Friday, November 30, 2012

A motto for our times

"Always make sure you are
   smarter than your phone"

They've Got Mail

Email Students who multitask by juggling IT during classes get better grades. But only if they use email or IM - if they use Facebook or text messaging in class, their grades go down. In other words, attention-juggling multitasking during classes is not inherently bad - it all depends how engaged the students are with the class. Communications tools such as email and IM may be a proxy for engagement.

Junco, Reynol. "In-class multitasking and academic performance." Computers in Human Behavior (2012)
The omnipresence of student-owned information and communication technologies (ICTs) in today’s college classrooms presents educational opportunities but can also create learning problems. Specifically, multitasking with these technologies can interfere with the learning process. Indeed, research in cognitive science shows that there are clear performance decrements when trying to attend to two tasks at the same time. This study examines the frequency with which students multitask during class using a large sample (N = 1,839) and examines the relationship between multitasking and academic performance as measured by actual overall semester grade point average (GPA). Students reported frequently text messaging during class but reported multitasking with other ICTs to a lesser extent. Furthermore, only social technologies (Facebook and text messaging) were negatively related to GPA.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Room 237: Being an inquiry into Room 237 in 1 part

Room 237 As a post-modern criticism of post-modern criticism Room 237 is a lot of fun. As a commentary on the state of the human condition it made me want to cry at times. Sure, I did my homework before I went watch Room 237 by watching The Shining again, and it occurred to me then that the film has penetrated my dreams. So I was interested in the parts about dream like sequences was interesting, although of course all the subliminal images stuff is bollocks.
Minotaur? Mine's a pint. I always liked you Lloyd, you were always the best.
I even have some sympathy with the guy who has spent so long thinking about The Shining that he now feels trapped in the Overlook Hotel. But continuity errors spun out as conspiracy theories I don't buy (probably because I'm not rooted in the distrust generated by the American political system which constantly spawns conspiracy theories). So Room 237 is a good film, but is it a great one? How can anyone claim to make a serious commentary on The Shining without even mentioning the most notable criticism of the film to date (The Simpsons, Treehouse of Horror V, 6(6)The Shinning, 1994).
Homer, it's Moe. Uh, look, some of the ghouls and I are a little concerned the project isn't moving forward.
While overprojecting the film running backwards and forwards simultaneously is interesting, the spurious correlations generated are nowhere near as informative as intercutting the film with Groening's critique:

So as I sit looking out of my impossible window counting the cars in the car park, I conclude that you should go and watch Room 237, it's a good film. But don't take it too seriously. And make sure you watch The Shining first.

2 x 3 x 7 = 42
2 + 2 = 5
Solve for x.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

tl;dr "Best Practices for Mobile–Friendly Courses"

Best Practices for Mobile–Friendly Courses

Digital Literacies For Biologists - Part 2

Digital literacy Last week over at the @leBioscience blog I published a post about Digital Literacies for Biological Science Students. The purpose of @leBioscience is to highlight best practice and research into teaching and learning within the School of Biological Sciences. The blog faces two ways - outwards to the World and inwards towards my colleagues. As is my practice, after I published the post, I distributed it locally via email. This Dark Social channel led to a lively and useful discussion. The purpose of this post is to surface and continue that dialogue.

After thinking about this over the weekend, it's clear that there is no real definition of digital literacy - the term obviously means different things to different people. That explains much of the wooliness of the debate. For that reason, it seems to me that the best way forward is to try to cut through the fog by adopting a pragmatic approach and avoiding the worst of the confusion.

Hard skills, e.g:
Statistical software (R)
Data processing
Bibliographic data
- and?
Teach in house, integrate with curriculum.

Soft skills, e.g:
Online identity
Social media
Keyboard skills (hugely important and almost always overlooked)
- and?
Outsource, augment curriculum.

I will be promoting this approach during out forthcoming curriculum redesign process. Will this view prevail, or will the whole thing get swept under the carpet because we can't agree what digital literacy is for our students?

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

A vital part of scholarship is getting the data out there

Figshare Scholarly method or scholarship is the body of principles and practices used by scholars to make their claims about the world as valid and trustworthy as possible, and to make them known to the scholarly public.

With roles in education changing so rapidly, what defines "scholarship" is a hot topic. Academic roles now involve so much mundane administrative activity that much effort is seemingly lost. But academic publication is changing to adapt to new technologies and new patterns of activity. One of the bright spots on the horizon of the education researcher is the development of new scholarly publication channels. The foremost of these is arXiv. But arXiv does not accept papers describing education research, beyond a small subset in computer science (and neither will Peer-J). Enter Figshare, which offers education researchers vital opportunities to get their data out there and engage in scholarly communication with others in their field.

I have recently written about my first experience with Figshare. Now I have used the site for the first time to publish results from my current research activity:
Alan J. Cann (2012) A trial of the TurnitIn GradeMark system in a mixed information economy. figshare.

Why Figshare?
This report is the first part of work on the HEA grant on audio feedback I currently hold (Engaging by Talking: Audio Feedback; University of Leicester Ethical Approval Ref: nna-6053). There will be two subsequent interim reports and a final synoptic paper in a traditional journal (plus presentations at various conferences and my non-stop drip feed of information via social media). But I can't wait for years for a paper to be published in a journal, I need this data out there so it can feed into management decisions within this institution. And if the data is useful to others and they don't have to what years to see it, then that is what scholarship should be in 2012.

Shouldn't you be taking your scholarly responsibility of sharing your data with the scholarly community - all that grey stuff that's never going to make it to an Impact Factor - more seriously? 

Monday, November 26, 2012

The unintended consequences of grading teaching

"Attempting to manipulate behaviour by incentivising the achievement of certain targets is not new, and the UK education system is blighted with the consequences. We know that such targets distort behaviour, from their first trials in the US Army during the Vietnam War. Influenced by the RAND Corporation's ‘rational choice theory’ and ideology that pure self-interest drives all human behaviour, the US Army introduced incentives for body counts, with the unintended consequence of a substantial increase in civilian casualties. Introducing performance management schemes into academic life requires quantitative measures of performance in academic work for performance indicators. This is the quantification of essentially qualitative developmental data. There is no good or useful purpose that such dubious quantifications can be put to, and I believe there are likely to be unintended consequences which are serious and detrimental for both teachers and teaching."

The unintended consequences of grading teaching (2012) Teaching in Higher Education 17(6), doi 10.1080/13562517.2012.744437
This article examines the possibility of a ‘Teaching Assessment Exercise’ and attempts to quantify teaching quality as part of performance management schemes for academics. The primary sources of data are identified as student evaluation of teaching (SET) and peer observation of teaching (POT). The conceptual and empirical issues in developing valid and reliable teaching quality indices from SET and POT are critically reviewed. The difficulties of using such data for academic performance management are discussed, focusing on the tensions between using such data both formatively for professional development and summatively for decisions about employment.

Academic liberation - also known as Figshare

focaccia Saturday night. The focaccia is in the oven but it needs another 10 minutes. I decide that the best way to grok Figshare is to publish some data there.

But what? I spent half an hour on Friday looking at some data in R - drawing graphs, quick statistical analysis - but I'm not quite sure where I'm going with that yet.

Click open iPhoto. Some old photographs. Pull out a few. Upload to Figshare, add metadata (category, tags, a few sentences of description). Click publish. Done. 10 minutes later I'm eating dinner.

Alan J. Cann. Larval development in Mantella aurantiaca. figshare.

This is how it should be. Academic publishing meets blogging. I'm not claiming this data will change the course of Western history, but it's doing more good on Figshare with its CC-BY licence than sitting in iPhoto on my hard disk. It feels liberating. It feels right, sharing knowledge rather than spending months arguing with journals, waiting for some lazy referee to get their arse in gear. How will I really judge success? I guess if the data gets cited that's a definite win. The Google Scholar integration will help me monitor that. (How long does it take Figshare content to get indexed by Google Scholar?) Having said that, I have in my head the quote that most conventionally published papers never get cited (reference needed). I haven't been able to track this data down. As a result of this discussion, the closest I have come is this (can you help?).

The downside? No peer review. Well, unless you choose to go to Figshare and leave comments (or do so via some other channel). Adding a post-publication peer review layer and Figshare would be the model for academic publishing in the 21st Century. The download data is useful but it's a shame there's no PLOS/Nature style breakdown of traffic sources (yet ;-) Also the CC-BY licence needs to be made explicit on the article page itself rather than burying it. Do CC-BY images on Figshare show up appropriately under Google Image Search? They don't seem to, which is a shame. I've made these feature requests on Figshare.

Am I going to add this publication to my CV? No, not because I am ashamed of it - quite the opposite - but it detracts from the narrative arc that I would like to describe there. Several people asked me online about what amphibian species I was working with. I have been a keen amateur herpetologist for many years but have never done any formal scientific work in this area (I was warned off a project in amphibian biology several years ago). I have accumulated a lot of data in a Citizen Science-y sort of way and I am delighted that Figshare allows me to make that useful for more formal scientific researchers.
The focaccia was good too. Another rock n' roll Saturday night.


Sunday, November 25, 2012

Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars Trilogy

The Martians Back in the summer asked people for recommendations for non-dystopian sci-fi. Top of the list by far was Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars Trilogy, which is indeed excellent.

Unlike most sci-fi this is a gentle and warm book, sad to the point of elegiac in parts. the science is excellent but is definitely second fiddle to the characterization and the protrayal of the devlopment of an emerging society.

This was a great crowdsourced recommendation and I unhestiatingly recommend it to you. Whatever NASA finally announce in the next few weeks the best way I can think of to prepare for it is to read these books.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Thinking About Publication

Figshare This blog is my public notebook, a space for thinking out loud and working out my thoughts. If any of the conversations that take place here are of interest to others, then that is a bonus. Please excuse me while I work out my thoughts about the future of academic publication.

I have already described on this blog my experiments with self-publication and open peer review. I was reasonably satisfied with how the process worked, but I still hope for something better. In this post I'm going to try to set down my current thoughts about the evolution of academic publishing. This is very much a work in progress so please excuse me if it's not entirely coherent. I came back from Science Online London fired up and this is the next stage in me grokking the tools discussed there such as Figshare and ORCID.

I've had some bad personal experiences with academic publishers over the last couple of years, being messed around, wasting huge amounts of time and experiencing ridiculous delays. That was part of the reason I went down the open peer review road. I still believe that peer review is the gold standard for scholarship. I also believe that the current publishing model involving pre-publication gatekeepers who try to filter on the way in is broken. My open peer review experiments rightly received some criticism of possible bias. It remains a great sadness to me that education has not yet come up with our arXiv. eLife, Peer-J and even PLOS ONE do not provide a platform for my outputs (although PLOS ONE comes closest). So I remain very interested in peer-review platforms such as and peerage of science, but neither of these has attracted a critical mass yet, nor are they directed towards education research.

Why do I want to publish?
A wide variety of reasons, but my current preoccupations are:
  1. I want to achieve local impact with the projects I am working on. Traditional publication lends my work (spurious?) credibility which might help with that (although local Dark Social channels are currently more effective).
  2. Dissemination. I want my work to be discoverable by and useful to others.
  3. Institutional pressure. Still REF driven. If it ain't got an Impact Factor it don't exist. 
Why don't I just blog about it? I do, and intend to continue. I don't see the informal channel that blogging gives me as incompatible with a more formal publication channel for my output.

A test case?
I have a small piece of research I have been working on for the last few weeks involving a case study of audio feedback with undergraduates. This is part of a larger ongoing project. This is not a candidate for PLOS ONE - wrong subject matter, too small a study. Is it a candidate for Figshare? At first sight Figshare is not directed towards education research (according to the categories on the site), although some of the manuscripts which have been submitted come pretty close. Is this work suitable for Figshare? It probably fits best in the Social Sciences category. There is a certain amount of work about education already on Figshare but there is currently no top level Education category (although I'm told there might be soon).

Publication on Figshare with the doi and citeability that brings might be an advantage over blogging alone. Figshare is indexed by Google Scholar so is excellent for discoverability and citeability. The weakness of the Figshare platform from my perspective is that it does not easily lend itself to post-publication peer review of submissions. In spite of that it seems the best option available to me at this time for rapid publication of scholarly work.


Wednesday, November 21, 2012


Biology Open Educational Resources Remember the OeRBITAL project? I thought not.

OeRBITAL was a JISC OER Phase Two attempt to add value to OERs (and boost usage) through a metalayer of (pseudo) peer review. To say OeRBITAL sank without trace would be slightly unkind, but I think everyone would agree that it didn't set the world on fire. Why not? That can be debated long into the night (and has been), but one view might be that the approach (adding an additional curation layer) was flawed.

Society of Biology has recently received funding from the Higher Education Academy and JISC through the Open Educational Resources (OER) Phase Three Programme which has been used to develop a new website to promote OER that supports practical biology and research-led teaching in higher education. The website will feature peer reviewed lab and field work practical and protocols, health and safety information, multimedia alternatives to wet labs, videos and images. Rather similar to OeRBITAL - but hopefully more successful?

Disclosure: I received limited funding from the JISC OER Phase Two through the OeRBITAL project, and am acting as a reviewer (unfunded) for the new Society of Biology project.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

What does grok mean?

Grok Regular readers will know I'm quite fond of the term grok. This sometimes results in puzzled looks, so here is my Guide to Grok (and why you should care):

Grok means to understand intuitively, deeply, empathically.

Grok is what the Internet calls scholarship.

Grok is the knowledge you cannot unlearn.

Grok is a verb. Grok is active. Grok is a doing word.

Monday, November 19, 2012

The effect formerly known as Slashdot

reddit Cast your mind back to when you started using Twitter. Remember how idiotic is seemed? How can you achieve anything useful in 140 characters? Wind forward to 2012. Welcome to reddit.

Over the last week I've been thinking a lot about Impact, spurred on by #solo12. There are lots of tools I should be making better use of, including YouTube, where I've had over a million views but have never engaged properly, and new tools such as FigShare and Orcid that I have just started to explore. After the conversation at Solo12 though, I decided to invest the limited time I have available at present grokking reddit. Any tool influential to crash the PLOS servers and give AoB Blog a year's worth of traffic in a single day must be worthy of a closer look.

WARNING - if you're not familiar with reddit, before you start exploring note that a lot of reddit is NSFW. You have been duly warned!

Although it might be under your radar, reddit is big - 3.8 billion pageviews and more than 46 million unique visitors in October 2012. (Although according to Alexa, 4chan is slightly higher than this). The domain is ranked 106th in UK, 64th in the USA. Typical users are males in the age range 18-24, no children, some college education, and browse reddit from school/work. We know those demographics are accurate because reddit feels like stepping into an episode of Big Bang Theory. This the first thing to understand about reddit - it is a community, not a platform; although having said that reddit is not a platform -  University of Reddit? Of course. My own institution has a subreddit, as does yours, You've never been there, but it's an education ;-) But don't take my word for all this. Reddit is the place Obama goes when he wants to win an election.

Reddit is devoted to pricking your ego, so it's not about friends or followers. Karma is important, but not as important as grokking the culture (each subreddit [tribe] tends to develop its own when it reaches a critical mass). Consequently, I've been giving my karma a gentle footrub, becoming familiar all the in-jokes. Of course, overall intelligence works at the gross-out movie level of the normal Gaussian curve, but misunderestimate the redditors at your peril - the reddit community is sharper than Sheldon on modafinil.

At first acquaintance  reddit is crude and confusing, it feels like the Internet felt 15 years ago. This is deliberate - reddit repays effort. Although it needs more work, my filtering is now good enough that it's starting to pay me back in valuable content. I'm not a fan of gamification, but the only way to grok reddit is to play up and play the game. "Front page of the Internet" is too strong (Google is still that) but reddit is much quicker and more agile than Google. And a lot funnier too. Once you get the joke.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Biology Open Educational Resources

Biology Open Educational Resources The Society of Biology has launched a new website which aims to identify, collect and promote existing bioscience open educational resources (OERs):

The site supports practical biology and research-led teaching in higher education and features peer reviewed lab and field work practical and protocols, health and safety information, multimedia alternatives to wet labs, videos and images.

Google Scholar Metrics Grouped by Research Area

Google Google Scholar Metrics I've been doing lots of thinking about impact this week, mostly about altmetrics, but also about formal citation. For five years I have been constantly looking for the bibliometric information I need to boost my career. This morning I have it. And it comes from Google.

In the latest of a dramatic series of improvements over the last year, Google Scholar has just announced bibliometrics for research areas.

This new data allows you to see the top 20 publications in each area ordered by their five-year h-index and h-median metrics. To see which articles in a publication were cited the most and who cited them, click on its h-index number. Such data has been commonly available for the Sciences for some time, but Scholar has now brought this to the Social Sciences, and specifically, the fragmented area of publications in education research. Subheadings available include:
Click on the h-index number for each publication to see the most highly cited articles. So go away and read:
And then go forth and publish.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

#DarkSocial Students

I recently set up blog as a support site for students I teach. It's not password protected or truly private, but I don't advertise it's existence and it isn't indexed by search engines, so the only way students arrive at the site is if I send them there, which I do via dark social channels (VLE, email, etc). This means that the server logs tell an interesting story about the technology our students are using to access information.

74% arrive via Windows, many of these from university computers in open access labs. The preponderance of Windows doesn't surprise me as this is "work" and we know that students often prefer not to pollute their personal devices with such content. 10% arrive on Macintoshes, although if you add in iOS that climbs to 17%. 12% use mobile devices to access the content. (I suspect the iPad is me as I haven't seen any evidence of our students using them.) And yes, they really, really do like Chrome, confirming my informal observations.

There's something else I can do with this - use the server stats to probe the Dark Social referrers. In spite of apparent passivity on Google+, 41% of incoming traffic actually comes from there (very high lurker rate - they observe but will not contribute). The rest comes from my mailshots: 35% from GMail, 21% from Yahoo and 3% from Hotmail.

I like this data. In spite of the fact I hate myself for resorting to DarkSocial, this is just another way it is working for me currently.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

#solo12 reflection

Solo12 I have been at four out to the five Science Online London (a.k.a. SpotOn London) conferences, and the first one was the first ever virtual event I attended. It's the conference I most look forward to each year. For me, this year felt different. It felt like the year solo came of age.

On the first day I had my doubts though. It started well enough. I was expecting Ben Goldacre to do the book talk, but he didn't, instead giving a plea in the usual Goldacre expletive-laced style about harvesting the low hanging fruit of cheap data that has been overlooked rather than over elaborating every study into a €1bn monster. It was entertaining, and it was exactly the right talk for this meeting.

After that ... it wasn't until the last session of the day that the meeting kicked off for me. It came alive in Ian Mulvany's megajournal session - people fighting for the microphone. The general feeling was that the rise of megajournals is inevitable, and that specialist journals cannot survive economically. The new business model for boutique journals (such as Annals of Botany) might be to apply the brand (expertise, editorial board) widely across many platforms, becoming a metajournal. When? Difficult to say, but the event horizon is within 20 years (and might be much sooner):

But what is the business model to sustain the Cormaic McCarthy style bands of roving editors that will run these metajournals? I talked to David Kavanaugh from scrazzl who has some interesting ideas about how that could happen.

After a sociable Sunday night in The Fellow and big big greasy fried breakfast, I was fired up for day two. Our workshop on altmetrics and impact seemed to go well. At least, it was standing room only, but judge for yourself:

After that it was interesting stuff - sessions and private conversations - before I had to run for a train and skip the traditional closing ceremony in The Betjeman Arms.

Already looking forward to next year.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

SpotOn London 2012 #solo12

For the next couple of days I'll be at the SpotOn London 2012 conference #solo12

I'm helping with a workshop session on Assessing social media impact on Monday 12th November at noon. The hashtag for this session is #solo12impact
and the introductory slides are here, so please join in!

Friday, November 09, 2012

Twitter fame is fleeting, but it's better than no fame at all

Twitter fame is fleeting, but it's better than no fame at all. Yet more evidence that being mentioned on Twitter = citations.


How the Scientific Community Reacts to Newly Submitted Preprints: Article Downloads, Twitter Mentions, and Citations. (2012) PLoS ONE 7(11): e47523. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0047523
We analyze the online response to the preprint publication of a cohort of 4,606 scientific articles submitted to the preprint database between October 2010 and May 2011. We study three forms of responses to these preprints: downloads on the site, mentions on the social media site Twitter, and early citations in the scholarly record. We perform two analyses. First, we analyze the delay and time span of article downloads and Twitter mentions following submission, to understand the temporal configuration of these reactions and whether one precedes or follows the other. Second, we run regression and correlation tests to investigate the relationship between Twitter mentions, arXiv downloads, and article citations. We find that Twitter mentions and arXiv downloads of scholarly articles follow two distinct temporal patterns of activity, with Twitter mentions having shorter delays and narrower time spans than arXiv downloads. We also find that the volume of Twitter mentions is statistically correlated with arXiv downloads and early citations just months after the publication of a preprint, with a possible bias that favors highly mentioned articles.

Thursday, November 08, 2012

EdgeRank - honest broker?

facebook Something changed at Facebook recently and people are trying to figure out what.

Ars Technica asked Is Facebook “broken on purpose” to sell promoted posts?

TechCrunch rebutted this: Killing Rumors With Facts: No, Facebook Didn’t Decrease Page Feed Reach To Sell More Promoted Posts

"Facebook’s news feed ranking algorithm (widely known as EdgeRank) chooses between hundreds or thousands of pieces of content each day to show the few dozen most relevant stories in each person’s news feed. Facebook told me in February that the average Page reaches 16 percent of its fans with each post. That’s because some fans aren’t online when the post is published, a specific post hasn’t gotten much engagement from the people Facebook already showed it to, and because if you don’t interact with that Page when you do see its posts, Facebook will only show you them every once in awhile."

"What should Pages do now that they know what happened? Focus on publishing high-quality content. Don’t post too often and don’t cram your marketing down people’s throats. Be entertaining and informative. Then follow your analytics closely, consider hiring experts that can help, and refine your strategy. If your Page’s reach decreased, I’m sorry. It doesn’t mean you’re a bad Page, business, or admin. You just need to work on finding relevant content to post and delivering it with a natural non-spammy tone."

Robert Scoble chipped in.

If you take all this at face value, the implication is that looking spammy (overposting?) is bad. Instead of getting people to Like your pages, you want them to be "friends" with you. Or you just say Facebook has jumped the shark and move on to Google+.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Altmetrics everywhere - but what are we missing? #solo12impact

This post is a taster for the Assessing Social Media Impact workshop I'll be leading at the SpotOn London 2012 conference this weekend - come along or tune into the hashtags: #solo12 | #solo12impact


In the last couple of years altmetrics (the creation and study of new metrics based on social media for analyzing and informing scholarship) have popped up across the web.

PLOS Nature

We have a plethora of numbers, but what should we be measuring? A recent blog post by Xavier Lasauca i Cisa (via Brian Kelly) suggests the following Key Performance Indicators:




The reality is that this is too complex for those of us with lives and jobs. We need services / dashboards to provide and digest this information. Lots of start-ups will provide this service at considerable cost (Social Mention, ChartBeat and Plum Analytics are just a few that spring to mind). In reality, for reasons of time and cost, most individuals have to settle for simpler options:

Social media metrics

It astounds me that Klout continues to attract so much attention when it has been so thoroughly discredited - Gink is a more useful tool in my opinion ;-)
The best of this bunch is probably Kred, which at least has a transparent public algorithm. In reality, the only tool in this class I use is CrowdBooster, which has a number of useful functions:



I have found this analysis to be useful, but in terms of predicting what content will be popular and what won't - i.e. the mysterious going viral - good luck with that. There's a large dose of chaos involved and although you may be able to convince investors you know the Secrets of the Interwebz, the reality is there will always be more misses than hits (because that's what the maths says).

The elephant in the room

Take a look at your blog or server stats. Much of your traffic comes from what Google calls "organic", i.e. search. If you've been a busy bee on the self-promotion front, you'll also have a goodly slice of referral traffic from all those social networks you've invested so much time in.

Dark Social

EdgeRank Where is all that direct traffic coming from? Welcome to the murky world of Dark Social (private channels such as email and IM), and the reason why measuring Impact is even harder than you think. So even before Facebook broke the newsfeed with EdgeRank, you didn't really know what was going on.

In the #solo12impact workshop at SpotOn London 2012 we will discuss all this and much more. In the meantime:

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

9% Ipsum

Turnitin Yesterday I needed some dummy Turnitin reports, so I bunged 200 words of Lorem ipsum through Turnitin - and got a 9% match.

I'd been assuming that plenty of lorem ipsum had been run through Turnitin previously and so the match would be higher than 9% - but maybe not?
At any rate, I suspect that this is telling us something interesting about the structure of the underlying Turnitin database. However, it will be for smarter statistical minds than mine to figure out exactly what that is....

Monday, November 05, 2012

5 years

5 years

It seems like longer. Twitter was my eye-opener as far as PLNs were concerned. I wonder where we'll be in five years time.

Friday, November 02, 2012

Desert Island Apps

Handheld Learning

Over at the new Handheld Learning blog, I wrote a post about my Desert Island Apps - the apps I couldn't live without. Read it there - and feel free to subscribe for future revelations :-)

In which Facebook scuppers my plans but #DarkSocial comes to the rescue

Facebook promoted posts As I described previously, making Google+ usage voluntary and non-assessed this year has meant that less than one third of students on my first year key skills course (n = 280) have registered for Google+, while less than 1% of them are active users (i.e. contributions, comments or +1's). Dark social tools such as email are an effective way of contacting students, but are very inefficient in terms of staff time with large numbers of students.

As a more inclusive alternative to the minority of Google+ registered students, I've been looking for a platform where I can push dynamic module-related content to students for discussions and optional contributions. One way I was considering doing this was by using a Facebook page as a student support channel. Efficient use of my time suggests a single Facebook page, although the need for course-specific discussions argues for one page per module.

But this intention changed recently, after Facebook introduced promoted posts. Unless you pay for each post, only a small, randomly selected proportion of people who "Like" the page will see the post on their wall. How many? No-one knows - estimates range from 5-50% of the Likes. But since few people visit the page itself, blocking posts in users home pages renders Facebook as useless as a support channel.

My solution has been to start a student support blog (on Blogger). By using a tag for each module I am teaching on I can create a module-specific content stream. After composing and publishing posts on , I can make new posts a splash screen for each module on the course Blackboard site, together with a link to the module archive (via the tag). Blogger also has an option to email new posts on publication, which I have set to send them to me. I can then forward the item to the module email list via BCC.

It is early days for this approach, but the blog stats so far indicate that the combination of email and Blackboard item mean that essentially 100% of students see each message, and the blog also serves as a discussion board for comments and questions in addition to private email correspondence.

I am not publicizing my student support blog - robots.txt is set to "go away" - the contact with students is thus direct, via email or Blackboard. Even though it is based on blogging, this Dark Social approach to student support is far more efficient than email now that social networks such as Google+ and Facebook have become non-viable for this purpose.

Thursday, November 01, 2012

Dontcha just hate it when you have to agree with Gove?

Maths I've been banging on about the pure maths takeover of the maths A level for some time when what most people (and certainly most science students) need is an applied maths approach. This puts me in the uncomfortable position of agreeing with Michael Gove when he says the same thing.

Better late than never I suppose.

Disclosure: I am currently acting as an advisor for the Pearson review of the EdExcel A level mathematics curriculum.