Friday, May 31, 2013

Created my first YouTube video playlist for teaching

Yeah, I know, I'm years off the pace :-)

Useful background videos for the project preparation course session on critical analysis on 13.06.13:

A Shakespearean tragedy

Hamlet Earlier this week I visited the refurbished Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford for the first time and experienced a Shakespearean tragedy. I'm not referring to the plot of Hamlet, the best play ever written in the English language, I'm talking about this particular production, and also about the theatre itself.

Visiting the RST has been the highlight of my artistic experience for many decades, and although I went to a couple of performances in The Shed in Stratford while the RST was out of commission for nearly a decade, I was very keen to get back to HQ and figure out exactly what had taken them so long. Immediately on walking into the foyer the answer was obvious - all those millions of pounds had been spent on building the gift shop. The auditorium itself is disappointing, lacking the presence of its former self where I saw so many great productions. Although the atmosphere is OK, the best description of the new auditorium is probably the estate agent term "bijou". At nearly 30 quid each, the "cheap" seats we sat in had nearly half of the stage obscured by an overly intrusive safety barrier. While clearly designed to prevent me plummeting to a painful death from the Upper Circle, an hour in and I was regretting its presence - not only because of my stiff neck from craning over and under it, but because by that stage of the evening, plummeting seemed to be about my best option, assuming I could take enough members of the cast with me betwixt seat and stage. Fortunately rising suicidal thoughts were diverted by the Interval, when drowning of sorrows and numbing of critical faculties with alcohol was much needed.

I suspect Jonathan Slinger is a talented actor, but he is miscast and misdirected in this role. After hours staring down from the gods at the Prince of Denmark's bald spot I was rueing the fact that he hadn't got the Prince Charlie thing going on. I'm not going to comment further on this botched production, as Charles Spencer has accurately summed it up pretty well in his review:
"I wonder what Greg Doran, the company’s new artistic director, makes of this botched shot after his own superb production a few years ago, starring David Tennant."
Tennant took the role of Hamlet by the balls and walked the line between madness and sanity. Slinger doesn't know where he is going - but blame the director for that, not Slinger, who I believe is much better than the effort he is allowed to give here.

I would like to end by focusing on the few good performances in this disappointing effort. Ophelia is a bloody awful part to play, probably the worst characterisation Shakespeare ever wrote, but Pippa Nixon gives it a bloody good try in so far as she is able to in this flawed effort. Robin Soans as Polonius is excellent, although I would personally prefer to see this part played with a little more gravitas and a bit less whimsy. But the clear star of this show is David Fielder as the First Gravedigger - nails it, old school.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

YouTube video editor gets some nice new features

YouTube video editor


  • Face blurring: Protect the anonymity of people in your video. Could be really useful in education.
  • Slow motion: Slow the speed at which your video plays (half speed, quarter speed, eighth speed). Like this:

The Reader

FRSStration I'm still pretty happy with The Old Reader, apart from the inability to organize feeds in folders and lingering concerns about the sustainability of their business model. For that reason, I'm still looking at alternatives and I was excited by the announcement about being able to import OPMLs into 

Sadly, after a bit of a play it's clear that the linear display is no substitute for a full fat RSS reader such as TOR, but it's a positive move for WordPress and a pat on the back to them for that.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

YouTube Creator Academy

I've signed up for YouTube Creator Academy (June 3 - 16, 2013). More info.

Although I've had over a million views on YouTube, my objective for this MOOC is not to become a YouTube millionaire, just to pick up some useful tips on how better to engage with the YouTube audience.

Join me, I think this could be fun.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Double Chocolate Banana Cake

Double Chocolate Banana Cake via Becka Colley

You like chocolate. You like bananas. You like cake. Chocolate Banana Cake is the antithesis of Visit to the Dentist, Tax Bill, Nick Clegg.
You'll like it.

3 very ripe bananas, mashed
12g cocoa powder
50g sultanas
50ml dark rum
75g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp bicarb
50ml sunflower oil
75g caster sugar
50g plain chocolate chips
1 tsp vanilla extract

Soak sultanas in rum for at least one hour (or overnight). Mix everything together and place in a lined loaf tin. Bake at 170 C for 45-60 mins until risen and a skewer comes out clean.

Eat while reflecting on the fact that one day, every member of this government will be dead (except Malcolm Rifkind).

Saturday, May 25, 2013


Crushed new potatoes I'm really a mash man - pie or not, that's my thing. So when my wife foisted crushed new potatoes on me a while ago I was sceptical. After two servings, I was hooked.

Boiled new potatoes, skin on.
Drain and crush gently to marble sized pieces.
Drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with coarse sea salt and, if you have feelings of social inadequacy (you do), a little chopped flat leaf parsley.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Vote of confidence for The Old Reader

The Old Reader Afore the impending demise of cheatin' taxweasel Google Reader, I have moved all my RSS subscriptions to The Old Reader. And very good it is too, doing exactly what it says on the tin. The mobile version also works great, better than Reader ever did. And this simple cloud-based solution syncs to all your devices.

Feedly just doesn't cut it for me, and Flipboard - well Flipboard (which I like for what it is) is the eye-candy in the undemanding Saturday night TV schedules of the Internet. If you're a serious RSS user like me, I suggest you give The Old Reader a spin. And if you like it, make sure you donate to keep it going.

But is it sustainable?
So far, 285 people have donated. I don't know how much the hosting and bandwidth costs are going to be for this service, but if it takes off, they will be considerable. I don't think donations alone will cover this. A freemium model might be another option, but without Google's deep (tax-lined) pockets, The Old Reader is going to have to make it pay somehow.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

THES write up


"Do you ever trawl through social media to see what your students are saying about your course? While this can satisfy your curiosity, it could also be an effective way to identify students who are failing to interact with their classmates and are at risk of quitting, researchers have found.
A University of Leicester-led study asked all 257 undergraduate students in its School of Biological Sciences to use the Google+ social network as part of an IT module. They were encouraged to use it to discuss their studies, and undertaking active social networking even contributed to their final mark.
At the end of the term, the students had contributed thousands of posts. Some had happily used the site to share information about their course with their peers, in a similar way to how they might talk to friends on Facebook. Others were much more targeted in their use of online tools - and would log on only to get the information they needed, when they needed it. These two types of internet user are known as “residents” and “visitors”, respectively.
“The students’ networks mostly looked similar, with lots of interactions,” said Alan Cann, co-author of the study and senior lecturer in the School of Biological Sciences. “But we did find exceptions.”
Some students formed very small networks, he explained, and were not speaking with their peers at all.
“Instead, they were communicating primarily with members of academic staff. We found that many were overseas students whose first language was not English.
“It shows that some students place authority figures in very high regard and are not interested in peer-to-peer conversations or student-directed learning,” he said.
In the end, one of the international students with a very small network dropped out of the course. “I should stress that the majority of our overseas students did interact, and most completed the course,” Dr Cann added. “However, it does show that you can look at social network usage to identify those who might need more support.”
The paper, “Visitors and residents: mapping student attitudes to academic use of social networks”, was co-written with academics from the University of Oxford and The Open University and published in the journal Learning, Media and Technology."

Digital Literacies for Employability

I am pleased to announce that Mark Goodwin and I have been funded by the UK Higher Education Academy under the Digital Literacies in the Disciplines scheme for the following project.

Digital Literacies for Employability

Digital literacy is an essential transferable skill and some have argued that it should be placed above knowledge work from an employer perspective (Littlejohn, A., Beetham, H., & McGill, L. (2012). Learning at the digital frontier: a review of digital literacies in theory and practice. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 28(6): 547-556). Digital literacies have a life-wide impact which is not limited to either the academic or the employment domain. Developing critical and evaluation skills results in sought-after and adaptable employees. Yet digital literacy is not simply about learning from content online this represents a deficit model of education (frequently practiced) rather than skills development. Although there is no universally accepted definition of digital literacy, the European Commission defines it as the confident and critical use of ICT for work, leisure, learning and communication and JISC defines it as those capabilities which fit an individual for living, learning and working in a digital society: for example, the skills to use digital tools to undertake academic research, writing and critical thinking; as part of personal development planning; and as a way of showcasing achievements.

Digital literacies can be thought of in the following hierarchical framework:
Digital Literacies

Competencies are easily measured. Is a student (or an academic) capable of sending an email attachment, or using statistical software, for example? Skills are more subtle and less easy to quantify - keyboard skills, for example (hugely important and almost always overlooked), or multimedia authoring such as producing high-quality digital images or video. But the true life-wide benefit comes from the highest level of digital literacy managing online portfolios of achievement and online identity, and augmenting the taught curriculum with a rich range of external sources. Higher education has done a poor job of inculcating this higher level literacy in comparison to the baseline and more measureable competencies (Littlejohn et al., 2012). Academic staff - themselves not trained in these areas - are not best placed to lead this type of personal development student-centred approaches are called for.

This project takes a student-led approach to the development of digital literacies by embedding digital literacy development in personal development. Students will focus on the development of peer engagement with reusable digital objects portraying employability scenarios based on fictional but realistic case studies - Career Plan A versus Plan B, for example. In the process, they will also develop many other latent capacities to strengthen their employability skills portfolio, such as time management, communication and collaborative skills, and digital competencies. Working in close partnership with academic staff within the School of Biological Sciences, the student team will develop case studies on the Xerte platform portraying student career planning and choices, giving first and second year students an overview of what lies ahead of them and the skills they need to gain in order to achieve their desired outcomes. Importantly, the scenarios will allow the participants to explore the development of a clear career focus alongside alternative options (a Plan B). This fits neatly within existing employability training within the School of Biological Sciences, but extends the current programme by the introduction of a peer-to-peer student-led element. This approach has been highly successful at other institutions, e.g. the digital literacies student champions project at the University of Southampton. By participating in this project, student digital literacies will be enhanced through both the production of online employability resources and through student partnerships with academic staff and other related roles (for example, learning technologists in the School of Biological Sciences and beyond through participation in the University of Leicester Learning Technology Advisory Group).

Participating students will build a portfolio of evidence through using a wide range of digital tools ranging from email and advanced search engine use through multimedia authoring and professional engagement with social media for dissemination to a wide audience across the University and beyond. All outputs from this project will be freely available online via a Creative Commons licence. Although similar work based on career case studies has been highly successful at other institutions, these resources are not publicly available (Myers, L., Gibson, F. & Dallison, K. CASEwork: Careers attributes and skills for employability through case based learning. HEA STEM Conference, 2013). The ethos of this project is that development of digital literacy and employability skills will be enhanced by the knowledge that the participants are working in the public sphere and aiming for the widest possible deployment of their outputs.

Participating students will benefit in a number of ways:
  • Development of high level digital literacy skills including communication and project management skills, directly relevant to their own employability.
  • Development of their employability skills portfolio either independently or as part of the Leicester Award for Employability

To avoid exploitation of the student workforce, participating students will also be offered limited financial compensation for their time.

Experience of applicants
The academic team leading the project has a great deal of experience in training students to use digital technologies and in guiding students through employability decision making. The core team will be supported by learning technologists from the School of Biological Sciences and beyond as necessary, and from the University of Leicester Career Development Service.

Dr Alan Cann leads numeracy and IT skills training in the School of Biological Sciences and has undertaken research in this area for many years. His recent publications include:
Wright, F., White, D., Hirst, T. & Cann, A. (2013) Visitors and Residents: mapping student attitudes to academic use of social networks. Learning, Media and Technology.
Badge, J.L., Saunders, N.F.W. & Cann, A.J. (2012) Beyond marks: new tools to visualise student engagement via social networks. Research in Learning Technology 20: 16283.
Cann, A.J. & Badge, J. (2011) Reflective Social Portfolios for Feedback and Peer Mentoring. Leicester Research Archive. 
Cann, A., K. Dimitriou, and T. Hooley. (2011) Social media: A guide for researchers. Research Information Network.

Alan Cann also has many years experience of developing and managing successful websites. All of the websites he currently manages run on virtual XAMPP stacks running in the cloud. These include the highly popular MicrobiologyBytes website, AoB Blog, and the innovative SciReadr project. Cloud based computing is the greenest solution to provision of online resources and is essential in order to avoid costly investment in local hardware.

Dr Mark Goodwin leads the Employability Programme in the School of Biological Sciences, which has attracted funding from a range of sources including the HEA. The University's Career Development Service has adopted the Programme as a model intervention for their interaction with academic programmes, allowing them to work with employers and teaching staff on a structured set of initiatives as an integral part of the curriculum, and aspects of the approach have already been adopted by a number of other Schools and Colleges at the University of Leicester and other HEIs. Mark Goodwin is currently working with Nathan Pike, Discipline Lead for Biosciences at the HEA, on a review of employability initiatives with supporting resources that will act as an evidence-based guide for the sector. He also has experience of developing online resources, as lead for the Virtual Genetics Education Centre, which was recognised in the Jorum teaching and Learning Awards 2011. We intend that the proposed student-led case studies project will be disseminated in the same way, as well as by traditional reports, peer-reviewed publications and conference presentations - in addition to the work that the student team will do to promote the public-facing online resources. Recent publications:
Goodwin, M, Ademe, G, Pennington, M, Bartle, C and Jackson, P (2011) Engaging students, staff and employers in enhancing graduate impact: Tourism Management at the University of Gondar , Chapter 2 in Patsy Kemp and Richard Atfield (eds) Enhancing Graduate Impact in Business and Management, Hospitality, Leisure, Sport, Tourism, Newbury, Threshold Press, pp.9 20.
Goodwin, M and Lawrence, K (2011) Identifying and developing student aspirations: the role of the personal tutor , Proceedings of the Effective Learning in the Biosciences Conference: Equipping Students for the 21st Century, Leeds, UK Centre for Bioscience, p36.

Purpose and outcomes of proposed work
To be successful in managing the transition from undergraduate programmes to employment or further study, students need to start the process of career planning including the acquisition of relevant experience and evidence early in their studies. Our prior work has developed a coherent Employability Programme for undergraduates on a range of degree programmes in the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Leicester. The programme involves a series of staged interventions:

Year 1 February: Student-Intentions survey and Student-Destinations analysis
Data used to inform:
June: Year 1 Intentions after Graduation event (research and planning)
- intentions, destinations and careers
- what is necessary in a successful application
- what you can do over the next year to prepare (and the support available)
- networking with employers and admissions tutors

Year 2 Follow-up activities and support in preparation for:
June: Year 2 Careers in Biosciences event (planning and execution)
- skills matrix for degree programmes
- application strategy
- CVs, applications, interviews and assessment centres
- networking with employers and admissions tutors

Year 3 Focused sessions and support
Focused sessions to support applications (with support from personal tutors and alumni)

Delayed decision making can have disastrous consequences for career outcomes. By engaging students in career planning and the necessary skills acquisition as early as possible in their higher education career we are seeking to achieve more favourable outcomes. The project will continue this approach but extend the initiative by developing a student-led peer to peer element which does not presently exist and would not be possible to develop without the support requested.

A Student Employability Team (12 members at present) has been recruited from current Year 2 students. It is intended that this team of enthusiastic volunteers will form the nucleus of the student-led team who will undertake the proposed project. In addition, this team will roll over to become the Year 3 Student Employability Team, who will work with the new Year 2 Team to provide a view of employability preparation across the curriculum. There is some online support for our students, which this project will complement. The Careers After Biological Sciences material consists of alumni experience of various bioscience-related careers. Student-developed case studies developed as part of this project will fit neatly alongside these existing online resources. By building on to existing employability structures we will be able to achieve rapid development of this new project and, importantly, sustainability of the initiative and resources produced after the period of HEA funding has ended.

We intend to inform the Student Employability Teams of our plans for the project as part of the June 2013 Year 2 Careers in Biosciences event and to encourage them to start preparing ideas and holding discussions over the summer so that the construction of resources on the Xerte platform can begin quickly in September 2013. Dr Cann will install the Xerte Online Toolkit and prepare training resources for student participants such as any additional documentation required and screen capture how-to videos over the summer.

May 2013: Outcome of bid.
June 2013: Announcement and initial discussions with student participants at the Year 2 Careers in Biosciences event.
August 2013: Installation of Xerte Online Toolkit and prepare training resources for student participants.
September 2013 - December 2013: Production of employability case studies and
January 2014 - March 2014: Final case studies and impact analysis of project (student-led evaluation).
April 2014: Final report and papers written.
Subsequent years: Online resources will remain publicly available for a minimum of three years, available for download and dissemination via the Xerte platform.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Slipping back into MOOC mode
After a busy year, I'm gradually slipping back into MOOC mode and have just signed up for two courses offered by Stanford Online. Interestingly, these courses run on the edX platform (but are offered directly by Stanford, not edX). Hopefully that means the quality control will be better.

I probably won't complete both of them (I've got my doubts about How to Learn Math but I'm always up for new perspectives on teaching), but it will be good to do some mental stretching after a cramped academic year.

The observant among you will notice that neither of these courses have anything to do with MOOCs or technology. That's not an accident.

Friday, May 17, 2013

The Discussion Forum is Dead

"Instead of providing fertile ground for brilliant and lively conversation, discussion forums are allowed to go to seed. They become over-cultivated factory farms, in which nothing unexpected or original is permitted to flourish. Students post because they have to, not because they enjoy doing so. And teachers respond (if they respond at all) because they too have become complacent to the bizarre rules that govern the forum....
The most terrifying thing about all of this is that, more and more, learning management systems offer pre-set rubrics and auto-grading to assess these sterilized interactions. The discussion forum becomes a shackle, an assessed, graded component of a student’s performance. It defeats its own purpose."

The Discussion Forum is Dead; Long Live the Discussion Forum

Thursday, May 16, 2013

I was Panoptoed

I'm still not entirely sure what I think about lecture capture. I can see many uses but I also fear misuse and I am unconvinced by most of the reasons driving adoption. Yesterday a talk I gave was captured using Panopto, so if you're interested, you may want to check it out:


Wednesday, May 15, 2013

A talk of two halves

I'm in Bristol today where I shall be attempting the impossible task of giving two talks in one :-)

The first half is about academic use of social media and the second half is about recent findings from my current HEA-funded audio feedback project. Here are the slides:

Sorry, now audio for these yet, but the first half is rather similar to this:

and I'll try to put up a commentary for the feedback section soon.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Remind me again how OERs/MOOCs are the future of education

Knox, J. (2013). Five critiques of the Open Educational Resources movement. Teaching in Higher Education, 1-12
Abstract: This paper will review existing literature on Open Educational Resources (OER). It is intended to examine and critique the theories which underpin the promotion of OER in higher education, not provide guidance on their implementation. (1) I will introduce the concepts of positive and negative liberty to suggest an under-theorisation of the term ‘open’. (2) OER literature will be shown to endorse a two-tiered system, in which the institution is both maintained and disaggregated. (3) I will highlight a diminishing of the role of pedagogy within the OER vision and the promotion of a learner-centred model for education. (4) This stance will be aligned with humanistic assumptions of unproblematic self- direction and autonomy. (5) I will discuss the extent to which the OER movement aligns itself with economically orientated models of the university. I offer these critiques as a framework for the OER movement to develop as a theoretically rigorous area of scholarship.

An under-theorisation of the notions of ‘openness’ and ‘freedom’
The implication appears to be that learning is something that is possible with, perhaps even enhanced by, the absence of organisation and structure.

The rejection and privileging of institutional structure
The promotion of OER appears to advocate two different educational models. I will suggest here that these cannot coexist without the creation of a two-tiered education system.

No place for pedagogy
In proposing that institutional involvement can be reduced to the roles of assessment and accreditation, prominent voices within the OER movement appear to reject the pedagogical functions of the university and the place of the teacher.

Humanistic assumptions of autonomy and self-direction
Advocates of self-directed OER learning frequently predict outcomes comparable to those achieved with institutional guidance.

Alignment with the needs of capital
Second-class OER provision is aimed at learners who lack the means to attended established institutions.

via Seb Schmoller


Ommwriter Let's face it - we all need all the help we can get with writing. So I'm trying out Ommwriter (the free version).

It's early days. Right now, I do feel quite relaxed, and used sparingly, I can see how Ommwriter could be a useful tool. Will it stand the test of time, or be able to complete with my venerable writing Swiss Army knife, BBEdit?

Ask me in six months time.

Crouching Nouns, Hidden Verbs: my search for a great iPad writing tool

Sunday, May 12, 2013

The Child That Books Built

The Child That Books Built The Child That Books Built is a book about books.

It is the second best book about books that I have ever read. If that sounds like faint praise, on a scale of one to ten, that would be an eleven.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Teaching as a Subversive Activity

Teaching as a Subversive Activity I read this after a recommendation by Martyn Poliakoff at HEASTEM13.

Very disappointed, very dated, not at all relevant to now. If you want to read a truly subversive book, read Deschooling Society.

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

A large-scale study of students’ learning in response to different programme assessment patterns

One of the main consequences of the structure of the UK’s modular degree system has been to emphasise summative assessment at the cost of formative assessment designed to shape students’ learning. Semester-long modules with an average of two assessment events are unlikely to provide the learning architecture for cycles of continuous reflection. Taking a programme level approach clarifies the interconnectedness of units of study, emphasising that an undergraduate degree is subject to a curriculum design process where the ‘whole is greater than the sum of its parts’. Programmatic strategies attend to the sequence, timing, proportions and variety of assessment tasks across modules in fostering conditions for student learning from assessment. Similarly, the consistency, range and types of feedback and feed-forward students experience are more meaningful when seen as a linked series of learning opportunities across the whole programme. Without the benefit of evidence which gives a whole programme view of assessment, these structural elements may be invisible to lecturers on a programme.

Which is fine, except .... programme level approaches further disenfranchise the poor bloody infantry in the trenches who actually teach.

"The underlying contextual factors which explain differentials in feedback timing are mainly related to resources, large class sizes and the timing of assessments, rather than disciplinary differences. Given that undergraduate student numbers have increased from about 2 million in 2000 to almost 2.5 million in 2009 (O’Prey 2011), while staff to student ratios have decreased, variations in return times are not surprising. But, resource issues raise important questions about whether the current model of tutor-dominated feedback, with an emphasis on summative assessment, is sustainable, particularly if it prevents students from getting feedback when it matters most for their learning."

Tansy Jessop, Yassein El Hakim and Graham Gibbs. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts: a large-scale study of students’ learning in response to different programme assessment patterns. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 2013
Audits of 23 degree programmes in eight universities showed wide variations in assessment patterns and feedback. Scores from Assessment Experience Questionnaire returns revealed consistent relationships between characteristics of assessment and student learning responses, including a strong relationship between quantity and quality of feedback and a clear sense of goals and standards, and between both these scales and students’ overall satisfaction. Focus group data helped to explain students’ learning responses but also identified ambivalent responses to the use of formative-only assessment, particularly when it was optional. Frequently, students were unclear about goals and standards, and found feedback unhelpful when assessment demands differed across modules, and when marking standards and approaches varied widely, making it difficult for feedback to feed forwards. The methodology underpinning the Transforming the Experience of Students through Assessment study described here has been used in more than 20 universities worldwide and is helping teachers to redesign assessment regimes, so that teachers’ efforts support learning better.

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Individual as Institution

"As more academic and academic related staff adopt the ‘individual as institution’ approach, institutions must reflect on their response. Readers familiar with Twitter may be familiar with the phrase “The views expressed here are mine and do not reflect the views of my employer”. This is an often cited phrase designed as a response to risk averse “social media policies”, which have the effect of further distancing the individual and individual thought from host institutions.
Post-digital institutions may be characterised by their recognition that technology can be a vehicle to express motivation and practice. Understanding that individuals are chaotic, responding to small changes that may drive them in different directions and lead to new knowledge, learning and outcomes. Rather than setting strategic directions and objectives for technology practice (in either research or teaching) it is important to recognise that the practice is linked to behaviour, and that practices become the foci for investment of resource and energy.
Where academic practice is now played out on an increasingly digital canvas, organisations need to recognise when individuals are becoming institutions and work to support them, providing an environment that allows them to thrive. Strategic plans, objectives and directions will only succeed if they are flexible enough to accommodate the emerging technology and practices that are being exploited by these individuals."

Sunday, May 05, 2013



I recently finished my Regeneration project, reading the trilogy plus Rawlinson's critique.
I'm blown away and still digesting these books, but I don't feel the need to read any other of Pat Barker's books.

How do we fix this mess? This much I know.


This much I know:
Things are never as black or white as they seem at the time.
Still, Peston's analysis of the next few decades is depressing.

Friday, May 03, 2013

Two-stage online testing for big classes

Online testing I had a timetable malfunction at HEA STEM13 and missed Susanne's talk which I had intended to go to. Fortunately she has now published her work so everyone can see it. It's not easy to do studies of this sort and I'm very impressed by the rigour of the statistical treatment of these findings. My frustration with this sort of work is that despite continual calls for evidence-based education, when someone puts strong research such as this into the public sphere .... we still don't use it :-(

This project aimed to improve student learning by introducing online tests, which were meant to engage students, increase the time they spend out of class on educationally meaningful activities, and to provide opportunities for self-assessment and feedback. The results suggest that increasing the time on task alone (by forcing them to spend time on online tests) did not improve student learning. Only when students were guided towards a meaningful interaction with the material, learning (as measured by exam performance) improved. The prompt, specific feedback after the formative part of the online tests enabled the students to see exactly what they needed to do in order to improve their performance. Students need to make sense of what they have learned before they are ready to move on. Giving feedback to incorrect answers and confirming correct answers contributed towards empowering students to take responsibility for their own learning.

Susanne Voelkel. Combining the formative with the summative: the development of a two-stage online test to encourage engagement and provide personal feedback in large classes. (2013) Research in Learning Technology 21: 19153
The aim of this action research project was to improve student learning by encouraging more “time on task” and to improve self-assessment and feedback through the introduction of weekly online tests in a Year 2 lecture module in biological sciences. Initially voluntary online tests were offered to students and those who participated achieved higher exam marks than those who did not, but completion rate was low. Making the tests compulsory led to high completion rates, but class performance decreased, indicating that using the same assessment for formative and for summative purposes is not always beneficial for learning. Finally, these problems were resolved by introducing a two-stage approach: the first stage of each test was formative and provided prompt feedback. However, students had to achieve 80% to progress to the second summative stage of the test. The two-stage online tests led to significantly improved class performance. This novel test design ensures that students go through at least two attempts and therefore fully benefit from the learning opportunities presented by the formative stage. Two-stage online tests present the opportunity to provide regular feedback in large classes and to improve performance not only of good but also of “weak” students.

Thursday, May 02, 2013

Probing the Mysteries of GradeMark

Recently I was talking to a colleague at a conference about seeming differences in the behavior of Turnitinin GradeMark in different implementations. This morning I emailed him to follow up and ask how personal tutors and markers know if students have viewed their feedback. The answer to the first question is straightforward:
The form of tutor notification that students have seen their feedback is when they telephone to thank or complain about their score.

The second one is a little more complex. A notification icon appears in the "Response" column of the instructor inbox [that's Course Tools: TurnitinUK Assignments to you mere mortals]. Hovering on the icon will display a message that the student has viewed the paper and when the latest 30+ second viewing took place:


Of course, what they were doing in that 30 seconds is anyone's guess....

What *is* digital literacy?

Digital "Digital literacy, a term coined a mere 15 years ago, continues to defy a clear definition in part due to the fast-changing social and technical reality, where the products and services most popular today may not exist a decade hence. Glister (1997) wrote about digital literacy before Google, before Facebook, before YouTube; yet, these online tools and their associated practices – online inquiry, social networking, e-learning – are integral to the way we think about living, learning and working in our digital society. The rise of ‘casual learning’ and communities of interest online showcase the rapid movement toward informal learning contexts, where individual agency, sociality and temporal fluidity change the nature of how people see themselves as knowledge builders and experts. This issue arrives at a point in our digital evolution where we are questioning many of the assumptions about how and where learning works. The barriers that constrained digital literacy, including access to technology, expertise and social support, are becoming a thing of the past, but new questions and challenges are emerging, including: how do we understand, assess and value new digital literacies?"

Meyers, E. M., Erickson, I., & Small, R. V. (2013). Digital literacy and informal learning environments: an introduction. Learning, Media and Technology, 1-13
New technologies and developments in media are transforming the way that individuals, groups and societies communicate, learn, work and govern. This new socio-technical reality requires participants to possess not only skills and abilities related to the use of technological tools, but also knowledge regarding the norms and practices of appropriate usage. To be ‘digitally literate’ in this way encompasses issues of cognitive authority, safety and privacy, creative, ethical, and responsible use and reuse of digital media, among other topics. A lack of digital literacy increasingly implicates one's full potential of being a competent student, an empowered employee or an engaged citizen. Digital literacy is often considered a school-based competency, but it is introduced and developed in informal learning contexts such as libraries, museums, social groups, affinity spaces online, not to mention the home environment. This article recognizes and connects the ways and places we might conceptualize and realize an expanded view of digital literacy that fits today's changing reality.