Thursday, April 29, 2010

Dave vs The Common People #leadersdebate

Big OER versus little OER

Martin Weller's recent blog post Academic output as collateral damage contains the following slidecast of his talk at the Learning on Screen conference. For me, one idea stands out in this presentation - the contrast between "big" OER and "little" OER.

It seems to me that big OER has got a lot to prove to justify the investment it has received, and currently, it's pretty short on evidence of ROI. I don't understand the economics of big OER, but as my son is fond of telling me, my grasp of economic principles is tenuous at best. (I cling to the Mark Twain quote, When I was a boy of fourteen I thought my father was the most ignorant man in the world, but when I was twenty-four I was amazed at how much the old man had learned.) Why would anyone work themselves out of a job? Except that it's happened before.

Little OER, I understand. I wouldn't be blogging otherwise.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Teaching in the Networks

I'm still using Gephi to analyze our Friendfolios project (Effectiveness of social media in education - following the conversations). Neil has been looking at the influence of academic staff on the networks by analyzing how they change with and without this input. Gephi provides some nice tools to quantify this, but for the purpose of a blog post or a PowerPoint presentation, nothing beats the impact of the network visualizations.

So here are my comments to and from all project participants:

I'm relieved to say I seem to have been quite influential, hopefully in a pastoral sense rather than dominating the public conversations. And here is my influence on "Likes" within the project:
This is perhaps more interesting. The strongest edge is a student who automatically "Liked" everything I posted. Whether this was a bookmarking strategy or an attempt to subvert the objectivity of assessment (it didn't, since the criteria were reasonably robust ;-) I don't know.

What else should we be looking at with these tools?

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Too nice or too nasty?

t A tweet from Caribbean Educators in the Friendfeed Digital Researcher Group alerted me to a presentation by Geoffrey Roulet: Message Interactions in Online Asynchronous Discussions: The Problem of Being “Too Nice”.

A couple of messages further down, Graham Steel pointed at Andrew Hudson-Smith's blog post "Tweeting from Conferences - Live Criticism and How to Cope".

It seems that scientists have no problem being nasty to each other, but maybe others do. I wonder what will happen at #altc2010?

Pedant's Corner: Fewer or Less?

It's a sign Even the most dedicated pedants seem to be getting bored with the possessive apostrophe. The trendy thing to pick people up on currently seems the be use of fewer (use when objects can be counted individually) or less (use with objects or quantities which cannot be counted).

The distinction is a shibboleth I intend to use as I devote the next year to tormenting these pedants.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Effectiveness of social media in education - following the conversations

We're gradually learning how to use Gephi in a more effective fashion to analyze the traffic which occurred on our students Friendfolios last term. This is a visualization of comments made by students on each other's submissions (we have the same data on subscriptions, likes, etc). Video:

By this type of rigorous and in depth analysis we intend to move beyond the content analysis and simple statistical analysis of social network traffic into a deeper understanding of the value of social media in education, such as how Friendfolios make reflection "sticky".

Friday, April 23, 2010

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Do Pressures to Publish Increase Scientists’ Bias?

The objectivity and integrity of contemporary science faces many threats. A cause of particular concern is the growing competition for research funding and academic positions, which, combined with an increasing use of bibliometric parameters to evaluate careers (e.g. number of publications and the impact factor of the journals they appeared in), pressures scientists into continuously producing ‘‘publishable’’ results.

Quantitative studies have repeatedly shown that financial interests can influence the outcome of biomedical research but they appear to have neglected the much more widespread conflict of interest created by scientists’ need to publish. Yet, fears that the professionalization of research might compromise its objectivity and integrity had been expressed already in the 19th century. Since then, the competitiveness and precariousness of scientific careers have increased, and evidence that this might encourage misconduct has accumulated. Scientists in focus groups suggested that the need to compete in academia is a threat to scientific integrity, and those guilty of scientific misconduct often invoke excessive pressures to produce as a partial justification for their actions. Surveys suggest that competitive research environments decrease the likelihood to follow scientific ideals and increase the likelihood to witness scientific misconduct. However, no direct, quantitative study has verified the connection between pressures to publish and bias in the scientific literature, so the existence and gravity of the problem are still a matter of speculation and debate.

To verify this hypothesis, this study analysed a random sample of papers published between 2000 and 2007 that had a corresponding author based in the US. These papers, published in all disciplines, declared to have tested a hypothesis, and it was determined whether they concluded to have found a ‘‘positive’’ (full or partial) or a ‘‘negative’’ support for the tested hypothesis. Using data compiled by the National Science Foundation, the proportion of ‘‘positive’’ results was then regressed against a sheer measure of academic productivity: the number of articles published per-capita (i.e. per doctorate holder in academia) in each US state, controlling for the effects of per-capita research expenditure. Therefore, if publication pressures increase scientific bias, the frequency of ‘‘positive’’ results in the literature should be higher in the more competitive and ‘‘productive’’ academic environments. This study verified this hypothesis by measuring the frequency of positive results in a large random sample of papers with a corresponding author based in the US.

Across all disciplines, papers were more likely to support a tested hypothesis if their corresponding authors were working in states that, according to NSF data, produced more academic papers per capita. The size of this effect increased when controlling for state’s per capita R&D expenditure and for study characteristics that previous research showed to correlate with the frequency of positive results, including discipline and methodology. Although the confounding effect of institutions’ prestige could not be excluded (researchers in the more productive universities could be the most clever and successful in their experiments), these results support the hypothesis that competitive academic environments increase not only scientists’ productivity but also their bias. The same phenomenon might be observed in other countries where academic competition and pressures to publish are high.

Do Pressures to Publish Increase Scientists’ Bias? An Empirical Support from US States Data. 2010 PLoS ONE 5(4): e10271. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0010271

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Facebook is my VLE?

Facebook pages


And lo, it came to pass:

Adjacent Spaces at #altc2010

altc2010 For the next couple of days I'm in Birmingham for the ALT-C 2010 Programme Committee meeting. The main reason for my presence is as one of the newly appointed Web Participation Co-ordinators. Over the last few months we've been discussing what adjacent spaces we plan to use to augment the physical conference in September (Hint: it won't be Ning). Some points on the agenda:

The frontchannel (c.f. private/unmoderated "backchannels" of discussion) will be based on Twitter the conference hashtag (#altc2010) and include on-screen display in plenary and invited speaker sessions (where approved by the speaker), and displays in the foyer/coffee/etc areas. The Elluminate chat window will be available for remote participants viewing via Elluminate if they chose to use it but will not be monitored live in the sessions. The display areas will show a feed of the official conference hashtag, while the frontchannel for presentations may be a filtered version via an extended hashtag, so as to allow selective display of tweets in the room without showing the entire back channel. The display areas will be unmoderated but the presentations will be moderated via additional scrutiny of the hashtag output.
- Dual screen projection in plenary sessions
- Quiet areas in plenary sessions? Back of room? Power sockets?

No plans to promote other services as "official" channels, e.g. Google Wave, Facebook, Friendfeed, etc, although participants are free to use their service of choice.

Live blogging:
Plans to recruit designated live bloggers for the conference/sessions. May use a dedicated tag which would be separate from the main conference tag to aggregate posts and then promote posts.
Options: How live is live? - reflective posts within 24 hours of sessions?

Available to remote participants in PDF format? Commenting needed for discussions.

Make .ics files available?
Mobile device access?

Related posts:

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

A year is still a long time


Chris reminded me that it's been a year since I wrote A year is a long time in blogging. There have certainly been a lot more UoL blogs started in the last year, but I'm not into curating lists.

There most be a dynamic technical solution to this, but I'm not sure what it is since Google broke Blogsearch. Any suggestions?

Monday, April 19, 2010

This Is Bullsh*t

I'm feeling the need to counteract Knowledge First, so - Jeff Jarvis at TEDxNYED talks about lectures as an outmoded form of education and news:

Knowledge first?

Medical Hypotheses Brucie comes out swinging:

"Aiming-high and missing: A more practical pedagogical problem – but one which I would regard as highly significant – is that it is very hard for students to learn difficult concepts unless these concepts are presented as unambiguously as possible.
Ambiguity interferes with learning, since each additional possibility multiplies uncertainty in a geometric fashion. I am not sure whether this is numerically exact, but it seems as if adding the first uncertainty to an explanation doubles the cognitive load – because there are now two parallel and diverging possibilities; both of which must now be known, understood and compared. Adding a second uncertainty to the first therefore quadruples the cognitive load, a third uncertainty will render comprehension and memorizing 16-fold more difficult – and so on.
This analysis implies that the primary mode of most science teaching must be dogmatic; that is to say, a science teacher must initially make a choice about the single most correct interpretation of evidence and the single most correct conclusion – and must restrict the initial presentation to this clear and simple exposition.
Only after the teacher is confident that most students have understood this clear and simple account (and preferably after leaving this unified exposition to be assimilated overnight) should the teacher add layers of uncertainly, debate, distension and complication to the simple account. Premature challenging of main-stream science, debates over competing hypotheses, and uncertainties engendered by free-form discussions are likely to interfere with learning.
Therefore, for many students studying science, it is better to leave them with a clear grasp of the single best version of a concept, than permanently to confuse them with further accounts; or potentially to drive-out or corrupt a clear and approximately-accurate memorization by interference from related – similar but not quite equivalent – explanations, qualifications and nuances.
Obviously, this does not mean the science classroom should be a wholly one-way street of discourse streaming from the teacher into the taught – of relentless pontification from one side and silent absorption on the other side. On the contrary, student feed- back (via perceived visual signals and some spoken enquiries or comments) is necessary for the teacher to monitor the learning process. (This is one reason why real time, real life lectures retain their value; and why to be successful lectures need small-enough and well-designed lecture rooms such that the lecturer and his audience remain in sensory contact.)
Science teaching could and should be made more interesting for students than it usually is – but it should be made more interesting while still being science; and not at the cost of stopping studying science and instead engaging in mere science-themed chit-chat. In reality, the flow of scientific knowledge is likely to be unidirectional.
If teachers aim too-high for students whose motivation, intelligence and preparation are insufficient; or if teachers try to make students run before they can even crawl – especially for students who lack the background and ability ever to do anything more than walk; or if teachers overwrite their clearest and simplest message by smothering it in confused discussions and pseudo-scientific de- bates – then teachers risk failing to enable the attainment of even basic scientific knowledge and competence in their students.
Instead, for the early years of science teaching, the basic assumption ought to be that the student is there to learn science; not to confront science. The basic attitude being taught should be one of humility before the science being studied."

Knowledge first, critique later: why it is a mistake for science education to encourage junior students to discuss, challenge and debate scientific knowledge. Med Hypotheses. 2010 74(2): 211-213
Bruce G. Charlton
Editor-in-Chief – Medical Hypotheses
Professor of Theoretical Medicine
University of Buckingham, UK.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Still struggling with Farmville

Farmville "The secret to Farmville’s popularity is neither gameplay nor aesthetics. Farmville is popular because in entangles users in a web of social obligations. When users log into Facebook, they are reminded that their neighbors have sent them gifts, posted bonuses on their walls, and helped with each others’ farms. In turn, they are obligated to return the courtesies. As the French sociologist Marcel Mauss tells us, gifts are never free: they bind the giver and receiver in a loop of reciprocity. It is rude to refuse a gift, and ruder still to not return the kindness. We play Farmville, then, because we are trying to be good to one another. We play Farmville because we are polite, cultivated people."

Cultivated Play: Farmville by A.J. Patrick Liszkiewicz

A cloud hanging over us? No, blue skies.

Blue skies People keep asking me to write about Ning, but I don't do requests (very often), and I don't have much to say I haven't already said. Ning is a dead end. Now it's a dying dead end. End of story. Build networks, not destinations.

What I want to write about is #ashtag. As I listen, some middleman is on the radio moaning about not being able to fly in beans from Africa. Brilliant. While I have sympathy for those trapped overseas by lack of return flights, my long term view of the post peak oil future is much more optimistic. Technology will ride to the rescue, not by modifying jet engines but by eliminating the need for much air travel.

Life is looking up. Here's to Eyjafjallajoekull!

Friday, April 16, 2010

In two minds

AJCann2 It seems to be the done thing at the moment to set up a "conference" Twitter account where one can witter away without disturbing the delicate sensibilities of your regular followers. I've been thinking about my plans for #GE10, and so I set up AJCann2, my "noisy" account.

But I'm not so sure about this. When one of my colleagues is reporting back from a conference I welcome the input. I don't go to many conferences, and when I do, I don't twitter all day long. Do I really want followers who can't accept a little extra information occasionally? I'm not sure.

What do you think?

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Sigh. About this election then #GE10

debate OK, we're all bored with this election, because (barring cock-ups) we all know the outcome, and what the next few years hold irrespective of who gets elected or what they said in their manifesto. I'm so bored that I don't want to write any more about it.

Apart from one thing. This is the first social media election in the UK. It's far from clear that the lessons of #obama will translate to the Brits. And that old fashioned TV thing cluttering up the corner of your room is also sticking it's nose in. So like thousands of others, I'll be watching with my laptop on my lap top. See you at #GE10.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Self-assessment (not)

Teaching in Higher Education At our monthly PedR meeting yesterday, we discussed Maddalena Taras' paper Student self-assessment: processes and consequences. (2010) Teaching in Higher Education 15(2):199-209. This is an excellent paper, although I do have an issue with her use of the term "self-assessment" for what most people, myself included, would call reflection. That point aside, the similarities between the proposed "Strongest model of self-assessment, Learning contract design (LCD)" and our Friendfolio approach to reflection are striking. Although we do not allow students to decide what, when and how to learn, weekly objectives, peer feedback, original, reviewed objectives and methods on display at the public notice board are pretty much an exact description of how we have implemented Friendfolios.

Monday, April 12, 2010

End of the Sprawl

Sprawl Trilogy It's taken me nearly two years, but I finally got to the end of Gibson's Sprawl Trilogy. (I did read a few other things along the way ;-)

And the conclusion? Neuromancer is very good (although not as good as Snowcrash), but it's a fairly steady downhill progression after that. I'd recommend reading Neuromancer and leaving it at that. The quality is there, but it's not evenly distributed.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

More with less

Thinking box To be perfectly honest with you, the main reason I write this blog is so that I can find things again. Now, I have lots of ways of finding things, such as Google, social search and all the tags on my delicious account, but they don't help very much when you can't remember what you're looking for. Writing about things lodges them in my brain so that's less likely to happen. It also changes what I decide I need to know. Along the way, I've found that some of the stuff I write is of interest to other people. Which is nice.

Back in January I had a thought, one of those instants when a phrase pops into your head, which I knew straight away was going to be the theme for this year (and possibly beyond). Stupidly, I didn't write about it at the time, and now, although I have a hazy recollection of the phrase, I can't recall the exact bon mot that was going to get me all those grants save my ass. Which is really annoying.

This legendary phrase carried connotations of social media coming of age, with overtones of sustainability and lashings of value for money. In clumsy practical terms, it boils down to doing more with less. Which is something I have been thinking about recently, especially as our student intake is going to shoot up next year at exactly the moment when I'm going to be writing all those grants and research papers (and the unit resource is likely to go down). So how do you do more with less? Cloud computing, peer support and recouping investment in existing systems to name but three, but in addition to that, group work is going to have to make a contribution. Which is why I was interested to read Graham Gibbs report The assessment of group work: lessons from the literature. Reduction in assessment load is going to play a big part in squaring this circle, but wholesale abandonment of "assessment motivation" simply isn't a viable option for us. Group assessment is the compromise that could just work. Hello Google Docs. One of the reasons I have shied away from group assessment in the past is all the hassle over "fairness". Perceptions of the fairness of group assessment are discussed in detail by Gibbs.

My plan was that writing this post would shake loose that valuable phrase. I hasn't. I must be getting old. Should've blogged about it, but if you can remember what I was thinking in January, please let me know. Now it's back to converting that hand-marked assessment to an automated Blackboard quiz. Got to make technology pay.