Sunday, September 30, 2012

Coursera Weekly Reflection 30.09.2012

Coursera I am posting weekly reflections here on my current Coursera MOOCs as they progress.

It's been a busy week for me, away for three days. At the same time, two more Coursera MOOCs started. Initially, I panicked slightly and planned to drop the Social Network Analysis course, but after an hour watching the video lectures, I have decided to keep going passively, just watching the lectures and maybe not doing the assessments, or at least, certainly not the programming assignments which I never planned to do. First thoughts about this course are that the video quality is poor (sound, rough edges). Conclusion from the first week? The title of this course is really "Gephi, the Missing Manual". The most serious defect from my point of view is that it doesn't cover data collection (or ethics?), which is the real problem with network analysis - noodling around with Gephi is something anyone can try once they've got the data.

Writing in the Sciences also started this week.  To maintain momentum in MOOCs I have found it necessary to set personal learning objectives for a course, and for me on this course these are:
  • To improve my writing (let go of academic writing habits).
  • Explore practical strategies of how to teach and assess writing of large groups of students online.
So how are we doing with these? I was a bit disappointed by some of the advice given in the first lectures - it's over the top and woo-woo. Many of the edited sentences presented had clearly changed the meaning of the original, in some cases radically. Oversimplification to fit in with the limits of the massive online format? Automated grading does not work well, so Coursera has given up recording marks (although the clunky platform still gives spurious marks in order to display "correct" answers). Assessment will be done via peer grading later in the module. Reading the quality of the discussion boards, I'm not looking forward to this...

Statistics One continues, with much social sciences babble this week (mediation and moderation) - completely out of place on this course - evidence of badly adapted source material. "Statistics One was developed from materials used at Princeton University by putting it on a piece of wood and banging a few nails through it" (to quote Monty Python). Hopefully it should get back on course with t tests and ANOVA next week. This is the week of the midterm exam, but with Usherday tomorrow, I'll have to see how busy I am. Since the assessment aspect plays no part of my learning objectives for this course, I may submit some derisory answers for the sake of continuation.

Busy busy busy.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

It's tricky, this assessment thing

Ah, constructive alignment, how we all love it. Except when it comes to actually doing it. That's when things get tricky.

Assessment choices to target higher order learning outcomes: the power of academic empowerment. Research in Learning Technology 2012, 20: 17595
Assessment of higher order learning outcomes such as critical thinking, problem solving and creativity has remained a challenge for universities. While newer technologies such as social networking tools have the potential to support these intended outcomes, academics’ assessment practice is slow to change. University mission statements and unit outlines may purport the value of higher order skills; however, questions remain about how well academics are equipped to design their curriculum and particularly their assessment strategies accordingly. This paper reports on an investigation of academic practice in assessing higher order learning in their units. Despite their intentions towards higher order learning outcomes for their students, the results suggest academics may make decisions when planning their assessment tasks that inadvertently lead students on the path towards lower order outcomes. Among the themes to emerge from the study is the importance of academics’ confidence and their attitudes towards the role of assessment in learning and how these perspectives, along with the types of learning outcomes they intend for their students, can influence their task design.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Coursera Weekly Reflection 23.09.2012

Coursera I am posting weekly reflections here on my current Coursera MOOCs as they progress.

It's been an interesting week on the Coursera Statistics One MOOC - sequential multiple regression and matrix algebra. Statistics *One* - seriously? Confusion is arising in lack of linkage between video lectures and assessments - both are good on their own but the signposting linking them is missing. The organization on Coursera Stats One is laughable and I no longer care about the assessments, but I'm continuing to participate as I'm meeting the learning outcomes I set for myself for this MOOC. Self-motivated learning is clearly important in this MOOC game. Am I still learning? Yes, not so much from the lectures now but by noodling around with R and picking things up (e.g. the par() function to layout multiple graphs, quartz() to open multiple graphics windows, etc), and I've been deeper into multiple regression than I've ever been before. I also had a light bulb moment about how I'd like to teach level 2 statistics - via annotated R scripts where the annotations allow me inside student's heads to view their thought processes. That's not going to happen with class sizes over 100 through.

Coursera Social Network Analysis and Writing for the Sciences both start next week, and term starts the week after. I hope they're better organised than Stats One, but at least I'll get a broader view of Coursera. I need to set my personal learning objectives for those courses. I'm away three days this week. Clearly, I'm not going to be able to participate in all of these courses, but once I've had a peek inside, I'll decide how to proceed.

Friday, September 21, 2012

MyMooc is NoMOOC

MOOC As regular readers know, I've been thinking a lot about MOOCs over the past few months. Not only have I participated in several (with more to come), but I've thought (a lot) about running my own.

I have a lot of knowledge in the field of microbiology. I blog about microbiology and thousands of people read what I write (although these days, most of them are already microbiologists or at least biologists, from undergraduate level to professors). I've been thinking of running a MOOC introducing people to the basics of microbiology - not the sort of thing you'd get on a degree course, but real starter for 10 stuff for people who are interested but know nothing.

I know how to do it, using free technology which is indefinitely scalable, I'd use the Google platform. The overall model would be similar to the Google Search MOOC.

But should I? I've struggled with the rationale. Should I cast the bread upon the water without knowing what will happen? I'm not trying to promote my institution or sell anything. There is all the hassle and potential disaster of a public facing enterprise (ethics, etc). While I could easily end up "teaching" more people than I've taught in my entire university career, I'm unlikely to attract enough people to make it truly Massive. Looking at the participation and dropout numbers from Udacity and Coursera, that means peer support will be lacking, so it feels unlikely to be successful. Pretty much everything I do online is an OER, and yet the take-up is woeful, relatively speaking, and the interactions superficial. Is that the rationale for running a MOOC, the next stage in the evolution of learning? For the past few years I have believed in loosely-coupled micro-content, what does that say about MOOCs?

External funding. What if I could get a small grant to run this project - would that change the reasons to do it/not to do it? Should my pedagogy be driven by funding? For a while, I thought yes - learning by doing and all that. But now, having participated in more MOOCs than you can shake a stick at, I don't think so (although I'd still like to do me one of them hippes cMOOCs - if I could ever find the time).

It's still all about Big and Little OERs. MOOCs are better than repositories but they're still Big OER - you can't own a MOOC, you can only run one. I'm out.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Handbook of social media for researchers and supervisors

Social media - A guide for researchers Remember Social media: A guide for researchers (2011)? Well now there's another one, Handbook of social media for researchers and supervisors (2012).
"The goal of this handbook is to assist researchers and their supervisors to adopt and use social media tools in the service of their research, and, in particular, in engaging in the discourse of research. The handbook presents an innovative suite of resources for developing and maintaining a social media strategy for research dialogues. This handbook has been written for:
- Postgraduate researchers (PGRs) and early career researchers who want to learn about the role of social media in research dialogues
- Supervisors and managers who want to expand their understanding of what social media offers, and the risks and opportunities involved.
The handbook makes extensive use of the examples of social media use amongst researchers and supervisors. The handbook has been written in a way that each section stands on its own as much as possible and therefore, it is not necessary to read the handbook from cover to cover."

If you're not planning to read it from cover to cover, let me summarize for you:

"Email is the most important tool"
Not social then, within any accepted definition. Not open. Not owned - or is it?

"Researchers introduce each other to technologies"
It's all about peer networks (and potential competitive advantage), not training. Which means that Small Worlds was on the right track (but still failed).

"Sometimes supervisors block the adoption of technologies"
The fish rots from the head downwards.

"Researchers choose technologies and adapt as per their supervisors’ preferences"
Smart move in conservative academia.

"some researchers in the survey mentioned to us that since they started using Twitter, they are not using RSS aggregators as much as before"
True. Depressing.

"Preference for traditional mailing lists"
Skype and telephone also popular. Not social, sigh.

"Space for reflection"

This report is very good in the sense of being comprehensive and an accurate snapshot of our current state, but it doesn't offer any real solutions as to the place of social in the research process. That's a question we all need to answer.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

To PDF or not to PDF? It's not really a question, more of a threat.

We don't want no stinkin' PDFs Most of my online notes for students consists of text plus images and occasionally other information such as PDFs, etc. I've been in the habit of adding these to Blackboard as compressed Zip archives, but I've just discovered that it's no longer possible to upload a Zip archive to a course area in Blackboard. Instead, folders must be created in the Blackboard Content Collection (filestore), content uploaded, unzipped, and then added to course sites. This cumbersome workflow is a non-starter for me. I almost always wind up updating my notes on Blackboard frequently during courses and can't be doing with something as awkward as this and all the problems with versioning it is likely to cause, so I need an alternative to the time honoured Zip. Which poses some interesting possibilities:

  1. I could simple remove all the extra content from my online notes and start teaching in a minimalist stylee. Bad idea, that my pedagogic approach should be driven by broken technologies.
  2. I could carry on using the approach I've always used, but upload a single html file with external links to all the extras which would be hosted elsewhere. That's fragile and liable to break, and I'm pretty sure it contravenes Space Corps Directive 196156.
  3. I could bundle everything up as a PDF file. While I'm sure this would be popular with students who would be able to file all my notes away without ever having to read them, I'd spend the rest of my life hating myself for using a print format online.
  4. Or, going back to the first point, I could simply chuck up a list of links online and rely on face to face lectures and help sessions for information transfer, i.e. back off on the whole online notes thing.

What's your advice?

Monday, September 17, 2012

More evidence on the Facebook pile?

Facebook This is a fairly convincing article comparing online discussions via Facebook to an institutional tool. It has a few problems though. The article raises the emotive nature of formal Facebook use but does not consider non-Facebook (less "social"), non-institutional tools such as Google+. The clear implication is that any Facebook activity should never be assessed (with concomitant loss of participation in many cases). Also, with this cohort, face to face classroom discussions come out better than online discussions. Take that MOOCs!

The ‘Facebook' Effect: College Students' Perceptions of Online Discussions in the Age of Social Networking. International Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, Vol. 6, No. 2. (July 2012)

Despite the growing prominence of Facebook in the lives of college students, few studies have investigated the potential of these innovative web-based communication tools for engaging students in academic discussions. This study used a pre-test, post-test design in two introductory-level courses at a large public university to compare students’ (n = 107) perceptions of, attitudes toward, and perceived learning associated with two different online discussion tools: the Facebook group forum and a university-sponsored online tool. Although pre-course surveys indicated that few students enjoyed online discussions, postcourse analysis revealed significant changes in students’ opinions regarding the value and functionality of web-based discussion forums, with Facebook as their clear preference. Students who participated in Facebook discussions enjoyed the site’s familiarity, navigability, and aesthetically appealing interface. Facebook users also reported that they were able to become better acquainted with classmates, felt like valued participants in the course, and learned more course material. This study suggests that, if used appropriately, Facebook may help to increase college student engagement in certain learning contexts by cultivating classroom community and stimulating intellectual discourse.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Coursera Statistics One - Week Two reflection #stats1

Coursera Statistics One I am posting weekly reflections here on the Coursera Statistics One MOOC as it progresses.

It's been a bumpy week on the course with lots of turbulence. The GoDoddy DNS hacking which disrupted Coursera last weekend notwithstanding, this week the course has come across as badly planned, with assignments posted late, and (rather good) R how to videos added as an afterthought rather than as part of the course structure.

In terms of R, it is clear that although this was advertised as a feature of this course, many people only saw "statistics" and did not take the R element on board, hence are getting some surprises. Personally, I think R is the best statistics tool there is at present, but it clearly needs to be made more prominent in the course description, and needs more support in the course - for example, screen capture videos of how to carry out required procedures in R.

As far as the discussion boards are concerned, on this and other Coursera courses, there is a lot of highly negative sentiment. This is rarely if ever responded to by the teaching staff, and is usually from anonymous posters. I believe anonymous posting is a highly negative feature of the Coursera discussion boards and should be removed. real names would not necessarily be need to post comments, but by removing the anonymous option, the tone of the discussions might easily be improved.

Rambling asides on baseball that might work well in an American classroom to establish the lecturer's humanity (which is important) don't work well with an international audience online. A good example of Coursera's lack of forethought in simply taking existing materials and chucking it online (and not something that Udacity could be accused of).

Statistical concepts and practical knowledge of how to operate R shoot by far too quickly for a true introductory course - OK as revision/extension for those who already have some knowledge, but again, a mis-badging of this course as introductory by Coursera with insufficient support being available. Potential harm - this is going to screw some people up "I can't do statistics".

A bad week for Coursera. If I was Princeton, I wouldn't want my brand associated with this.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan (SPOILERS)

Sweet Tooth Warning! Here be spoilers.

I've just finished listening to the BBC serialization of Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan, which the critics have generally panned. I feel I grew up with McEwan (in a literary sense), all the way from The Cement Garden, so I was interested to find out if he had finally taken a major misstep. And until the final chapter, I thought that he may have done, that the critics may have been justified.

Of course, he hasn't. Carping about the lack of IRA bombings in the plot entirely misses the point of Sweet Tooth. This is an author in late middle age reminiscing about his youth, and doing an Inception on all the might have beens. The Calvino-like device of the last chapter was completely unexpected, collapsing the narrator on themself. Hint to the critics: This is not a spy novel. It's a literary novel playing with autobiography. Is is great literature? No. Is it a good read? Yes, if you stick with it to the end.

Late middle age. Sigh. I wonder if my own narrator will turn out to be a fiction.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Thanks a million YouTube

One million views on YouTube

A Twitter conversation about feedback

The End of Books

The end of books "Either the books must go, or they must swallow us up. I calculate that, take the whole world over, from eighty to one hundred thousand books appear every year; at an average of a thousand copies, this makes more than a hundred millions of books, the majority of which contain only the wildest extravagances or the most chimerical follies, and propagate only prejudice and error. Our social condition forces us to hear many stupid things every day. A few more or less do not amount to very great suffering in the end; but what happiness not to be obliged to read them, and to be able at last to close our eyes upon the annihilation of printed things!"

Octave Uzanne (1894) The End of Books via Wikisource

Thursday, September 13, 2012

MCQs are crap. Discuss.

Graph I see the future. It looks like more students, more machine marking, more MCQs. Is that a problem?

Multiple-Choice Exams: An Obstacle for Higher-Level Thinking in Introductory Science Classes. CBE Life Sci Educ 2012; 11 294-306
Learning science requires higher-level (critical) thinking skills that need to be practiced in science classes. This study tested the effect of exam format on critical-thinking skills. Multiple-choice (MC) testing is common in introductory science courses, and students in these classes tend to associate memorization with MC questions and may not see the need to modify their study strategies for critical thinking, because the MC exam format has not changed. To test the effect of exam format, I used two sections of an introductory biology class. One section was assessed with exams in the traditional MC format, the other section was assessed with both MC and constructed-response (CR) questions. The mixed exam format was correlated with significantly more cognitively active study behaviors and a significantly better performance on the cumulative final exam (after accounting for grade point average and gender). There was also less gender-bias in the CR answers. This suggests that the MC-only exam format indeed hinders critical thinking in introductory science classes. Introducing CR questions encouraged students to learn more and to be better critical thinkers and reduced gender bias. However, student resistance increased as students adjusted their perceptions of their own critical-thinking abilities.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Image hosting

After much consideration, I've just renewed my Flickr Pro image hosting for another two years.

Although I still don't entirely trust Yahoo's stewardship of Flickr, I feel slightly better about it than I did earlier this year. In spite of that I still had great reservations about committing to Flickr for another two years

Google+ hosting is attractive in some ways, but lacks a decent tagging/search system and more importantly, an explicit copyright labeling (CC) system for people who want to reuse images.

Picassa? Well I've never quite grokked Picassa and never felt comfortable there

Will Flickr still be there in two years time? Who knows? Did I make the right decision? What would you have done?

Sunday, September 09, 2012

Coursera Statistics One - Week One Reflection #stats1

Coursera Statistics One I am posting weekly reflections here on the Coursera Statistics One MOOC as it progresses.

I was eagerly looking forward to the start of my first Coursera MOOC, mostly because I wanted to experienced the much discussed peer assessment process. Five minutes after the release of the week one material, it was apparent that this wouldn't happen - the assessment on this course is all MCQs. MCQs and videos, eight videos in all, 15-39 minutes long, 144 minutes in total. Nevertheless, I like the presentation style. Unimaginative as it is, it suits me. The ability to speed up or slow down the videos is also an important control. In the first week, I found that 1.75x suited me. There are short formative MCQs at end of each video, plus a weekly MCQ assessment.

The discussion boards have also been interesting. I certainly found them helpful in getting around the technical problems of the assessment (not obvious where to download data files, etc). As reported from other Coursera modules, the tone is often hostile. The steep learning curve of R is causing problems - no surprise there - and a few people have been vocal about that. A more serious problem is that there is no form of accreditation for completing this course:

"No certificates, statements of accomplishment, or other credentials will be awarded in connection with this course."

Apparently this is Princeton policy - they don't want their brand so closely associated with Coursera offerings, at least, not at this stage. This has caused some upset on the forums, and I wonder how it will affect completion rate. The suggestion that Coursera should use Mozilla badges (not by me) was pretty unpopular. Negativity is starting to build up in some of the forum posts. I'm staying out of it, floating above it. Shame though, it's a free course, no credit, yet Coursera seems to attract this sort of thing. Anonymous posting on the forums certainly doesn't help.

All in all, I've learned quite a bit about using R in the first week, which was the second reason for taking this course. So far I'm satisfied. I certainly won't be asking for my money back.

Friday, September 07, 2012

Reflections on the #eduwiki conference

Wikimedia UK After two days at the EduWiki Conference 2012 I want to jot down some personal thoughts before they evaporate.

I have run student assessments on Wikipedia in the past, which weren't entirely successful. For that reason I was particularly interested in this strand of the conference. Toni Sant's presentation on Wikipedia in university teaching was of interest, particularly his assessment criteria:
Content: 20%
Understanding: 30%
Engagement: 40%
Presentation: 10%

However, of even more interest to me was Leigh Thelmadatter describing how she runs Wikipedia assignments in higher education:

Leigh is teaching English as a foreign language, so the exact way she runs her "content-free" projects is not relevant to me, but one thing I would definitely do if I was running this again is to follow her model where students write explicitly for (in the style of) Wikipedia, but the writing, editing and grading is done offline, as a private conversation between student and tutor, with "extra credit" for uploading final outputs which meet acceptability standards to the site - thus separating the contentious grading stage from the actual addition of content to Wikipedia.

Ale started the conference by asking attendees to write down their dreams and nightmares for the future of Wikipedia and deliver them to him by (paper) airmail. As usual, I was light on dreams but had plenty of nightmares:
The weakness of OER/wiki model is failure to motivate individual authors through credit, hence sustainability problems. Will badges solve this or are micropayments needed?
Why should I be a Wikipedia sharecropper when I can get more credit for my output by publishing on my own blogs?
During the course of day two, the concept of Wikipedia being about a user community rather than about content emerged. In my mind, a major problem with OERs has been the repository approach - looking back, it would have been far better to have taken the engaged community approach rather than the file-and-forget model.

I wasn't sure what I was expecting when I signed up for this conference, but looking back it was easily the most thought-provoking event I have been to for some time.

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

EduWiki Conference 2012 #eduwiki

Stamford Hall For the next couple of days I'm at the EduWiki Conference 2012 (#eduwiki).

"A day-and-a-half conference looking at Wikipedia, Wikiversity and related charitable projects, not in terms of educational resources, but educational practice, including collaboration, open review, and global participation. It's a chance to talk about innovative work in your classroom, your institution or online community, and shape the future of Wikimedia UK's work in this area. We will explore the ways these projects can support innovative education. We will discuss the Wikipedia Education Program (in which university students improve Wikipedia articles for course credit). We will learn from universities where the program is already embedded, exploring the educational opportunities and drawing lessons from the experience so far."

While I'm gone, y'all can read this:

Wikis and Wikipedia as a teaching tool: Five years later. First Monday, 17, 9. (3 September 2012)
Just a few years ago Wikipedia was seen as a barbarian invading the ivory tower. Now, an increasing number of academics recognize that it can be used as an effective teaching tool. The following paper is divided into two parts. It beings with a discussion of the advantages of using Wikipedia as a teaching tool, an activity that goes beyond a simple addition to the teaching repertoire, and allows contributing to our society through service learning and participation in an online community of practice. Contributing to Wikipedia benefits students, instructors and the wider community. The second part focuses on practice of teaching with Wikipedia. Building on my five years of experience in teaching with wikis and Wikipedia and holding workshops on the subject, I discuss the most efficient ways to incorporate Wikipedia into the curriculum, highlight common problems and their solutions, and describe a number of new tools enhancing the “teaching with Wikipedia” experience.

Monday, September 03, 2012

Coursera Statistics One - Day One #stats1

Coursera Statistics One After a break over the summer, it's back to MOOCs today with the start of the Coursera Statistics One MOOC. I would like to have participated in a humanities MOOC but didn't have time over the summer and I certainly don't have time over the next few months.

Looking ahead, I'm setting myself some personal learning outcomes to measure achievement:

Learning Outcomes:
  • To learn more about the Coursera model by taking this course (and comparing with Social Network Analysis starting later this month) especially after my unhappy Udacity experience.
  • To improve my R skills by seeing how other people use it and teach it. I wouldn't have done just another statistics course, R was the hook for me on this one.

I plan to blog weekly reflections as I did with the Udacity course. There are over 75k participants enrolled, based on 10-20% completion rates for xMOOCs, so 7-10k will complete?
But will I?