stanford to accept digital dissertations

The Seal of Stanford Universitythis is great news for scholars – both graduate students and professors.

stanford university has decided to accept digital dissertations. that’s right, you heard me correctly:

Put away your checkbook. Don’t bother buying reams of acid-free paper. Just hit the “submit” button to digitally upload dissertations under a new program that begins in November.

i was a year (and 312 miles) too soon. i would have loved to have a policy like that in place last september.

in my ucla doctoral dissertation (now available as a book), i provided a new methodology for testing digital reconstructions of archaeological remains in virtual reality. in writing my digital humanities dissertation, i lamented the fact that original research involving three dimensional reconstructions that are able to show complex architectural development over time is not suited for a two-dimensional printed page. while i can describe the methodology involved, the actual model i describe requires an actual three dimensional space to in order to be visualized, and a fourth dimension of time is required to see the diachronic development of the site.

but the resistance to ‘digital’ forms of published dissertations lies not in the technology, but in the traditional skepticism of the academy of anything other than a typewriter typed dissertation on acid-free paper. i said as much in the conclusion of my book:

This research also realizes the overt incompatibility of publishing a book involving digital reconstructions in three-dimensional space in the traditional paper and ink format. It is, of course, highly ironic that this three-dimensional research is looked down upon by many, who prefer the time-honored, traditional medium of the printed book, which cannot fully convey the technological approach described within its pages. It is as incomplete as literally trying to describe a picture with a thousand words! Thus, the present research calls on scholars, publishers, dissertation committees, and departments of archaeology, architecture, and other related programs to make themselves more accommodating to newer digital forms of publication. As the word processor has replaced the typewriter, so too will digital and three-dimensional formats soon replace analog and two-dimensional formats for publishing archaeological materials. These new digital formats should not be seen as “alternative” or lesser means of publication, but as “progressive” media that are on the cutting edge of modern archaeological research. (Cargill, Qumran through (Real) Time, p. 217-18)

apparently, stanford is listening:

Speaking at the Oct. 22 Faculty Senate meeting, University Librarian Michael Keller said the digital world offers a “much greater palette of expression” to graduate students, because they will be able to include more graphics, color and character sets in their dissertations than in paper copies.

not only can doctoral students print their research with greater ease and at a lesser expense, but other scholars will have greater and cheaper (read: free!) access to the new dissertations:

“We were clearly in favor of a less expensive alternative to ProQuest and one that has far greater intellectual reach through some agreement with Google or some other Internet carrier,” Roberts wrote in an email message.

in addition to cutting down on paper costs, helping the environment, ridding the tedious process of printing out multiple copies of a 300-page document, and not having to pay pro-quest to re-digitize a paper dissertation that was originally written in digital format on a computer, digital dissertations will allow for the publication of more innovative technological research in the sciences and digital humanities. this process preserves the rigorous process of ensuring credible research approved by a disertations committee, but eliminates the hassles of printing, which are now nearly obsolete since most of us read others’ dissertations online anyway.

i applaud the move and encourage ucla to adopt a similar policy.

snl spoofs online universities

SNL "Online University Commercial" sketch on Hulu

SNL "Online University Commercial" sketch on Hulu

i recently posted about the perils of attending online internet colleges. now, snl has joined in the fun and spoofed online universities. check it out.

on the ‘accreditation’ of bibliobloggers

SBL Biblioblog Badge

SBL Biblioblog Badge

the following was originally an excursus within an earlier essay on role of online universities. i have posted this revised and expanded excursus as its own essay here. -bc

some have recently complained about the recent announcement of the society of biblical literature’s affiliation with individuals who identify themselves as ‘bibliobloggers’ – a loosely connected group of biblical scholars and students dedicated to publishing their thoughts, research, and opinions online. a general objection appears to be a discomfort with the attempt to organize and officially recognize a group of scholars who, by the independent nature of their chosen medium of publication – blogging – are often more comfortable as independent voices. however, a repeated, acute objection appears to revolve around the fear of an oversight body with the power to bind and loose confirm or reject a blogger’s legitimacy.

i have addressed some of these issues in previous posts. this new affiliation results in a new section within sbl dedicated to the practice of biblical research via blogs, websites, and other online technologies (i.e., biblioblogging). the sbl affiliation is an attempt to coordinate the efforts of bibliobloggers, many of whom are already members of sbl, instructors at universities, or both, and establish a venue at the national meeting to present, discuss, and share new ideas and experiences in a dedicated session. a steering committee was formed to guide the new group, coordinate the new sbl section’s efforts, and hopefully bring a bit more legitimacy to a growing practice increasingly being adopted by biblical scholars around the globe.

some, however, have objected, worried that the new group may serve as a blogging police or worse yet, an accrediting agency. however, this is simply not the case. several hypothetical straw man (and straw woman) arguments have been made in an attempt to contest the sbl’s formal affiliation with bibliobloggers. but, perhaps the most appropriate comparison to the straw man arguments made by dissenters is the academy’s current response to online universities.

online universities are businesses that offer degrees to students who pay tuition to take classes that are completely online. many of these institutions possess little-to-no oversight, no accreditation, and offer little real education. they are essentially paper mills offering worthless pieces of paper degrees to anyone that will pay the $500 tuition. it is therefore possible that some phony ‘institutions’ call themselves ‘universities,’ and that those they graduate regularly and proudly place the degrees they have ‘earned’ online after their names (like ‘m.b.a.,’ ‘ph.d.,’ or ‘m.div.’).

what is true for online universities and their graduates is also true of bibliobloggers. it is true that nutballs can theoretically claim to be a ‘biblioblogger’ by typing the word ‘biblioblog’ on their blog or creating a badge and affixing it to their site, just as it is possible for someone to ‘achieve’ a ph.d from an unaccredited paper mill (online or otherwise). but, possession of an online degree doesn’t make the degree worthwhile, the recipient legitimate, or one’s subsequent claims respectable. all it means is that one is claiming to be something, even if they are actually not what they claim to be.

it is not the job of the government to tell these people that their ‘degree’ is worthless; they have a right to buy a piece of paper with the words ‘ph.d.’ on it if they choose. in the same way, it is not the job of the sbl or any biblioblogger steering committee to regulate, control, or otherwise sanction who is and who is not claiming to be a biblioblogger. this is traditionally the job of accrediting agencies, and it is important to remember that accreditation is voluntarily sought by the institution seeking accreditation. that is, a university voluntarily submits itself to the accreditation process, it is not imposed upon them.

universities are governed by accrediting agencies. the government list of accredited postsecondary institutions and programs lists national, regional, and state accrediting agencies like the western association for schools and colleges, the new england association of schools and colleges, the north central association of colleges and schools, etc.  but within the academy, ‘accreditation’ (i.e., worthiness) of individual scholars is informal, and is usually based upon their academic affiliation (where they work/teach), their role within the academy (committees, contributions to higher education, etc.), or their record of publication (contribution of original research to society), even though no formal accreditation process exists for individual scholars. (one could argue that the tenure process serves this purpose, but one need not hold a tenure-track position to be a credible lecturer or researcher.)

similarly, at the intersection of blogging and academic biblical studies, this informal ‘accreditation’ may include a blogger’s affiliation (with a university, church, or professional organization like sblaarasor, etc.), one’s role within the biblioblogging community (reputation, commitment to online resources and research, etc.), and one’s record and consistency of publication online (contribution to the online community). however, no formal organization, committee, or individual exists to grant accreditation to bibliobloggers, nor will it (at least not with the steering committee for the sbl-affiliated bibliobloggers). credibility and ‘accreditation’ rests with the peer-review process; an informal collective of scholarly peers ultimately decides which bloggers are credible and which are not. thus, the same factors that weigh into decisions of accreditation or legitimacy of a university or an individual scholar should weigh into the ‘accreditation’ or legitimacy of a biblioblogger – no more and no less. again, this ‘accreditation’ is not a formal document as it is with universities, but better resembles the ‘street cred’ that is earned only through years of dedication and experience to one’s craft.

so, while anyone may claim to be a degree-granting university or a thought-dispensing biblioblogger, those that do so are judged by their peers on credible measures of reputation, publication, and contribution to the field, regardless of whether they have the word ‘university’ or ‘biblioblogger’ on their websites. like the accreditation of universities, colleges, and online universities, accreditation is ultimately a peer-review process. many will claim to be bibliobloggers, but only some will be recognized by an academy of their peers to be worthwhile.

why online universities will never take the place of real ones

GetEducated.com mascot and pet, Chester Ludlow, received an online MBA from by Rochville University—an online college that offers distance learning degrees based on life and career experience.

GetEducated.com mascot and pet, Chester Ludlow, received an online MBA from Rochville University—an online college that offers distance learning degrees based on 'life and career experience.'

according to a recent chronicle of higher education report by marc parry entitled, ‘unmuzzling diploma mills: dog earns m.b.a. online,’ a dog successfully received an m.b.a. degree from an online university.

GetEducated.com, an online-learning consumer group, managed to purchase an online M.B.A. for its mascot, a dog named Chester Ludlow.

The Vermont pug earned his tassles by pawing over $499 to Rochville University, which offers “distance learning degrees based on life and career experience,” according to a news release from GetEducated. He got back a package from a post-office box in Dubai that contained a diploma and transcripts, plus a certificate of distinction in finance and another purporting to show membership in the student council.

there are several issues here worthy of comment. for one, there is the problem of simply being able to purchase a degree from an online ‘university.’ while these ‘institutions of higher education’ have no credibility, prestige, or even accreditation, it does not stop someone with little-to-no integrity from paying $499 to obtain an m.b.a., bachelor’s degree, ph.d., or in some cases, a seminary degree and ordination from an online paper mill (‘paper mill’ defined as a so-called ‘educational institution’ that issues little more than a piece of paper). people who pay this money and enroll in these ‘courses’ are doing the same thing that more than likely caused them to avoid or drop out of regular colleges in the first place: they seek the easy way out and purchase a degree from an online paper mill. while these ‘degrees’ are utterly worthless to any and all members of the academy and most employers, it does not stop those who have purchased their degrees online from a bogus institution from listing ‘ph.d.’ or ‘m.b.a.’ after their names.

(excursus: here is a quick note to all of you complaining about the sbl affiliation with bibliobloggers. this is perhaps the most appropriate comparison to the straw man argument made by those who believe this affiliation to be a bad thing. it is true that even nutballs can theoretically claim to be a ‘biblioblogger’ by typing the word ‘biblioblog’ on their blog or creating a badge and affixing it to their site, just as it is possible for someone to ‘achieve’ a ph.d from an unaccredited paper mill (online or otherwise). but, possession of an online degree doesn’t make the degree worthwhile, the recipient legitimate, or one’s subsequent claims respectable. all it means is that one is claiming to be something, even if they are actually not what they claim to be. it is not the job of the government to tell people that their ‘degree’ is worthless (they have a right to buy a piece of paper with the words ‘ph.d.’ on it), just as it is not the job of the sbl or any biblioblogger steering committee to regulate, control, or otherwise sanction who is and who is not claiming to be a biblioblogger. this is the job of accrediting agencies. universities are governed by accrediting agencies. the government list of accredited postsecondary institutions and programs lists national, regional, and state accrediting agencies like the western association for schools and colleges, the new england association of schools and colleges, the north central association of colleges and schools, etc.  likewise, within the academy, ‘accreditation’ (i.e., worthiness) of individual scholars is usually based upon their academic affiliation (where they work/teach), their role within the academy (committees, contributions to higher education, etc.), or their record of publication (contribution of original research to society). at the intersection of blogging and academic biblical studies, this ‘accreditation’ may include one’s affiliation (with a university, church, or an organization of professionals like sbl, aar, asor, etc.), one’s role within the biblioblogging community (reputation, commitment to online resources and research, etc.) and one’s record and consistency of publication online (contribution to the online community). the same factors that weigh into decisions of accreditation or legitimacy of a university should weigh into the ‘accreditation’ or legitimacy of a biblioblogger, no more, no less. so, while anyone may claim to be a degree-granting university or a thought-dispensing biblioblogger, those that do so are judged by their peers on credible measures of reputation, publication, and contribution to the field, regardless of whether they have the word ‘university’ or ‘biblioblogger’ on their websites. but i digress…)

the MBA degree from Rochville University for Chester Ludlow, a pug dog.

The online MBA degree from Rochville University for 'Chester Ludlow,' a pug dog.

there is another serious issue for institutions of higher education that deserves comment. the fact is, many legitimate universities are now using various new technologies to offer more classes online, especially through extension programs. these courses are taught by vetted university faculty and are offered by fully accredited, brand name institutions. many of these online courses are being offered in response to the ever changing worlds of students. as more and more students use the internet for more and more aspects of their daily lives, and as more teachers are utilizing technology within the classroom, it is only natural for these very lectures to be recorded and uploaded to the web along with required readings, assignments, and assessments. with recent advances in technology, even interactive discussions can be facilitated online using message boards, forums, instant messaging, wimba, elluminate, second life, and live video conferencing.

these online courses are most effective at the undergraduate level for foundational courses that provide the bulk of raw data and facts upon which advanced ideas are developed via critical thinking and writing exercises. likewise, some courses like art history, religion, archaeology, and mathematics, which traditionally disseminate raw data via printed text books are more predisposed to being successfully conveyed digitally than other abstract disciplines such as philosophy, and rhetoric. however, advances in technology are allowing even these courses to be digitized so that exercises in logic, mathematics, and composition can be practiced online.

that is to say, there is a legitimate way to present online courses that maintain the integrity, responsibility, and accountability that is worthy of the tuition paid to an accredited institution. but established brick-and-mortar universities have been slow to adopt the technology used for online course offerings. just as many brick-and-mortar businesses reacted slowly and suspiciously to the rise of online retailers, many universities rejected online learning, maintaining that distance learning was the realm of smaller, less prestigious colleges. but with the rise of technology within brick-and-mortar university courses, distance learning has become a more acceptable means of disseminating information to students.

new, online universities now compete with smaller, lower-tier universities for courses in general education and vocational training. this is the market where students can pay less for an equivalent amount of online training and still receive good value. and this is where online educational firms will have the most success. however, while many online universities offer upper division courses and even graduate courses, online universities will most likely never capture any significant market share of these students because these online graduate degrees simply do not provide the desired gravitas for the tuition paid by students. that is, it is a better value to pay a little more to a name-brand institution and put in the hard work for a m.b.a. from a reputable institution than it is to pay a discount, online institution for a worthless piece of paper degree that no employer will respect.

online colleges will never replace traditional, brick-and-mortar, four-year universities. there is simply far too much experience to be gained by packing up the car, moving into a dorm, meeting new people from around the world, experiencing new thoughts, ideas, and cultures in person, meeting (and missing) real deadlines, making excuses, crying over lost girlfriends and boyfriends, protesting, cheering, staying up too late, drinking too much (root beer for those of you at dry campuses), and experiencing the real-life preparation for the real world. however, where they are done properly, with credibility and with accreditation, online courses can be an effective way to take in vast quantities of foundational information on a student’s own schedule. the critical thinking, writing, and public interaction is still better suited for a real classroom environment with a real instructor. but as real instructors at accredited universities begin to implement online tools for use in their real classes, the online universities will fade, their brief bubble will burst, and the hard work, preparation, blood, sweat, tears, and all-nighters of a real, technologically-infused university will triumph in the end.

like everything else in life, institutions of higher education are about credibility and reputation. respect must be earned and cannot be bought. and ultimately, one’s true education will manifest itself through one’s words and deeds, not simply through the letters at the end of one’s name.

goodacre on the use of internet resources in scholarship

Duke University Professor Dr. Mark Goodacre.

Duke University Professor Dr. Mark Goodacre.

there is an absolutely wonderful article by dr. mark goodacre (duke) entitled, ‘celebrating the use of internet resources,’ on the bible and interpretation website that is mandatory reading for anyone – student or scholar – doing research on the internet. goodacre is the brains behind ntgateway.com – an online resource for all things new testament.

of particular note is goodacre’s spot-on reasoning for why so many professors despise the internet as a source for research:

Part of the problem is that many scholars are innately conservative in their teaching methods, and they are working with a print-dominated mindset. They are used to print, they like print, they have always used print. They may even print out their emails. Exploring internet resources will be time consuming and difficult. It might take away from valuable research time, or might be squeezed out by the weight of the administrative burden that they are are already struggling under. Add to this the concern that their students probably know far more about the net than they do. Faced with the fear of looking inadequate in front of their students, it is preferable to go into denial, and to stick with what they know.

equally as profound is goodacre’s nostalgic, yet realistic conclusion:

In a world where we think that anything and everything of any use can be found on the internet, it is easy to forget the warm glow inside as we enter the stacks of the university library. That smell is the smell of accumulated wisdom and knowledge of many generations. But the joy of being in the library stacks, or of digging out some wonderful old volume, cannot any longer represent the full extent of our experience of the scholarship we pass on to our students.

give it a read.

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