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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: Education, Most Recent at Top [Help]
Results 1 - 25 of 639
1. Does philosophy matter?

Philosophers love to complain about bad reasoning. How can those other people commit such silly fallacies? Don’t they see how arbitrary and inconsistent their positions are? Aren’t the counter examples obvious? After complaining, philosophers often turn to humor. Can you believe what they said! Ha, ha, ha. Let’s make fun of those stupid people. I also enjoy complaining and joking, but I worry that this widespread tendency among philosophers puts us out of touch with the rest of society.

The post Does philosophy matter? appeared first on OUPblog.

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2. Nineteenth and twentieth century Scottish philosophy

In the history of Britain, eighteenth century Scotland stands out as a period of remarkable intellectual energy and fertility. The Scottish Enlightenment, as it came to be known, is widely regarded as a crowning cultural achievement, with philosophy the jewel in the crown. Adam Smith, David Hume, William Robertson, Thomas Reid and Adam Ferguson are just the best known among an astonishing array of innovative thinkers, whose influence in philosophy, economics, history and sociology can still be found at work in the contemporary academy.

The post Nineteenth and twentieth century Scottish philosophy appeared first on OUPblog.

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3. Advice on your adventure into the realm of a creative career

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Armed with your sword ( pencil) and shield (sketchbook) there maybe many of you who are soon to leave school education to venture forth into the big wide world. Although like a hero with your map and compass in hand, you now need to start to plot the path you want to take in life and especially if you want to pursue a creative career.

It’s a tough decision to make but there are lots of options out there for you if you’re driven and passionate enough to want to be creative. You could be an illustrator, graphic designer, photographer, fine artist, fashion designer, pattern designer, ceramist and much more.  Although many people will assume that the career path as a creative can be a pennyless one, this isn’t the case if you’re determined and clever in the plans you’re making.

Though these options may differ slightly for each country, university, internships and apprenticeships are some ways in which you can pursue you’re creative aspirations. Each have their benefits and disadvantages, so its important you choose a path that’s best for you. For example university can be expensive but it gives you time, facilities and expertise to hone your creatice practice. Internships and apprenticeships give you hands on workplace experience, but you may not have lots of time to experiment creatively.

These aren’t the only paths to choose, but they’ll hopefully give you food for thought on what to do next. Remember though you can write your creative story however you wish. If you’re not happy with the decisions you make there’s always the option to change the course you’ve set moving towards your aspirations and creative success.

Featured image is by illustrator Arian Armstrong and you can find out more about her work here.

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4. Wilberforce University: a pioneering institution in African American education

What do opera singer Leontyne Price, activist Victoria Gray Adams, civil rights organizer Bayard Rustin, and Harvard sociologist William Julius Wilson have in common? They all attended or graduated from Wilberforce University. Located outside of Dayton, Ohio, Wilberforce was the first institution of higher education to be owned and operated by African Americans.

The post Wilberforce University: a pioneering institution in African American education appeared first on OUPblog.

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5. Choosing a Workshop

The first step is to identify what you want and need.

http://cynthialeitichsmith.blogspot.com/2014/12/guest-post-jean-reidy-on-choosing.html

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6. Does the MOOC spell the end for universities?

The seemingly unassailable rise of the MOOC – the Massive Open On-Line Course – has many universities worried. Offering access to millions of potential students, it seems like the solution to so many of the problems that beset higher education. Fees are low, or even non-existent; anyone can sign up; staff time is strictly limited as even grading is done by peers or automated multiple-choice questionnaires. In an era of ever-rising tuition fees and of concerns about the barriers that stop the less well-off from applying to good universities, the MOOC can seem like a panacea.

The post Does the MOOC spell the end for universities? appeared first on OUPblog.

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7. 2015 PROSE Awards

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Now in their 39th year, the PROSE Awards honor “the very best in professional and scholarly publishing by bringing attention to distinguished books, journals, and electronic content in over 40 categories,” as determined by a jury of peer publishers, librarians, and medical professionals.

As is the usual case with this kind of acknowledgement, we are honored and delighted to share several University of Chicago Press books that were singled-out in their respective categories as winners or runners-up for the 2015 PROSE Awards.

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sch

Kurt Schwitters: Space, Image, Exile
By Megan R. Luke
Art History, Honorable Mention

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debt

House of Debt: How They (and You) Caused the Great Recession, and How We Can Prevent It from Happening Again
By Atif Mian and Amir Sufi
Economics, Honorable Mention

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mc

American School Reform: What Works, What Fails, and Why
By Joseph P. McDonald
Winner, Education Practice

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lub

The Public School Advantage: Why Public Schools Outperform Private Schools
By Christopher A. Lubienski and Sarah Theule Lubienski
Winner, Education Theory

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rud

Earth’s Deep History: How It Was Discovered and Why It Matters
By Martin J. S. Rudwick
Honorable Mention, History of STM

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paso

The Selected Poetry of Pier Paolo Pasolini: A Bilingual Edition
By Pier Paolo Pasolini
Edited and translated by Stephen Sartarelli
Honorable Mention, Literature

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kekes

How Should We Live?: A Practical Approach to Everyday Morality
By John Kekes
Honorable Mention, Philosophy

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Congrats to all of the winners, honorable mentions, and nominees!

To read more about the PROSE Awards, click here.

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8. Education, metaphorically speaking

What do we think education means? What do we believe are teaching’s purpose, status, and function in society? A useful way to reflect on our pre-conceptions and assumptions about anything is to step back and consider the metaphors we automatically apply when thinking or speaking of it. This is a particularly useful exercise for the trainee teacher, who, for obvious reasons, is likely to frame teaching primarily in terms of a performance – something that is observed, analysed, graded and, if all goes well, given the pedagogic equivalent of a five star review. For the experienced teacher, this same metaphor will re-emerge from time to time in the face of inspections, institutional self-evaluations, and peer observations; but it is likely to become obsolete as newer, more productive ideas about teaching develop over time.

A dominant metaphor can not only tell us about how the teacher positions herself in relation to her role, but also about how that role is regarded by society. We talk increasingly, for example, of a teacher ‘delivering’ the curriculum. The teacher is construed here as a delivery agent, a go-between whose role is to present to learners a curriculum which has been conceived, devised, and constructed elsewhere. The idea of delivery in itself suggests a one way process that discounts the possibility of dialogue, critical enquiry, and mutual learning. So could there be a potential contradiction here between this concept of the role and our wider understandings of what it means to be a professional? And if so, will the teacher who is encouraged to see their function primarily in terms of ‘delivery’ experience any less satisfaction in their work than the teacher who would describe their professional practice in terms of ‘nurture and nourishment’? These are interesting questions; and part of the answer, of course is that most experienced teachers will view their role differently over time and according to circumstance; some days it’s an endless postal round and on others it’s all the joy of conducting the Royal Philharmonic through Beethoven’s Ninth.

This is not just a question of language; nor is it a roundabout way of posing the key question about the primary purpose of education: whether it is to serve the economy, or to nurture the potential of each individual, or – somehow – to do both. As Lakoff and Johnson (1980) point out, our entire conceptual system is in its very nature metaphorical. We think in metaphors and they play a large part in defining the way we perceive our everyday reality. When we talk of a teacher ‘conducting’ a lesson, therefore, we’re introducing a whole range of assumptions about role and function, and at the same time applying judgements about value, which are quite different to those we may infer when we hear of a lesson being ‘delivered’.

Metaphors can also succinctly encapsulate certain expectations or models of educational practice. A good example here is Paulo Freire’s description of the hierarchical and instrumental approach to teaching and learning as a ‘banking’ model. Here, the teacher is seen as the repository and dispenser of knowledge, and the learner as recipient; an unequal power relationship in which knowledge or skill is viewed as a commodity and which offers no potential for genuine development either of the learner or the teacher. We might contrast this with the metaphor of education as exploration, a joint enterprise and mutually fulfilling adventure undertaken by teacher and learners together. And then there is the metaphor of the farm or the garden in which the teacher nurtures successive ‘crops’ of learners; or even the image that sometimes surfaces of education as war, in which the teacher is pitted against the learners in a battle of wills to subdue, shape, and eventually socialise them. Indeed, the metaphors we find ourselves inhabiting can provide us with insight into just what it is we think education is for.

Image Credit: Orchestra by Hans Splinter. CC BY-ND 2.0 via Flickr

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9. Jonathan Nagler: writing good code

Introduction, by R. Michael Alvarez

Today’s data scientist must know how to write good code. Regardless of whether they are working with a commercial off-the-shelf statistical software package, R, python, or perl, all require the use of good coding practices. Large and complex datasets need lots of manipulation to wrangle them into shape for analytics, statistical estimation often is complex, and presentation of complicated results sometimes requires writing lots of code. To make sure that code is understandable to the author and others, good coding practices are essential.

Many who teach methodology, statistics, and data science, are increasingly teaching their students how to write good computer code. As a practical matter, if a professor requires that students turn in their code for a problem set, that code needs to be well-crafted to be legible to the instructor. But as increasing numbers of our students are writing and distributing their code and software tools to the public, professionally we need to do more to train students how to write good code. Finally, good code is critical for research replication and transparency — if you can’t understand someone’s code, it might be difficult or impossible to be able to reproduce their analysis.

When I first started teaching methods to graduate students, there was little in the methodological literature that I found useful for teaching graduate students good coding practices. But in 1995, my colleague Jonathan Nagler wrote out some great guidance on good methodological practices, in particular guidelines for good coding style. His piece is available online (“Coding Style and Good Computing Practices”), and his advice from 1995 is as relevant today as it was then. I use Jonathan’s guidelines in my graduate teaching.

Over the past few years, as Political Analysis has focused resources on research replication and transparency, it’s become clear that we need to develop better guidance for researchers and authors regarding how to write good code. One of the biggest issues that we run into when we review replication materials that are submitted to the journal is poor documentation and unclear code; and if we can’t figure out how the code works, I’m sure that our readers will have the same problem.

We’ve been thinking of developing some guidelines for documentation of replication materials, and standards for coding practices. As part of that research, I asked Jonathan if he would write an update of his 1995 essay, and for him to reflect some on how things might have evolved in terms of good computing practices since 1995. His thoughts are below, and I encourage readers to also read Jonathan’s original 1995 essay.

*     *     *     *     *

Coding style and good computing practices: it is easy to get the style right, harder to get good practice, by Jonathan Nagler, NYU

Many years ago I was prompted to write Coding Style and Good Computing Practices, an article laying out guidelines for coding style for political scientists. The article was reprinted in a symposium on replication in PS (September 1995, Vol. 28, No. 3, 488-492). According to Google Scholar, it has rarely been cited, but I’m convinced it has been read quite often because I’ve seem some idiosyncratic suggestions made in it in the code of other political scientists. Though re-reading the article I am reminded how many people have not read it, or just ignored it.

1024px-Ladies_Learning_Code_event,_November_26_2011
Ladies coding event by Jon Lim. CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Here is a list of basic points reproduced from that article:

  • Labbooks: essential.
  • Command files: they should be kept.
  • Data-manipulation vs. data-analysis: these should be in distinct files.
  • Keep tasks compartmentalized (‘modularity’).
  • Know what the code is supposed to do before you start.
  • Don’t be too clever.
  • Variable names should mean something.
  • Use parentheses and white-space to make code readable.
  • Documentation: all code should include comments meaningful to others.

And I concluded with a list of rules:

  • Maintain a labbook from the beginning of a project to the end.
  • Code each variable so that it corresponds as closely as possible to a verbal description of the substantive hypothesis the variable will be used to test.
  • Errors in code should be corrected where they occur and the code re-run.
  • Separate tasks related to data-manipulation vs data-analysis into separate files.
  • Each program should perform only one task.
  • Do not try to be as clever as possible when coding. Try to write code that is as simple as possible.
  • Each section of a program should perform only one task.
  • Use a consistent style regarding lower and upper case letters.
  • Use variable names that have substantive meaning.
  • Use variable names that indicate direction where possible.
  • Use appropriate white-space in your programs, and do so in a consistent fashion to make them easy to read.
  • Include comments before each block of code describing the purpose of the code.
  • Include comments for any line of code if the meaning of the line will not be unambiguous to someone other than yourself.
  • Rewrite any code that is not clear.
  • Verify that missing data is handled correctly on any recode or creation of a new variable.
  • After creating each new variable or recoding any variable, produce frequencies or descriptive statistics of the new variable and examine them to be sure that you achieved what you intended.
  • When possible, automate things and avoid placing hard-wired values (those computed ‘by-hand’) in code.

Those are still very good rules, I would not change any of them. I would add one, and that is to put comments in any paper citing the piece of code that produced the figures or tables in the paper. In 20 years a lot of things have changed about how we do computing. It has gotten much easier to follow good computing practices. Github has made it easy to share code, maintain revision history, and publish code. And the set of people who seamlessly collaborate by sharing files over Dropbox or one of its competitors probably dwarfs the number of political scientists using Github. But to paraphrase a common computing aphorism (GIGO), sharing or publishing badly written code won’t make it easy for people to replicate or build on your work.

I was motivated to write that article because as I stated then, most political scientists aren’t trained as computer programmers. Nor were most political scientists trained to work in a laboratory. So the article covered both style of code, and computing practice to make sure that an entire research project could be reproduced by someone else. That means keeping track of where you got your data, how it was processed, etc.

Any computer code is a set of instructions that produces results when read by a machine, and we can evaluate the code based on the results it produces. But when we share code we expect it to be read by humans. Two pieces of code be functionally equivalent — they could produce identical results when read by a machine — even though one is easy to read and understand by a human; while the other is pretty much unintelligible to a human. If you expect people to use your code, you need to make the code easy to read. I try to ask every graduate student I am going to work with to read several chapters from Brian W. Kernighan and Rob Pike’s, The Practice of Programming (1999), especially the Preface, Chapters 1, 3, 5, 6, and the Epilogue.

It has turned out to be easier to write clean code than to maintain good computing practices overall that would lead to easy reproducibility of an entire research project. It is fairly easy to post a ‘replication’ dataset, and the code used to produce the figures and tables in a paper. But that doesn’t really tell someone everything they need to know to try to reproduce your work, or extend it to other data. They need to know how your data was generated. And those steps occur in the production of the replication dataset, not in the use of it.

Most research projects in political science pull in data from many sources. And many, many coding decisions are made along the way to a finished product. All of those decisions may be visible in the code; but keeping coherent lab-books is essential for sifting through all the lines of code of any large project. And ‘projects’ rarely stand-alone anymore. Work on one dataset is linked to many projects, often with over-lapping sets of co-authors.

At the beginning of a research project it’s important for everyone to agree where the code is, where the data is, and what the overall structure of the documentation is. That means decisions about whether documentation is grouped by project (which could mean by individual paper), or by dataset. And it means reaching some agreement on whether there is a master document that points to many smaller documents describing individual tasks, or whether the whole project description sits in a single document. None of this is exciting to work out, certainly not as exciting as doing the research. But it is essential. A good goal of doing all this is to make it as easy as possible to make the whole bundle of documentation and code public as soon as it is time to do so. It both saves time when it is time to release documentation, and imposes some good habits and structure along the way.

Heading image: Typing computer screen reflection by Almonroth. CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

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10. Writer to Writer by Gail Carson Levine

Writer to Writer: From Think to Ink by Gail Carson Levine Harper. 2014 ISBN: 9780062275301 Grades 4 -12 I borrowed a copy of this book from my local public library Looking back at a book from 2014. In Write to Writer: from think to ink, Levine guides hopeful writers on creating stories that will captivate readers. Picking up where she left off in Writing Magic: creating stories that fly--and

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11. How being with the right kind of people can make your creativity grow.

 

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Being a creative at times can be hard, whether you love to scribble, paint, take a picture, shape clay and more all you know is you’re passionate about what you do. No one said it was going to be an easy path to follow when you start out, taking each day as it comes trying to direct your creativity in so many ways for opportunities to come your way.

Although there is that one bump in the road we all come across countless times called the “pennyless art believers”. Many of us have no doubt been there and got the t-shirt when we’re asked “What do you want to do as a career?”.

With a huge cheesy grin and sketchbook in hand we enthusiastically reply… “I want to be an illustrator” or fine artist , ceramic designer or any other type of creative professional. Its then that you suddenly see the person cringe with the assumption you’re going to struggle to make it as a creative. Yes its easy for others people to assume in the comfort of their everyday job that you’ll be a pennyless artist.

However if you’re wise about how you do things you can achieve great things , avoiding the assumption of being a pennyless artist drawing doodles for macaroons and a starbucks ( or is that just me?). If you encounter people with a negative view of your career path , don’t let that upset you and take this advice:

 

“Be around the right kind of people who will help your creativity grow and who believe in what you doBelieve in yourself and the right people will support you on your journey to do and achieve great things”.

Image is by Leah Bergman and you can find out more about her work here.

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12. My Librarian is a Camel by Margriet Ruurs

My Librarian is a Camel: how books are brought to children around the world By Margriet Ruurs Boyds Mills Press. 2015 ISBN: 9781590780930 Grades K-12 I went into my local public library and borrowed a copy of this book. In My Librarian is a Camel, author Margriet Ruurs contacted librarians around the world and asked them to share their stories about their efforts to connect books with

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13. #Force2015 – back to the future of scholarly communications

Oxford University Press is delighted to co-sponsor this year’s Force2015 conference which takes place in Oxford’s new Mathematical Institute on 12-13 January 2015. Conference sessions will be live-streamed for a global audience.

This year marks the 350th anniversary of the scholarly journal, as recorded by the first publication of the Royal Society’s Philosophical Transactions in 1665. In a dedicatory epistle to the Society’s Fellows and the Introduction, editor Henry Oldenburg set forth its purpose to inform the scientific community of the latest and most valuable discoveries.

Roughly eighty years earlier, in 1584, a Supplicatio — effectively a 16th century business case — was made to Robert Dudley, the earl of Leicester and chancellor of the University of Oxford, to establish a university press. In seven brief ‘considerations’ it sets out the reasons why a press was necessary as both intrinsic to the act of scholarship and to establish Oxford’s profile as an international seat of learning.

The turmoil of technology, innovation, and transformation in the 16th and 17th centuries is recognizable today. Then, the printing press had been established for some decades. Now, the World Wide Web hurtles towards age thirty. Then, those institutions that understood and harnessed the press’s power were establishing the beginnings of a scalable scholarly communications infrastructure. Now, previously unfeasible or unimagined businesses are being created, and are transforming established industries.

What can we learn from centuries of successful and continuous publication of science in the face of changing scholarly practice? Is the scholarly article still fit for purpose in this data-driven world? What is the role of scholarly publishers in this evolving landscape?

Over two days in January, attendees of FORCE2015 will be grappling with such questions. Indeed, many of the core questions of scholarly publishing were identified by the authors of the epistle and Supplicatio.

How can we address the challenge of discoverability?

“Whereas there is nothing more necessary for promoting the improvement of Philosophical Matters, than the communicating to such, as apply their Studies and Endeavours that way, such things as are discovered or put in practice by others;” [Philosophical Transactions]

“there lie hidden away in the libraries of that University many excellent manuscripts, now shamefully covered in dust and dirt, which, by the boon of establishing a press in the same city, could be rescued from perpetual obscurity and distributed in other parts of Europe to the great credit of the whole nation.” [Supplicatio]

How can one demonstrate research impact?

“This is my Solicitude, That, as I ought not to be unfaithful to those Counsels you have committed to my Trust, so also that I may not altogether waste any minutes of the leasure [sic] you afford me. And thus I have made the best use of some of them, that I could devise; To spread abroad Encouragements, Inquiries, Directions, and Patterns, that may animate, and draw on Universal Assistances.” [Philosophical Transactions]

“given now the opportunity of a press, they might swiftly and easily remove and shake off the imputation of idleness which foreigners daily lay against them.” [Supplicatio]

How is publication integral to academia and the wider scholarly community?

“To the end, that such Productions being clearly and truly communicated, desires after solid and useful knowledge may be further entertained, ingenious Endeavours and Undertakings cherished, and those, addicted and conversant in such matters, may be invited and encouraged to search, try, and find out new things, impart their knowledge to one another, and contribute what they can to the Grand design of improving Natural knowledge, and perfecting all Philosophy Arts, and Sciences.” [Philosophical Transactions]

“where there is a settlement of learned men there should be printers, so that books may be printed more correctly and texts more diligently collated, universities may not be deprived of printers without the greatest loss to literature.” [Supplicatio]

What considerations might a crowd-sourced epistle or supplicatio for a twenty-first century research communications system include? The boundaries between the act of research and the act of publication are blurring (think data curation and publication). It probably wouldn’t propose a platform per se but a web of protocols, services, and best practice (after all ‘the web is the platform’). To guarantee permanence, core services would be built on a sustainable cyberinfrastructure. It would include identifiers, both for things (datasets, publications, maybe even equipment) and people. It might mandate a schema for attribution. It would need to tackle reproducibility. It would support not just computational sciences, but discipline-specific needs such as digital humanities. It would need to address various concerns around openness (access, source, code, data) while ensuring a sustainable, long-term business model. It should be extensible to a future of networked research objects while retaining the rhetorical power of the scientific paper. There may be several hundred considerations.

The Force2015 conference chair, Oxford’s Professor David de Roure, has argued for the reimagination of scholarly communications as networked research objects – ‘a sense making network of humans and machines.’ This scale of evolution and development will not be achieved by any one organization acting alone. Many of the questions are human or organizational (motivation, reward, governance) rather than technology-based. Much of this new world is in place or on the horizon, but collaboration and engagement by all parties – researchers, universities, funders, publishers – is essential to make it a reality.

As the methods and outputs of research evolve, so too must the services of scholarly publishers. We look forward to joining Force2015 attendees in Oxford and online worldwide, where we’ll continue to engage in discussion and work together on the next phase of scholarly communications.

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

Headline image credit: 54 St Aldates. Photo by London Road. CC BY 2.0 via Flickr.

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14. Alternative access models in academic publishing

Disseminating scholarship is at the heart of the Oxford University Press mission and much of academic publishing. It drives every part of publishing strategy—from content acquisition to sales. What happens, though, when a student, researcher, or general reader discovers content that they don’t have access to?

For example, while a majority of Oxford Handbook Online (OHO) and Oxford Scholarship Online (OSO) users have access through their institutions, not everyone does; sometimes even those who do need to conduct research at home or while on leave, when they aren’t connected to their campus networks. To facilitate such research, Oxford has partnered with the Copyright Clearance Center to begin offering chapters on a pay-per-view basis. Pay-per-view is a well-established business model in journal publishing but is only recently gaining traction for book-based content.

Beginning in October, unauthenticated users of Oxford Handbooks began seeing buy buttons on articles. Clicking the button will allow them to purchase 24-hour access or, for a premium, unlimited perpetual access. And starting in the New Year, just in time for the start of the new term, this option will be available at the chapter level in Oxford Scholarship Online.

As with any change, we didn’t take this lightly. Oxford, like any other publisher, needed to fully weigh the risks against the benefits. Our partnership with the Copyright Clearance Center is focused on expanding access while maintaining our robust global institutional partnerships. The benefits were clear from the start: allowing more users to access our content—from any device at any hour of the day—and in a multitude of currencies. A student rushing to finish a paper at the end of the term or a researcher away from her library can have full access to the best scholarship with just a few clicks and a credit card. They can cite with confidence.

With just a few months under our belt, the early results are incredibly encouraging. Customers from around the globe are accessing award-winning content—some for just 24 hours, others choosing to retain the article in perpetuity. We’re working with these users throughout to learn more—from their geographical location to the ease of the transaction. All of this feedback helps us further develop this new access model, our platform, and the overall user experience. Over the next year, we will further experiment with discounting, personalization, and recommendations to make the most of this important project.

In the end, we hope to have learned great deal about getting the best research into the hands—and minds—of as many users as possible. That, after all, is our mission.

 

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15. Discovering microbiology

Microbiology should be part of everyone’s educational experience. European students deserve to know something about the influence of microscopic forms of life on their existence, as it is at least as important as the study of the Roman Empire or the Second World War. Knowledge of viruses should be as prominent in American high school curricula as the origin of the Declaration of Independence. This limited geographic compass reflects the fact that the science of microbiology is a triumph of Western civilization, but the educational significance of the field is a global concern. We cannot understand life without an elementary comprehension of microorganisms.

Appreciation of the microbial world might begin by looking at pond water and pinches of wet soil with a microscope. Precocious children could be encouraged in this fashion at a very early age. Deeper inquiry with science teachers would build a foundation of knowledge for teenagers, before the end of their formal education or the pursuit of a university degree in the humanities.

Earth has always been dominated by microorganisms. Most genetic diversity exists in the form of microbes and if animals and plants were extinguished by cosmic bombardment, biology would reboot from reservoirs of this bounty. The numbers of microbes are staggering. Tens of millions of bacteria live in a crumb of soil. A drop of seawater contains 500,000 bacteria and tens of millions of viruses. The air is filled with microscopic fungal spores, and a hundred trillion bacteria swarm inside the human gut. Every macroscopic organism and every inanimate surface is coated with microbes. They grow around volcanoes and hydrothermal vents. They live in blocks of sea ice, in the deepest oceans, and thrive in ancient sediment on the seafloor. Microbes act as decomposers, recycling the substance of dead organisms. Others are primary producers, turning carbon dioxide into sugars using sunlight or by tapping chemical energy from hydrogen sulfide, ferrous iron, ammonia, and methane.

Bacterial infections are caused by decomposers that survive in living tissues. Airborne bacteria cause diphtheria, pertussis, tuberculosis, and meningitis. Airborne viruses cause influenza, measles, mumps, rubella, chickenpox, and the common cold. Hemorrhagic fevers caused by Ebola viruses are spread by direct contact with infected patients. Diseases transmitted by animal bites include bacterial plague, as the presumed cause of the Black Death, which killed 200 million people in the 14th century. Typhus spread by lice decimated populations of prisoners in concentration camps and refugees during the Second World War. Malaria, carried by mosquitos, massacres half a million people every year.

Contrary to the impression left by this list of infections, relatively few microbes are harmful and we depend on a lifelong cargo of single-celled organisms and viruses. The bacteria in our guts are essential for digesting the plant part of our diet and other bacteria and yeasts are normal occupants of healthy skin. The tightness of our relationship with microbes is illustrated by the finding that human DNA contains 100,000 fragments of genes that came from viruses. We are surprisingly microbial.

Agar kontaminaatio. Photo by Mädi. CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons
Agar kontaminaatio. Photo by Mädi. CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Missing the opportunity to learn something about microbiology is a mistake. The uninformed are likely to be left with a distorted view of biology in which they miscast themselves as the most important organisms. For example, “Sarah” is a significant manifestation of life from Sarah’s perspective, but her body is not the individual organism that she imagines, and nor, despite her talents, is she a major player in the ecology of the planet. Her interactions with microbes will include a healthy relationship with bacteria in her gut, bouts of influenza and other viral illnesses, and death in old age from an antibiotic-resistant infection. Sarah’s microbiology will continue after death with her decomposition by fungi. In happier times she will become an expert on Milton’s poetry, and delight students by reciting Lycidas through her tears, but she will never know a thing about microbiology. This is a pity. Learning about viruses that bloom in seawater and fungi that sustain rainforests would not have stopped her from falling in love with Milton.

Even brief consideration of microorganisms can be inspiring. A simple magnifying lens transforms the surface of rotting fruit into a hedgerow of glittering stalks topped with jet-black fungal spores. Microscopes take us deeper, to the slow revolution of the bright green globe of the alga Volvox as its beats its way through a drop of pond water. A greater number of microbes are quite dull things to look at and their appreciation requires greater imagination. Considering that our bodies are huge ecosystems supported by trillions of bacteria is a good place to start, and then we might realize that we fade from view against the grander galaxy of life on Earth. The science of microbiology is a marvel for our time.

Featured image credit: BglII-DNA complex By Gwilliams10. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

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16. DeSTEMber: STEM Activities for Girls

This December, one organization is working to give girls a gift that will last a lifetime: resources to reach their potential in science, technology, engineering, and math. STEM is a prominent part of current educational models in the U.S., but girls are traditionally underrepresented in STEM-related professional fields. DeSTEMber aims to change that.

DeSTEMber is hosted by non-profit organization Girlstart. “Half of the world’s potential ideamakers—women and girls—are discouraged from developing their ideas because of social bias or inequity. More girls with more ideas create more solutions,” notes the organization. Girlstart has been working since 1997 “to increase girls’ interest and engagement in STEM through innovative, nationally-recognized informal STEM education programs.” Their work covers girls in grades K-16. (See their About Us page for more information.)

The DeSTEMber website offers a STEM activity for each day of December. The downloadable activity PDFs include instructions for the activity and a short explanation to go along with it. Each one also features links to additional resources, plus a Career Connection section that describes a profession relating to that activity. These are intended to be far more than one-time activities; they are springboards into the future, both for short-term learning and long-term education and career goals.

Interested in participating? Although DeSTEMber is almost over, these activities are relevant all year long. Girlstart also maintains a link to the DeSTEMber 2013 activity page, meaning users can access 62 free STEM resources.

Librarians and other educators interested in getting involved with Girlstart should visit their educator page.

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17. Gary King: an update on Dataverse

At the American Political Science Association meetings earlier this year, Gary King, Albert J. Weatherhead III University Professor at Harvard University, gave a presentation on Dataverse. Dataverse is an important tool that many researchers use to archive and share their research materials. As many readers of this blog may already know, the journal that I co-edit, Political Analysis, uses Dataverse to archive and disseminate the replication materials for the articles we publish in our journal. I asked Gary to write some remarks about Dataverse, based on his APSA presentation. His remarks are below.

*   *   *   *   *

An update on Dataverse

By Gary King

 
If you’re an academic researcher, odds are you’re not a professional archivist and so you probably have more interesting things to do when making data available than following the detailed protocols and procedures established over many years by the archiving community. That of course might be OK for any one of us but it is a terrible loss for all of us. The Dataverse Network Project offers a solution to this problem by eliminating transaction costs and changing the incentives to make data available by giving you substantial web visibility and academic citation credit for your data and scholarship (King, 2007). Dataverse Networks are installed at universities and other institutions around the world (e.g., here is the Dataverse network at Harvard’s IQSS), and represent the world’s largest collection of social science research data. In recent years, Dataverse has also been adopted by an increasingly diverse array of other fields and protocols and procedures are being built out to enable numerous fields of science, social science, and the humanities to work together.

With a few minutes of set-up time, you can add your own Dataverse to your homepage with a list of data sets or replication data sets you make available, with whatever levels of permission you want for the broader community, and a vast array of professional services (e.g., here’s my Dataverse on my homepage). People will be able to more easily find your data and homepage, explore your data and scholarship, find connections to other resources, download data in any format, and learn proper ways of citing your work. They will even be able to analyze your data while still on your web site with a vast array of statistical methods through the transparent and automated connection Dataverse has built to Zelig: Everyone’s Statistical Software, and through Zelig to R. The result is that your data will be professionally preserved and easier to access — effectively automating the tasks of professional archiving, including citing, sharing, analyzing, archiving, preserving, distributing, cataloging, translating, disseminating, naming, verifying, and replicating data.

Dataverse_Network_Diagram
Dataverse Network Diagram, by Institute for Quantitative Social Science. CC-BY-2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Dataverse is an active project with new developments in software, protocols, and community connections coming rapidly. A brand new version of the code, written from scratch, will be available in a few months. Through generous grants from the Sloan Foundation, we have been working hard on eliminating other types of transaction costs for capturing data for the research community. These include deep integration with scholarly journals so that it can be trivially easy for an editor to encourage or require data associated with publications to be made available. We presently offer journals three options:

  • Do it yourself. Authors publish data to their own dataverse, put the citation to their data in their final submitted paper. Journals verify compliance by having the copyeditor check for the existence of the citation.
  • Journal verification. Authors submit draft of replication data to Journal Dataverse. Journal reviews it, and approves it for release. Finally, the dataset is published with a formal data citation and back to the article. (See, for example, the Political Analysis Dataverse, with replication data back to 1999.)
  • Full automation: Seamless integration between journal submission system and Dataverse; Automatic Link created between article and data. The result is that it is easy for the journal and author and many errors are eliminated.

Full automation in our third option is where we are heading. Already today, in 400 scholarly journals in the Open Journal System, the author enters their data as part of submission of the final draft of the accepted paper for publication, and the citation, permanent links between the data and the article, and formal preservation is taken care of, all automatically. We are working on expanding this as an option for all of OJS’s 5,000+ journals, and to a wide array of other scholarly journal publishers. The result will be that we capture data with the least effort on anyone’s part, at exactly the point where it is easiest and most important to capture.

We are also working on extending Dataverse to cover new higher levels of security that are more prevalent in big data collections and those in public health, medicine, and other areas with informative data on human subjects. Yes, you can preserve data and make it available under appropriate protections, even if you have highly confidential, proprietary, or otherwise sensitive data. We are working on other privacy tools as well. We already have an extensive versioning system in Dataverse, but are planning to add support for continuously updated data such as streamed from sensors, tools for online fast data access, queries, visualization, analysis methods for when data cannot be moved because of size or privacy concerns, and ways to use the huge volume of web analytics to improve Dataverse and Zelig.

This post comes from the talk I gave at the American Political Association Meetings August 2014, using these slides. Many thanks to Mike Alvarez for inviting this post.

Featured image: Matrix code computer by Comfreak. CC0 via Pixabay.

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18. 3rd Annual Christmas Spectacular


Authors in the Park, the long-running showcase for local authors, is coming back to downtown Mount Dora with the 3rd Annual Christmas Spectacular set for December 20th.


This year’s event will feature Steve Boone of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame band The Lovin’ Spoonful. Boone will be on hand to promote his memoir, Hotter Than a Match Head.


Authors in the Park is an author event series which supports local authors and community literacy. The event is sponsored by MillerWords.com and Arts for the Community, Inc. (a local non-profit).

“It is great to have Steve at this year’s event. Not only is he a rock legend, but also a Florida author,” Mark Miller, founder of Authors in the Park, said.

In addition to Boone and Miller, other local authors will be on hand including: Sharon Coady, Illustrator Victor Donahue, De Miller, Olivia Miller, Theresa Oliver, D.G. Stern, C. Kevin Thompson and Colleen Wait.

“Another great thing about these authors is their commitment to their community,” Miller said. “This year’s line-up features educators, inspirational speakers and more.”

The Christmas Spectacular will take place Saturday, December 20th from 5p.m. to 7 p.m. in the Donnelly Building at Fifth Avenue and Donnelly Street in the center of festive downtown Mount Dora. It is free to attend and the authors will be available for photos and autographs. The city will be showing off its holiday light display and local shops will be open.


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19. 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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20. 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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21. 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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22. 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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23. 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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24. The importance of mentoring

Throughout my career, there have been many times when advice, support, and criticism were critical for my own professional development. Sometimes that assistance came from people who were formally tasked with providing advice; a good example is a Ph.D. advisor (in my case, John Aldrich of Duke University, who has been a fantastic advisor and mentor to a long list of very successful students). Sometimes that advice was less formal, coming from senior colleagues, other academics at conferences, and in many cases from peers. The lesson is professional advice and support — or to put it into a single term, mentoring — comes from many different sources and occurs in many different ways.

However, there is growing concern in political science that more mentoring is necessary, that there are scholars who are not getting the professional support and advice that they need to help them with career decisions, teaching, and the publication of their research. There are many good programs that have developed in recent years to help provide more mentoring in political methodology, for example the excellent “Visions in Methodology” program. And the Society for Political Methodology recently approved the foundation of a new professional award, to recognize excellent mentors. But more needs to be done to improve mentoring and mentoring opportunities in academia.

During the 2014 American Political Science Association conference, there was a very informative panel discussion, “How to Be a Good Mentee: Mentoring for Methodologists.” The discussion was chaired by Megan Shannon of the University of Colorado, and participants were Leslie A. Schwindt-Bayer (Rice University), Tiffany D. Barnes (University of Kentucky), and Brett Ashley Leeds (Rice University). I had an opportunity to listen to much of this panel discussion, and found it quite helpful.

After the conference I sent Leslie, Tiffany, and Ashley some questions about mentoring by email. Their responses are informative and helpful, and should be read by anyone who is interested in mentoring.

R. Michael Alvarez: How have you benefited from being involved in mentoring relationships?

Tiffany D. Barnes: I have benefited in a number of ways from being involved in a mentoring relationship. Mentors have provided me with feedback on research at multiple different stages of the research process. They have provided me with professional advice about a number of things including applying for fellowships and grants, marketing my book manuscript to university presses, and navigating the negotiation process at my university. My mentoring relationships have broadened my network of scholars with similar research interests and/or professional goals, which in turn have resulted in a number of different opportunities (e.g. coauthors, and invitations to participate in conference panels/round tables, mini-conferences, and edited volumes/special journal issues). Equally important, my mentoring relationships have resulted in a number of valuable friendships that make working in the profession more enjoyable.

Leslie A. Schwindt-Bayer: As a mentee, I really benefited from getting guidance, feedback, and research assistance from many different formal and informal mentors over the years. As a mentor, I get to give that back which is a great opportunity.

Brett Ashley Leeds: I believe fundamentally that no one figures everything out on his or her own. I know for sure that I did not, and I have had (and continue to have) a variety of mentors throughout my career. As a mentee, what I really value is knowing that I have people who respect me enough to tell me when I am wrong and to help me improve. As a mentor, I not only learn a lot from thinking intently about my mentees’ work and articulating my opinions for them, but I also get great personal satisfaction from the relationships that evolve and from helping others to succeed. It feels good to pay forward what has been done for me.

Woman looking away and smiling. © GlobalStock via iStock.
Woman looking away and smiling. © GlobalStock via iStock.

R. Michael Alvarez: Why has the issue of mentoring become an important topic of conversation in academia, and in particular, in political science?

Tiffany D. Barnes: Although it is well established that mentoring is an important aspect of professional development, it has recently become an important topic of conversation because academics have become aware that not all scholars have the same opportunities to develop mentorship relationships nor do they derive the same benefits from mentor relationships. In particular, women and minorities may face more challenges when it comes to identifying mentors in the field and they may not reap the same benefits (e.g. opportunities to collaborate, sponsorship) from mentorship relationships as men do. In the long run, this “mentor gap” may have negative repercussions for the retention and career advancement of some otherwise talented scholars.

If a scholar feels they would benefit by mentoring, how can they seek out a mentor? What should they look for in an appropriate mentor?

Leslie A. Schwindt-Bayer: Mentoring relationships can be both informal and formal. Informal relationships often emerge when scholars ask for advice and support from colleagues in their department, subfields, or various disciplinary organizations. Formal relationships sometimes emerge organically or at the initiative of a mentee or mentor, but they also can be entered into through a number of mentoring programs in the discipline. For women, the Visions in Methodology program offers a mentoring program through which mentees can ask to be paired with a mentor. They usually ask the mentee to suggest someone they would like to be paired with and then check with the suggested mentor about interest and availability. The Midwest Women’s Caucus has a mentoring program for women in any subfield. They ask individuals interested in mentoring and being mentored to volunteer to participate and then pair them by interest. Other organizations and groups probably offer similar programs.

In seeking a mentor, either formally or informally, you should think about exactly what you want out of the relationship. Are you looking for someone to provide you with general guidance about the profession or are you seeking someone who is willing to read your work from time to time and talk through research challenges when you come across them? Are you in your first year out, feeling lost, and needing help getting back on track or are you close to tenure and looking for guidance on how to navigate the process? Do you want a mentor whose style is to give “pep talks” or “straight talk?” Knowing what you want out of the relationship will help you identify the right person for the job.

Tiffany D. Barnes: Scholars who want to find a mentor can look for a mentor by signing up for a formal mentor match or by identifying someone in the profession who shares similar research interests or professional goals.

A formal mentor match is good option for identifying someone who is interested in serving in a capacity as a mentor. Typically the mentor program will ask you questions about what you are looking for in a mentor relationship, your research interests, your rank, and your professional interests. The program will try to match you with a mentor based on this information. If you are paired with someone through a program, you can be confident that your mentor wants to help you. These relationships can be very valuable, but, as with all mentor-mentee relationships, it requires initiative on the part of the mentee. It is the mentee’s responsibility to drive the mentor-mentee relationship. Mentees should identify why they want a mentor and reach out to the mentor and ask for help in areas where they can benefit the most. One criticism of formal matching programs is that they may not always result in the best “fit.” Even if you do not think the match is the best fit, there are still a number of benefits you can derive from the relationship. Your research interests do not have to perfectly overlap for you to benefit from the relationship. Indeed, most successful scholars have a wealth of information, advice, and perspective to offer junior colleagues. It is up to the mentee to identify areas where your needs or interests intersect with the mentor’s strengths, experiences, and interests — and to capitalize on these opportunities.

A second option is to develop a more informal mentor relationship. To do this, mentees should identify someone in the field who has similar research interests or professional goals. Mentees should identify different opportunities to get to know scholars with similar interests and try to develop these relationships from there. For example, you may have the opportunity to establish relationships with scholars when you present research on the same panel, when someone shows interest in your work by offering comments or questions about your research (or vice versa), or even when you have the opportunity to bring a guest speaker to your university. By following up with people after the initial meeting and/or taking them up on their offer to read and comment on your research, you can begin to establish relationships with them. These relationships may take time to develop and they may be difficult establish if you are new to the profession or do not know many scholars in your field. Finally, when attempting to establish more informal mentor relationships, it is important to be self-aware. Some people will show interest in you and be eager to get to know and help you, others will not, and no one is obligated to do so. Respect people’s rights to not be interested in you and try not to take it personal.

Brett Ashley Leeds: My view is that it is less important to find one person that can be identified as “a mentor” and instead to focus on finding mentoring, even if it comes from a variety of people. I encourage scholars to identify people who have skills, abilities, and/or information that they think would be useful to them– basically people they would like to emulate in particular areas of their work. Approach these folks politely in person or by email (for instance, asking to have coffee at a conference) and ask questions. Some will not be responsive, but many will be responsive and helpful. Follow up with those who are helpful. In some cases a relationship will develop.

R. Michael Alvarez: What are the most important “dos” and “don’ts” for a scholar who is in a mentoring relationship?

Brett Ashley Leeds: Since below I cover some tips for mentors, here are some tips for mentees: (1) Figure out what it is you want to know/learn. Think of both specific and general questions so you are prepared to ask when the opportunity arises. (2) Recognize the time and costs of what you ask and make things as easy as possible for your mentor by reminding him/her of past interactions and explaining the specific feedback you are looking for. (3) Understand that ultimately you are responsible for your own decisions. Ask your mentor to explain why he/she believes a particular action/approach is best, and for major decisions, seek advice from multiple people. (4) Let your mentors know about the outcomes. For example, if a mentor helps you with a paper, send a note when the paper is accepted for publication.

Leslie A. Schwindt-Bayer: For mentees, be assertive and discuss with your mentor when your relationship begins just what you each want from the relationship and are willing to commit to it. If you need something from your mentor, don’t wait for him/her to reach out to you. Email, call, or arrange to meet with your mentor at a conference. Since the mentee is the one who needs the mentoring relationship the most, the mentee needs to take the initiative to ask for help or guidance from the mentor.

Tiffany D. Barnes: Establish clear expectations and boundaries. Tell your mentor what you are hoping to get out of a mentoring relationship, and don’t be afraid to ask your mentor for help in areas where you could benefit the most. That said, it is important to acknowledge that your mentor may not always be willing or able to help you in the ways you want. Respect these boundaries and do not take them personal.

When establishing boundaries, it is important to respect your mentor’s time and to be cognizant and courteous with the time you ask of your mentor. For example, if your mentor agrees to meet with you for half an hour, pay attention to the time and wrap up your meeting in a timely manner. Your mentor will likely appreciate not having to cut you short, and, if they know you respect their time, it may make them more likely to make time for you in the future.

Don’t expect any single mentor to fulfill all of your mentoring needs. Different people, depending on their experience and expertise, have different things to offer. Try to identify the areas where your mentor is most likely to be of help to you and build on these strengths. Along these same lines, although your mentor likely gives great advice, you cannot expect them to have the answer to all of your questions. It is important to weight their point of view carefully and to seek out a number of different perspectives.

Seek to develop a number of mentoring relationships. It can be useful to have mentors within your own department, in your university (but outside your department), and in the discipline more broadly. Moreover, it is often just as useful to develop relationships with senior mentors, as it is to develop relationships with peer mentors.

Student With Teacher In Class.  © monkeybusinessimages via iStock.
Student With Teacher In Class. © monkeybusinessimages via iStock.

R. Michael Alvarez: What are the responsibilities of a mentor?

Brett Ashley Leeds (1) Create an environment in which you can provide effective constructive criticism. This tends to require first establishing an environment of mutual respect. (2) Know what you know and what you don’t, and know that your experience is not universal. (3) Always explain why you are giving the advice you are giving and be willing to consider alternatives. (4) Recognize that in the end, your mentee should make his/her own decisions and may not always take all of your advice. (5) Recognize how important your opinion may be to your mentee; wield this power responsibly.

Tiffany D. Barnes: A mentor should establish clear boundaries with their mentee. Be honest and upfront the role you are and are not willing to play as a mentor. Be clear about your time constraints and the amount of time you are willing to commit to your mentee.

Leslie A. Schwindt-Bayer: If it is a formal mentoring relationship, make sure you and your mentee establish ground rules at the beginning about what each of you wants from the relationship and are willing to give to it. Don’t commit to something you aren’t willing to follow through with and be sure to follow through with whatever you commit to do for your mentee. If you can only commit to an hour of time twice a semester, that is fine, but make sure your mentee knows that and agrees that it is sufficient for him/her. If you are willing to provide general guidance but don’t want to read/comment on your mentee’s work, that is fine. But, again, make sure your mentee knows that from the beginning. Keep in mind that your mentee may place very high value on your advice and guidance so give it carefully.

R. Michael Alvarez: What are the personal and professional benefits of being a mentor?

Leslie A. Schwindt-Bayer: Too numerous to list in a short response!

Brett Ashley Leeds: It has often been said that one only really knows something when she can teach it to others. Mentoring gives me an opportunity to clarify and articulate my views on professional issues and research in a way that I otherwise might not. I frequently learn in the act of mentoring. The main benefits, however, are personal, and come from the satisfaction of helping others to achieve their goals and the feeling of paying forward what has been done in the past for me.

R. Michael Alvarez: How can professional organizations (like the Society for Political Methodology) facilitate professional mentoring?

Brett Ashley Leeds: The most important thing that professional organizations can do is provide opportunities that encourage interaction among scholars who don’t already know one another, and particularly between junior and senior scholars. Small conferences, dinners, and receptions help a lot with this. Poster sessions in which junior scholars are matched with senior discussants also help.

Tiffany D. Barnes: In my experience professional organizations play both, an important formal and informal role in facilitating professional mentoring.

Professional organization can formally facilitate mentoring relationship by matching mentors with mentees. I have two different successful mentoring relationships that were products of mentoring matches. This is a great way to help young scholars identify someone in the profession who is willing to serve as a mentor.

Professional organizations can also facilitate mentoring by simply providing both professional and social opportunities for junior scholars to meet likeminded senior (and junior!) colleagues. By becoming involved in professional organizations that align with your professional interests you will establish relationships with colleagues in your field. Most of these relationships will emerge naturally and develop slowly over time. Although you may not formally call the individuals you meet here “mentors,” they will become an important part of your mentoring community.

Leslie A. Schwindt-Bayer: One of many ways is a formal mentoring program. The Visions in Methodology mentoring program is a fantastic example, but it is only for women. This is a very positive feature of the program because women in a field with a small representation of women face different and sometimes more challenging sets of obstacles than men. However, plenty of men in the field would also benefit immensely from mentoring and so offering a similar program for men or a program that is open to both women and men, if it does not already exist, would help to facilitate formal professional mentoring in the methods subfield.

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25. Investing in My Students

Today’s guest bloggers is Lindsey Roache, Assistant Principal at University Heights Preparatory Academy in Indianapolis, Indiana.

IMG_1923As a principal, I know that if my students are going to care about school, they have to know their school cares about them. Sometimes this means our school buys clothes, purchases bus passes, provides a Thanksgiving meal or adopts a family around the holidays. It also means we make sure our students have great books.

We do our best, but we have limitations. My school has no library, therefore we have a limited amount of books. Our teachers dig into their own pockets to buy books for their students and we apply for grants. We also have First Book.

IMG_1920Last year, when I delivered brand new books and dictionaries to classrooms, the looks on the students’ faces were priceless. The students were incredibly thankful. They felt their importance. They knew that we were committed to investing in their future and helping them in any way possible.

This holiday season, please help our students and others know we care by giving them brand new books. Join me in creating a generation of invested learners who will read, learn and succeed. Please donate to First Book today — every $2.50 you donate through December 31, 2014 will be matched with an in-kind donation of two books from Disney.

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