“Leaving Home in Dark Blue” edited by Curt Brown.

The book covers the gamut from newspaper reports to diary entries, from personal letters to commencement programs, from poetry to short fiction pieces, many of which are published here for the first time.

Order it on our website for only $19.95.

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April 10, 2013 · 2:45 pm

Putting Education in the Blender

Recently, I went conferencing to find the perfect blend of online and traditional teaching. Perfection has its pitfalls. I’d settle for optimal or almost optimal or even just things that seem to work. And a lot of the in-education crowd thinks only of a strong morning Joe when considering the nearness to nirvana.  

Transferring traditional content to the online environment takes skill, but teaching in the ether takes even more proficiency. Many educators immediately notice the extra time required to handle the online environment and its demands. Traditional courses are fixed to a large degree. Instructors need to be in the classroom at certain times, have office hours, and can estimate how much time it will take to correct assignments and exams. Online pedagogy isn’t a 9-5 job, isn’t very predictable, and online learners need more individual care. Instant gratification needs to be addressed, well, constantly.

Online education doesn’t work for all students either. Institutions are warning students of the commitment needed to complete online courses. Discipline and self-motivation are key factors. Students also expect training and support systems to be available 24/7. The large failure-to-complete MOOCs rate is a very telling indication of students’ motivation.

In my face-to-face classroom, participants are quick to point out how important the regular meeting times and place are to their “forced” dedication.  Another important factor to performance is the subtle motivation of having to face peers. Even though online instruction has made strides, your fellow online students our more like avatars, and unless instructors make efforts at introduction, they have names and little else to distinguish themselves.

Online instruction is one of Schumpeter’s creative destruction factors in the education economy.  But there is an equilibrium process at play, too. Over the next decade, the demarcation between online education and traditional education will not be much of an issue. Place will be the distinguishing factor. Online courses will be taught to students who won’t have to set foot on a campus. Traditional classes will have online parts, but a student will come to campus for face-to-face interactions at a specific time and specific place, and that place might not be what is currently defined as a classroom.

-Thomas Bacher

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Things Unso

If the wind takes the house

it will be someone else’s

soon enough, and they too

will find it cold. What breaks

breaks open. After a house

one finds oneself in a wood,

and after too long in a wood

one finds oneself sullen

in heaven. Someone else lies

in my bed now so I can’t

sleep any better than they do.

To be lost is to be connected


When they turn in my bed

the whole house turns, and I

turn, and the wind is emptied

through my own and theirs

and through a common door

to some place I do not know.

If things fall far enough apart,

they are all equally gone.

From Seth Abramson’s book Thievery.

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The MOOC(H) Parade

A friend of mine explained that the object of the MOOC revolution was to have the authority in a particular field of study create an online course for the masses. I told her determining the identity of a faculty expert might take well over a decade. She seemed nonplussed.

Another colleague explained with the advent of the MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) revolution he could become the global expert on late nineteenth-century Ohio literary publication history. I reminded him that MOOCs were intended for a very significant audience.

He didn’t talk to me for days.

I don’t think that MOOCs are the “Pet Rock” of today’s educational environment, but I’m convinced there is a lot of Massive Open Online Course Hysteria going around.  As a university press director I’m reminded of the effort by many publishers to put content on CDs when the technology was new. That effort lasted about a year and ended quite badly. Even e-books have had a long incubation process and haven’t made traditional books obsolete.

MOOCs can be helpful in many ways, but they are more of a public relations and marketing tool. Sure, I can take a course via a Stanford or MIT MOOC. I won’t be charged for doing so, but I won’t get credit either. Further, I’ll need to be super motivated because if I’m like the greater percentage of MOOC takers, I will drop out before completion.

MOOCs can be useful in many settings. Giving content away for free does create some business model problems. Perhaps, MOOCs will be licensed to particular colleges and universities. MOOC creators will then need to include advertising to pay for their costs.

A professor who has moved some courses online was gratified to know that his online students’ test grades were statistically similar to his traditional, face-to-face students. Online was pretty capable he said, except for the proposition of student collaboration. The online environment just didn’t work well for group projects.

MOOCs can be very useful for highly-structured students who can discipline themselves to finish what they start. MOOCs can even be good refreshers for many in the workforce. However, I don’t think society will advance if we have a generation of MOOCers.

My teenage son would never have to leave his room when he stays home to go to college.

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Winning at Academics, Instead

I’m the director of a small university press at a mid-major university. Our basketball team, the Akron Zips, is doing well this year, but unless they win the MAC tournament, they might not get into the NCAA Basketball Tournament.  Some conferences will be strongly represented no matter how well a team might have fared in its own conference. But that’s big time college sports – driven by television and money and paying lip service to academics. A recent article in The New York Times about Duke Basketball probably said it best indicating the BMOC was Mike Krzyzewski and not the Duke President. (See http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/24/sports/ncaabasketball/at-duke-basketball-tent-city-for-fun-and-profit.html?_r=0.)

                The University of Akron provides support for its university press and for its athletic program. I am appreciative that the university funds the press. The amount allows us to publish 10-15 books annually on both academic topics and regional history.

                I don’t want to compare NCAA sports to university presses, but it’s hard not to do. The amount of money, no matter the sources, that is invested in athletics tells a lot about how we view our best and brightest students. Several NCAA FCS head coaches receive more than $3 million dollars annually and the programs at those schools spend over $30 million on football.  The university subsidy for our press  is less than 1% of that amount and we are not alone.

                Many policymakers complain about how the United States is falling behind the world in math and science. States across the country are cutting back funding to local school districts. College sports have a place in the academic experience but in most cases the number of participants in inter-collegiate athletics is a very small percentage of total enrollments. I and many other press directors are waiting for our sports departments to provide us or other parts of the university with support. Perhaps, it’s time to tax our teams so that we can attend more personally and effectively to all students. Tutoring and team training tables work great for athletes. I’m sure the concepts would be as effective for in-need undergraduates. 

Thomas Bacher, Director, University of Akron Press


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AAUP Statement on GSU Amicus Brief

February 7, 2013 (New York, NY)—Today, AAUP filed an amicus curiae brief supporting the plaintiffs—Cambridge University Press, Oxford University Press, and SAGE Publications—in their appeal to the Eleventh Circuit of the district court decision in Cambridge University Press v. Becker. The full amicus curiae brief, a summary, and the plaintiffs’ brief are all posted here: http://www.aaupnet.org/policy-areas/copyright-a-access/copyright-a-permissions/current-litigation-a-legislative-action/231-gsu-suit.

University presses and university libraries are part of the same system of higher education and scholarly communication. Both presses and libraries work in service to the same social good—the advancement of knowledge—and both face the same financial pressures caused by the recent economic depression and slow recovery. Moreover, an increasing number of university press directors report to deans of libraries, and press-library collaborations are expanding.

AAUP believes in fair use. We believe robust scholarship depends on the ability of scholars to quote others’ published works for criticism and commentary, and to make transformative uses of others’ work by adding new, copyrightable work of their own. Our members rely on this important copyright principle in deciding when to seek permission to include others’ work in their own publications, and when they can justify that inclusion as a fair use. And we believe in the important role fair use plays in education generally, including enabling teachers to make appropriate use of books and other works in and out of the classroom. The question of appropriate parameters for fair use as publishing and education transition to digital is a complex and important one. AAUP would welcome a decision in the GSU case that helped clarify our understanding of fair use on university networks.

Unfortunately, the district court’s decision does not do that. The court misunderstood both the fundamental purpose of fair use and misapplied the four statutory factors in its fair use analyses, as our brief argues.

A quick summary of the case. The GSU suit, as it is known, was filed in 2008 to contest GSU’s practice of posting copyrighted material on GSU’s electronic reserves systems without clearing permissions, violating the plaintiffs’ copyrights. Among GSU’s defenses was that their practice was permissible as an exercise of fair use, one of the exceptions to the exclusive rights of copyright owners.

The implications of GSU’s practices for AAUP’s members are broad. Testimony during trial established that during 2009 (the period on which the trial focused) GSU was clearing no permissions with any publisher for posting substantial excerpts from scholarly books on their e-reserves systems. And despite the new policy GSU put in place in response to this suit, even the district court agreed that GSU continued to infringe the publishers’ and their authors’ rights after the new policy was implemented. GSU’s e-reserves practices thus bear on the copyright rights of all the members of AAUP whose work was, or may in the future be, taken without permission by the university. That’s the first issue of concern for us.

Second, testimony at trial also showed that although the university failed to clear permissions for e-reserves, it was continuing to clear—and where necessary, pay for—permission to use equivalent material in the dwindling number of printed course-packs the university also made available to students. This practice of treating the copyrighted material differently depending on the format—print on paper versus electronic—and the fact that GSU, rather than a commercial copy shop acting on GSU’s behalf, did the actual copying, is not only illogical, but also violates the settled principle in copyright law of media neutrality: that copyright protection does not vary depending on the medium in which a work is presented.

Third, we believe the court’s interpretation of fair use is irredeemably flawed. The fair use provision—Section 107 of the Copyright Act—requires that in deciding whether a given instance of copyright infringement can be excused as fair, four factors must be analyzed and their relative merits weighed: the purpose of the use, the nature of the copyrighted work, the amount and substantiality of the portion used, and the effect of the use on the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

This is not the place to reprise all our brief’s arguments about the errors of law in the court’s analysis of the four factors, but there are two that we think could have particularly significant, damaging, long-term consequences for scholarly communication. The first is the court’s blanket conclusion that because scholarly works are “informational” rather than “fictional,” the second factor in a fair use analysis—the nature of the work—should automatically favor those who want to make verbatim reproductions of them without paying permissions fees semester after semester. Essentially, this means that in the judge’s view the non-fiction works published by the members of AAUP—in a word, almost everything they publish—enjoy no more copyright protection than a directory. As the brief points out, the case law shows that this reductive categorization is simplistic and misleading. It is also, in our view, a remarkable devaluation of the creative energy and skilled judgment of scholarly authors, and of the value of the scholarship they labor to produce.

The second flaw worth noting for its potential long-term consequences is the court’s analysis of the fourth factor and its judgment that in all but a handful of instances the market harm caused by GSU’s failure to pay permissions was so negligible as to pose no threat to the publishers’ interests. Yet the fourth factor asks the court to consider harm to both existing and potential markets; in other words, to evaluate the harm if the contested practice were to become widespread. Even accepting the court’s niggling analysis of the market harm caused by GSU’s e-reserves practices, it’s obvious that widespread adoption of those practices by other universities would very substantially increase the harm.

The members of AAUP are all nonprofits. Reducing their revenue doesn’t diminish profits paid out to private shareholders, because there aren’t any. Instead it reduces publishing capacity, a reduction that falls heaviest on the high-quality, specialized works of scholarship selected for inclusion in e-reserves systems in the first place because of their high value in teaching and advancing knowledge.

AAUP members, both individually and as a community, have invested significantly in non-profit online aggregation services that will make tens of thousands of our books viewable and readable to researchers connected to university libraries all over the world. They have also labored, throughout their history, to keep prices low—for many scholarly books, even below cost-recovery rates.

The financial problems of university libraries are severe, but they haven’t been caused by the members of AAUP. Seeking to reduce even further a legitimate source of secondary revenue for university presses may appear to be good for libraries in the short term, but it denigrates the work of faculty scholars and penalizes university presses for doing what they do best: publishing the very work that is most valuable in teaching and research. The long-term consequences can’t be good for any of us: presses, scholars, authors, or libraries. Surely if we put our heads together we can do better than that.

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It’s Apps Away

The first app marketing announcement.

One of the problems in the e-book market is the proprietary nature of many readers. To get the full features of some offerings, customers must choose their platforms—I-Pad, Kindle, Nook, etc. While PDFs can be read across many platforms, the media richness of the documents does not always meet customer demand. For example, the new I-Author tool allows user to incorporate video, audio, and other multi-media options, but only I-Pad users can get the full benefit of those titles. In its infancy, some companies are now offering services to convert book content into apps that run on multiple platforms. Using this method a publisher can provide the greatest distribution for their products and do much to eliminate the need to develop for each proprietary system.

Looking ahead along the online course development path, apps will become quite common, one would guess. There could be the Psychology 101 app, an app that could provide links to lectures, readings, and other rich materials to improve learning. One thing that is apparent in this information stream is that some courses will become commodities – low price will determine enrollment as long as a range of universities accept the credits toward a student’s graduation. The State of Ohio might have, for example, an Introduction to Sociology app that is available to all students at Ohio public institutions.

One benefit of creating apps for introductory courses is that, if handled well, universities can enhance the preparedness of their graduates by concentrating on higher level instruction. Students could take app-based courses without worrying about the circadian rhythms of semester-based classes. Further, app-based instruction could fit within the business culture allowing companies the option to certify their employees in certain areas as technologies disrupt operations and call for new practices. Instructional apps could be developed and deployed for specific needs.

As students and individuals consolidate their lives onto their chosen communication devices, apps might be the key to gaining market share.  In this environment, as with all products, uniqueness and high-quality brands will win out. Universities will need to maximize their best programs and turn them into available apps.

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