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News Archive: January 2011

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1/26/11 - College: Too Easy? [link to this story]

While preparing to submit my dissertation for committee review (and eventual defense), out comes some news and analysis that paints a sobering picture for anyone interested in a life of academe.

A new book indicts the system of higher education in the United States for failing to prepare many students for the rigors of modern adult life. Grade inflation is up, undergraduate studying is down - to an average of 12-14 hours a week.

Specifically called out as a pressing dilemma is an apparent systemic failure to impart critical thinking skills to college students. Associated commentary from the Chronicle of Higher Education puts a finer point on that:

The study suggests that we have overcomplicated the practice of higher education. It comes down to what it always has—deep engagement with complex ideas and texts, difficult and often solitary study, the discipline to write, revise, and write again. What students need most aren't additional social opportunities and elaborate services. They need professors who assign a lot of reading and writing. Professors, in turn, need a structure of compensation and prestige that rewards a commitment to teaching.

From my own experience teaching undergraduate media studies courses, I've found myself increasing increasingly wrapping the material around the core development of critical thinking skills. It's natural, challenging, and fun.

Then again, I've been lucky to have good teachers throughout my entire life. I learned the value of critical thinking before I turned ten; 30 years later, my advisor line-edited my dissertation. I wouldn't have become the person I am today without the teachers I had.

It's satisfying to know that my pedagogy is sound. Unfortunately, the economic pressures on today's colleges and universities often compel administrators to pursue "strategic" educational goals that lead away from the fundamental functions of higher education.

No academic achievement should came easy; if it does, you're doing it wrong. That goes for both teacher and student.

1/19/11 - Drowned City: Looks Compelling [link to this story]

The trailer is definitely a teaser as far as this documentary on the London pirate radio scene is concerned. A feature-length film, Drowned City explores the "pirate radio culture" of London, including the perspectives of broadcasters and those whose job it is to try and silence them.

The documentary seems to cover a large segment (i.e., the last decade or so) of the scene, which doesn't get much sympathy from mainstream media coverage - Drowned City seems determined to reorient this paradigm. It offers "unprecedented access to the secret lives of pirates" both past and present.

So far, looks good; the producers promise they'll serve up their next teaser two months from now.

1/12/11 - Net Neutrality's Nebulous Future [link to this story]

Just before the end of the year, the Federal Communications Commission made a second try at preserving principles of openness on the Internet - often clumsily called "net neutrality," but better contextualized as an effort to prevent data discrimination.

There's been loads of coverage of the decision and predictions of its ultimate success as a regulatory tool. Advocates and critics alike are correct when they say that the issue is more than just one thing - it's multiple attributes of Internet freedom that are on the line here.

However, I think Susan Crawford and Rob Frieden are onto something when they place the crux of the problem within the "last mile" of Internet connectivity. At present, most Americans have just two choices for broadband provision: the phone company or cable company. The up-and-coming "new" vector, wireless broadband, is basically an extension of the phone company.

Given that the FCC's latest attempt at rulemaking differentiates between "wired" and "wireless" broadband provision (allowing the providers of the latter more flexibility to data-discriminate), any expansion of the wireless vector is not going to promote competition within the wired space, which will remain the primary provider of broadband to the home and office for the near future.

I hope we don't look back on the first decade of the 2000s as "the good old years" of the Internet - and I hope the shape of the "new" Internet, as defined by these new rules, still promotes innovation and a free exchange of ideas. But I'm worried - so long as the FCC refuses to regulate broadband under universal conditions (regardless of how you get it), there's too many loopholes mitigating against that outcome.

1/5/11 - AM-to-FM Simulcasters Top 400 [link to this story]

From the didn't-have-time-to-mention-last-year department: Radio World reports that more than 400 FM translator stations are now on the air simulcasting AM radio programming.

This is the result of a 2009 FCC decision allowing AM stations to apply for FM repeaters in a quest to find "relief" from the increasing noise floor on the AM dial. Spectrally, it's a duplicative waste.

400 new translators is a far cry from the ~6,000 unleashed by the FCC during the Great Translator Invasion of 2003 - and there are another 7,000 translator applications pending from that mess. Licensing decisions on these translators are expected sometime this year, most likely before the FCC opens another LPFM filing window.

831 LPFM stations have been built over the last decade - just over twice the number of AM-simulcasters that have taken to the air in the last two years alone.

As the FCC prepares to open a second filing window for LPFM stations in the next year or so, let's hope the agency acts with the spirit of the Local Community Radio Act in mind.