My Recent Activities: ResNet Historical Research and YouTube Analysis

Please accept my apologies if this blog is not being updated as often as one might hope or expect. Please do not have any expectations for update frequency – when there is something is interesting and appropriate and I have the time, I’ll write about it. Contributing to the rather low frequency of updates recently has been my quest to leave my full-time job and return to school full-time in the fall to pursue a doctorate. That is not a process that one lightly begins or finishes and it takes time to apply, evaluate offers, figure out financial aid (i.e. graduate assistantships), visit campuses, etc.

In the meantime, here are two interesting projects on which I am collaborating with others:

  1. Qualitative content analysis of programs presented at the ResNet Symposium from 1995-2006. In the past few years, the ResNet Applied Research Group (RARG) has conducted some pretty intensive research. I would characterize our past research as “outward looking” as we have examined issues that affect and define residential computer networks. I would characterize our current research project as “inward looking” as we’re examining the ResNet Symposium itself. As with all of our research, I think that this is an extremely important part of the continuing professionalization and maturation of both the organization and the profession as a whole. Further, I think that this particular research effort will make a huge contribution to the historical study of both residential computer networks and student computing support in higher ed in general. I hope that we, collectively, can continue this kind of research and extend it further to help us understand where we have come from so that we can understand where we’re going. We’re also running into some very interesting methodological challenges with this research as it appears to be pretty unique in many way; we’ve only found one other similar research project and we’re borrowing most of our methodology from media analysis, specifically David Altheide’s Ethnographic Content Analysis methodology.
  2. Analysis of YouTube and its impact on and recommendations for student affairs practitioners. A colleague and I are working together to write an invited article for a non-peer-reviewed student affairs publication describing YouTube and related issues. It’s a very interesting topic and I’m very excited to be a part of this effort. There are tons of potential topics to discuss in this article and I think that narrowing down our list and keeping our article to a manageable size is our biggest challenge. Leaving aside core student affairs issues such as student development and the interaction of YouTube with student affairs administration and policies, other issues that may be discussed include media literacy, citizen journalism, increasing bandwidth demands, legal issues, public representation of institutions, and the general growth of social networking. I hope that we can find a way to not concentrate on just YouTube but on all similar sites but finding a balance between generalities and specifics will be quite a challenge.

I know some of this has been a bit vague but I’m sure that you can understand that all of these are works in progress. I’ve got other things brewing and I will announce them as appropriate.

An Audio Interview With a Deaf Person?

Am I the only one who noticed that the Chronicle posted an audio interview with Robert R. Davila, interim president of Gallaudet University?  What’s the catch?  He doesn’t speak! Gallaudet primarily educates those who are deaf or hard of hearing; Davila is a deaf person who signs and his “voice” in this interview is actually that of an interpreter.  I’m sure the many deaf and hard of hearing students and alumni at Gallaudet appreciate the Chronicle posting the written transcript but wouldn’t a video of Davila signing have been much better (and much cooler)?  The interview even specifically mentions and links to the video blog that Gallaudet produces to communicate with students and alumni.

What a curious mixture of unintentional comedy, insensitivity, and a missed opportunity!

Developments in Online Entertainment Services: Cdigix Closing and “Piracy” Abounds

Allegations of widespread online copyright infringement on college campuses continue to flourish. Two recent developments:

  1. Word on the street is that online entertainment company Cdigix is closing its doors and shutting down its service. Along with Ruckus, Cdigix was one of only two online entertainment services that specifically and exclusively targeted college campuses. It’s been a busy few weeks for Cdigix and Ruckus. Just a few weeks ago, Cdigix announced that they had joined Internet2. Days later, Ruckus began allowing all American college students to install their software and download music. One wonders how these events are all connected. One further wonders if Ruckus’ new business model will prove to be more successful than Cdigix’s. Finally, one must wonder what impact these events will have on the perception and evolution of this phenomenon, particularly their potential impact on legislators interested in this topic and those who influence them. (Update: The Chronicle has a story about this with some choice quotes – more on this later.)
  2. A few recent articles in the popular press continue to cloud this issue with unsupportable claims and ridiculous hyperbole. In particular, I deplore the (distressingly popular) practice of conflating copyright infringement with piracy. Without going into a discussion of why we have separate laws regarding theft of physical goods and infringement of copyright, I think it’s clear to everyone that comparing someone accused of downloading or distributing a song with his or computer with one who plunders a ship on the high seas is, at best, silly. Language is powerful. Labeling one who engages in copyright infringement a “pirate” to take advantage of centuries of emotional connections and imagery associated with piracy is inaccurate, misleading, and dishonest. Copyright infringement is unlawful and often unethical; we don’t need to confuse the issue with inappropriate, emotional, and dishonest language. If the Columbia Missourian can get it right, why can’t the Chronicle of Higher Education and other more popular and mainstream publications?

DMCA Takedown Notices Do Not Measure Copyright Infringement

A recent article by Jason Ryan in The State proclaims the “[University of South Carolina] a top pirate among colleges.” Ryan reaches this conclusion because “the [RIAA] has sent 914 notices of copyright infringement to the university this year — the highest number in the state and one of the highest among colleges nationwide — for illegally downloaded songs.” Ryan’s conclusion is false as one can not measure the rate of alleged copyright infringement on a given campus or among the customers of an ISP by the number of DMCA takedown notices received.

As I understand it, the primary problem is that copyright holders in the United States are not required to defend their copyrights; they can, instead, selectively enforce their copyrights (this differs from trademarks that must be defended or they can be diluted and essentially “lost”). In fact, this is exactly what the RIAA has done. “Owing to the impracticality of filing lawsuits against every individual file sharer, RIAA has chosen to focus on a relatively small group of individuals and maximize the publicity surrounding its legal action to discourage the overall participation in file-sharing networks.” Hence the number of DMCA takedown notices or lawsuits can not be used as a measure of alleged copyright infringement

Can one reasonably assume those numbers, summed together, are an upper limit of alleged copyright infringement? In other words, can one say that such a number represents the totality of alleged infringement? No. Only the works of those copyright holders who (a) believe their copyrights are being infringed and (b) who care to take action could be included in such an analysis. It is entirely possible that other works are being infringed but they’re simply owned by other parties than those pursuing these particular legal actions. In the USC example, it’s possible that students (and staff and faculty, oh my!) are infringing the copyrights of non-RIAA music publishers, artists, and rights holders. It’s even possible that USC persons are infringing the copyrights of other media such as movies, software, and books. Further, copyright holders who believe their copyrights are being infringed may elect to take no action or take action other than send a DMCA takedown notice or file a lawsuit. Therefore the number of DMCA takedown notices and copyright lawsuits can not be taken as a measurement of the upper limit of alleged copyright infringement since other infringement not covered by the current notices and lawsuits may be occurring.

Can one reasonably assume those numbers, summed together, are a lower limit of alleged copyright infringement? In other words, can one say that such a number represents the minimum level of alleged infringement? No. Even though DMCA takedown notices are submitted as truthful “under penalty of perjury,” mistakes still happen. For example, some institutions have received takedown notices for non-existent or impossible-to-use IP addresses. One should also take into account the legal and ethical principle of “presumed innocent until proven guilty.” In other words, one should not assume that the asserted activity in a given takedown notice or lawsuit has actually occurred. Not only would that be mistaken in the face of the already-mentioned mistakes and errors that occur but it would also be damaging to the ethical environment on a campus if administrators take, as a matter of course, the word of an external and biased person or group over the word of campus community members. In other words, one must perform due diligence before assuming that an allegation of copyright infringement is true. I will, however, grant that the number of “false positives” and mistaken reports are low and the number of takedown notices and lawsuits is likely to be relatively close to the lower limit of alleged infringement activity but to outright accept the proposition is factually and ethically mistaken.

Where does that leave us? How can one know the true level of alleged copyright infringement? I assert that it is very difficult to discover and keep track of this activity. I do not know of any easy, replicable, and reliable methods for doing so. I hypothesize that such methods might include a combination of measurements of network activity, legal and judicial activity, and qualitative methods of research and assessment. I leave the question of “should we care?” for another day. Suffice it to say that we are under significant legislative pressure to appear to care and to “do something” and that reason alone may be enough for most of us.

Finally, let’s return to the proclamation made in the first paragraph: USC has more received more DMCA takedown notices than other South Carolina institutions and thus has more persons (presumably students) engaged in copyright infringement. This simple argument is untrue as the (true) claim that “USC has received more DMCA takedown notices than other South Carolina institutions” does not, as discussed above, imply that “it has more persons (presumably students) engaged in copyright infringement.” One can say virtually nothing about the actual numbers of persons engaged in alleged copyright infringement at South Carolina institutions given only the number of DMCA takedown notices received by each institution. The race for the “top pirate” of South Carolina colleges and universities is still undecided; I recommend ship-to-ship combat on the high seas or perhaps a series of duels with sabers and pistols.

(There is also the intriguing issue of the RIAA employing Ginger DeMint, daughter of Senator Jim DeMint, R-S.C., as their director of government and industry relations. I leave discussion of this issue to those more well-versed in politics and conspiracy theories.)

Education Without Fear

Last week, the Congressional Internet Caucus Advisory Committee held their 10th State of the Net Conference. C-SPAN has available on their website a recording of one of the panel discussions entitled “Child Safety on Web 2.0: Who Should Protect Our Kids?” The panel was extremely interesting and although much of the discussion centered on child pornography it was extremely well-reasoned and covered other topics with insight and wisdom.

The panelists included:

  • Anne Collier, Co-director of BlogSafety.com
  • Chuck Cosson, Microsoft’s Public Policy Counsel
  • Tim Lordan, Executive Director of the Internet Education Foundation & panel moderator
  • Mark McCarthy, Visa’s Senior Vice President for Public Policy
  • Margaret Moran, UK Member of Parliament (Labour)
  • Adam Thierer, Director of the Progress & Freedom Center’s Center for Digital Media

As often seems to be the case, the questions from the audience seemed to draw together many of the threads discussed throughout the panel. Allow me to summarize the responses to one particular question to give you a flavor for the discussions: How would you grade congress and administration on their Internet child safety efforts? Adam replied that he would give them a C or D as their efforts are not about education and parental empowerment. Chuck, however, noted that Microsoft is happy when lawmakers even think of this issue. Some federal bills have been good and states have significant opportunities (Virginia was mentioned a few times throughout the panel as particularly good in these areas). Margaret reiterated her main point that legislation must be accompanied, preceded, or even co-opted by governmental collaboration with industry and NGOs. This is apparently an effort she has led in the UK. Mark agreed with Margaret about industry collaboration being key but added that legislation is not always needed but legislative interest is extremely important.

Between the lengthy opening remarks, discussion, and question-and-answer session, many of the major topics in this area were covered: ISP and OS vendor efforts, parental responsibilities, government and industry collaboration, and the ethics and legalities of monitoring Internet users and children. A few of the highlights included:

  • A few of the panelists referenced Youth, Pornography, and the Internet,” a 2000 publication by the Committee to Study Tools and Strategies for Protecting Kids from Pornography and Their Applicability to Other Inappropriate Internet Content of the National Research Council. In particular, the following idea (paraphrased here and attributed to Dick Thornburgh) was discussed and presented as a model: Although we can erect fences and put up gates around swimming pools, the best way we can protect children from drowning is to teach them how to swim. Adam quickly linked this notion of “teaching our children how to swim” with media literacy and how it is or is not being taught to children. This is a current topic of discussion among some educators and the focus of current research.
  • A panelist (our guest from the UK, I think) said that we must puruse “education without fear.” That is precisely the concept I believe we must promote in higher education as we try to educate one another and our students about Internet issues such as social networking, privacy, ethics, and online interactions. Although the particular phrase “education without fear” seems to be related to an educational movement to eliminate corporal punishment in schools we should hold it in our minds and hearts as I believe it applies directly to these educational efforts.

Those ideas, arming one another and our students with knowledge without sensationalizing or overblowing the potential dangers, are precisely the ones we should be pursuing in higher education. I would recommend anyone interested in these ideas, Internet safety, and the interplay between government and industry watch this video. I was very impressed with each of the panelists and their interactions. Further, many of their ideas are spot on and ones from which we can learn and on which we can build.

Discussion of and Reactions to NCSU’s “The Facebook Phenomenon”

Yesterday’s “The Facebook Phenomenon” panel discussion presented by North Carolina State University was fantastic! The webcast and related materials are available online for those who missed it. They’ve also started a Facebook group sharing the name of the discussion for those interested in continuing the discussion in Facebook itself.

The discussion and the supporting materials were excellently organized and we should all thank NCSU staff for their generous work in providing this professional development opportunity. The discussion was good and the question-and-answer session was great. However, I was a bit disappointed by some of the answers (or lack thereof). On one hand, I (like many others, I am sure) was hoping that the panel would have answers to all of our questions; they didn’t. On the other hand, it’s comforting (and a tiny bit disappointing) that we’re all searching for answers and almost all of us are in the same place. That the panelists could not answer many questions posed is not indicative of ignorance on the part of the panelists. They were asked tough questions about an emerging phenomenon and I don’t think that anyone could have answered many of the questions.

The most disappointing aspect of the panel was the consistent reference to personal anecdotes without sufficient reference to applicable research. I offer this criticism as a student affairs professional looking inward at his own profession and thus this criticism is aimed less at this particular panel or its participants and more at the profession as a whole. Fred Stutzman, of course, had his own research to draw upon but even much of that has been limited to the students at his institution. The one specific reference I recall to more wide-ranging research was Sarah Noell’s reference to a Pew Internet & American Life Project study of teen Internet use. As I’ve discussed before, there appears to be a real need to bridge the gap between researchers who are active in this field and student affairs practitioners and administrators. It’s great that many people were introduced to Fred’s research but what about boyd, Ellison, and other researchers’ work in this and very closely related fields? (I note that the list of resources on NCSU’s website is still growing; they appear to be finding more of this work and posting links to it which is great!)

The administrators on the panel didn’t seem to speak much about the ethics of administrators viewing Facebook profiles. They certainly have the legal right but they seemed to completely brush off ethical and privacy concerns. Such an apparently casual dismissal of a very serious concern in the minds of many students seems to be a bit callous and out-of-touch with student culture. It’s a difficult subject that merits more consideration and a more considered and sensitive approach than “we’re legally allowed to do it and that’s that.”

There also appeared to be an unchallenged assumption that 95%+ student are using Facebook. Although Fred’s research supports that finding for the groups he has studied, other studies have found lower rates of participation. In particular, the ECAR’s 2006 Study of Undergraduate Students and Information Technology, which surveyed nearly 29,000 students at 96 different institutions, found that “more than 70% [of respondents] use social networking sites such as MySpace and Facebook.” Since there appears to be a significant range in the research, uncritical acceptance of one set of findings strikes me as a bit odd.

As noted by Sarah Stein, institutional policies should encompass students, faculty, and staff. Although that sounds obvious, it’s a point that I tend to forget or gloss over. Each of these constituents has a different purpose for wanting to use and interact with others using Facebook and similar services. While I’m sure that there are similarities between these groups’ uses and intents there are obviously many differences, not the least of which are the different legal and ethical issues involved. For example, some of the panelists briefly discussed FERPA and the difference between institutions posting students’ personal information on Facebook (as apparently happened when a professor tried to place some course-related materials on Facebook) and students posting their own personal information.

Some specific reactions to or notes about the panelists’ opening remarks (I am omitting Fred Stutzman as I have referenced and will certainly continue to write about his work; his opening remarks were a summary of his work):

  • Sarah Noell expects Facebook to develop increasing granularity in its privacy controls in the future as it “matures.” I think that is a valid opinion and I expect that Facebook will continue to explore that area but I don’t know if it will yield much fruit; increased granularity would significantly increase complexity. At a certain point, and I don’t know where that tipping point is, the complexity of a tool outweighs its functionality. Privacy controls in a system that attempts to mimic or match offline social interactions, boundaries, contexts, etc. can very quickly grow too complex to be understood or used.
  • Paul Cousins seemed to indicate that he believes that Facebook is used primarily to forge new connections. I could be mistaken in my understanding of his perception but I have encountered that perception in other student affairs professionals. This perception is counter to some research (Ellison and Vanden Boogart jump to mind) that shows that Facebook is typically used to reinforce existing relationships. This point was one to which panelists returned a few times so I don’t know exactly how closely the perceptions match the published research.
  • Sarah Stein mentioned ETS’ new Information and Communication Technology Literacy Assessment as evidence of students’ lack of technical and information literacy. While I agree with her general point, I’m not sure that ETS’ test is the best evidence as its methodology was soundly and fairly criticized. Dr. Stein also mentioned GIS and the integration of spatial location with social networking as a future development but did not mention the obvious (to me) privacy concerns raised by such integration. Another panelist (Fred, I think) mentioned that MIT is already actively exploring this concept.
  • Whil Plavis, the lone student on the panel, briefly discussed students who choose to protect their privacy by not using Facebook. Dr. Stein later echoed this sentiment by reminding the audience that there are and always will be people who opt out of such systems.

In my opinion, the lengthy question and answer that followed the opening remarks was the most informative and enjoyable part of the discussion. The organizers of the panel very wisely chose to allot the majority of the time to this portion of the discussion and were very adept at alternating between questions from the local, physical audience and the virtual audience.

Some of the questions included:

  • Are there (legal) discrimination issues if potential employers view someone’s profile early in the hiring process? I don’t think any panelist offered a good answer to this question. In their defense, it’s really a specific legal question and I am not sure if any of the panelists were qualified to speak about laws related to employment and discrimination. It’s a great question and definitely the kind of question we should be asking ourselves and one another!
  • A concerned parent in audience who regularly “checks out” her daughter’s online information (which is exactly what she should be doing and what many parents are not doing) asked: Are local public schools conducting education in this area? Sarah Stein replied “I don’t know” but that we should find out. She went on to stress that we should “stop making assumptions” about others’ technical literacy, an excellent point that I wish more people understood and proselytized
  • Another concerned mother asked: Do students who post personal and potentially dangerous information about location receive encouragement or discouragement from their friends? Whil responded that yes, there is some peer pressure associated with Facebook and personal information posted on it. He illustrated this with an anecdote about his younger brother whom Whil cautioned to “tone down” the personal information shared on his Facebook account.
  • A psychologist concerned with the level of personal contact that can achieved online asked: Are we losing skills in “[interpersonal relationships]?” Sarah Stein replied that previous and ongoing CMC research does not support such a conclusion. She also discussed a notion of “blended lives” that has persisted for many years where we our social lives are a mix of relationships and interactions conducted via many media. Whil noted that his profile is not for advertising to people but it’s there for those who want to find it. With respect to losing interpersonal skills, Whil noted that students often use Facebook as a convenient way to setup meetings and events.
  • Leslie Dare, the panel moderator, noted that Facebook privacy settings must be set by the user. Sarah Noell then asked, “Who is educating people about those features?”
  • What’s the future of Facebook? Is it a fad? Are we (universities) properly equipped to deal with it? Sarah Stein opined that Facebook might not stick around but social networking will. Fred agreed that Facebook might not stay but social networks will as they provide “high utility” and a “time saver tool.”
  • Are there long term issues about boundaries? Personal vs. impersonal vs. too much information (TMI)? Sarah Stein noted that this isn’t a new concern. Paul, however, countered that he believes that students are exchanging “intimacy for efficiency.” Fred parried with an assertion that we are social beings and he doesn’t worry about us losing our social networks. For example, Facebook connections are usually initiated offline. Leslie noted that some use Facebook to express and share grief
  • How do we educate parents about the risks? Sarah Noell indicated that NCSU did not mention this topic in the previous parent orientation but that information is on their website. It’s a difficult topic to address since many parents don’t know anything about it. Sarah Stein shared her hope that the presentation and education will be balanced (positive and negative) like this panel discussion.

Why I Care About Information Literacy (And You Should, Too!)

Information literacy is a concept that has come up several times in recent news and discussions in my life. As previously noted, it’s a topic that I find not only inherently interesting but the process by which it has become a topic of national concern and interest is itself very interesting and potentially informative even to those not interested in the topic.

The American Library Association’s Presidential Committee on Information Literacy: Final Report, issued in 1989, defines information literacy as the ability to “recognize when information is needed and…locate, evaluate, and use effectively the needed information.” These skills have become increasingly important as more information in more formats have become available; some have even connected information literacy to democracy by arguing that for voters to be informed they must be information literate. It is worth noting that these concerns (a) generally mirror the larger concerns of liberal education as infusing learners with a broad knowledge base and the ability to seek out, identify, and integrate knowledge on one’s own and (b) predate the World Wide Web and consumer use and knowledge of the Internet (the ALA formed their Presidential Commission on Information Literacy in 1987; Berners-Lee did not invent the critical parts of the World Wide Web until the very early 90s).

There are definitely ties between technical literacy and information literacy but the two concepts are distinct. Some mistakenly conflate the two skillsets as they are often intertwined both as concepts and in how the concepts are taught and evaluated. To some extent that is understandable as the concepts are often taught in the same class and closely tied together in their presentation to students and patrons. Several examples of how the concepts are intertwined can be found in Ann Grafstein’s recently-published and very excellent article “Information Literacy and Technology: An Examination of Some Issues” in the current (Vol. 7, No. 1) issue of portal: Libraries and the Academy. That the concepts are closely related, however, in no way changes that they are distinct.

As already mentioned, I am fascinated not only by the concept of information literacy but also the way it has become a topic of national concern and interest. I don’t know all that I want to know about how this evolution came about but I really want to know more as I feel there could be very valuable lessons for others. For example, the concept of technical literacy has not gained near as much traction or attention as information literacy despite their very close ties. As already noted, the ALA has for nearly two decades invested some of their resources in defining information literacy. ETS, the company that administers tests such as the SAT and GRE, has created an ICT Literacy Assessment that purports to measure test-takers’ “ability to use digital technology, communication tools and networks appropriately to solve information problems in order to function in an information society.” Some of the work funded by The MacArthur Foundation’s Digital Media, Learning & Education initiative focuses on media literacy, a subset of information literacy.

Why has information literacy become the focus of so much attention while other skillsets have not? It may be that those concerned about information literacy have been that much more organized and methodical; not only I am hard pressed to think of an organization with the resources and clout of the ALA in the technology sector but technologists do not have near as uniform a prepatory and professional path as librarians. I don’t think that we can honestly say that the time is ripe for information literacy but not for technical literacy, particularly as we continue to worry about our children’s safety on the Internet (even if those worries are largely unfounded). It may be that information literacy is a very general concept with extremely broad application whereas technical literacy is (arguably) much more narrow in focus and application; information literacy concepts will serve you for a lifetime whereas some technical literacy concepts may live for only a few years.

Let’s close this post with some links to recent EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative documents and projects that help underscore (a) the continuing importance and evolution of information literacy and (b) the ties between information literacy and technical literacy:

(Note how these documents tie together not only concepts mentioned in this post – information literacy, technical literacy, and even media literacy – but also other concepts discussed in previous posts that discuss characteristics of the current generation of traditional undergraduates.)

Cdigix Joins Internet2: Why?

Cdigix, one of the major players in the higher education online entertainment service field, has joined Internet2. Napster and Ruckus are already members. This announcement (that doesn’t seem to be anywhere on their website, including their press release section) is one of two big announcements expected from Cdigix and Ruckus in the coming weeks. Their second announcement has already been forwarded to the institutions that already subscribe to Cdigix’s services and it could be pretty big when they make it public.

Let’s focus a bit on their I2 membership. With Cdigix joining Ruckus and Napster as Corporate Members of I2 that leaves Real as the only significant player in the higher ed sector sitting on the outside. It’s also curious that Apple hasn’t joined but I think it’s been clear that they really aren’t aiming iTunes at this particular market right now. I also have to wonder if these companies’ presence in I2 really means anything. Is this just a status move (“Look at us – we’re on the Internet 2!”)? Does this simply allow them more access to higher ed institutions in a different and more exclusive venue? Or are there real technical advances that we should expect to come from these companies now that they’re in the I2 club?

I understand why for-profit corporations are allowed to join I2 as they can often contribute a ton of experience and knowledge. But as an I2 outsider I can’t help but wonder how political some of these memberships are (the RIAA and MPAA are members) and just how much some of these groups can and do really contribute. I know that politics matter but that doesn’t lessen my distaste for them.

Update: The second announcement, this time from Ruckus, has been released: they’re opening up the music part of their service to all American college and university students.

Update 2: The New York Times has chimed in on Ruckus’ latest move.

Minnesota Survey of College Students’ Internet Use and Privacy Attitudes

The Minnesota Daily has conducted a survey of University of Minnesota students in which they asked students about Internet Use, Social Networking Websites and Associated Privacy Issues, Internet Identity, Internet Safety and Data Privacy, and The Internet and Participation. They have published at least one news story about the survey as well as some of the methodological details of the survey. While they don’t appear to have published the survey instrument, the published methodology seems to be relatively sound (as it should be since they contracted with the university’s Department of Survey Research). The “report” seems to be missing some details and sections (no “Discussion” section???); there are multiple versions of the report on their website, each longer than the last, so maybe they are publishing drafts of the report as they become available…?

A few of the notable findings:

  • Although nearly 1/3 of the respondents believed that “their Internet activities are anonymous….older participants were less likely to believe their Internet activities are anonymous.”
  • 85% of respondents have visited a social networking website and 73% are a member of at least one site with 63% members of Facebook, 32% members of MySpace, and 27% members of both.
  • When asked if it was a violation of privacy for employers or university administrators to find out more about or investigate students by viewing profiles and information on social networking sites, respondents’ opinions were split. However, most respondents do not view police using social networking sites to investigate crimes as a violation of privacy.
  • Just over half of respondents “trust online companies and organizations to keep information about them private,” nearly one quarter of respondents “say they feel safe making purchases online,” and 80% of respondents “are concerned that someone could steal their identity using personal information found on the Internet.”
  • 75% of respondents “say they would rather email a professor or TA than go to their office hours,” just over one-third believe that responding to e-mail “takes up too much of [their] time,” and nearly 40% would “prefer to confront someone about a problem via email rather than in person.”

The news article published by The Minnesota Daily touches on some of these findings. At least one of the quotes printed in the article, however, mentions an issue not explored in the survey itself. Specifically, an English professor interviewed for the article says, “Students send these e-mails in a very casual manner….They don’t put a lot of reflection into composing their questions or comments and typically the tone that students assume in e-mails is more appropriate to, say, corresponding with a friend than a professor.” Without analyzing additional research, I don’t know whether this is a issue unique to or more prevalent in younger persons; my feeling is that it is an issue that is more closely linked to those who use the medium regardless of age.

The Chronicle of Higher Education‘s The Wired Campus picked up this story (but not the survey report). Perhaps it’s a natural phenomenon that the “truths” in the survey report become changed and diluted as the information is passed from story to story (from the survey report to the Minnesota Daily article to the The Wired Campus…to this blog???) much like the childhood “Telephone Game.” The main message that seems to come across in The Wired Campus’ post is a dichotomy between “electronic communication” vs. “in-person communication.” Like many dichotomies, this one is false. I think the main problem is that the general question asking “would [you] rather email a professor or TA than go to their office hours?” lacks context. For what hypothetical purpose are the students being asked to email or visit the TA or professor? There may be a significant difference between a simple question and a more complex one. Other research has found that students do discern between media so perhaps some of them are simply choosing the appropriate medium to ask many questions.

The Daily Minnesota article notes a generational gap that extends not only between students and faculty but also older and younger faculty. Dr. Augst, a professor quoted several times by the Daily Minnesota who seems to have been interviewed as a representative of the older faculty, asserts that “any question can be more effectively answered in person.” Although I sympathize with his point of view I do not agree. Until I begin recording all conversations and transcribing them so I can later reproduce them on demand and search and sort them, e-mail will remain my medium of choice for some interactions.

In summary, many of the findings of this survey and the opinions expressed in the article are similar to those in other research. It’s clear that there are opinions and attitudes that change over time, either with experience or maturation, including realistic views of security and anonymity. However, there are also opinions and attitudes that may not change over time with choice of medium being a prominent example. While some of these opinions and attitudes are clearly incorrect and do not reflect reality (no matter how strongly you believe, you will not “believe” yourself into being secure or anonymous) others are just subjective opinions that are equally as valid as others.

The Chronicle’s Wired Campus: News of the Obvious

For nearly two years, The Chronicle of Higher Education has been posting small technology-related news stories, commentary, and observation in “The Wired Campus.” Like the Chronicle’s employment section, the content in The Wired Campus is free to subscribers and non-subscribers alike. If you’re really plugged into technology news then it’s not very often that you’ll read something brand new on The Wired Campus. But for those who are not technology news junkies, it’s a good service. They usually do a good job of catching things and putting their own, unique higher ed spin on news. I’m subscribed to their RSS feed and read new stories as they are published and I’m a more knowledgeable professional for doing so. And they allow readers to comment on each story – how cool!

But I’d like to take a minute to poke lighthearted fun at Brock Read, Andrea Foster, and the rest of the Chronicle staff for some of the stories they publish in The Wired Campus. Two relatively-recent stories have made me chuckle and ask myself, “This is news?” The first story tells us that students are unhappy when the campus or residence hall wireless network when it doesn’t work. The second story lets us know that students like free music (one could actually read a lot more into this particular story but that would ruin our fun right now). Now you know why I subtitled this post “News of the Obvious.” :)

(Lest someone take this post too seriously: Yes, I completely understand and embrace the value of research or news that validates commonly-held conceptions and ideas. I also know that not every news story is going to win a Pulitzer. Sheesh – let a man have some fun on a Sunday night!)