Thursday, December 30, 2010

Skype iPhone App Now Allows Video Calls

The Skype iPhone app now finally offers video calling - over Wi-Fi and 3G. You can now make calls to and from various iOS devices as well as desktops.
The updated version of the app is available in the iTunes store now.

via Rosa Golijan @ Gizmodo
Update: Tested, works well :-)

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Tron Legacy (3D (on ice (with eskimo music) ) )

2 stars After three days banged up with only endless Jeremy Clarkson Show repeats for company, the troops were getting restless, so as the snow was melting we sallied forth to free ourselves of Larry, Moe and Curly and parted with much cash at the local moving picture house. As a way of not watching Harry Potter and the Shameless Ripoff, I opted for Tron Legacy (in 3D).

It's a year since I last went to a 3D movie and (not) much has changed in that time. Namely the adverts are now in 3D as well as the film. I'll start this review by saying that Tron Legacy is a poor film with an execrable script, dearth of plot and awful acting. But that's not the reason I didn't like it. This movie hits you over the head - yeah, we get it - BigCo's like Apple are evil, Stevenote excerpts, etc, etc. There is only one "highlight" in the film, Michael Sheen's not-quite-camp-enough villain channeling Clough-flavoured early Bowie. Clearly, when making a movie in this genre it's hard to avoid raiding earlier works, so Disney didn't bother. From the homage to Vangelis pastiche Daftpunk soundtrack through the Blade Runner pyramid to the Matrix mashup, this film is an homage to plagiarism. But that's not the reason I didn't like it.

The reason I didn't like Tron Legacy is because it represents a wasted opportunity. Disney BigCo didn't have the balls to do something truly innovative with a new(ish) medium that WallyD did with Fantasia and the newly emerged animation techniques. These filmmakers are absolutely clueless as to what to do with the (poor) 3D effect, apart from one scene when the kid gets digitized which was an interesting visual metaphor for digital encoding of analog information.

Approach this film with the lowest of expectations. Sit back, ignore all the defects and let the hokum of this steaming pile of fail wash over you. Emerge from the cinema thinking about what might have been.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Quora - the never ending search for a friendfeed replacement continues

Quora Quora has been around for a while but is currently getting some hype. It's currently being sold as a blogging tool, which I'm not convinced about - anymore than I was convinced that friendfeed was an aggregator. In others words, although these sites serve these functions, that's not where their value lies.

I'm interested in Quora as a potential friendfeed replacement for the day when facebook pulls the plug, or the service becomes so unreliable it's no longer usable. The value of friendfeed for us is that it is so similar to facebook that students need very little training in how to use it - but by using a parallel network we don't intrude on the facebook social space. Quora has a different architecture but may have it's own value. More importantly, it's clear that trying to compete in the facebook space is not a viable business model, so that's another reason why Quora is interesting.

I need your help to test it out: Can we grok this?

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Today's lesson is taken from the Gospel of St Matthew

The rate of individual progress is fundamental to career development and success. In practice, the rate of progress depends on many factors, such as an individual’s talent, productivity, reputation, as well as other external random factors. A new paper shows that the relatively small rate of progress at the beginning of the career plays a crucial role in the evolution of the career length. This quantitative model describes career progression using two fundamental ingredients: random forward progress “up the career ladder”, and random stopping times, terminating a career. This work quantifies the “Matthew effect” by incorporating the property that it is easier to move forward in the career the further along one is in the career. A direct result of the increasing progress rate with career position is the large disparity between the numbers of careers that are successful long tenures and the numbers of careers that are unsuccessful short stints.

In other words: If you've got a job, hang on to it and change it to suit you.

Quantitative and empirical demonstration of the Matthew effect in a study of career longevity. PNAS USA December 20 2010 doi: 10.1073/pnas.1016733108
The Matthew effect refers to the adage written some two-thousand years ago in the Gospel of St. Matthew: “For to all those who have, more will be given.” Even two millennia later, this idiom is used by sociologists to qualitatively describe the dynamics of individual progress and the interplay between status and reward. Quantitative studies of professional careers are traditionally limited by the difficulty in measuring progress and the lack of data on individual careers. However, in some professions, there are well-defined metrics that quantify career longevity, success, and prowess, which together contribute to the overall success rating for an individual employee. Here we demonstrate testable evidence of the age-old Matthew “rich get richer” effect, wherein the longevity and past success of an individual lead to a cumulative advantage in further developing his or her career. We develop an exactly solvable stochastic career progress model that quantitatively incorporates the Matthew effect and validate our model predictions for several competitive professions. We test our model on the careers of 400,000 scientists using data from six high-impact journals and further confirm our findings by testing the model on the careers of more than 20,000 athletes in four sports leagues. Our model highlights the importance of early career development, showing that many careers are stunted by the relative disadvantage associated with inexperience.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Google Scholar Spam

In a previous paper we provided guidelines for scholars on optimizing research articles for academic search engines such as Google Scholar. Feedback in the academic community to these guidelines was diverse. Some were concerned researchers could use our guidelines to manipulate rankings of scientific articles and promote what we call ‘academic search engine spam’. To find out whether these concerns are justified, we conducted several tests on Google Scholar. The results show that academic search engine spam is indeed - and with little effort - possible: We increased rankings of academic articles on Google Scholar by manipulating their citation counts; Google Scholar indexed invisible text we added to some articles, making papers appear for keyword searches the articles were not relevant for; Google Scholar indexed some nonsensical articles we randomly created with the paper generator SciGen; and Google Scholar linked to manipulated versions of research papers that contained a Viagra advertisement. At the end of this paper, we discuss whether academic search engine spam could become a serious threat to Web-based academic search engines.

Beel, J. Academic Search Engine Spam and Google Scholar's Resilience Against it. Journal of Electronic Publishing Journal of Electronic Publishing 13(3) December 2010. DOI: 10.3998/3336451.0013.305

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Open Access Repositories: mixed reception from researchers

Open access has become very popular over the last few years. It is evident in the increasing number of scientific journals being made available free to readers on the Internet, and the increasing number of institutions that are building repositories to house the electronic versions of open-access articles written by scholars at their institutions. The academic and research communities seem to support this movement and their right to obtain easy and free access to publicly funded scientific information. But, how often do researchers actually use such free publications as readers and how often do they choose to publish in an OA journal or institutional repository? How trustworthy do they consider those journals and repositories? Would they prefer that OA repositories be more selective? Although today about 10-15 percent of scientific peer-reviewed journals are OA and there are several declarations encouraging institutions to build OA repositories, there is still a long way to go, especially where OA repositories are concerned. This research is trying to determine why acceptance and growth of open access, particularly open access repositories, has been so slow.

Roxana Theodorou. OA Repositories: the Researchers' Point of View. Journal of Electronic Publishing 13(3) December 2010. DOI: 10.3998/3336451.0013.304

Monday, December 20, 2010

BibSonony - delicious done right

BibSonomy On Friday afternoon, this appeared: delicious blog: Dec 17 2010: What’s Next for Delicious?
But it was too little, too late - delicious is now blighted and has lost user trust. The interesting thing to emerge from my conversations about delicious over the last few days is that everyone (*everyone*) I have discussed this with has said I don't use delicious for social, just for storage. On one level, this surprises me slightly, as I have talked to some smart folks, but in general terms, it doesn't surprise me at all - any model of social sharing other than foaf is dying. People share links randomly on Twitter (and increasingly, on Facebook - for example, at the weekend this popped up on my wall) and I squirrel them away wherever I want without worrying about an extended community.

So if the gloves are off and social discovery is dead, what then? On Friday, I wrote about Google Bookmarks, but it has limitations. Also on Friday afternoon, Phil Bradley posted his bumper list of 28 alternative to delicious. From this I dimly remembered BibSonomy, so I went back to check it out again - and it's brilliant, better than delicious.

What's so great about BibSonomy?
Free (from an academic source).
Web-based, cross-browser, cross-platform, no install.
Social bookmarking and social citation all in one - may only need one tool, solving the problem of where to store/look for academic-related information. This is a tool it would be possible to sell to students - no more failing with delicious + CiteULike.

Advantages over Google Bookmarks:
BibSonomy is public by default - enables sharing (if desired).
Unlike Google Bookmarks, BibSonomy has RSS everywhere.
Easy import from delicious.
BibSonomy has an api, something likely to be important for long term growth.

Advantages over delicious:
All the functionality of delicious plus waving goodbye to the god-awful Yahoo registration system.
One tool to rule them all - social bookmarking and social citation all in one.

If the network effect doesn't matter any more, I make personal choices and what you chose doesn't matter to me. I think I'm in love.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Friday, December 17, 2010

How do you solve a problem like delicious?

Sad delicious Many words will be spilled today about the death of delicious (e.g. here and here), so I'll be fairly brief.

What are we going to use now? Most people will jump directly to diigo. I won't because I hate diigo - it's another example of Gresham's Law. Moreover, social bookmarking is dead. People want to squirrel, not to share, so I won't be investing time in another social bookmarking service.

So what do I now? In the short term, I'll be using Google Bookmarks, which is close to the functionality of delicious but with no social component or RSS anywhere (i.e. crap but reliable, and a nice interface - like delicious before Yahoo ruined it). In the longer term, I'm looking at cross-browser bookmark syncing, possibly with Xmarks (which now has a viable business model, but has not implemented delicious import after being nagged about this for months). And what do the rest of you do? Rely on social recommendation. Live by the Facebook, die by the Facebook.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

More iPhone ramblings

Stanza One of the things I didn't mention when I wrote about my new iPhone was the fabled Retina display. The reason for that was because my initial reaction was much the same as to the other iPhone4 technology:
But there is one area where Retina comes into its own: e-books. I'm pretty lukewarm about e-books, and I certainly wasn't expecting to be impressed by e-books on a device like the iPhone. But I may have been wrong about that. Slightly.

I played with the iBooks app that comes preloaded on the iPhone, but I much prefer Stanza. This may be a personal thing and YMMV. Reading books on the iPhone wasn't something I expected to enjoy, but it felt like an obligation. I certainly don't intend to buy any commercial e-books because they are such a publisher rip-off of readers and authors, but I do plan to plunder Project Gutenberg over the holiday. However, on the day I started playing with Stanza, Cory Doctorow blogged about his self-published short story collection With a Little Help, so I headed over to the download page and loaded the EPub version into Stanza. And to my surprise, enjoyed the whole experience immensely (so yes, I did make a donation).

At the risk of offending Cory, I've read most of his books now and they're all starting to blend - but I still enjoy them enough to keep reading. Significantly, his style and content scales well to the short story format - which scales perfectly to Stanza on the iPhone. And I got a definite frisson from reading The Right Book on this device above all others.

Will this experience scale to Moby Dick or Ulysses? We'll see.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Rocketboom Tech on QR codes

Nice introductory video. We looked hard at QR codes last year but couldn't find any compelling educational value in them. Still looking. What's the best QR reader for iPhone and how will it change my life?

Monday, December 13, 2010


GiffGaff After months of agonizing, I bought myself an iPhone. I want you to know that I'm not getting any pleasure from this, but I needed a phone I would turn on (unlike all the previous ones) and there's no point in buying an iPad now. Since I own an iDevice, I am now contractually obliged to blog about it, no matter how boring that is for you.

I bought my iPhone directly from Apple because I needed AppleCare. In 25 years of owning Apple devices I have never purchased AppleCare before, but Apple hardware is now so unreliable that I wouldn't consider buying anything more expensive than a cheap iPod without it. Buying the phone outright reduces the overall lifetime cost by hundreds of pounds, but means I also needed to find a service provider. Which is where I had an enormous stroke of luck.

After shopping around, it seemed that O2 Simplicity for iPhone was the best deal. What a joke. After wasting nearly half a day, O2 refused to honour the deal advertised on their website, accused me of fraud and tried to get my bank to block my credit card. I had been warned about O2 previously by someone who used to work for them, but I didn't listen. This is the worst customer experience I have ever had - don't ever touch O2 with a bargepole. Which is where things started to look up. @jennifermjones had told me about GiffGaff (Wikipedia entry) previously, but their website didn't say anything about microSIMs need for iPhones. Discussing this openly via Twitter brought me a tweet from ggmicroSIMs, who provide a free SIM cutting service for GiffGaff. 48 hours later, I had my SIM, popped it into the phone, activated it via the website and bought my first top-up. Calls and SMS were live within a few minutes but it took a few hours for internet access to be switched on. GiffGaff provides unlimited internet access for mobiles plus cheap calls and texts (free to other GiffGaff users) and online community support. You're mad if you don't switch to them as soon as you can (especially if you're an O2 or Vodaphone customer). Although owned by O2, GiffGaff operates as a separate company.

Unboxing thoughts:
My inability to get the iGasm out of the packaging suggests I may not be an iPhone person...
Instruction booklet informs me iPhone "may cause seizures, blackouts, eyestrain"...
When you've got the phone out of the box it is very important to follow the setup instructions for iPhone users "Go to Wagamama and take a picture of your dinner"...

So now for the inevitable discussion of iPhone Apps. My experience so far has been that most apps are disappointing and no substitute for a decent mobile-optimized website. My most valuable iPhone tools are saved links on the phone desktop. The Twitter app is not bad (it's as if the iPhone was built for Twitter) while, in contrast to the desktop app, the Tweetdeck iPhone app is disappointing.
The Good: Friendfeed - mobile website is great (and Facebook mobile web better than the Facebook iPhone app).
The Bad: Google Reader - no way to mark items as read from the mobile site (so I'm using the Feedler RSS app to sync with Reader at present).
The New: Dragon Dictation and Voice Commands are surprisingly accurate. Audio, video and photographic input is clearly the way to go with this device.

Having an Internet-enabled camera with you at all times is handy, although I am slightly disappointed in the iPhone4 camera compared with what I was expecting, but to be fair I have only used it under rather testing conditions so far.

Best thing about an iPhone - it fits in your pocket. I know this is "obvious" but the change to the face down computing paradigm is a major one we are still working through. I suspect Zuckerberg is right and an iPad is a computer, although not a very good one.

  • The iPhone is the best phone I have ever owned.
  • I have a faint air of disappointment - I'm not a phone person.
  • Face down is a problem.
  • I want an iPad(2).

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Digital Researcher 2011 #dr11

The event is designed to help researchers to engage with social media and to think through how they might best use it in their research. You can now book to attend Digital Research 2011 here.

Monday, December 06, 2010

What is the Internet for?

I spent the weekend wrestling with this question after reading John Naughton's Wikileaks posts: What the attacks on WikiLeaks tell us and Options for the Established Order: live with WikiLeaks, or shut down the Net. But what had even more impact on me was the 1994 group report Managing Students' Expectations of University.

What is clear from both of these is that at some point, the Internet will bite you. The question is, what are you going to do about it when it happens?

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Say hello to

Screenshot is based on the reading list for students the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Leicester. We know that students don't read the books we suggest on the reading list, so the University of Leicester Student Experience Enhancement Group funded Project SOAR, which has two parts.

The first is, an interactive site where you can browse, rate, review, borrow or buy the books on the reading list. If you'd like to know more, there's lots of information here. We're also on Facebook and Friendfeed if that's easier for you, and we’d like hear any suggestions you have about the website. is open to everyone, but if you have a University of Leicester email address, after you've read a book, you can come along to a Book Group meeting in the Student's Union, pick up a coffee from Starbucks or a beer from the bar and spend a happy couple of hours chatting with people who've read the same book. Sound interesting? The first book group meeting is in February and the book we'll be discussing is Bill Bryson's A Short History of Nearly Everything, so if you're interested and have a University of Leicester email address, sign up at now.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Google Presentations in Lectures

Google Presentations At ALT-C 2010 Emma Duke-Williams talked about using the chat window in Google Presentations to engage in realtime conversations with students during lectures. Ever since I heard her talk I've been wanting to try it, and on Friday I got the chance.

The setting was a guest lecture on microbiology to our first year Medical Sciences students (~100). Several days before the lecture I asked the students to bring a personal internet device (laptop, netbook or smartphone) with them to the lecture. I set up my presentation on Google Docs and prepared a Powerpoint splash slide to set up the lecture:

So far as I could tell, the majority of people in the room had brought some form of internet device. There was a little delay as people accessed the document, but this was quite short and would reduce if the exercise was run more than once. Several questions were asked via the chat window during the lecture but not as many as I was expecting. It was quite difficult to monitor the chat window for questions while talking (Emma runs this as a two-person process, one speaking, one (remote) fielding questions), so I found myself backtracking to answer questions about previous slides, but overall the technology was not too distracting (for me). I thought the content of the chat window was persistent, but seemingly not as it was gone the next time I logged in. There are pluses and minuses to persistent/transient content in this context, so I'm not sure what to make of this (unless I've missed a setting somewhere?).

After the lecture I asked the students for feedback (using a Google Form, obviously) and their responses are given below. Overall, this interactive lecture format has considerable potential and is worth investigating further. Familiarity of use would reduce some of the first-time barriers, but as with all interactive gizmos (such as PRS), over use would reduce the value. As to whether the format is distracting, this is an extension of the Great Twitterfall Debate - with an important twist. I hardly ever teach in places with dual projection facilities, so commenting via a hashtag would mean heads down in the lecture. Although some students said they found the chat window distracting, at least this is a heads up and all look at the same screen situation, which is probably better for formal lectures.

Medical Sciences Google Docs Trial Lecture
(n = 39/~100)

1. Did you like the use of Google Docs in the MB1030 Microbiology lecture?
Yes: 72%
No: 8%
Don't care: 20%

2. Were you able to access the Google Document on your internet device?
Yes: 87%
No: 13% (problems with smartphones)

3. Were you able to access the chat window?
Yes: 56%
No: 44% (mostly problems with smartphones)

4. Describe how you felt about the use of the Google Document in the lecture:
Lots of potential | Interactive, exciting, fun | Interactive, keeps intrested, distracting | Easy to use | Clear and convenient | Different, engaging | Productive, useful | Don't care | Very modern | It was good, it felt like I was more involved. Also although I didn't have a question, if I did I would have felt more comfortable typing it than raising my hand to interupt the lecture. | Fun, useful | Engaging Innovative Exciting | Helpful, interesting, distracting | Fun, useful, different | I couldn't set it up and you didn't make sure everyone was ready. | Could be effective. | Off-putting | Easy to follow | Innovative | Wasn't used, unnecessary | Disappointingly unnecessary | Indifferent, impartial | Not very useful | Useful | Could be better | Interesting helpful different | It was good | Casual learning | Easy to ask questions when you use Google Chat | Liked chat window | Helpful distracting | OK | Useful, easy, open | Allowed partcipation | No point, on-screen | Interactive, easy, fun | New hence distracting | Engaging, interesting, informative | Interactive useful fun

5. Any other comments?
  • This technology has great use, you can interact with each other and ask questions of the lecturer when it suited them best to answer. This might help engage and allow other students to get an insight into someone else's perspective of the material. If more questions had have been asked then clearly it would have been more beneficial. It also makes the lecturer aware of any issues students have with specific slides so they can be improved or reworded if required.
  • Was unsure what to write in the instant messenger chat window i.e. what was really relevant.
  • Was very good because no all information was not on the slide, so one was made to listen and make more effective notes. It allowed more interaction with the lecture. Only problem being allowed on the internet or to have our phone out, was very distracting.
  • The chat was useful because it allowed you to easily ask a question without having to wait till the end of a lecture.
  • It was good because people could ask questions as soon as any came into their head rather than trying to remember them and then forgetting them. Also, it was only used as and when people wanted to use it and it didn't seem to be an interruption.
  • I couldn't make the chat work so I didn't get to benefit from that. The use of google docs in the lecture was interesting but as I couldn't make the chat work I didn't see the importance of using it.
  • It's quite interactive and nice use of technology.
  • I liked the chat box and if more people were to use it it would probably be more beneficial.
  • I liked that we could use the chat window to ask questions or to add comments, though the novelty could prove distracting. If it was used frequently the novelty would wear off and I think it could be very useful.
  • Useful to ask questions without interrupting the lecturer "mid-flow".
  • More useful with laptops instead of phones as I couldn't use the chat with mine.
  • I felt I was put off by having the chat window and didn't concentrate on the lecture as much as I normally would.
  • The lecture could have made more use of the chat window.
  • Google documents has surprised me again. Asking questions through the chat window is quite innovative. Now I won't feel guilty stopping a lecturer in the middle of an explanation to ask questions.
  • Good premise for more confusing lectures to promote questions being asked about content.
  • I didn't bring an internet device
  • We didn't really use the Google Docs feature much, just for posting questions. It would have been great if we were made to do some problem solving together using google docs as it allows everyone to take part (at least those who are interested).
  • It is very useful as we don't hesitate when thinking about asking a question. I don't like having everyone's attention on me when I ask a question so this way was much more easier and it was a nice change from the usual.
  • Should be done again, maybe involve the students a bit more by setting compulsory tasks or activities.
  • It has the potential to be used well, but was quite distracting to the lecture at times. It helps those that want to ask questions, but are too shy to do so ask something.
  • It was useful and easy for people to ask questions as we went along as they sometimes do get forgotten. It was good to see what the rest of the class was thinking.
  • I felt as though the idea was good because it meant that people could ask questions without being scared to. For example, some people may have wondered "what exactly IS the picture on the MRSA slide showing?" all through the lecture without knowing and without wanting to ask what they thought could have been a stupid question. However, I felt that setting up everyone's devices took a bit of time. I had to explain over and over again to different people what the link was to get onto the document in the first place, or type it in to their address bar for them, while the lecturer was talking, and I feel as though because of this, I missed some important points at the beginning about how we were supposed to use the chat feature. Perhaps having the link written down on the board or somewhere convenient for the duration of the talk may have helped.
  • Unfortunately I could not get onto it because I did not have the latest version of flash player but it was still good to be able to see the conversations on my screen and also on the projection.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Painful conversations

Pain I keep having painful conversations.

It started a few days ago with Top ten reasons why academics do not contribute to Wikipedia.

That was followed by CiteULike - remove feature request (Remove feature? wtf?). It's depressing that users want squirreling away, not social discovery (but it does explain the design of Mendeley). Well, at least squirreling away is something I suppose!

Because on Friday we started having a conversation with our students about bookmarking online resources - either they don't or they write stuff in a Word doc. Some write it out by hand...
Their knowledge is transient - they are completely brainwashed by modularized culture - file assessment and forget.

Why aren't people social?


Saturday, November 27, 2010

Feeling Lucky?

Feeling Lucky Doug says he needs to get out more (or at least, meet new people). He's right.

In our pre-launch testing, one of the hottest features we've added to the Project SOAR website is a Feeling Lucky? button which serves up random links to resources on the site.

Online conferences which stick to the paradigms of physical events are a steaming pile of second-rate fail. Link, innovate, surprise. Make online conference participants feel lucky.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Google Scholars School Report: Dramatic Improvement in Performance

This article reports a 2010 empirical study using a 2005 study as a base to compare Google Scholar's coverage of scholarly journals with commercial services. Through random samples of eight databases, the author finds that, as of 2010, Google Scholar covers 98 to 100 percent of scholarly journals from both publicly accessible Web contents and from subscription-based databases that Google Scholar partners with. In 2005 the coverage of the same databases ranged from 30 to 88 percent. The author explores de-duplication of search results by Google Scholar and discusses its impacts on searches and library resources. With the dramatic improvement of Google Scholar, the uniqueness and effectiveness of subscription-based abstracts and indexes have dramatically changed.

Google Scholar's Dramatic Coverage Improvement Five Years after Debut. Xiaotian Chen. Serials Review 36(4): 221-226 doi:10.1016/j.serrev.2010.08.002

Commentary: I know I'm using GScholar more and more as the months go by. It's particularly useful for finding repository copies of articles I don't have access to. Nearly time to start recommending it to students as their major resource. This is one area I can't see Facebook competing in. Everything else...

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

A rod for my own back

Sisyphus For the last few weeks our first year Biological Sciences students (n ~250) have been using Google Documents to write group reports on a biological topic of their choosing. We've been using Google Docs on our first year key skills module for several years now. It was originally introduced to Smash The State! Sock it to the Man! persuade students of the value of social software, but it was only this year I figured out how dumb I'd been in asking them to write individual documents when I could save myself tons of work by getting them to work in groups using the social features Google Docs provides.

Or could I?

Except for a few squabbles, the writing part went fairly smoothly. The Turnitin originality reports are OK, apart from a few bad habits we use Turnitin as a tool to flag up. So it was time to start marking. Which is hell. Why? Because abandoning a simple bigbox VLE has its costs. Here's my workflow:

1. Copy group allocations from Excel (used to randomize assignment to groups of 4).

2. Check the Turnitin report for the group document. Take screenshots of relevant sections and annotate using Skitch. Paste into the Google Doc (because Blackboard 9 unhelpfully won't let me attach the PDFs to the feedback in the Gradecentre).

3. Mark the group report according to our criterion-referenced scheme using a BBEdit as a scratchpad. Add additional feedback comments as appropriate. (50% of overall mark)

4. Add overall feedback to the Google Doc. Add additional feedback comments at appropriate points in the Google Doc. Add comment about individual mark availability via the Bb9 Gradecentre.

5. Check the revision history of the Google Doc to assess individual contributions, mostly by weight but with an eye to quality too. Look out for last minute Roberts (yes Michelle, they are all Roberts). Add feedback about timeliness of groupwork contributions where appropriate! As ever, the document revision history is a telling account of how well the exercise went for each group. (Other 50% of overall mark)

6. Calculate total, paste overall mark, component marks and group plus individual feedback assembled in BBEdit into Bb9 Gradecentre for each student in the group.

7. Send notification email via the Google Doc to group members informing them that their marks/feedback are available on the Google Doc/Blackboard.

8. Goto 1.

Ugly, innit? But I can't think of any way to speed this up without loosing the feedback quality. I thought about using Excel conditional IF statements to semi-automate report writing as I used to do in the pre-Blackboard days, but that's not really the pinch point, it's dodging between the various apps and annotating the Google Doc in the right places which consumes the time.

No way I'm marking 60+ reports next year. Now I've trialled the process I'll have to parcel out the marking to colleagues, with all the attendant problems of consistency that that entails. Point to note: this exercise is staying in. I think it's valuable for the students. Apart from the knee-jerk moaning, the feedback comments have been surprisingly positive. It's my problem, not theirs.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010


Small world networks Project SOAR is built around the Reading List for students in the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Leicester. We have a local origin and we have a hyperlocal component, the Book Group for our students. But Project SOAR is an open project and will invite anyone who is interested in science to participate.

When the website launches on 1st December, it will have social components which take it beyond the local level:
  • Facebook: A presence of Facebook gives us massive outreach, way beyond one institution and one group of students.
  • Friendfeed: Biological Sciences students in Leicester use friendfeed to communicate with each other and with academic staff, so this will be an attractive, low overhead channel for them. But there is an active scientific community on this site, many of who would never venture onto Facebook, so friendfeed gives us an interesting blend of local and remote connections.
  • And - what's missing from this list? We debated whether to create a presence for this project on CiteULike or Mendeley, but after consideration decided that these services wouldn't add much if anything to the site - are we right about this?
We'll be taking advantage of the social features on these sites to hold a conversation about scientific publishing with a much larger group of people than our own students. Apart from the ethics of needing to communicate best practices in science education, this mix of short range (local) and long range (remote) links is what we need to ensure the sustainability of the project.

Project SOAR - coming soon to a social network near you:

Friday, November 19, 2010

Being a genius isn't enough #gorillaz

I went over to Birmingham on Wednesday night for the Gorillaz gig at the NIA. I've taken 24 hours to think about it before writing anything because it was quite overwhelming. I was never a great Blur fan, tending to come down on the Mancunian side of the Blur/Oasis argument in the 90's, but I dutifully bought the Blur greatest hits CD when it came out. I've always had a fascination for virtual studio bands so the animated Albarn-Hewlett creation was interesting, and the first album still has my favourite tracks on it (see the video below). As animation morphed into flesh, I was a bit unsure what to think, and a somewhat lacklustre performance at Glastonbury didn't help, but the chance to see the whole shooting match - with half of The Clash and all the guests - in the flesh was too good to pass up, so off to Birmingham. fourtyfivequidlighterpluspetrolsixquidforparkingand

And it was good. Technically the best gig I've ever been to. Getting lost in Birmingham and missing the first support act (Little Dragon) was a bit annoying, but in 35 years of going to rock concerts this is the first time I've ever known one start on time - 7.30 pm on the dot. Blimey. Unaccustomed punctuality was a portent of things to come. The second support band, De La Soul, were interesting. Interesting meaning that this aging white guy is not a hip hop party people (but more of them later). And then they were on. Half a symphony orchestra and 40 foot high pirate-costumed Snoop Dog launching into Plastic Beach. Nearly two hours of non-stop genius. De La Soul's lecture on the philosophy of hip hop suddenly making sense as contemporary black American beats broke like counterpoint over Albarn's rythmic complexities. Ancient Arabic world rhythms woven into synthesizer enviropop, introduced by Albarn's polemic on Middle East diplomacy and the reconciliation of the West with Islam. Venerated soul singers, drunken Mancunian feedback conjurers, cartoon children's choirs ... and Albarn conducting the whole thing, a leaping, capering loon holding an impossible coalition together. Yes folks, it's the Damon Albarn show.
And yet...
it wasn't enough. Foolishly, I had turned up expecting a rock concert. And whatever this mad extravaganza was, it wasn't a rock concert. It wasn't like watching The Stranglers in a grungy dive in Moss Side, or grooving out to Graham Parker's brass section in the Sheffield Student's Union all those years ago. Something was missing. Spontaneity. Spit. Soul? Being a genius isn't enough.

As the day job gets harder and harder, as numbers squeeze the joy out, being a genius hardly counts for anything at all. It's all about grinding out the beats, ducking and weaving. Spontaneity. Soul. Spit?

I've been watching the hashtag (as you do these days) and the best review of Tuesday's gig at the O2 was Danced all night at #gorillaz now my tootsies hurt. Kinda wish I'd written that one really.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Student book lists - are we getting it right?

Since the beginning of recorded time (the 1960s), we have given students in the School of Biological Sciences a list of "good books". Whether they read them or not is not assessed directly, and the idea of a reading list is one of the few things about our degree which has not changed since the beginning. But giving students a printed list of books in the week they arrive at university is a bit, well, 1960s. Do they read any of them, or even remember having received the list in the hurly burly of fresher's week? To be honest, we didn't really know, so we took the revolutionary step of asking them - and now we do. Survey says:

I'm not altogether delighted with the results of this survey, but I am far from surprised. In fact, this is the reason for the existence of Project SOAR, which is going to launch on 1st December 2010:

Monday, November 15, 2010

Why stuff goes viral (or not)

Network nodes with local connections, as opposed to the long-range ones that facilitate epidemics, spread innovations more quickly. Nodes that are not as tightly integrated to the network and have fewer connections let change spread more quickly, while nodes with lots of connections actually slowed the spread of information down.
Lesson learned: Be a connector, curate your local network, cultivate network diversity.

"Which network structures favor the rapid spread of new ideas, behaviors, or technologies? This question has been studied extensively using epidemic models. Here we consider a complementary point of view and consider scenarios where the individuals’ behavior is the result of a strategic choice among competing alternatives. In particular, we study models that are based on the dynamics of coordination games. Classical results in game theory studying this model provide a simple condition for a new action or innovation to become widespread in the network. The present paper characterizes the rate of convergence as a function of the structure of the interaction network. The resulting predictions differ strongly from the ones provided by epidemic models. In particular, it appears that innovation spreads much more slowly on well-connected network structures dominated by long-range links than in low-dimensional ones dominated, for example, by geographic proximity."
The spread of innovations in social networks. PNAS USA November 12, 2010. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1004098107

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

It doesn't improve

A week ago I scraped together the funds to buy Adobe CS5 (Web Premium, since you ask - it's going to keep me afloat in the HTML5 world). I managed to do this because I was aware the University has an education licence agreement with Adobe through a reseller. Unfortunately, the terms of this are of such Byzantine complexity they are beyond a mere PhD like me, so I asked my helpful colleagues to find the price for me.

The first response was the eye-watering full price - 4 figures - which is clearly wrong since there is an education licence, so I asked them to go back and try again. The second quote was half of the first quote, but still too much for me, so in the spirit of the souk, I asked them to try again. The third price was half the second offer. Tempting as it was to keep going, I'm a little too busy at this time of year, so I agreed.

Over the course of the next few days, I received a series of emails from Adobe, and the package containing the disc a few days after that. Today I installed my new software.

Retrieving my licence from the Adobe website took 15 minutes, including a compulsory 5 minute Adobe presentation on How To Retrieve Your Licence From The Adobe Website. Installing from the CD took 55 minutes (on a top end iMac). And I know that now I'm going to be constantly bugged by emails and compulsory software updates every time I try to use it until CS6 comes out and Adobe loses interest in CS5. It also installed several browser extensions without asking permission.

The Adobe customer experience sucks. But their effective monopoly as the market leader in this area means there is no real choice.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

A Long Westcountry Tradition

Devon, 6th November 2010

I heard a story today about someone who was banned from a local social club for dealing in contraband cigarettes. The gears whirred, a circuit clicked and a memory of childhood literature stirred - Jamaca Inn and A Smuggler's Song. Brittany Ferries to Roscoff, stock up at the local hypermarket. Cartons exchanged for cash in the car park. It's a long tradition in this part of the world.

If you wake at midnight, and hear a horse's feet,
Don't go drawing back the blind, or looking in the street.
Them that ask no questions isn't told a lie.
Watch the wall, my darling, while the Gentlemen go by!
Five and twenty ponies,
Trotting through the dark -
Brandy for the Parson,
'Baccy for the Clerk;
Laces for a lady, letters for a spy,
And watch the wall, my darling, while the Gentlemen go by!
Running round the woodlump if you chance to find
Little barrels, roped and tarred, all full of brandy-wine,
Don't you shout to come and look, nor use 'em for your play.
Put the brishwood back again - and they'll be gone next day!
If you see the stable-door setting open wide;
If you see a tired horse lying down inside;
If your mother mends a coat cut about and tore;
If the lining's wet and warm - don't you ask no more!
If you meet King George's men, dressed in blue and red,
You be careful what you say, and mindful what is said.
If they call you "pretty maid," and chuck you 'neath the chin,
Don't you tell where no one is, nor yet where no one's been!
Knocks and footsteps round the house - whistles after dark -
You've no call for running out till the house-dogs bark.
Trusty's here, and Pincher's here, and see how dumb they lie -
They don't fret to follow when the Gentlemen go by!
If you do as you've been told, 'likely there's a chance,
You'll be given a dainty doll, all the way from France,
With a cap of Valenciennes, and a velvet hood -
A present from the Gentlemen, along o' being good!
Five and twenty ponies,
Trotting through the dark -
Brandy for the Parson,
'Baccy for the Clerk;
Them that asks no questions isn't told a lie -
Watch the wall, my darling, while the Gentlemen go by.

Rudyard Kipling

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Twitter Licence

Twitter Licence


Xpert Xpert (Xerte Public E-learning ReposiTory) project is a JISC funded project to explore the potential of delivering and supporting a distributed repository of e-learning resources.

Xpert allows teachers or students to search a large database of open learning resources suitable for students at all levels of study in a wide range of different subjects - and all available for reuse. One of the nice features of Xpert is RSS in (staying up to date with many OER sites worldwide from multiple institutions) and highly flexible RSS out, allowing users to be alerted to new resources available in any area of interest, e.g:

Finding reusable OER multimedia resources can be very time consuming, Xpert can make life simpler. Give it a try.

Saturday, October 30, 2010


"What I especially like is that it's all open and that everyone can have their opinion. If this was a large group in a lecture theatre, then some people will be too shy and not say anything and others would become the main speakers. However, on friendfeed, it's not as scary because you don't have to speak in front of people. I also think it's easier to talk to Doctors/Professors on friendfeed than in real life."

"The first thing I did when I noticed that the network was down, was to go on to friendfeed because I knew I could rely on it for information ... I like how one's able to ask for advice from everyone, not only first year colleagues, but also second and third years as well."

Friday, October 29, 2010

The third shoe drops

BeyondGoogle After Monday's post about reference managers, I had an email from Claus Wolf, the European Operations Manager for RefWorks, pointing out the new features available in the beta version of RefWorks 2.0.

I also had an email from Fergus Gallagher at CiteULike, and after a short discussion - CiteULike now has a Like/Recommend button in the button bar:

CiteULike has had a number of features to promote sharing and social discovery of reference before (Copy, Blog, Groups, etc), but they have not been widely used. Will "Like" be any different? One difference is that "likes" will be visible on the listing pages, and there will be a dedicated Likes page (e.g. /user/fred/likes) with a corresponding RSS feed. This makes Likes potentially more visible than some of the previous mechanisms, and hopefully will promote uptake.


The encouraging thing about both of these conversations is further proof that blogging is an effective tool for academics to interact with industrial partners who would otherwise be closed-off to them, and to contribute the the development of new academic tools. All that is needed now is for us to receive credit for this important public-facing part of our jobs.

Monday, October 25, 2010

The other shoe drops

BeyondGoogle In the summer I reluctantly took the decision to drop delicious from our first year skills course. And now I have even more reluctantly taken the decision to drop CiteULike from our second year skills course.

There are two reasons I have taken this decision. The first is an analysis of usage. I have just looked at continued use of CiteULike by our final year students in the year following the second year course. 11% of students (13/116) were using CiteULike 6 months after the second year skills course in which they a were introduced to it and during their final year research projects. There's no other time when usage would be higher, so this is a disappointing outcome. I asked the users what they valued about CiteULike, and they said:
I use CiteUlike as a means for organizing papers for my dissertation, I upload a pdf for every one and it gives me access to all my relevant journals on any computer with the internet. I still write references myself in pieces of work but it helps to have the information readily available on CiteUlike. It is also very valuable if I see a paper on my dissertation topic on the internet and I can check instantly if I have the journal in my possession. I can't really compare it to any other tool as it is the only one I have used since being introduced to it on the BS2060 course. I can only compare it to organising papers in folders on my PC, and it is much more efficient than that! The most valuable thing about citeUlike is how readily it picks up DOIs and there are often 'share' links to CiteUlike on journal websites, cutting down the time it takes to record the information of journal articles.

I use CiteULike as a tool to quickly reference any of the written assignments that I have to do, as well as using the services' ability to store pdfs of papers online, which, given that I collect huge numbers of references for essays and the like, is an incredibly useful service. I regularly export my references from CiteULike for written work, but there are issues with the formatting it exports in which I can quickly remedy. CiteULike is significantly easier to use than equivalent programmes such as Refworks and the cloud-style storage makes it compatible with most machines. The most valuable features of CiteULike are the exporting ability saving me large amounts of time when referencing work, the ability to store pdfs of papers in a cloud, thereby allowing me access anywhere and the easy tagging system to make it simple to collate my references.

I'm currently using only CiteULike. I started using it again when I wasn't on my own computer and wanted to save some papers for later use, since then I use it to keep all my references together. I prefer it for its simplicity - Refworks was more complex and I wanted to work at speed, so I guess CiteULike just stuck.

I'm using CiteULike pretty much exclusively as a referencing tool. It's really easy to use, and unlike RefWorks will tell me if I try to add a reference more than once. I do find that very useful, since I'll often search for info on a topic at several different times and I don't always remember what papers I've already added to CiteULike. As for the most valuable aspect of CiteULike, it has to be having access to the same references in multiple locations. I might find a really useful paper while researching a gene at home or in the library, and if I then add that reference to CiteULike I can easily pull it up in seconds at work. It's a good way to coordinate my research.

I am a huge fan of simple tagging tools such as delicious and CiteULike and all too aware of the gap that the lack of uptake leaves in our student's skill-set. But in the end social is an emergent property and what we have gained in moving form a tool-centred PLE towards a people-centred PLN exceeds what we have lost. I need to figure out a way of re-introducing these tools via the PLN at the appropriate point, but that's not easy to do when you're trying to suppoort hundreds of students without adequate time.


Friday, October 22, 2010

Project SOAR

River Soar I'm delighted to announce that the University of Leicester Student Experience Enhancement Group has funded the following project. I've just registered the domain name, but you'll have to wait for a few weeks while we build the back end before I ask you to start participating as a beta tester. And yes, once we're up and running, of course the project will be open to all:

Project Title: SOAR - Student's Online Attention and Reading lists: navigating the river of student attention
Pilot project will be run in the School of Biological Sciences to explore the academic potential, scalability and sustainability for roll out across other Colleges facilitated by project partners.

Start and completion dates: 1st November 2010 – 31st July 2012.

To encourage students to engage with curated reading lists, I will create an interactive website with a familiar format allowing students to leave star ratings, reviews and recommendations. Books on the list will be published at relevant times during the academic year to ensure appropriate module-related release of information rather than overloading students at the beginning of term. The online list will be reinforced by regular face to face student-led meetings in the format of a book discussion group. These will be casual twilight sessions held in informal learning spaces such as ARC in the refurbished Students Union to maximize the opportunities for interactions with students provided by new learning spaces within the University. Utilizing low cost existing tools which enable the student voice to be heard and powerful analytical software coupled with direct feedback from students on their opinions of the effectiveness of this approach, we will test this approach to increasing engagement with academic literature. This proposal fits well with the University Learning and Teaching Strategy by promoting awareness of and involvement in the informal curriculum and opportunities for academic and personal development.

Educational Issues:
In the School of Biological Sciences, all the available evidence suggests that very few students engage with the curated reading lists given to them in the blizzard of information they are faced with at the start of Year 1. Although they are given a printed list, conversations with students reveal that they do not even recall receiving it, let alone reading any of the books listed (without an explanation of why they should). After their training in secondary education and the strategies they have adopted to be successful at A level, all the evidence suggests that these students fail to engage with non-assessed extension tasks when they transition to HE. A generation ago the sources of information available to students were comparatively few. Academic staff curated and channeled information to students through lectures and reading lists of carefully selected books. In some disciplines, literature has remained the focus of study, but in others, science in particular, the burgeoning sources of online information have out-competed traditional sources. As the ubiquity of online interactions has increased with services such as Facebook and Twitter, important information becomes submerged in the chatter. Non-assessed reading to broaden knowledge does not compete effectively with just-in-time sources such as Wikipedia. The literature surrounding the contribution of online resources to academic literacy has been well summarized by Charles Crook (Crook C. Addressing research at the intersection of academic literacies and new technology. International Journal of Educational Research. 2005 43 (7-8): 509-518). Wildridge et al suggested requirements for successful uptake of reading lists (Wildridge, V. et al., 2004. How to create successful partnerships – a review of the literature. Health Information and Libraries Journal, 21 (Supplement 1), 3-19):
  • attainable goals and objectives
  • members see collaboration as in their self-interest and share a stake
  • clear roles and guidelines
  • flexibility and adaptability
  • open and frequent communication
  • informal relationships and communication links
In response to these guidelines, this project will emphasise the collaborative nature of both social media and social gatherings to build a sense of community around the process of selecting, reading and thinking about additional reading, moving away from the isolation of the physical act of reading and towards a deeper collective understanding of important texts. Providing access to and information about extension reading materials from multiple access points, i.e. Wordpress, Blackboard, and social networking sites offers students choice and flexibility. Exploiting the Web environment to create a dynamic "reading list" by joining up access to disparate but relevant resources for students e.g. on the Web, from the Library, etc, offers much more "added value" than static paper-based reading lists. A pilot project will be conducted within the School of Biological Sciences during which evidence of effectiveness will be collected prior to consideration for roll-out by other Colleges within the University, and to inform selection and implementation of an electronic resource/reading list system by the Library currently planned for 2011/12.

Specific Environment for the Project:
The pilot phase of the project within the School of Biological Sciences will be offered to all current undergraduates (approximately 550). One phase will run online, as described below, while face to face book group meetings will also be offered 1-2 times per term. If large numbers of students express an interest in attending, several duplicate meetings will be held to accommodate the numbers. Members of staff involved in the project include Dr Alan Cann, Department of Biology, Project Director, and project partners: Sam Horrell, President, University of Leicester Biological Sciences Society; Stuart Johnson, Acting Head of Student Support & Development Service; Alex Nutt, Academic Affairs Officer, University of Leicester Students Union; Sarah Whittaker, Information Librarian, Clinical Sciences Library; Ben Wynne, Head of Academic Liaison, David Wilson Library. Other members of Academic and teaching staff from within the School of Biological Sciences will be recruited as the project progresses.
The proposal fits into sector two of the Strategy for Learning Innovation: Established programmes/students + new technologies. In terms of the University Learning and Teaching Strategy, the project fits within section 2.1.5 " addition to the learning opportunities provided through the formal curriculum, the University will also promote an awareness of, and involvement in, the informal curriculum: the opportunities provided within the University and the wider environment for academic and personal development, and for students, whatever their mode and level of study, to reflect on the wider benefits of higher education." In the Aims for Undergraduate Programmes, the project will help to ensure graduates will have:
  • developed the necessary skills to learn effectively and independently in order to support progression throughout their course and into appropriate and rewarding employment; and
  • developed personally in ways which will enrich their lives and facilitate a full contribution to society in the future.
By reading widely outside the core curriculum and discussing their opinions with peers and staff, this project will also help students develop their critical evaluation and communication skills in a more informal setting than is possible in the normal course of formal teaching.

Details of the work:
I will use the familiar and attractive model of the Amazon website to create a site with a similar experience, including the potent interactive elements such as ability to leave reviews, star ratings and recommendations ("People who read this book also read..."). This is straightforward to create using Wordpress as suitable themes and plugins already exist. This will be a non-commercial site, although each page will inform students which books are available for purchase from the University Bookshop, and will also include a link to the relevant University Library Catalogue record for each book so that students can easily see whether and how they can get obtain each item from the Library.
The site will be preloaded with all the items in the Biological Sciences reading list, one item per page. Conveniently with Wordpress, this can be done in advance and the pages scheduled for publication at appropriate points throughout the academic year. Each item will be linked to the appropriate module(s) by module-specific tags and linked to from the appropriate module site within Blackboard. We will also promote each item on publication via the dedicated Friendfeed social network used by Biological Sciences students.
Alongside the online component will be a face to face book discussion group which will be promoted using the channels described above. This will be entirely voluntary and not linked to assessment. We would only expect a minority of highly engaged students to take part in this element of the project, but smaller numbers will be better suited to this activity. The meetings will be held 2-3 times a term in non-academic social spaces such as the newly refurbished areas of the Students' Union. The Activities and Resources Centre (ARC) and lower floor meeting rooms would all be suitable and are bookable. Participants would be able to buy food and drinks from the adjacent services within the Union and bring them into the meetings. The discussion at these settings will be student-led, but as many members of academic staff who wish to attend will be encouraged to do so.

Intended Outcomes:
Although students in the School of Biological Sciences are all given a printed reading list when they enroll, the limited evidence available suggested that very few students engage with the materials listed. The intended outcomes of this project are:
  • To encourage students to engage with extension reading by creating an attractive and easy to access website which competes effectively for student attention and facilitates timed release of reading recommendations for modules via Blackboard course sites.
  • To reinforce the online experience with a periodic face to face book discussion group which will meet 1-2 times per term in an informal space within the university and where students will be able to discuss a selected book from the list with each other and with members of academic staff on a peer basis.
  • To collect as much evidence as possible of student engagement with reading list materials (see below).
  • In addition to internal reports, we will publish our findings an recommendations in a peer reviewed journal and actively promote them to colleagues around the University.
The intention is that evidence collected as part of this pilot project within the School of Biological Sciences will serve as a model which can be used to encourage colleagues to roll out this model more widely across other Colleges, and inform planning for a Library supported electronic resource/reading list system.

A short online questionnaire will be run with first year Biological Sciences students before the launch of the website to capture baseline data about reading list usage. A major advantage of using Wordpress is that this software provides excellent user interaction details, broken down chronologically and by item. With the addition of Google Analytics and Crazyegg, we will have a highly detailed analysis of user behavior. I have considerable experience in the use of all of these tools. Additional qualitative data concerning student engagement and limiting factors will be collected via comments on the website, and an end of year online questionnaire. Short, informal focus groups into engagement with reading materials will also be conducted as part of the book discussion group.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

How wrong can you be?

The mystery event I attended yesterday turned out to be a brainstorming workshop for the Wellcome Trust People Awards. It was an interesting day and I met some new people, but I don't feel we cracked "it", i.e. came up with a killer idea for an application.

Why not? The format was interesting, tables of about eight with one designated geek per table, but I'm not sure this worked as well as it should have done. Much as I like geeks, the second session worked better, when all the geeks had succumbed to the gravitational pull of themselves and wound up sitting on the same table. On the day, it just didn't spark and I didn't hear any killer ideas developed. Not that there weren't plenty of suggestions, it was just that they were all variants on past failures. On another day it might have been different. (I suspect the geeks feel differently and will go ahead with their GitNode scraper idea.) None of this is a criticism of anyone involved in organizing the day - it was a worthy idea that was worth a try.

And no-one said "upstream" all day. Maybe that was the problem.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

In which I make a prediction

I'm off to Wellcome Trust HQ today for the I'm A Scientist Beyond Blogging event: hashtag #iasbb (list of tweeps)

Beyond Blogging

I'm not entirely sure what to expect, but from the programme, the organizers seem to be expecting me (and the other participants) to tell them how fix the problems of science. Well, we'll see how far we get. Of one thing however, I am quite confident and prepared to make a prediction. The Word of the Day will be:


Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Open Access Advantage

Open Access Advantage The 25,000 peer-reviewed journals and refereed conference proceedings that exist today publish about 2.5 million articles per year, across all disciplines, languages and nations. No university or research institution anywhere, not even the richest, can afford to subscribe to all or most of the journals that its researchers may need to use. As a consequence, all articles are currently losing some portion of their potential research impact (usage and citations), because they are not accessible online to all their potential users. This is supported by recent evidence, independently confirmed by many studies, to the effect that articles whose authors have supplemented subscription-based access to the publisher’s version by self-archiving their own final draft to make it accessible free for all on the web ("Open Access", OA) are cited significantly more than articles in the same journal and year that have not been made OA. This "OA Impact Advantage" has been found in all fields analyzed so far – physical, technological, biological and social sciences, and humanities. Hence OA is not just about public access rights or the general dissemination of knowledge: It is about increasing the impact and thereby the progress of research itself. A work’s research impact is an indication of how much it contributes to further research by other scientists and scholars – how much it is used, applied and built upon. That is also why impact is valued, measured and rewarded in researcher performance assessment as well as in research funding.

Self-Selected or Mandated, Open Access Increases Citation Impact for Higher Quality Research. (2010) PLoS ONE 5(10): e13636. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0013636
Background: Articles whose authors have supplemented subscription-based access to the publisher’s version by self- archiving their own final draft to make it accessible free for all on the web ("Open Access", OA) are cited significantly more than articles in the same journal and year that have not been made OA. Some have suggested that this "OA Advantage" may not be causal but just a self-selection bias, because authors preferentially make higher-quality articles OA. To test this we compared self-selective self-archiving with mandatory self-archiving for a sample of 27,197 articles published 2002–2006 in 1,984 journals.
Methdology/Principal Findings: The OA Advantage proved just as high for both. Logistic regression analysis showed that the advantage is independent of other correlates of citations (article age; journal impact factor; number of co-authors, references or pages; field; article type; or country) and highest for the most highly cited articles. The OA Advantage is real, independent and causal, but skewed. Its size is indeed correlated with quality, just as citations themselves are (the top 20% of articles receive about 80% of all citations).
Conclusions/Significance: The OA advantage is greater for the more citable articles, not because of a quality bias from authors self-selecting what to make OA, but because of a quality advantage, from users self-selecting what to use and cite, freed by OA from the constraints of selective accessibility to subscribers only. It is hoped that these findings will help motivate the adoption of OA self-archiving mandates by universities, research institutions and research funders.