Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Digital Literacy in the Disciplines

"Institutions tend not to act in unison unless a common challenge is placed upon them: MOOCs have been a recent notable digital wave, but perhaps it’s more of a ripple than a tsunami as apparently few stay on far for its ride even if the cost is (theoretically) low. Their loosely/ rapidly structured approach may show little threat to a carefully validated and scaffolded degree programme, led by expert pilots who have already led many a cohort through difficult waters. The lightweight digital canoes of the MOOC participants are nothing compared to the leviathans of the tanker-sized institutions and the wake of their histories. But like the music industry, the leviathans do fear a challenge of piracy, albeit in a different form. You can do a lot with a million canoes."

Digital Literacy in the Disciplines – Initial project participants meeting

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Open Access and The Dispossessed

The Dispossessed My intended holiday reading got blown off-course a little this year, but as part of my on-going search for non-dystopian science fiction, I did manage to finish The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin.

And very enjoyable it was too, classic SF - I am the creator of worlds stuff. But even though it was published in 1974, there is another way to read this book - as a parable about Open Access and the motivations various people have for restricting the availability of information. I'm happy to recommend Ursula Le Guin to SF fans, but I also recommend this book as a moral fable for all academics.


The Old Reader As I predicted, The Old Reader Turned out not to be sustainable (Desperate times call for desperate measures). While this is a shame, and a salutary lesson for anyone planning on building an RSS reader, I'm not that upset.
I still have hopes for the Digg reader, but Feedly has become my RSS home - although only because of the Newsify app, which allows me to sync my Feedly subscriptions with the desktop version via iOS, something Feedly bizarrely "forgot" to include in their mobile app.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Nature goes gooey over MOOCs

xxx Nature has a breathless woo-woo special on Learning in a Digital Age. Unusually for Nature, it's free access so you can read it for yourself to discover that MOOCs are "magic" and are going to change the world.

Maybe Nature should stick to science....

Mortgage Adviser



Thursday, July 18, 2013

#HEAdigilit meeting 17.07.2013

HEA I was in York yesterday at HEA HQ for the first project meeting on the Digital Literacies in the Disciplines programme. These are my rough contemporaneous notes of the meeting.

Terry McAndrew (JISC TechDis) Introduced the session by talking about the background to the programme, plus a little information about Xerte.

Helen Beetham talked about the JISC Developing digital literacies in the disciplines work
12 projects funded (HEA strand is one)
JISC Design studio (pbworks wiki)
Do we need subject digilit specific profiles, or are generic more powerful?
Does the process need to be owned by departments, or will such outcomes only be locally relevant?
Digilit = critical, reflective use of technology (lol, vs VLEs and compulsory Xerte)
Digital literacy profiles - useful tools available: and
I'd like our participating students to use these survey tools next term and produce radar graphs of the sort Helen showed.
JISC Lessons:
- Avoid over specifying
- Stress process over outcome
- Involve as wide a range of stakeholders as possible
- Generic technologies are as important as subject-specific technologies

David Lewis (Leeds) Final year undergraduate research projects
Digital resources projects - many graduate destinations - science communication - create, evaluate and disseminate

Jane Guiller (Glasgow Caledonian) Cyberpsychology learning objects
Aropa peer assessment system

Kate Borthwick (Southampton) XML - Xerte for Modern Languages
Replace creation of ppt presentation with creation of a Xerte object in a first year module.
Digital champions network (students) for sustainabilit.
[Like the idea of starting with first years and building rather than final year down]

Kay Hack (Ulster) Employability in Life and Health Sciences
Employability skills around job applications.

Jamie Wood (Lincoln) Making Digital History
Xerte for history lo's. Assessment criteria? (Essay replacement)
Fits well with institutional policy, good technical support.
Also aim to produce Xerte training resources.

Abigail Thompson and Clare Winder (Myerscough College, UCLAN) Teacher Training
Creating Xerte training objects (with a bit of learning design?)
Cascading into subjects via trainee teachers

We concluded the day with a project management discussion.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

How to Learn Math

EDUC115N I've just started on Stanford's EDUC115N How to Learn Math. To be perfectly honest, the last thing I feel I need right now is another MOOC. I feel totally burned out with online courses.

So I was surprised when I dived in for a quick look. This has a very different feel from all of the other MOOCs I have "done". It's more like an online seminar than a bootcamp course. Assessment is very firmly in the background, although you can get a certificate of achievement if you complete 85% of all the sessions/tasks. 50% of the course content (4 sessions) have been put online at the start, the other 4 sessions will follow at the end of the month, so it's very self paced. The deadline for completion is September 28th. The organizers are clearly gathering participant data as they go to shape future courses - they've said do.

This is a course I want to complete. If you have any interest in maths teaching I would recommend you join the course at this early stage. Chapeau Jo Boaler!

"As teachers, our job is to disrupt the trajectories of students".

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Is this a landmark paper about assessment?

Socrates I've written about the Socratic method here before. In my view, this is the benchmark for any form of education. The following paper is an excellent overview of the mess education has got itself into by falling into the trap of assessment. In many ways, the historical overview it provides is a landmark in the field. However, my prediction is that this paper will be ignored, for two reasons. First, it's not a message that most people want to hear at the moment. Second, the proposed "Socratic machine" is a bit of a letdown after the excellent first half of the paper. Banging a few MCQs on an LMS is not going to get us out of the assessment mess.

Still worth reading though. Then dream of what education could be.

Nelson, Robert, and Phillip Dawson. "A contribution to the history of assessment: how a conversation simulator redeems Socratic method." Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education (2013): 1-10.
Assessment in education is a recent phenomenon. Although there were counterparts in former epochs, the term assessment only began to be spoken about in education after the Second World War; and, since that time, views, strategies and concerns over assessment have proliferated according to an uncomfortable dynamic. We fear that, increasingly, education is assessment-led rather than learning-led and ‘counter to what is desired’ in an ugly judgemental spirit whose moral underpinnings deserve scrutiny. In this article, we seek to historicise assessment and the anxieties of credentialising students. Through this longer history, we present a philosophy of assessment which underlies the development of a new method in assessment-as-learning. We hope that our development of a conversation simulator helps restore the innocence of education as learning-led, while still delivering on the incumbencies of assessment.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Faceboard - it's not Facebook OR Blackboard, it's Facebook AND Blackboard

faceboard "As students become more mobile they increasingly require access to their educational resources anytime and anywhere. University courses are typically managed through learning management systems, which were established to enable access to their educational resources online at any time, but are these enough? We are interested in researching the impact that Facebook can have for online students in an introductory programming course. In particular we want to know whether any learning can occur in Facebook. A programming group was set up on Facebook for our cohort of fully online students who already have access to Blackboard, our University’s learning management system, for them to discuss, chat and brainstorm about programming. We compare the student participation to the two environments: the Blackboard Discussion Forum and the Facebook programming group, over the semester of the course. In this paper we analyse the student postings and identify the similarities and differences of the two environments and we discuss the benefits and drawbacks of each environment. Our primary finding was that Facebook attracted more students (over Blackboard) due to its social and community learning benefits, encouraging students to support one another. Blackboard was viewed as the authoritative and valid medium for official course material. Finally, there is a need for further work to determine how the two media may be better integrated for course delivery.

Maleko, M, Nandi, D, Hamilton, M, D’Souza, D, & Harland, J. (2013) Facebook versus Blackboard for Supporting the Learning of Programming in a Fully Online Course: The Changing Face of Computing Education. DOI 10.1109/LaTiCE.2013.31

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

How to run a MOOC

Beyond Google So many words have been wasted on MOOCs. If you want to know how to run a MOOC, it's very simple. Just do what Google does. First there was Power Searching (then Advanced Power Searching), now we get the Google AdWords MOOC. In other words:

  1. Focus on the core business.
  2. Play to your strengths.
  3. Run it on your own platform.

I would register for this, partly because I may be needing to use AdWords soon, but mostly because I expect the quality to be as good as the other Google MOOCs I have participated in. And that's not something I can say about any other MOOC provider.

Monday, July 08, 2013

Apprenticeship learning

Sisyphus At our local PedR meeting last week I discussed our current Digital Literacies for Employability project.

I felt I needed to start of with a general discussion about what digital literacy actually is, and manged to pull off the old "OK then, remove digital from that sentence and see how it changes things" trick.

I went on to talk about the overlaps between digital literacy and employability and the joys and frustrations of running a student-led project. The aspect of the discussion I want to delve into here however is the failure of higher education, at least in recent years since massification, to move beyond the lower rungs of skills and competencies which can easily be measured and therefore assessed, processed and turned into degree certificates. Warning to my theme, I had a little rant about over reliance on assessment.

This is not a new topic for me, I have written about it often before, e.g. in Lies, Damned Lies, and Feedback. And nothing much changes. Give a man a stick, and he'll turn it into a ruler and measure something with it. But rulers (and rules) and only accurate for straight lines, and student's learning journeys mostly describe graceful arcs. So we miss the good stuff, the true learning which is not facts which we mostly don't measure at all.

Apprenticeship learning is not new, it's pretty much Socratic. But we can't measure it so we don't do it. We remain stuck on the assessment treadmill. I can't see any other way of breaking out of this trap other than to embrace much less formal and rectilinear learning pathways. Unless a degree is an apprenticeship it has little lasting utility. By encouraging students to work in partnership with academics we have at least the possibly of moving beyond the MOOC-spawning mess we have created for ourselves.

Thursday, July 04, 2013

DuckDuck Science

DuckDuck I had some interesting backchannel anti-Google conversations following my post earlier this week, Why Blog?

We tossed around the idea that although undoubtedly one factor in the fall of science blog pageviews is more completion, the much vaunted rise of social recommendation has not matched the fall in organic search referrals. Is is possible that tweaks to the Google algorithms have something to do with this? While algorithm changes are advertised by Google as anti-spam, it may be that non-Adwords sites are not as highly favoured (in search results not just direct ad clicks) as they used to be!

One of the outcomes of all this was that I spent a bit of time playing around with DuckDuckGo, which I haven't used for some while, and I was favourably impressed. That said, Cheatin' Taxweasel still has me firmly in its thrall for a number of reasons.
Image search, something I use multiple times every day.

And Google Scholar, the neglected stepchild which Google will eventually get around to axing because it doesn't make any money.

Oh, and GMail. Try as hard as they might to spoil it, it's still lovely.

Honestly, I haven't missed Reader at all, which has surprised me greatly. I'd love to ditch Cheatin' Taxweasel completely, but the pain at the moment would just be too great. Which, of course, they are well aware of.

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Why blog?

What is the future of my long running microbiology blog? And why do I blog anyway?

This is a graph Where did my readers go?
In June, this blog had it's biggest ever month in terms of pageviews.* There is no one post responsible for a traffic spike, it seems to be a general increase in readership. While pageviews isn't the reason I blog (a number of my blogs have zero pageviews because I don't tell anyone about them, they're my online notebooks) as feedback, pageviews are gratifying because they suggest that other people find what I write/curate here useful.
*Or not, depending on whether you believe Blogger's statistics or Cheatin' Taxweasel Analytics...?

Trouble at t'microbiology blog
At the same time that this blog is becoming more popular, MicrobiologyBytes continues its steady long term decline, nearing the level where it no longer seems to justify the time I spend on it. It's not clear to me why this is. Sure it's summer, and there are a lot more microbiology blogs around now than when I started MicrobiologyBytes, but why do the two blogs have such different trajectories? I know I feel differently about them. After nearly 10 years of microbiology blogging, it's become a slog. I also have much more vested personally in this site, and I'm pretty sure my Marmite personality both attracts and repels readers here. That has never been what MicrobiologyBytes is about. So what should I do?
I don't want to stop blogging about microbiology, largely because I blog as much for myself as for others - it's my personal development, thinking out loud. Everything I publish is under a Creative Commons licence and I don't make any money from blogging. But MicrobiologyBytes is still useful to me as an online notebook and archive, for example, it's a quick way to dredge up what I've learned and forgotten about adenoviruses.

Where does curation fit in? What about all my satellite sites on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Tumblr? Does the dead weight of all those publication channels drag me down? My following on all the social satellite sites has more than doubled over the last year while pageviews on the blog itself have halved. What does this tell me? Search traffic accounts for 50% of pageviews on MicrobiologyBytes, referral traffic 30%, so branding on these other sites is important.

What the heck is a blog anyway?
David Kernohan recently published a helpful reflection on three classes of OER:
Three strands of open education. On a scale of decreasing plausibility (1 = evidence based, 3 = fantasy), OERs are:
  1. Reusable Learning Objects - reuse and recycle
  2. Commons - supply side sharing
  3. Disruption - education revolution
For this blog the future definitely seems to be if it ain't broke don't fix it. But for MicrobiologyBytes the answer looks much more like back to basics. My most popular MicrobiologyBytes "blog posts" are now five years old. Clearly, these are not just blog posts, they are reusable learning objects. The are not really "news", they are "content". Jacob Nielsen's latest post Website reading: it sometimes (does) happen has some interesting data on this, stressing the importance of nanocontent navigation. Although users generally scan rather than read web pages, short, pithy subheadings can help users engage with arguments presented in long form writing. I want to experiment more with these ideas, such as putting the take home message in the first paragraph rather than saving it for a final denouement. Did the subheadings in this post help you navigate it?

Back to basics?
Producing high quality, long-lived RLOs instinctively feels like the route forward for MicrobiologyBytes. If I ask myself What do I want MicrobiologyBytes to be?, I don't particularly want it to be a MOOC - too much like the day job. I suppose my ideal role model is, as so often, Ed Yong. It might be argued that my lack of daily involvement with microbiology research distances me from the topic I am writing about and the community I am writing for. I would argue that 30 years of microbiology and science communication knowledge more than counteracts that. And not being an active researcher has not hurt Ed Yong. It's more about the quality and clarity of the writing and the breadth of vision than the ability to stand at the lab bench. To make time for that quality of writing I plan to reduce my curation of other content on social sites. What I mean by this is that I intend to share links via Twitter, Facebook and Google+, but satellite curation sites such as Tumblr will go.

But there is an alternative possibility, to join a blogging consortium to inspire me and renew my passion for microbiology. Either way, I can't see any way I'm going to stop blogging, it's too much a part of me now. Or maybe every blog has its day?

Please forgive all the navel gazing in this post. But that's why I blog.