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 :-)