The recent and huge success of Alibaba on the stock market underscores the vitality of e-commerce in China. Not only does Alibaba capture the lion’s share of e-commerce in China, but e-commerce in this country is more vibrant than in almost any other country in the world. Our global survey associated with the Internet Values Project found that Internet users in China not only more likely to shop online compared with Internet users in the other countries we surveyed, but also by an order of magnitude more than in other nations. Many factors contribute to the success of the Internet as a tool for shopping in China, including some very practical, non-Internet factors, unlikely to be replicated in many other countries, such as the availability of low cost messengers to physically deliver products to households and businesses. Some of the key findings of relevance are outlined in our chapter 7, entitled ‘China and the US in the New Internet World: A Comparative Perspective’, by Gillian Bolsover, William H. Dutton, Ginette Law, And Soumitra Dutta, in Society and the Internet (OUP 2014). See: http://ukcatalogue.oup.com/product/9780199662005.do
Most of the handwringing over how the UK government can deal with the aftermath of the Scottish voting results seems unnecessary, perhaps done simply as a hook for news stories. The high share of the vote for independence was expected for years as there was a clear sense of the strength of national identities, particularly in Scotland, and the strong sentiment for the devolution of some responsibilities. As a result, many government and regulatory agencies have been hard at work on creative ways to better capture and reflect these sentiments.
For example, the Office of Communications (Ofcom) – the UK parallel to the FCC – created a Nations Committee several years ago. It brings together representatives of the devolved nations and England to discuss communication and regulatory issues in order to discover and react to different national perspectives on issues. As you can see from reading the blog of the Advisory Committees for England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, called ‘Advice to Ofcom‘, these national issues are most often unifying. For example, nations such as Scotland have great concern for rural access to communication services, but discussion reveals that this concern is very much shared with the other nations, including England. Similarly, England has been concerned over how communication services, such as broadcasting, reflect the cultural diversity of England’s cities, with London being at the extreme, but discussion leads to the realization that this is an issue for cities across the UK.
In such ways, national perspectives are being built into some governmental and regulatory processes in ways that are likely to have very positive outcomes. The government is not being caught off guard, from my perspective. The mechanisms are not like the US federal system, so they might seem confusing to Americans, but they are developing incrementally in ways that are compatible with the pragmatic and pluralist traditions of the UK and Northern Ireland. Progress will not be easy, but it has been an evolving project. And the resulting debate can be fruitful for the UK as a whole.
My colleagues and I organized a preconference for the 2014 International Communication Association on innovations in the technologies of higher education, focusing particularly on developments around massive online open courses and related innovations. It took place in Seattle, Washington, on the 21st of May 2014. I worked with Dr Kendall Guthrie of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation; Brian Loader, the Editor of iCS, and Director, School of Social and Political Sciences, The University of York; and Sarah Porter and Rebecca Eynon of the OII. We were able to attract major figures in this area, such as Kevin Guthrie, President of Ithaka, but we were not able to unearth a significant set of high-quality research papers. Why?
Higher education is described as being in a time of crisis. In the US, tuition costs have been escalating beyond the cost of inflation for some years, students are building up significant debt, whilst completion rates are in decline. The higher education system is said to be creaking under the strain of additional scrutiny from government, funders, parents and students, yet is struggling to re-invent itself to reduce costs whilst improving quality and increasing flexibility for learners. In a Europe still feeling the consequences of the financial downturn, universities are struggling to retain their public service ethos when budgets are under huge pressure. Elsewhere in the world, many countries plan dramatic expansion to their higher education systems to fuel their growing economies, but they are being held up by lack of infrastructure and the increased intellectual capital that is needed.
At the same time, higher education is becoming a global business, and yet universities are not equipped to fully embrace the potential or address the risks that this might bring. One question is whether the development of the Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), free online courses are being offered by a wide range of universities and opened to students with any academic background, will be an institutional response to this challenge. They are attracting millions of students from across the globe. To what extent though is the MOOC really revolutionary and disruptive, or is it being used cynically by the most elite institutions to further increase their brand power and assert their superiority, whilst the middle tier of institutions lose student numbers and academic credibility? Do MOOCs hold the potential to support the developing world in its academic ambitions, or are they just another example of neo-colonialism?
Whether MOOCs succeed or fail, or quickly evolve to become something else, they offer an opportunity for the higher education system to consider its future models and to test out new approaches to the way that it does its business – how it creates courses and course materials, how it teaches, how it supports students, how it accredits degrees, how it markets itself, how it covers its costs or makes a profit.
There is another element to the mass online provision of higher education courses. Hidden behind the welcoming and inclusive publicity materials, sophisticated data collection and analysis tools are being created that will gather and analyse information about each student as they move through the system, as they learn, interact with each other and with the materials. This is extremely valuable data and, for the first time, universities will have access to live data about the study habits of many millions of students, together with their personal profile. The potential to use this data for the good, to develop increasingly adaptable and personalised learning systems, is huge; but therein also lies the potential for mis-use and, in the words of the for profit providers of education, for ‘brand differentiation’. What are the implications of this innovation, for good and for bad – and are we giving enough due care and attention to the way that allow this data to be used?
My colleagues thought these developments raise a rich array of research questions. For example:
- Is higher education really in crisis or is it really a success story of a system that has adapted over time, and will survive the current challenges without major change?
- What are the major innovation challenges for the higher education system and how can they best be addressed?
- What do MOOCs mean for the future of higher education? Are they just a marketing device for elite institutions, or can they really be a force for the ‘democratisation of education’?
- Which other affordances will enable the higher education system to innovate more effectively?
- What is the potential for the use of learner analytics and big data approaches to large-scale online education, and are there threats hidden in this advances?
These are only indicative of a far wider range of topics that could be explored around these innovations. And yet, where is the systematic, empirical research needed to address these questions? While our preconference drew much interest and some excellent papers, we expected far more work in this area. It is not new. Brian Loader and I pulled together an edited book during the last round of interest in this area, entitled Digital Academe. By all of our indicators, less work is being done in academia on the social and institutional implications of the Internet in higher education than at the turn of the century? Are we too close to academia to systematically and critically look at our own institutions?
Bill Dutton with Sarah Porter
The Media and Information Studies (MIS) PhD program at Michigan State University invites applications for its interdisciplinary program that joins the study of media, information and design across several departments within the College of Communication Arts & Sciences. Offered jointly by the departments of Media and Information, and Advertising & Public Relations, and the School of Journalism, the MIS PhD program gives students access to fifty PhD faculty with research interests that span important current and emerging issues in media and information studies. Students get involved early on in projects, complementing theoretical coursework with hands-on research experiences.
Current research of the faculty include: social media and social computing; human-computer interaction; interactive media and games; Internet for development and ICT4D; media effects; socio-technical systems, including a growing focus on ICTs and health; and media, communication and Internet policy and regulation, to name a few.
Over 90 percent of our current doctoral students are supported by graduate teaching and research assistantships with generous monthly stipends, tuition remission, and health benefits. University fellowships, dissertation completion fellowships, summer research fellowships, and stipends for travel to academic conferences round out the resources available for students.
More than three-fourths of our graduates are hired into faculty positions at four-year institutions at graduation. They are based in departments of mass media, journalism, advertising, public relations, and information studies across the United States and worldwide. Others have gone on to careers in public service and business.
The National Communication Association (NCA), in their most recent doctoral program reputation study, ranked MSU’s Ph.D. programs as No. 1 in educating researchers in communication technology, and in the top four in mass communication. Michigan State University ranked third in frequency of faculty publication in communication in a study reported in The Electronic Journal of Communication in 2012.
East Lansing and the greater Lansing area offer a welcoming academic and cultural environment with easy access to a variety of outdoor activities and the scenic beauty of our state year-round. Blending urban and sub-urban living, it is one of the nation’s most affordable places to complete a doctoral program in media and information studies.
Do you think that university instructors should restrict the use of social media in the classroom? While some believe that social media might undermine the boundaries of the classroom, such as by sharing with colleagues who are not enrolled in the class, it is arguable whether this battle has been lost long ago, such as by sharing notes, or audio taping a lecture. Should we relax about this, and let students use social media in any way they find valuable in the classroom? Are you aware of progressive policies to govern the use of social media in the classroom?
Wonderful to have received the 2014 William F. Ogburn Career Achievement Award from the American Sociological Association, given by CITASA (ASA’s section on Communication and Information Technology): http://www.asanet.org/sections/citasa_recipients_History.cfm Given my move to Michigan, I was unable to attend but I sent these words of appreciation:
Dear Colleagues of CITASA,
I would like to convey my appreciation to the selection committee and CITASA for honoring me with this career achievement award. It is a privilege to be in the company of those who have received this recognition in past years, and to have such a wonderful link with William F. Ogburn and the ASA. I am delighted to be part of the community of scholars you are building.
It amazes me that even in the space of my own career, the sociological study of the Internet and related communication and information technologies has moved from the margins of sociology to become one of its most exciting fields of innovative research. At Oxford, and I am sure this will be the case at MSU, my colleagues are increasingly looking to sociology for some of the most promising researchers focused on society and the Internet.
My thanks to CITASA for helping to raise the stature of social research on communication technology, and for this wonderful recognition from the American Sociological Association.
I am just beginning my tenure in the Department of Media and Information at MSU, literally my first days. However, I can already sense tremendous potential stemming from the key features of its faculty.
Most obviously, the department’s clear joining of media and information studies departs from a common albeit increasingly artificial division between schools of media and communication and schools of information. It makes no sense to separate broadcasting from social media or big data, for example. It is brilliant for these areas to be bridged within the department. To me, this represents one of the most strategically important features of the department.
Secondly, the department is decidedly multi-disciplinary or inter-disciplinary, pulling together computer scientists, sociologists, economists and communication scholars, to name a few of the disciplines represented. This commitment is underscored by faculty of the department, such as Shelia Cotten, taking a leadership role in academic initiatives that cross college and divisional boundaries, such as through what is called the ‘Trifecta’ initiative at MSU.
Thirdly, the department is embedded within a College of Communication Arts & Sciences, which assembles a large and diverse array of academics focused on topics of communication from the social sciences and humanities, including journalism and cinema and gaming. It is hard to imagine a student of communication not being able to find their interests represented by a number of faculty. The College builds on a long traditional of strength within the communication field.
Fourthly, the department is global – committed to international perspectives on it teaching and research. From its curriculum and study abroad program to its research on policy and Internet for Development (I4D) initiatives, it aims to be worldwide in its scope.
Finally, the department has a strong academic commitment to shaping policy and practice. This is illustrated by its centrality to the gaming community, such as through its Meaningful Play Conferences, its role in the provision of public television (WKAR) and a ‘Media Sandbox’, and its ties to the communication policy community, such as through the Quello Center.