Monday, March 30, 2009

Are you on the list?

Interesting In the last week, two of my Twitter followers have asked me Are you on this list? In both cases, the answer was - no.

Whether it's scientwists, wefollow or justtweetit, Twitter is about your personal network, it's not about lists, directories or catalogues.

Until you "get" that, you don't "get" Twitter.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Public or Public Facing? #jiscri

WriteToReply I've been chatting to Joss Winn on Twitter about his JISCRI bid, WriteToReply: Supporting Document Based Public Consultations on the Web. The conversation arose from my failure to grasp the purpose of the JISCRI BuddyPress site, (see Writing in Public Spaces).

It's hard to make an intellectual case against open access these days, but open access is concerned with the publication of what are essentially finished products. Open development of ideas is a much more challenging concept for most people (paralleled in the open science debate). While I think Joss' bid to develop WriteToReply is admirable in principle and worthy of JISC support (if JISC was a democracy, he'd have my vote ;-), I'm stumbling over the practicalities of developing competitive bids in public.

Last week someone commented on the culture of openness at UoL. We raised a wry smile and pointed out that the group of us who choose to engage with public channels such as blogs and Twitter are very much a minority, and the jury is still out as to whether this will be a beneficial career move :-)

The reality is that we carefully self-edit our public-facing personas. We constantly fight our Twitterette syndrome tendency to say exactly what we think of our students, our colleagues and our senior managers, because that's as undesirable as Tourette's itself. But when we're stumbling towards the formation of an idea or a bid, the problem is more complex, for we are in competition with others for the same inadequate resource pot. How do we establish priority of ideas and prevent intellectual plagiarism?

Joss thinks there should be two stages of bid marking, once by the community before submission and finally by referees after submission. Sounds dangerously close to democracy to me:
majority rule is often described as a characteristic feature of democracy, but without responsible government it is possible for the rights of a minority to be abused by the tyranny of the majority
Remember that in the Greek city states democracy was for the citizens - the slaves didn't vote. What if my owner decides my ideas are theirs? Who gets the money? Who does the work?

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Bad service from Apple in Leicester?

Apple Highcross Exactly one week ago, I walked in the Apple store in Highcross, Leicester, as a customer. Of course, I've been in there before, but never to put any money down, so this was my first f2f encounter with the Apple "Geniuses" (why does anything Apple labels "genius" turn to ashes?).

A couple of days before, the disk had failed in one of my G5 iMacs. I knew what the problem was and was able to tell the store staff. After a 20 minute discussion (which I was forced to gradually escalate into "argument"), they somewhat grudgingly agreed to take the machine for repair. Yes, I could have done it myself, but the idea was that this would be less trouble.

Three days later - nothing. So I phone them. They confirm the disk needs replacing. I authorise the repair. Ten minutes later I get a phone call from a different Apple "Genius". Did you just phone us? Sigh.

A week later - nothing. I phone them again. They don't have the part yet. They don't know when the repair will be completed. Fail.

I've never had a problem with Apple's premium pricing, because I've never regarded it as a premium, simply as value for money. So, have I been particularly unlucky? Is the Highcross store particularly dozy? Is Apple losing the plot?

Friday, March 27, 2009


disstill If there's going to be a word of the year on SoTI this year, it's going to be:

As I've said before, there is no such thing as too much information. There is such a thing as too little filtering. Which is where disstill comes in. I've always known there was some good and very timely information on Digg, but filtering the signal from the noise has been too difficult previously. Disstill is a simple web application (think sliders) that lets you customize Digg RSS feeds by the number of diggs a story has received. You'll need to play around to set a level that is comfortable for you. After that, filter and forget.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Get yer tweets around this

Proverb We need a new culture of Twitter. Proverbs help us make sense of cultural norms. Proverbs2.0 will help us make sense of Twitter culture:

It is easier for a Prog Rock band to pass through the eye of a needle than to stop iTunes playing Camel.

I have nothing to offer but blogs, txts, tweets, and status.

Happiness is a warm teabag.

Join the fun

PedR Superstar?

Superstars Following on from Tuesday's Pedagogic Research in the Biosciences event, yesterday I left a drive-by comment on Jo's blog about the connection (or rather, disconnect) between teaching and pedagogic research.

Clearly, you don't need to teach to do PedR, and I can think of a few PedR superstars who have never taught. But if you do teach, and you do PedR, what then? I don't feel we got to the bottom of this in the ethics discussion on Tuesday.

Those who can, teach. Those who can't, research?

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Happy #Apprentice Day

The Apprentice It's that time of year, and The Apprentice has rolled round again. With its familiar mixture of wit (I know the words to Candle In The Wind. It don't make me Elton John) and wisdom (I was born in Hackney. When you're born in Hackney and you do well in life, you move to Chigwell), The Apprentice is the diamond geezer freakshow in my otherwise humdrum existence.

So why am I writing about it here? I'm not a great football fan (East Fife 4, Forfar 5), but I do recognize that that Sport of Princes enables diehard fans to join in a collective outpouring of emotion. So join me at the waterhole at 9pm this evening, and let's all celebrate this cultural icon.

"As times have changed, you seem to have gone from anchor to w*nker"

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Pedagogic Research in the Biosciences

logo Today I will be mostly at Pedagogic Research in the Biosciences:


10.00 Registration and refreshments
10.20 Welcome and Introduction to the day Steve Maw, Centre for Bioscience
10.30 Social Science Research Methodologies: Bonnie Green, University of Leicester
11.15 Practitioner Perspectives: three scientists give the benefit of their experience in moving into education research with a “warts ‘n’ all” deconstruction of a piece of their own work.
* Teaching about bioethics through authoring of websites: Chris Willmott, University of Leicester
* Exploring peer and self assessment of oral presentations: opportunistically using residential field courses for Action Research: Mark Langan and Rod Cullen, Manchester Metropolitan University
* A farewell to controls? The problems with experiments in education: Mark Huxham, Napier University - followed by general discussion
12.30 Lunch
13.30 Afternoon Session: Facilitated by Paul Orsmond
Attendees will have the opportunity to join discussions on
* Evaluating Pedagogical Research led by Jon Scott,
* Feedback led by Paul Orsmond.
15.30 Feedback: Facilitated by Paul Orsmond
16.00 Reflections and Close

Twitter: #cfbres

Monday, March 23, 2009

The way forward

Jungle After the wonderful input from all the contributors to last week's posts about my final year virology course (Groupthink, Groupthink update), I spent the weekend pondering the comments and I now have a plan for next year.

The trick, of course, is to separate learning from assessment. The question was raised, why do you need to assess students? There are several answers to that, ranging from the simplest - I have to return a mark for continuous assessment to the School - through more complex - to provide feedback to students on their understanding - to heavyweight pedagogical navel-gazing (which I'll spare you for now).

I already have sets of online MCQs which the students on this module are allowed to use formatively, although only a minority do (and of course not the students who really need to). In future years, these will be used for periodic summative assessments, which will also provide feedback and a CA mark for the School.

The old discussion board (which was never used for any real discussion) will be replaced with a non-assessed course blog, which will have a supportive but mainly an educational role where I'll post questions and try to stimulate discussion. (It may be that circumstances force me to devote a small proportion of the continuous assessment marks to this activity. In that case, the problem lies in defining the rationale for the activity and concise and clear marking criteria.) I already know that only a minority of students will participate in this non-assessed activity. (I could even tell you who they are). So what about the rest of them? They are adults with a minimum of three years higher education under their belts. This is their final opportunity to grow up and take more ownership of their own learning. It's a jungle out there.

Friday, March 20, 2009

How Much?!!*?

Tony rose magnificently to the challenge of visualizing vice-chancellor's pay rises. To see how much your boss pays themself, click on the diagram:

Vice Chancellors Pay

Now where's that Nottingham application form?

Groupthink update

Flow If you haven't already done so, before reading this, please read Groupthink.

I was brooding about this yesterday evening when I read Doug Belshaw's post Flow and the Autotelic Classroom. I'm skeptical when it comes to emotional intelligence, and although I occasionally recognize something which feels to me like flow, most of what has been written on the subject is just a statement of the bleedin' obvious.

Having said that, one thing in Doug's post struck me as relevant to my problem - the desirability of moving learners from being externally driven (which our final year students undoubtedly are) to being internally driven.

So the only problem is how to do that :-)

I'm not convinced that the four recommendations are easily applicable to my final year group:
  1. Setting goals
  2. Becoming immersed in the activity
  3. Paying attention to what is happening
  4. Learning to enjoy immediate experience
Um, more groupthink, anyone?

It's Chinatown

Principles of Molecular Virology It's the time of year when I'm watching my mail expectantly waiting for my annual royalties from the publisher of Principles of Molecular Virology.

Oh good, the statement has just arrived. Looking good, over 10,000 copies of this edition sold so far. So let's look at the royalty breakdown. How much did I earn from the EBook? £77? That's very disappointing!

Well at least it's been translated into Chinese. According to Wikipedia, the population of China was 1,321,000,000 in 2007. How much did I earn from the Chinese edition?

Thursday, March 19, 2009


AJCann Sigh, Just had a really depressing final session with year 3 virology class.

AJCann They've been writing blog posts since January, complaining bitterly "too hard".

AJCann Do they read others posts? "No". Should I use a wiki instead? "No, it's not 'fair' ". Sigh. Give up?

psychemedia @AJCann writing blog posts is hard if it's not what you just do anyway; part of killer app of blogging for me is it's my searchable notebook

AJCann @psychemedia That's why I wanted them to read each others posts. They don't :-(

wmjohn @AJCann feeling and understanding your pain. :)

AJBell @AJCann are they complaining *because* its so different from the previous 2.5 years of coursework they've been put through?

psychemedia @AJCann another prob is: must they go online to just do the blogging? If you have to turn on PC just for that task, it'll always be a chore?

AJCann @psychemedia They're pretty hardwired to Bb so I don't think that's a huge problem.

ffolliet @AJCann group think. it (+you) r wasted on them. ur not going2change them sadly. that doesn't negate rest of ur good work

sleslie @AJCann following @psychemedia's idea, is there an activity you could assign that would cause them to refer back to own work, see the value?

AJCann @sleslie Such as ? Interested...

sleslie @AJCann not sure, don't know your full context, thinking out loud. But bloggers see value when they start to weave together own collection

AJ Cann @AJBell Yes, in part, also because it requires critical thinking.

AJBell @AJCann should not all coursework involve critical thinking?

AJCann @AJBell You've been there - did it?

AJCann @ffolliet OK, so how do I get from there to a strategy?

amcunningham @AJCann are you asking them to blog just for the sake of it... ie it is assessed? or can they gain something else from it?

AJCann @amcunningham It is assessed or they wouldn't do it. The idea is that they gain subject knowledge (and hopefully analytical skills).

amcunningham @AJCann let the assessment not be the blog but a document in which they can reference other students blogs. then blog is means not end?

AJCann @amcunningham Err, I could see that developing into a Mexican stand-off. Any examples of where that's been done successfully?

ffolliet @AJCann mine is purely a ministry of encouragement...

amcunningham @AJCann well, no! but that's how i use discussion boards and it works. funny to read 'you've made my reference list!' on the boards

AJCann @amcunningham I used to use discussion boards, but it degenerated into highly strategic gameplaying rather than thinking about virology.

AJBell @AJCann you marked it.

amcunningham @AJCann but did you assess participation or learning from them? i say students have to compare experience of family they are visiting with other families. they can do this through other students accounts in bb discussion forum or through patient forums. some don't do this at all in the past so lose credit for that part. but work is submitted in monday so hoping for higher hit rate this year.

AJCann @AJBell You did the discussion board or the wikipedia exercise?

AJCann So if it's all about alignment (eg of expectations), should I ask them "Tell me what you learned this week?" How would I mark the "answers"?

amcunningham @AJCann that's a good one. i decided that 500w reflection would only get formative feedback this year. other 3000 words will determine mark.

AJCann @amcunningham Very varied participation rates for formative across different disciplines. We're trapped on an assessment treadmill.

nogbad @AJCann I think you (we?) need to "align" those expectations upwards, i.e. yours stay still and we bring the others to meet them.

AJCann @nogbad Difficult transition - easy to go in the other direction!

AJBell @AJCann wiki exercise - but I disliked it because I don't like the wikipedia concept

An Unpost About Uncourses

Random walk This week, I've been thinking about uncourses, so in the accustomed manner when I want to reflect on something, here's the obligatory blog post. Unlike the traditional structure of beginning (grab their attention), middle (state the case), and end (request information or set up the discussion) narrative structure I normally use for posts, being an unpost, we're going for:
middle - middle - middle

A thought triggered by the RWW post SXSW Panel: Beyond Aggregation was - what's the difference between an uncourse and Google Reader/FriendFeed? I'd say the difference was that although serendipity is involved in both, an uncourse implies elements of preparation and syllabus definition which are lacking in pure aggregation (although aggregation probably scores higher on the serendipity scale.

So what is an uncourse, and is MicrobiologyBytes an uncourse? MB is an experiment in microchunking, but it is open-ended and driven by sependitipitous content, and ongoing - the curriculum not defined. In that respect it owes more to aggregation than design. Maybe it's not an uncourse in the way that I plan StatsBytes will be. Maybe it's Course2.0, in perpetual beta.

How will StatsBytes differ from MicrobiologyBytes? The curriculum has been defined at the outset, so now I need to join the dots. My hope is that the microchunked structure and intensely hyperlinked architecture that microchunking makes possible will reinforce the core concepts that I seem to need to revisit with every statistical test I introduce (EDA, choice of tests, hypothesis formation, etc). It's never been my intention that MicrobiologyBytes would work in that way.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009


tweet I seem to have developed an unhealthy obsession with Wordpress :-)

It all started here last month when I asked Should I stay or should I go? The net result of that discussion was that MicrobiologyBytes will be moving to its own domain on 27th March.

That was followed by the decision to adopt Wordpress as the architecture for our nascent JISCRI project, ScienceLeicester ;-)

And following the discussions here about statistics teaching, there's now StatsBytes, an uncourse in basic statistics which uses free, cross-platform open source software such as OpenOffice and R for statistical analysis.

Assuming that there are at least 48 hours in a day, I can't see any problems!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009


UoL Like all universities, a certain well-known University of the Year 2008 puts a lot of effort into student recruitment. And they do a damn good job of it. How do I know? Realtime search.

Which is not as simple as it seems. For example, this search turns up a very mixed bag, much of it rather boring, whereas this one gets straight to the point.

The fear is that "Marketing" will eventually work this out and respond by stalking rather than by presence and conversation.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Joining the dots

John Tukey On Friday we had an informal meeting to discuss statistics teaching at UoL (the background to this is here). The anticipated tweet stream didn't materialize - apologies to anyone who waited up :-)
Several departments were represented. This is my recollection of the discussion, but if you were there, feel free to contribute (and if you weren't, feel free to contribute :-)

The consensus was that there is a lack of understanding of process of statistical analysis. Students (and staff) seek quick fix, single number "answers" which do not align with Tukey's emphasis on the important distinction between exploratory data analysis and confirmatory data analysis, believing that much statistical methodology placed too great an emphasis on the latter:
"Far better an approximate answer to the right question, which is often vague, than an exact answer to the wrong question, which can always be made precise." J.W.Tukey 1962, The future of data analysis. Annals of Mathematical Statistics 33(1): 1–67.
Moreover students do not retain what they have learned and cannot apply the knowledge. The problems are confounded by underinvestment in terms of staff and curriculum time in comparison with the expected outputs. This seems to be a general problem across the campus.

Over the weekend I formulated my future teaching plans in this area, which are now up for discussion:

Year 1:
Open Office: data manipulation; statistics functions; graphs (including error bars).
Introduction to R: basic data handling in R; producing graphs; descriptive statistics.
The plan is that students will be given a "cheat sheet" for essential R commands, support materials will concentrate on statistical principles.

Year 2:
Statistics with R: Reprise of "working with R" basics from Year 1; exploratory data analysis & the normal frequency distribution; correlation; simple linear regression; t test and chi squared; standard deviation vs. standard error vs. confidence intervals.
Students will be given a "cheat sheet" for essential R commands, statistical analysis decision tree, support materials will concentrate on statistical principles.

Year 3/Postgraduate:
Advanced statistics with R: ANOVA; covariance; multiple regression; Mann-Whitney U test.
This goes beyond what we currently teach and should equip students for most circumstances. However, this can only be achieved if staff and curriculum resources are made available.

Looks like we may be going cross-platform, open source ;-)

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Clay Shirky on Journalism, DRM and Delusion

P'd-off today

Pi Day Maths nerds and anyone else who didn't get out of the way fast enough will know that today is Pi day. Specifically, 1.59 am this morning was Pi time (3.14159... geddit?).

I'm not happy about this, because as far as I'm concerned the 22nd of July is Pi day (22/7). It's been said that nerds celebrate Pi day on the 14th of March, and engineers celebrate it on 22nd July (because that's close enough).

So why am I writing this trivial post? Because it follows on from something I've been think about since our meeting yesterday (and will be blogging about later). March 14th is a futile (I might say, irrational, if I was in a punning mood) attempt at precision. July 22nd says much more, encompassing what Pi actually is - the ratio of the circumference of a circle to it's diameter.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Building a Science Commons

Building a Science Commons "... the science world has not created efficient means of communicating knowledge as the net did for more general topics. So far, the science world has taken paper metaphors and made them digital, which doesn't really enable new models of easy data sharing. The scientific community is a stable system that has an "immune response" that is resistant to change. Prohibitive license agreements and patents create chilling effects that prevent efficient communication means from evolving.

... in the scientific community "there is no crowd". On the net in general one can apply concepts of Wisdom of Crowds to all sort of problems, but the knowledge required to participate in scientific crowds is uncommon. This fact creates significant barriers to entry to create the types of innovations that we commonly find on the web. Creating a science commons presents a clear goal with clear benefits - open rights provide for a multiplicity of incentives. Commons become the infrastructure of innovation as we've seen on the web."

Thursday, March 12, 2009

The Semantic Web Will Not Be Televised

You will not be able to stay home, brother.
You will not be able to plug in, turn on and cop out.
You will not be able to lose yourself on skag and skip,
Skip out for beer during commercials,
Because the semantic web will not be televised.

The semantic web will not be televised.
The semantic web will not be brought to you by Xerox
In four parts without commercial interruptions.
The semantic web will not show you pictures of Nixon
blowing a bugle and leading a charge by John
Mitchell, General Abrams and Spiro Agnew to eat
hog maws confiscated from a Harlem sanctuary.
The semantic web will not be televised.

The semantic web will not be brought to you by the
Schaefer Award Theatre and will not star Natalie
Woods and Steve McQueen or Bullwinkle and Julia.
The semantic web will not give your mouth sex appeal.
The semantic web will not get rid of the nubs.
The semantic web will not make you look five pounds
thinner, because the semantic web will not be televised, Brother.

There will be no pictures of you and Willie May
pushing that shopping cart down the block on the dead run,
or trying to slide that color television into a stolen ambulance.
NBC will not be able predict the winner at 8:32
or report from 29 districts.
The semantic web will not be televised.

There will be no pictures of pigs shooting down
brothers in the instant replay.
There will be no pictures of pigs shooting down
brothers in the instant replay.
There will be no pictures of Whitney Young being
run out of Harlem on a rail with a brand new process.
There will be no slow motion or still life of Roy
Wilkens strolling through Watts in a Red, Black and
Green liberation jumpsuit that he had been saving
For just the proper occasion.

Green Acres, The Beverly Hillbillies, and Hooterville
Junction will no longer be so damned relevant, and
women will not care if Dick finally gets down with
Jane on Search for Tomorrow because Black people
will be in the street looking for a brighter day.
The semantic web will not be televised.

There will be no highlights on the eleven o'clock
news and no pictures of hairy armed women
liberationists and Jackie Onassis blowing her nose.
The theme song will not be written by Jim Webb,
Francis Scott Key, nor sung by Glen Campbell, Tom
Jones, Johnny Cash, Englebert Humperdink, or the Rare Earth.
The semantic web will not be televised.

The semantic web will not be right back after a message
bbout a white tornado, white lightning, or white people.
You will not have to worry about a dove in your
bedroom, a tiger in your tank, or the giant in your toilet bowl.
The semantic web will not go better with Coke.
The semantic web will not fight the germs that may cause bad breath.
The semantic web will put you in the driver's seat.

The semantic web will not be televised, will not be televised,
will not be televised, will not be televised.
The semantic web will be no re-run brothers;
The semantic web will be live.

With apologies to Gil Scott-Heron


Bimodal camel An increasing tendency we seem to be seeing here in successive undergraduate cohorts is a bimodal mark distribution. Although I don't have any formal evidence, I have strong hunch that there is a correlation with disengagement in the lower part of the distribution. The question, as ever with correlations, is one of cause or effect. Are these disengaged learners beyond our reach, or have we done something to disenfranchise them? A new paper in ALT-J suggests we may have:

Virtual learning environments - help or hindrance for the 'disengaged' student? 2009 ALT-J 17: 49-62
The introduction of virtual learning environments (VLEs) has been regarded by some as a panacea for many of the problems in today's mass numbers modular higher education system. This paper demonstrates that VLEs can help or hinder student engagement and performance, and that they should be adapted to the different types of learner. A project is described that aimed to investigate whether the introduction of a VLE can assist 'disengaged' students, drawing on click count tracking data and student performance. The project took place in the context of two very large undergraduate modules (850 and 567 students) in a Business School of a new university in the UK. In an adaptation of a model of learner engagement in Web-enhanced environments, four distinct learner types have emerged: model, traditionalist, geek and disengaged. There was evidence that use of the VLE exacerbated, rather than moderated, the differences between these learner types.

Not conclusive evidence, but justification for my belief that we need to give learners more, not less, responsibility for and ownership of their own learning. And we're not going to do that by mandating one-size-fits-all institutional software, whether that be VLEs, ePortfolios or Microsloth Orifice.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Scaffolding reflection

Scaffolding As our class of approximately 200 first year biological science students continue to develop their ePortfolios, I've been documenting the process here. If you've read the earlier posts you'll know that the rationale behind this experiment is to promote personal development by enhancing reflection rather than to produce a document of record which would be directly relevant to employers.

At our monthly meeting yesterday I talked about progress to date and reflected on the process of reflection, most of which was largely culled from previous discussions here. As we marked the most recent iteration using the ePortfolio assessment criteria we adopted, there seemed to be some encouraging signs that the process is working, at least in a proportion of cases. Some students at least have realized that an ePortfolio is not an elaborate multimedia CV, and are showing clear reflective tendencies.

One of the points raised at the meeting was the element of game-playing by some students to tick off the assessment criteria. Aristotle believed that we learn to become virtuous by first acting virtuously, and the act of continuing ePortfolio construction seems to be contributing towards becoming a reflective practitioner.

We also discussed the need for better scaffolding, and whether the chronological structure which is emerging in some of the ePortfolios we have seen recently suggests that a blog framework would be better than the more free-form wiki architecture in encouraging archiving and retrieval of reflective thoughts. I tend to think that it would be and will definitely be moving in this direction in future years.

Finally, there was discussion as to how much personal tutors should be involved in the ePortfolio processes. This is a two-edged sword in my opinion, and while I'm happy for personal tutors to see the output, I'm dubious as to what role they could play in the production. Show me the tutors who blog regularly and reflectively and I'll accept them as good role models.

ToDo List:
  • Consider assessment criteria for blogfolio format
  • Decide on architecture for blogfolios ( - emphasise static pages for navigation, tagging for archiving and retrieval, marking)
  • Create exemplar based on anonymized material from this year
  • Think how to reduce assessment load while still providing feedback (give feedback 3 times, end of first week/fortnight, mid-term, terminal feedback + mark?)

Tuesday, March 10, 2009


10 Slides - 20 minutes - 30pt Font:

Clearly there are circumstances in academia where this should not be a hard and fast rule, but in my opinion, few lectures would fail to benefit from this approach!

Monday, March 09, 2009

The trouble with statistics #uolstats

R This term I have been mostly teaching statistics. And it's been, well, a bit bimodal really. Half of the students are doing well. The other half aren't, and they're not happy. Which means that I'm not happy either, because I'm sure there has to be a better way than this. It's far from clear that even the students who can jump through the SPSS hoops I set for them retain any useful analytical skills, so I'm pondering how I can do this better.

One possibility is to teach statistics like a pirate: use R

While R has some attractive features, (open source, free, already available on our campus network), on the face of it, abandoning SPSS and possibly Excel in favour of R to improve statistics teaching seems a bit eccentric. For those who don't know, R is a front end for the mathematical programming language S. It operates from a unix-like command line structure, which will scare many students to death. No menus, no glitz. The plan would be to give students an R crib sheet and a statistics decision tree, then turn them loose on the data, assessing understanding by a mixture of numerical and theoretical questions. By stipping out the comfort factor of a familar looking GUI, would students be forced to engage with statistical principles, and ultimately, emerge with more understanding?

To get some perspective on the problem, we're getting together for a little chat this Friday (13th) at 1pm - and you're invited: #uolstats. We'll Twitter the meeting and report back here afterwards.

In the meantime, what software do you use for statistics teaching and why?

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Silenced in the Library

Silence is golden, or so they say. But keeping people quiet in a library can be a real challenge. In this short instructional film, Weasel Televisual Enterprises explores the challenges faced by librarians the world over to keep their domains peaceful.

A Rough Guide to Diarrhoea

A Rough Guide to Diarrhoea

How to Use Social Software in Higher Education

cover This handbook is a result of the iCamp project, a three-year EC-funded research project that set out to encourage innovative educational practices within European higher education.

via Tony Hirst

Friday, March 06, 2009

Teaching with Emotional Intelligence at UoL

UoL You may remember that I discussed Alan Mortiboys' book, Teaching with Emotional Intelligence here in September. If that didn't put you off and you're at UoL, you can hear Alan Mortiboys in person on Monday 23rd March 2009 from 9.30am - 12.30pm. Email to book your place.

Time for change

Like most UK higher education institutions, we are proud that we use criterion referenced marking in our assessments. We sneer at American universities which mark on the curve.

Normal curve
And all was well. Until the 1980s when GCSEs moved from norm-based to criterion-based. Followed by A levels. And then government policy became for 50% of the UK population to go through higher education. And league tables for schools and universities made a nonsense of the prospect of failing students.

So it pains me to say this, but criterion-referenced marking in the present system of UK higher education is broken. And unless something changes, the only way to fix the problem is to move to norm-referenced assessment. At the present time, we are producing large numbers of graduates who are not what we say they are.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

One for the Lesta peeps

Lesta I'm pretty apolitical, but that doesn't mean I'm not impressed with the way that psychemedia has been keeping up his new year resolution of becoming more involved in democracy and representation issues. First there was Digital Britain Write to Reply, then Fake Digital Britain, and now, Who Needs Lord Carter? OK, so I made the last one up, but you get the idea.

So on a local level, what do we have in Leicester? Err, well, there's Leicestertwesta, "making Leicester unrubbish since 2009", but that's not really political. However, there are some signs of political life stirring in virtual Lesta. Councillor Ross Grant has started blogging and is using his Twitter account. I ask you to leave party politics aside and welcome Ross into the bosom of your social networks, in the hope that where he has led, others will follow.

I'm not aware of any other Leicester Councillors using social media, but you may do. If you do, I'd suggested adding them to Leicestertwesta rather than here. And if you want more local info, there's the Leicester City Council news feeds, and Leicestershire Constabulary Carnival of Fun (personally, I'm a big fan of Suspects ;-)

Update: No longer a Twittersceptic

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

How do I know if I'm a dinosaur?

Wordle Here's a handy checklist to allow you to determine your evolutionary status. It's simple to use - if you're not doing more than 50% of these, you're a dinosaur:
  • Blogging regularly and reflectively to engage in conversation about your work/study practices.
  • Managing multiple online personalities to filter the noise and facilitate interaction with relevant collaborators.
  • Set up a Friendfeed room (public or private) to facilitate collaboration by aggregating content from many contributors across a range of services.
  • Using Wordles to summarise complex information and focus your audience in presentations, lectures and in place of abstracts.
  • If you're not Twittering, you haven't even evolved to the dinosaur stage, but if your tweets are mostly thin tweets, not thick tweets, you're probably a dinosaur.

So, what are you?

Monday, March 02, 2009

My mind is made up

MicrobiologyBytes As I hoped, Friday's post Should I stay or should I go? produced lots of helpful comments, and allowed me to reach a decision. Microbiologybytes will be moving to its own domain ( at the end of this month.

The decision I was trying to make was whether to retain my independence, or whether by joining a blog network I would be able to further my aim of communicating with people interested in microbiology. In principle, I still lean towards the network concept, but the problem is that the existing science blog networks are not organic entities which have evolved from their membership but fronts for commercial publishers. At the present time, independence and, I hope, diversity and openness, wins.

When I wasn't doing other things last week, I spent quite a lot of time reflecting on the future of MicrobiologyBytes and where I wanted to go with it in the future, but it wasn't until I blogged about it and entered into dialogue with the commenters that I was able to reach a decision. Reflection is not just a passive process, but also an active one in which openness and conversation with informed peers and mentors is an invaluable component.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

I've been Kindled

Principles of Molecular Virology

Although my contract with the publisher covers electronic distribution, I wasn't consulted about this - the first I knew about it was when I stumbled across it on
I wonder if I'll ever publish another full length book through conventional channels?