Monday, May 31, 2010

Poem for Tony

Tony Blackburn
Tony Blackburn
Knowing wink
Guilty pleasure
Talking over records
Corny jokes
Complete twat
Glint of recognition
Feel uncomfortable now

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Excellence in Teaching & Learning in Higher Education Conference

I'm in London today at the Excellence in Teaching & Learning in Higher Education Conference where I will be leading a seminar about social networks in education:

So if you're a Vice Chancellor at you're at a loose end today, pop in for a chat.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

It's about the privacy, stupid

Google Reader Privacy Settings On my first fix of Google Reader today, I got the pop-up opposite, which leads to the revised Google Reader Sharing FAQ. This is of interest to me for two reasons.

First, Google, no longer locked in a battle to the death with Microsoft (remember them?), is now locked in a battle to the death with Facebook, and is trying to make Facebook look bad by stealing a march on the forthcoming Facebook privacy control changes after the Buzz launch privacy disaster.

But second, we need to make decisions what tools use use with undergraduates on our PLE module next year. Currently, we promote delicious and Google Reader (among other tools), which get a mixed response from the students. Google Reader shared items has always been a pain to administer, and it's not clear that these changes will make it any easier. The pain is self-inflicted due to the fact that we assess student's use of Reader. Students like sharing links via Friendfeed, but they just don't get these other social tools. So it seems to me the options are:
  1. Carry on as before, trying to enforce the use of social tools through assessment.
  2. Present students with the tools but don't try to assess usage, accepting that 95% of them won't use them because "It's not science". (Raising questions of "Why are you doing this to me?")
  3. Roll out Friendfeed in Term 1, encourage sharing and take the risk that it turns into a social rather than a professional/personal development exercise. Maybe it's time to bite the bullet and admit that social networks have won the attention battle?
Vote now!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

The moving finger writes

Spot of the old invigilation this morning, followed by days of pouring over spidery student handwriting (if I'm lucky), so while I'm gainfully employed, I thought you might enjoy:

Typing compared with handwriting for essay examinations at university: letting the students choose. 2010 ALT-J 18 (1): 29-47
Students at the University of Edinburgh do almost all their work on computers, but at the end of the semester they are examined by handwritten essays. Intuitively it would be appealing to allow students the choice of handwriting or typing, but this raises a concern that perhaps this might not be fair that the choice a student makes, to write or to type, will affect their mark. The aim of this study was to identify and explore any systematic differences that may be introduced due to offering students the choice to write or type essay examinations. A class of 70 first-year divinity students were given the option of taking a mock examination, and the further option of handwriting or typing their answer. All the examination scripts were then faithfully transcribed into the opposite format so there was a printed copy and a handwritten copy of every script. These were then marked by four markers, such that every marker marked every script exactly once, in one format or the other. No significant differences could be identified due to the format in which the students had written their answer. Factors explored included length of essay, overall score awarded, and some qualitative measures designed to indicate essay quality. In contrast, the variation between the markers was striking.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Rock and a hard place

You cairn not be serious At this month's PedR meeting we planned to discuss "The future of the VLE" as far as this institution is concerned. Of course, we didn't get very far, and if I'd read Dave White's post Does the Technology Matter? before rather than after the meeting, I'd have suggested we talk about something useful, such as cake recipes.

The only ray of light from this meeting (apart from the cake) was revisiting some of our unresolved issues around curriculum design and assessment. The Biological Sciences staff present universally agreed that we over-assess our students compared with other disciplines and other institutions, and we indulged in the routine ritual scourging.

I've written about over-assessment here before (New balance, More with less). I want to assess less and teach more, but it's not that simple (read the links). What do students want? The great thing about the Friendfeed network we have developed is instant informal feedback, so I asked them, including a PollDaddy poll in the discussion. Outcome?

The idea of rolling back assessment load is not universally popular with this group of engaged and vocal students. And that means that attempts to reduce assessment will be pressurized from above and below by:
  • Senior managers who want a constant stream of measurable deliverables (impact factors, student marks, yada yada yada) so that they can "manage" their staff.
  • Students who want constant reassurance of their "progress" and return on investment in tuition fees.
I'm not in a professional position where I can go cold turkey on assessment overload. Slowly, slowly we need to roll back the years of damage, weaning the feedback junkies off the hard stuff and onto the formative assessment methadone.

And if we really want to spend more time teaching, we need to reclaim the lost summer term we have abandoned in recent years.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The hidden influence of social networks

Short Writing Bursts: The Freedom to Write Less

Screenshot A link in my delicious feed pointed me at this post a couple of days ago. I've written about this before (see links below), but microchunking isn't compatible with scheduling, so I've slipped back into the old ways of timetabling largish (1-2 hour) writing sessions.

My present situation is that I have so many things to write about from so many divergent areas that I'm having a hard time, (a) writing enough, (b) flitting from one mindset to another required by the different topics. So over the last couple of days I've tried the short (15 minute block) technique (without the blocking software, but turning off desktop notifiers and other obvious distractions) as a way to increase productivity, but also to allow me to span the wide range of topics I'm trying to think about. And it has worked. But this is partly due to novelty, and that over time much if not all of the impact will be lost. So maybe at that point I need to switch back to larger chunks of writing.

What I need then is a meter recording how much I write each day. Assuming that the quality is relatively constant, this could be a motivation. Snag is, I don't write in one place or in one style, but in many. Forget the meter, I need a writing dashboard.


Thursday, May 06, 2010

Sold my soul to Facebook

Facebook For the last week, I have been unable to escape the gravitational pull of Facebook. On Friday, Tuesday and Wednesday, the conversation inevitably turned to this elephant in the seminar room. I thought I might get a day off today, but no. It seems I have sold my soul to Facebook.

At a module review meeting this morning we discussed how we are going to meet the challenge of our largest ever student intake. And we discussed how we might use Facebook to help us do more with less. The plan is that, since students are already resident on Facebook, we will use module-specific Facebook pages as additional (but not sole) support channels. Some students will not want to use Facebook for this purpose, and that's fine. We are simply using this channel to leverage their attention.

To do this, we need to develop a set of T&C, the first draft of which (which I hope you will contribute to) looks something like:
  • A Facebook Page is available as an additional means of getting help on this module. You do not have to use this Facebook Page if you do not want to. This is not an official channel of communication. Do not reveal any personal information about yourself on the Facebook Page. If you wish to discuss a private matter, contact one of the module staff directly.
  • Facebook Pages do not reveal the content of your personal Facebook Wall to other people who are not your Facebook "friends". We will not send you "friend" requests on Facebook and we will not respond to "friend" requests from you.
Anything else we need to say?


Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Students as Collaborators

Students as Collaborators Today I'm off to a symposium to explore student participation in learning & teaching: Students as Collaborators: teaching and learning in HE for the 21st century, organized by the University of Leicester Students' Union, in partnership with GENIE (the University's centre for Genetics Education Networking for Innovation and Excellence) and the National Student Learning & Teaching Network Committee. With a combination of speeches, workshops and other fora the symposium will showcase examples of students becoming more actively engaged within their learning communities, and on the flip-side how academics have bridged the gap between teaching and research and empowered students to become co-producers within their learning environments. Should be interesting. I might talk about Friendfolios ;-)

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Sourdough saga

Sourdough OK, we learned two things.

Using white flour is much better than rye flour (too strong with the sourdough starter).

Letting it rise overnight doesn't work well. Although you get fresh bread in the morning, the dough forms a skin overnight so it doesn't expand as well as it could in the oven. Still tastes nice though :-)