Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Twitter and the Hockey Stick Graph

Hitwise reports that over the last year visits to Twitter are up eight-fold; in the past three months, visits have more than doubled and traffic continues to climb, up 60% in the past month:

So why is this? Probably a lot of reasons, involving both inputs and outputs, but here's one of them:
How long is it now?

Paxman's Gusset

Paxman's Pants I'm a huge fan of Jeremy Paxman, due both to his irascible harassment of tardy students on University Challenge, and to his love of social media. So it was with great concern that I learned that Paxo doesn't think he receives enough enough support. I know how he feels. The well endowed gentleman needs to be supported, although admittedly, for Jeremy this involves the gusset department, and in my case it involves support of a more technical nature.

So it was with interest that I read a recent story in the TimesOnline about a library that allows readers to borrow people for a 30-minute chat. Over the last few years, we've worked very hard in the School of Biological Sciences supporting both students, and perhaps more importantly academic staff, in the use of I.T (it's one of the reasons we're able to offer one of the top 10 Biological Sciences degrees in the UK).

One of the first things we found out was that centralized, top-down, one size fits all I.T. support doesn't work. So instead, we've used our resources to go and talk to staff, face to face if necessary, but they also know that someone who knows understands what they want to do is available on the end of the phone, by email, and now via Twitter. And it worked. Staff feel well supported, and even reluctant users of newer learning technologies have embraced new approaches to teaching.

So this is the model that we need to follow as we start to roll out our new initiative to support postgraduate laboratory scientists. Oh, we'll do the talks and the website, but most importantly, we need to put ourselves in the short loan collection, so that when they call on us we can go and hold their hand for half an hour. And of course, we'll plug them into our online networks (on, on Google Reader and on Twitter) as they develop their own and start to support each other.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Linux Still Geektastic


Since I like to live life on the bleeding edge, I upgraded not one but twice on the day Ubuntu 8.04 (Hardy Heron) was released. And there's not much to say really. The whole experience was painless. The process of upgrading from 7.10 was a bit slow on an aging Toshiba laptop, but that was due to the processor (1 GHz Celeron) and limited RAM (750 Mb). Performance knocks the socks off Windoze XP which had essentially become unusable on this machine. A new installation on a shiny Mac Pro (via Parallels) was much faster and equally effortless. And that's all there is to say.

Except, as Steve Jobs would say, one more thing.

There's a problem. Installing new software on any version of Linux, Ubuntu included, is still painful, and beyond the ability of mere mortals. Whether you use the Synaptic package manager, terminal, or whatever, even if there is a Debian distro of your favourite gizmo, Joe Public can't install new software. Unless and until Linux moves to a click-on-a-link, oh-here's-an-installer, click-the-Agree-button model of software distribution in some way similar to Windoze or OS X, it's not ready for prime time and it won't be able to rule the world. I wish I didn't have to say this, but it's time for Linux (and I think we're talking Ubuntu here), now in it's difficult teenage years, to grow up and face the facts. In the real world, the geeks are not always going to be there to hold its hand. It has to be able to stand on its own two feet.

Update: Liam's suggestion

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Nag nag nag


Nature Publishing Group's commitment to open access publishing

Nature Medicine's editor Juan Carlos Lopez on open access publishing:

I must confess that the talk got a little boring when people started asking me questions about open-access publishing. It was fascinating to see how difficult it was for some people to understand that scientific publishing costs money, and that there are different models to recover your costs - the author-pays model, the subscription model, and everything in between. The talk got boring (at least to me) because I have very little patience with this discussion when people stop putting forward compelling arguments in support of their ideas or, as in this case, when people just don't seem to want to get the simple point I was trying to make: as there are different models, publishing groups ought to choose the model that works best for each of them. In our case, the subscription-based model is the only one that seems viable for the time being. How difficult is it to get this point?

There's no such thing as average

Long tail User-generated content follows a long tail distribution.

So what?

The "average user" (or student) is mythical: participation inequality rules online.

Ochoa, Xavier and Duval, Erik (2008) Quantitative analysis of user-generated content on the Web. pp. 19-26. In: Proceedings of the First International Workshop on Understanding Web Evolution (WebEvolve2008), 22 Apr 2008, Beijing, China.

User-generated content (UGC) is becoming the most popular and valuable information available on the WWW. However, little serious research has been conducted to measure the properties of its production process. This paper presents an in-depth quantitative analysis of nine popular websites that are based on different UGC types. The Information Production Process is used as a framework for the analysis. The findings provide for first time strong scientific evidence for previously anecdotic knowledge: UGC production follows “long-tail” distributions and it is marked with a strong “participation inequality”. Also, the analysis arrived to unexpected findings: not all the UGC types follow the inverse power-law distribution, and large content collections could be dominated by the presence of ultraproductive users. The analysis results also have implications for the administration of UGC-based websites.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

IdeaScale, sorted

IdeaScale For the last 24 hours I've been trying to figure out how we could use IdeaScale, the new Digg-type site, either for our PLE project, or for the shiny new School BlackBoard site.

And then it hit me - we rip off Stuart's suggestion box idea so that everyone in the School can tell us how to run it!

Neat idea, huh?

Open Science?

Access to scientific literature is very important for the scientific research and education in developing countries. As a result of different projects a large collection of e-journals is now available for researchers in developing countries. The number of Open Access Journals is growing steadily. About 13,000 scientific journals are now available in the Open Science Directory. When all the special program journals will be included, the Open Science Directory will contain more than 20,000 titles.

Open Science Directory

Nature, Science, Cell - are you listening?

Science 2.0 - Is Open Access Science the Future? Scientific American, April 18 2008:
Meanwhile [Timo] Hannay has been taking the Nature group into the Web 2.0 world aggressively. “Our real mission isn’t to publish journals but to facilitate scientific communication,” he says. Among the efforts are Nature Network, a social network for scientists; Connotea, a social bookmarking site for research references patterned on the popular site; and Nature Precedings, a Web site where researchers can comment on unpublished manuscripts, presentations and other documents.

Bullsh*t! When did NPG become a non-profit charity?

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Social Bookmarking for Life Scientists Round 2: Connotea vs. CiteULike

CiteULike Yesterday's post on Connotea stirred up more controversy than I had anticipated, so I'd like to follow it up today with some further thoughts and responses to some of the people who contributed to the discussion, both on this site and in private emails. I was very pleased to hear from Ian Mulvany, the product development manager for Connotea. It's good to hear that Connotea are aware of and working on some of the problems users have raised. Ian also raised a fair point concerning Connotea being an NPG site.
I think that for at least as many people that worry about it an equal number choose to use Connotea as they feel that by being backed by a publisher that has been around for some time there is an implicit guarantee that the service will be around for a while. In the year that I have been involved this is the 3rd time that I have explicitly addressed this question, and it is a fair one. Part of our answer to that is that our code is open source, and we have an open API into our data. One advantage to a product like this coming out of a publishing company is that we are interested in technologies around the full spectrum of scientific communication. Working with people who develop Nature Network, or who look at content matching will feedback into Connotea and make it a stronger product, at least I hope ;).
While the open API gives Connotea an advantage over CiteULike (Citeulike: A Researcher's Social Bookmarking Service. Ariadne Issue 51 April 2007), in my view and in the view of some of those who contacted me privately, this is cancelled out by the fact that it is perceived as a tentacle of the "Nature Network" (network by name, but not by nature).

I've had chance to play a little bit with CiteULike now, and my feeling is that it's very similar to Connotea overall. In my limited testing, CiteUlike feels better than Connotea on spam links, and I much prefer the CiteUlike interface, without the spurious Nature crap and adverts which turn scientists off in a big way. The pdf upload option is also very attractive to many scientists. On balance, CiteUlike wins.

But here's the problem:

Almost all the people who emailed me privately said the same thing: I tried Connotea/CiteUlike a while ago, but I don't use them. I couldn't see the point. And there's a reason for that. If these sites are just filing systems into which people chuck references, they can't compete against existing systems in use such as EndNote, RefWorks, etc. The people who emailed me were not big social network users, and had not understood the resource discovery implications of a refined network such as one can build on (or Twitter).

Or had they?

Are either of these sites fit for purpose? Neither site feels like it has a big enough user base in the Life Sciences to make it of much use for resource discovery. And that's confirmed by this paper:

Content Reuse and Interest Sharing in Tagging Communities
Tagging communities represent a subclass of a broader class of user-generated content-sharing online communities. In such communities users introduce and tag content for later use. Although recent studies advocate and attempt to harness social knowledge in this context by exploiting collaboration among users, little research has been done to quantify the current level of user collaboration in these communities. This paper introduces two metrics to quantify the level of collaboration: content reuse and shared interest. Using these two metrics, this paper shows that the current level of collaboration in CiteULike and Connotea is consistently low, which significantly limits the potential of harnessing the social knowledge in communities. This study also discusses implications of these findings in the context of recommendation and reputation systems.


These numbers are trivial compared to (well over 2 million). But it gets worse. Scientists don't share. The above study finds: 1) consistently low levels of item reuse, (2) high levels of tag reuse, and (3) most activity being generated by existing users with little recruitment to a low base.

So here's the solution. Neither Connotea not CiteULike are fit for purpose, Even if they were to merge (which they won't), they probably couldn't overcome the damage they have done to social bookmarking in the Life Sciences. But there's one site which could. If PubMed were to add social resource discovery features, it would kick both Connotea and CiteUlike into touch, and possibly overcome the reluctance of self-absorbed bench scientists to share resources.

And until that happens, I'm not prepared to recommend either Connotea or CiteULike to undergraduates. I may recommend CiteULike to postgraduate and postdoctoral scientists as an alternative to - but only until PubMed introduces social resource discovery and sharing features, then it's game over.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Jorum cracks under the irresistable pressure of SOTI scrutiny

Well, maybe it wasn't quite like that, but according to the CETIS blog :

... removing my main objection to Jorum. There's nothing on the Jorum site yet, but that's about what I'd expect. Oh well, baby steps in the right direction...

How much do I hate Connotea? Let me count the ways...

Logo When I started writing this post, hate was definitely the right word, but maybe now it's a bit strong. My current opinion of Connotea would be closer to detest:

  • Cheesy interface, looks like it was coloured in by a five year old. I suppose this could be a matter of taste (as in, you don't have any).
  • Tiny user community! No amplification of knowledge through a non-existent social network - sucks compared to
  • Link spam! Doesn't get removed by site admins very quickly, if at all. (Connotea has an ongoing spam problem).
  • Constant worry in the back of my mind that it is owned by Nature Publishing Group. What effect does this have, and to what extent is Connotea a walled garden? (Is Connotea controlled in the same way as Nature's From the Blogosphere, i.e. the bit of the blogosphere that Nature publishes?).

Connotea sucks

Grudging acknowledgment of the good points:
  • Handling of doi's works well. Most times I try to click on a doi, it breaks, but Connotea seems to make doi's work as they should.
  • Browser bookmarklet works well, interfaces with PubMed nicely.
  • Interfaces with a range of bibiographic software (Endnote, Reference Manager and has a plain text export option for RefWorks).

Sigh, see what I go through for you in my self-appointed role to walk the walk? Next week, I will be mostly using CiteULike, but if you're a Conntea user and you have a different opinion, I'd be very interested to hear from you.

Update: Neil has the figures.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Good Germs, Bad Germs: Health and Survival in a Bacterial World

Cover Both friendly and destructive bacteria live in our mouths, eyes, skin and elsewhere. Over millions of years, the body has come to an accommodation with those creatures, generally striking a balance ensuring survival. This balance has been severely offset in recent years, due to a "cleanliness" obsession that arose when it became clear that some germs were responsible for diseases. This idea was effectively demonstrated by UK researcher David Strachan, whose research led to what is now called the "hygiene hypothesis" - respiratory illnesses result from lack of cross-microbe activity to build immunities. In short, rich, small families were more prone to allergies than large, poorer ones. As Sachs points out, humans in our society overreacted to the new knowledge about disease-causing germs and sought to eliminate them all. The imbalance has led to many tragic situations, and initiated a guarantee that more, perhaps worse, situations are in the offing. What are we to do about it?

Jessica Sachs guides us through the findings of scores of scientists' work that has revised the approach we were taught about "germs" in our childhood. Eating mud, something many of us were at least verbally chastised for, turns out to be a good thing, even a necessity. From birth, the introduction of certain microbes initiate processes the body needs to keep going. For most people today, it's well known that microbes in our tummies are part of the process of digestion. Escherichia coli is known to be a true friend - in controlled numbers and certain strains. What's less known is how many other bacteria the body relies on to get certain jobs done. One of those jobs is keeping the immune system properly tuned. A lazy immune system is unresponsive or unable to react to invasion. An overly ambitious one can turn on its own body and destroy it.

Publisher Hill & Wang, Oct 2007, ISBN-10: 0809050633

Friday, April 18, 2008

New maths

Belated happy birthday Tom!



Yet another Twitter analogy

Wine The Twitter paradox is that the concept is so simple, and yet it is so difficult to explain the value of the site to someone who has not immersed themself in it. So I find myself collecting analogies for those evangelical conversations I keep having. And I've just thought of another one:

Twitter is like a reception at a conference. You're standing around with a glass of wine in your hand talking to a group of people. Some of them you know well (maybe you work with them). Some of them you know through their work (or interests), but you've never met before. And there's a few others who you don't have any idea about. The conversation is free flowing (you're on your second glass of wine), and covers work, social topics, gossip, and the occasional random remark thrown in. There's a lot of background noise from other conversations. And this is why we go to conferences. Not for the presentations, which we can read when the conference book is published. We go for the craic that happens in the hallways.

Outright Theft

Possible strategy for successful PLE teaching: steal Howard Rheingold's ideas:

Howard Rheingold

What do we think team?

Thursday, April 17, 2008


A "head to head" comparison of and YouTube QuickCapture:

RSS subscribers - visit site to watch video

Talking heads - just say no!

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

RSS subscribers - visit site to watch video

I haven't bothered optimizing lighting and sound yet, but comments and suggestions welcome.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

I'm "at" the JISC08 conference


JISC Conference 2008: Enabling innovation
Twitter hashtag #jisc08

Update: JISC08, the remote participant
This was the first conference I have attended remotely (unattended?) where Twitter was my primary communication channel. Without the alerts this morning from people I follow on Twitter, I would not have participated in this meeting. Much credit must go to Matt Jukes for his efforts to make this possible. David Puttnam was particularly good value. I could have done without the extended advert for Wikia.
In terms of presentation, the meeting fell short of ALT-C 2007, but not far - and without anything to download and install, which is a deal-breaker for many possible participants. The Ustream video and Twitter hashtag provided good communication, especially the back channel of exchanging tweets with other remote participants.
The problems were the lack of speakers slides and planning failure before the meeting (confusion over two hashtags and no Q&A streamed for the first keynote). It would also be nice for the chair to take at least a few questions from the remote participants.
And we're still learning how to do this remote participation thing. JISC08 - not a bad effort, but I'm looking forward to JISC09.

Monday, April 14, 2008

The Big Question: If We Build It...

Boffin David Crotty, the Executive Editor of CSH Protocols, wrote about Why Web2.0 is failing in biology. The basic problem is that research scientists are overscheduled and overworked:
I can barely keep up with the literature in my field and with what my labmates are doing. Who has time to spend reading some grad student’s blog?
They can't afford to invest the time in new technologies which might, ultimately, make them better researchers. There's also a degree of snootiness about social networks, which are seen as full of teenagers chatting about rock bands. The only effective social networks for scientists are about finding another job after your present short term contract ends, or finding applicants for that post-doctoral place you need to fill.

As we begin the big UoL push towards personal learning environments for students, it's abundantly clear that this will only be successful if students perceive that academic staff are on board. Ultimately, I'm not worried about converting the students to the benefits of PLEs. I am concerned about how we convince colleagues to embrace the same benefits for their own careers.

Crotty's proposed solutions are to:
  • Create sites that save users time rather than asking them to invest time. Tricky one this, but OTOH, who ever went on a Staff Development course to use a Web2.0 site?
  • Quality = Relevance. Conflicts with "Filter on the way out".
  • Lower the barriers to entry, be obvious. Twitter replaces email? What else?
  • Cater to the culture of your readers. Not sure what that one means?
  • Have a buisness model. Which surely implies investment and reward...
My approach is probably going to involve a guerrilla campaign rather than any top-down full-frontal assault, and hope that hearts and minds will follow. Peer pressure is probably the only way we can progress. Web2.0 needs to be lived, not prescribed.

Where shall we start? RSS? Twitter?

Update from David Crotty

Thursday, April 10, 2008



Assessing the accessibility of online learning

Assessing the accessibility of online learning.
Joanne Badge, Emma Dawson, Alan Cann and Jon Scott.
School of Biological Sciences, University of Leicester, Leicester, UK.
Journal Innovations in Education and Teaching International, 2008, 45 (2): 103-113

A wide range of tools is now available to enable teaching practitioners to create web-based educational materials from PowerPoint presentations, adding a variety of different digital media, such as audio and animation. The pilot study described in this paper compared three different systems for producing multimedia presentations from existing PowerPoint files. The resulting resources were tested by a group of disabled students and a group of non-disabled students. Our findings show that there were statistically significant differences between the two groups in relation to their interaction with the resources. In particular, the students with disabilities were significantly more active in using the available controls to customise the running of the presentations. The data suggest that future work on why students with accessibility issues made different uses of these resources could encourage practitioners' deployment of multimedia resources for the benefit of all learners.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

ePortfolios - getting down to the nitty gritty

As part of our project on Personal Learning Environments and Personal Development Planning students will be constructing an ePortfolio (that's the PDP bit). We are currently evaluating a range of ePortfolio solutions, including some off-the-shelf commercial products. The only decision made so far is that students need to have access to their portfolio after they graduate, which rules out the use of Blackboard (since the University will not undertake to provide lifelong access to Blackboard for all students). Although no decisions have been made yet, since this approach to PDP will evolve out of the construction of a PLE, a Web2.0 solution seems to be the front runner at present.

At a meeting this morning, we discussed some of the design criteria which we intend to apply. We started off with a quadrant design based on academic/non-academic and quantitative/qualitative content, but after some discussion (of the relative geometric merits of quadrants, spirals, cones and bezels), arrived at a design which looks something like (at least in the first iteration):
ePortfolio diagram

Wow! Learning design! Gráinne's going to be pleased (or cross?) with me :-)
Now to build something...

Bits I forgot earlier:
We had a longish discussion on the problems posed by the fact that much of the communication students receive is paper-based, and the paper is going to stay in our system for the foreseeable future.
The other thing I forgot to say is that comments are, of course, welcome!

Completely obsessed

Tweetcloud In 1988 I bought my first video recorder. I soon discovered that you could fast forward through the adverts, something I had not considered before I owned one. In meetings at work, my thumb used to get tired pressing the non-existent fast forward button to get through the boring speaker to the interesting bit.

Like a lot of people, I didn't get Twitter in 2007, and it wasn't until it was amplified through SXSW2008 that I got the point. Through Twitter, I have come to understand that knowledge is a river from which I can take a drink, not a reservoir in which I might drown. How do we pass this experience on to students, and avoid the mess which happens when they try to drink from the firehose of knowledge?

Am I completely obsessed with Twitter? Probably. Should I get out more?

Twitterholics, for those obsessed with Twitter, and finally:

How to make a personal todo list on Twitter:
Courtesy of the Hirstmeister, Lord High PooBah of Mashupistan:
Hashtag your todo items on Twitter (#todo), then:
Stick a link to the url in your browser bookmark bar, et voilà!

And that's it, no more Twitter posts this week - honest.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Plagarism meeting live blog roundup

logo The Higher Education Academy Centre for Bioscience
Preventing and Designing out Plagiarism
University of Leicester
Tuesday 8th April 2008

We live blogged this event on Twitter using hashtag #uolplag. Here are my reflections not on the day itself, but on the liveblogging process:

I found the experience less rewarding than the session we liveblogged last week. There were only two active contributors to the hashtag stream, others either speaking at the meeting or finding it difficult to get involved via SMS, so there was less diversity of viewpoints, and no real discussion online, just some knockabout humour.

Note: Successful liveblogging requires sufficient contributors representing a diversity of views.

Michael Wesch: Anti-Teaching - Confronting The Crisis Of Significance

Apple If you want to see the significance problem first hand, visit a classroom and pay attention to the types of questions asked by students. Good questions are the driving force of critical and creative thinking and therefore one of the best indicators of significant learning. Good questions are those that force students to challenge their taken-forgranted assumptions and see their own underlying biases. Oftentimes the answer to a good question is irrelevant the question is an insight in itself. The only answer to the best questions is another good question. And so the best questions send students on rich and meaningful lifelong quests, question after question after question. Unfortunately, such great questions are rarely asked by students in an education system facing a crisis of significance. Much more common are administrative questions: How long does this paper need to be? Is attendance mandatory? Or the worst (and most common) of all: What do we need to know for this test? Such questions reflect the fact that, for many (students and teachers alike), education has become a relatively meaningless game of grades rather than an important and meaningful exploration of the world in which we live and co-create.
Contrary to many of my faculty peers, I do not blame the students themselves for asking these kinds of questions. As teachers we have created and continue to maintain an education system that inevitably produces them. If we accept John Dewey s notion that people learn what they do, the lecture format, which is the mainstay of teaching (especially in large introductory courses), teaches students to sit in neat rows and to respect, believe, and defer to authority (the teacher). Tests often measure little more than how well they can recite what they have been told. Hoping to memorize only just as much as necessary to succeed on the test, they ask that question I never want to hear - the ultimate exception to the rule that "there is no such thing as a bad question".

Michael Wesch: Anti-Teaching - Confronting The Crisis Of Significance

What the heck is Twitter and why should I care?

Monday, April 07, 2008

Preventing and Designing out Plagiarism

logo The Higher Education Academy Centre for Bioscience

Preventing and Designing out Plagiarism

University of Leicester
Tuesday 8th April 2008

Bookings for this event have now closed, but we will be live blogging the event on Twitter using hashtag #uolplag. If you're interested in participating, you need to follow hashtags on Twitter. This won't add anything to your feed, but will signal to follow you and allow your hashed tweets to be indexed and added to the event stream.

Plagiarism is a major issue for all those involved in teaching and learning in Higher Education. This one day event will focus on ways to prevent plagiarism and designing assessments to minimise the risk of plagiarism. There will be plenty of opportunities for delegates to discuss effective practice and share ideas, as well as interactive session and talks from people who have worked extensively in this area.


10.20 Welcome and Introduction.

10.30 Keynote. Fiona Duggan, Academy JISC Academic Integrity Service.

11.00 Electronic detection of plagiarism, Jo Badge, University of Leicester.

11.40 Teaching students what plagiarism is to prevent it. Maureen Dawson and Joyce Overfield, Manchester Metropolitan University.

12.05 Improving scientific literacy to prevent plagiarism. Dorothy Aidulis, University of Glasgow.

13.25 Using course and task design to deter students from plagiarism. Jude Carroll, Deputy Director Assessment Standards Knowledge exchange (ASKe) CETL.

14.40 Swapshop: An opportunity for you to share your thoughts and start a discussion around aspects of plagiarism:
  • Jon Scott, University of Leicester: Policy evolution and the elusive grail of consistency
  • Vivien Rolfe, De Montfort University: Using Turnitin for essay drafts and final submissions
  • Stuart Johnson, University of Leicester: Subject-specific online tutorials to help students understand what plagiarism is and how to avoid it
16.00 Reflections on the day and close.

The direct approach


At least it's honest. :-)

Snow Crash

Snowcrash When I was a yoof, I was a big science fiction fan. I served my time with Asimov and Clarke, working up through Huxley, but my favourite SF author was Harry Harrision, and my favourite Harrison book was the Stainless Steel Rat's Revenge.

At A level Eng Lit, it was compulsory to be embarassed about reading SF and I tended to mutter about Golding and The Inheritors. Then I became a scientist, and apart from the odd J.P. Donleavy in the holidays, there was no time for fiction at all.

My SF phase ended long before cyberpunk began, but of late, Tony's been making me feel uneducated. So over Easter, I read Neal Stevenson's Snow Crash.

Just as Gibson's Neuromancer predicted the internet, so Stephenson's Snow Crash predicts Second Life, right down to the hackers laughing at the noobs and the people who can't afford or don't indulge in expensive computers. Snow Crash was an easy read because it has a great narrative. And strangely familiar ... steel rats, eh?

And I don't feel guilty about reading SF again. Or if I do, it's a guilty pleasure.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Bioscience Horizons

Bioscience HorizonsBioscience Horizons is a free online journal publishing the best undergraduate bioscience research from the UK and Republic of Ireland. The journal provides a forum for students, their supervisors and universities, to showcase high quality undergraduate research work, strengthening the link between teaching and research in higher education. All papers are written by students and based on final year research projects.

Check it out

Saturday, April 05, 2008

A blog as a PhD thesis

Attila Chordash One day, all theses will be written this way (or will they? :-)

Attila Chordash is a Hungarian, born and raised in Budapest, writing his PhD thesis on the topic of mitochondrial and stem cell biology and regenerative medicine on WordPress.

Tag: thesis-live

Oops, I've broken the internet

Unable to connect In the last couple of days, two services which I've come to rely on have started to play up. One is Twhirl, the Twitter client built on Adobe Air, which was shaping up to be really useful (especially for handling multiple online identities), which seemed to break after the 0.7.5 update.
News: Thwirl just started working again, no obvious reason why, some server-side issue I guess.

The other is CoComment, which was broken by the Flock 1.1.1 update (still works with Firefox, but I use Flock as my main browser).

In neither case did I get any response to my support requests. Which is fine, except that if I outsource teaching resources to external web 2.0 sites, who will get the complaints from students when those services fall over? Niall Sclater took the opportunity recently to remind us of the dangers of selling your soul to Google. But until universities start providing us with services such as CoComment or Thwirl, what choice do I have?

Friday, April 04, 2008

What was it Oscar Wilde said about not being talked about?

Down the pan

Liveblogging the UoL Assessment and Feedback Event - Summary

twittersearch Yesterday, I wrote about liveblogging the University of Leicester Seminar on Marking, Remarking and Meaningful Learning: An Assessment and Feedback today. Here are my initial thoughts not on the seminar itself, but on the capture process.

This was my first proper experience at liveblogging any event, and it showed. I set up a hashtag (mrml) for the event a few hours before, and if I'd had the sense, I would have recruited more of my fellow attendees into the blogging team before we started, rather than sending emails during the first session and running around in the first coffee break (I'll know better next time). Thanks to those who contributed.

There were a few problems with the use of a hashtag, which some of the contributors were not familiar with, but between and twittersearch, I managed to capture most of the contributions (click on the links to see the output).

Before the kickoff, Andy Powell asked me why I wasn't planning on using CoveritLive. I replied that I was planning on using my iPod Touch and that I was interested in the value of twitter itself for this use. In the event, was very happy with the decision to use twitter and a hashtag. CoveritLive failed for Brian Kelly at a conference in Oxford today, so he had to resort to using Twitter (at least until his eeePC battery ran out ;-). The iPod Touch proved to be the ideal liveblogging device for Twitter, not as obtrusive or distracting as a laptop either for the blogger or for people around them, even during the Cafe to Go sessions. Other contributers used mobile SMS to interface with Twitter, and I'll have no hesitation using this approach to live blogging again.

The discipline of Twitter enforces a zen-like reflective quality on liveblogging, something I found very valuable to inhibit the Tourette's-like tendency I had to broadcast exactly what I thought about all of the speakers. Overall, my first liveblogging experience was more valuable that I thought it would be, and it's certainly something I intend to repeat, possibly with a bit more forward planning next time.

I hope others who were at the session will leave their comments below.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Marking, Remarking and Meaningful Learning

University of Leicester Tomorrow, I'll be at:

Marking, Remarking and Meaningful Learning: An Assessment and Feedback Seminar
Friday 4 April 2008, University of Leicester

and trying to liveblog the event on my Twitter stream, using hashtag #mrml


9.50 Welcome: Christine Fyfe, PVC Students.

10.00 How the baby got to eat the Smartie: Dr Jon Scott, Chair of the University of Leicester Assessment Working Group and Director of Studies, School of Biological Sciences.

10.15 The Leicester Student View of Feedback and Assessment – A film produced by Leicester University Student Television: Introduced by Aaron Porter, Academic Affairs Officer, Students Union.

10.35 Assessment and Feedback – the student perspective: Aaron Porter.

11.00 Assessment for Learning: why did I get 37%: Professor Brenda Smith, Associate Director, Higher Education Academy.

11.30 Coffee

11.50 – 13.00 Café to Go – Assessment Matters

1.00 – 1.40 Lunch

1.40 – 2.10 Café to Go

2.10 How we can get better feedback to more students in less time: Professor Phil Race, Independent Higher Education Training Consultant.

2.40 Summary: Dr Ross Parry, Museum Studies, UoL

3.10 – Close

Developed on behalf of the UoL Student Experience Enhancement Committee.

I'm back

Olly Bongo's from the Society for General Microbiology Spring Conference, which was held at the Edinburgh International Conference Centre*, after some train madness. (It turns out that to get from Edinburgh to the East Midlands I had to travel on the West Coast Mainline, and my colleague who was trying to get to Manchester had to travel on the East Coast Mainline. Who knew? Could their geographical knowledge have anything to do with the train I was on being half an hour late?)

Overall, I enjoyed the meeting, but not without some discomfort. The membership of SGM is heavily focussed on laboratory research, although the executive is now more advanced with regard to matters such as education, public policy and the public understanding of science - forward-looking enough to have sponsored my work in education over an extended period of time. There are some exciting developments in the use of social media being planned, but since these are under embargo at present, you'll have to wait a while before you read about them here.

The conversation I had with several SGM members went along the lines of:
What do you work on?

I'm interested in education research.

Yes, but what do you work on?
Another memorable exchange was about the possibility of publishing online posters presented at the meeting:
I'm not prepared to jeopardize a future paper in Nature by publishing what I put on my posters.

So what do you think of the Research Council's requirement to to publish in open access journals?

It's more important for my student's careers to publish in Nature.

So what do you do about the open access requirement?

I just ignore it.
I'm happy to relate this conversation here in the knowledge that the person concerned will never read it, because I didn't publish it in Nature. Some way still to go on the education front in SGM then...


*Update: When I got back to Leicester, the following email was waiting for me:
Subject: Looking for some feedback
Dr Cann,
I saw your twitter regarding wifi access at EICC pop up on my bloglines feed and I was wondering if you minded me asking a few quick questions?
I am responsible for delivering IT services at EICC and this includes building wide wireless access. I find balancing the requirement to provide a high quality, high speed service to many hundreds of users at one time with the cost of providing that service a tricky one so was interested to see that the cost we charge here was too high for you.
I have used the services on National Express and have often found that now they are free more people are using them and so the connection is often very slow to the point that I would have preferred to pay for a faster service.
Would your expectation be that a building such as the EICC should have a free service and if so would you have been satisfied if a slightly restricted bandwidth and service (web and email only) was free and a faster, unrestricted service was charged for?
Any comments you might have would be a great help in improving services in the future and I hope you do not mind me contacting you about this subject.
Richard Lloyd
Technical Production - ICT
To which I have replied:
Dear Richard,
It speaks highly of customer service at the EICC that you picked up on my comments on Twitter and contacted me so quickly, which I appreciate. I found the National Express East Coast mainline wifi service to be variable in speed, presumably depending on the speed, direction and location of the train and on how many passengers are using it at one time. I'm frankly staggered that it's possible at all to provide a "free" wifi service (my return ticket cost over a hundred quid, much more expensive that flying, but a lot greener) on a moving train.
I can't comment on the quality of the EICC wifi service since I didn't avail myself of it. The reason for this is that the delegates at this conference already paid a three-figure registration fee. Normally, another ten quid a day for wifi might be acceptable if it were not for the fact that by walking literally ten yards across the road to Olly Bongo's sandwich shop I could get "free" wifi for the price of a cup of coffee, or by walking a couple of hundred yards up to the Black Bull in the Grassmarket, where the wifi costs £2.50 a pint but comes with free beer.
You may not be aware of the fact that at academic conferences it is normally the case that wifi is provided "free" with your three-figure registration fee. I'm aware that SGM, not being a very technologically-advanced organization, did not negotiate this service with you when the EICC meeting was arranged, but with the number of small businesses providing a "free" wifi service within yards of the EICC, 10 quid a day feels like you are gouging your customers, so I'll vote with my feet.
I'd be happy for you to pass my comments on the the EICC management to improve the service at your otherwise excellent facility.