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Friday, November 30, 2007

Who Wants To Be A Scientist?

We've been investigating the use of personal response systems (Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?-style voting) in lectures (formal reports to follow), but here's a flava (as the young people say):


RSS subscribers - visit site to watch the video

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Another major publisher doesn't get it

Logo Elsevier recently announced some enhancements to its 2collab "bookmarking service" (Digg del.icio.us clone). So, I'm a scientist, will I use 2collab?

No, of course I won't. I'll carry on using my existing web 2.0 research tools because they already have an embedded social network and the last thing I need is to build yet another social network from scratch.

Elsevier's shortsighted attempt to jump on the web 2.0 bandwagon (Hey, I know, let's incorporate some social tools on our website!) is a dumbass marketing executive move which will backfire because they tried to grab market share and lock users into a proprietary network rather than improving the usability of their site by incorporating existing tools such as Digg and del.icio.us bookmarklets and educating users to use them, thus exposing their catalog to a whole new market via these social networks.

Please, somebody show me a commercial (non Open Access) publisher which does get it. Thank goodness no university would ever be dumb enough to pull a stunt like that! ;-)


kudos: Sarah, who just pointed me at this

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Learning Power

At yesterday's Learning and Teaching Research Group meeting, we discussed assessment, and Jenny slapped our wrists about slack terminology:
  • Assessment is any method of obtaining information about the progress and performance of students.
  • Attainment is the level of knowledge and skills that can be formally tested and presented as grades/scores.
  • Achievement is the broad range of knowledge, skills and attitudes that students acquire.
Chris talked (and has now blogged) about the following paper:

Learning how to learn: the dynamic assessment of learning power. 2007 Curriculum Journal 18: 135-153
This article introduces the notion of the assessment of learning power as an important station in a mentored learning journey, which begins with the motivation and identity of the person who is learning, and moves through the awareness and development of the power to learn, to the publicly valued competencies and funds of knowledge of the formal curriculum. The seven dimensions of learning power are described, and the article reports on the findings of a qualitative study in which sixteen teachers were provided with learning power assessment data for their students as individuals and as whole groups. There were ten pedagogical themes which underpinned the teaching and learning encounters in those classrooms; these are briefly described. Learning power profiles have been used with nearly nine thousand students since 2003 and data from school-based development projects are referred to. The article concludes that the dynamic assessment of learning power serves three pedagogical purposes. First, it reflects back to the learner what they say about themselves in relation to their personal power to learn. Second, it reflects back to the teacher data about individuals, and groups, which can be used for diagnosing what is needed to move forward in the development of self-awareness, ownership and responsibility for learning. Third, it provides scaffolding for ways in which the students encountered the formal content of the curriculum. All of these operate together through the shared, and sometimes locally created, language stimulated by the learning dimensions, and through metaphors, icons and heroes which carry meaning in the classroom.

He's kindly made his slides available on Slideshare:


Monday, November 26, 2007

Podcasting is Dead. Long Live Video!

Bioscience Education E-Journal 10 (2007)

Introduction
Podcasting (an automatic mechanism whereby multimedia computer files are transferred from a server to a client, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/podcast) is becoming increasingly popular in education. Although podcasts enable students and teachers to share information anywhere at anytime, the most frequent application of the technology to date has been to allow students to download audio recordings of lessons or lectures. Over the last two years, I have conducted trials of podcasting involving two campus-based undergraduate courses on which I teach. Working with two cohorts consisting of 150 first year and 90 second year biological sciences students, I delivered weekly learning support materials to these groups of students. These podcasts were intended to support learning on these courses and did not directly replace lectures. They were most definitely not recordings of previous lectures. Rather, the podcasts were intended to give feedback on students performance on the previous weeks assessment, pointing out areas where many students had struggled and suggesting strategies for improving future performance. However, both quantitative and qualitative analysis of the use of audio podcasts on these modules collected via download statistics, module questionnaires and focus groups clearly showed that these were not popular with students. These audio files generated an average 0.30 downloads per student per file. Direct file downloads (generated by students clicking on hyperlinks) accounted for more than twice as many file accesses as subscriptions to the podcast RSS feed. The main reasons cited for not listening were that students said they "didn't feel the need" or there was "not enough time". Technical issues and unfamiliarity with podcasting were also cited by a minority of students as significant barriers to uptake. Most strikingly, the students also regarded podcasting as "entertainment" or "not relevant" to academic study. The idea that all new undergraduates are an enthusiastic part of the Web 2.0 generation is clearly optimistic.

Although I was disappointed with the response to my audio podcasts, I was relieved to find out that I am not alone. A recent white paper from Carnegie Mellon University on podcasting corroborates these findings (Deal, 2007). Students do not listen to all the podcasts provided even when given the opportunity to subscribe to an RSS feed (Cann, 2006) and they do not view the podcasts as a replacement for lectures, although some do see them as helpful as additional support materials. In classes where the podcast replaces the lecture (and the time is devoted to practical study and labwork) they resent the extra time needed to listen. The paper concludes that "podcasting does not contain any inherent value and is only valuable inasmuch as it helps the instructor and students reach their educational goals". Although students are enthusiastic about academic staff providing podcasts, particularly as replacements for missed lectures, the actual take-up of audio files is low (Guertin et al, 2007).

Not easily put off by a little setback, I abandoned my podcast learning support model in favour of direct access to short online videos in the style of YouTube (www.youtube.com). These were delivered via on institutional VLE without the option to subscribe via RSS, since this choice had previously been rejected by the students. The videos ranged in length from three to five minutes and consisted of a short "talking head" introduction, screencasts (digital recording of computer screen output with audio narration), and occasional interventions by a puppet character with helpful tips. Samples of the material produced can be seen at microbiologybytes.com/maths/videos.html.

Videos

Figure 1: Screen captures of videos described in the text. Online samples of the material produced can be seen at microbiologybytes.com/maths/videos.html

In stark contrast to the audio podcasts, the video format generated an average 1.75 downloads per student per video, over five times the response rate from the same cohort to the audio files provided the previous semester. Focus group comments supported the positive reception for the video format in comparison to the audio podcasts. 9/12 (75%) of students had watched one or more of the videos (c.f. 9% for the podcasts). 11/12 (92%) had watched an online video clip previously, implying that familiarity with this format as well as direct "click and watch" access was responsible for much of the increased uptake. Other comments from the students included "Much better than the podcasts" and "I prefer the videos to your lectures".

A further trial of the video format was carried out on a cohort of 90 second year students to support a set of statistics assessments. The format was the same as for the first year cohort but without the puppet character. This group responded with an average of 0.92 downloads per student per video, nearly three times above the response rate to the audio podcasts.

Widespread use of online video learning objects has implications in terms of staff resources and training. Traditional HE audiovisual departments are not ideally placed to produce this type of learning material. Although seemingly effortless, the production of successful online videos is a highly-skilled process, requiring an understanding of user psychology and behavior, which is quite different from that of television viewing. The following brief taxonomy of online video (Table 1) is derived from Rocketboom, the most successful video podcast (Rocketboom, 2007).

Table 1: Video Format, Viewing Platform, Users Psychology and Best Practice

Viewing platform Best format for viewing Acceptable duration of video
Mobile devices, tiny screen Short format, viewer close to screen in active mode. File size, length and surrounding environment may be a serious issue to access and viewing < 5 min
Computer monitor, medium screen Short-medium format, viewer fairly close to screen, sitting vertically in active mode (wanting to click, short attention span) < 10 min
Television, medium-large screen Medium-long format, viewer further from screen in passive mode. Usually more comfortable posture < 1 hour
Cinema, large screen Long format, viewer far from screen in passive mode: “entertain me” < 3 hours


The puppet character ("Sockie") was included as an experiment to break up any repetitive pattern of "talking head" followed by screencast which the videos followed. Since viewers of online videos are in active mode (Table 1), with mouse in hand and ready to click, the puppet was used as a deliberate attempt to create some novelty and originality in what might otherwise seem an all too familiar format. The puppet appeared in at different points in the videos and sometimes not at all. Moreover, to allow comparisons, the puppet was used in the videos for the first year cohort but not in the videos for the second year group. I had some concerns that the use of a puppet might be viewed by students as condescending, but the limited use of this device does not seem to have generated this response as judged by comments on feedback questionnaires:

  • I quite liked the puppet, made me laugh.
  • The videos were fun especially the sock bunny.
  • Socky is annoying!
  • Name up to three ways in which this module could be improved: Kill Sockie! LOL
Even if student's opinions were divided, the puppet device seems to have achieved the intended outcome of maintaining student's attention to the videos. Moreover, the take-up of the videos containing the puppet (1.75 downloads per student per video) was higher that the take-up from the cohort where the puppet was not used (0.92 downloads per student per video), indicating that the puppet did not have a detrimental effect on viewing and may also have contributed to the strong preference for the video format over the audio podcasts.

The widespread availability of broadband services makes it highly feasible to distribute short video clips online. The most obvious manifestation of this potential is the rapid growth in popularity of YouTube and many similar services. YouTube has achieved a high public profile and has shown both the appetite for this medium and the fact that the majority of internet users can access the service (Hitwise Intelligence, 2006). A recent report indicates that YouTube looks set to overtake BBC.co.uk in share of UK visits within a matter of weeks (Hitwise Intelligence, 2007). Although the penetration of this technology into the student demographic is very high, teachers and academic staff are lagging seriously behind in the take-up of this new form of communication. Online video has a high acceptability to young learners. YouTube alone has almost 20 million visitors each month, with around 44% female, 56% male, and the 12- to 17-year-old age group most dominant (Nielsen/Netratings, 2006). In addition to ongoing investment by educational institutions, online video provides enormous flexibility to learners via computers, game consoles and mobile devices such as phones and video players.

Audio podcasting and the RSS subscription model in particular is severely limited in its acceptability and hence its utility to many student consumers, whereas short YouTube style videos have very broad acceptance and offer a much richer format for instruction. Long live video!

References:

Cann, A.J. (2006) Really Simple Syndication. Teaching Bioscience Enhancing Learning Series Effective Use of Technology in the Teaching of Bioscience UK Higher Education Academy Centre for Bioscience.

Deal, A. (2007) Teaching with Technology White Paper: Podcasting, Educause CONNECT

Guertin, L., Bodek, M.J., Zappe, S.E. and Kim, H. (2007) Questioning the Student Use of and Desire for Lecture Podcasts. (2007) MERLOT Journal of Online Learning and Teaching 3 (2): 133-141.

Rocketboom, 22 March 2007.

Hitwise Intelligence (2006) YouTube Takes 2 in 3 UK Visits to Video Sharing. Hitwise Intelligence Analyst Weblog, September 20, 2006.

Hitwise Intelligence (2007) YouTube to Overtake BBC in UK Visits. Hitwise Intelligence Analyst Weblog, June 20, 2007.

Nielsen (2006) YouTube U.S. Web Traffic Grows 75 Percent Week Over Week. Nielsen/Netratings, July 21, 2006.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

More on CourseFeed

CourseFeed Logo Tony responded to my original post on the Facebook CourseFeed application with his own thoughts on invading student's social spaces, and provided an interesting link.

I've been doing some more digging into CourseFeed application and now find it holed beneath the waterline for my purposes. I'm intending to use the Learning Objects CampusPack Blackboard plugin (and very good it is too) for my upcoming course. Unfortunately, the CourseFeed application does not pick up content from the blogs and wikis that the Learning Objects add-on provides, only the static content on a Blackboard course (repeat after me: "Blackboard is not a filing cabinet"). The blogs and the wiki are where the learning (synthesis in Bloom's taxonomy) are going to occur, not the PowerPoint presentations (knowledge in Bloom's taxonomy):
Blooms Taxonomy

BUT: Even if CourseFeed were to work with the Learning Objects plugin, I'm still not sure I'd use it, as I fail to be convinced that we should be invading Facebook. What I would like to do is to make students (who are already Facebook users) aware of the possibility of using CourseFeed. This is because the application provides another breakout from the Blackboard monolith, so that I can follow a "loosely coupled teaching" approach to my planned course, and still use the strengths of Blackboard (authentication, monitoring student progress and convenience), while encouraging students to create, own and maintain a sustainable PLE. In that regard, the CourseFeed application is not half as useful as the exportable RSS feed that the Learning Objects plugin provides.

CourseFeed only reports the static content on my Blackboard course, so I'm not going to point it out to students at all, because that's not what I want this group of students concentrating on. If they find it themselves, I'll congratulate myself on a job well done in enabling them to build their PLEs.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Speedlinking 241107

del.icio.us logo Viral videos get ugly
Read the comments after the post.

Why use Twitter
Today is my twitterversary! One year of meaningless drivel flowing from my keyboard and phone. I still count it as time well-spent.

The Pros and Cons of Loosely Coupled Teaching
Examples of courses run on "loosely coupled technologies" - outside of a CMS using contemporary web 2.0 tools and methods.

Amazon Kindle
This isn't a device, it's a service.

How personal should a blog be?
I should tell my friends about that.

Friday, November 23, 2007

I'm confused about CourseFeed

CourseFeed Logo Knowing how the readers of this blog feel about Blackboard (I'm looking at you Martin), I have to admit that I'm a bit confused about the Facebook CourseFeed application, which seemingly (I need to play with it a bit more), lets you access all your Blackboard (and Moodle?) courses thought Facebook - without ever logging onto the VLE.

CourseFeed Screenshot

On the one hand, this seems like a potentially good idea (e.g. for those banging on about walled gardens), but on the other, as I was ranting to Gráinne this morning,
Facebook is another matter, but I can’t see much educational value there anyway (beyond marketing) - for God’s sake leave students some social spaces without trying to stalk them and shove learning down their throats!

Exploring online research methods

Exploring online research methods It's always galling when you stumble by accident across great work being done by a group of your colleagues that you weren't previously aware of, especially when they all work within 100 yards of you.
I've just come back from a great talk about the Exploring Online Research Methods project. The website (all OER) has a vast amount of information and the project is expanding now via a blog and social network. The new content which is coming soon (e.g. use of blogs as research tools) also sounds fascinating, so keep your eye on the website.
I wish I'd known about this site earlier!


Visit Online Research Methods

The I.T. crowd is scared

The IT Crowd There's something in the air:

Open University mailboxes are overflowing (when the system works)

Stuart Lee describes "The hidden dangers of Web 2.0"

David Hobson, Managing Director of UK-based security company GSS has banned social sites during office hours

and Niall Sclater, Director of the OU VLE Programme, comes to blows with Tony Hirst at the CETIS Conference.


Thursday, November 22, 2007

Lo, the Saviour Cometh

Ian Holloway

HEFCE bean counting

Dump the RAE The Higher Education Funding Council for England has launched a consultation on proposals for overhauling the Research Assessment Exercise (RAE). The proposed Research Excellence Framework will make more extensive use of quantitative indicators - particularly in the science-based disciplines - in comparison to the current system. It will ensure that future research funding allocations are based on rigorous assessment of quality, while offering reductions in cost and burden.

  • For science-based disciplines, a new bibliometric indicator of research quality is proposed, based on the extent to which research papers are cited by other publications. This new indicator will be combined with research income and research student data, to drive the allocation of HEFCE research funding in these disciplines.
  • For the arts, humanities and social sciences (where quantitative approaches are less developed) we will develop a light touch form of peer review, though we are not consulting on this aspect at this stage.

Umm, hooray ???

Pageflakes Video

Watch the video

Why minimal guidance during instruction does not work

Problems Evidence for the superiority of guided instruction is explained in the context of our knowledge of human cognitive architecture, expert-novice differences, and cognitive load. Although unguided or minimally guided instructional approaches are very popular and intuitively appealing, the point is made that these approaches ignore both the structures that constitute human cognitive architecture and evidence from empirical studies over the past half-century that consistently indicate that minimally guided instruction is less effective and less efficient than instructional approaches that place a strong emphasis on guidance of the student learning process. The advantage of guidance begins to recede only when learners have sufficiently high prior knowledge to provide internal guidance. Recent developments in instructional research and instructional design models that support guidance during instruction are briefly described.

Why minimal guidance during instruction does not work: an analysis of the failure of constructivist, discovery, problem-based, experiential, and inquiry-based teaching. Educational Psychologist 2006 41: 75-86

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Eye Candy

Creative Commons Logo The internet is primarily a visual medium. We may spend most of the day reading text, but we consume it with our eyes - YouTube, Second Life, Miniclip, email. I've always placed great importance of the visual appearance of documents, hence there's a visual image to break up the monotony of the text, lift the reader and engage the visual centres of the cortex in almost every post I write (and you thought they were just eye candy).

Almost without exception, these images come from the vast store published under Creative Commons licences on Flickr, which is why an article just published in Wired gave me that sinking feeling. Flickr provides the flexibility for users to switch photos back and forth - without limitation - between CC licenses and "all rights reserved" copyrights. So all those images I've used, entirely legally, over the years could suddenly become illegal if the users decided to switch the licence terms. Except that they don't. CC licences are irrevocable, so I'm in the clear.
You can stop distributing your work under a Creative Commons license at any time you wish; but this will not withdraw any copies of your work that already exist under a Creative Commons license from circulation, be they verbatim copies, copies included in collective works and/or adaptations of your work.
But how could I prove it? The only solution is to use a service such as the Internet Archive's Wayback Machine or WebCite to record Flickr page CC licence at the time of publication. (I hadn't come across WebCite before and it looks interesting, especially the bookmarklet.) But that's a heck of an overhead for each blog post I write, and I'm not sure it's achievable. My gut feeling is that the only practical solution for blog posts is to carry on as before and pull images if challenged, but that's probably not the solution for other types of online document.


Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Can kids teach themselves?

Sugata Mitra discusses the Hole in the Wall project in India, which suggests that kids, without education or instruction, can figure out how to use a PC on their own - and then teach other kids, if they're motivated by curiosity and peer interest. Video:

Play Video


Sorry for the poor sound quality.

If you build it they will come - not!

If you build it they will come I've been enjoying Martin Belam's series on How accessible are Britain's online newspapers, but the story on his site which really caught my attention was Why my Doctor Who blog failed. In series of six posts, Martin describes his attempt to storm the blogosphere. There's a lesson here for all bloggers, but more than that, the saga made me think about OER development...

Monday, November 19, 2007

This weeks meme

Twitter shirt Last week's meme was reading ease scores (which now seems to be cropping up all over the blogosphere).
I predict that Brian Kelly just started this week's meme: the history of the web backwards, so here's my contribution:

The History of Presence Backwards

In 2007, the constant intrusion of "presence" into people's lives finally became unbearable. Psychologists denounced the harm caused by continuous partial attention, and the web giants of old began to stir into action.

The ancient search giant Google divested itself of Jaiku, and in March 2006, social networking and micro-blogging service Twitter closed down. This was a sign of the times, but further revolts against the constant flow of information from online contacts did not begin until the disinvention of Jabber in 2000, and finally the end of ICQ in 1996.

When they could see the benefits of not being constantly interrupted, computer users began to abandon email en masse, and the last email message was sent in 1965. Finally, computer users could go about their business uninterrupted.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Speedlinking 171107

del.icio.us logo IM = Interruption Management?
Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 13(1), article 2.

Social Network Sites: Definition, History, and Scholarship
Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 13(1), article 11.

Facebook Privacy Default
Privacy is not just about information. It's all about the defaults.

Who was that masked man? The cellphone vigilante
I want one of these (hint, Christmas is coming!)

Fine-tune your blogging personality
Your blogging voice is your most valuable asset. Maintain authority, but write conversationally.

On the verge

Chumby I feel like we're on the verge of technology evolving (Also Sprach Zarathustra plays in the background, early hominid throws bone in the air).

First the iPod Touch (no, not the iPhone, which is a backwards looking distraction to old technology).

Then the RM Asus miniBook.

Google bidding in the FCC 700 MHz auction (WiMAX = gMAX?).

Now the Chumby.

Something is about to evolve.

Friday, November 16, 2007

How much information is enough?

Short fiction Jakob Nielsen's latest Alertbox discusses
Long vs. Short Articles as Content Strategy.

Information Foraging Theory assumes that people are ecologically rational, and that human information-seeking mechanisms and strategies adapt the structure of the information environments in which they operate. Nielsen discusses cost/benefit metrics for online reading. Cost is easy to model: the time it takes to read an article. Benefit is more nebulous and depends on the content. Nielsen states:
The conclusion is clear: people prefer to read short articles
which is ironic, considering only a few months ago he was banging on about how microchunking content via blog post-style articles may have a negative effect on the writer's reputation. Fortunately, he then goes on to contradict himself. This wouldn't be a subtle strategy to get people to shell out for your training programme (which you kindly link to at the end of the post), would it Jakob?


Friday Funny

Hex codes

Sorry this is geeky!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Chocolate Chilli Muffins

Chillis 100g milk chocolate
10g fresh red chillis
200g plain flour
25g cocoa powder
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
110g caster sugar
2 medium eggs
100 mL sunflower oil
225 mL milk
5 mL vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 200°C.
Line a 12 hole muffin tin with paper cases.
Grate the milk chocolate, finely dice chillis.
Mix dry ingredients.
Beat eggs, sunflower oil, vanilla extract, milk and add to dry ingredients.
Spoon into paper cases and bake for approximately 20 minutes.
Eat.

Fast Guy in Tights

Dilbert

Email Disclaimer

Logo

If, like me, you are a little bemused at the sudden imposition of a disclaimer notice attached to all outgoing emails from UCT, you may enjoy this. It is also a very simple procedure to replace the real one with this one - if you want to...

____________________________________________________________________________________

UNIVERSITY OF CAPE TOWN This e-mail is supposedly subject to the UCT ICT policies and e-mail disclaimer published on the website at http://www.uct.ac.za/about/policies/emaildisclaimer/legalweaselling.htm or obtainable from +27 21 650 4500. This e-mail is intended only for the person(s) to whom it is addressed. If the e-mail has reached you in error, please smack yourself repeatedly, repeat “I am bad” twenty times, and sit in the corner for an hour. If you are not the intended recipient of the e-mail you may not use, disclose, copy, redirect or print the content, make fun of it, print it out and use as toilet paper, or otherwise debase its intellectual content or lack thereof. If, as is highly likely, this e-mail is not related to the business of UCT, it is sent by the sender in the sender's individual capacity, and remains their inalienable personal property in perpetuity. Or until GroupWise breaks down. Again.

How Ironic

RSS Icon from: AJ Cann 09:08 (0 minutes ago)
to: jcmc@indiana.edu
date: 15 Nov 2007 09:08
subject: How Ironic
mailed-by: gmail.com

How ironic that the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication website (http://jcmc.indiana.edu/) does not have an RSS feed!

--
AJ Cann, Leicester, UK.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Blackboard Fun Fact for the Day

Fun? The University of Leicester is the first institution with more than 1,000 Blackboard Scholar users!

Will the fun never end?

Proof if proof be needed

Following up my post yesterday, Putting on the style: How bloggers write, Martin Weller has carried on where I left off and suggested that blogs are easier to read than formal publications. He compared blog writing and formally peer-reviewed papers for three authors, generating Flesch Reading Ease and Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level scores with FLESH:

AuthorBlog Reading EasePaper reading ease
Conole
50.79
32.48
Weller
63.85
34.82
Cann
59.66
36.8

AuthorBlog Reading levelPaper reading level
Conole
12.19
14.2
Weller
9.47
14.04
Cann
9.02
13.55

From these numbers, it certainly looks as if there is a difference, but what about formal proof? I analyzed these numbers using SPSS v13. The Shapiro-Wilk test suggests that these values can be treated as normally distributed, so I ran a two-way ANOVA test which showed that there is a statistically significant difference between the reading ease and readling level scores for blog writing and formal peer-reviewed papers (F(11,11) = 0.0, p <0.05).
  • How complex or original are the ideas expressed?
  • Is the content in a logical order?
  • Is there is any gender, class or cultural bias?
  • Is the design and layout attractive or distracting - do any graphics help understanding (e.g. graphs)?
  • Is the content and subject matter interesting and engaging to the reader?
  • Who is the reader and do they have sufficient background information to appreciate the information presented?
In other words, readability tests are a dead end which do not tell you how readers will interact with a piece of writing.
Oh well, it was good while it lasted :-)

Writing for friends and family: The interpersonal nature of blogs. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 13(1), article 7.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

He's back!

At a time when America needs a hero, just such a man steps up to the plate. It's the second week of the American screenwriters strike, and the world's best videoblogger, zefrank, is back:



RSS subscribers - visit site to watch the video

Putting on the style: How bloggers write

You know how it is. It's 3am when your eyelids clang open and you know instantly you've got absolutely no chance of getting back to sleep. So you get up, make a cup of tea and fire up the computer.

Pretty soon you've checked your email and you're reading your RSS feeds and then it hits you, the most cunning plan that ever won first prize for cunning in an international cunning competition.

You can use FLESH to analyze the writing styles of a sample of your favourite edubloggers. All you need to do is take a sample of first 1000 words each published on their blog in the month of October 2007 (text only, no blog hardware or comments), run it through FLESH to calculate the Flesch Reading Ease Score and Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level, quick bit of statistical analysis and bung it off to a journal.

Tea finished, back to bed and sleep peacefully. But when you wake up in the morning, the cunning plan doesn't seem so ... cunning.

Author Fleisch Reading Ease Fleisch-Kincaid Grade Level
Conole
50.79
12.19
Downes1
53.80
10.26
Downes2
51.07
10.48
Eisenstadt
56.54
11.50
Haskins
60.15
8.47
Kelly
39.45
13.60
Richardson
65.87
8.97
Schmoller
48.58
12.46
Weinberger
64.99
8.14
Weller
63.85
9.47
Cann1
3.42
19.55
Cann2
59.66
9.02

The Flesch Reading Ease formula uses only two variables, the number of syllables and the number of sentences for each 100-word sample:


It predicts reading ease on a scale from 1 to 100, with 30 being "very difficult" and 70 being "easy." Flesch wrote that a score of 100 indicates reading matter understood by readers who have completed the fourth grade and are, in the language of the U.S. Census barely "functionally literate." Flesch compared the reading scores of popular magazines with other variables:
Flesch Reading Ease

The Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level is an index that gives the years of (U.S.) education required to comprehend a document. For example, a document with a Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level score of 10 would require that a reader have about 10 years (or a 10th grade level) of education to comprehend the document. It can be calculated using the equation:

Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level

Something funny with Cann1 - no matter how many times I check it, FLESH always gives a weird result for that sample. As for the rest of it - what do the numbers mean? No idea. I suppose that edubloggers writing styles (on this rather small sample) are somewhere between "easy" and "very difficult". The scores are roughly normally distributed. There's a negative correlation between the Reading Ease scores and the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level but it's not statistically significant.

So you sigh, decide against the idea of trying to stretch it out for a journal article and think, sod it, I'll just blog it.



Update: Thanks to Tony for sending me this additional link. This site in particular seems to confirm the opinion I've formed over the past 24 hours that readability indices are oversimplified nonsense.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Blogging is a forest

forest Tom Haskins says blogging looks like a forest.

So if a blogger falls in the forest, does it make a sound?

Creating interaction in online learning

Online Your homework for today. Compare and contrast at least two of the following:

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Blogging Heroes

Blogging Heroes Grant Robertson, the editor of Download Squad (easily my favourite tech blog) gives his blogging tips:
  • Content drives traffic.
  • Although some SEO tricks, such as linking deeper into your own blog and using tag words, can be effective, it is best to stay away from the darker and more unethical tricks.
  • Dedicate yourself to your blogging.
  • Constantly engage the conversation in your field or subject area, on other blogs and in forums.
  • Find the things that you're passionate about, and write about those things.
  • Now matter how little (or how much) progress you are making, just keep working. Things will change.
Good advice.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

FreeRice Game

FreeRice Game Clurb introduced me to the FreeRice Game:

FreeRice is a sister site of the world poverty site Poverty.com. FreeRice has two goals:
  • Provide English vocabulary to everyone for free.
  • Help end world hunger by providing rice to hungry people for free.
This is made possible by the sponsors who advertise on the site. For each word you get right, they donate 10 grains of rice to an international aid agency.

Update: Free rice game has generated enough rice in one month to feed 50,000 people for a day.

Speedlinking 101107

del.icio.us logo Yo mama so ugly she scared to go to the zoo
Never use an online translation engine to communicate with the Dutch Foreign Minister.

It’s all gone a bit wild west around this area of SNS
UK Universities On Facebook - UK Web Focus (and my quote of the week).

Blackboard - Customers Down, Profits Up

The big loss appears to be in Basic licenses, there is no evidence at this time that Blackboard is losing its lucrative Enterprise or Vista customers. The loss of the lower-end customers could actually be beneficial to Blackboard's finances.

The National Lottery is a tax on the stupid
Lottery operator Camelot has been forced to withdraw a scratchcard game because players were too innumerate to understand it.

Social networks overtake webmail
In October 2007, UK Internet visits to social networks overtook visits to web-based email services for the first time.

Poke Coke
Coca Cola is your Facebook friend.

If it ain't in a Microsoft box it ain't coming in

Aarrrgh!!!

Vid Snacks: A Place to Learn Video

Vid Snacks is a new site to help students and teachers begin to view video content creation. This is a great idea, but the implementation (Ning) is terrible! So I haven't subscribed - but I'd like to. Tim, please rethink and relaunch this great idea before it's too late and your important project dies due to bad design.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Schrödinger's RAE

Schrodinger A report from the vice-chancellors' group Universities UK (UUK) into the use of bibliometrics (the number of research papers published and how often they are cited) as a replacement for the destructive peer-review-based system being used for the current research assessment exercise (RAE 2008) concludes that bibliometrics could end up skewing the data used to judge research quality.

Duh. To measure is to distort. Just ask the cat.

It is typical of these cases that an indeterminacy originally restricted to the atomic domain becomes transformed into macroscopic indeterminacy, which can then be resolved by direct observation. That prevents us from so naively accepting as valid a "blurred model" for representing reality. In itself it would not embody anything unclear or contradictory. There is a difference between a shaky or out-of-focus photograph and a snapshot of clouds and fog banks. E.S.

Gráinne Conole: What constitutes good research in e-learning - are there lessons we can draw from the Research Assessment Exercise? ALT-J 2007 15: 183-188

SOTI Online Video Guide

Words of wisdom:

5 minutes is the new 60 minutes

Command in the hand versus slouch on the couch

Small pieces tightly joined


Can you see any talking heads in this video?


Thursday, November 08, 2007

Carnegie Mellon's Open Learning Initiative (OLI)

OLI logo The presentation which probably impressed me most at OpenLearn2007 was Carnegie Mellon's Open Learning Initiative (OLI). OLI is CMU's OER offering (sorry for all the TLAs). The OLI website offers free instant access to all the courses:
  • Statistics
  • Biology
  • Chemistry
    Physics
  • Causal Reasoning
  • and more
both in an unsupported "Open & Free" version, and via Instructor Accounts which allow creation of custom courses tailored to fit particular groups of students and which tracks students learning and generate reports.

But OLI is more than that. Candace Thille's presentation (p74) made some amazing (but well supported) claims for OLI, that these online methods (not just materials, but methods) are better than traditional teaching and that learners can learn a semester’s material in half the time, while still achieving the same or better learning outcomes:

OLI Graph

I'll definitely be integrating some of the OLI resources into my own teaching this year, but biting the bigger bullet is harder. Should I outsource my teaching to Carnegie Mellon University, and what would my institution do if I did? Until all students roll up at university with a PLE, this is the big question for OER in mainstream universities. And that's quite enough TLAs for one post.

Edublog awards

Logo Nominations for the 2007 Edublog Awards can be made at:

http://edublogawards.com/2007/2007-nominations/

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Facebook News Network

Facebook News Network:

The Social Map

Map of online communities

Nice feel to this, like a medieval navigation map: "here be dragons Google".
Some guesswork - do not use for navigation.


Long tail or critical mass? Is the long tail the antithesis of social networking or is it the place that will feed social networking?

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Whose Space? Differences Among Users and Non-Users of Social Network Sites

Facebook logo Are there systematic differences between people who use social network sites and those who stay away, despite a familiarity with them? Based on data from a survey administered to a diverse group of young adults, this article looks at the predictors of SNS usage, with particular focus on Facebook, MySpace, Xanga, and Friendster. Findings suggest that use of such sites is not randomly distributed across a group of highly wired users. A person's gender, race and ethnicity, and parental educational background are all associated with use, but in most cases only when the aggregate concept of social network sites is disaggregated by service. Additionally, people with more experience and autonomy of use are more likely to be users of such sites. Unequal participation based on user background suggests that differential adoption of such services may be contributing to digital inequality.

Whose Space? Differences Among Users and Non-Users of Social Network Sites
Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 13(1), 14

Over 99% of students had heard of both Facebook and MySpace, 79% use Facebook and 55% use MySpace, but there are statistically significant differences between usage when users are partitioned by race/ethnicity and parent education.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Digital Publishing Fair Use

Scales of justice I fervently hope that trade publishers learn from the music industry; inappropriately locked content drives use away. It is easy enough to perceive the lessons; what my conversation made me aware of was how much more difficult it is to layer the additional application against one's own industry. But there is not much time.
Peter Brantley

Fair use is a doctrine in United States copyright law that allows limited use of copyrighted material without requiring permission from the rights holders, such as use for scholarship or review, but this concept does not exist in UK Law.

Leicester fireworks

Over the last few years I've come to hate fireworks, but I love this great photo by placid casual:

Abbey Park fireworks

Blogging is like crack for academics

crack cocaine Jonathan Bellman:
Some non-blogging scholars ... argue that blogging lures people to do damage to themselves and their careers. Quick hits for easy kicks, fun in the short term and personal ruin in the end - blogging is like crack for academics. And there's another argument against academic blogging that's familiar from debates over Wikipedia: how can anything of value emerge from a medium where there's no-one in control, no editorial board, no-one maintaining intellectual standards and norms of civility? Without such oversight, blogging is mere anarchy.
So is Bellman against or in favour of blogging? You'll have to read the whole thing.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Microchunking the Godfather

I have seen the future of content, and it is microchunking.

Recently I brought you String Theory in Two Seconds or Less, and now, The Godfather in Two Minutes or Less. Video:

Friday, November 02, 2007

Posted with Flock

Get Flocked Flock it.

Blogged with Flock

I've been mashed

ROFL:





Hmm, parttimebassist - who was that masked man?
I think I know!

As I was saying (at OpenLearn2007) before I was so humorously interrupted:

Viral video = student engagement
Audio podcasts = yawn

Update: Laura says this is a good use of RSS - Really Simple Sockie!

Making Tony Happy

RSS icons make Tony happy, especially the one in this link he sent me. So hopefully, he'll like this one too:

Sockie RSS


Thursday, November 01, 2007

I don't know what to say

Uh, I don't know, Um, I don't know what to say. I don't know. (pauses) I didn't know anybody was there.

What I learned at OpenLearn2007

OpenLearn No posts for the last couple of days because I was at the OpenLearn2007 conference (proceedings here). It was nice to carve out a little reflective space and just listen for a while (I didn't even check my email) - not that there was any shortage of blogging going on!

John Seeley Brown John Seely Brown's opening keynote was excellent, setting the right tone for the meeting.


Doug Clow and I My talk seemed to be well received - maybe it was good timing to have some light relief later in the day.


The panel discussion at the end of day one was also thought-provoking. I can't remember who said this sometime during the meeting, but the overwhelming impression was:

There's something happening here, but what it is ain't exactly clear

Is OER going to revolutionize education, or was OpenLearn2007 "another 60's love-in"?

Conference buzzword: granularity

Elephant in the room: sustainability (= money)