Thursday, August 30, 2012

Be careful what you joke about

The University of Reddit Two years ago I made a joke at a conference about running an online course (we didn't have the term MOOC back then, young 'uns) using 4chan "as platform". It got a reasonable laugh, which was gratifying, although I was putting it up as a serious prospect for consideration.

For the last year, I've been trying to grok Reddit "as platform" - and failing, sadly. Well now the inevitable has happened. Welcome to The University of Reddit. With Reddit as platform. Obvious when you think about it. MOOCs will never be the same again.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Debating Google+

Google+ Around this time of year I lose sleep debating with myself what assessment patterns to follow for the coming session. No reason why this year should be any different...

Over the past twelve months I have been using Google+ with students to stimulate reflection on learning and hopefully build a more collegiate cohort effect across and large(ish) and fairly diverse group. I have written about this extensively here, published one paper, submitted another one to Research in Learning Technology three months ago (which still hasn't been reviewed yet, sigh), and am currently writing a third. Overall, I've been pleased with the technological outcome of this experiment, so the decision to continue using Google+ in the same way would seem to be a straightforward one.

It isn't. Negative factors which argue against continuation include the uncertainty of my personal circumstances, but more importantly, the knowledge that, like every other social tool I have used with students, 99% of them cease using it, at least visibly, as soon as assessment stops. That's a powerful argument that something is not right, certainly that we have not achieved any sort of conversion of their thinking about social tools. And it's quite a powerful cease and desist argument, my personal circumstances aside.

But before I stop using Google+ with students (no question of shutting down my personal account - that's the most valuable online channel I currently have), there's one more thing that needs to be tried. That is to allow students the choice of whether to use it or not, and not to drive usage through assessment. I'm pretty sure I know what the outcome will be - only a small minority will use it, greatly reducing the value as a support channel, so walking away from the efficiency gain of trying to support nearly 300 students with limited time and staff. But I feel it needs to be done, as the final piece in the puzzle.

I'm debating whether it would be best to continue to use my student-facing account for this purpose (all shared with limited Circles), or to invite students to follow my personal account if they want to (public, and too noisy for useful conversations with many students?). Either way, very much the acid test for my experiments with social tools in education. My own online learning experiences and the debate over the past few weeks make me want to lean towards the cMOOC "bring your own network" model, but the practicalities of implementing this with an inexperienced group of students are overwhelming. I am determined to finish this post on a positive note however. At least backing off on the assessment lever must be just that - even if only relatively few students benefit through participating?

Interesting thoughts from Stephen Downes along similar lines here: New Forms of Assessment: measuring what you contribute rather than what you collect

Thursday, August 23, 2012

The ever-watchable Dylan Wiliam

Featuring some great quotes:

On sharing good practice:
Teachers are like magpies"

On professional development:
"I'm 55 years old, I'm not going to change"

On failure:
"One lifetime is not enough to master teaching"

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Oral sex

NHS Choices I worry about the echo chamber. I spent quite a lot of time reading scientific press releases. Then I worry about the echo chamber some more. And that's why NHS Choices is such a tonic. In a recent report on the latest meeja blur around a very old paper (Gallup GG, Burch RL, Platek SM. Does Semen Have Antidepressant Properties? Archives of Sexual Behaviour. 2002;31: 289-293) NHS Choices says:
“Oral sex is good for women’s health and helps fight depression”, was the Daily Mail’s lurid headline today, while The Sun opted for a more straightforward “Semen is good for you”.
The “news” is based on research that is more than 10 years old. The facts used to support the lascivious claims come from a small study looking at depression scores of women students who used condoms during sexual activity compared with those who did not. It found that sexually active women who did not use condoms reported fewer depressive symptoms than those who did. From this the researchers seem to assume that semen may have antidepressant qualities.
This study is full of holes – and extreme caution should be used when interpreting anything from it."
'Oral sex helps women fight depression' claim, NHS Choices, 22 August 2012
Shame that Nature didn't show as much sense before publishing this load of tosh.

The trouble with image based quizzes

Sunday, August 19, 2012

For your viewing pleasure

Boris Berezovsky Following on from the Monkey Olympics, I give you:

Boris Berezovsky's TV Burp

"I like Putin and I like Pussy Riot, but which is best? There's only one way to find out."

"Chippy chips!"

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Let a thousand flowers bloom

Medium It's all about track record. That's what the guy from Virgin Trains said on the radio this morning. No-one I can think of has a better track record than Ev Williams (Blogger, Twitter, Odeo), so Medium and Branch are of interest.

What is Medium?
"Medium is designed to allow people to choose the level of contribution they prefer. We know that most people, most of the time, will simply read and view content, which is fine. If they choose, they can click to indicate whether they think something is good, giving feedback to the creator and increasing the likelihood others will see it."

Voting - what stops it turning into Digg?

Branch: "Between articles, blog posts, and tweets, the internet is dominated by monologues. So we want to build a home for dialogues online, by combining the intimacy of a dinner table conversation with the power of the Internet."

It's not clear how filtering will work here - how do I limit the noise?

Ultimately, these sites can only succeed if they avoid becoming yet another destination - they don't have the leverage that Google has with Google+. I have a model for a social network that is bound to succeed - pay me or my contributions - on some sort of sliding scale of micropayments based on popularity. What I don't have is the business model to fit.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Learning Blackboard 9.1 the hard way

Bad choice

The conversation I really wanted to have with Blackboard goes like this.

"Users: Delete: Select all"

"Are you sure? This will delete all users."

"I am sure."

"No really, we mean *all* users, including you."

"Ah, OK, thanks for warning me".

We think you probably want Bulk Delete."

"Yes, that's it, thanks."

"No problem."

Instead, the conversation went like this.

"Users: Delete: Select all"

"This command cannot be undone."

And with that, all my courses had been deleted.

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Information literacy - your help needed

Information literacy Information literacy is "the ability to know when there is a need for information, to be able to identify, locate, evaluate, and effectively use that information for the issue or problem at hand."

I'm thinking about some new exercises (which could be adapted) for biology students, particularly around evaluation or citation (we've got discovery covered).

Anyone got anything they'd like to share?


New: Google Scholar suggested updates

Google Scholar suggested updates

Looks potentially useful so far, seems to be on the money with suggested content. The main problem is that it does not filter for quality, so there are a lot of low quality conference papers, but a potential big step forward.

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Currently Reading: The Martians

The Martians

"Humans wanted Martians, that was all there was to it. But there were not, and never had been, any canal-builders; no lamppost creatures with heat-beam eyes, no brilliant lizards or grasshoppers, no manta ray intelligences, no angels and no devils; there were no four-armed races battling in blue jungles, no big-headed skinny thirsty folk, no sloe-eyed dusky beauties dying for Terran sperm, no wise little Bleekman wandering stunned in the desert, no golden-eyed golden-skinned telepaths, no doppelganger race - not a fun-house mirror image of any kind; there weren't any ruined adobe palaces, no dried-oasis castles, no mysterious cliff dwellings packed like a museum, no hologrammatic towers waiting to drive humans mad, no intricate canal systems with their locks all filled with sand, no not a single canal; there were not even any mosses creeping down from the polar caps every summer, nor any rabbitlike animals living far underground; no plastic windmill-creatures, no lichen capable of casting dangerous electrical fields, no lichen of any kind; no algae in the hot springs, no microbes in the soil, no microbacteria in the regolith, no stromatolites, no nanobacteria in the deep bedrock ... no primeval soup."



A little something I picked up on my holiday last week. Does the branding help? Difficult to tell on my limited sample. I saw plenty of examples. More fieldwork may be required.