Self-surveillance by algorithm: how Word Press reviewed my blog in 2015

“The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog”. That is how the report starts, with a knowing and playfully self-deprecating remark. This all seems to me a form of self-surveillance by algorithm – but still mildly interesting. I’m always struck by the continuing popularity of my post on the “Super Professor” scam. The much more scholarly stuff on labour colonies, testing farms and work camps attracts a small but steady audience. Anyway, here it is.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 25,000 times in 2015. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 9 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Beware of the Journal of Education and Human Development

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I’m always getting emails asking me to submit to one dubious journal or another. Usually I mark them as spam and forget about them. In one or two cases, though, the people behind the journal simply create new email accounts, and then invite me all over again to send them my wonderful papers.

Today, the Journal of Human and Educational Development managed to send me two emails from two accounts. I hope that their very persistence alone would be enough to put most people off writing for them. Still, it is worth looking at who they are and what they do.

According to its website, the Journal is published by the American Research Institute for Policy Development. I first encountered this bunch a year ago, when one of their staff – supposedly called “Mili Cyrus” – who invited me to write for them. At that time, the journal was supposedly edited by an assistant professor called Kathleen Everling, and they were charging authors US$200 per paper.

Not much has changed since then, except that the going rate has gone up to US$220. The University of Texas continues to employ a Dr Kathleen Everling, who seems to be the same person that edits the Journal. Its publisher remains the little-known but nicely-named American Research Institute for Policy Development.

The one new development, so far as I can tell, is that the journal’s publisher has published a machine-generated article that was submitted by someone checking to see whether the publisher would accept and publish a totally bogus article. The paper’s “authors” were named as I.P. Freely, Oliver Clothesoff, Jacques Strap, Hugh Jazz and Amanda Huginkiss.

Jeffrey Beall, whose guide to questionable academic publishers is a must-read, concluded in 2014 that ‘the American Research Institute for Policy Development is a sham, and I strongly recommend against submitting papers to it or having any association with it’.

Who or what is “Anthrologia”?

An email tells me that I have a subscription to a journal called Anthrologia. I’ve never heard of it before, so I checked out Beall’s List of Predatory Journals, and found that it wasn’t mentioned, which it would have been if it were seriously dodgy.


Image from Wikimedia Commons

So I had a quick look at its website (you’ll find a link here), to find out who publishes it and what it aims to do. First of all, Anthrologia styles itself as a networking organisation for academic researchers in what it calls ‘the soft sciences’. Its particular focus is on inter-regional networking between Asia, Africa, Europe and the Americas, and it claims to have over 200,000 ‘members’.

Second, it is based in the unit for Communication and Cultural Innovation and Support, University of Malaya, a highly reputably institution, and lists a number of well-regarded bodies among its supporters, including the social science departments of several prestigious western universities. Third, it does not charge members to belong, nor does it seem to charge authors to publish their work.

No doubt Anthrologia forms part of the University of Malaya’s strategy for raising its visibility and status, but that seems to me a reasonable goal. After all, researchers who decide to become involved will hardly be unaware of the tendency of universities to seek prestige.

Taken together, anyway, this information suggests to me that Anthrologia is a kosher outfit, and not an attempt to diddle the unwary out of their money. This being so, why did the organisation behind it take the rather bizarre decision to send people unsolicited emails that look like spam, and that invite us to read or write for their journal? Surely they are aware that we are all on our guard for dodgy journals and iffy learned societies?


MOOCs and adult education: complementary or competing?


MOOCs have attracted hyperbole and scorn in roughly equal measure, or so it seems to me. Intrigued by all the fuss, I’ve taken a couple of MOOCs, and the experience has been informative. I completed one and got half way through the second; in both cases I was deeply impressed by the content and the blend of learning activities; and I loved learning at my own pace and places, and also valued the lack of guilt about leaving when I’d got what I came for.

That doesn’t make me a MOOC-maniac. There are all sorts of problems with them, and  quality issues will be critical, as will the availability – or lack – of preparation and support for those who aren’t well placed to undertake self-paced technology-enhanced learning.

Nevertheless, I do think that the combination of digitization and mobile technology plus good pedagogic design might turn out to be a game changer for parts of the lifelong learning system. And judging from the knee-jerk negativity, I am guessing that many of my colleagues suspect that MOOCs might be bad news for them personally.

In the field of adult learning, there is every possibility that MOOCs will thrive while organised face-to-face provision nose-dives. It doesn’t take much imagination to conceive of a policy maker or two who asks why the state is funding courses in adult education centres when tens of thousands can follow a MOOC much more cheaply.

But MOOCs and publicly funded adult education can rub along quite nicely. That’s the message I take, at any rate, from hearing that this year’s National Adult Education Prize in Austria was awarded to a MOOC called ‘Gratis Online Lernen’ (‘Learning Online for Free’).Its aim was to offer an introduction to online learning for people who have only mastered the basics of using the internet.

Taken by 1,500 people the first time it was offered, the MOOC was developed jointly by researchers in e-learning and worker education working in collaboration with the Austrian Adult Education Association and over 40 different providers.

The prize was duly handed over by Gabriele Heinisch-Hosek, a Minister in the current government. That’s nice. Our ministers, sadly, are more likely to sneer at adults who need an introduction to using the internet. But we do have plenty of experience of celebrating adult learners and providers, and we should be happy to welcome the creators of MOOCs to our ranks.