My retirement plans

It’s with satisfaction, relief, anticipation, and a tinge of sadness, that I submitted my intention to retire in August of this year. I will have been with the University of Illinois for twenty years, half of those in the College of Education and half in the Graduate School of Library and Information Science. The retirement means that I’ll be changing my mode of work, with more attention to writing and more international projects.

I’ve enjoyed and benefitted greatly from my time here, and even more from working with you all. I can’t think of another group anywhere with such high collegiality, dedication, moral perception, and responsible leadership. The scholarship, teaching, and learning have always been outstanding and there’s been a lot of fun on top of it all.

I expect to continue working part-time on the Youth Community Informatics and Community Informatics Corps grants through June, 2011, and perhaps do other work after that, so this is not a good-bye, just an announcement about a new role for me.

Best wishes and enjoy all the snow,


Inside NCI

During 2007-08, I held a Fulbright Chair position at the National College of Ireland, located in Dublin.

It was a great experience for me at a place, which is very different from the University of Illinois in scale, but with surprisingly many common interests, especially in areas such as community studies, learning, and computing. In case you’d like to see more about the College, you could look at the February issue of Inside NCI, just out.


Since 2002 ReadWriteThink has provided literacy educators with access to a large and growing collection of free educational materials. There are hundreds of lesson plans, calendar resources, printouts, and interactive tools.

The site has become one of the most used web resources for educators and students, and has just released a much-improved design. The content is now browsable by type, grade, learning objective, theme, and allotted time. Out-of-school resources for parents and afterschool providers have been consolidated into an easily accessible section.

ReadWriteThink is a partnership between the National Council of Teachers of English, the International Reading Association, and Verizon Thinkfinity. Bringing these organizations together has been an important contribution of the project in its own right.

UI 4th for hosting foreign students

The University of Illinois’s Urbana campus continues to host more international students than all but three other universities in the nation, according to the Institute of International Education.

The UI is No. 1 among public universities.

via The UI 4th overall in 2008-09 for hosting of foreign students.

A highlight of my job is to work with a diverse group of students, who bring different experiences and perspectives. This diversity includes nationality.

Considering just the doctoral level, I’ve now served on the committee for 80 students who’ve completed their Ph.D. and another 25 who are still working towards it. Here’s the list of countries represented, among just those for whom I have an official role: USA (58), Taiwan (11), Korea (7), China (5), India (5), Australia (3), Romania (2), Singapore (2), Austria (1), Azerbaijan (1), Belize (1), Germany (1), Haiti (1), Hungary (1), Ireland (1), Japan (1), Nepal (1), Puerto Rico (1), Spain (1), Turkey (1), Vietnam (1). I’ve also been able to work closely with students from Brazil, Canada, Côte d’Ivoire, Cuba, Cypress, Egypt, Iran, Malaysia, Mexico, Pakistan, Poland, South Africa, and many other places.

This list is by nationality, not necessarily by ethnicity or residence. For example, one student was originally from Mexico and now lives and works in Japan, but I counted him as USA, because he’s a US citizen. The number from Asia (32) isn’t far below that from the US, but there are none from Africa, and only two from South America and just seven from Europe (or eight, counting Turkey).

Knowing well the challenges of travel and life in other countries, I’m impressed with the imagination and the perseverance of students from abroad. I’m also very grateful for what they’ve added to the university and to the life of myself and my family.

How to behave at the final defense

While cleaning out 30 boxes of files accumulated over many years, I came across an article by Neil Postman, which though long-misplaced, was fondly remembered. Postman  provides a humorous, but all too true account of the doctoral oral examination.

As he says, he rarely pays attention to “the content of an Oral – for example, what the dissertation is about or what idea the candidate is defending. [His] attention is always directed toward what the Oral is really about, namely, the conduct of relationships, obedience to authority.”

Here are a few excerpts, but I recommend reading the whole piece:

  • When the Orals begin, the door to the room is closed…like the closing of the main hatch of a submarine. Those inside are sealed off…from the rest of the world.
  • Eating during an orals is a breach of the system in that it not only dilutes the solemnity of the occasion but it reminds people that there are needs in life other than the passing of orals… [One candidate] brought with him a styrofoam cupful of chocolate ice cream which he sensuously engulfed as if he were replaying a scene from Tom Jones…it was a symptom of a general insensitivity to the nature of the occasion, and he was flunked without regret.
  • an attitude which combines concentration with slight bewilderment is about perfect.
  • leaning one’s elbows on the table, with fingers resting on one’s temples is very good, especially when accompanied by an intense frown.
  • Those who ask convergent questions are usually interested in the dissertation. Those who ask divergent questions are usually interested in the candidate. With the exception of very few of my colleagues, no one is much interested in ideas. (Those who are, of course, have never really understood the functions of an oral examination.)
  • questions [from the candidate] such as, “Why do you want to know that?” or “Are you quite sure you have your facts right?” are monstrous, and will bring down upon the candidate the full weight of the combined insecurities of the professors.
  • professors not only ask questions; they also make little speeches as prefaces to their questions…From the candidate’s point of view, these speeches are of no consequence since they are designed for the attention of other professors…The candidate would do well to appear interested but can put the time to good use by relaxing and trying to order his thoughts.
  • the oral examination is a serious test of how well a young scholar understands the structure of this and, by extension, other academic situations.


Postman, Neil (1978). Final orals: In defense of a thesis. The Gadfly, pp. 2-5. (the Littoral Press, iSSN 0160-1237)

Community as Intellectual Space, 2009

CI_2008The fifth annual Community as Intellectual Space Symposium will be held on June 12-14 at La Estancia on 2753 W. Division Street, Paseo Boricua, Chicago, Illinois.

The theme of the symposium is Critical Pedagogy: Community Building as Curriculum. As professionals and institutions are engaging with communities to enhance the life chances and well-being of residents, the conference examines how community-building and critical pedagogy can offer effective and sustainable change, locally and among collaborators as well.

BateyThe keynote speaker this year is Antonia Darder, a Professor at the University of Illinois in Educational Policy Studies and Latino/a Studies. There will be presentations and workshops on

The conference also offers Batey Urbano‘s production of Crime against Humanity, screenings of original documentaries filmed on Paseo Boricua, community tours, and art exhibits.

Community as Intellectual Space is co-organized by the Juan Antonio Corretjer Puerto Rican Cultural Center (Chicago) and the University of Illinois Graduate School of Library and Information Science. Continuing Professional Development Units (CDPUs), academic course credit for those who enroll in UI’s LIS590 CIO, and registration scholarships available.

Creating opportunity through new media

clay_animationOne of the most impressive set of projects I saw while in Dublin, Ireland last year was the Community Links Programme out of Dublin Institute of Technology. It was established in 1996 by DIT lecturer Dr. Tommy Cooke to help individuals and communities reach their full educational potential. Programs include psychotherapy, music, and courses for mature students.

One important component is the DISC Programme, which operates in 38 inner-city disadvantaged primary and secondary schools. DISC installs computer resources in schools and community centers, and trains teachers to integrate the use of computers into the teaching/learning process in all curricular areas. Projects include the use of comic creation, clay animation, video production, class blogs, podcasting, video game making, 3d design, and robotic Lego.

Staff such as
Ian Roller and Riona Fitzgerald bring knowledge of pedagogy together with skills in video and computers to help teachers and youth leaders do amazing projects. More importantly, they do it in a way that empowers teachers as creative agents in the education process.

You can see DISC publications, including their very useful monthly newsletter online. Here’s the April edition.

Yale Russian Chorus tours Quebec

My son, Stephen, writes this about the Yale Russian Chorus tour in Quebec:

In March 2009 the Yale Russian Chorus went on tour to Quebec. We sang at a variety of venues, including Laval University in Quebec City and both Francophone and Anglophone retirement homes in Montreal. The contacts we had made with the Russian Orthodox community in Montreal allowed us to end our tour with an exciting concert at St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Cathedral. We stayed for most of the tour at the house of Paul and Sandy Gauthier, whom my family had met on our sabbatical to China.

To publicize these events, we had the privilege of appearing on Radio-Canada twice. The first was an interview I did over the phone to advertise our first concert, at St. Elizabeth Catholic church in North Hatley.

Halfway through our stay in Montreal, we drove to the CBC/Radio-Canada building in Montreal to appear on the morning show “C’est bien meilleur le matin”. After discussing the history of the Russian Chorus with the host, Franco Nuovo (and surmising possible connections to the CIA), I rejoined the group to sing our version of the Russian folk song “Po moriam, po volnam” (Across the seas, across the waves)

Arts and the cognitive life of the university

Harvard has issued a Report of the task force on the arts (2008, December), which argues that the arts are an integral part of the cognitive life of the university. Similar reports come out regularly from other institutions; this one is notable mostly because of Harvard’s stamp on the value of the arts, especially for inquiry in all fields. There is (belated) attention to a wide view of arts both in appreciation and in making, as well as the use of new technologies:

The use of new digital and media technologies—in virtually all forms of inquiry—provides an unprecedented opportunity for our students to take art-making seriously “for itself,” while seeing it as an enhancement of their own specific scholarly and professional interests. “Making” in the visual arts, for instance, is no longer restricted to the hand-held technologies of pencil, brush, chisel and camera…The availability of computer software for creative purposes allows for a range of artistic practices that may not “train the hand and eye” in the time-honored traditional sense, but whose imaginative and aesthetic possibilities provide the important cognitive and conceptual training of an “art-making” education. (pp. 8-9)

One side note is the recognition of Harvard’s “unusual, if not unique” relation to arts practice. The report notes for example that

By 1869, Yale had opened the doors to its School of Art . Yale now confers graduate degrees in arts practice from four separate professional schools—the School of Art, School of Drama, School of Music, and School of Architecture—and it provides as well profound opportunities for mentorship and instruction within the talented undergraduate population. (p. 6)

Copernicus and Erasmus

genealogy1The Mathematics Genealogy Project and its cousins, the AI [artificial intelligence] Genealogy Project, and the Philosophy Family Tree are attempts to compile information about scholars in various fields, including where they received their degrees and the titles of their dissertations. The information is organized in an academic family tree, in which one’s adviser is one’s parent.

Here’s the mission statement for the Mathematics Genealogy Project:

The intent of this project is to compile information about ALL the mathematicians of the world. We earnestly solicit information from all schools who participate in the development of research level mathematics and from all individuals who may know desired information.

Please notice: Throughout this project when we use the word “mathematics” or “mathematician” we mean that word in a very inclusive sense. Thus, all relevant data from statistics, computer science, or operations research is welcome.

I’m actually in all three of these trees. My PhD is in Computer Sciences, specifically in AI; the core of the dissertation is in mathematical logic; and my adviser, Norman Martin, was a philosopher. His work was in the area of logic, as was that of a committee member, Michael Richter, a mathematician.

One of the best Christmas presents I received was a depiction of this tree made by Emily and Stephen (above, click to enlarge). There is so much detail, that you need to see the full-scale poster to read it all, but you may be able to make out the names of my adviser, and co-adviser, Robert F. Simmons, as well as early ancestors, Copernicus and Erasmus. It’s fun to explore the connections, which ultimately show how interconnected we all are.