Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Learning styles are b*llocks #439

"We conclude therefore, that at present, there is no adequate evidence base to justify incorporating learning-styles assessments into general educational practice. Thus, limited education resources would better be devoted to adopting other educational practices that have a strong evidence base, of which there are an increasing number. However, given the lack of methodologically sound studies of learning styles, it would be an error to conclude that all possible versions of learning styles have been tested and found wanting; many have simply not been tested at all. Further research on the use of learning-styles assessment in instruction may in some cases be warranted, but such research needs to be performed appropriately."

Learning Styles: Concepts and Evidence. (2008) Psychological Science in the Public Interest December  9(3): 105-119 doi: 10.1111/j.1539-6053.2009.01038.x

Learning styles are b*llocks #438
Learning styles are b*llocks #437

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Blizzard

Blizzard In a few weeks my son is off to _ University. In the days since A level results, he has been subjected to a blizzard of information from the various organs of _ University. Some of the several long, complex, image- and link-rich communications he receives each day contain essential information. Many do not, but are what I suspect is _ University attempting to make new students "bond" with the institution they have little knowledge of. A few contain commercial information, subtle hints and links to services he does not want or need buried among other information - some useful, some not. The result is information overload and a rising sense of panic.

I do not believe _ University is unique, I suspect all students are now subject to the same pressure. I do not believe _ University to be inherently evil. So what has gone wrong? When there is no marginal cost (versus printing, envelope stuffing and postage, or even phone calls), push email runs out of control. The jostling of all the bodies competing for their budgets in the internal market creates a trust-harming cacophony. It is part of the problem of abundance - information obesity.

As I look back to my own undergraduate days so many years ago, it is a reminder of how complex and difficult being a student is today. If I could have my time over again, I would - not this one. I am reminded to keep cutting down on the amount of information I push at students and colleagues, vainly attempting to fight the information blizzard with the power of pull.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011


Lift Are you a lazy bastard? Do you have a tendency to procrastinate? Then you need Lift, the forthcoming social network from Obvious Corp.

According to ReadWriteWeb, Lift is a social engineering project "built as a way to share daily accomplishments marking progress towards your goals with friends interested in the same sorts of goals". Kinda like 750 words.

So why am I writing about a non-existent site you can't join yet? Because Obvious Corp. are the Twitter diaspora - Ev Williams, Biz Stone and Jason Goldman. Yes, that Ev Williams.

Don't bet against it.

Friday, August 19, 2011

I'm Out

Oops Way back when the world was young (1999), I started investing in a global technology fund. Of course, it was already too late as Bubble 1.0 was about to burst. I tricked money in for a while while prices were depressed, waiting to make a killing when prices recovered ... but they never did.

So this week, after the short-lived Googlerola blip, I jumped in and cashed out. Why now? Well I have expenses coming up (university fees - not that this will make much of a dent in them), but mostly to get out before tech Bubble 2.0 bursts and I'm locked in again.

Won't be long now.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Not everything that counts can be counted

Any assessment system can have many purposes and it is rare to find an assessment system that meets all purposes for all people. Some purposes have already been mentioned, such as the need to flush out students who learn only when they are extrinsically driven, and the need to present clear standards to our students and the public. Others include the desire to increase collaboration, to decrease competition and to increase well-being. Many of these desired outcomes of pass/fail grading have a very thin evidence base. For example, when our medical school changed from using a percentage grade-based, predominantly norm-referenced system to standards-based assessment reported as pass/fail/distinction, we did not find the expected decrease in competition; what we found was that competitiveness declined through the course under either system. We did not find any decrease in achievement standards; these remained much the same. We did not find any change in time spent studying; this also remained similar. What we did find, however, was an improvement in intrinsic motivation and a greater sense of professional identity amongst our students. These changes have encouraged us to continue with this system. For some, however, the purpose of assessment is to help others in their selection processes and a change to pass/fail grading most certainly won’t do that. So should we consider changing our system back to resolve that problem? Well, we haven’t. We believe that the development of students who are intrinsically motivated, hardworking and professional remains an important goal. Do we want to graduate doctors who will only learn if someone pats them on the back and rewards them?

Tim Wilkinson (2011) Pass/fail grading: not everything that counts can be counted. Medical Education 45(9) 860-862

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Public is the default

Google+ Looking at the behavior of most people on Google+, Public posting is the default position. For the most part, I'm posting to selected Circles rather than Public for several reasons.

  1. Social media is all about signal versus noise, so selected channels should triumph over broadcast. The downside of this is that it works against serendipitous discoveries and my profile looks bare to people I'm not sharing with - is this a problem? In addition, non-Public posts don't show up in searches and negate any possibilities of future tagging.
  2. I was planning to run a Student circle off my main Google+ identity and I want Google+ to be relevant to them, not noise - which a lot of the edtech and personal items I post would be. Maybe I should rethink my strategy and run two Google+ accounts, "RealMe" and "StudentFacing". This approach has served me well in the past but I was trying to minimise the workload this time round.
  3. A compromise position would be a daily public post of general interest, probably a status update rather than a shared item. I've never been a diarist so this is going to be hard work, and still doesn't address all the problems with private (Circles) posts.
I need to sort this out soon, but maybe I'll wait until after #solo11 to make a final decision.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Google+ Analytics

Google+ Last night's Ziteing turned up a couple of gems indicating the direction of travel I'd like to take. This is based on the principle stated in De Laat et al (Analysing student engagement with learning and tutoring activities in networked learning communities: a multi-method approach. 2006 Int. J. Web Based Communities, 2(4): 394-412), a three-pronged approach consisting of:
  • Social network analysis to find out who is talking to who
  • Content analysis through coding teaching and learning activities as a way to find out what they are talking about
  • Context analysis focusing on the experiences of the participants to find out why they are talking as they do
Content and context are straightforward though laborious, it's SNA that I struggle with, particularly for Google+. The first item Zite turned up was Visualization of Google Plus Graph in Gephi by Matthew Hurst. Unfortunately this post raises more questions than it answers - how was the data crawled without an API - any suggestions?

The second item was a Search Engine Watch post by Rob D. Young, Users Respond to Google+ and Facebook Interfaces Nearly Identically which uses heatmaps derived by eye-tracking. No great surprises here, but good data showing that Google+ is on a solid track.

Monday, August 15, 2011


Cover A few months ago I was disappointed to find that I'd never read The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester. Why? Well it cropped up on not one but two "Best SciFi Of All Time" lists. Add to this the fact that a certain W. Gibson refers to this book as "my personal favourite", and it was here that I turned to attempt to recoup my recent losses.

I was in a dystopian mood before the "riots" started, and The Stars My Destination fitted in nicely, quite the opposite of the sort of sunlit uplands Asimov and Clarke stuff I favoured in my teenage scifi phase. The hero/antihero is unlikable in a nicely Satanic Paradise Lost sort of way, the book has a good prose narrative drive, and I can see why Gibson likes it. Bester starts by grinding it out rather, although there are some nice turns of phrase, such as "this war (like all wars) was the shooting phase of a commercial struggle", and some quirky fixations on vintage agricultural machinery as the playthings of the super rich. In the second half of the book there is quite a change and the book turns much more philosophical, explaining how it finds its way onto the Best Of lists.

I read this shortly after my discussion about reading with @nosnilwar, and it turned out to be oddly relevant, as scifi should be. In his summation, Neil Gaiman says:
When I read this book - or one very similar - you can no more read the same book again than you can step into the same river...

A man is a member of society first, and an individual second. You must go along with society, whether it chooses destruction or not.
So why am I writing about this here? As SciReadr v1.0 slides down the toilet, I've been thinking a lot about the Cult of the Individual. Some people still read books, but they don't feel the need to aggregate into social groups to share their feelings. Instead, the literate express themselves as individuals. Facebook is the new de facto social but it breaks larger units. The losers are clubs and societies, and institutions. Disintermediation breaks the social rationale for these groupings. Students study as individuals, socialize with their Facebook friends. They have no need for societies. Some have no need for Society. Social networks are not the cause, merely a reflection of change. Is this a Bad Place?

Where are we going with these technologies? Is it futile to work against them, should cultivate the zeitgeist? What does this mean for education? How do we influence student behaviour, give them the reading habit if they don't arrive in H.E. with it? Is assessment now the only way?

I'll be pondering this in my presentation at ALT-C 2011. And probably for a long time after that.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Not Reading List

A collection of links relevant to Project Soar:

Do students read books?

More children read websites than comics
The research found that the older the children are, the less likely they are to read. The 14- to 16-year-olds were 11 times more likely than the seven- to 11-year-olds to say they had not read a book in the last month.

We Can't Teach Students to Love Reading
"While virtually anyone who wants to do so can train his or her brain to the habits of long-form reading, in any given culture, few people will want to. And that's to be expected. Serious "deep attention" reading has always been and will always be a minority pursuit."

Pick a book, any book - THES 21 April 2011
"I remember distinctly my sense of shock when, as an inexperienced and starry-eyed lecturer, a seasoned colleague pronounced: "Students don't like reading." My incredulity was perhaps naive, but it was also healthy, for the day we no longer feel appalled by this statement is surely the day we become obsolete. Sadly, my colleague's claims were quickly confirmed during admissions interviews by prospective students who looked at me blankly when asked: "What do you read for pleasure?" Since then, only a handful of exceptional students have given me reason to revise this gloomy picture. Many, when discussing their leisure time, give responses involving the depressing words "Xbox" or "Nintendo Wii"."

Exams system risks 'damaging teenagers' reading ability'
"An education that does not provide the tools and the hunger to read beyond the narrow confines of a subject is, in the wider sense, no education at all."

Three in 10 UK children 'own no books'
"Research reveals startlingly high numbers of boys and girls have no books of their own, with worrying implications for their future prospects."

Pssst! Want something to read?
Voluntary “Reading Challenge” for history undergraduates.

The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction by Alan Jacobs, Oxford University Press 2011, ISBN 9780199747498
"Jacobs is essentially a free-range reader; he resists the veal-crate approach to reading, as did the brighter fellow students I remember from sixth form and university, who read where curiosity, not the bibliography, guided them. But organised reading has to go on, in what Jacobs rightly calls "an age of distraction", against the constant jabber of background noise, as we sit with our hands over our ears, grimly advancing where rightly hedonism should lead. We can easily identify these distractions: the "perfect storm of anti-attention", as Jacobs calls it in one of his book's many apt and amusing phrases. The internet, primarily, and all that stems from it - emails, social-networking sites, blogs, apps, iPads, iPhones, iPods and all the bleeping, tweeting, chirping and trilling that make us put down a book to see what we might be missing in the real world."

Online Book Clubs: Science Book Club
"Every month, lovers of science lit are invited to join Tim Radford in reading or re-reading a particular title, which is then thrown open to everyone for discussion".
Response rates very poor - average 60 comments (versus 9m visitors per day to site, comScore Total Universe report April 2011)

The Atlantic Launches Twitter-Based Book Club
1book140 is an expansion of a project begun a year ago at Wired, where he previously served as a contributing editor, called One Book, One Twitter. “What if everyone on Twitter read the same book at the same time and we formed one massive, international book club?”
Active, but a tiny fraction of the >200m users of Twitter.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Google Scholar Citations

Google Scholar Citations Last night I finally managed to break into Google Scholar Citations (Google is doing it's usual now you see it, now you don't roll out).

First impressions - pretty good. It need a little tidying up (a few papers that weren't mine - the format of Bioscience Education confuses it - and a few papers missing that needed to be added).

I've never seen all my citations in one place this this before so I broke them down into Virology papers (former life), Education papers (current existence) and Books, then did some quick stats:

Google Scholar Citations

Summary stats:
  Virology:             Education:             Books:      
  Min. :       0.00   Min. :     0.000    Min. :      0.00 
  Median : 10.50   Median : 0.000    Median :  0.00 
  Mean   : 42.74   Mean :    4.073    Mean :   22.67 
  Max. :  273.00   Max.   : 66.000    Max. :  189.00 

  • Science papers in high impact journals do best (duh), but (most) books do well also. How much would article-level metrics smooth this distribution?
  • All categories have items with zero citations (including books). Most of these were written because I was talking to a particular community or was required to write these outputs for grant "dissemination" (hollow laugh).
  • Distribution of citations in all categories is highly skewed by a small number of high scoring items.
  • Moving to education is a bad career move if you are going to be compared with scientists using blunt objects such as impact factors or even h-index.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Consider Phlebas

Consider Phlebas Everyone I know seems to be depressed at the moment, so I'd like to write only cheerful, positive blog posts in August until things get back to normal next month. Sadly, that's not going to happen.

I've been looking forward to reading some Ian M. Banks for a while, and when I mentioned that he got a big buildup from several people I know.
(footnotes: yes, I'm late to the party again; no, I don't read Crime, so I haven't read any Iain Banks)

I started with this, the first novel in the "Culture" series, hoping to be well stocked with reading matter for some time. Sadly, this is not to be. Consider Phlebas is well written, flows along, and describes a well imagined virtual galaxy. That's the good news. The bad news is that it is a turgid space opera which reads like a wannabe screenplay. The extended fight scenes which punctuate the text with boring regularity are Hollywood-producer-pitch overlong and the book entirely lacks humor, apart from stoopid Culture ship names verging on the Terry Pratchett (derivative).

I don't need empty fantasy to fill empty hours. I wanted early Gibson, I got George Lucas. This is not a bad book, I just expected more - disappointed of Leicester.

(Have I cheered you up yet?)

Monday, August 01, 2011

Open Educational Resources

I find that there's still a lot of confusion around the ideas behind open educational resources, so I wrote a short piece for Microbiology Today about the OeRBITAL project: