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1. More on Assistive Technologies

I’ll confess, like many of you I collect apps. I have an old tablet devoted to nothing but “kid” apps. Finding information about a variety of book apps is relatively easy now that so many of us are using them and reviewing them. One question I am asked frequently is “Can you recommend any assistive technology apps?”

There are several that have caught my eye recently so I decided to give them a try. I was impressed with the continued growth and development of these types of applications. There are many people, both young and old that could benefit greatly from using these simple programs. All the apps mentioned are intuitive, easy to use, some have a nominal fee and others are free.

Kidspiration Maps is a kid friendly mind-mapping app for the iPad. Kidspiration is similar to the Inspiration Maps, but Kidspiration includes more kid friendly templates and clipart like graphics. Kidspiration allows users to create mind mapping webs to help organize ideas and information visually. Unlike Inspiration Maps, Kidspiration allows users to insert a large variety of clipart images into their maps. Kidspiration also includes the ability to add a recorded voice note; a feature that is unfortunately missing in Inspiration Maps.

Kidspiration Maps includes a large number of pre-loaded templates for reading and writing, social studies, science, and math. These templates are geared for elementary school children and range from an “all about me” web to sorting and matching activities. If no template is applicable there is an option to start a new document. One template contains a number of words and instructions to arrange the words into alphabetical order while another asks kids to match states to their capitals. With the nice visuals these activities can be engaging and easier than using physical manipulative. One drawback is when the student is completing the activities there is no way to program the correct responses in order to give the student immediate feedback. Also, when searching for clipart students cannot search for an image by keyword, but instead must scroll through long lists of images.

Bookshare is an essential service for people with print disabilities. Bookshare.org provides accessible e-books for qualified students. Members can choose from over 200,000 downloadable titles including many textbooks. Bookshare books can be downloaded in a DAISY format for use with text-to-speech software or in a Braille format. Similar to Kurzweil, the combination of text-to-speech and highlighted text can greatly speed up and reading and increase comprehension for qualifying students. Thanks to a grant from the United States Department of Education Bookshare is free to U.S. students.

 Learning Ally is another provider of accessible books for the blind and dyslexic.Learning Ally mostly provides human narrated audio books for their members. Learning Ally is also expanding to provide “VOICEtext” books which include human narration and highlighted text. The highlighting of “VOICEtext” books is not word by word like in Bookshare and Kurzweil but rather is paragraph by paragraph. Learning Ally books can be read on iOS and Android devices using the Learning Ally Audio app.

 Co:Writer by Don Johnston is an app for iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch. Co:Writer has exceptional word predication capabilities that can help struggling spellers. Co:Writer’s most unique and noteworthy feature is the ability to use topic dictionaries to improve word prediction based on the topic a student is writing about. For example, if a student is writing about World War II he or she can turn on the World War II topic dictionary in order to get more targeted word prediction.

Prizmo is an optical character recognition (OCR) app for the iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch. The app gives students the ability to take a picture of a text documents and have it read back to them using text-to-speech in seconds. So if a student comes across a document that they can’t read they can use Prizmo to quickly take a picture and have it read back to them. Prizmo can also act as a portable scanner that can convert printed document into a digital PDF format.

These were are just a few of the many assistive technology apps available. If you are using or recommending and other apps that fill this niche, send me an email and let me know: asantos@princetonlibray.org

Allison Santos

ALSC Digital Task Force

Princeton Public Library, Princeton, NJ

 

 

 

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2. 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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3. Math Monday: Padlet

I have been thinking about how to better share our math thinking as part of our math workshop.  I have played around a bit with Padlet for lots of things. Last week, padlet helped raise our level of share a bit. Kids are used to sharing and responding to math thinking of their classmates.  We use lots of tools to do this but this week, we build a padlet as kids worked.  Finished representations went up on the padlet as kids finished. This is the problem we solved.

Jeffrey buys 5 boxes of oranges. There are 10 oranges in each box.  There are 12 rotten oranges.  How many oranges are there that are not rotten?


We have been playing with a variety of tools to share our math learning. So, some students used Google Draw. Others used Pixie. Some used Explain Everything.

I am thinking about the reflection piece of share with my math coach. I think there can be real power in Padlet as a way for kids to reflect on thinking, analyze work and learn new things to try.  The power of this Padlet was in the conversation. Because the Padlet was added to over a 15-20  minute period, kids naturally gathered around the Smartboard noticing things before we formally shared. Then as we shared, there was a power of having all of the representations on one board--in a place that we could see them all at once.

Usually, we can Airplay share one at a time or share a student's thinking from their notebook with a document camera.  Padlet allowed us to see patterns in our work. Kids noticed that with division, most kids were drawing pictures and wondered why that was.  Others noticed different number sentences across work. We could get a close up of one to analyze if we wanted to or we could look at the patterns we saw in our work as a whole.

I am going to work with my coach to build on this and to really think about how to raise the level of the share piece of Math Workshop. Lots of possibilities!



It's Math Monday! Join Mandy at Enjoy and Embrace Learning for the Math Monday link up!


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4. Five tips for women and girls pursuing STEM careers

Many attempts have been made to explain the historic and current lack of women working in STEM fields. During her two years of service as Director of Policy Planning for the US State Department, from 2009 to 2011, Anne-Marie Slaughter suggested a range of strategies for corporate and political environments to better support women at work. These spanned from social-psychological interventions to the introduction of role models and self-affirmation practices. Slaughter has written and spoken extensively on the topic of equality between men and women. Beyond abstract policy change, and continuing our celebration of women in STEM, there are practical tips and guidance for young women pursuing a career in Science, Technology, Engineering, or Mathematics.

(1) &nsbp; Be open to discussing your research with interested people.

From in-depth discussions at conferences in your field to a quick catch up with a passing colleague, it can be endlessly beneficial to bounce your ideas off a range of people. New insights can help you to better understand your own ideas.

(2) &nsbp; Explore research problems outside of your own. 

Looking at problems from multiple viewpoints can add huge value to your original work. Explore peripheral work, look into the work of your colleagues, and read about the achievements of people whose work has influenced your own. New information has never been so discoverable and accessible as it is today. So, go forth and hunt!

startup-594090_1280
Meeting by StartupStockPhotos. Public domain via Pixabay.

(3) &nsbp; Collaborate with people from different backgrounds.

The chance of two people having read exactly the same works in their lifetime is nominal, so teaming up with others is guaranteed to bring you new ideas and perspectives you might never have found alone.

(4) &nsbp; Make sure your research is fun and fulfilling.

As with any line of work, if it stops being enjoyable, your performance can be at risk. Even highly self-motivated people have off days, so look for new ways to motivate yourself and drive your work forward. Sometimes this means taking some time to investigate a new perspective or angle from which to look at what you are doing. Sometimes this means allowing yourself time and distance from your work, so you can return with a fresh eye and a fresh mind!

(5) &nsbp; Surround yourself with friends who understand your passion for scientific research.

The life of a researcher can be lonely, particularly if you are working in a niche or emerging field. Choose your company wisely, ensuring your valuable time is spent with friends and family who support and respect your work.

Image Credit: “Board” by blickpixel. Public domain via Pixabay

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5. Trains of thought: Zac

Tetralogue by Timothy Williamson is a philosophy book for the commuter age. In a tradition going back to Plato, Timothy Williamson uses a fictional conversation to explore questions about truth and falsity, knowledge and belief. Four people with radically different outlooks on the world meet on a train and start talking about what they believe. Their conversation varies from cool logical reasoning to heated personal confrontation. Each starts off convinced that he or she is right, but then doubts creep in. During February, we will be posting a series of extracts that cover the viewpoints of all four characters in Tetralogue. What follows is an extract exploring Zac’s perspective.

Zac wants everyone to be at peace with everyone else, whatever their differences. He tries to intervene and offer a solution to the conflicts that arise between the other characters, but often ends up getting dragged in himself.

Sarah: It’s pointless arguing with you. Nothing will shake your faith in witchcraft!

Bob: Will anything shake your faith in modern science?

Zac: Excuse me, folks, for butting in: sitting here, I couldn’t help overhearing your conversation. You both seem to be getting quite upset. Perhaps I can help. If I may say so, each of you is taking the superior attitude ‘I’m right and you’re wrong’ toward the other.

Sarah: But I am right and he is wrong.

Bob: No. I’m right and she’s wrong.

Zac: There, you see: deadlock. My guess is, it’s becom­ing obvious to both of you that neither of you can definitively prove the other wrong.

Sarah: Maybe not right here and now on this train, but just wait and see how science develops—people who try to put limits to what it can achieve usually end up with egg on their face.

Bob: Just you wait and see what it’s like to be the vic­tim of a spell. People who try to put limits to what witchcraft can do end up with much worse than egg on their face.

Zac: But isn’t each of you quite right, from your own point of view? What you—

Sarah: Sarah.

Zac: Pleased to meet you, Sarah. I’m Zac, by the way. What Sarah is saying makes perfect sense from the point of view of modern science. And what you—

Bob: Bob.

Zac: Pleased to meet you, Bob. What Bob is saying makes perfect sense from the point of view of traditional witchcraft. Modern science and traditional witch­craft are different points of view, but each of them is valid on its own terms. They are equally intelligible.

Sarah: They may be equally intelligible, but they aren’t equally true.

Zac: ‘True’: that’s a very dangerous word, Sarah. When you are enjoying the view of the lovely countryside through this window, do you insist that you are see­ing right, and people looking through the windows on the other side of the train are seeing wrong?

Sarah: Of course not, but it’s not a fair comparison.

Zac: Why not, Sarah?

Sarah: We see different things through the windows because we are looking in different directions. But modern science and traditional witchcraft ideas are looking at the same world and say incompatible things about it, for instance about what caused Bob’s wall to col­lapse. If one side is right, the other is wrong.

Zac: Sarah, it’s you who make them incompatible by insisting that someone must be right and some­one must be wrong. That sort of judgemental talk comes from the idea that we can adopt the point of view of a God, standing in judgement over every­one else. But we are all just human beings. We can’t make definitive judgements of right and wrong like that about each other.

Sarah: But aren’t you, Zac, saying that Bob and I were both wrong to assume there are right and wrong answers on modern science versus witchcraft, and that you are right to say there are no such right and wrong answers? In fact, aren’t you contradicting yourself?

Have you got something you want to say to Zac? Do you agree or disagree with him? Tetralogue author Timothy Williamson will be getting into character and answering questions from Zac’s perspective via @TetralogueBook on Friday 13th March from 2-3pm GMT. Tweet your questions to him and wait for Zac’s response!

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6. 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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7. YALSABLOG TWEETS OF THE WEEK - FEBRUARY 6, 2015

A short list of tweets from the past week of interest to teens and the library staff that work with them.

Do you have a favorite Tweet from the past week? If so add it in the comments for this post. Or, if you read a Twitter post between February 6 and February 12 that you think is a must for the next Tweets of the Week send a direct or @ message to lbraun2000 on Twitter.

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8. Trains of thought: Bob

Tetralogue by Timothy Williamson is a philosophy book for the commuter age. In a tradition going back to Plato, Timothy Williamson uses a fictional conversation to explore questions about truth and falsity, knowledge and belief. Four people with radically different outlooks on the world meet on a train and start talking about what they believe. Their conversation varies from cool logical reasoning to heated personal confrontation. Each starts off convinced that he or she is right, but then doubts creep in. During February, we will be posting a series of extracts that cover the viewpoints of all four characters in Tetralogue. What follows is an extract exploring Bob’s perspective.

Bob is just an ordinary guy who happens to be scared of witches. His beliefs are strongly rooted in personal experience, and this approach brings him to blows with the unyelidingly scientific Sarah.

Sarah: That’s unfair! You don’t expect all the scientific resources of the Western world to be concentrated on explaining why your garden wall collapsed, do you? I’m not being dogmatic, there’s just no reason to doubt that a scientific explanation could in prin­ciple be given.

Bob: You expect me to take that on faith? You don’t always know best, you know. I’m actually giv­ing you an explanation. (Mustn’t talk too loud.) My neighbour’s a witch. She always hated me. Bewitched my wall, cast a spell on it to collapse next time I was right beside it. It was no coinci­dence. Even if you had your precious scientific explanation with all its atoms and molecules, it would only be technical details. It would give no reason why the two things happened at just the same time. The only explanation that makes real sense of it is witchcraft.

Sarah: You haven’t explained how your neighbour’s mutter­ing some words could possibly make the wall collapse.

Bob: Who knows how witchcraft works? Whatever it does, that old hag’s malice explains why the wall collapsed just when I was right beside it. Anyway, I bet you can’t explain how deciding in my own mind to plant some bulbs made my legs actually move so I walked out into the garden.

Sarah: It’s only a matter of time before scientists can explain things like that. Neuroscience has made enormous progress over the last few years, discov­ering how the brain and nervous system work.

Bob: So you say, with your faith in modern science. I bet expert witches can already explain how spells work. They wouldn’t share their knowledge around. Too dangerous. Why should I trust modern science more than witchcraft?

Sarah: Think of all the evidence for modern science. It can explain so much. What evidence is there that witch­craft works?

Bob: My garden wall, for a start.

Sarah: No, I mean proper evidence, statistically significant results of controlled experiments and other forms of reliable data, which science provides.

Bob: You know how witches were persecuted, or rightly punished, in the past. Lots of them were tortured and burnt. It could happen again, if they made their powers too obvious, doing things that could be proved in court. Do you expect them to let them­selves be trapped like that again? Anyway, witch­craft is so unfashionable in scientific circles, how many scientists would risk their academic reputa­tions taking it seriously enough to research on it, testing whether it works?

Sarah: Modern science has put men on the moon. What has witchcraft done remotely comparable to that?

Bob: For all we know, that alleged film of men on the moon was done in a studio on earth. The money saved was spent on the military. Anyway, who says witchcraft hasn’t put women on the moon? Isn’t assuming it hasn’t what educated folk call ‘begging the question’?

Sarah: I can’t believe I’m having this conversation. Do you seriously deny that scientific journals are full of evi­dence for modern scientific theories? Isn’t all of that evidence against witchcraft?

Bob: How do we know how much of that so-called evi­dence is genuine? There have been lots of scandals recently about scientists faking their results. For all we know, the ones who get caught are only the tip of the iceberg.

Sarah: Well, if you prefer, look at all the successful tech­nology around you. You’re sitting on a train, and I notice you have a laptop and a mobile phone. Think of all the science that went into them. You’re not telling me they work by witchcraft, are you?

Bob: Lots of modern science and technology is fine in its own way. I went to hospital by ambulance, not broom, thank goodness. None of that means mod­ern science can explain everything.

Have you got something you want to say to Bob? Do you agree or disagree with him? Tetralogue author Timothy Williamson will be getting into character and answering questions from Bob’s perspective via @TetralogueBook on Friday 6th March from 2-3pm GMT. Tweet your questions to him and wait for Bob’s response!

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9. Young Children, New Media, & Libraries @ #alamw15

This afternoon I attended a session called “Young Children, New Media, & Libraries Survey” presented by Amy Koester and J. Elizabeth Mills. Back in August of 2014, ALSC, LittleeLit.com, and the iSchool at the University of Washington conducted a survey where they asked public librarians how they use new media with youth in their libraries.

To put the survey into perspective, the definition of new media is technologies and the definition of young children is age 0 to 5.

We each received an infographic with the results and some were pretty surprising! Here are some of the highlights:

  • A total of 415 libraries participated and user populations ranged from less than 5,000 to over 1,000,000
  • Of those libraries, 71% use at least one type of new media in programming with young children
  • The most popular type of new media used are tablets, 91% of which are iPads
  • 58% of those libraries plan to increase new media availability in the future while 13% plan to maintain that level and 0.5% plan to decrease theirs
  • The most popular ways that that libraries are using new media devices is in tethered devices, in storytimes, and as check-outable materials

Amy and J. Elizabeth then went on to discuss the implications of their findings. The biggest point that they made was that as librarians, we need to be Media Mentors for our communities. Meaning, we need to be providing not only access but guidance on using these devices. Amy made the point that they weren’t trying to tell everyone that they have to start using iPads in storytime, but we need to be aware and mindful of the technology that our young patrons and their parents are using.

How does your library use technology with children?

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10. Wollstonecraft: The Case of the Kickstarter Project

JORDAN STRATFORD is a producer, author, and screenwriter. Stratford launched the idea for the Wollstonecraft Detective Agency series on Kickstarter, where the response was overwhelming enthusiasm.

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11. Teens and the Networked World: Aspen Institute Task Force Report Recap

In September 2014, YALSA blogger Jaina Lewis began a series on the Aspen Institute Task Force on Learning and the Internet 2014 report entitled Learner at the Center of a Networked World. Lewis’ post focused on 24/7 learning and how libraries and librarians can help keep the learning going outside the walls of school.

As Lewis says, the report is comprehensive, clocking in at 116 pages. This report is full of excellent resources and websites to explore. The Aspen Institute feels that our youth today need to be fully connected. In order to do that, we need to rethink our current models of education and technology infrastructure so that we create an environment of connected learning.

I particularly liked the definition of connected learning the report gave saying that “connected learning...is socially embedded, interest driven and oriented toward educational, economic or political opportunity” (34). In this definition, not only are we making sure the learner is at the center, but we are also taking into account the various things that surround our learners. In order to prepare youth for being smart, savvy, and critical citizens in our digital age, we have to remember the influences, histories, and cultural values that shape our youth.

As I read through the report, I was most drawn to the section on cultivating literacy skills. While the infrastructure is important, I believe in using technology as a tool and that people come before the tech. Not only do we want our youth to be both consumers and producers of media, but we also want to make sure they are critical thinkers and that these skills stay with them throughout their entire life. Of course, then the question becomes, how do we as libraries help to cultivate these attitudes? And do we as libraries have those critical thinking skills to make sure good consumers and producers of media and users of technology? Because while the report is about the learner, the youth, they look to us for guidance and support. We also have to feel empowered and confident about using technology to help us do “projects that matter” (connected learning that is interest driven). When we invest in using technology as a tool, we share a purpose with the youth we work with even though they are not our peers.

The report talks about youth being in a “whitewater learning” environment (27). This means that they acquire skills and learn new knowledge in the middle of practicing these skills as the technology environment changes around them. This is a type of learning we as librarians can also take. We can dive in, helping to create new knowledge to share with other librarians and expand our learning network. I believe by doing this, we give ourselves the agency we need to help the youth to our best ability.

This is a report that I will continue to mull over. My first read got me thinking about my role as a librarian in helping ensure our learners are at the center of their network. I hope in a future reading, my focus shifts and I can expand on this initial blog post. If you have a chance to skim the report, I recommend it; just seeing the various ways in which institutions across the United States in helping create exciting environments that use technology as a tool was exciting. The report gives you a lot to think about and I think this will continue to be a report we look at in 2015!

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12. Celebrating Women in STEM

It is becoming widely accepted that women have, historically, been underrepresented and often completely written out of work in the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM). Explanations for the gender gap in STEM fields range from genetically-determined interests, structural and territorial segregation, discrimination, and historic stereotypes. As well as encouraging steps toward positive change, we would also like to retrospectively honour those women whose past works have been overlooked.

From astronomer Caroline Herschel to the first female winner of the Fields Medal, Maryam Mirzakhani, you can use our interactive timeline to learn more about the women whose works in STEM fields have changed our world.

With free Oxford University Press content, we tell the stories and share the research of both famous and forgotten women.

Featured image credit: Microscope. Public Domain via Pixabay.

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13. Replication redux and Facebook data

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

Recently I asked Nathaniel Beck to write about his experiences with research replication. His essay, published on 24 August 2014 on the OUPblog, concluded with a brief discussion of a recent experience of his when he tried to obtain replication data from the authors of a recent study published in PNAS, on an experiment run on Facebook regarding social contagion. Since then the story of Neal’s efforts to obtain this replication material have taken a few interesting twists and turns, so I asked Neal to provide an update — because the lessons from his efforts to get the replication data from this PNAS study are useful for the continued discussion of research transparency in the social sciences.

Replication redux, by Nathaniel Beck

When I last wrote about replication for the OUPblog in August (“Research Replication in Social Science”), there was one smallish open question (about my own work) and one biggish question (on whether I would ever see the Kramer et al., “Experimental evidence of massive-scale emotional contagion through social networks”, replication file, which was “in the mail”). The Facebook story is interesting, so I start with that.

After not hearing from Adam Kramer of Facebook, even after contacting PNAS, I persisted with both the editor of PNAS (Inder Verma, who was most kind) and with the NAS through “well connected” friends. (Getting replication data should not depend on knowing NAS members!). I was finally contacted by Adam Kramer, who offered that I could come out to Palo Alto to look at the replication data. Since Facebook did not offer to fly me out, I said no. I was then offered a chance to look at the replication files in the Facebook office 4 blocks from NYU, so I accepted. Let me stress that all dealings with Adam Kramer were highly cordial, and I assume that delays were due to Facebook higher ups who were dealing with the human subjects firestorm related to the Kramer piece.

When I got to the Facebook office I was asked to sign a standard non-disclosure agreement, which I dec. To my surprise this was not a problem, with the only consequence being that a security officer would have had to escort me to the bathroom. I then was put in a room with a Facebook secure notebook with the data and R-studio loaded; Adam Kramer was there to answer questions, and I was also joined by a security person and an external relations person. All were quite pleasant, and the security person and I could even discuss the disastrous season being suffered by Liverpool.

I was given a replication file which was a data frame which had approximately 700,000 rows (one for each respondent) and 7 columns containing the number of positive and negative words used by each respondent as well as the total word count of each respondent, percentages based on these numbers, experimental condition. and a variable which omitted some respondents for producing the tables. This is exactly the data frame that would have been put in an archive since it contained all the data needed to replicate the article. I also was given the R-code that produced every item in the article. I was allowed to do anything I wanted with that data, and I could copy the results into a file. That file was then checked by Facebook people and about two weeks later I received the entire file I created. All good, or at least as good as it is going to get.

Intel team inside Facebook data center. Intel Free Press. CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
Intel team inside Facebook data center. Intel Free Press. CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

The data frame I played with was based on aggregating user posts so each user had one row of data, regardless of the number of posts (and the data frame did not contain anything more than the total number of words posted). I can understand why Facebook did not want to give me the data frame, innocuous as it seemed; those who specialize in de-de-identifying private data and reverse engineering code are quite good these days, and I can surely understand Facebook’s reluctance to have this raw data out there. And I understand why they could not give me all the actual raw data, which included how feeds were changed and so forth; this is the secret sauce that they would not like reverse engineered.

I got what I wanted. I could see their code, could play with density plots to get a sense of words used, I could change the number of extreme points dropped, and I could have moved to a negative binomial instead of a Poisson. Satisfied, I left after about an hour; there are only so many things one can do with one experiment on two outcomes. I felt bad that Adam Kramer had to fly to New York, but I guess this is not so horrible. Had the data been more complicated I might have felt that I could not do everything I wanted, and running a replication with 3 other people in a room is not ideal (especially given my typing!).

My belief is that that PNAS and the authors could simply have had a different replication footnote. This would have said that the code used (about 5 lines of R, basically a call to a Poisson regression using GLM) is available at a dataverse. In addition, they could have noted that the GLM called used the data frame I described, with the summary statistics for that data frame. Readers could then see what was done, and I can see no reason for such a procedure to bother Facebook (though I do not speak for them). I also note a clear statement on a dataverse would have obviated the need for some discussion. Since bytes are cheap, the dataverse could also contain whatever policy statement Facebook has on replication data. This (IMHO) is much better than the “contact the authors for replication data” footnote that was published. It is obviously up to individual editors as to whether this is enough to satisfy replication standards, but at least it is better than the status quo.

What if I didn’t work four blocks from Astor Place? Fortunately I did not have to confront this horror. How many other offices does Facebook have? Would Adam Kramer have flown to Peoria? I batted this around, but I did most of the batting and the Facebook people mostly did no comment. So someone else will have to test this issue. But for me, the procedure worked. Obviously I am analyzing lots more proprietary data, and (IMHO) this is a good thing. So Facebook, et al., and journal editors and societies have many details to work out. But, based on this one experience, this can be done. So I close this with thanks to Adam Kramer (but do remind him that I have had auto-responders to email for quite while now).

On the more trivial issue of my own dataverse, I am happy to report that almost everything that was once on an a private ftp site is now on my Harvard dataverse. Some of this was already up because of various co-authors who always cared about replication. And on stuff that was not up, I was lucky to have a co-author like Jonathan Katz, who has many skills I do not possess (and is a bug on RCS and the like, which beats my “I have a few TB and the stuff is probably hidden there somewhere”). So everything is now on the dataverse, except for one data set that we were given for our 1995 APSR piece (and which Katz never had). Interestingly, I checked the original authors’ web sites (one no longer exists, one did not go back nearly that far) and failed to make contact with either author. Twenty years is a long time! So everyone should do both themselves and all of us a favor, and build the appropriate dataverse files contemporaneously with the work. Editors will demand this, but even with this coercion, this is just good practice. I was shocked (shocked) at how bad my own practice was.

Heading image: Wikimedia Foundation Servers-8055 24 by Victorgrigas. CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

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14. Curating Mentor Text Collections

Get started organizing your mentor text with four digital tools.

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15. App of the Week: Duet Display

Title: Duet Display
Platform: iOS 7 and All Macs (Windows is in the works)
Cost: 14.99

duet display logoI don't know about you, but I often like to work in a dual screen environment. One in which I can be looking at a document to refer to on one screen and look at or work on a related document on another screen. I'm also a fan of dual display environments in which I can easily interact with both screens and in which the two screens actually talk with each other. I haven't been able to do that between my MAC and iPad or iPhone, that is until Duet Display launched. Now with the app on all of my devices - laptop, iPad, and iPhone - I can work between screens easily.

To get started with Duet Display you have to download the app to all of your devices. (You don't have to pay for the app each time, purchase it once and it's downloadable across devices.) Once installed open up the app on the two screens you want to work with - a laptop and iPad for example. Plug the iDevice into the MAC USB port - using the same cable used for charging your iDevice, voilå your iDevice is reading your MAC computer screen.

As with traditional dual display setups, you can move screens from your computer to your iDevice screen by dragging the content you want to show on the second screen "over" to the device. Your MAC's System Preferences is where you set up whether or not you drag content left or right to move it to the second screen. When viewing content on either screen you can use traditional mouse functions to move through the content, click on links, and so on.

The video below provides a good overview of how the interaction between the two screens works.

One of the comments that many reviewers are making about Duet Display is that there is no lag time between screens either when dragging content from one to the other or when interacting with the content on an iDevice. It's also quite seamless with no lag time when watching a video on one screen and taking notes or browsing other content on another.

While library staff working with teens are likely to find Duet Display useful professional projects, teens and teachers will most likely find it helpful as well. For example, teens working on research projects looking for easy access to digital research resources and their notes will find access to two two screens helpful. Teachers developing curriculum can review materials on one screen while updating their curriculum on another. These are just two ideas for teens and their teachers, I am sure there are a lot more possibilities for anyone using Duet Display in a formal or informal learning environment.

It may seem that a duel display isn't necessary when one has two devices at hand already. But, instead of having to move between devices and their keyboards and screens and so on, with Duel Display it's one set of keys and one mouse with two screens. If you or the teens you work with haven't tried working in an duel display environment, check it out. If you have been looking for a high-quality duel display app for your iDevices and MACs, Duet Display is it. The price is worth the gain in productivity.

On a side-note, the Mountie Clip looks like a very useful accessory to use with your devices and Duet Display. I'll be trying the Clip out for sure.

For more apps for teens and the librarians who serve them, check out the App of the Week archive. Have a suggestion for an App of the Week? Let us know.

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16. Great Websites for Kids needs you!

Today I’m writing on behalf of the Great Websites for Kids Committee.


In case you missed the December 5, 2014,  press release, the following seven sites were added to Great Websites for Kids.  

The committee works very hard to find and evaluate new sites, and ensure that previously chosen sites maintain their “great” status.  If you’re unfamiliar with the site or the committee, here is a short primer from the press release:

“Great Websites for Kids (GWS) features links to high-quality websites of interest to children 14 years of age and younger, organized into diverse subject headings from cultures of the world to games & entertainment to weather & environment, and many more. Each site entry includes a brief annotation and a grade-level rating. Users can also rate sites, save favorites for easy access, and share sites via social media and email.

Members of the ALSC GWS Committee review potential sites for inclusion and vote on the sites to be included. They also regularly check the entire database of great sites to ensure currency, and re-evaluate sites when necessary.”

As the new year begins, the Great Websites for Kids Committe would like to enlist your help. If you see a site that you believe should be evaluated for inclusion on GWS, please submit your suggestion by following this link:  http://gws.ala.org/suggest-site. Similarly, if you find broken links, etc., please alert us to that as well.  Finally, let us know how you’re using GWS.  Comments and suggestions are always welcome.

Best wishes for a great new year!

 

GWS Roster

Katherine Opal Scherrer (REFORMA Representative, February 1, 2013, to January 31, 2015)
Ms. Lara Anne Crews (Co-Chair, February 1, 2014, to January 31, 2015)
Ms. Kimberly Probert Grad (Co-Chair, February 1, 2014, to January 31, 2015)
Paige Bentley-Flannery (Member, February 1, 2013, to January 31, 2015)
Krishna Grady (Member, February 1, 2014, to January 31, 2016)
Joanne Kelleher (Member, February 1, 2014, to January 31, 2016)
Mr. Ted McCoy (Member, February 1, 2013, to January 31, 2015)
Ms. Alia Shields (Member, February 1, 2014, to January 31, 2016)
Lisa Taylor (Member, February 1, 2013, to January 31, 2015)
Gaye Hinchliff (Consultant, July 1, 2014, to June 30, 2015)
Laura Schulte-Cooper (Staff Liaison, July 1, 2008, to June 30, 2015)

 

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17. Let's Code!

In early December, YALSA blogger Jami Schwarzwalder wrote a great post (with many great resources) on how to participate in Hour of Code week. I want to expand on her work and talk a little more about some of my experience with code and how that may translate into teens and code.

It seems that in today’s day and age, knowing how to code can be a crucial job skill. It gives you an edge and from a personal standpoint, knowing how to code can be incredibly empowering. It’s especially important to help get females (at any age) interested in coding because as we see time and time again, the difference between males and females involved in the technology field is astonishing (just search “girls in technology infographic” and see the fascinating percentages).

I think there are many ways to go at coding for teens. If you want to encourage girls, the video from Intel, who sponsors Girls Who Code, is pretty inspiring. The website itself, provides nice photos, information on past programs, and even the ability to download their most current curriculum for you to adapt to fit your teens.

Another similar website to Girls Who Code is Made With Code (through Google). They offer many projects for all levels of coding experience. These projects are fun and also include the ability to share with the world through their favorite social media outlet.

If you have teens that don’t have as much experience with coding, I would suggest doing the hour of code at code.org. Usually the theme of these puzzles is Angry Birds, but it looks like for the holiday season, the developers have moved over to Elsa and Anna from Frozen. It’s a great way to see “the blocks of coding” which will be helpful in future coding exercises. The videos that are every five or so levels are also helpful in letting you know what the blocks do and how they all work together.

With some coding under their belt, I think MIT’s Scratch is a good place to start. While there is a version that can be download onto your computers, their web version also works quite well. If you’re unfamiliar with Scratch, I would suggest watching some of their tutorials or even checking out Super Scratch Programming Adventure by the LEAD Project. This book would be great for teens to use (lots of cool drawings and learning is done through a comic form) and just to familiar yourself with the program (if you’re interested).

What is great about Scratch is that they can make their own projects (pretty much anything they can think of) or do what’s called “remixing.” Essentially they can look at completed projects and “look under the hood.” The teens can see how people created various projects and then “remix” and revise it for themselves. It’s a great way to learn all the capabilities of Scratch and give the teens some ideas of projects of their own.

Finally, if your teens want even more, I would direct them over to CodeCademy.  Here, they can sign up for an account and tackle many different programming languages: Python, HTML/CSS, JavaScript, jQuery, PHP, or Ruby. You go through a series of lessons, all that can be self-directed by the teens themselves. CodeCademy also has some projects to help see coding in action. I’ve personally used CodeCademy to learn Python and HTML/CSS and like the website, as well as the public forums for when I get stuck on a lesson.

Best of luck and I hope some of these resources will be useful to your teens!

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18. Parental consent, the EU, and children as “digital natives”

Children have become heavy new media users. Empirical data shows that a number of children accessing the internet – contrary to the age of users – is constantly increasing. It is estimated that about 60% of European children are daily or almost daily internet users, and therefore, by many they are considered to be “digital natives”.

However, in our view, the use of this “digital natives” concept is misleading and poorly founded, and is based on the assumption that children are quick to pick up new technologies. A recent EU Kids Online study invalidates this assumption. The study shows that even though children actively surf on various online applications, they lack digital skills such as bookmarking a website, blocking unwanted communications, and changing privacy settings on social networking sites. Many children are not capable of critically evaluating information and changing filter preferences.Interestingly, the lack of skills to perform specific tasks while being online does not impinge on children’s beliefs in their abilities – 43% of surveyed children believe to know more about the internet than their parents. At the moment, no correlation between this proclaimed self-confidence and their actual understanding of how internet works can be done due to the lack of data. Nevertheless, it is worth questioning whether, and to what extent, it is reasonable to expect that children understand the implications of their behaviour and what measures could mitigate children’s online risks in the most efficient and effective way.

It is probably closer to the truth to say that, in terms of privacy and data protection awareness, children are anything but “digital natives”.

Indeed, children’s actions online are being recorded, commercialised and serve for the purposes of behavioural advertising without them actually realising. This media illiteracy is tackled by awareness raising campaigns and policy measures on domestic and EU levels. However, it seems that these measures only partially address the challenges posed by children’s online engagement.

Image credit: Photo by R. Nial Bradshaw via Flickr Creative Commons. This image has been cropped.
Image credit: Classroom laptops, by R. Nial Bradshaw. CC-BY-2.0 via Flickr. This image has been cropped.

The European Commission (EC) seems to be in favour of legislative measures providing for a stronger legal protection of children’s personal data in the online environment. In Article 8 of the proposal for the General Data Protection Regulation, the EC introduces verifiable parental (or custodian) consent that would serve as a means of legitimising the processing of a child’s personal data on the internet.

Article 8 of the proposal foresees that parental consent would be required in cases where the processing operations entail personal data of children under the age of 13. The age of 13 would be the bright-line from which the processing of children’s personal data would be subjected to fewer legal constraints.

In practice, this would divide all children into two groups; children that are capable to consent (i.e. 13-18 year olds) to the processing of their personal data and children that are dependent on parental approval of their online choices (i.e. 0-13 year olds). Drawing such a strict line opposes the stages of physical and social development. Also, it requires the reconsideration of the general positive perception of the proposed parental consent from a legal point of view. In particular, it is necessary to evaluate whether the proposed measure is proportionate and whether it coincides with the human rights framework.

In a recent article published in the International Data Privacy Law Journal, we have analysed the proposal to distinguish between children younger and older than 13 years and found many practical and principled objections. Apart from the practical objections, which are often self-evident (e.g. what about the protection of children in the age group from 13 to 18 year old? How to ensure the enforcement of the proposed parental consent?), there are several fundamental problems with the proposed 13 years-rule.

The bright-line rule, which would require data controllers to obtain parental consent before processing personal data of children aged under 13, seems to be incompatible with the notion of evolving capacities. The proposed measure is based on the assumption that from the age of 13 all children are able to provide an independent consent for the processing of their personal data in the online environment. The proposed Article 8 ignores the fact that every child develops at a different pace and that the introduction of parental consent does not ensure more guidance regarding online data processing. We also regret that Article 8 in its current form doesn’t foresee a way in which children could express their own views regarding the data processing operation; the responsibility to consent would rest exclusively with a parent or a legal guardian. This set-up opposes the idea of children’s participation in the decision-making process that concerns them, an idea anchored in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) and that is recognised by both the EU and its Member States.

Finally, our analysis suggests that children’s rights to freedom of expression and privacy may be undermined, if the proposed parental consent is introduced. As a result of Article 8, children’s access to information could become limited and dependent on parents. Also, the scope of their right to privacy would shrink as parents would be required to intervene in children’s private spaces (e.g. gaming accounts) to make informed choices. Therefore, it can be observed that the introduction of parental consent contradicts the key principles of human rights law enshrined in the UNCRC.

Featured image credit: Student on iPod at school. Photo by Brad Flickinger. CC-BY-2.0 via Flickr.

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19. What to expect on your 19th century Indus river steamer journey

Congratulations on your new posting in the Punjab. Rather than riding eight-hours-a-day on horseback, suffering motion-sickness on a camel’s heaving back, or breaking your back sitting on hard wooden boards in a mail-cart, you’ll be travelling on the Bombay Government Flotilla, one of four flotillas that carry thousands of Europeans and Indians up and down the Indus.

While you may question the expenditure of a government flotilla, we assure you it’s a lot simpler than loading a squadron onto a small fleet of country boats, with indifferent crews, in varying states of repair, which might never reach their destinations. On board we’ll keeping the regiment together arriving as it started out — in one piece and maintaining proper discipline in transit.

So what can you expect on this exciting journey?

1.   Expect sun and swelter. Everything you touch will be red hot. You won’t be able to go below in the daytime, but the thin awnings on deck will do little to relieve you in the 115 degree heat. Many soldiers ask whether they should sleep with a berth next to a furnace or choose a wall of heat on deck. With dry winds that come down from the ‘burnt-up hills’, laden with fine sand, everything and everyone will be covered in a layer of fine grey grit. And don’t forget the sand-flies — they bite hard.

2.   Expect an uproarious time. Remember that you’re travelling on white man’s mastery of nature, so don’t expect to be the most important thing afloat. Your accommodation will be conveniently crushed between the machinery of furnaces, boilers, pistons, transmission, and paddle-wheels. Passengers trapped in close proximity to the machinery enthuse about the clamour of pistons ‘working up to four or five hundred horse-power’, the splash of paddle-wheels beating the river-water into foam, and the deafening hurricanes when engineers blow off the boiler’s steam ‘half-a-dozen times a day’. And if you’re lucky enough to have the wind blowing in your direction, look forward to being choked by the smoke, singed by the sparks, and splattered by smuts from the funnels.

3.   Expect to get intimate with your fellow passengers. When moving to a theatre of war, you’ll be squashed together on the decks ‘like pigs at a market in a pen at night’. Your comrades may jostle to get enough space to lie down; the top of a hatch is a prize reserved for the best bare-knuckle fighter. Never mind about a restless colleague, you’ll be packed so tight in the gaps between the baggage, that once you’re settled down it’ll be impossible to move until the morning.

4.   Expect cool nights with fresh dew. As you lay on deck with only a thin cotton awning over your head, gather round the funnel to get a little warmth. Be sure to hang on to your guttery [very thin duvet stuffed with raw cotton] as there will be no great-coats among the soldiers. Not to worry, the women and children suffer most.

5.   Expect to be out of your element and out of sorts. Feeling exposed? Living on the open decks for weeks on end in the winter will reduce your resistance to all common Indian diseases. Should you be lucky enough to get an attack fever and dysentery, you’ll lay stretched upon the hard planking without anything under or over you. The sepoys’ conditions, as one would expect, are the best of all. It will be impossible to cross the deck without walking on sick and dying invalids. If they die in the night, they will be ‘instantly thrown overboard’. And after the steamer arrives in the delta, the survivors are off-loaded into sea-going ships destined for Bombay.

Image credit: A daguerreotype of a typical river paddle steamer from the 1850s. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.
A daguerreotype of a typical river paddle steamer from the 1850s. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

6.   Expect unbelievable meals. Passengers praise our ‘coarse and unpalatable’ food. Everyone from the boat captains to the cooks have their special arrangements with prices too high for poorer travellers and meals ‘so indifferent’ that passengers who had paid for them refuse to eat them. Even the water is undrinkable! Perhaps your whole regiment will be reduced to foraging in the villages along the banks. Sheep and cows can be bought for a few rupees; Muslim butchers slaughter them; and you can enjoy broiling away till midnight.

7.   Expect a tranquil environment. It takes a month or more to get up the whole navigable length of the Indus and they’ll be nothing to see on long stretches of the rivers, except ‘a vast dreary expanse’ of desert stretching out to the horizon, or an endless belt of tamarisk trees running along the low, muddy banks. Many villages are miles from the river to escape the floods, so it’s possible to sail all day without seeing another human being. Throughout the journey you’ll receive small stimulations from a native boat spreading its sail to taking pot shots at the largest living creatures to hand. Never mind the cost of the cartridges: simply steal rounds from the pouches of sick sepoys.

8.   Expect a friendly drink or two. Fed up with watching the ‘dreary wilderness’ floating slowly past? Drink yourself stupid. As a hundred soldiers boarded the Meanee en route to the siege of Multan, one of them – delirious from drink – ‘slipped from the men who led him and fell overboard’, a second died of delirium tremens during the voyage, and a third ‘was expected to do so’. En route they ‘lost three or four in the river from drowning’. Worried the military authorities will restrict the sale of alcohol on the boats? Buy country liquor from the villagers – it has roughly the same side-effects.

9.   Expect genuine thrills. The most intense excitement on a voyage on the Indus is the occasional shipwreck. Test your phlegm, and proof of national identity. Charles Stewart dismissed the danger of drowning with the utmost nonchalance on his sinking vessel. The really serious inconvenience was the interruption to his meals. React with that much aplomb, and we’ll know you’re British.

10.   Expect to see people working together in new ways. Watch every latent animosity in race relations come to the surface. British captains beat Indian pilots every time a boat runs aground; engineers beat the lascars feeding logs into the furnaces if the steam pressure falls; and soldiers beat the cooks if they make a mess of the grub. Passengers straight from England are often shocked.

Remember, in an alien and often threatening environment, it’s worth paying a premium for the reassurance of a European-style cocoon: a steam-hotel, albeit a poor one, gliding along the river while the guests sit on the decks.

Headline image credit: Indus Sunset by Ahmed Sajjad Zaidi. CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

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20. App of the Week: Sphere 360º

Screen Shot 2014-12-02 at 6.51.23 PM

Title: Sphere 360º

Platform: iOS, with some limitations

Cost: Free

Sphere 360º bills itself as "the future of photography." It adds a three dimensional aspects to your panoramic shots, with sometimes startling results. Be it a Siberian forest or an Italian coastline, there's a definite concrete virtual reality aspect to viewing a "sphere."

The gallery of shared spheres is pretty intimidating. Many are taken with a rotating gadget called a Motrr, which can be controlled wirelessly. There is an "easy" mode, but there is a definite art to creating a sphere. Additionally, you must be connected to a network, which could make capturing nature scenes difficult

To begin your sphere, you can scan a panorama or upload one saved to your camera roll. To complete the sphere, you use your finger to create details and depth, essentially zooming in and moving around to flesh out the experience of being there.

If that's not enough to get your teens interested, Kendall Jenner recently recommended it her recent Vogue interview with an enthusiastic "Download immediately."

Even is you never create a sphere, the curated collections with their intuitive and smooth navigation could be a boon for teachers  and librarians looking to take student beyond the herky-jerky vagueness of Google Earth. And it's too kinesthetic to it justice outside the app.

The current version doesn't seem to be supported on the latest Apple hardware, so it's the rare case where something interesting isn't available on the newest devices.

Creator Spherical also has a 4D video app called Play, which is also free for a limited time.

If you have a suggestion for an App of the Week, let us know, and be sure to check out more great Apps of the Week in our archive.

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21. Hour of Code

In celebration of Computer Science Education Week Dec 8-14, students, parents, teachers and professionals will all engage in coding.

Dozens of websites will highlight free one hour tutorials to inspire and teach computer programing skills.

Curriculum has been created for use in classrooms all around the world, even if students don’t have internet.

57,000 events are scheduled to happen next week.

Here are some ideas for what you can do to celebrate!

  1. Complete an hour of code yourself using one of the many resources available on Code.org:
  2. Sign up as a teacher and get access to offline lessons you can do with kids in a library program. Like Graph Paper Programing
  3. Set up one of Thinksmith’s Unplugged Activities in the library for families to complete together
  4. Display Computer Science books with Hour of Code Posters found online
  5. Display Science Fiction books with Posters about hour of code
  6. Invite Teens to add pages to Feminist Hacker Barbie
  7. Install Scratch on library computers,and encourage to use them to make something (now is a great time to make a digital Christmas card)
  8. If you can’t host an event, volunteer at a CoderDojo or other coding club near you.
  9. Work with a colleague to plan at least one event in 2015 using one of the many tools available through hour of code.
  10. Encourage everyone in your life to complete one hour of code.

Hour of Code is less than a week away! What will you do for the hour of code?

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22. The hand and the machine

Two hundred years ago last Friday the owner of the London Times, John Walter II, is said to have surprised a room full of printers who were preparing hand presses for the production of that day’s paper. He showed them an already completed copy of the paper and announced, “The Times is already printed – by steam.” The paper had been printed the night before on a steam-driven press, and without their labor. Walter anticipated and tried to mediate the shock and unrest with which this news was met by the now-idled printers. It was one of many scenes of change and conflict in early industrialization where the hand was replaced by the machine. Similar scenes of hand labor versus steam entered into cultural memory from Romantic poetry about framebreaking Luddites to John Henry’s hand-hammering race against the steam drill.

There were many reasons to celebrate the advent of the steam press in 1814, as well as reasons to worry about it. Steam printing brought the cost of printing down, increased the number of possible impressions per day by four times, and, in a way, we might say that it helped “democratize” access to information. That day, the Times proclaimed that the introduction of steam was the “greatest improvement” to printing since its very invention. Further down that page, which itself was “taken off last night by a mechanical apparatus,” we read why the hand press printers might have been concerned: “after the letters are placed by the compositors… little more remains for man to do, than to attend upon, and watch this unconscious agent in its operations.”

Moments of technological change do indeed put people out of work. My father, who worked at the Buffalo News for nearly his entire career, often told me about layoffs or fears of layoffs coming with the development of new computerized presses, print processes, and dwindling markets for print. But the narrative of the hand versus the machine, or of the movement from the hand to the machine, obscures a truth about labor, especially information labor. Forms of human labor are replaced (and often quantifiably reduced), but they are also rearranged, creating new forms of work and social relations around them. We would do well to avoid the assumption that no one worked the steam press once hand presses went mostly idle. As information, production, and circulation becomes more technologically abstracted from the hands of workers, there is an increased tendency to assume that no labor is behind it.

Two hundred years after the morning when the promise of faster, cheaper, and more accessible print created uncertainty among the workers who produced it, I am writing to you using an Apple Computer made by workers in Shenzhen, China with metals mined all over the global South. The software I am using to accomplish this task was likely written and maintained by programmers in India managed by consultants in the United States. You are likely reading this on a similar device. Information has been transmitted between us via networks of wires, servers, cable lines, and wireless routers, all with their own histories of people who labor. If you clicked over here from Facebook, a worker in a cubicle in Manilla may have glanced over this link among thousands of others while trying to filter out content that violates the social network’s terms of service. Technical laborers, paid highly or almost nothing at all, and working under a range of conditions, are silently mediating this moment of exchange between us. Though they may no longer be hand-pressed, the surfaces on which we read and write are never too distant from the hands of information workers.

Like research in book history and print culture studies, the common appearance of a worker’s hand in Google Books reminds us that, despite radical changes in technology over centuries, texts are material objects and are negotiated by numerous people for diverse purposes, only some of which we would call “reading” proper. The hand pulling the lever of a hand press and the hand turning pages in scanner may be representative of two poles on a two-century timeline, but, for me, they suggest many more continuities between early print and contemporary digital cultures than ruptures. John Walter II’s proclamation on 28 November 1814 was not a turn away from a Romantic past of artisanal labor toward a bleak and mechanized future. Rather, it was an early moment in an ongoing struggle to create and circulate words and images to ever more people while also sustaining the lives of those who produce them. Instead of assuming, two hundred years on, that we have been on a trajectory away from the hand, we must continue looking for and asking about the conditions of the hand in the machine.

Headline image credit: Hand of Google, by Unknown CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

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23. Teens as Information-Mediaries: An Investigation of Teens, Technology, and Design

Today, we often take for granted how teens use technology. It seems to be embedded into their every day lives and something they pick up easily. But have we ever wondered how teens use technology to help others every day, especially others who do not understand technology as well? A group of researchers at the University of Washington’s iSchool are investigating these teens, whom they refer to as “info-mediaries” (InfoMes). Karen Fisher, Philip Fawcett, Ann Bishop, and Lassana Magassa are working with mainly groups of ethnic minority teens in the Seattle area to gain a better understanding of how teens, as information mediaries are using information and technology to help others.

IMG_1171

My group working on our app. We are in the visual stages where we are drawing out what our problem is.

To gain this insight, the research team created Teen Design Days (see video link for a longer explanation). This is a three-day workshop where the teens gathered to discuss, learn, and explore how they help people in their social networks with information and technology. The teens are paid for their time and by the end of the workshop, will have created a design project that would help them. The design days are structured around the developmental needs for teens, identified by J. Davidson and D. Koppenhaver in their 1992 publication, Adolescent Literacy as “physical activity, competence and achievement, self-definition, creative expression, positive social interaction, structure, and clear limits.” This means that along with the learning, the teens take an active role in shaping the outcome of the workshop. From designing the rules and expectations, to participating in “light-and-lively” activities (physical activity component), the teens are truly front and center. As they begin to move from discussing their role as information mediaries to more fully fleshing out designs and solutions to improve their InfoMe work, the teens talk with each other, share ideas, and revise their design.

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Our prototype app, Don't Think Twice, It's Alright.

From a research point of view, these design days allow the group to collect large amounts of data in a short time, create friendships with the youth they work with and the larger community as a whole, and get an insight into what the teens are facing on a daily basis and what ideas they have to solve these problems.

One of the researchers, Ann Bishop, made a visit to University of Illinois in early October to share InfoMe. I attended one of her presentations in which she gave an outline of their research. At the end of the session, the group expressed interest in participating in the “train-the-trainer” workshop model. We hoped that a session like that would give us ideas on how to design similar programs for the teens we currently serve.

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Telling the story of our problem (the stress of going home and visiting family and friends).

Our train-the-trainer workshop took place over a three-and-a-half hour time block at the Champaign Public Library. Bishop led us through a condensed design workshop, which included brainstorming problems we encounter daily and then splitting us into three groups based on the type of problems we identified. My group looked at the problem of visiting family and the hassles and stress that we confront. Through critical thinking, some storytelling, and using our limited drawing abilities (see photo, complete with stick figures), we more clearly defined our problem and then moved into thinking about what could help us out. My group created the beginnings of an app; one that would allow for family and friends to see your schedule when you’re visiting, for you to track your flight or train, and also a spot for stress relieving activities such as calming music or cat photos (whatever floats your boat). We created a prototype and if we had more time, would have continued to refine the app based on feedback from the rest of the group. When I left the workshop, I was energized and excited about the possibility of this for the future.

I believe the ideas behind InfoMe can be applied in our libraries. Not only is there potential for new designs to be brought forth, but also for teens to collaborate, and for librarians to gain insight into the teens they serve. I’m looking forward to following InfoMe and seeing what other insights they uncover with future Teen Design Days. For more information, make sure to visit their website, and read their various publications.

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24. Does absence make the heart grow fonder?

Increasing numbers of people are forced to live their lives away from the ones they love, be they partners, parents, or friends. Having been a member of a long-distance relationship, I can attest to the strain that separation places on a relationship. Over the last few decades communication technologies have been increasingly marketed as solutions to the problem of strain, separation, and isolation. But how far do they go in actually addressing these issues?

237px-Skype-iconAs digital technologies have become ever engrained in our daily lives, a vast array of communication devices have been developed to help support our interpersonal relationships. Skype makes seeing distant loved ones easier; Snapchat allows us to send them inconsequential thoughts as they pop into our heads; and email allows us to send a letter anywhere in the world without even having to buy a stamp. The research community is continually investigating new designs, be they based on kissing or other less creepy ideas like exchanging love notes.

This interest results in a huge number of different device designs, few of which are ever evaluated. What is it we should be trying to support to help distant relationships?

The psychological literature has a large number of concepts that could be used as a lens for examining interpersonal relationships and communication, such as Social presence and Closeness. Social presence can be thought of as the sense of emotional connectedness experienced through a single act of communication. Closeness is a longer-term feeling of connectedness that is also related to the amount of contact people experience. Closeness, arguably, is essential for relationships to survive. If we could establish a link between these two concepts, evaluations of communication technologies can focus purely on the experience of using the technology, confident in the knowledge that this will have a meaningful impact on the relationships’ feeling of Closeness. We thus designed a study that focussed on attempting to establish whether there is a link between Closeness and Social presence.

In order to answer this question we recruited 63 students to track their communication use over time. Each day they would record how close they felt towards a specified individual (either a partner, friend, sibling, or parent) who either lived in the same city or at a distance. Additionally, participants tracked their communication use and recorded a Social presence score for each act of communication. In total we collected 956 contact reports and 1281 daily Closeness ratings over a three-week period.

In analysing this data we could unpick some fascinating aspects as to how interpersonal relationships can be supported. Our data indicates the type of communication technology and the relationship type and distance can predict the Social presence ratings. All of the communication media our participants reported on were rated with much lower levels of Social presence compared to face to face conversations. This highlights the fundamental weakness communication technologies have – they simply aren’t the same as seeing someone.

However, establishing a relationship between Social presence and Closeness is useful because we can demonstrate that creating communication technologies that encourage emotionally significant experiences can support relationships in a more meaningful, long-term fashion as those technologies are likely to strengthen feelings of Closeness with absent others. Thus while absence may not make the heart grow stronger, communication technologies can be used to make sure that out of sight definitely doesn’t mean out of mind.

Image credits: (1) Fountain Pen Letters, by Andrys. Public Domain via Pixabay. (2) Skype-icon, by Keiner. Public Domain via Wikimedia

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25. 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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