Michael Barera has been named Wikipedian in residence at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library at the University of Michigan -- the first such position at a presidential library. Barera will focus on expanding the availability of information about President Ford and the library's holdings on Wikipedia through the Gerald Ford WikiProject.
Days after the other public institutions in the state announced expanded initiatives to incorporate massive open online courses into their curriculums, leaders of the University of California said they would soon bolster their own efforts to use digital courses to expand student access in a more cost-effective way, the Los Angeles Times and Associated Press reported. Speaking at a Board of Regents meeting at which officials of the MOOC providers Coursera, Udacity and edX made presentations and regents discussed a position paper on online learning, President Mark G. Yudof said the university had "hit a wall with regard to traditional instructional methods," and suggested that online learning was largely the way way out. Yudof said the university would soon be announcing several expansions of its fledgling campaign to expand online learning, which has faced significant pushback from some faculty members. He vowed that the new efforts would be of high quality and not lead to layoffs of instructors.
Aaron Swartz committed suicide last week at the age of 26. I would like to pay tribute to him by writing calm, elegiac prose conveying something of his intelligence, his passion, and the distinctive quality of puckishness that photographs of him managed to capture surprisingly well.
Unfortunately it does not look like that is going to be possible. Things would need to make more sense than they have, so far. Feelings of sadness and anger, which are perfectly appropriate responses, keep giving way to the paradoxical and incoherent state of mind in which I both grasp what has happened and simultaneously think that it can’t really be true. This reached its worst and most absurd expression in the passing thought that news of his suicide might be part of a scheme in which Aaron is alive and well, living under a new identity someplace where U.S. government prosecutors will never find him.
It’s possible! Well, no, of course it isn’t. This state of mind is what they call “being in denial,” and it’s embarrassing to recognize. But it hardly seems more irrational than the reality in question. For the government’s prosecution of Aaron for hacking into the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's system to download a few million articles from scholarly journals was not just a case of intellectual-property law being enforced with too much zeal. It seems more like an expression of vindictiveness.
Consider something just reported by the Associated Press: “Andrew Good, a Boston attorney who represented Swartz in the case last year, said he told federal prosecutors in Massachusetts that Swartz was a suicide risk. 'Their response was, put him in jail, he’ll be safe there,' Good said." It is too hard to think about that. Better to imagine him escaping, carrying on his work in silence, cunning, and exile.
He was already something of a legend when we met for lunch not quite five years ago, having already been in touch for a couple of years. At the time, he was known for his role in the creation of RSS and Infogami; his internet-freedom activism and legal troubles were to come. Among his projects had been the online archive he created for Lingua Franca magazine, then defunct though still widely admired. I had been a contributing writer for LF and heard about Aaron from a couple of friends, and was very glad to be able to interview him about the Open Library cataloging initiative he was helping to launch.
Not that long before we were able to meet face-to-face, Aaron had given a talk called “How to Get a Job Like Mine” which covered his career up through the age of 20. In person, he was modest about his teenage coding career, or at least disinclined to say much about it, and I never got the feeling that his later exploits in taking on the Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER) database and JSTOR involved anything like hacker vainglory.
In his activism (legal and otherwise) as in his early coding projects, the emphasis was always squarely on making access to information and tools more widely available, on the grounds that restricting the flow of knowledge served only to make already-powerful people still more powerful. Aaron seemed earnest without being dour or humorless, which struck me as giving him one leg up on his hero Noam Chomsky.
While trying to pull these impressions together, I had a moment of seeing something about Aaron that never crossed my mind while he was alive, although it seems, with hindsight, pretty obvious: He was as perfect an embodiment of the mythological being known as the trickster as anyone could possibly be. My copy of Lewis Hyde’s brilliant book Trickster Makes This World: Mischief, Myth, and Art (1998) has gone missing, but the author’s website has a pertinent description.
Trickster figures in various cultures “are the consummate boundary-crossers, slipping through keyholes, breaching walls, subverting defense systems. Always out to satisfy their inordinate appetites, lying, cheating, and stealing, tricksters are a great bother to have around, but paradoxically they are also indispensable heroes of culture. In North America, Coyote taught the race how to catch salmon, sing, and shoot arrows. In West Africa, Eshu introduced the art of divination so that suffering humans might know the purposes of heaven. In Greece, Hermes the Thief invented the art of sacrifice, the trick of making fire, and even language itself.”
The gods and worldly authorities alike think of the trickster as a criminal, or at least a bad apple. Furthermore, tricksters tend to be prodigies -- their genius for invention and disruption already evident in childhood, if not infancy. In the introduction to his book, Hyde writes that the trickster’s disregard for the rules “isn’t so much to get away with something or to get rich as to disturb the established categories of truth and property and, by so doing, open the road to possible new worlds.”
That names Aaron’s attitude beautifully, and my fleeting daydream that he might somehow be pulling a fast one on the authorities is like something out of a trickster narrative. The resemblance also goes some way towards explaining why, more than anyone I've ever met, he seems destined to be remembered as a hero for a long time to come. You don't get to make that many friends who are archetypes, but Aaron was an exceptional person no matter how you look at him.
California officials will today announce a program in which San Jose State University and Udacity, a provider of massive open online courses, to create online courses in remedial algebra, college-level algebra, and introductory statistics, The New York Times reported. The courses will be offered to San Jose State and community college students. In the pilot stage, only 300 students will be enrolled, but the effort is seen as a way to potentially reach large numbers of students in a state where many public colleges and universities don't have room for eligible students.
As another step in the overhaul of its core curriculum, Lynn University will require every first-year student to purchase an iPad mini, and will use iTunes U as a content delivery method for those courses.
The American Association of University Professors has updated guidelines for librarians to reflect their changing roles as teachers and researchers. The joint Statement on Faculty Status of College and University Librarians now includes language on technology in the library and recommends that institutions adequately compensate librarians for the 12-month cycles in which they typically work.
It also recommends that colleges and universities involve librarians in governance issues, such as curriculum development, said Deanna Wood, a reference librarian and associate professor of reference at the University of New Hampshire who helped draft the updated guidelines. That way, students won’t enter the library to do research and find “there’s nothing there to support it.”
The revised statement also reaffirms an earlier version’s call to consider librarians involved in teaching and research as faculty members and lauds their role as independent guardians of intellectual and academic freedom. Wood said while she and many fellow librarians at public land-grant universities are tenured faculty, the practice is rarer at private universities. It’s unclear what percentage of librarians are tenure-track faculty nationwide, she added.
A joint committee of AAUP and Association of College and Research Libraries members drafted the updates to the original, 1973 guidelines, which were approved by both groups last year.
Aaron Swartz, who was a leading and controversial figure in the hacking movement and the push to make journal articles free, committed suicide Friday at the age of 26, CNET News reported.
A federal grand jury in 2011 indicted Swartz for the theft of millions of journal articles through the JSTOR account of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Authorities said that he used an MIT guest account, even though he didn't have a legal right to do so. Many open access advocates considered him a hero, but had he lived for his trial, he faced millions of dollars in fines and decades in prison. Swartz's suicide came days after JSTOR announced a major expansion of free access to content from 1,200 journals. While there has been some speculation online that his legal troubles may have led to his suicide, friends have noted online that Swartz battled depression (and was public about doing so).
JSTOR on Saturday issued a statement in which it called Swartz "a truly gifted person who made important contributions to the development of the Internet and the web from which we all benefit." The statement said that JSTOR "regretted being drawn into [the legal case] from the outset, since JSTOR’s mission is to foster widespread access to the world’s body of scholarly knowledge."
The statement also noted that "Aaron returned the data he had in his possession and JSTOR settled any civil claims we might have had against him in June 2011."
Prior to the indictment, Swartz was already a major player in public discussions about technology and he had founded a company that now makes up a key part of Reddit. Here is Swartz's biography on his website.
Here are links to some of the online commentary about Swartz's legacy and his death:
Rather than having students wait weeks for feedback on homework, MIT professor has developed computer program that assigns diverse group of people to review small chunks of each student's work. MIT may use program in MOOCs.