by Stephen Downes
Nov 06, 2015
The user as network
Karen E.C. Levy,
Karen Levy argues for "conceptualizing users as networks: as constellations of power relations and institutional entanglements, mediated through technologies." She argues that a model regarding people merely as users or non-users is too simplistic (I have to agree). As an example, she writes, "The market for Nexafed seems nonexistent in traditional use/non-use terms, but when we construe the user more broadly — as a network of interpersonal, legal, and institutional relationships, consisting of multiple modes of relation between people and technology — not only does the drug’s market make sense, but we also understand how new motivations (social shame, mistrust, robbery, gossip) can act as salient drivers of technology use." It's not just the person who uses the drug that is implicated in the drug's use. "We have considered the user as a network of power relations that includes parents and children, pharmacies and pharmacists, neighbors and communities, regulators and legislators, police and thieves. Comparatively, conceptualizing the user or non-user in social and institutional isolation yields a thin and unnuanced understanding of Nexafed’s use."
Adjust course fees so that those who will earn more will pay more
Times Higher Education,
I've heard this silly argument about tuition fees on numerous occasions before, and the practice - known as 'differential fees' or a 'differential fee structure' - is actually in place in some colleges and universities. The proposal is that "Fee caps that reflect the relative economic returns of different course choices would help students make more informed decisions." The intuition here is that students should pay a fee based on a percentage of the benefit they receive. But the argument is also place in a context of risk: the university should assume some of the risk inherent in teaching low-value programs, like philosophy and dramatic arts.
But of course this is ridiculous (and not only because of the 'institutional conservatism' that is the author's straw man objection). It presumes that future earnings are the only benefit the institution and society receive from offering a course, which is absurd. And why would 'risk' be segmented according to course and program. Many other factors effect earnings. Maybe women should be charged lower fees because they earn only two thirds of what men earn. Perhaps people from Nottingham should pay almost nothing. Perhaps left-wingers should receive lower fees because they're much more likely to join non-profits like Medecins Sans Frontiers. Let's represent this proposal for what it really is: yet another scheme to increase tuition fees (and incidentally, to favour the upper class white men who already dominate access to the higher-paying professions).
The Case for Free Access to Higher Education
It's always nice to read of an executive officer at a Canadian educational institution calling for free and open access to learning. It's also far too rare. But here we have just such an instance. Cape Breton University president David Wheeler makes the case for establishing universities as a public good. "If Canada wishes to maintain national competitiveness and labour mobility even as we maximise the entrepreneurial spirit, civic engagement, and life chances of our youth, a new social contract will be required," he writes. That would be good. I didn't have any say in the last social contract, and it left me - and millions of others - thousands of dollars in debt.
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