Thursday, October 29, 2009

Internet Archive Opens 1.6 Million E-Books to Kids with OLPC Laptops

Condensed version of 10/24/09 article on by Wade Roush, chief correspondent

All 1.6 million books digitized so far by the Internet Archive, the San Francisco-based non-profit dedicated to the universal sharing of knowledge, will be available free to children around the world who have laptops built by the Cambridge, MA-based One Laptop Per Child Foundation (OLPC), Internet Archive director Brewster Kahle announced today at the Boston Book Festival in downtown Boston.

Kahle said the announcement capped a year-long collaboration between the Internet Archive and the OLPC, which was founded by MIT computer scientist Nicholas Negroponte. “

The little green laptop, called the XO, “makes a really good reader,” said Kahle, an MIT-educated computer engineer and entrepreneur who co-founded the Internet Archive in 1996.

The Internet Archive operates 20 scanning centers in five countries, where hundreds of workers are manually scanning books from public and university libraries, mostly public-domain works for which the copyright term has expired. It collects these books at its Open Access Text Archive. It also makes them available to people in developing nations via a network of satellite-connected print-on-demand “bookmobiles.”

Now the books will also be available to the roughly 750,000 to 1 million schoolchildren in developing countries who have XO laptops.

“We set a date of this meeting, a year ago, to say let’s get our books in really good shape,” Kahle told Xconomy after the panel session. “We were first going to do it in PDF, because the screen is a really a beautiful screen, but we found that if we were really going to make it work for people in developing countries—if you want to get this to kids in Uruguay—then having a 10-kilobyte file beats the heck out of a 5-megabyte file. So we went and converted our books such that it would work. And the One Laptop Per Child guys went and made it so that those worked well on the XO. They are working very hard to make it so that kids can search on and find those books, and one million six hundred thousand now will be available to the one millions users of the One Laptop Per Child. We’re really psyched about that.”

He drew an explicit contrast between these approach and the more closed and controlled e-book sales models being forwarded by Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other distributors. But getting new, copyrighted books onto platforms that don’t provide strict digital rights management protections is still a tricky business proposition—so for now, the book sharing arrangement between the Archive and OLPC is restricted to free, public-domain books.

The Straube Foundation encourages you to...

... get your virtual library card:

... volunteer to help scan books:

Friday, October 16, 2009

Bureaucrat U

Daniel L. Bennett, administrative director at the Center for College Affordability & Productivity in Washington, D.C. This article was published in Forbes Magazine, July 13, 2009 and has been condensed for this blog.

Pay the teachers, not the administrators.

College tuition increased by 6.6% a year over the past decade, a rate that is approximately 2.4 times that of inflation. One big cause: the bloating of university bureaucracies. Between 1997 and 2007 the administrative and support staffs at colleges expanded by 4.7% a year, double the rate of enrollment growth. The burgeoning army of college bureaucrats defends this extraordinary growth as necessary to provide consumer-oriented students with an expanded breadth of noninstructional services. Yet this obfuscates the underlying mission of colleges to produce and disseminate knowledge. It is time for higher education to go on a diet.

The ballooning of college administration has resulted in a sharp decline in labor productivity at colleges during a period of technological advancement that has improved productivity in most other industries. It has also occurred at a time when students are getting less for their money: Instruction has shifted from full-time professors to underpaid and overworked adjunct faculty. Three-fourths of new instructor jobs created over the past 20 years have been part-time positions. If the employment trends of the last decade are sustained, then administrative employees will outnumber instructors at four-year colleges by 2014.

Perusing the careers section of the Chronicle of Higher Education recently, I noticed that Georgia Southern University has an opening for a recreation therapist, the University of Florida an opening for a director of multicultural and diversity affairs, and the University of Maryland, College Park openings for a coordinator of off-campus student involvement and a director of fraternity and sorority life. Will educational outcomes improve with the addition of positions such as these? I fervently doubt it.

Trends in spending make it clear that institutional priorities have shifted, as resources have been reallocated from classroom instruction to paper pushing. According to a recent report from the Delta Cost Project that uses U.S. Department of Education data, between 1995 and 2006 spending growth on student services and administration outpaced growth in expenditure on instruction by a multiple of 2 at the private research colleges, 1.75 at public research colleges and 3.2 at public master's degree granting colleges.

Did you know that an academic dean at a doctoral institution receives a median salary of $190,000 (plus generous fringe benefits) or that the median salary of an assistant dean is above $116,000? The College & University Professional Association for Human Resources found that last year senior administrators recorded a third consecutive year of 4% pay increases and a twelfth consecutive year of pay increases above inflation. Nearly 10% of the 425,000 administrative and support staff employees at 272 research institutions earned a salary above $100,000 last year, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

Higher education is engaged in a spree of empire-building that will be a burden on the public purse. The recession has provided some restraints on cost-increasing behavior at colleges; many schools have announced unpaid furloughs and staffing cuts. This is a good start, but my guess is that the train will pick up steam again once economic recovery stabilizes.

All we need are students and parents willing to vote with their feet when it comes to choosing a college according to value. This can happen only if more information about colleges is made publicly available in a digestible manner, something that the establishment vehemently opposes.