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Blogs in higher education: students’ examples from the UvA course Sport, culture & society (MA Sociology)

8 Dec

Last October I was very happy to accept the invitation of Nynke Kruiderink (ICT in Education at the College and Graduate School of Social Sciences) to help assist professor Ramón Spaaij (Special Chair of Sociology of Sport) with a new feature of his course Sport, Culture & Society (MA Sociology): the use of blogs – each student establishing and developing his or her own – to discuss the course topics. The aim of the online blog journal expected from each student was – while applying «sociological perspectives and debates on sport to ‘real-world’ experiences and examples»«to engage with other people’s ideas in order to develop, test and communicate your own in a (semi-)public forum […] learn about the writing conventions that structure critical engagement of public issues in online media». Access and fair use of online sources for an academic assignment, and netiquette practices also belong to the blog’s aims (source: ‘Course manual’).

GittinsElinor Gittins’ blog

Provided with scholarly literature on the use of blogs in higher education (the titles are listed below) and based on my own experience both as a blogger and as a librarian teaching information literacy, I chose online privacy and the (additional) reasons for blogging as main issues to address in the presentation I was asked to deliver to the students at the course kick-off.

No matter the topic or the online platform, and all the more so if writing in an academic or educational context, one of the greatest challenges posed to students is the permanent traceability of information shared on the internet. While such powerful search tools as the Wayback Machine may be aptly used to retrieve information long thought lost, it’s precisely the somehow apparently indelible memory of internet which has gradually been attracting the attention of both digital/privacy rights activists and European legislators: the debate on the ‘Right to be forgotten’ (see the 2012 EU-factsheet) and the recent rejection of the so called ‘safe harbour scheme’ by the Court of Justice (thanks to Austrian student Max Scherms’ action) are cases in point I used to illustrate the issue of online privacy.

VenIris van de Ven’s blog

As for the reasons for blogging, additional to it being a course assignment (the students’ case) or a tool to share information with library users (my case): among those mentioned in the literature (Sim & Hew, 2010), it was the purpose of the blog as «learning journal or knowledge log» which mostly resonated with my own blogging experience and its welcome (side-)effects, i.e. seeing how a number of topics that I had often been addressing provided a coherent and ever-developing picture of my main professional interests and concerns. To put it in the words of another article on blogs and higher education (Freeman & Brett, 2012): «…interest-driven blogging practice, defined as writing regularly about ideas that are personally meaningful, as they emerge. When students wrote timely posts, they were able to maintain and improve on the level of reflection evident in their blog posts. The prompts were worded in a way that created the potential for writing about personally meaningful ideas, an important factor that supported blogging practice and encouraged topic resonance with the students’ own interests».

The ‘technical’ side of creating and maintaining a blog (including making it ‘private’ and licensing its content via Creative Commons) was also part of my presentation, but proved in the end less needed, thanks both to the variety of support resources available at blog-platforms (see WordPress as example) and to students’ familiarity with online tools.

BastiaanJoris Bastiaan’s blog

Attractive examples of the blogs produced by the MA-students of the UvA-course Sport, Culture & Society – in terms of both creative approach to blogging and insight in the course topics – follow here below: professor Spaaij provided the brief introductory notes to each example.

Elinor Gittins Demonstrates how hyperlinks and visual images can be effectively and aesthetically incorporated in a blog.

Iris van de Ven A beautifully designed blog that illustrates how the interaction between author and audience – through comments posted by other students – can enhance students’ critical engagement and collective reflection on the course topics.

Joris Bastiaan One of a number of blogs written by the students that succeeded at applying complex sociological concepts and theories to the lived experience of sport in a way that complemented and augmented the classroom activities and discussion.

Blogs in higher education: selected titles
– Farmer, B., Yue, A., & Brooks, C. (2008). Using blogging for higher order learning in large cohort university teaching: A case study. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, 24, 123-136. Retrieved from
– Freeman, W., & Brett, C. (2012). Prompting authentic blogging practice in an online graduate course. Computers & Education, 59, 1032-1041.
– Jimoyiannis, A., & Angelaina, S. (2012). Towards an analysis framework for investigating students’ engagement and learning in educational blogs. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 28, 222-234.
– Sim, J. W. S., & Hew, K. F. (2010). The use of weblogs in higher education settings: A review of empirical research. Educational Research Review, 5, 151-163.
Yueh, H. P., Lin, W., & Lu, T. (2014). Users’ perceptions of blog functions: educational vs personal use. Program: electronic library and information systems, 48, 41-52.


Inequality: research and web sources

22 Nov

Relevant to Sociology (the UvA Amsterdam Institute for Social Science Research AISSR has both a Programme Group, Institutions, Inequalities and Life courses IIL, and an interdisciplinary Research centre, the Amsterdam Centre for Inequality Studies AMCIS, working on the topic) and of everlasting interest for us all, inequality makes it to the headlines worldwide almost on a daily basis under the present financial/economical crisis.

Here follows some of my recent random encounters with the topic.

Growing Inequalities Impacts GINI is an international (Australia, EU, Japan and North America) and interdisciplinary (economics, political science, sociology) project which focuses on «inequalities in income/wealth and education and their social, political and cultural impacts […] the implications for policy and institutions […] potential effects of individual distributional positions and increasing inequality for a host of ‘bad outcomes’ (both societal and individual)». Country Reports are full-text available on the GINI-website. The above mentioned AMCIS and the Amsterdam Institute for Advanced labour Studies AIAS belong to GINI’s core research teams.

Wealth inequality in America

“Wealth inequality in America” is a Youtube video that went viral after its publication in November 2012, and that represents a textbook case of evaluating web sources, no matter how alarming the video contents might be. Whereas the video provides some references (see screenshot above), its author’s identity remains mysterious: all we seem to know about Youtube user Politizane is that he is a Texas freelance filmmaker, as reported in an article at MotherJones, «a nonprofit news organization that specializes in investigative, political, and social justice reporting». As you might have noticed, MotherJones belongs also to the sources mentioned in the video, together with:
– a 2011 peer reviewed article by Michael I. Norton (Associate Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School) and Dan Ariely (Professor of Psychology and Behavioral Economics at Duke University), Building a Better America—One Wealth Quintile at a Time;
– a 2011 post at ThinkProgress, a project of the Center for American Progress Action Fund, which is «an independent nonpartisan education and advocacy organization dedicated to improving the lives of Americans through ideas and action».
– a 2012 post at CNNMoney, the CNN business website.

MotherJones, ThinkProgress and CNNMoney all belong to the category of news, and as such they will make suitable information sources depending on what our research question is. Let’s focus on Mother Jones and ThinkProgress: their respective ‘About’ pages, ThinkProgress’ affiliation to the Center for American Progress Action Fund (whose President is a member of the Democratic Party) and the way they address news topics all indicate a liberal to left-wing political agenda. A likely candidate for a research question requiring the use of both websites could therefore be how progressive online media and/or “think tanks” report on inequality, both in the US and abroad (see The Rules for a worldwide take on the topic).

Who rules AmericaCredit Suisse Research Institute

– as far as inequality and evaluating web sources are concerned, two other interesting test cases are the following: Distinguished Professor Emeritus (University of California Santa Cruz) William Domhoff’s website Who Rules America, and the Global Wealth Report 2013, released in october by the Credit Suisse Research Institute. The two sources agree in reporting high levels of inequality (in the US and worldwide alike), yet how to assess the value of research methodologies as different as those likely to be expected from an academic and a financial setting? What sort of bias, if any, could possibly be present in each of the sources?

Peter Nicholson InterestingAustralian cartoonist Peter Nicolson‘s “gap tween rich and poor” may be twelve years old but is still just as topical today as it was back then.

LIVE 24/7: two cartoons from Iraq

15 Nov

The times have gone, when a social approach to art history was able to produce such classics as Arnold Hauser‘s Social History of Art, and yet – no doubt thanks to my library work within the social sciences – I am always fascinated by (contemporary) works of art that know how to address broader issues than only aesthetic/poetic ones.

Here follows an example from political cartoonist Abdul Raheem Yassir’s work, seen (and photographed) last month at the Iraqi Pavilion at the 55th “Biennale di Venezia”: present-day media pervasiveness and our (active) role therein are finely addressed by both cartoons.

Abdul Raheem Yassir Tank

Abdul Raheem Yassir Interview

The autumn of information literacy (2): subject search in LexisNexis

8 Nov

Just as with the previous ‘autumn’ post on statistics, the aim of the present one is to illustrate a specific search need (news on a topic, in the case of LexisNexis Academic), building both on older posts on this issue and on several questions from UvA students and staff I have been dealing with in the course of 2013.

Let’s say I want to search both US and Dutch News for articles on youth and the media. Some English search terms I may come up with for the two concepts are the following:

– youth, girl, boy, teen, teenager, adolescent, child, toddler, baby, infant

– media, internet, social media, games, twitter, facebook, television, film, book, reading, digital, Ipad, computer, tablet, pc, socialbesitas, chat, webcam, groom, cyberbullying, multitasking

LexisNexis will in most cases automatically search for spelling variants singular/plural, i.e. ‘girl’ searches ‘girls’ as well, but ‘child’ does not search for ‘children’. Being an exclamation mark the character accepted by LexisNexis for replacing any number of letters at the end of a word, the search strings I am going to use in the database in order to fetch all (plural) variants look therefore like these (complete with the OR connectors):

– youth OR girl OR boy OR teen OR teenager OR adolescent OR child! OR toddler OR baby OR infant

– media OR internet OR social media OR games OR twitter OR facebook OR television OR film OR books OR reading OR digital OR Ipad OR computer OR tablet OR pc OR socialbesitas OR chat! OR webcam! OR groom! OR cyberbullying OR multitask!

After having selected the sources I want to search (Major US Newspapers; screenshot A, 1 to 5, click to enlarge), I will combine the above search strings with each other in Power Search, also adding the following three “Subjects” from the Index Terms: adolescents, children, students & student life, and thereafter choosing for Match any terms (screenshot B-C, 6 to 9).

subject search LN A

subject search LN B

Thereafter I will most likely want to limit the search by date (screenshot C, 10) and I may want to limit it by section as well, i.e. determine in which part(s) of the article my search is performed: HEADLINE or HLEAD (headline + first paragraph) being two interesting options (screenshot C, 11).

subject search LN C

What about Dutch news or, more generally speaking, news in other languages than English? The major difference is that the use of Index Terms (needless to say: particularly helpful when searching for a topic) is not possible, since such terms are not added to most non-English sources in LexisNexis.

After having the search strings translated into the preferred language and matched them to the relevant sources (same steps needed as for the example above), my best option is to limit the search by section, with HLEAD as favourite option (screenshot D). Practical applications of this strategy, just as of the one described for the news in English, so far confirm it as convenient for finding relevant newspapers articles on a given subject with LexisNexis Academic.

Should any reader, who has not only been patient enough to read the whole post, but has also got any clue which may help improve the above search strategy, I’ll be more than happy to hear her/his feedback.

subject search LN D

The autumn of information literacy (1): statistics

11 Oct

No end of season (or worse) meant with the title, autumn just being my busiest time with information literacy courses and workshops, and therefore the richest in opportunities to expand my knowledge for answering students’ and staff’s questions.

autumn leaves oxford botanic garden Photo from the website of the University of Oxford Botanic Garden

I was asked sometime ago about how to find statistics for GDP per capita (Gross National Product) and unemployment rates in 15 West European Countries for the period 1945-1960. After having quickly overcome a brief feeling of disorientation, somehow occurring to my “humanities side” anytime I am dealing with figures, numbers and measurements, I eagerly took to work and found the following:

GDP per capita
– the University of Groningen‘s Maddison Project offers complete data from 1870 not only for European Countries but for Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States as well; data for older years are irregularly available, and the same applies to recent data for East European Countries and other continents.

– data from as early as 1500 can be generated for all Countries in the world at Clio Infra, a joint project from among others the International Institute of Social History;

– data from 1950 onwards can be generated for all Countries in the world through the Penn World Table, offered by the Center for International Comparisons at the University of Pennsylvania.

2012-GDP per capita 2012-GDP per capita map generated at the World DataBank

Unemployment rates
– these data proved more difficult to be found (online and for free), since there is no global overview for 1945-1960 for all the 15 Countries (Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Luxemburg, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom), in any case not according to the comprehensive University of Stockholm‘s Portal for Historical Statistics.

– partial datasets (in terms of geographic or period coverage) are also those which are available at ILOSTAT (International Labour Organization Department of Statistics; from 1969), at the World DataBank (World Bank; from 1980) and at the OECD iLibrary (from 1955), the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development‘s database to which the UvA-Library has a subscription (access restrictions possible).

– given that the datasets available at the National Bureaus of Statistics for the relevant Countries proved not complete as well (with the notable exceptions of the Dutch CBS Centraal Bureau voor de Statistiek and the French INSEE Institut National de la statistique et des études écomomiques), it was a relief to discover that at least printed copies of the ILO Year Book of Labour Statistics for the relevant years are still available at the Library of the earlier mentioned, Amsterdam based International Institute of Social History.

unemployment, total (% of total labor force) Excel chart generated with 2011 unemployment data (% of total labor force) from the World DataBank

Opening academic year

2 Sep

CW cube
Next to the groups of students I already had the pleasure to welcome to Library skills workshops (among others, during the UvA Master’s Introduction on August 22), I got last week two more signs of the approaching new academic year, which has officially started today:

– the Communication Cube Calendar, functioning as well as a countdown to the move of the departments of the Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences (and the Library with them) from the present location in the centre of Amsterdam to the Roeterseiland campus in July 2014.

– the 3rd revised printing of the academic skills guide for Sociology (Sociologie als ambacht, ‘sociology as a craft’), to which I have been contributing with a chapter on the ‘bibliotheek’ from the first edition two years ago.

3e editie Sociologie als ambacht

Twitter and photography

25 Mar

Being myself only an occasional twitterer, yet one interested both in art and in social media’s impact on (scholarly) communication, I was utterly fascinated when hearing about Geolocation, a project developed by American photographers and university lecturers Marni Shindelman (University of Georgia) and Nate Larson (Maryland Institute College of Art).

Motivated by their interest in «the cultural understanding of distance as perceived in modern life and networked culture», Larson and Shindelman first searched the daily 340 million tweets for those that were geo-tagged, and then travelled to the sites where the tweets had originated from and took a photo of them «to mark the virtual information in the real world».

More than 250 photos were taken (in the USA, Canada, England) and paired to the original tweets. Larson and Shindelman’s collaborative site presents a selection of Geolocation’s works, further mentioning scholars’ use of such terms as ambient awareness and online oversharing as a likely frame of reference for research (Kaplan & Haenlein’s The early bird catches the news: nine things you should know about micro-blogging, Business Horizons 2011, retrieved via Web of Science, might prove a useful starting point for a literature search on the topic).

My own tiny selection from Larson and Shindelman’s pairs follows below. In two cases I have based my choice on the self-reflective (i.e. twitter-centered) character of the work: being the self-reflection intrinsic to the tweet, such as in the deserted street, or ironically added by the photographers, in the flock’s case. As for the motel’s picture, my very personal motivation for choosing the work has been the poetic quality of the text/photo juxtaposition, whose intimate loneliness both reminded me of Edward Hopper’s silent paintings and of how Phaidon newsletter’s january issue, where I first read about Geolocation, described the project as one highlighting «again how people are prepared to share their innermost thoughts with billions of people – even when they feel they are alone».