Open source – how open is it really

We had a discussion of open source sites for academics. For the purpose of this post, I will only discuss open source based on academia. Open source sites allow academics to submit research papers and allows other academics to access those papers without paying some outrageous fee. Theoretically, these sites allow for the sharing of information and ideas freely and most important free of charge. But, how open are these sites? I am pretty sure there are sites that are truly free but I am not a member of one yet. Sites like academia.edu and JSTOR claim to be free but are they really? I want to focus on these two sites now. I regularly use both sites and they are very helpful in finding academic journal length articles for free. Although they seem free and extremely helpful, one needs to only do a little digging to understand that is not the case. Both sites allow you to access articles and you can even print them for future reading, many older folks like me don’t like electronic readings. Academia.edu only provides limited access to articles. You may not realize it is limited access until you discuss the matter with those that have paid subscriptions and have access to hundreds if not thousands more articles than the free users. JSTOR is truly free but you can only access 6 article every 30 days with a free membership. As a Ph.D. student, I have the luxury of using the university’s membership and therefore have full access to JSTOR, but that is because someone else is paying the bill and therefore not free. So how free or open are these sources? Not very.

The concept of open source academic sites is appealing, but as long as they are run or controlled by business entities, like publishers, they will always be monetized sites that tease the user to buy a membership. So how open are they?

Ending the semester

What a crazy semester. It seems like a tale of two semesters in two worlds. The beginning of Spring 2020 was normal. We longed for warmer weather, even with a mild winter. We knew a major snow event was due and would probably happen the beginning of the Spring season. Some of us joked and reminisced about the blizzard that occurred right at the end of a Spring break week and stranded thousands of students in Southern city airports because the Mid-Atlantic and Northeastern US were stuck under a foot of snow. Then many graduate students in the Humanities began sharing our conference acceptances and paper publications. We stressed over the assignments we would have and the paperwork we needed to complete at the end of the semester. Then the students went away for Spring break. The campus became quiet and graduate students could focus on their work without dealing with teaching and assisting undergraduates for a week. We heard of the outbreak in China, on the other side of the world, and we had our concerns but nothing too major.

Then in the beginning of the break, life began to change. What about the students who visited areas that were experiencing the epidemics? Could they return or would they return infected with COVID 19? This caused anxiety amongst the population of our little world at Virginia Tech. Campuses across the nation extended breaks or dismissed classes for an additional week to provide time to figure it out and come up with the best course of action. One thing was for sure, no one in this world was prepared for this virus and its rapid spread. Conspiracy theories and Google experts aside, this is a scary event. Our world is very crowded and our damaging the world on which we live was hitting full force. Now, life has stopped. But did life really stop? We still have classes, online but still active. We still go get necessities when needed, unless it is TP and has been hoarded like gold. We still get up and get through the day. Life hasn’t stopped but has been altered.

My personal observations as of late. When I look out the window of my house, I see farther and more clearly than I can remember. I can see interstate 81 but I see much fewer vehicles than ever before. The trees and other plant life are thriving. Animals are more visible, as I see deer and wild turkeys in the fields behind my house. My dogs go nuts because of all the birds and rabbits around as well. I get on social media and see people offering to help strangers and checking in on others. COVID 19 has made us shift our lives and we are stressed. But, COVID 19 has brought good things as well. Can we continue to travel less, care more, and stop to smell the roses and view the scenery? I hope so and hope this will force the administrators and political leaders to stop being money grubbing butt heads and actually make plans in case of the next crisis event. Let’s be human and humane in our actions and decisions. Let’s just live life and stress less. Let’s just appreciate everyone’s contribution to society and move forward together. Stay healthy and safe, wash your hands, and be civil.

Holy Cow! The end of the semester is just a few weeks away.

Don’t take that title in a good way though. As we near the end of the semester, I can assure you the undergraduate and graduate students are feeling anxious and tense with all the projects, papers, and final presentations coming in a short time. The professors are experiencing a mixed bag of feelings. The semester is almost over but did the professor complete everything for their tenure track check list? Look at all those students whose assignments I will grade in a short period because final grades are due. Unlike high school, the end of the semester and year is not a joyous thing with lighter class work and fun stuff being planned by the administrators. In higher education, it can be a culmination of anxiety and depression that has lingered throughout the semester. Now it all comes to a boiling point. Now it all is reaching its crescendo of pressure to get it done.

This is an issue with higher education. Yes, we want the students to remember what was taught four months ago. We expect all students to put a semester’s worth of teaching into one concise assignment. Critically anaylize, critically examine, summarize the entire semester onto 10 pages or 2500 words. Think about that for a hot minute. If you can reduce an entire semester onto one final paper, why the hell did we sit in a dingy room for hours a week listening to some person drone on about a subject that we probably didn’t care about to start? Now, with the pandemic and the online system, are we really expected to perform at the same level?

With this, I want everyone involved with a student’s success to ponder the perpetuation of the system. Realize everyone’s life has been disrupted and show some compassion. Lighten up the final exam and only require regurgitation of information form spring break to now. It has been a tale of two semesters, so just go with that. Ease up a little on the grading because we have all been thrust into an uncomfortable situation. It is not about lowerin expectations or going easy, it is about empathy and compassion as we all try to finish this crazy semester together. Parents, advisors, professors, administrative staff, and students, we are all in this together and we will survive and prevail but we need to do it with empathy and compassion. Stay healthy and safe, WASH YOUR HANDS, and flattent the curve. Let’s knock this out so the Fall semester can be face to face.

Refunds? What does the University do with the money?

Recent articles concerning class action lawsuits against two large universities in Colorado has made me wonder what universities do with the extra fees students are charged. As an older student returning to finish my degree work, I recall a story from my past at Virginia Tech. In the later half of the 1980s, I did not receive my grades at the end of the quarter, yes we were using the quarter system and not semesters. Upon investigating the matter, I was informed my grades were being held due to non-payment of my comprehensive fees or student activities fees. I was feeling pretty confident when I stated I was not going to pay them. I don’t ride the bus, the student center is under renovation and not open, I don’t use the weight room or participate in intramural sports, the sports team were not good so I didn’t attend games, so I was not paying the fee. The person working the payment window informed me my grades and classes would be purged for non-payment and I would just lose my tuition money, plus I would have a block placed on my account preventing me from registering for future classes. So, having no option, I payed the fee and left feeling defeated. Fast forward 30+ years and here I am dealing with comprehensive fees but at a 300% increase from the 1980s.

With all universities shut down and classes being taught online, the student body cannot use the services for which they have paid or are still paying. So why won’t the universities offer a prorated refund for these services? Where did the money go? As a graduate student at Virginia Tech, I paid over $500 for a parking pass and over $2000 dollars for services that I cannot use. So again, where did the money go? There are no rec sports being held so no staff is getting paid, the student rec building is closed, the library is closed, parking is free and not restrictions are being observed, and I still don’t ride the bus, so where is the money? I don’t have an answer to my own questions but wish to highlight the situation at Virginia Tech and major universities across this country. If you or someone you know is attending a higher education institution, you are paying fees for services that they want you to think are free. Dining halls are revenue centers for the universities and they are shut down, but the students get to keep their dining dollars for next year. This is good unless you are a senior, then goodbye funds. If students paid for services like the dining halls, would the university be able to offer the services? I mean, if you had to pay a $.50 fee to enter the library and pay a fee to check out a source, or pay to ride the bus per trip, or pay to be part of a rec sports team, or buy a membership to the gym, could the university still operate these systems. If private entities can do it, why can’t the university?

The biggest question we should all be asking is this, where does the money go? It is obvious the universities are not offering refunds and we can speculate it is due to the money not being available. So where does the money go? If they paid all the salaries, operating costs, and land use fees up front, then they are idiots. The money was paid to the university so, where is the money?

WHERE IS MY MONEY?

Persistence of Surveys

As we attempt to maintain normality in this not normal time, I have been receiving emails to participate in a survey concerning mental health and healthy minds. The survey is anticipated to take 25 minutes to complete and your are entered in a drawing to win money. I have also been receiving the emails on a consistent basis for two weeks, to the point of being annoying. This was apparently sent to all active students of Virginia Tech but I have communitcated with undergraduate and graduate student who have not received the email. Upon clicking on the link, I was directed to a lenghty consent form and provided with the information this is a Michigan State University study with one person from Virginia Tech collaborating with the MSU professors. So, here is where it gets really troublesome. I read most of the consent form but after 5 minutes, I just scrolled to the bottom. I clicked on the button stating my intention to not participate in the survey but was then immediately redirected to the survey. To all you sciency people, this is not acceptable. Those administering the survey are attempting to manipulate people into taking their survey. Interesting those attempting to study mental health are creating anxiety with their survey and harrassing method of dispersing the survey. No real point to this rant other than to say, be careful how you conduct your research. Don’t be part of the problem you are trying to study. Like a cancer researcher giving patients cancer, your actions are not as horrible but still undesireable. Plus, a 25 minute survey with and additional 15 minutes to read the consent is a little much to ask a graduate student. As we all attempt to help each other, let us all remember to do it responsibly.

Higher Education-Change is Needed

As I finally defended my proposal and the weight of the world has been lifted from my shoulders, I look forward to the daunting tasks that still lay ahead. In social science, as I cannot speak about STEM fields, the higher education system often feels as if the perpetuation of a hazing ritual is the norm. You must take classes that require one or more books of reading each week. If you are taking three courses, that is three books or 600 to 1000 pages of reading per week. You write your reflection paper to prove you have read and you receive a check, check plus, or check minus based on the professors opionion of your opinion. You got that correct, the reflection is the student’s perception of the book and you are graded, or checked, based on your opinion. The books are not usually new publications because that would require the professor to read it as well. This means one can be dishonest or show poor integrity by using Google to find the dozen or more reviews and opinion pieces published about the assigned book. When you feel the pressure of deadlines in your dissertation progress and you have to write these opinion reflections, you might be pushed to unethical decisions. This is just the way it is in my experience. It seems a majority of the professors use the same assignment rubrik that forces you to write book reviews, weekly reflections, a couple of short papers, and a lengthy paper to end each semester. WHY? Because they went through this, you should too?

The purpose of higher education is to produce academics, researchers, and other professionals that are masters of their subject. I don’t mean they know everything off the top of their head, but they have enough knowlegdge to do the necessary research in a short amount of time, maybe weeks or longer. Yes, we need to write a lot and often to attend conferences and get things published but the higher education system is not about providing this experience through insightful methods but by torturing the student to produce crap work just so they can say they did it. Then you can proceed to your work that actually assists you in your future pursuits. Once you get to this point, you are either so worn down you want to quit or you are relieved and energized because you finally get to do what you wanted to research at the beginning.

Let me digress a bit here and provide some background. I am an older, non-traditional student with a family. I did not have the opportunity to find the best institution for my interest of study. So, I chose a program at the University close to my home. With this, a younger student, as one of my children is doing, will find a program with professors and classes that add to their education and assist in learning more about their interest. But even with this, I still meet and discuss programs with other Ph.D. students at conferences and they all convey the same frustration. Having to take classes to fulfill requirements and do busy work that does not assist them in their future endeavors. Also, some professors see the need to be the one that is tough or provides the most insight to assisting your growth and they do this with equal enthusiasm. Unfortunately, we will always experience the ‘hardass’ professor and that just might be their nature but the overly helpful can be more damaging. They provide experiential learning based on their personal experience and disregard the bigger picture or might disregard that the information they are providing outside of the text book is covered in another class, like a pedogogical class.

The reason for this rant and background story is to provide the information as to what I feel would best benefit higher education and its people, administrators down to the student. How about some form of standard or better guidelines for professors on what they should teach, not how but what. Academic freedom is a great concept but I feel it is an abused concept. Yes, professors and lecturers should not be afraid of upsetting the system because they are right or left leaning in political view but that does not allow a professor to attempt to intrude on another classes material. Maybe I just had to accept a program that didn’t fulfill my academic needs or maybe they all have this way of doing things. If higher education is meant to create scholars that excel at a topic, they should gear the programs to do just that. Have the broader knowledge classes, the research methods, the writting is fun, and the other building blocks at the beginning and then allow the student to take the seminars and classes that best fit their dissertation or project desire. Maybe have the general classes offered through the graduate school itself and not the program. What ever the solution, a solution is needed. Higher education programs are stress inducing processes that lead to high levels of anxiety, depression, and suicide. The financial pressure of can I afford to eat or pay my bills this month are endless. Summer time money is a fun game as well, as we don’t get any money but still have bills to pay and books to buy. Why add pointless academic pressure on top of that? Is it ego boosting for the professors or programs for producing excellent scholars? I feel if that question gets resolved, we can move forward to better focused programs that minimize a part of the graduate student stress level and improve higher education for the student.

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COVID 19 Experience

It is a trying time for me, I am sure many out there as well but I will not speak for others. As a graduate student and professor of record, I find myself in uncharted waters and the navigation is based on feeling around in the dark. Also, as a non-traditional student, meaning I am older than most, I find my technological skills put to their test. I am also a professor of record for the International Studies majors within Political Science. The classes I conduct are security studies based and focus on intelligence community, national security, and foreign policy within those sectors. The importance of this background is I am now being asked to use technology I vaguely understand and have little trust. Stories of classes, presentations, and dissertation defenses being hacked by neo-Nazis and just bored geniuses that draw phallic symbols on the screen are everyday occurrences now. So, I am being challenged to go against my better sense and against all I teach and use technology that is not secure. It is like asking a person deathly afraid of germs to lick a hand rail on a public bus. But, I am being asked to do this, so I take a deep breath and jump into the cesspool that is modern technology and unsecured digital signals. I have taught and am still teaching online classes during summer sessions but that is different to me. I use the online platform provided by the University and am relatively certain it has protections. The first is only registered students can access my site. But using Zoom for my proposal defense is scarring me more than a Stephen King novel. This blog is more of a personal rant but I wanted to share with others that we are in uncharted waters and being asked to use technology that is not up to par concerning security. I don’t fault the University, professors, IT folks, but I can blame the developer for not doing their do diligence to protect the user.

With my rant over, I have a point to my blog post for today. As a professor of record and graduate student, I feel the anxiety of both sides. As I am sure almost all graduate students feel at this point. To this end, yes we have a responsibility to the undergraduates that have enrolled in our class. We agreed to provide insight towards a topic they wanted to learn or had to take to complete a degree requirement. What we didn’t agree to was making the class extremely challenging. Yes, we want them to learn something new, if we didn’t we wouldn’t be in a class titled Preparing the Future Professoriate. But, we can do this without creating anxiety among our students and ourselves. We can provide insight without crushing the spirit of the entire student body, including ourselves. Use this opportunity to hone your skills towards online lecturing. Use this time to create a base of knowledge for yourself and the students. You can learn new and exciting ways to conduct an online class and the students can learn online classes aren’t boring. I don’t have the answers but do have suggestions we share our experiences and help each other get through this challenging time by supporting and assisting each other in our educational endeavors. Final comment, I promise, don’t make the tests too rigorous. The undergraduates have enough stress and we need to focus on our well being.

Higher Education Goes High Tech

The discussion concerning the use of technology in higher education settings is becoming real today. I am not talking about students using laptops in class to peruse Facebook or Instagram, do their shopping through Amazon, or chat with friends at other Universities, I am talking about using open source material and educationally geared technology. There are good and bad to this use, in my opinion. But that is what a blog is for, correct? Putting my opinion out there for all to see, because I am a specialist in this field, well not really but anyone can be a specialist in their own world.

There is an issue with the use of technology. The students and professors now have an added burden of sifting through all the information available to determine what is good and what is bad. In teaching courses on National Security and Intelligence matters, we call this chaff from wheat. Open source material is great, if peer reviewed sources are utilized, but this is not always the case. Google searches are great for finding sources concerning research and providing further insight to students but be sure it is good stuff and not ramblings of intellect. Wikipedia is great for research, NOT!!! It is good to find sources for research but one must understand this open source is open on both ends. The producer of information is some person who feels they are an expert and the consumer is a student who waited until 11 PM to write their essay due by 11:59 PM. If the sources are not truly academic, down goes Frazier or in this case the students grade.

Using open source material from JSTOR or Academia.edu can be great, as those sources provide access to peer reviewed material or, at minimum, material written by academics. Not that academics are flawless, but they do provide material that has been thoroughly researched and well written, we hope. So, my main point in the discussion of technology in higher education is this, use open source, academic material all you can. Use academic sites and literary sites until your eyes are crossed. Try not to make you lecture predominantly on-line based as students will tune out quickly. Keep the interaction live, unless there is a pandemic. Just use your head, or the brain matter in that head, and make good decisions about the technology and the sources you are using. Crap information beggets crap information.

Research Ethics – are we forced to lie?

In reading about a PhD candidate who falsified 4 papers in her PhD thesis, one can easily say that is a bad person and should not be allowed to conduct science experiments. But, let us take a more critical look at why a PhD student might have a necessity to lie or have feelings like success over ethics is their only choice. As an academic in the human sciences, I have been referred to as a pseudo scientist by my own daughter who holds a degree in biology and is seeking to enter into a graduate program. For this reason, I want to think the person is good and the system is bad. Allow me the liberty to take this position and briefly argue my point. Anyone who has been in or is currently in a graduate program will understand the pressures one endures to succeed and earn their degree. One MUST have a successful project that offers a new contribution to the field in order to pass. Here we are in the 21st century and are expected to find some new ground breaking research or thought project. Has history been filled with idiots and slackards? That isn’t my point but a fun rant to put out there. The point is PhD students must not have a failed project or they don’t earn their degree. Historically, Thomas Edison is credited with the quote, “I haven’t failed – I’ve just found 10,000 that won’t work.” “Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.” Thank you to the Weebly web site for providing that. I know Abraham Lincoln said to not believe everything you read on the internet but I am going with this one. Max Weber argues that science is too busy trying to provide the answer and not asking the next question. Science is too busy trying to provide answers and not more issues. Can one add to a list of failures that eventually lead to a ground breaking thing? Do we look for a cure to cancer but never publish the failures? That seems to be the trend. If one spends years on a project and it fails, the person is not a failure but rather provided another way to not do the project. This will lead to a successful project down the road. The success of the student should be based on their ability to properly conduct an experiment and not if the experiment was a success or not. So, is the PhD student doing something unethical because they can’t face failure or is it because academia and society won’t accept a project that doesn’t provide the answer?

Higher Education Mission Statements

Virginia Military Institute

Statement by President of the Board of Visitors and Superintendent

VMI’s mission is to produce educated, honorable cadets and graduates imbued with characteristics and traits long admired by our great Nation. We produce leaders of character who are prepared and ready to serve our communities, our states, and our Nation in times of peace and in times of war. That is our singular objective. As the oldest state supported military college in the nation and a national historic landmark, VMI has produced leaders that fought in the Civil War, Mexican-American War, Spanish-American War, World War I, defeated fascism in World War II, marched for civil rights in the ’60s, fought in Korea, Vietnam and the Gulf, and has seen its alumni as the best of leaders across the spectrum of industry, medicine, the law, politics, religion and business. Like the United States itself, who we were in the past only defines in part who we are today. Hate, bigotry and discrimination are wrong, do not represent the values of the Virginia Military Institute, and will always be addressed decisively. We will learn from the past and take the best from our predecessors in shaping our cadet citizen-soldiers for today and tomorrow. We achieve this objective through the Institute’s challenging and demandingly unique education structured in a military environment that has served the Nation well for more than 178 years.

We will continue to learn from our history, yet be ultimately guided by our best judgment in how to achieve our mission. The safety of our cadets, faculty and staff, our Post and our community is always present in our mind. That is why, today, the VMI Board of Visitors endorses continuing to acknowledge all those who are part of the history of the Institute. We choose not to honor their weaknesses, but to recognize their strengths. We will continue to learn and not to repeat divisions. We strongly encourage all to move forward together in the defense and advancement of our Nation.

This detailed mission statement recognizes the past, present, and future of the Institute. Not shying away from any past that might be conceived as controversial, VMI presents itself as acknowledging its past and the ability to incorporate all its history into a higher education institute that produced, produces, and continues to produce leaders in all endeavors of society. By providing a mission statement such as this, I find VMI a desirable Institute to be employed as a professor. History, diversity of education, focus on education that provides leaders and not just workers instills VMI professors, staff, and students with a sense of personal and societal pride that provides a community outside of the campus. Many universities claim to provide identity, I quickly refer to the Hokie Nation, but VMI provides a clear call to history and progress as building its identity. This may seem lengthy compared to the other University recognized on this blog but it seems typical for an American University. VMI does present itself as a state funded military institution with a deep history.

Aberystwyth University

To deliver inspirational education and research in a supportive, creative and exceptional environment in Wales.

Aberystwyth is considered to be the founding institution for international studies. Although it has not existed as long as VMI, it does have a deep history in academia. The mission statement is short and to the point. It does not teach students but provides an inspirational education. It does not teach but supports the efforts of its students in their academic pursuits. This presents an image of open research interests in which any student desiring to pursue specific personal interests can do so with the support of a university with a strong tradition. The mission statement is somewhat vague and might present a challenge to matrices of success. By this, it may be difficult to measure the success of the university at upholding its mission statement. But, I think they measure their success at placing highly skilled and knowledgable people into the world and all of them can claim with confidence they studied at Aberystwyth. As a research institute in the UK, the short mission statement founded on research seems common. This is a distinguishing characteristic between American and British universities.