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