11 March 2008

When Print is a Worse Information Source

Lisa Rossi is likely a lovely person. She seems to be a fine reporter. But after a recent "encounter" with Ms. Rossi, and the subsequent article she produced, I have one more pile of evidence which suggests that print journalism might simply fade away as a primary information source, for good reason.

Which, of course, suggests that schools need to be doing a much better job of teaching the uses of, and the creation of, digital and online information. Which is not only more equitable in terms of 'disability,' economic status, and community location, but proves itself more and more superior to printed texts in terms of accuracy, completeness, interactivity, and educational value, as each days goes on.

Not that print news cannot be done well - not that online information cannot be done badly. But the limitations of ink-on-paper are profound, beginning with (outside of the best and largest newspapers) extremely limited space for news and opinion (see my Mobiles in Classrooms post for a comparison between print and digital articles), and including a lack of interactivity (note the way Guardian columnists often interact with their blogs' readers, or the way New York Times blogs have both reader recommended and editor selected ways of reading blog comments), as well as an inability to continually update, correct, or simply be challenged.

Two weeks ago I spent 48 minutes on my mobile with The Des Moines Register's Ms. Rossi. I know because though I have lots of mobile minutes, when the time counter passes 30 on any one phone call I still notice. I spent 48 minutes conversing about Dr. Michael Bugeja, the director of Iowa State University's Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication, and about the nuances of where we differ regarding technology and education, why and how. I suspect she talked to a number of others, perhaps for as long or longer, in addition, I would hope, to her conversations with Dr. Bugeja himself.

But the result, limited as it is by the "newshole" of the Register, and lacking the "live links" possible in digital publishing, can't possibly be worth the trees cut down to make the paper which holds these minimal thoughts - an article not even close to worthy of Dr. Bugeja's scholarship, let alone mine (if "scholarship" is what it is) or Paul Shovlin's - an Ohio U. doc student also quoted.

Now, for the most trained in search and research, one might begin with Ms. Rossi's 750-word mini-column and find lots of things to Google. But anyone reading the story and possessing the search and research skills typically taught in US schools would find nothing of any value at all - just a random set of facts arranged around no central theory or idea. (One might find complete untruths as well, I absolutely never said that I "[credit] blogs for the knowledge that views like Bugeja's exist" - much of our conversation concerned the ways Dr. Bugeja's views are different from, and similar to, others I have met over the past dozen years who share these oppositions to technology - besides, I "met" Dr. Bugeja through The New York Times - but that's journalism for you.)

After all, Dr. Bugeja and I agree and disagree about some fascinating things. I believe we both think that educators ought to think about what they are doing with technology a whole lot more than they do. I believe we both think that better teacher training is essential to better student training. I believe that we're both fascinated by the questions of power which arise from technological shifts. I also believe that we disagree on where the urgency is - I think the old models, and the old educational strategies have failed - have failed so many - and that we must embrace the new while fighting to make that future the best it can be. Dr. Bugeja, I believe, feels the dangers - the threats - to how we assemble, disseminate, acquire, and trust information are so great that we must make sure that we have the right controls for new technologies in place before we embrace them. Dr. Bugeja is likely to calls things like printing presses, blackboards, and lecture halls "tools," and consider them separately. I am more likely to call those things "technologies" and measure the impact of those things using the same criteria I use when looking at a social networking system. But Dr. Bugeja and I would agree - it is always good and bad - Gutenberg's press enabled many things, it also wiped out almost half the languages of Europe within two centuries of its invention (no printed work? dead language). These new technologies hold similar promises - and dangers. Our differences might be fundamental, but they are only "worlds apart" when filtered through the simplification processes necessary to certain forms of print media.

What I told Ms. Rossi was about all I have gained from my interactions with Dr. Bugeja. Every argument I have with him sends me deep into Google Scholar and into the MSU Library's digital catalogue. Every debate causes me to delve into the complex questions of how technological change actually impacts the people of the world. They key thing, for me, is that without these technologies - online news media, blogs, email, social networking systems - I, sitting in East Lansing, Michigan, would have little chance to know, interact with, and debate a scholar like Dr. Bugeja. If our relationship began in the worst of digital ways - a quote of his limited by the context of an opinionated NYT column and a flamed blog response from me - it has progressed through the best of digital ways (substantive online debates, email, ability to quickly research), all the way to the point where we've used the good old US Postal service to share books with each other.

Now let's be clear - the same article, produced for on-line use, could have been much longer. It could have contained links to Dr. Bugeja's writing, to mine, to Mr. Shovlin's. Readers could have jumped directly to the debates we've all shared. Real research could have been cited, and linked. And honestly, if the Register were a better (and by that I mean, a more 21st Century) newspaper, the online version of the story would have been all that.

Let's be equally clear. Carrying a copy of that print newspaper with the fourth-rate journalism effort into many college classrooms would fail to disturb many professors who would not want to see a computer being used in that room. Quoting from that print newspaper would be more acceptable to many high school teachers than quoting from a "blog."

In other words, schools are embracing an information communication technology provably worse, less informative and less accurate, simply because it is older.

Here's the article in full (c) 2008 The Des Moines Register

ISU journalism director challenges cyber trend


Ames, Ia. -- When Iowa State University journalism school Director Michael Bugeja asked a group of Simpson College students what inspires awe in them, he was greeted with deafening silence.

After a second attempt to get a reaction generated only a feeble response, Bugeja pondered his own question and concluded: Technology creates simulated lives for too many of today's college students. In some cases, he said, they get so wrapped up in their online lives that they lose touch with reality.

Bugeja blames technology. He warns anyone who will listen about the blind embrace of avatars, cyber lives and Web surfing during class.

"What we're seeing is these consumer technologies are blurring the line between entertainment and learning," he said.

His views have landed him at the center of a debate among education leaders over how to simultaneously capture the attention of tech-savvy students and still maintain the depth of instruction they will need to survive in the modern wired world.

Not everyone agrees with Bugeja. That's why there's a spam e-mail named for him. And it's why the editor of the campus newspaper characterized his comments as "iPhobic" in 2006. Some, however, give Bugeja credit for putting the issue on the front burner.

"He makes us stop and think about the impact of that technology and why do we think that it works, how could we improve on it," said Jim Davis, ISU's chief information officer.

Other Bugeja detractors are decidedly less polite.

Ira Socol, a doctoral student in special education technology at Michigan State University, wrote on his blog that Bugeja is "another old journalism prof" who is "locked in the past."

Bugeja condemns the personal nature of what he says should be a scholarly debate.

"If you disagree with me, publish," he said. "Don't post on a blog. ... Get down and do some serious research, and manage a journalism school on top of it."

Bugeja's work has been published by the prestigious Oxford University Press. It's based on a simple premise: All of the online chatting has diminished people's relationships with their immediate environments.

More than 60 percent of ISU students last spring said they sent text messages, checked their e-mail and visited non-assigned Web sites while in class.

Scores of professors have enacted policies that restrict the use of electronics. Some professors punish students whose cell phones ring in class. ISU students who take "Mass Media and Society" this year are required to take notes on paper.

Some of Bugeja's most controversial ideas have focused on the Web site Second Life, a 3-D world populated by characters called avatars. Recently, universities have set up mock campuses on Second Life, and professors, including some at ISU, have conducted discussion sessions there.

Bugeja noted that after the mass shooting at Virginia Tech last year, an avatar opened fire at Second Life's Ohio University virtual campus. He also pointed to investigations of allegations of virtual rape on the site.

Bugeja has not asked for a ban on the use of Second Life in classrooms. Instead, he wants professors to consult with lawyers on the service terms so that teachers, students and administrators are clear on who is responsible for what happens in the virtual world.

Paul Shovlin, a doctoral student in rhetoric at Ohio University, called Bugeja an alarmist. Shovlin, who moderates an online discussion about Second Life, was a victim of the virtual shooting.

"I agree we need to ... talk about what the risks are, what we can do to ameliorate those risks," he said. "But I don't think we should discount them for environments for education because something could happen.

"Then we are left in that traditional classroom, with the doors closed, students writing with their pens and paper."

Despite the controversy, Bugeja has managed to win minor concessions from his harshest critics. Michigan State's Socol said calling Bugeja old was the wrong thing to say on his blog. He meant "old-school," he said.

And he credits blogs for the knowledge that views like Bugeja's exist.

"We evolved from the argument on the blog, to e-mails, to conversation, to trading books, and we use all these technologies," Socol said. "One of the great things of getting in a fight with someone like that is getting a chance to get to know them in a real way."

Reporter Lisa Rossi can be reached at (515) 232-2383 or lrossi@dmreg.com

After speaking to Ms. Rossi I did send her lots of data on things she asked questions about... here's that email:

Thank you for speaking with me yesterday. Just a few links should you want a little more on my understandings of schools and technology.

You asked about teachers and resistance, and this blog entry
is aimed right at that, as are a few much older ones
and this Inside Higher Ed opinion piece

On a wider definition of technology
http://speedchange.blogspot.com/2006/09/what-does-assistive-technology-reall y.html
and on a wider definition of reading

and maybe most directly on the Viewpoint difference between Michael and I

Finally, I'm attaching a paper which raises these questions a different way - to go with my argument that the change has already occurred and that schools better start catching up - it is my attempt to show how "cognitive authority" (in education described, essentially, as what you have to believe about any information source in order for it to be seen as credible) has changed, and how the generation of students has a radically different understanding of this than does the generation of teachers.

All of this not to simply pick on Ms. Rossi or the Register, but to point out - once again - that relying on print - relying on what your "old school" thinks are the ways to gather information - will leave you far behind in this world.

- Ira Socol

Michael Bugeja Links:

Interpersonal Divide
The Economist Debate on Social Networking
Living Ethics Across Media Platforms
Facing the Facebook
Second Thoughts About Second Life
Can Media Overuse Stifle Emotional Maturity?

Paul Shovlin Links

Teacher, Researcher, Scholar, Essayist: A Web Text with Some Assembly Required
Book Review: For Two Years Who Cares?

The Drool Room by Ira David Socol, a novel in stories that has - as at least one focus - life within "Special Education in America" - is now available from the River Foyle Press through lulu.com

US $16.00 on Amazon

US $16.00 direct via lulu.com

Look Inside This Book

1 comment:

Paul Shovlin said...

I too felt like the article was a let down. I probably spoke to her for about as long as you did and had great expectations for her story based on what I thought was a good conversation. In the article, though, I felt like I was misrepresented and the quotes were taken out of any context that would have provided a rationale. I appreciate your blog post on this and your foresight to include me in the list of folks who might have been let down.