Saturday, February 06, 2016

Introducing the Horizon Report 2016

The latest NMC Horizon Report has just been released.  Like many of involved in higher education, I've always been curious as to what new tools and toys are out.  I remember the early days (five years ago?) when it was neat to see the latest trends of digital media.   Time have changed -- we've moved beyond just 3D printers and augmented reality.

This 2016 Higher Education Edition identifies six key trends, six significant challenges, and six important developments in educational technology across three adoption horizons spanning over the next one to five years.  Useful as a guide for campus leaders, educational technologists, and faculty as a valuable guide for strategic technology planning, the report provides higher education leaders with in-depth insight into how trends and challenges are accelerating and impeding the adoption of educational technology, along with their implications for policy, leadership, and practice.  What is most interesting is the "Key Trends Accelerating Technology Adoption in Higher Education."

Long-Term Impact Trends: Driving Ed Tech adoption in higher education for five or more years 
Mid-Term Impact Trends: Driving Ed Tech adoption in higher education for three to five years 
Short-Term Impact Trends: Driving Ed Tech adoption in higher education for the next one to two years 

Friday, December 25, 2015

Vaporized? That's the World We Live In Now, So We Must Deal With (Embrace) It

Emerging technologies has been a theme of this site for as long as I have blogged.   While libraries have been slow to in the digital migration its programs, services, and collections, the retail world has experienced transformative changes, with the disappearance of Kodak, Borders, Blockbuster, etc.

In a consumerist world, such businesses need to change with the times -- and those that didn't do so quickly enough certainly got subsumed by history.   I read with great interest Robert Tercek's Vaporized which proposes that once-tangible goods such as music CDs and video DVDs were vaporized, replaced by pixels and bytes of data.   Vaporized offers a reminder of the de-materialization of physical objects.   So what is it?   You'll know what vaporized is as it:

  • Happens when tangible physical products are replaced with invisible software that can be downloaded instantly over the air to a digital device.
  • Occurs when the neighbourhood store is replaced with a digital storefront that exists in no particular place at all but is available anywhere at anytime, from any mobile phone connected to a data network.
  • Happens when the global supply chain for manufacturing, shipping, warehousing, and retailing consumer goods is decomposed and reorganized by software systems and digital networks.
  • Replacing real things with digital metaphors that can be replicated, updated, distributed, and deleted in seconds.
But what really caught my interest is Tercek's interest in what he terms loosely MOOC 2.0, with an insightful look into future trends, particularly SPOCs (small private online classes).   None of the MOOC platforms (think edX, Udacity, Coursera) have adopted smartphone or tables to enable a truly "anywhere, anytime device" mode for students.   With the dominant mode of teaching still the lecture, which dates back to the Medieval era, there's much opportunity for new entrants to take advantage of the current underdeveloped MOOC.  Perhaps that's why MOOCs have currently lulled in terms of excitement and buzz in the academic and business communities.  Once a silver bullet platform emerges, we just might see the vaporization of the current behemoth that is higher education.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

The Rise of the GLAM - G(alleries), L(ibraries), A(rchives), M(useums)

Yuan Dynasty (1165-1368 C.E.)
I've been conducting research on the area of GLAMs (an acronym that stands for galleries, libraries, archives, and museums).  And I have even written about it in the past as well.  We're seeing the convergence of galleries, libraries, archives and museums collaborating together in the digital age to transcend the traditional boundaries that separated them previously.  This is not surprising at all since these cultural institutions' common goals are really about creating better user-oriented services -- whether it be housing one repository for full access to all cultural heritage or obtaining exhibiting materials for public audiences.  To put it another way, while the professional language of the work is different, but the work is very similar.

The topic of GLAMs or LAMs is still in its emerging stages.  Although the convergence of galleries, libraries, archives and museums may be seemingly a recent development amongst cultural heritage institutions, these four institutions have been intertwined from some of the earliest known institutions, and can in fact trace their historical development back to similar origins. As Katherine Howard puts it:
If galleries, libraries, archives and museums wish to continue to maximize all that the digital environment offers now and into the future, the GLAM sector may require information professionals who have the flexibility, skills and knowledge to allow them to work across the full spectrum of the GLAM institutions. . .
Indeed, to contextualize this history, Howard points out that even the most renowned ancient library   demonstrates the connection between collecting institutions. Founded by Alexander the Great in the 4th century BCE, and developed and maintained by the Ptolemaic dynasty in approximately the third century BCE, the Library of Alexandria was merely one part of what was essentially a research institute known as the Museum of Alexandria.

Fast-forward to the current information climate, we see that in our information networked world, the once clearly demarcated of GLAM institutions with their unique professional histories are now realizing that users of their content want information about subjects, not information from a particular source.

I'm pleased to be working with Jenna Dufour on her LIBR 596 professional experience course. Jenna is currently an MLIS candidate at the University of British Columbia. And equally excited to be working with Patrick Lo (Professor at the University of Tsukuba's Faculty of Library, Information & Media Science) and Dickson Chiu (University of Hong Kong's Faculty of Education) on a book entitled: Conversations with the World’s Leading East Asian Librarians, Archivists & Curators, which is based on a series of interviews with different practicing librarians, archivists, and curators who specialize in East Asian collections. In asking these leading experts to describe the necessary professional skills, knowledge, and personalities that are required for working in such environments of varying size, scope, and composition in libraries, archives, and museums across the world, we examine the GLAM from a specific subject domain standpoint. It's going to be an interesting upcoming year, and one I'm busily looking forward to!

Friday, August 28, 2015

Flora of Descriptions for the Internet of Things

I've been writing about the emerging technologies for the past decade, and ever since the Internet of Things first appeared, I've been actively following its development as part of my professional quest to understand its impact on educational technologies.  Fresh off the press, Olson et al.'s Semantic Web, Ubiquitous Computing, or Internet of Things? A Macro-Analysis of Scholarly Publications is one of the most thorough in its examination of the evolution of ambient technologies.  And I'm glad I've found it and I'm going to share it with you here.  The authors investigate concepts used in depicting future visions of society, they map the extent of their use, examining the level of their dominance in different research areas and geographic boundaries, pinpointing fourteen concepts, each of which is used to depict visions of future3 information infrastuctures. More than 20,000 scholarly documents related to those concepts are analyzed.

Ubiquitous computing - "Ubicomp" Refers to a society in which human computer interaction is seamlessly and unnoticeably integrated into everyday life. 2.  Pervasive computing -

Pervasive computing - Used interchangeably with ubiquitous computing, pervasive computing's focus is not so much on the vision as it is on technological issues.

Ambient Intelligence - Or AmI, is different from Ubicomp in not just being about computing; rather, it involves other technologies such as smart materials and other innovations that integrate with our environments, a vision that extends the range of technologies that are considered to go beyond computing.

Smart Environment - or SmE, is able to acquire and apply knowledge about an environment and also to adapt to its inhabitants in order to improve their experience in that environment.

Ubiquitous Web - Concerned with mobility and constant access to information, an "anytime from any location" idea in which a different sense of the user emerges, where the technology could benefit commercial corporations as the user, rather than the individuals who seek and use Web-based information.

Semantic Web - Originating in the 1990's, it is an extension of the idea of the Web, created by Tim Berners-Lee.  Where content is designed to be read by humans, the Semantic Web builds on the idea of designing contents for access and meaningful manipulations by computer programs.  The focus is placed on Web-based information, information access, knowledge representation, and semantic codes for technology intervention.

Internet of Things - or IoT, was originally an adoption of Ubicomp, but was later considerably broadened to envision a society where all members have access to a full-fledged Internet environment populated by self-managing, smart technology anytime and anywhere.

Real world Internet - or RWI, the focus is placed on the integration of real-world into the Internet where wireless sensor technologies and network embedded devices extend interaction between physical and virtual worlds, enabling event-based environmental intelligence.

Web of Things - Follows the idea of the IoT in that it builds on the success of Web 2.0 mashup applications to suggest a similar approach for integration of devices to connect the Web allowing both physical and Web-based things to be connected to virtual resources.

Digital Living - Not widely used yet, the idea of it is a lifestyle not bound by place and time.

 System of Things - SoS, dating as far back as the 70's, it has evolved to relate increasingly to linked systems and connected devices.

Everyware - Information processing embedded in the object and surfaces of everyday life.  Process powers of multiple everyday devices such as the coffee pot, the garment, etc. come together invisibly, rendering our homes, workplaces or the street to become sites of processing and mediation.

Internet of People - The emphasis on allowing a steady stream of personal data from each individual and her interaction with various devices in everyday life in order to customize services according to individual needs.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Library Cafe's as Trendsetters

Lelystad Public Library
Lelystad Public Library

There was a trend in the Library and Information Science literature beginning in the late 1990's that last till the beginning of the millennium about libraries becoming more like bookstores.  At the periphery of this movement was the first vestiges of the cafe as part of the library.

I came across Creating the Customer-Driven Library: Building on the Bookstore Model by Jeannette Woodward earlier this millennium and it is one of the seminal texts on the library-as-a-bookstore model, arguing that if libraries do not redesign the way its customer service, looks, and functionality in ways that enhance its community mission, patrons, or "customers," will only continue to gravitate to the beautiful, spacious, and well-stocked new bookstores.   In fact, as Renee Feinberg puts it:
I have noticed patrons who seem to be using the store as a library.  As a librarian, I wondered whether students were doing library research there, and if so, why they weren't using their college libraries.  Were they gathering information successfully?  Were they making an informed choice to avoid their college libraries?  If students find it better to do research in B&N, should this affect how librarians develop library programs and provide services?
Interestingly, libraries took a sudden turn in 2008 in the advent of the Web 2.0 phenomenon and subtly the emphasis shifted to Library 2.0 (which had its own share of controversy as a term).   Which leads us to the present. Currently, I'm working with Dr. Patrick Lo of the University of Tsukuba in Japan on exploring library cafes as a "third place" for users of the library. This idea of the third place traces back to the sociologist Ray Oldenburg who articulated that beer gardens, main streets, pubs, cafes, coffeehouses, post offices, and other "third places" are the heart of a community's social vitality and the foundation of a functioning democracy.

Howard Schultz repositioned Starbucks into the idea of Starbucks goal to also become the Third Place in "our daily lives. (i.e. Home, Work and Starbucks)," so that it can provide all the comforts of home and office.   So in our research project, we look at the library cafe as a Third Place, as a node of the library building, information/learning commons, and informal learning spaces.  This site will continue to update on this interesting journey into the innovative ways that libraries are repositioning themselves and how patrons perceive this paradigm shift in the way food and culture intersect with library collections and learning.  Stay tuned.

Monday, July 06, 2015

End of College? But the Start of What?

Having worked in higher education for more than a decade, I've seen first hand the wholesale transformation of the university.  As the jacket explains, in just nine months between 2011 and 2012, the world’s most famous universities and high-powered technology entrepreneurs began a race to "revolutionize" higher education. College courses that had been kept for centuries from all but an elite few have been released to millions of students throughout the world for free in the form of massive open online courses (MOOCs).  But it's not just online learning that is the tipping point of this change.

Coming across a recent book by the American higher education writer and policy analyst Kevin Carey was marvellous timing as many of the ideas from his writing is trending in the university world and offered much food for thought.  End of College offers excellent insight into the world of higher education, particularly its current shortcomings and all.   And here are some points which I find intriguing:

The Luxury Branding of Education - Why does a Rolex watch cost exponentially more than a Timex?   Both tell the same time, and incur essentially the same amount of mechanisms that make it work.    Higher education has subtly become a luxury brand business where everyone strives to emulate the Ivy League elites.  Community colleges become full-degree colleges while colleges become research universities - becoming an ever evolving climb to the top for greatness (and with it higher tuition).  To justify its brand, universities have catered to the lavish tastes of students with the most modern amenities, cafeteria cuisines, residential spaces, top-grade sports facilities, just to name a few to whet your appetites.  But in all of this, where is the learning?  Why are low-cost local college just as effective as these luxury universities?  Why a Rolex when a Timex works just as good?  Why has learning become commodified?

Open Learning - If MOOCs and open badges have shown us anything in the past few years, it's that higher education can no longer be monopolized by institutions.  Learning can occur everywhere and at anytime, and in any platform.  Universities carry prestige as employers trust its credentialing system simply because universities were the only ones in business that offered some sort of measure of how prepared adults were for the workforce.  But this is no longer the case: students aren't obtaining the skills and there have been new methods of imparting the knowledge by new technologies such as MOOCs.  What this means is a great "unbundling" of the college credit system into one where the hands of learning are placed firmly back into the students' (regardless of institution or age of the learner).

Cathedral of Learning -  Which leads us to what Kevin Carey calls the "university of everywhere" - an idea which is analogous to religious institutions where adults return each week without fail to replenish themselves spiritually.  How can we learn from religion where the passion for fulfilment can be replicated in lifelong learning?  Can the spirit for learning be replenished each week for the rest of our lives?   It's a brainteasing thought: learning from the cradle to the grave.   What can universities and colleges learn from adult learning?  If it ever envisions itself not as a short-term diploma mill, then the university can ultimately re-position itself back to its roots as cathedral of learning.

Wednesday, June 03, 2015

YouTube, social media, and academic libraries: building a digital collection

I recently presented at the Acquisitions Institute 2015 on a panel with Stacy Sieck (Taylor & Francis) and Zoe Pettway Unno (California State University - Fullerton's Pollack Library).  YouTube, social media, and academic libraries: building a digital collection, is a paper I had published in the Journal of Electronic Resources Librarianship about YouTube as a new technology situated in the suite of emerging technologies.

YouTube’s extensive reach and integration in mainstream society as well as lifelong learning habits of online users cannot be understated.  My presentation continues on the theme of how YouTube collection at the University of British Columbia Library’s Irving K. Barber Learning Centre has become an exciting extension of the digital collections and services.  By examining the history of traditional collection development at academic libraries, I really tried to demonstrate how YouTube fits into the long continuum of library media collections in an open-access platform.  Am I pushing the envelope, stretching the definition of "media collections"?  Perhaps, but I'd love to hear from you, too, on your thoughts.  Please feel free to share your comments with me!

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Cantonese Worlds Workshop at UBC #ItsAboutTime

I recently presented at the Hong Kong-Canada Crosscurrents presents: Cantonese Worlds (May 14-15th, 2015).  Over the last 50 years, migrations between Hong Kong and Canada have transformed cities such as Toronto and Vancouver. Significant changes in real estate, business, philanthropy, and education, as well as cultural transformations in language, popular media, and mass consumption have reshaped societies on both sides of the Pacific. Flows of people, goods, and ideas have been multidirectional--even as hundreds of thousands of Hong Kong Chinese became Canadian citizens, Canadians of both Chinese and non-Chinese heritage also migrated to Hong Kong for work and family. Counting the estimated 300,000 Canadian passport holders living in Hong Kong would rank it among the ten largest “Canadian” cities.

The Hong Kong-Canada Crosscurrents Project looks back on the last half century in order to understand how the migration of people, goods, and ideas across the Pacific has created a complex crosscurrent of dense and sometimes surprising connections, including the transformation and re-animation of a Cantonese Pacific world that had spanned the ocean for centuries.

Cantonese Worlds is a two-day workshop that aims to begin an important conversation about how to make sense of the transformations of the last 50 years. In gathering leading scholars and observers to lay out an initial set of workshop themes for discussion, this pilot process will help create guiding questions that will shape the next few years of research, outreach, and public education. Initial themes might include, for instance, the role of the Cantonese language historically in shaping linkages between Hong Kong and Canada, or how the resurgence of Cantonese popular culture and music has been a formative element in youth identities. We invite all those interested in examining the last half century of crosscurrents between Hong Kong and Canada to participate in this important undertaking.

In my presentation, Bringing Old Perspectives to New Audiences: a history of BC’s First Bilingual Newspaper, I look back at the last twenty years of a student-run publication called Perspectives Newspaper, which at one time, represented the voice of most Hong Kong students at UBC.  In 2009, this entire collection of newspapers was digitized and archived on UBC's institutional repository cIRcle as part of the Community Historical Recognition Program (CHRP) project.  As I was once the Editor-in-Chief of this newspaper when I was a graduate student, I'm proud that I was able to offer insight into the evolution of the student movement and its context of academic libraries.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Fraser Valley Regional Library, 1930's - 1945 #TBT

Yes, it's rare and it's kind of unsexy.  But it's #ThrowBackThursday.  So we must deal with it.  This brief historical footage is an experiment by the Government of British Columbia.  In 1930, the Carnegie Corporation of New York awarded the province a grant of $100,000 to establish and maintain a rural library project for five years. After considering various regions of the province, the Commission selected the Fraser Valley as the site of "BC’s book experiment."

The library’s first director Dr. Helen Gordon Stewart successfully met this challenge. With enormous energy, Stewart went about organizing the district, selecting books, hiring staff and purchasing a truck suitable for use as a book van. She personally visited councils and public meetings, convincing residents and politicians of the value of cooperation and resource sharing that would lead to a viable library system.
At the end of the five years of operation, under its present auspices, it is the hope that the people of the Fraser Valley, whether they reside in large or small centres, or in the out-of-way places, will want the library so much that they will decided to take it over as their own, to be maintained as a municipal service. The success which has already attended the experiment indicates that the Fraser Valley library will become a permanent institution

It sure did. It's grown to become the largest public library system in British Columbia, spread over 24 community libraries serving nearly 680,000 people in its service area.  Stewart later went on to help establish another historic library system, the Vancouver Island Regional Library (VIRL) system.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Asian Canadian Archives (Re)Visited

Here is a "digital story" video created by a student at UBC as part of an undergraduate film studies course.   In my work as a librarian, I've had chances to work with community organizations on cultural projects.  The Chinese Canadian Stories is one case where I have collaborated with small organizations across Canada in recovering lost histories about the Headtax and discrimination.  Vivian Wong, Tom Ikeda, Ellen-Rae Cachola, and Florante Peter Ibanez authored a very interesting  piece in "Archives (Re)Imagined Elsewhere" in Through the Archival Looking Glass.

Asian American community-based archives are more than repository for materials for the communities they serve; rather, are spaces where collective memories are created and collective histories represented. In this context, previously marginalized and neglected groups can reclaim their experiences. National records show Asian Americans viewed from the outside as undesirable immigrant-aliens. Archives as community-based organizations in Asian American communities are formed apart from official repositories for Asian Americans to represent and imagine themselves differently.

Community institutions thus challenge the "traditional notions" of archives which often serves as a custodial function primarily for records of bureaucratic organizations such as governments. On the other hand, Asian American archival organizations exist in local communities, separate from institution-based archives, as spaces for Asian Americans to represent themselves, their histories, cultures, identities, and experiences as they see themselves in America.

In the 1960's, Asian American groups began forming responses to their exclusion from mainstream society which ultimately enabled and empowered them to create their own documentation of their experiences within these communities.   The last twenty years has seen an increased insistence and urgency to push the boundaries archival theories, practices, and education in ways that consider alternate approaches to knowing and understanding archives, records, and recordkeeping.

Some of the projects that are worth noting in the Canadian context include the following:

  • The Pacific Canada Heritage Centre - Museum of Migration [Link]
  • Vancouver Asian Heritage Month's explorASIAN Festival [Link]
  • Chinese Canadian Historical Society of British Columbia [Link]
  • Asian Canadian and Asian Migration Studies (ACAM) program [Link]

Saturday, March 28, 2015

McDonaldization and Higher Education & Academic Libraries

I've been an academic librarian for almost eight years now: how time flies.  One of my favourite writers since I was a student has been Brian Quinn, whose research focuses on the psychosocial aspects of libraries.  One of my first posts featured Quinn's article on librarians as dramaturgists.   Quinn's writing is often fresh and insightful, focusing on different angles and perspectives of librarianship.

In 2000, he put forth the idea that just as society is becoming increasingly "McDonaldized," so is higher education and by extension, academic libraries.  The argument is that we live in an age of mass higher education, in which many students attend college because they see a college education as a means to a more lucrative career, not because they love learning.   Colleges and universities are under pressure from the public and governments to "control costs and maximize efficiency."  I can feel this often in my own line of work, too.

McDonaldization and Efficiency 
Efficiency is the systematic elimination of unnecessary time or effort in the pursuit of an objective.
The fast-food concept of quick service may have had the effect of raising the expectations of library users. Users seem less content with waiting in line for reference assistance and appear less willing to tolerate delays. Some libraries have responded by giving reference staff pagers so they can be “beeped” if a line forms at the service desk. The use of pagers is another example of how services in academic libraries have become efficiently rationalized.
McDonaldization and Calculability
 Calculability is another key characteristic of McDonaldization. Ritzer defined the term calculability as the tendency to measure quality in terms of quantity.
Many college and research libraries also keep extensive statistics on everything from reference transactions, cataloging statistics, and ILL statistics to circulation statistics, entrance gate statistics, and statistics about online transactions. Often the statistics are compiled for use as evidence of the library’s performance to justify requests for budget increases.
McDonaldization and Predictability 
Another key aspect of the rationalization process that is central to McDonaldization is predictability. A rational society is one in which people know what to expect - McDonald's menu is predictable and the food is consistently mediocre no matter which outlet is visited.  A world of McDonald’s is a significantly bland world in which surprise and delight are largely absent.
The collection development process has become more and more standardized, resulting in collection content varying less from one library or type of library to another. . . Many academic libraries use the same vendors, and although particular subject profiles may vary somewhat, the differences often depend more on a particular library’s depth of collecting than on the books themselves.
McDonaldization and Control 
The fourth and final aspect of McDonaldization is control. People represent the most unpredictable aspect of rationalized, bureaucratized systems, so it is people that McDonaldized organizations attempt to control.  Technology is easier to control than humans, so the ultimate goal of McDonaldization is to replace humans with technology.
Academic librarians are typically subject to an elaborate, formalized system of bureaucratic accountability that serves as a form of control. Each librarian’s performance is carefully documented by various means, such as systematized monthly reports to supervisors, annual or semiannual evaluations recorded on standardized forms that must be signed by both librarian and supervisor, less frequent, but periodic, review by promotion and tenure committees, and, more recently, posttenure review committees.
2015:  Recruiting Un-McDonaldized Librarians?  The Response 15 Years Later
So what's a helpless librarian to do in the midst of this scientific Taylor-style Fordist machinery?   Quinn suggests one remedy to counter the alarming trend is to hire un-McDonaldized librarians which would enable an un-McDonaldized culture.  Fifteen years later, Canadian librarian Karen Nicholson furthers the argument, citing that McDonaldization of academic libraries reflects the growing influence of corporate aims and values in the public sector under the neoliberal philosophy of New Public Management (NPM) -- think competition, profitability, risk, value for money, and entrepreneurship -- increasingly buzzwords in our daily lives.  They've seeped into academic librarianship.

Under this system, society is producing "new kinds of workers"—highly flexible, empowered “portfolios” of skills and experiences ready to sacrifice in lean times, enabled through an indoctrinating culture through the use of core values, vision statements, and futurist leaders. 
The American Library Association’s work in defining and promoting “core values” and developing leaders through programs such as Emerging Leaders, a self-propagating initiative that ultimately serves the needs of the ALA itself by “put[ing] participants on the fast track to ALA committee volunteerism,” exemplifies the influence of the new capitalism within the profession of librarianship.
The number of for-profit universities is on the rise, and higher education, in partnership with the private sector, continues to pursue the “expansive markets” of distance learning and e-commerce, as seen by the ubiquity of learning management systems and recent MOOCs phenomena.  This is scary stuff: I'm even taking a sabbatical to figure this all out, too.

So we end with the question that we began with: what are we to do?  I certainly don't have an answer as I am still in the thick of this myself.  Nicholson offers wise words of advice: as a profession, perhaps we need to consider why we do things instead of measuring what we do.  That's a great start:  A journey of thousand miles begins with a single step, as the saying goes.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

The Price of Admission Is a Steep One For Learning

Price of Admission, although published in 2006, still rings true in academia today.  In an age when tuition fees have continued to ballooned to the point that it has overpriced even the most middle class of students.  It has become a luxurious business.  Journalist Daniel Golden's Price of Admission offers much thought provoking. Many colleges have developed special backchannel routes to admissions for the rich.   Harvard even has what is infamously known as the "Z-list" for “late admissions” which receive the golden preferential treatment.    Of course, universities don't like to admit this, attested to by the numerous "no comments" and "would not responds" during Golden's research.  What are the five categories of that is currently soiling the reputation of academia?

The Wealthy - Money talks.   The so-called prestigious universities justify favoring children of alumni and prospective donors on the grounds that tuition doesn't cover the entire cost of education. Of course, Ivy League institutions reason that private gifts subsidize scholarships, faculty salaries and other needs.  In fact, Golden reports that a recent study of legacies at one elite university found that as a group they are more likely than their classmates to be white, Protestant, and have attended prep schools.  It's known as development preference -- students recommended by the fundraising office, because their non-alumni parents or relatives are considered in a position to help the institution with money or visibility.  These parents may be corporate tycoons, Hollywood celebrities, or politicians in a position to provide earmarked funding.  The offspring, however, often arrive with less than peak credentials.  Harvard even informally has a name for these preferential applicants: the "Z-list."

The Famous - Celebrities and the children of celebrities enhance an institution's visibility.  Brown University chose a different strategy, instead targeting the children of the famous instead of the merely rich, such as Danny DeVito, Kevin Costner, and Hollywood Michael Ovitz are all now happy alumni parents.  Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist saw his son go to Princeton, his alma mater, despite less-than-stellar credentials at the exclusive St. Albans School.  Daniel Golden entertainingly regales us with tales of Hollywood insiders who get the red carpet treatment from the Ivy Leagues, such as mogul Michael Ovitz who wanted to enroll in 1999 and still inexplicably got accepted when Brown admissions officers found the academic record of the younger Ovitz not close to what would be appropriate for an offer of admission.  Pressured to admit him anyway, top administrators looked the other way as the abilities of the elder Ovitz – to host receptions for Brown administrators to raise money, to bring movie stars to campus, and presumably to help build Brown’s endowment - were far too much to pass up.  Brown Ovitz’s son was admitted under "special status," but eventually left but Ovitz’s daughter took the torch and entered Brown.  For all that work, Ovitz reciprocated and arranged campus appearance with Hollywood A-lister Dustin Hoffman, and subsequently hosted a reception at Ovitz’s Brentwood mansion.

"The Legacies" - Nearly all selective private schools, and many public universities, give an admissions edge to legacies, largely to facilitate alumni giving. At most top schools, legacies comprise a large part of the student composition and are accepted at two or three times the rate of other applicants. Some universities accept nearly half of alumni children who apply.   How skewed are the numbers?  As journalist Max Nisen reports,  Harvard's legacy admissions rate hovers around 30% when its overall admissions rate is 5.8%.  For Princeton's class of 2015, 33% of legacy applicants were admitted where the overall admissions rate for that class was 8.5%. Yale reveals that it admits 20 to 25% of legacy applicants while it only admitted 6.7% overall.

Athletes - Although we might believe that team sports on television reflect the diversity of university campuses, we don't realize that colleges often give admissions breaks to athletes in many prep-school sports that ordinary American kids never have a chance to play: crew, horseback riding, sailing, squash, polo, the list goes on.  It essentially comes down to money again, as colleges give preferential treatment toward athletes from these "rich sports" to attract wealthy donors who rowed crew or played squash themselves, want their alma mater to have a winning team, and are eager to pay for the boathouse or the polo ponies.  As such, we are already seeing colleges fund blueblood sports like crew and equestrian events while eliminating men’s teams in "working-class" sports like wrestling and track and field.

Faculty Brats - The admissions break is a side-effect of the tuition subsidy most colleges give to not only the children of faculty, but all types of employees, including secretaries and janitors. The history of the tuition benefit harks back to a time when colleges needed to offer such perks to attract candidates to lowly paid campus jobs.  But times have changed as the benefits offered in higher education are now seen as generous when compared with those in other major industries, which cut back during the recession.

Whereas universities are lax in criteria for some, it's almost exclusive to others.  Hiding behind the guise of affirmative action, some institutions narrow its preferences to particular ethnicities.  "Asians" in the US do not qualify for affirmative action, which colleges generally limit to underrepresented minorities such as blacks, Hispanics and Native Americans.  Families that cannot afford to donate to a university must have exemplary scores and grades - and often even such criteria is not enough for admissions to the more prestigious institutions.  Instead subjective factors, such as artistic talent and leadership ability which lead to the rejection of countless valedictorians and students with perfect SAT scores.

Ironically, Daniel Golden himself is from the very institution he seeks to expose - though from a different generation.  Golden was a product of the SAT generation, and was one of the thousands of bright, middle-class public high school students who were able to attend a elite college at least partly because the test helped extend the vision and reach of the Ivy Leagues beyond a cluster of old-boy prep schools.

As a product of a Canadian university, I'm fortunate that there is still a sense of egalitarianism.  Corporatization is slowly seeping into the system, but we still have some time before the resistance becomes futile.  It's said that the relatively level playing field among Canadian universities is  one reason why Canada has the largest proportion of university graduates among G7 countries and the highest percentage of university graduates in the workforce.  It attracts talent from around the world to relocate to Canada.  But how long before we go the Ivy route?   I feel privileged to be among the elite.

Monday, February 09, 2015

Smartcuts - Breaking Conventions In the Name of Innovation

Smartcuts is an unbelievably entertaining and informative book by technology journalist Shane Snow.   It is not simply about shortcuts, but smartcuts - the ability to accomplish rapid successes and breakthrough innovation with much less that we think.   In short, it argues while incremental progress can be achieved by playing by the rules, successful innovators create transformational change by breaking conventional rules and thought.  Out of Smartcuts emerges nine themes which engages innovation.   I thought it would fun to share with you here.  I'd be interested in hearing your feedback.

1. Hacking the Ladder - We live in an age of non-traditional ladder climbing.  Not just in politics, but business and personal development and education, entertainment, and innovation.  "Paying your dues" in traditional paths are not just slow, they're no longer viable if we want to compete and innovate. This leads to true meritocracy.

2. Training with Masters - Data indicates that those who train with successful people who've "been there" tend to achieve success faster.  The winning formula, therefore, is to seek out the world's best and convince them to coach us.  But that's not enough though, as history is full of people who've been lucky enough to have amazing mentors and have stumbled anyway.  It's not surprising, considering the failure rates of workplace mentorship programs.  Training with masters mean developing personal relationships with mentors, asking their advice on other aspects of life, not just the formal challenge at hand - caring about the mentors' lives, too.  It's a relationship, not a transaction.

3. Rapid Feedback - It is about asking for feedback at a rate that encourages rejection and pushing oneself to become better instead of becoming a failure.  This type of pure, unadulterated feedback mechanism is a process that helps us adapt, modify, and refine our craft in a safe space that allows for true improvement.

4. Platforms - The platform amplifies the effort and teaches skills in the process of using it.  Effort for the sake of effort is as foolish as paying dues, as Shane Snow puts it.  Innovation pays off when it is amplified by a lever, meaning platforms teach us skills and allow us to focus on being great, rather than reinventing the wheels or repeating ourselves, so that building on top of a lot of things that exist in the world to maximize efficiency and eliminate redundancy.

5. Catching Waves - While conventional thinking leads talented and driven people to believe that if they simply work hard, luck will eventually strike, it's akin to believing if a surfer treads water in the same spot a wave will come along.  However, it doesn't; hence, some people practicing for twenty years never become experts.  A pro surfer never wins by staying in one spot, and neither can innovation.  The secret is to watch the waves and getting into the water to experiment.  In innovation, one must watch for the trends and anticipate where it will be coming and going before it comes.

6. Superconnecting - No matter that medium or method, giving is the timeless smartcut for harnessing superconnectors and creating serendipity.  All great innovators build their careers by collaborating with talented, fast-rising, and well-connected people and by making them look great.  But once they become superconnectors, they continue helping people.  That's how to tell if someone is a giver or a taker in giver's clothing, with the paradigmatic message: If you do it only to success, it probably won't work.  Pay it forward.

7. Momentum - The trick to harnessing momentum is to build up potential energy, so that unexpected opportunities can be amplified.  No one is an "overnight" success - each success story had backlogs of material that became reservoirs, ready to become torrents as soon as the dam was removed.  That's what needs to happen when that big break happens.  The difference between a success and a lucky break is substance.  

8. Simplicity - It's no secret that constraints drive creativity.  Many such great innovations this world has seen have emerged from limited means.  It's important to break down complex equations down to core principles.  It's critical to instill urgency and focus on what's core.

9. 10X Thinking - Vision is what ultimately drives success.  While people are willing to support other people's small dreams with kind words, we're willing to invest lives and money into huge dreams.  The bigger the potential, the more people are willing to back it.  Big causes attract big believers, big investors, big capital, and big talent.  To become not just bigger, but truly better.  

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Copyright Infingement, Intellectual Property, and Artistic Plagiarism: Do They Mix?

Canadian authors Wayson Choy, Paul Yee and Sky Lee have launched a $6 million lawsuit against Chinese author Ling Zhang, alleging copyright infringement against her book Gold Mountain Blues, a family saga about Chinese immigrants to Canada originally written in Chinese. The lawsuit not only includes Zhang, whose also the author of Aftershock,, but also Penguin Canada’s parent company, Pearson Canada Inc., and translator Nicky Harman.  The details of the case are available for all to see.

Although Zhang contends Gold Mountain Blues is the result of years of research and several field trips to China and Western Canada, the Chinese Canadian authors believe the book contains numerous elements copied from their work, including characters, plots and descriptions.  As the four Chinese Canadian authors articulate, their stories are not clichés and they are certainly are not common.

This is precisely why this case is so unique and fascinating.  According to Canadian copyright laws,  plagiarism isn't a concept that easily fits under the Copyright Act.  In Canada at least, copyright covers words of the same sequence, but does not extend to ideas.   To complicate matters, proving similarity of expression between Gold Mountain Blues and the other works may be particularly difficult since the English text is a translation of a Chinese one.

As Kate Taylor points out in the Globe and Mail
Copyright cases can be difficult to win: Infringement is a narrow legal concept that involves direct reproduction of a substantial part of the original – compared to the broader academic or journalistic notions of plagiarism that can involve unattributed borrowing of ideas or sentences.

Points of comparison

Examples of plot and character similarities between several Chinese-Canadian novels and Zhang Ling’s Gold Mountain Blues:

1. Sky Lee’s Disappearing Moon Café (1990): In grave danger, a young Chinese man is rescued and then cared for by a beautiful girl, Kelora, of rare Chinese/Native heritage.

Gold Mountain Blues (2011): In grave danger, a young Chinese man is rescued and then cared for by a beautiful girl, Sundance, of rare Chinese/Native heritage.

In Disappearing Moon Cafe, Wong Gwei-chang is searching for bones, is discovered by Kelora Chen who speaks to him in Chinese, and meets her father, a Chinese man. In Gold Mountain Blues, Kam Shan runs away from Chinatown after talking to anti-Qing revolutionaries, including Sun Yat-sen . . . falls into riverbank, and is rescued by Sundance, who speaks to him in broken English. While Gwei-chang leaves Kelora on the heed of his mother, who told him to go back to China to dutifully marry, Sundance voluntarily permits Kam Shan to leave as she catches him trying to run away as her Chinese grandfather did the same thing many yrs ago (pg. 285).
  • This seems to be a common theme in other artistic works. In Dances with Wolves, John Dunbar rescues Stands With Fist, and eventually falls in love. In fact, it was said that Avatar stole from Dances With Wolves as Jake Sully is rescued by Neytiri, and also falls in love, with her and the tribe. On another note, Aboriginal-Chinese relations and marriages were quite common in BC. Larry Grant, Howard Grant, Cedar and Bamboo did a whole documentary on First Nations-Chinese relations).
2. Disappearing Moon Café: The Chinese man is old now. Full of regret for his long lost love, Kelora, he dies after a visitation from her.

Gold Mountain Blues: The Chinese man is old now. After searching for his long lost love, Sundance, he dies after a visit from her.  However, in Disappearing Moon Cafe the context of the visits are quite different.  While Kelora shows up in Wong's Gwei-chang as he is in the last moments of his life; Kam-shan is visited out of the blue by Sundance, who later indirectly reveals to him that she borne him a son. When he asks her, she is annoyed, expecting that he wants to ask her out on a date.

3. Wayson Choy’s The Jade Peony (1995): Wong Suk is disfigured after working on the railway. He rescues a white foreman who becomes gratefully indebted as well as a good friend. When the foreman dies, his son passes along a precious piece of gold.

Gold Mountain Blues: Ah-Fat is disfigured in a fight while working on the railway. He saves the life of his white foreman. They become good friends over the years. When the foreman’s wife dies, her will leaves money to Ah-Fat’s son.

While Jade Peony's relationship between the white foreman was purely platonic, the relationship between Kam Shan and the foreman (Rick Henderson) and his wife are much more complex. Ah-Fat sends his son Kam Shan to work for the Hendersons upon which Kam Shan and Mrs. Henderson is bound in an illicit affair. Upon her death, she leaves him $4000, half of which was supposed to go to her daughter (which already passed away after an accident, when she runs away from her mother's affair with the boy).

4. Paul Yee’s The Bone Collector’s Son (2003): Fourteen-year-old Bing works as a houseboy for a white couple in Vancouver. He becomes a target of white bullies but his employer Mrs. Bentley rescues him.

Gold Mountain Blues: Fifteen-year-old Kam Ho works as a houseboy for a white couple in Vancouver. He becomes a target of white bullies but his employer Mrs. Henderson rescues him.

  • The idea that the houseboy is saved by his master is not an unfamiliar scene. In fact, this occurred often during the pre-Civil War America. When Frederick Douglass was about twelve years old, Hugh Auld's wife Sophia started teaching him the alphabet despite the fact that it was against the law to teach slaves to read. Douglass described her as a kind and tender-hearted woman, who treated Douglass like one human being ought to treat another..

5. Paul Yee’s Dead Man’s Gold (2002): Hard-working Shek buys a farm while younger brother

Ping hates farm work and goes to the city to gamble. Shek pays everyone but Ping. Ping is unhappy. Ping kills Shek.

Gold Mountain Blues: Hard-working Ah Fat buys a farm while his son Kam Shan hates farm work and goes to the city to gamble. Ah Fat pays others but not Kam Shan. Kam Shan is unhappy. He disappears.  The context is completely different. While Ping and Shek are in the same farm together, Ah Fat's two sons (Kam Shan and Kam Ho) are never physically together at one time in Vancouver although both do work for their father Ah Fat at different times. Unlike Ping's killing of Shek, Kam Shan does not kill his father, Ah Fat. Unlike Kam Shan who gambles in Chinatown with the money from his father's produce sales, Ping actually stopped gambling after working for his Shek, who never gives him any money.
  • This scene of a farmer with a son who gambles his wealth away only to be forgiven by the father, is so common in literature that stretches back to the times of the bible. In fact, Luke 15:1 "Parable of the Lost Son" has been one of Christianity's most famous stories. (One which Tim Kelleher has written an entire book on, The Prodigal Son). I don't think it can be argued that this is an entirely unique scenario.

Much has been written about the situation.  Part of the controversy stems from whether the Chinese language from Gold Mountain Blues has been plagiarized from original passages of these original Chinese Canadian English literary works. This episode highlights the transformative nature of the Internet.  A virtually unknown blogger who referred to himself simply as “Changjiangalleged that Zhang had taken advantage of a "literary conundrum," one that Canadian Chinese writers cannot read Chinese, while Chinese readers and critics do not understand English.  So as a result, the lines are drawn and the legal and literary worlds clash intimately together over the results that will eventually set some precedents in the translation, publishing, and writing worlds.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Digital Scholarship Librarian - Simon Fraser University Library

Digital scholarship has been an emerging if not critical area in academia for the past decade.  From areas such as data management, to intellectual copyright, to digital humanities, almost every facet of intellectual inquiry has been somehow affected by the rise of digital scholarship.  It's not surprising to see academic libraries rising to the meet the needs of its users, namely that of faculty and researchers.   Simon Fraser University Library has posted a brand new position.   I'm salivating at this position - it seems to cover the gamut of what makes the new areas of librarianship so exciting.  Here are the details:

The full-time continuing position will support SFU faculty, graduate students, and other
users across the three SFU campuses and beyond.The incumbent will have the skills necessary to advance digital scholarship initiatives at Simon Fraser University by providing consultations, support, and project management for faculty, librarians, and students engaged in technology-rich scholarly projects. In conjunction with liaison librarians, Library Systems and others, he/she works directly with faculty, students, and others in identifying and facilitating the deployment of appropriate tools and technologies to meet research and/or publication needs.

The incumbent will also plan, implement, and promote scholarly communications services and increase campus awareness of author rights, Open Access, and new and existing funding mandates.  The Digital Scholarship Librarian will deliver or coordinate the delivery of individual and group instruction on scholarly communication and digital scholarship topics as a member of the Research Commons team.

This position will be attractive to adaptable individuals with excellent communication and collaborative skills and interest in developing them further. It will appeal to those who have an understanding of discipline-specific and interdisciplinary research methodology and are highly motivated to provide innovative and responsive services to faculty and students.

  • Foster collaboration on the creation and curation of digital objects for research.
  • Collaborate with Special Collections, University Archives, and other campus stakeholders in the access and preservation of digital assets.
  • Work closely with Library Systems to scope, develop, and support digital projects
  • Partner with faculty, graduate students and librarians to incorporate analytical tools, digitized and born-digital resources into research and teaching activities
  • Provide project management expertise to liaison librarians, faculty, and students
  • Track current issues and trends in scholarly communication
  • Support the development of liaison librarians' knowledge and understanding of scholarly communication issues
  • Plan, implement, promote scholarly communications services including increasing campus awareness of Author Rights, Open Access, Funding mandates/compliance, etc. with faculty, graduate students and applicable campus units (Grant facilitators, VP Research, Office of Research Services, Ethics, Teaching and Learning Centre, etc.)
  • Increase campus awareness of SFU Library Digital Scholarship Services (OA Fund, Scholarly Digitization Fund, Public Knowledge Project, SFU’s research repository - Summit, and new developing services, with stakeholders).
  • Manage operations of OA Fund – funding requests /criteria /eligibility
  • Develop and deliver or coordinate delivery of online and in-person instruction sessions for bot students and faculty.
  • Participate on Library project teams and committees.
  • Develop professional knowledge and skills on a continuing basis.