an important role in the delivery of legal services. In this podcast Martin talks with Diane Burleigh, the Chief Executive of CILEX, about the challenges facing the legal profession and the opportunities provided for Legal Executives in the rapidly developing legal world.

 

Educating Judges and the Judicial College: An interview with Lady Justice Hallett

The Judicial College was created by bringing together separate arrangements that had previously existed for training judicial office-holders in the courts (the Judicial Studies Board) and Tribunals Service (through the Tribunals Judicial Training Group). In this podcast Martin talks to its Chairman, Lady Justice Hallett, about the reasons for the change and ways in which the College is developing new ideas about judicial education.

 

Headline image credit: Law student and lecturer or academic. © Palto via iStockphoto.

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24. Research replication in social science: reflections from Nathaniel Beck

Introduction from Michael Alvarez, co-editor of Political Analysis:

Questions about data access, research transparency and study replication have recently become heated in the social sciences. Professional societies and research journals have been scrambling to respond; for example, the American Political Science Association established the Data Access and Research Transparency committee to study these issues and to issue guidelines and recommendations for political science. At Political Analysis, the journal that I co-edit with Jonathan N. Katz, we require that all of the papers we publish provide replication data, typically before we send the paper to production. These replication materials get archived at the journal’s Dataverse, which provides permanent and easy access to these materials. Currently we have over 200 sets of replication materials archived there (more arriving weekly), and our Dataverse has seen more than 13,000 downloads of replication materials.

Due to the interest in replication, data access, and research transparency in political science and other social sciences, I’ve asked a number of methodologists who have been front-and-center in political science with respect to these issues to provide their thoughts and comments about what we do in political science, how well it has worked so far, and what the future might hold for replication, data access, and research transparency. I’ll also be writing more about what we have done at Political Analysis.

The first of these discussions are reflections from Nathaniel Beck, Professor of Politics at NYU, who is primarily interested in political methodology as applied to comparative politics and international relations. Neal is a former editor of Political Analysis, chairs our journal’s Advisory Board, and is now heading up the Society for Political Methodology’s own committee on data access and research transparency. Neal’s reflections provide some interesting perspectives on the importance of replication for his research and teaching efforts, and shed some light more generally on what professional societies and journals might consider for their policies on these issues.

Research replication in social science: reflections from Nathaniel Beck

Replication and data access has become a hot topic throughout the sciences. As a former editor of Political Analysis and the chair of the Society for Political Methodology‘s Data Access and Research Transparency (DA-RT) committee, I have been thinking about these issues a lot lately. But here I simply want to share a few recent experiences (two happy, one at this moment less so) which have helped shape my thinking on some of these issues. I note that in none of these cases was I concerned that the authors had done anything wrong, though of course I was concerned about the sensitivity of results to key assumptions.

The first happy experience relates to an interesting paper on the impact of having an Islamic mayor on educational outcomes in Turkey by Meyerson published recently in Econometrica. I first heard about the piece from some students, who wanted my opinion on the methodology. Since I am teaching a new (for me) course on causality, I wanted to dive more deeply into the regression discontinuity design (RDD) as used in this article. Coincidentally, a new method for doing RDD was presented at the recent (2014) meetings of the Society for Political Methodology by Rocio Titiunik. I want to see how her R code worked with interesting comparative data. All recent Econometrica articles are linked to both replication and supplementary materials on the Econometrica web site. It took perhaps 15 minutes to make sure that I could run Stata on my desktop and get the same results as in the article. So thanks to both Meyerson and Econometrica for making things so easy.

I gained from this process, getting a much better feel for real RDD data analysis so I can say more to my students than “the math is correct.” My students gain by seeing a first rate application that interests them (not a toy, and not yet another piece on American elections). And Meyerson gains a few readers who would not normally peruse Econometrica, and perhaps more cites in the ethnicity literature. And thanks to Titiunik for making her R code easily accessible.

The second happy experience was similar to the first, but also opened my eyes to my own inferior practice. At the same Society meetings, I was the discussant on a paper by Grant and Lebo on using fractional integration methods. I had not thought about such methods in a very long time, and believed (based on intuition and no evidence to the contrary) that using fractional integration methods led to no changes in substantive findings. But clearly one should base arguments on evidence and not intuition. I decided to compare the results of a fractional integration study by Box-Steffensmeier and Smith with the results of a simpler analysis. Their piece had a footnote saying the data were available through the ICPSR (excellent by the standards of 1998). Alas, on going to the ICPSR web site I could not find the data (noting that the lots of things have happened since 1998 and who knows if my search was adequate). Fortunately I know Jan so I wrote to her, and she kindly replied that the data were on her Dataverse at Harvard. A minute later I had the data and was ready to try to see if my intuitions might indeed be supported by evidence.

Feel free to use this image just link to www.rentvine.com
Typing on Keyboard – Male Hand by Dave Dugdale. CC BY-SA 2.0 via Flickr.

This experience made me think: could someone find my replication data sets? For as long as I can remember (at least back to 1995), I always posted my replication data sets somewhere. Articles written until 2003 sent readers my public ftp site at UCSD. But UCSD has changed the name and file structure of that server several times since 2003, and for some reason they did not feel obligated to keep my public ftp site going (and I was not worried enough about replication to think of moving that ftp site to NYU). Fortunately I can usually find the replication files if anyone writes me, and if I cannot, my various more careful co-authors can find the data. But I am sure that I am not the only person to have replication data on obsolete servers. Thankfully Political Analysis has required me to put my data on the Political Analysis Dataverse so I no longer have to remember to be a good citizen. And my resolution is to get as many replication data sets from old pieces on my own Harvard Dataverse. I will feel less hypocritical once that is done. It would be very nice if other authors emulated Jan!

The possibly less happy outcome relates to the recent article in PNAS on a Facebook experiment on social contagion. The authors, in a footnote, said that replication data was available by writing to the authors. I wrote twice, giving them a full month, but heard nothing. I then wrote to the editor of PNAS who informed me that the lead author had both been on vacation and was overwhelmed with responses to the article. I am promised that the check is in the mail.

What editor wants to be bothered by fielding inquiries about replication data sets? What author wants to worry about going on vacation (and forgetting to set a vacation message)? How much simpler the world would have been for the authors, editor, and me, if PNAS simply followed the good practice of Political Analysis, the American Journal of Political Science, the Quarterly Journal of Political Science, Econometrica, and (if rumors are correct) soon the American Political Science Review of demanding that authors post, either on the journal web site or the journal Dataverse, all replication materials before an article is actually published? Why does not every journal do this?

A distant second best is to require authors to post their replication on their personal website. As we have seen from my experience, this often leads to lost or non-working URLs. While the simple solution here is the Dataverse, surely at a minimum authors should provide a standard Document Object Identifier (DOI) which should persist even as machine names change. But the Dataverse solution does this, and so much more, that it seems odd in this day and age for all journals not to use this solution. And we can all be good citizens and put our own pre-replication standard datasets on our own Dataverses. All of this is as easy (and maybe) easier than maintaining private data web pages, and one can rest easy that one’s data will be available until either Harvard goes out of business or the sun burns out.

Featured image: BalticServers data center by Fleshas CC-BY-SA-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

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25.

Deeper meaning resides in the fairy tales told me in my childhood than in any truth that is taught in life. ~ Johann Christoph Friedrich v. Schiller, German Poet (1759-1805) Using fairy tales, fables, and other story forms to guide and nurture our children. I’m very excited to announce the launch of my publishing site […]

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