Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Academic Discussion Lists: Faculty Lounges, Collective Short-Term Working Memories, or Academic Journals?

ABSTRACT: Should Academic Discussion Lists (ADL's) be like faculty lounges, collective short term working memories, or academic journals? Here is an edited and expanded version of a post of 18 May 2009 to AERA-H wherein I argue that ADL's might best serve as both faculty lounges and collective short-term working memories. The inclusion of the latter would justify the academic protocol that characterizes communications such as this one, even though such protocol may chill those who prefer faculty-lounge-type conversations.

I. Introduction
In response to my post "Team-Based Learning" [Hake (2009a)], Michael Sweet (2009), of the TeamLearning-L list wrote:

 ". . . .E-mail listservs are not academic journals, and I fear that your laudable desire to follow academic protocol might in fact have a 'chilling effect' upon the collegial conversations you hope to inspire. This is more of a 'faculty lounge' than a conference floor. . . . ."

In "Over Two-Hundred Education and Science Blogs" [Hake (2009b)], I discussed the Academic Discussion List Sphere (
ADLsphere) and Blog Sphere (Blogosphere): Appendix A indicates some strengths and weaknesses of each, and Appendix B considers those spheres as harbingers of a collective short-term working memory, as advocated for the Blogoshere by physicist Michael Nielsen (2008).

II. The ADLsphere as Both a Faculty Lounge and a Collective Short-Term Working Memory
I agree with Michael Sweet that "listservs are not academic journals." They cannot, of course, serve as
permanent academic memories as do peer-reviewed journals, both print and online. But I disagree with Michael's implication that listservs [more generally ADL's, since LISTSERV is a trademark of  L-Soft  http://www.lsoft.com/]  should only be like faculty lounges. Rather, I think their best use might be as both faculty lounges and collective short-term working memories.  

As faculty lounges
plus collective short-term working memories, the use in ADL's of both casual conversation and academic protocol could be justified, even though either might distress the devotees of the other.  

III. What's Wrong With the ADLsphere as Only a Faculty Lounge?
In Section A1b, p. 33, of "Over Two-Hundred Education and Science Blogs" [Hake (2009b)], I listed:

Some Weaknesses of the ADLsphere :

A. Little Collaborative Development of Ideas
In the ADDENDUM to "Over Sixty Academic Discussion Lists [Hake (2007)], I wrote (slightly edited):

"in my opinion, many Academic Discussion Lists fail [paraphrasing Roschelle and Pea (1999) 'to move beyond forums. . . . [such as faculty lounges]. . . .for exchanging tidbits and opinions to structures which rapidly capture knowledge-value and foster rapid accumulation and growth of the community's capability. . . . providing tool to allow contributors to share partially completed resources, and enable others to improve upon them.' "

B. Some List Owners:
1. Utilize antediluvian software that does not provide useful archives and/or search engines.

2. Regard cross-posting as sinful rather than synergistic, evidently wishing their lists to remain in-bred and isolated, outstanding examples being EdStat, ITFORUM, and PsychTeacher -  see, e.g.: "Cross-Posting - Synergistic or Sinful?" [Hake (2005a)].

3.  Do not recognize the "fair use" provision of U.S. Copyright Law as provided for in Section 107, Title 17,  according to which copyrighted material (including discussion list posts) can be distributed, if it's done so without profit, to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.  For more information see at http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.shtml .

4. Close the archives of their lists to non-subscribers, thus impeding the flow of information between their lists and the the outer world of the web - see the lower part of Fig. 1 of Hake (2009b).  Such blockage is sometimes justified on the grounds that it prevents harvesting of email addresses by SPAM'ers, but for lists running on  LISTSERV software, such harvesting can be prevented by the simple strategy of requiring log-in by list subscribers before addresses are 
unmasked - as is the case for e.g., all the AERA lists, Eval-Talk, & TeamLearning-L  :-), but not PhysLrnR :-( 

C. Some Subscribers:
1. ignore common-sense posting suggestions [Hake (2005b)] that would facilitate efficient communication; a prime example: hitting the reply button so as to inflict an entire multi-kB already-archived post yet again on all subscribers.  

2.  are unfamiliar with the technical and social aspects of ADL's as addressed by Dan MacIsaac (2000) in his valuable article "Communities of on-line physics educators." A cursory Google search failed to uncover counterparts of MacIsaac's article for other disciplines;

3.  fail to utilize academic references or to even notice such references in posts (except to inveigh against them as "busywork" [Eckel (2003)];

4.  do not take advantage of hot-linking, that precious gift of physicist-turned-computer-scientist Tim Berners-Lee that allows material to be brought to the reader's screen with the click of a mouse;  

5.  appear reticent to engage in discussions of educational research, development, or assessment; as is especially evident on the AERA lists, save for AERA-D and AERA-GS - see e.g., “Why Aren't AERA Discussion Lists More Active?” [Hake (2005c)].

6.  fail to take responsibility for their postings by hiding behind pseudonyms.

D.  Most Subscribers:  fail to search the archives before posting - therefore the same material is often discussed over and over de novo with little increase in collective understanding from year to year.

IV. The Advantages of the Blogosphere and the ADLsphere as Collective Short-term Working Memories - Encapsulated in Four Quotes                                                                  

A.  "...we use working memory to help create new ideas, and there seems to be no limit to those ideas. They just pour out of us.  The power of this limited part of the brain is almost inexhaustible.                                                                                                                                              James Zull (2003, p. 183)

B. “Even Albert Einstein needed help occasionally. Einstein's greatest contribution to science was his theory of gravity, often called the general theory of relativity. He worked on and off on this theory between 1907 and 1915, often running into great difficulties. By 1912, he had come to the astonishing conclusion that our ordinary conception of geometry, in which the angles of a triangle add up to 180 degrees, is only approximately correct, and a new kind of geometry is needed to correctly describe space and time. This was a great surprise to Einstein, and also a great challenge, since such geometric ideas were outside his expertise. Fortunately for Einstein and for posterity, he described his difficulties to a mathematician friend, Marcel Grossman. Grossman said that many of the ideas Einstein needed had already been developed by the mathematician Bernhard Riemann. It took Einstein three more years of work, but Grossman was right, and this was a critical point in the development of general relativity. . . . . . . is it possible to scale up this conversational model, and build an online collaboration market to exchange questions and ideas, a sort of collective working memory  for the scientific community?"                                                                                                                                         Michael Nielsen (2008)

C. "The culture of science includes the continual interaction, exchange,evaluation, and criticism we make of each other's views. This produces a kind of emergent phenomenon I refer to as a 'community consensus knowledge base' or more briefly, a community map."                               Joe Redish (1999)

D. "It is not enough to observe, experiment, theorize, calculate and communicate; we must also argue, criticize, debate, expound, summarize, and otherwise transform the information that we have obtained individually into reliable, well established, public knowledge."                            John Ziman. 1969. "Information, Communication, Knowledge," Nature 224 (5217): 324.  See      also Ziman (2000).

References [Tiny URL's courtesy http://tinyurl.com/create.php .]

Eckel, E. 2003. “Re: The bad effects of physics first.” PhysLrnR post of 23 Nov 2003 08:06:45- 0500; online at http://tinyurl.com/2dtoac .

Hake, R.R. 2005a. “Cross-Posting - Synergistic or Sinful?” Post of 1 Nov 2005 08:37:12-0800 to ITFORUM and AERA-L; online on the OPEN! AERA-L archives  at  http://tinyurl.com/2m59v4 .

Hake, R.R. 2005b. “Fourteen Posting Suggestions,” online at http://listserv.nd.edu/cgi-bin/wa?A2=ind0507&L=pod&P=R12861&I=-3  . Post of 23 Jul 2005 11:38:29-0400 to AERA-C, AERA-G, AERA-GSL, AERA-H, AERA-I, AERA-J, AERA-K, AERA-L, ASSESS, EvalTalk, Math-Learn, PhysLrnR, POD, STLHE-L, TeachingEdPsych, and TIPS. For a guide to discussion lists see Hake (2007). For a defense of cross-posting see Hake (2005a).

Hake, R.R. 2005c. “Why Aren't AERA Discussion Lists More Active?” online at http://tinyurl.com/2s3b9k. Post of 11 Jun 2005 11:44:58-0700 to AERA-C, AERA-D, AERA-G, AERA-GSL, AERA-H, AERA-I, AERA-J, AERA-K, AERA-TchEdPsych, and PhysLrnR.

Hake, R.R. 2007. “Over Sixty Academic Discussion Lists: List Addresses and URL's for Archives & Search Engines,” online at http://www.physics.indiana.edu/~hake/ADL-L.pdf  (640 kB), or as ref. 49 at http://www.physics.indiana.edu/~hake   This will soon be updated so as to include additions such as TeamLearning-L,  TrDev-L, and the new address for TeachEdPsych.

Hake, R.R. 2009a.  “Team-Based Learning,” online on the OPEN! AERA-I archives at http://tinyurl.com/qp8nwm . Post of 15 May 2009 to AERA-I, Net-Gold, PhysLrnR, and TeamLearning-L. Abstract only to AERA-A, AERA-B, AERA-C, AERA-D, AERA-J,  AERA-K, AERA-L, AP-Physics, ASSESS, Biopi-L, Chemed-L, DrEd, EdResMeth, EvalTalk, IFETS, LRNAAST-L, Math-Teach, PBL, Phys-L, POD, RUME, STLHE-L, TeachEdPsych, TIPS, TrDev-L, & WBTOLL-L.  The *potential* readership of this post is about 16,000.  Doubtless Larry Michaelsen will note a huge spike in the sales of his books on Team Learning  http://teambasedlearning.apsc.ubc.ca/?page_id=34   ;-).  

Hake, R.R. 2009b. “Over Two-Hundred Education & Science Blogs,” 30 March; online at http://www.physics.indiana.edu/~hake/Over200EdSciBlogsU.pdf (2.6 MB). ). The abstract is also at  http://hakesedstuff.blogspot.com/2009/03/over-two-hundred-education-science.html  with a provision for comments

MacIsaac, D.L. 2000. "Communities of on-line physics educators," Phys. Teach. 38(4): 210-213; online at http://physicsed.buffalostate.edu/PHYS-L/TPTApr00art.pdf (196 kB). Discusses technical and social aspects of discussion lists and gives reference information on four major physics education lists: Phys-L, Physhare-L, PhysLrnR, and TAP-L.

Nielsen, M. 2008. “The Future of Science: Building a Better Collective Memory” APS News, 17(10). The full version appears on Nielsen's blog at http://michaelnielsen.org/blog/?p=448. Note the 87 (as of 20 May 2009) responses and counter responses following Nielsen's article. Such informed and extended discussion is rare in the ADLsphere.

Redish, E.F. 1999. "Millikan lecture 1998: building a science of teaching physics," Am. J. Phys. 67(7): 562-573; online at http://www.physics.umd.edu/rgroups/ripe/perg/cpt.html .

Roschelle, J & R. Pea. 1999. "Trajectories from Today's WWW to a Powerful Educational Infrastructure," Educational Researcher, June-July: 22-25, 43; online as a pdf at http://ctl.sri.com/publications/displayPublication.jsp?ID=120; see also http://www.stanford.edu/~roypea/HTML1%20Folder/articles.html.  

Sweet, M.  2009. “Re: Team-Based Learning (was Re: TBL and Conceptests),” TeamLearning-Lpost of 15 May 2009 21:38:36-0500; online at http://tinyurl.com/qjt8nv

Ziman, J. 2000. Real Science: What it is, and what it means. Cambridge University Press.  Publisher's information at http://www.cambridge.org/catalogue/catalogue.asp?isbn=9780521893107. See especially Sec. 9.3 "Codified knowledge," pages 258-266."


Zull, J.E. 2003.  The Art of Changing the Brain.  Stylus;  publisher's information at  http://www.styluspub.com/Books/BookDetail.aspx?productID=44780. A Google book preview is online at http://tinyurl.com/oo6vqp.






No comments: