Thursday, December 29, 2011

Week off

Took a week off the Internet thing, and it was good. I didn't miss anything important.

A quick glance over what went on when I was away confirmed that the noise is constant but the signal varies, so it's still all about filtering

Where's my "of 2011" filter?

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Personal Facebook Pages

Facebook Yesterday Martin Weller wrote about How to undermine Facebook. I've got love-hate feelings about Facebook, and while all my referrer stats tell me I can't afford to abandon it, I can easily image a situation where I might want to move to an asymmetric relationship rather than the symmetrical "friend" relationship I currently have with a very select group.

The way I would do this is via my personal Facebook page.

Nice to have your exit strategy prepared.

Monday, December 19, 2011

The Costs of Not Being Resident

Dave One of the most influential pieces of work which has shaped my thinking over the past few years has been Dave White's ideas on Visitors and Residents. A while ago Dave expanded on his original idea in a post entitled The cost of Residency. In this post he makes some good points about the rapidly changing social network landscape, and then goes on to discuss the costs of residency:

Time is the non-negotiable cost to Residency and to maintaining fulfilling relationships of any form. The way this precious resource is spent, especially in the context of learning, needs to be better understood by those of us promoting the idea of digital literacy.

This is one of the most valid criticisms ("not enough time") that people raise in the face of social media advocacy, and this has been seized on in a number of discussions which took place in adjacent spaces around the post. While I accept the issue as valid, after consideration I am left with the uneasy feeling that the way the negative aspects of this post have been seized on neglects to provide adequate balance on the issue of the costs of not being resident. I would like to redress that balance here.

In my video discussing V & R I make the point that a Visitor approach to formal education is more likely to be successful than a Resident one given that all students are likely to end-up isolated at a desk in an exam room at the end of their courses – i.e. the education system assesses our ability to be Visitors not Residents.

My feeling is that this narrow view fails to take into account skills required beyond the hamster wheel of assessment and reward - workplace and life skills which Visitors fail to glean due to the absence of network effects.

Characterising digital literacy as a simple drive towards Residency would be dangerous; digital literacies are required and acquired as much at the Visitor end of the continuum as they are at the Resident.

This is a straw man, Visitor skills are the low hanging fruit, it's residency skills, and the ability to balance them with other pressures, where the advances in technology lie. Dave continues to develop the V & R idea, but it is crucial that we balance the positive outcomes of residency against the downside doubters. So where is the low hanging fruit of residency?

Friday, December 16, 2011

A word of warning

Card It's the holiday season so you won't be spending much time blogging over the next couple of weeks. That means to justify your miserable existence or fill your quota of words/posts/drivel before the end of the year, you'll be writing a few list of 10 filler posts. If you not only have no self-respect but also feel positively ill-disposed to the rest of the human race, you might even write a few review of the year / the year ahead posts.

Don't, right. Just don't.

I hate top 10 lists

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Social Media and Microbiology Education

I'm off to the Royal Dutch Society for Microbiology meeting in April, and I've just sent in my abstract.
What do you think?

Social Media and Microbiology Education

Social media is the part of the Internet where the content is generated by users of the service rather than conventional publishers. Such content ranges in scope from short comments on blogs, status updates on social networks and 140 character "tweets", to lengthy blog posts sometimes even containing original research. In comparison to conventional academic publishing, the social media landscape is extremely varied. Although the age demographic of social media users is becoming older and more inclusive, the typical social media user is aged 18-30, spends more time online and gaming than watching television, and gains a much higher proportion of their information by searching and social recommendations than through traditional publishing channels. Social media is the backbone of their information infrastructure. This talk will address the following questions:

What does the current generation of students want?
Their problem is not shortage of information but overabundance. They intuitively expect academics to compete for their attention with professional media such as the games industry and that offered by Hollywood. In an educational context, they want guidance and leadership through the information maze - academic mentors. In the current environment, they also want value for money and a return on their investment, both financial and of their time.

What do we give them?
By and large, we give them what we ourselves experienced in education. Where technology makes it easy for us to increase the pressure on them (by email, online assessment), we do so. When we venture online, we expect them to use information on our terms, not theirs. We wedge them into virtual learning environments planned and built when the Internet was young, when they were still infants and before social media existed.

What do we (academics) want?
We want highly engaged, enthusiastic, self-motivated, lifelong learners who will go on to successful and profitable careers. We want the satisfaction of seeing students gradually awake to an understanding of the subject we love and have spent our careers working on. We want students to look to us for help, support advice and guidance.

So how do we get there?
We need to invest much more time and effort in understanding how new media work rather than putting our PowerPoint slides online. We need to manage expectations - in particular that education is an active process, not passive spoon-feeding of information. We need to give students clear targets and something to aim for. And we need to engage with student attention in social media to achieve these aims.

Junco, R. (2012) The relationship between frequency of Facebook use, participation in Facebook activities, and student engagement. Computers & Education 58(1): 162-171.
Kanai, R., Bahrami, B., Roylance, R., & Rees G. (2011) Online social network size is reflected in human brain structure. Proceedings of the Royal Society of Biological Sciences
Mollett, A., Moran, D. & Dunleavy, P. (2011) Using Twitter in university research, teaching and impact activities: A guide for academics and researchers. LSE Public Policy Group.
Racaniello, V. (2010) Social Media and Microbiology Education. PLoS Pathogens 6, 10, e1001095.
Rainie, L. (2011) The internet as a diversion and destination. Pew Internet.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The nice lady from #OeRBITAL

Jenny KoenigFor me, one of the concrete outcomes of the OeRBITAL project was that I integrated Jenny Koenig's Essential Maths OERs into my first year key skills numeracy module.

The module has gone very well this year, and one of the students commented in the feedback that they liked "the nice lady in the videos" :-)

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Creativity: Asset or Burden in the Classroom?

"One of the most consistent findings in educational studies of creativity has been that teachers dislike personality traits associated with creativity. Research has indicated that teachers prefer traits that seem to run counter to creativity, such as conformity and unquestioning acceptance of authority. The reason for teachers’ preferences is quite clear creative people tend to have traits that some have referred to as obnoxious. Torrance (1963) described creative people as not having the time to be courteous, as refusing to take no for an answer, and as being negativistic and critical of others. Other characteristics, although not deserving the label obnoxious, nonetheless may not be those most highly valued in the classroom.
…Research has suggested that traits associated with creativity may not only be neglected, but actively punished. Stone (1980) found that second graders who scored highest on tests of creativity were also those identified by their peers as engaging in the most misbehavior (e.g., “getting in trouble the most”). Given that research and theory suggest that a supportive environment is important to the fostering of creativity, it is quite possible that teachers are (perhaps unwittingly) extinguishing creative behaviors."

Creativity: Asset or Burden in the Classroom? (1995) Creativity Research Journal 8(1): 1-10

Comment: I've got mixed feelings about emphasis on "creativity" in education. Clearly it is an important attribute, but at its worse, education based around "creativity" is part of the cult of the individual afflicting society at present. Are we really doing the best for students by giving them such a self-centred view?

Monday, December 12, 2011


Annotum My two friends called Martin have been playing with WordPress. Specifically, they've been experimenting with the Annotum WordPress theme, a.k.a. Journal-In-A-Box. Martin Fenner wrote a nice explanatory post, and hours later, Martin Weller launched his edtech metajournal.

My thoughts have been on the published evidence base recently. As MartinW points out the easy way to collate this information is to use an existing aggregator. I'd probably use a CiteULike tag, such as, for example, my Journal of Experimental Lols, but, Storify, or any of the other burgeoning curation services could do the job. But (subject matter aside), none of these look much like a traditional journal. Wrap Annotum in a custom URL ("Leicester Bioscience Education") and you've got something that walks like a journal and quacks like a journal.

But do I really want another editorial role? I'm currently on the editorial boards of two journals, and to be honest, I don't really get any institutional credit for that (intellectual rewards are another thing). Any idiot can be a journal editor (remember Medical Hypotheses?), but being a good journal editor is a lot of work. That wouldn't be a problem if I thought that such a metajournal would serve the purpose (custom evidence base) that I need. But if it's not published in Nature, does anyone care, and is it worth the extra work over a simple aggregator?

Friday, December 09, 2011

Puzzling Evidence 2

Strategy A few days ago I wrote about the "evidence" base for most educational interventions being effectively useless.

Published evidence now tells us that excessive Facebook use lowers student attainment. Sometimes. For some students. Or not, depending on which papers you read:
"In short, it is difficult to provide any correlation between academic performance and social network usage."
There is no black and white here. Experience and common sense are your only guides.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

The truth about Facebook and grades infographic

Infographic Ray Junco, who has done some good work around academic use of Facebook recently, has just published an "infographic" on the topic.

I'm not a fan of the infographic craze since I almost always find that they obscure findings that more conventional graphic techniques would have made more accessible. This is no exception. YMMV.

But what about this?

What's 990 years between friends?

Cover Donald Clark stirred up the pigeons again or some such allegory yesterday by claiming that there has been more pedagogic change in 10 years than in the previous 1000 years – all driven by 10 technology innovations. (#pencilchat anyone?) The items he chose for his somewhat forced list of 10 were:
  1. Asynchronous teaching – the new default
  2. Links – free from tyranny of linear learning
  3. Search (Google)
  4. Wikipedia
  5. Facebook
  6. Twitter, texting
  7. YouTube
  8. Games
  9. Tools (word processor, spreadsheet and presentation tools)
  10. Open source
As I said, forced, but he makes a valid point, so even though half this list is a stretch (tools - last 10 years? Bit slow there Donald), he makes a valid point.

"That's the way we've done it for 1000 years" 

Recognising the magnitude of change while it's going on is difficult. Responding to it in an appropriate manner which mixes the best of the old with the best of the new is even harder.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Video feedback is flawed (although I wish it wasn't)

There are numerous issues surrounding the provision of assessment-related feedback in Higher Education, which in recent years have been highlighted in the National Student Survey. In this paper questionnaire data from staff and students at the University of Reading are used to confirm the main issues encountered with feedback, namely problems of time efficiency for staff, lack of engagement by students with feedback and issues with the timeliness and quality of feedback received. Therefore we explored the potential of technology, specifically video, to address these issues by enabling staff to produce brief feedback videos for students. The videos were housed within a new online resource, ‘ASSET’, and were used to investigate whether use of this technology could enhance the feedback experience for both staff and students. A pilot of the ASSET resource for generic feedback provision found that it was considered advantageous by staff and students. Moreover, the use of video was also shown to resolve many of the common problems of feedback in relation to quality and engagement of students.

Anne Crook, Alice Mauchline, Stephen Maw, Clare Lawson, Robyn Drinkwater, Karsten Lundqvist, Paul Orsmond, Stephen Gomez, Julian Park. (2012)
The use of video technology for providing feedback to students: Can it enhance the feedback experience for staff and students? Computers & Education 58(1): 386-396. doi:10.1016/j.compedu.2011.08.025

Comment: Over the years we have seen many online video systems, Seesmic being the most memorable. None of them have stuck. Even video commenting on YouTube is virtually non-existent. The ubiquity of phones with rear-facing videos cameras has made no difference. The overhead of video is just too high.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

PLN 1, Walled Garden 0

Sad delicious Blackboard has announced that the Blackboard Scholar walled garden bookmarking facility will be gone by January. It gives me great please to say

I Told You So.

Monday, December 05, 2011

Puzzling Evidence

Strategy One of the tasks in my hamster wheel at the moment is following up on a recent local strategic review of teaching. In talking to teaching teams about this, one of the possible avenues to emerge is a call for a teaching methods evidence base.

Apart from the obvious dangers of reinventing the wheel, being scientists, these people mean numbers - as in proof something is "better" than something else. But what the heck is "better? A number of papers in the most recent edition of CBE Life Sciences Education address this point.

The standard of much published educational research is poor compared to, for example, most medical research. What is "poor" in this context? Small sample sizes, highly local circumstances (often reflecting unrecognized interventions), descriptive rather than analytical. CBE Life Sciences Education strives to avoid these problems and is, for the most part, statistically rigorous. But does this help? It's still easy to find conflicting evidence in the literature for just about anything. There are no global models - people need to consider the individual circumstances of their course, modules and students. For this reason (and others), I'm not attracted to the idea of building yet another evidence base. Exemplars rather than evidence must be the way forward for those who care enough.

How many biology teachers does it take to change a light bulb? None, they must want to change their own practice. Any illumination is going to come from high quality exemplars they can choose to adopt, not light bulbs.

Friday, December 02, 2011

10 things you didn't know about LTAG

  1. The Learning Technology Advisory Group are the Illuminati of learning technology.
  2. I am the academic rep for our College on LTAG.
  3. Academics mostly don't bother to go to LTAG, they follow the money to LTMG.
  4. A questionnaire is never the right answer.
  5. Adobe and Flash plummet from the burning platform linked unto death itself.
  6. We never eat biscuits, no siree.
  7. We think someone's using Blackboard but we're not quite sure how.
  8. Piloting technologies is always the right answer.
  9. Piloting ideas is always the right answer.
  10. R is not SPSS nor SPQR.
  11. All lists should go to 11.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

SciReadr Book Group Meeting

Cover When I announced yesterday's SciReadr Book Group meeting, I blogged about it, posted it on Google+ and sent an email to around 600 people. I got 14 replies, all of which asked, Is it compulsory?

So it was quite a pleasant surprise that we managed to double the attendance at the previous meeting, and although the turnout was small, had a good discussion about Nick Lane's Life Ascending: The Ten Great Inventions of Evolution. (It's a thumbs up Nick, they liked it - much better than the drubbing they gave Bill Bryson last time.)

We also talked about the best time for book group meetings (there isn't one?), whether the student reps could encourage people to attend the next meeting, what you say to people who ask "Is it compulsory?" (It'll look good on your c.v.) and making colourful posters to advertise the next meeting.

One of the perks of coming to the book group is that you get to pick the book for the next meeting, and the students picked The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.

See you next term :-)


Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Social begins to bite

I just ran a Google search, this was the top hit:

Google Search

If you haven't figured out yet what Google+ is all about yet or why you need to be there...

Google Search

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Integrating Teaching and Research in Undergraduate Biology Laboratory Education

"The dilemma is well known. Scientists at research-focused universities must precariously balance a research agenda while also contributing to the education of undergraduate students. An imbalance exists at many universities where more time, resources, and prestige are devoted to research at the expense of teaching future generations of scientists and scientifically literate citizens. Indeed, the term “teaching load” suggests that teaching is a burden that diverts time and energy away from productive scholarship. However, this view inaccurately presents teaching and research as a zero-sum game when, in reality, well-designed curricula can benefit both activities. In this article, we provide practical suggestions for implementing such curricula and describe a recently designed course as an example of how they can be applied."

Integrating Teaching and Research in Undergraduate Biology Laboratory Education. (2011) PLoS Biol 9(11): e1001174. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.1001174

AJC: It may work at Stanford but I'm not convinced this model is at all compatible with the pile it high/academics under REF pressure model we have got ourselves into in UK HE.

Monday, November 28, 2011


Wikipedia On Friday night I had one of my increasingly rare sessions on my iPad. Flicking through Zite I came across this story, Engaging Undergrads with Wikipedia, and decided to tweet it.

The reason this story interested me was because I've tried something similar in the past: Assessment 2.0: Wikipedia writing project. It wasn't a success for me. The students hated it, shopped me to the Student-Staff Committee as "unfair". But the hankering to go back to doing something like this has never gone away. Until I read Marshall Kirkpatrik's post on Saturday. This is all too familiar, and it makes me very sad.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Blessed are the trolls for they shall dwell in the sidebar of the site forever

Hash Hashtags are a community generated statement of collaboration.

Thine hashtag is a jealous hashtag. Love and fear thine hashtag in equal measure or He shall bring down the wrath of Goatsee upon thee.

A hashtag is not a slogan, a mission statement or a viral marketing campaign.

Thou shalt not covet thy hastag for thy marketing website, or stale astroturfing shall smite thee and thine children and thine children's children.

Hashtags can neither be created or destroyed. Hashtags emerge from the will of the community.

Ask not what your hashtag can do for you, ask what you can do for your hashtag.

(FWIW, this post was written before the #ukedchat debacle...)

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Access to Scientific Publications: The Scientist's Perspective

writing "Scientific publishing is undergoing significant changes due to the growth of online publications, increases in the number of open access journals, and policies of funders and universities requiring authors to ensure that their publications become publicly accessible. Most studies of the impact of these changes have focused on the growth of articles available through open access or the number of open-access journals. This paper investigates access to publications at a number of institutes and universities around the world, focusing on publications in HIV vaccine research – an area of biomedical research with special importance to the developing world.
While research articles are increasingly available on the internet in open access format, institutional subscriptions continue to play an important role. However, subscriptions do not provide access to the full range of HIV vaccine research literature. Access to papers through subscriptions is complemented by a variety of other means, including emailing corresponding authors, joint affiliations, use of someone else's login information and posting requests on message boards. This complex picture makes it difficult to assess the real ability of scientists to access literature, but the observed differences in access levels between institutions suggest an unlevel playing field, in which some researchers have to spend more efforts than others to obtain the same information."

Access to Scientific Publications: The Scientist's Perspective. (2011) PLoS ONE 6(11): e27868. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0027868

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Bowling Alone

Bowling Alone A blog post from Tris pushed me to read Bowling Alone by Robert Putnam. It was an easy sell. The central concept is something I've been thinking about a lot over the past few years:
"...single-stranded, surf-by interactions are gradually replacing dense, multistranded well-exercised bonds. More of our social connectedness is one shot, special purpose, and self-oriented ... communities of limited liability or personal communities."
Although Putnam's work has received some justified criticisms, it struck a chord on me. Bowling Alone is about the decline in social capital in the USA during the 29th century. Putnam is a pre-internet scholar and writing in the 1990's, hardly touches on the online world, but presents a persuasive case as to why the Internet is a symptom rather than a cause of declining social capital.

Most significantly, Putman distinguishes between bonding capital (links between homogeneous groups) and bridging capital (links between heterogeneous groups). This is the concept that interests me most because it is most relevant to the work I have been doing in the last few years. In summary, the Internet can adequately support bonding capital but is ineffective in fostering the rather more important bridging capital. This because obvious to me with the failure of Small Worlds, and more recently with the impending failure of SciReader.

Putnam offers a few suggested answers to the problems of social decline. Unfortunately, they are mostly of the Don't start from here variety. His calls to "fix America by 2010" ... didn't happen. Nevertheless, it's hard to disagree with much in this powerful book. And I now have a reading list for the next few months.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Deeply Unfashionable

The repository I've always been deeply unfashionable. I hung onto my flares long after most people went straight legged, didn't catch on to cyberpunk until the noughties, etc. In truth, it's never bothered me. So on Friday when I went to chat to the wise elves who run our institutional repository, I asked for something deeply unfashionable - some blue skies thinking. Specifically, I asked for an author-centred view of the repository biz.

While our repository has nice stats on each individual submission, this makes life hard for authors who want to commit to the repository in a sustained way. What it needs is a dashboard which gives individuals an overview of activity on all their submissions so they can easily gauge their personal impact. I thought this might be tricky, but the elves didn't blink. Institutional logins do away with all the usual problems surrounding author ID.

Recently I wrote about what it would take for me to make the institutional repository my first choice publishing destination. Since then I've been doing some more thinking about this. If I'm going to commit to the repository in a sustained fashion, I need some form of peer review. And for a repository, that means post-publication peer review. At this point, we had a nice chat about the difference between a repository and an archive (confusing if your repository is called an archive). If there are other places to get my work peer-reviewed, I can't afford to damage my personal impact by dividing the social media campaign I need to mount around my publication between the primary publications site and the repository, so the repository loses out unless it completes. Happily the elves were very open to this idea, although there will be difficulties to be faced which are more political then technical.

Since repositories are dependent on authors, it makes business sense to keep the customers happy. Maybe there are blue skies just around the corner.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Education researchers’ perceptions of open access publishing

Graph "Increasingly, open access overall represents a leading edge in scholarly publishing rather than the “fringe.” However, an understanding (and acceptance) of open access journal publishing as a viable outlet for scholarly publishing is still quite dependent on the research and publishing cultures within the disciplines. It may be helpful for liaison librarians to keep in mind that issues concerning open access crystallize at different times for different individuals. For some, clarification develops as scholars become more aware of scholarly communication generally."

Publishing in Open Access Education Journals: The Authors’ Perspectives. (2010) Behavioral & Social Sciences Librarian 29(2): 118-132 doi:10.1080/01639261003742181
Open access publishing is now an accepted method of scholarly communication. However, the greatest traction for open access publishing thus far has been in the sciences. Penetration of open access publishing has been much slower among the social sciences. This study surveys 309 authors from recent issues of open access journals in education to determine why they choose to publish in open access journals and to gain insight into the ways publishing practices within the discipline itself impact the willingness of authors to engage in open access publishing.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Fun and Fear in Open Spaces

Terry Anderson Yesterday Terry Anderson from Athabasca University, Canada, gave a talk in Leicester about Athabasca Landing, the local social implementation of ELGG. Here's a recording of the session:

Fun and Fear in Open Spaces

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

In Which Our Hero Convinces Reluctant Academics By Contextualizing Within Local Communities

Strategy Last week our Board of Studies received the final report on a Strategic Review of Teaching conducted over the past few months. As far as I know this is not a public document so I'm not free to discuss it in detail, but I'll push my luck with my own highly personal interpretation:
We do a good job, but we may need to get leaner, and we certainly need to get smarter.
The practical outcome is a set of five action points to work on over the next few months, for implementation as soon as possible. I've been asked to take the lead on two of these:
  • Statistics teaching (this one's been running for a while)
  • Training issues around novel teaching

Leaner and smarter doesn't just mean doing new stuff, it also means stopping doing old stuff in some cases - which is much harder.

For the past week or so I've been chewing over Cameron Neylon's post about promoting change:

Working with small scale use cases, within communities is the way to get started. Build for those communities and they will become your best advocates, but don’t try to push the rate of growth, let it happen at the right rate (whatever that might be – and I don’t really know how to tell to be honest).

I'm going to try to put this philosophy into practice as much (and as local) as possible in the next few months.

Monday, November 14, 2011

How to fix academic publishing again already

The Digital Library Last week I was ranting about academic publishing.

A paper I submitted to a journal in June was finally reviewed. Two referees liked it and suggested some helpful modifications, the third referee wrote incomprehensible nonsense, quoting lots of sentences which were not in the manuscript (go figure). On 23rd October I was asked to submit a revised manuscript, but because the journal is moving from one publisher to another (you can probably figure out who it is), I was told:
"We are in the process of moving to our new Open Access publisher so watch out for new information on how to submit your revised manuscript."

So I waited.
On Friday 11th November I received two emails. One was from the journal, saying:
"This e-mail is simply a reminder that your revision is due in one week. If it is not possible for you to submit your revision within one week, we will consider your paper as a new submission."

Sigh. I have resubmitted the revised version I have been waiting to send for the last month. The other email was from the manager of our institutional repository, saying:
"...for the month of October one of your publications archived on the Leicester Research Archive was accessed 373 times:
Reflective Social Portfolios for Feedback and Peer Mentoring (Cann, Alan James et al)
This made it the 2nd most accessed Leicester research publication on the Leicester Research Archive (LRA) last month."
I really have just about had it with academic publishers. Unless someone gets an arXiv-style post-publication peer review education journal going soon, (I'm looking at you Weller ;-) with these numbers, I can't see any alternative but to simply submit my future papers to the repository, and the publishers can go and (rest deleted of sentence deleted).

So here's a message to all repository managers:

Give me my personal impact data. I need to know how many people are reading what I write and who (i.e. where) they are. That data trumps journal citation factors. Give me that and the repository becomes my first choice publishing destination.

Sunday, November 13, 2011


I've just had a particularly nasty phishing email purporting to come from HMRC about a tax refund. Normally I can spot these a mile off, but this one was particularly subtle. 

From the HMRC website:
"HMRC will never send notifications of a tax rebate by email, or ask you to disclose personal or payment information by email.
You should never disclose your personal and/or payment information in reply to an email that may look like it's from HMRC, you may well be revealing your details to a fraudulent website."

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Wit's End

Graph Cameron Neylon alerted me to this post yesterday: What happens when you tweet an Open Access Paper. Oddly, this reflects pretty accurately part of the discussion I was having with Chris Willmott yesterday morning. I wrote about my own experience of this recently - By The Numbers - A Note To Journal Editors:
In the 10 days to 30th September, this item received:
534 hits on the landing page
122 PDF downloads
It's difficult to assess how this compares with"conventional" academic publishing, because beyond citations, I don't really have comparable numbers. I also don't know how these figures will decay with time.
What I do know is that on 7th July I submitted a similar manuscript to a "conventional" academic journal. On 7th October, it has still not been reviewed.

Update: How to fix academic publishing again already

I'm on the point of giving up on submitting papers to "conventional" academic journals, and going down the route of putting my research online and promoting it via social channels.

Somebody stop me.

Friday, November 04, 2011

Falling out of love?

A tweet from Pixiedust208 alerted me to Explain Everything, an iPad app for creating and annotating multimedia presentations. So am I going to try it? No.

While I haven't exactly fallen out of love with my iPad, I'm becoming increasingly frustrated every time I use it. The reasons are partly software-based and partly down to hardware. Google+ is a problem (desktop version does not work well, mobile version is poor, no iPad app yet, and I have to juggle two accounts). Lack of Flash is no longer an issue, but lack of screen real estate is.

The iPad is a content consumption device for me, the pain of authoring is too great. There's also the psychological work/relaxing issue - I'm more inclined to get off the sofa and go to the desktop to do "work". Long form reading is also a problem for me (see Cognitive information spaces on mobile devices and A Tale of Two Books).

The biggest issue is I have is that apart from Flipboard and Zite, nothing about the iPad has blown me away. I'm waiting for the next generation of apps such as Propellor and Livestand to reignite the fire.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Impact - intrinsic or bust?

I'm doing some work around impact at present, so this interested me:

Research University STEM Faculty Members’ Motivation to Engage in Teaching Professional Development: Building the Choir Through an Appeal to Extrinsic Motivation and Ego. JSET doi: 10.1007/s10956-011-9346-8
This paper reports on a qualitative, grounded-theory-based study that explored the motivations of science and engineering faculty to engage in teaching professional development at a major research university. Faculty members were motivated to engage in teaching professional development due to extrinsic motivations, mainly a weakened professional ego, and sought to bring their teaching identities in better concordance with their researcher identities. The results pose a challenge to a body of research that has concluded that faculty must be intrinsically motivated to participate in teaching professional development. Results confirmed a pre-espoused theory of motivation, self-determination theory; a discussion of research literature consideration during grounded theory research is offered. A framework for motivating more faculty members at research universities to engage in teaching professional development is provided.

Comment: It's not clear to me that this provides a way forward.

Mind you, not everyone's that keen on impact: The impact agenda rewards unoriginal thinkers and threatens to snuff out the bright 'Sparks' who could change the world

A nice surprise from #altc2011

There was a nice surprise in my mail today from the ALT-C 2001 conference:


Here's the presentation:
(I know this is not pecha kucha format, but it is what ALT specified under that name)

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

University of Leicester R User Group #UoLRUG

R The University of Leicester R User Group (#UoLRUG) does not exist. Yet - but it may do soon.

I had a great conversation with Richard Badge and Lex Comber this morning about setting up an R user community here. The idea is to foster an interdisciplinary group which spans both teaching and research.

Stay tuned for more details :-)

Tuesday, November 01, 2011


Thoughts about the revised Google Reader: Meh.
Until this:

Google Reader notes were my online scratchpad. Now I use my ToDo bookmarking Circle on Google+ (empty Circle where I share ToDo items with myself for later action).


Whereas many such projects seek to encourage input from everyone, others are adding in a layer of filter and publication. For example, the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy has a Wikipedia-type approach, but with an additional layer of editing, so that ‘all entries and substantive updates are refereed by the members of a distinguished Editorial Board before they are made public’ ( In this way they hope to combine the power of user-generated content with the reliability of a scholarly reference work.
The demonstrable advantage of such open approaches to data gathering for specific projects is leading to this being an increasingly popular methodology. The problem for such projects is in gaining sufficient contributions, and knowing how to promote this and generate appropriate levels of interest will become a relevant research skill.

I'm dubious that this approach can work. User-generated content is either open or it's not. Individual curation efforts are a different thing.

Google+ discussion here

Monday, October 31, 2011

Fuzzy Feedback

Fuzzy Tim Harford wrote an article (Can you be a little less specific?) about game theory in negotiation which set me thinking about student feedback.

Feedback is a red button issue in higher education at present. The more we give, the more the customers students want. It's a vicious circle, and it's as bad as teaching to the test.

If you believe, as I do, that learning isn't something you can do to someone else, fuzzy feedback which leads students in the right direction towards self-initiated discovery is the only way to get out of this steep sided pit we've dug.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Hot or Not?

Not hot Yesterday Google+ launched several new features (including availability for Google Apps users), including What's Hot, links to popular public posts on the site. After months of continuous improvement, this was Google's first miss-step with +.

The mistake is putting unrelated items in the middle of the activity stream rather than in the sidebar or black menu bar. I don't want the students I am trying to use Google+ with spammed with pictures of Britney Spears and bloodstained women hitting a cliff!

As of this morning, What's Snot has disappeared from the Stream, but it's not clear if this is a technical issue or a rethink. Maybe Google had the WTF were we thinking? revelation. Google learned nothing from the pain of Buzz - if you're going to introduce an intrusive service, make it opt-in, not opt-out.

I can understand where this is going, advertising is on the horizon. I don't have a problem with advertising on free services, but this is just spam. Please send feedback to Google+asking them to fix this error. While you're at it, +Vic Gundotra and tell him what you think of What's Snot.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Self- and Peer-Assessment (Second Edition)

Self- and Peer-Assessment A second edition of Self- and Peer-Assessment has been published by the UK Centre for Bioscience. The book is written in a very readable style and contains new sections on the social elements of learning, variation theory and situated learning as well as an expanded consideration of self-assessment. Along with nine new or updated case studies the book represents a good introduction not only to self- and peer-assessment but the whole area of assessment.

I have found this free resource to be very useful.

Ethics in the Biosciences (Teaching Resource)

Ethics in the Biosciences Ethics in the biosciences: Resources, references and tools for ethics teaching in the biosciences, produced by the UK Centre for Bioscience, includes coverage of the following topics:
  • Teaching ethics
  • Assessing ethics
  • Ethical theory: How are ethical decisions made?
  • The ethics of being a scientist
  • Environmental ethics
  • Issues at the beginning of life
  • Issues at the end of life
  • Genetics and genomes
  • Animal experimentation
  • Transhumanism
  • Ethics and Risk
Each chapter includes a short introduction written by an expert on the topic and then a recommendations of other resources (websites, books, articles, slides, videos, etc) which have proved to be useful in teaching on the subject.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Academic effectiveness of podcasting

"With podcasting gaining more mainstream adoption in higher education, it’s critical to examine its effectiveness in improving the student learning experience. To this end, this paper examines the effectiveness of podcasts integrated into the curriculum (PIC) versus podcasts as supplemental material (PSM). Considering recent empirical work on the effectiveness of podcasting, this study collected data from students enrolled in lower level and upper level language courses. Results revealed an inconclusive relationship among PIC students’ learning outcomes (as measured by their final grades). In contrast, however, our findings indicate a strong relationship between the use of PSM and students’ final grades, particularly in upper level courses."

Academic effectiveness of podcasting: A comparative study of integrated versus supplemental use of podcasting in second language classes. (2012) Computers & Education 58 (1): 43-52 doi:10.1016/j.compedu.2011.08.021

So basically, listening to podcasts on your own time is a measure of engagement, which correlates with outcomes (as does reading, revision, and getting an early night). PIC ... not so much. The jury is still out on the value of podcasts.

Monday, October 24, 2011

YouTube University

YouTube I've written before about how my son got a PhD in the history of Formula 1 via YouTube University, so I've never been in any doubt about the value of informal learning via YouTube (and blogs and social networks). The problem I have with YouTube is not the content, varied though it is, but the unhelpful interface. It's the thing that Chad Hurley and Steve Chen got wrong, and this lack of insight has been borne out by the mess they made of the relaunch of delicious recently. Google's YouTube buyout made the situation worse rather than better, with more visual clutter and distracting advertising. So what's the answer to extracting valuable content from the morass of YouTube? Not surprisingly, it turns out to be Google+ ;-)

Our first year students are producing a stunning resource stream to complement the formal learning of the first year modules, most of it derived from a peer-filtered YouTube stream (supplemented more recently with more formal publications from the Google Reader bundle they were given last week).

Welcome to YouTube Metauniversity.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Accountants

Would I have liked this account of Clapton's superstar sex, drugs and rock'n'roll lifestyle as much as I did Keith Richard's if it, too, had been read by Johnny Depp? Probably. It might have made it easier to believe all those stories about driving his Ferrari up to Wales to see his fiancée Alice, Lord Harlech's daughter, stealing Patti Boyd off his mate George Harrison and pulling Carla Bruni, but I can't because David Bauckham sounds like an accountant. Maybe Clapton does too.

Last week I asked for suggestions to renew my faded podcast feeds, and they duly rolled in. I duly subscribed ... and have been very disappointed. If you must subject someone to your monotonous nasal drone for over an hour, please do it to a relative and don't subject the world to a podcast, no matter how good the content is.

Friday, October 21, 2011

The future of the textbook

Principles of Molecular Virology Earlier this week Jonathan Crowe from Oxford University Press gave a talk to the Biological Sciences Pedagogical Research Group about the future of the textbook. Among the issues discussed were new distribution models, in particular eBooks versus print, and rental versus purchase. As someone who has just published a new edition of a textbook, these issues have been prominent in my attention recently.

One of the nice things about moving our student network from Friendfeed to Google+ is that on Friendfeed almost all of the content was public and so could be discovered by search, even with anonymisation and sharing text as images. This meant that I could not share direct quotes from students since that would reveal student identities. On Google+, almost all the content is being shared within Circles, i.e. semi-privately, and is not visible to search. For this reason, I can happily reproduce here the discussion I had with students on Google+ after the session:

I've just come out of an interesting meeting about the future of academic textbooks in universities. Approximately how much have you spent on textbooks so far and how do you feel about it?
  • I spent over £100 on 2 text books - the Campbell biology one and Stryer biochemistry. Bit expensive really - students should get a much better rate.
  • If you could buy textbooks in electronic form, e.g. for Amazon Kindle, would you do it, or would you still want printed copies? (question for everyone)
  • I spent about £150 to £200 on textbooks over two years. I feel Stryer was excellent value but I'm not sure about some of the others as they turned out only to be useful for one module. If I get a Kindle, I'd definitely want electronic textbooks but not many people have them yet. To be honest, paying a flat rate of £15 or so to rent one for the year would be much more attractive to me than ebooks.
  • You mean rent a Kindle/eBooks or rent printed copies of textbooks? See: and:
  • Renting printed copies - I don't have an eReader and I hate reading for hours on computers. Thanks, though, that looks pretty great on both scores
  • Gosh, I haven't spent that much! I bought Stryer (new) in my first year which I have used quite a lot and then in my second year I bought Alberts' Molecular Cell Biology but this was second hand from eBay. I always check out eBay or Amazon before buying any books because the previous editions are usually all we will need and I don't fancy shelling out lots of money when a slightly older edition will do! I've also picked up other Biochemistry and Genetics textbooks along the way but these have been second hand and not that expensive!
  • I think buying Stryer from the library bookshop in my first ever week of uni scarred me for life and I will search high and low before buying a brand new textbook!
  • I have an Amazon kindle and I find reading on it great for book, but not text books. Tablets, like the iPad are much better for this. Though I have found the books to be sparsely available and just as expensive.
  • I don't think e books are very good for this kind of thing as they aren't as easy to flick through and find different topics quickly. I also find it harder for the stuff to sink in when reading e books compared to actual books.
  • I spent £103 on two text books during my first week - Campbell Biology and Stryer Biochemistry, as mentioned previously its very expensive for a new student. Have to admit that they have come in useful!
  • In my first year I bought three or four books, including Stryer and Campbell's Biology. In second year I got a couple from charity shops and borrowed from the library. This year there was only 1 recommended book for each module - I got one £45 book for £6 in a charity shop, and another £45 book on amazon used and new for £20. I like having a physical book in front of me rather than ebooks, as I think I spend enough time staring at a screen as it is, and 'real' books seem to make it easier to absorb information, and if its yours you can underline/highlight etc bits in it.
  • Personally I'd rather have the actual book - much easier to flick through and its nice to have to look at a screen all the time! Don't have a kindle and don't plan on it anytime so wouldn't suit me to get e books!
  • I spent about 90 pounds, I think it's great since I bought all the ones I needed and extras online.
  • I find online tools much easier and faster to use than e.g. glossaries and indexes in physical books.
  • I appreciate smaller, specialist science books much more than textbooks. I'm avoiding where possible spending on textbooks. £25 so far.

From this the future is clear. Short term, the majority of students want print. Beyond this, I am far from convinced that the "print advantage" will survive the price differential of hundreds of pounds which we will see in in 2-3 years, at which point "print premium" will become the model.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Klout tries to eat SocialMention's dogfood

Y'all know how much I like Klout.

Well now Klout is trying to be SocialMention, presumably prior to starting to charge for "premium" services.

Don't say I didn't warn you.

A New Era for Klout Scores

Information is beautiful, Google+ more so

Under the tutelage of the new Visiting Senior Fellow in Networked Teaching and Learning/Senior Fellow of the University of Lincoln, I've been trying to get a grip on network interactions in Google+. This week, I've been taking Tony's Introduction to Python and Gephi Modular Community Detection MOOC. (MOOC in this case standing for Minute Open Online Course, delivered via Twitter - quite a mind-expanding experience). The result is an initial analysis of two Google+ networks.

The first of these is my personal Google+ network (click on the images for larger versions):


Using the modularity statistic for automated community detection in Gephi suggests (at least) 3-4 communities in this network, with a large number of more isolated nodes and clusters.
  • The largest community is my Education/EdTech Circle. This includes a distinctly separate subgroup of Irish education/edtech people who have circled me on Google+. (I didn't colour them green, Gephi did that automatically ;-)
  • Next comes my Science Circle, comprising practicing scientists and science writers.
  • One thing which does not show up on this graph is my University Circle, because the people in it are also mostly also in other circles such as Education and/or Science, so do not map to a clear subset. This Circle therefore is more of a push mechanism for me rather than an input filter.
  • Finally, the distant upper cluster consists of (mostly) Leicester students who have crossed over from my "teaching" Google+ account, which in contrast looks like this:

This network is mostly a tightly-clustered homogenous group, as would be expected for an artificially-created community built over a short time period. I am located at the tip of the arrowhead, and my academic colleagues who converse with students via Google+ cluster nearby. The distant clusters on the upper right are other, mostly social, groups that students on the course are in contact with via Google+. Around the outside of the tight lower cluster are students who have not fully integrated into this Google+ network. We might consider them to be Visitors rather than Residents, but that would be a premature conclusion based on this information alone. (We'll be looking at that in the future). Also scattered around the periphery of the student community are a few surprises ;-) Another difference is that this account has few Public posts, whereas I frequently post publicly from my personal account, changing the distribution of followers.

Static images do not do justice to the beauty of the live, interactive Gephi versions of this data. Curating the data in Gephi feels like watching a living organism responding to the inquisition of the software parameters. The interactive data also raises the possibility of using these visualisation tools for managing student progression and engagement, as I said down at t'Guardian a few weeks ago. To give you an impression of what the data feels like, here's a video of part of the construction of the above diagram:

Massive thanks to Tony Hirst for his help with this, without whose generosity and patience this would not have been possible.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Teaser - can you tell what it is yet?

Gephi image

Update: You find the oddest people in your Google+ networks :-)

Gephi image

CiteULike Gold

CiteULike Gold I stumbled across CiteULike Gold weeks ago and have kept going back there but without making any decisions. This is CiteULike's freemium offering, giving, in addition to the standard free features:
  • Custom Home Page
  • No more adverts
  • PDF Annotations
  • Choose the number articles on each page
  • Priority Support
  • Citation Formats
  • Page Views
  • Publish PDF attachments
None of these are killer features for me, and with my current budget of £0, an ongoing subscription cost of £3 per month or £30 per year, while not expensive, doesn't feel particularly cheap.

I still like CiteULike more than any other bibliographic tool I've ever used and use it regularly, but I keep wondering if I should move on. RefWorks keeps nagging at me, even though it it unashamedly antisocial. And before anyone mentions Mendeley, the more I try to love it, the more that has the opposite effect. I think we're best off just leaving each other alone.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Podcasting is (still) dying

Podcasts I've hit the wall with my current podcast subscriptions (see below). They feel old and stale, just going through the motions rather than bringing me anything new. Is it just me, am I just a bit jaded? I don't think so, it's a bit early in the term for that, plus I've been saying for a long time that that this overmature technology which never really found a use is headed for trouble.

  • BBC Click: Recently with a revised format since the demise of Digital Planet, not always the most interesting but tries hard.
  • Gardeners' Question Time: If it's fine I'm usually out in the garden on Sunday afternoon so I usually miss the broadcast.
  • GeekBeat.TV: Used to be great, is now monotonous product placement.
  • More or Less: Behind the Stats: Sometimes interesting, sometimes dull.
  • Rocketboom: Seems to have died. Anyone know what's going on with Rocketboom?
  • This Week in Microbiology: Vincent Racaniello's offering.
  • This WEEK in TECH: Has gone off. The new format is over-long and the same guests week after week.
  • This Week in Virology: Vincent Racaniello's other offering.

Producing a truly engaging podcast is non-sustainable in the long term (certainly for me, Ze Frank and others). With social networks biting into the engagement previously achieved by podcasts, amateur production values are no longer acceptable - they don't compete with professional media to hold my attention. If I want that kind of informality, I go to a Google+ Hangout.

So is there any hope for me/podcasting? Do I just need to renew my feeds?
Any recommendations - what are your favourites? I'll give you a hint: I'm not looking for to middle aged guys mumbling into a microphone for an hour about educational technology, and I'm not looking for a 14 year old rapping about quantum physics. I'm looking for a spark.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Peer mentoring – is a virtual form of support a viable alternative?

Support systems are vital for university entrants and one established means of support is peer mentoring, which has the potential to improve student engagement and retention. Peer mentoring models are generally based on face-to-face contact. However, given the increasing number of higher education institutions using social media, might online models be beneficial in a peer mentoring context? This article describes a literature review and case study that considers the advantages and disadvantages of three potential virtual models to facilitate a peer mentoring scheme. The case study, undertaken at Northumbria University, UK, involved an investigation of mentoring needs and current usage of electronic media where special attention is afforded to a diverse student body. The three models discussed are virtual learning environments (VLE), social networking sites and virtual worlds. We find that the VLE is established within institutions but lacks excitement; social networking is popular particularly with younger students but there may be resentment if this appears to be appropriated by the institution; whilst virtual worlds are unfamiliar to many students and require advanced skills to use successfully. Based on these findings the social networking model is now being run as a pilot study by business programmes at Northumbria University.

Peer mentoring – is a virtual form of support a viable alternative? Research in Learning Technology (2011) 19(2): 129–142 DOI: 10.1080/21567069.2011.586675