Monday, May 28, 2007

This week in the online information commons...

Quite a few interesting items to report this week.

(1) Firstly, Geraldine O'Neill, Sylvia Huntley-Moore and Phil Race have edited a collection of "Case Studies of Good Practices in Assessment of Student Learning in Higher Education" which is now available online using a Creative Commons licence. You can access the articles here. They are presented in a very brief, succint form so that it should be easy to scan through and get information quickly. Always an advantage where busy lecturers are concerned. Of course, it has been said before that the phrase "good practice" can be a bit overdone and Alan Jenkins and others have suggested an alternative wording which might be more appropriate in most cases, "good examples of practice".

(2) Private Eye, the satirical British fortnightly magazine has an amusing little article, which I'd like to repeat here, not to open me up to being sued, but draw attention to this alternative source of HE critique.
Whatever possessed those responsible for naming the University of Sheffield's spanking new £23m library? Libraries apparently can't be called libraries these days, so the new seven-storey building is to be known as the "Information Commons".
"It's a new name expressing an old concept of community," explains the university's marketing team. "Since the middle ages the word 'commons' has meant a shared resource."
However, unlike the university's other libraries, entry to this one is limited to the institution's own students and staff. Ordinary residents of Sheffield are strictly forbidden to enter the "commons" and even temporary staff and visiting researchers from other universities are banned.
Perhaps they should simply have called it an Information Enclosure.
Private Eye, 1185, 25May- 7 June 2007, p25.
(3) Meanwhile in the Times Higher, there's an interesting story on the current situation in universities in Argentina which are apparently populated by junior staff who will teach for no pay in order to get onto the career ladder. Also, in this week's issue, Richard Baggeley of Princeton University Press bemoans the impact of the RAE and its push for journal paper productivity on book writing and publication, saying that the days of the 'big idea' books look numbered unless something is done to reign in the obsession with performance metrics.

(4) Over in Scotland, where there have been some dramatic changes on the political landscape following the election earlier this month, leading to the first SNP government and a consequent major reshuffle of government departments. Higher Education, which had previously been run under a department for Enterprise and Lifelong Learning is now to be re-united with the other sectors of education. Of course, it will be interesting to see what the implications of this are. One school of thought in the past was that HE should be linked in with Enterprise because of the contributions to the "knowledge economy" and the provision of graduates into the workforce. However, a challenge to that perspective is that there is a danger of HE being seen as primarily an economic driven activity and the other aspects of academe that are not directly linked to economic growth would suffer. Perhaps the new configuration addresses this concern?

(5) Preparations continue, at a near frantic pace, for the forthcoming conference on Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, here in Galway next week. As mentioned earlier, we have set up a conference blog and already it is beginning to fill with interviews, news items and other materials. So have a look!

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