Sunday, June 24, 2007

Turnitin Badge

If you want to be one of the Turnitin cops, print this badge and wear it proudly. Your mama will be proud. 10-4!

Big Fan of Turnitin

Richard A. Posner is a big fan of

I, of course, am NOT! (also here, here, and here) I certainly had hoped for a more reasoned analysis from someone who is a senior lecturer at the University of Chicago Law School and a judge on the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals. However, reading his book titled "The Little Book of Plagiarism" turned out to be a huge disappointment for me.

Considering his position in the judiciary, I expected a little more consideration for the legal principle of presumed innocent until proven guilty. Posner has no problem with presuming guilt in the case of student writings. Of course he does go overboard in explaining why law professors and judges cannot be reasonably charged with plagiarism even when they publish words that are not their own. His arguments make it sound like people in his class are above the law so we should just ignore it when they step over the line of plagiarism or copyright violation. Journalists, authors, and students are a completely different matter in his little book.

Posner's description of Turnitin seems to come directly from the website (I won't link to them as a matter of principle) - hardly an unbiased source of information about what they do. He also acknowledges John Barrie (turnitin founder) "for helpful discussion of Turnitin" (pg. III). Let's see, Posner talked with Barrie and decided that Turnitin is some sort of paragon of virtue. Barrie is clearly a skilled salesman for getting people to ignore common sense and a sense of fair play while convincing them to head straight for the sledgehammer approach for what should be a teachable moment.

Posner says that schools that don't use Turnitin are naive. "Some especially tony colleges, such as Harvard, do not subscribe to Turnitin or other plagiarism-detection software services but prefer to preach to their students about the evils of plagiarism." (pg. 82) He probably sleeps much more soundly now that the tony Harvard has also adopted Turnitin. Apparently the high mucky-mucks at Harvard prefer to trample all over the rights of students rather than be considered "tony" by Judge Posner.

I also find it odd that Posner spends much of his book talking about the economic consequences of plagiaristic acts and copyright violation, but only in regard to authors and journalists. He is not concerned at all (or at least he remains silent) about the economic windfall enjoyed by Turnitin by copying and using (FOR FREE) the creative works by students, regardless of whether they are plagiarists or not. It strikes me as an odd time for him to turn off his economic consequences radar.

Overall, my opinion is that The Little Book of Plagiarism is not worth the two hours it took to read it. If his way of thinking is common for those in the judiciary, then I fear that the students from McLean are in for a tough fight. This judge thinks that violating the intellectual property rights of students is a fine thing to do, apparently because John Barrie told him so. Ick!!

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Getting Back to It

I can't even blame it on jet lag since I didn't have any after returning from Asia. For some reason though I haven't been feeling the need to post to my blogs. A few ideas are starting to percolate and I should be back posting regularly within the next couple of days.

In the mean time, here's one more photo from Vietnam. They were selling these pith helmets for $2. I really wanted one of the green ones, but figured I'd get shot by someone back in the U.S. for wearing it. I had a khaki colored helmet back in my college days and always enjoyed wearing it.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Traveling Home

I’m sitting at the Tokyo Narita airport watching a monsoon blow through. 30 minutes ago it was just a little cloudy. 10 minutes ago the clouds started moving faster than the airplanes. 5 minutes ago the rain, wind, thunder and lightning started and I’m guessing that flights are going to be delayed. I sure wouldn’t want to take off in that stuff. There, a UPS plane just took off as lightning flashes around it. Nice.

I’m not too crazy about a flight delay, considering that if all goes well I’ll be in travel status for about 32 hours. That’s counting from the time I left the hotel for the airport in Saigon until I get home. My layover here at Narita is particularly long, about 8 hours. Ick.

WiFi is not free here at the airport if you stay on the official network. However, by moving around a little bit you can find several free and open access points, typically associated with one of the airline lounges for the big shot travelers. Right now I’m leeching off the Northwest SkyLounge. I figure they owe me for putting up with their lousy service while racking up many frequent flyer miles. On this trip I flew on China Southern, Vietnam Airlines, and ANA (All Nippon Air). All of them provided far better service than NWA.

I have found that I love SEAfood. I’ve always loved most kinds of seafood, but SEAfood now ranks real high on my list. SEAfood – SEABank – SEAGames: in all cases the SEA refers to SouthEast Asia. It took me a while to catch that nuance, but now I get it. I have never been much of a clams eater, but I had clams four times on this trip and they were fantastic. Small and tasty clams, not those big chewy pencil erasers. I had some octopus in a salad that was really quite tasty and not at all a disgusting texture. Of course there were many other dishes consumed, but those were two surprises for me.

So, after eating great food for 10 days, I couldn’t resist trying the Japanese version of McDonald’s here at the airport. Since I’ve always been a big teriyaki fan, this sign captured my attention. I’ve been a big teriyaki fan, but not a MEGA teriyaki fan. Still, I had to order one. I have no idea what the patties were made of. They were totally different than the hamburger patties in the U.S. They could have been some sort of a veggie thing, but they certainly didn’t taste like beef. Regardless, they tasted okay – probably because they were absolutely dripping in teriyaki sauce. 10 days of eating healthy food shot to hell in one McDonald’s “Value Set.”

Off Topic: Fitness in Vietnam

This post doesn’t have anything to do with educational technology, but I just wanted to post something about my travels to Vietnam related to how fit the people are. I think it is safe to say that physical fitness is somewhat of a national obsession, a very healthy one at that. It is especially impressive that so many of the elderly people seem to engage in physical activity for the purpose of staying fit.

Early in the morning in almost any public place you will see many Vietnamese people engaged in different forms of exercise. You’ll see Tai chi, badminton, jogging, stretching, and my personal (new) favorite – foot shuttlecock (Da Cau in Vietnamese). I shot some video back in March of some of the shuttlecock players next to the Saigon River and across the street from the Majestic Hotel. You can get a small taste of the flavor of the game in this short clip.

Here's another video from someone else where the players use a net similar to baminton.

I really wanted to find some foot shuttlecocks to bring back the U.S. with me, but I almost left for home before I had a chance to look for them. As luck would have it, I happened across a street vendor who had some very inexpensive ones for sale. I’m sure that they make some of higher quality, but I thought the cheapo-s would be good enough to start with.

Here are a few other photos of the locals exercising near the Saigon River.

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Friday, June 08, 2007

ITC Saigon 06/08/2007

I spent the better part of the day Friday at the Information Technology College (ITC) in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). This is my second visit there and we had good conversations about joint programming offered between LSC and ITC. They are not currently interested in online learning opportunities and this particular school was never part of the Minnesota Online discussions going on the VACC and Tra Vinh University (and MOET).

There are two model partnerships in Vietnam that they would like our agreement to mirror. Unfortunately, I'm not sure that we can make that happen. In particular, they want all of the instruction to be delivered at the ITC campus in order to earn an LSC certificate or degree, with some of the courses being taught by LSC faculty and some by ITC faculty. The faculty piece is not an issue, as long as LSC could find someone willing to go there to teach for 3-6 months. The real issue is our accreditation status. The way I understand it, if we provide access to a complete award (such as a degree) at another location, then we must get special approval from the HLC (Higher Learning Commission) through a Site Change Request.

If we can overcome the accreditation issues, then there is still one very big obstacle. There are two U.S. schools (one university and C.C.) that are charging tuition of approximately $1,500 per year for full-time study in the programs they offer in Vietnam. That is approximately 1/3 of what we charge for tuition/fees in Minnesota. To get the cost that low we would need to be pretty creative in our cost control, which can have a detrimental effect on the program unless done very well. At any rate, we have a great deal of additional work to do before this partnership might possible move forward.

I had a little bit of fun with them by wearing my "Ask Me About ITC" button that came from the Instructional Technology Council. I told them that whenever someone does ask me about ITC I say which one, ITC Saigon or ITC America?

We once again went to the Dam Sen Amusement Park for an excellent lunch. It was different this time in that the park had many more people in it enjoying a day in the sun and HEAT! Here are a couple of photos from the luncheon.

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As they were driving me back to the hotel they stopped by some of the local tropical fish stores. I told them about my hobby of raising tropicals and they kindly granted my wish to see how the local merchants handled the ornamental fish trade in Vietnam. Most fish here are for consumption, including many fish that have a much greater value in an aquarium than on a plate. Although I had noticed a couple of fish stores scattered around the city as we had driven around, they took me to a particular street where there was nothing but one fish store after another, sometimes selling exactly the same good as the store next door, but not always. Here are a couple of pictures from that excursion.

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Vietnam needs to enter the export business for tropicals, which is not something that I have seen them do as of yet. Best example of this would be the first picture which was a bucket of very healthy, very large spotted green puffer fish. Fish of this quality would sell in a U.S. fish store for approximately $20 each, or more. You'll pay $12-15 for a smaller, less colorful, less healthy one in most fish stores in America. In this store in Saigon they were selling these fish for 3,000 dong, which is about 19 cents U.S. There's money to be made here for an entrepreneurial ichthyologist or even the less scientific-minded fish lover.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Nankai University Binhai College

In the previous post (below, or here) I talked about our day at Nankai University Binhai College. Binhai is a new campus and they’re still building it. Nothing there is more than about three years old.

They have an interesting dynamic going on here between Nankai and Binhai. It is somewhat like our state system of universities and colleges in that they are clearly related to each other, but they have different missions and generally serve different populations. Binhai offers bachelor degrees but no graduate programs. Nankai is increasingly emphasizing graduate programs with about 50% of their students earning masters, doctorates, or others forms of graduate degrees.

Since Nankai is a highly rated university in the country, they get part of the cream of the crop of the entering college students, based primarily on the college entrance exam score. Nankai has a high percentage of seasoned professors with distinguished records. The state (China National Government) highly subsidizes the cost of attending the top universities so that the tuition paid by the students is very low.

Binhai provides an opportunity for students with lower scores (but still pretty good) to earn a degree and possibly get into a graduate program later on. Binhai also has many more young and less experienced professors although they also some older, semi-retired professors, many of them from Nankai. Seems somewhat like phased retirement. To me the most interesting piece is that colleges such as Binhai are not subsidized nearly as highly as the universities so the tuition rates that the students pay are about 10 times higher.

In the U.S., community colleges have the lowest tuition rates, universities are higher, and the elite universities are the highest. So in the U.S. you have to pay heavily to get your degree from one of the top universities, but in China the state awards you with low cost access to the top universities because you are one of the best and brightest. Gee, I wonder which country has figured this out the best. Yes, I understand that the public/private school dichotomy isn’t quite the same in China as in the U.S., but that just begs another question altogether.

Day Two in Tianjin

Wow, what a great day. It was a long, exhausting, and tightly scheduled day; but lots of fun. We checked out of the hotel and drove to the outskirts of Tianjin to Nankai University Binhai College where we had a fabulous day.

We started with a brief tour of the Dagang District including this photo opportunity by their ancient (2 years?) Roman ruins and then met with local government leaders in their official meeting room (photo). Next they took us to Binhai College for a formal meeting with many college officials including President Wang (pronounced Wong) and Vice President Yang (pronounced Yong). I had the great fortune of meeting Mr. Yang when he visited St. Cloud for the China Symposium in March. President Wang welcomed us all and gave a rousing speech and then introduced the members of his administration who had joined us. John Burgeson, Dean of the Center for Continuing Studies at St. Cloud State University, is the leader of the 2007 SCSU delegation. John gave an equally rousing speech and then each member of the U.S. delegation introduced themselves and told everyone a little bit about what they do and what their interests are in working with China.

It was through the connection made with Mr. Yang that we came next to the signing ceremony between Lake Superior College and Binhai College. This connection was initiated by Ji Ye, a Chinese painter/teacher/citizen who has been teaching at LSC for the past few years. Ji Ye struck up a friendship with Mr. Yang at the Symposium and then introduced me to Mr. Yang as well. From there it was a short jump to the possibility of creating a student exchange where Chinese students could study painting in the U.S. and U.S. students could study in China, either short-term or long-term.

The signing ceremony was great and it was a pleasure to have both my old friends and new friends from SCSU in attendance. LSC presented President Wang with a Ji Ye watercolor of a Minnesota lake scene. It was very well received. Next was lunch in the campus cafeteria (very good) and then a one hour campus tour, mainly of their beautiful library.

We broke into small group for discipline-specific discussions about possible collaborations or exchanges. Then we were whisked off to the auditorium for special performances of a traditional Chinese play (melodrama is what I would call it) and traditional Chinese musicians, all performed by Binhai students. It was quite enjoyable.

Six members of the U.S. delegation, myself included, then changed clothes for an exhibition of dragon boat paddling. I was the only one who had previously done this while competing with the LSC dragon boat team a couple of years ago. They had both a men’s team and a women’s team that were practicing in the pond on the grounds of the college. The six of us mixed in with some members of the women’s team and went twice around the pond. Hilarity ensued.

Then it was time to make the 70 minute drive (bad traffic) back to downtown Tianjin where we had dinner and a show at the 1928 club. They auction off traditional Chinese scrolled paintings; have traditional Chinese opera-like performances (tough to describe this one); and half several servers who buzz around on roller skates throughout the very large establishment. Great food, including Peking Duck and fried chicken feet. The bus ride back to Beijing was pretty quiet as most everyone was exhausted from a very full day.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Day 1 in Tianjin

Sunday morning we traveled by bus from Beijing to Tianjin. Tianjin is a city of about 11 million people near the China coastland. They have a very rich cultural history which we learned about at the Tianjin Museum. Part of the entrance to the museum is shown in the top photo and the exterior is shown in the bottom photo. We spent some time at Nankai University and they hosted us for a very nice dinner last night. Today will be a huge day with various official meetings at Nankai University Binhai College including a signing ceremony, a dragon boat race, and a big gala in our honor tonight. Can't wait.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

One Day of Rest

No official meetings scheduled for Saturday in Beijing, so we played like tourists for a day instead. We visited Tiananman Square, the Forbidden City, and the Great Wall. The picture above was taken on the roof top of the Bada Ling Hotel where we had dinner waiting for the lights of the Great Wall to come on.

The picture below is me with six of my new best friends. For some reason I am a popular person for photo opportunities in China. I was asked twice today to pose with young ladies, and these are not the first times that this has happened to me in China.Both times that I have been here it has been tough to get good photos of the Great Wall and other major sites due to the incredibly smoggy and foggy air conditions. People pictures work out well, but panoramics and landscape photos require your imagination to envision what it would look like on a clear day. They swear that they do have clear days here, but I'm beginning to doubt it.

Friday, June 01, 2007

The World Bank Beijing

Our first day in Beijing started off with a visit to the World Bank where we met with David Dollar, director for the World Bank in China. Last year on this trip we also met with Mr. Dollar isbut the return trip seemed more satisfying and informative, at least to me.

A few tidbits from our meeting:

  • The poverty line in China right now is about $115 US per year. 10% of the population lives below the poverty line, but that is a monstrous improvement over 25 years ago when 60% of the population lived below the line. Dollar called this a “historically unprecedented poverty reduction.”
  • Much of the water in China is polluted. Overall, they enjoy 1/9th of the average world availability of water.
  • The rural/urban income gap is widening at a rapid rate as wages for the urban population grows at about 10-12% per year, but wages for the rural population grows at about 5-6% per year.
  • Two other big gaps between rural and urban areas deal with education and health care. These functions are primarily funded at the local (county) level and therefore the poor rural areas have little money to spend on these important items but the larger cities and populous counties have good revenue streams to fund these initiatives.
  • Within a year or two, China will be the largest producer of greenhouse gas emissions in the world.
  • There are construction cranes everywhere you look, but it is estimated that ½ of the buildings that will be in existence in China in 2015 haven’t been built yet.
  • The Chinese stock market is currently looking like a big bubble ready to burst at any time. Many ordinary Chinese people have now invested in the stock market and stand to lose nearly everything if the bubble bursts.

BTW, it was pretty easy to get around the great firewall using TOR (The Onion Router). It takes longer, sort of like being on dial-up instead of broadband, but that is far better than being completely blocked while in China.