Pages

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Canada

Canada By the end, I was enjoying this book.

Canada by Richard Ford came to me highly recommended. It took me a while to get around to reading it, but during that time the anticipation grew, and I was looking forward to this as a Christmas treat. Which is partly why this book was such as disappointment. By the end I was starting to enjoy it, but the flaccid first half ruined it for me. There was a good book in here if a decent editor had got hold of it before publication.

Disappointing. 6/10.


Tuesday, December 24, 2013

A Ghost Story for Christmas

Ghost stories and Christmas go together like Salmonella and mayonnaise. So I've written my contribution to this long tradition over at MicrobiologyBytes:

By 3 o'clock the light had almost gone from the room and the candles were already lit. Antonie van Leeuwenhoek had been working all d o'clock the light had almost gone from the room and the candles were already lit. Antonie van Leeuwenhoek had been working all day in his draper's shop, pausing only briefly to return to his house for a short lunch with his wife Barbara. His eyes were tired and the threads on the linens became finer year by year as the weaving machinery improved. But without a close examination of each sample of cloth it was impossible to know what was a fair price to pay and how much his customers would be willing to part with for it. He rubbed the square of linen between his finger and thumb, trying to gauge the evenness of each thread, to predict how hardwearing this sample would be. In fatigue and frustration he cast the cloth aside onto his work bench.

more



Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Mastery learning - my struggle

Mastery learning Having had our shiny new biological sciences curriculum approved for 2014, one of the main things occupying me at the moment is planning the new module I am convenor of - BS2000: Research Skills.

Our curriculum redesign had several guiding principles. Reducing the overall number of modules and student assessment load were two of them. Partially as a consequence of that, previous key skills modules have been absorbed into subject modules. The Research Skills module is the exception to that principle as it is designed to equip students for the challenge of their final year research project. As I know from long experience, getting students to engage with anything that smacks of "skills" rather than biology is difficult, and I know exactly what approach I would like to take to overcome that problem: mastery learning. Consequently, I was very interested in a new paper, which describes almost exactly the approach I would like to take with BS2000:

Lesley J. Morrell: (2013) Use of Feed-forward Mechanisms in a Novel Research-led Module. Bioscience Education. DOI: 10.11120/beej.2013.00020
Abstract: I describe a novel research-led module that combines reduced academic marking loads with increased feedback to students, and allows students to reflect on and improve attainment prior to summative assessment. The module is based around eight seminar-style presentations (one per week), on which the students write 500-word ‘news & views’ style articles (short pieces highlighting new results to a scientific audience). Students receive individual written feedback (annotated electronically on the work), plus an indicative mark, on their first submitted report. For subsequent reports, only a subset is marked each week, such that each student receives feedback on two further submissions. Simultaneously, they have access to written feedback on their peers’ reports (a total of two reports per student enrolled on the module). Students are encouraged to read and apply the general and specific messages from all the feedback to their own subsequent work (using it as feed-forward). At the end of the module, students self-assess their eight submissions and select the two they believe are their best pieces to put forward for summative assessment. Combining data from three cohorts, student attainment increased throughout the module, with higher marks for the two chosen reports than for the two marked reports or their first report. Students selecting previously unmarked reports also showed a greater increase in their mark for the module than students selecting reports that had previously received a mark. Module evaluation forms revealed that the students found access to feedback on others’ work helpful in shaping their own assignments.


But there's a problem. BS2000 will have over 350 students on it, not 32 as described in this paper. Much as we would like to, the team of five co-convenors would not be able to cope with the workload of the formative assessments in this model. There are plenty of American models for mastery learning with large student cohorts (such as: The 2 Sigma Problem: The Search for Methods of Group Instruction as Effective as One-to-One Tutoring. (1984) Educational Researcher, 13(6), 4-161), but they mostly fall back on online testing and MCQs, which are not suitable for the skills we need to develop in this module (critical appraisal, ethics, information literacy). So I'm stuck, and how to square this circle is the problem the module team and our advisers have got to figure out over the next few months. Right now our proposed solution is group working, effectively dividing 350 by five, but it's not clear to me if that's the best way to get students who are still a year away from a final year project to engage with skills development.





1 If you're looking for someone to blame for Udacity, there's a direct lineage from this paper to the present day.


Thursday, December 12, 2013

Employability modules

University of Leeds employ ability module specifications:


BIOL1223 Career and Professional Development for Life Scientists
Module summary
This module will help students with their next career steps by introducing them to the careers available to bioscience graduates, the skills employers are looking for and how to achieve them. It will provide students with a competitive edge in the employment market by helping them to develop the necessary skills to seek and compete for work experience, internships and graduate employment. Comments from students who completed the module include…. "The opportunity to reflect on personal qualities and employability is invaluable. It has helped me realise what I need to do" "It was really useful. I definitely feel more prepared for job applications" "I would recommend it very highly. It’s made me think early what I want to do". The module will provide advice on when and how to start looking for work or work experience plus making applications and succeeding at interviews for work from a basic level. The module will take students on a journey, starting with the need for career and life planning, to exploring what an ideal graduate is and exactly what employers expect of today’s graduates, through to the career choices, routes and opportunities currently open to graduates and bioscientists in particular. During the module students will learn about and develop the range of skills (teamworking, networking, seeking opportunities, presentation skills) needed to successfully secure and succeed in the world of work. They will also learn how to evidence these skills. Students will learn about the importance of building up personal and employability skills in addition to bioscience-related qualifications and knowledge. Students will also learn how to applications and be interviewed for their job/career of choice to help them towards successfully progressing into the world of work. Students will learn about securing work/work experience via networking and ‘the hidden jobs market’ too. Whatever their future work experience or career plans this module aims to help students move forward into their first work experience and/or graduate job/role.
Objectives
The objective of the module is to help undergraduate students to reflect on their future career/life plans and to prepare for work and/or work experience, plus to learn and develop the key skills that are expected by graduate employers in today’s world of work – be that work in academic or other research and development laboratories, in a business environment or in the field.
Learning outcomes
On completion of this module students should be able to:
  1. Devise and maintain a career/life plan
  2. Research their own career interests, values and motivations
  3. Understand what is meant by the term an ideal graduate and know who employs bioscientists after graduation
  4. Describe the key skills that employers look for in new graduate recruits
  5. Identify their own current employability skills strengths and weaknesses
  6. Identify opportunities to develop their employability skills during their time at Leeds
  7. Identify common team roles and how they themselves fit best within a team
  8. Be able to establish effective working relationships within a team
  9. Write and maintain a curriculum vitae and personal statement
  10. Complete a job application form (on paper or online)
  11. Prepare for a job interview and/or assessment centre
  12. Present themselves positively in a job interview and/or assessment centre
  13. Learn how to network effectively in person and online
  14. Feel more confident about being able to secure future work opportunities (including work shadowing, short-work internships and/or longer work placements)
  15. Manage in a professional manner relationships with others in a work environment
Skills outcomes
Students will:
  • Learn how to plan their next career/life steps and to reflect and build on their plans.
  • Recognise the value of self-reflection in career/life planning (e.g. students will be able to reflect on their own interests, values and motivations) and learn to feed-their reflections forward to influence their own career/life plans.
  • Learn about the employability skills and professionalism that are required in today’s workplace.
  • During their own time, learn how to self-assess and rank their own employability skills strengths and weaknesses.
  • During their own time, identify and engage with curricular and extra-curricular activities that will help them to develop the bioscience and employability skills that today’s employers require.
  • Learn about teams and team-working and identify how they might fit and work best within a team/project group.
  • Learn how to positively present themselves to others in writing (e.g. via a CV, personal statement or online job application) and in person, via networking, a more formal interview/assessment centre or presentation
  • Learn about the hidden jobs market and how to network and positively communicate their skills and career plans to others, in person and in writing and practice working effectively in a team.
  • Learn to work alone to gather information related to their future career plans from a range of literature and online sources.
Syllabus
  • Lecture/workshop (1 hour): Career/life planning: what are your next steps - what is an ideal graduate, what careers are open to graduates and bioscientists in particular, what factors can influence your career/life plans e.g.: degree, interests, values, motivations and skills.
  • Lecture/workshop (1 hour): Who might employ you and how, when and where to make contact with potential employers?
  • Workshop (2 hours): The skills that employers want in new graduate-level recruits
  • Workshop (2 hours): Team-working roles and skills (students to complete a team-working test e.g. The Belbin Test, or an equivalent, before this session)
  • Workshop (2 hours): The job application process
  • Workshop (2 hours): The job interview process
  • Workshop (2 hours): Effective networking
  • Workshop (2 hours): The value of work experience
  • Workshop (2 hours): The work experience search
  • Workshop (2 hours): Preparing for work experience, politics, fitting in, asking for help/information
  • Seminar (2 hours): Feedback/question and answer session
(20 hours in total)

Teaching methods
Delivery type Number Length hours Student hours
Lecture 10 2.00 20.00
Independent online learning hours 18.00
Private study hours 62.00
Total Contact hours 20.00
Total hours (100hr per 10 credits) 100.00

Private study:
20 hours: Students will be expected to spend 1 hour following each lecture/workshop completing the relevant sections of a career development workbook/flow chart.
18 hours independent online learning: Students will be expected to complete online: self-awareness tests, a teamworking-related test e.g. the Belbin test and CV and online job application form; they will also be expected to use the University websites, including LeedsforLife, skills@thelibrary and Leeds University Union websites to help with identifying opportunities for their own employability skills development.
42 hours: Students will be expected to:
a. Visit the University Careers Centre and learn about its website and other resources that could help them with their future work experience/career/life plans e.g. learn from guidance materials re. CV writing, interview skills and how to prepare for assessment centres.
b. Research potential employers online, on paper and in person via careers or networking events or fairs and via their own personal networks too
c Explore who might offer them work experience (shadowing, an internship or placement) or an actual job in the future
d. Develop targeted job applications and prepare fully for course related presentations, interviews, assessment centres and networking opportunities.
Progress monitoring

Student attendance at lectures will be monitored in line with standard faculty practice.

To ensure satisfactory progress throughout the module: Students progress/performance on formative and summative tasks will be monitored by academics during and after each workshop session and any struggling students identified so that additional advice/support can be provided where necessary:
  1. Formative tasks and worksheets will be devised for each of the workshops and students will be provided with immediate constructive feedback on their performance either by their peers and/or the group academics/facilitators.
  2. Post-workshop online quiz scores will be monitored by academics. Students will receive immediate online feedback based on their responses to the quizzes. However, struggling students will be identified from their poor scores and provided with additional feedback/advice where necessary.
  3. Start and end of module improvements in CV writing, LinkedIn profile completion, interview and presentation techniques will be monitored by peers and academics.
  4. Students will be required to spend time monitoring/reflecting on their own progress each week by completing a careers direction workbook based on workshop content, online revision and private reading sessions. The workbooks will also be monitored by academics firstly in week 3. At the end of the module. General feedback will be provided too.
  5. Students will be encouraged to seek help outside of the module too and perhaps to sign up to the alumni and development mentoring scheme so that they can ask for help from people perhaps already working in a role in which they are interested in getting moving towards.
Module manager and lecturers will be notified of students failing any formative or summative tasks/assessments, so that additional support can be provided. Conditional release of support material, based on completion of each week's post-workshop online test or workbook worksheet, will ensure student involvement.

Methods of assessment
Coursework

Assessment type Notes % of formal assessment
Oral Presentation Group presentation; individuals to work in groups of 4 and all to contribute equally to the final presentation 35.00
Reflective log Students to reflect on their own career/life plans via completion of a flow chart or career direction/skills development workbook 25.00
Online Assessment Online job application (to include completed CV and personal statement) 40.00
Total percentage (Assessment Coursework) 100.00




BIOL2223 Employment, Career planning and Professional Development for Life Scientists
Module summary
This module will equip students to explore their next career steps by introducing them to the careers available to bioscience graduates, the skills employers are looking for and how to achieve them. It will provide an opportunity for students who have not yet developed their career plans to reflect on their future goals, hone their employability skills and develop the necessary skills to seek and compete for work experience, internships and graduate employment. Comments from students who completed the module include…. "The opportunity to reflect on personal qualities and employability is invaluable. It has helped me realise what I need to do" "It was really useful. I definitely feel more prepared for job applications" "I would recommend it very highly. It’s made me think early what I want to do". The module will provide advice on when and how to start looking for work or work experience plus making applications and succeeding at interviews for work. The module will take students on a journey, starting with the need for career and life planning, to exploring what an ideal graduate is and exactly what employers expect of today’s graduates, through to the career choices, routes and opportunities currently open to graduates and bioscientists in particular. During the module students will learn about and develop the range of skills (team working, networking, seeking opportunities, presentation skills, commercial awareness) needed to successfully secure and succeed in the world of work. They will also learn how to evidence these skills. Students will learn about the importance of building up personal and employability skills in addition to bioscience-related qualifications and knowledge. Students will also learn how to prepare applications and be interviewed for their job/career of choice to help them towards successfully progressing into the world of work. Students will learn about securing work/work experience via networking and ‘the hidden jobs market’. Whatever their future work experience or career plans this module aims to help students move forward into their first internship and/or graduate job/role.

Objectives
On completion of this module, students should be able to reflect on their future career/life plans, to prepare for work and/or work experience, plus to learn and develop the key skills and attributes that are expected by graduate employers in today’s world of work – be that work in academic or other research and development laboratories, in a business environment or in the field.

Learning outcomes
On completion of this module students should be able to:
  1. Devise and maintain a career plan, identifying the skills, opportunities and activities needed to meet their plan
  2. Reflect, research and report on their own career interests, values and motivations with respect to at least one employment setting
  3. Understand what is meant by the term an ideal graduate and know who employs bioscientists after graduation
  4. Describe the key skills that employers look for in new graduate recruits
  5. Identify their own current employability skills strengths and weaknesses
  6. Identify opportunities to develop their employability skills during their time at Leeds
  7. Identify common team roles and how they themselves fit best within a team
  8. Be able to establish effective working relationships within a team
  9. Write and maintain a curriculum vitae and personal statement/covering letter
  10. Complete a job application form
  11. Prepare for a job interview and/or assessment centre
  12. Understand what makes a good presentation
  13. Present themselves positively in a job interview and/or assessment centre
  14. Learn how to network effectively in person and online
  15. Be able to reflect on their own progress and development e.g. delivery and reflection on their own presentation
  16. Feel more confident about being able to secure future work opportunities (including work shadowing, short-work internships, longer work placements, graduate employment)
  17. Manage in a professional manner relationships with others in a work environment
Skills outcomes
Students will:
  • Learn how to plan their next career/life steps and to reflect and build on their plans.
  • Recognise the value of self-reflection in career/life planning (e.g. students will be able to reflect on their own interests, values, motivations, skills and the contributions they make) and learn to feed their reflections forward to influence their own career/life plans and development.
  • Learn about the employability skills and professionalism that are required in today’s workplace.
  • During their own time, learn how to self-assess and rank their own employability skills strengths and weaknesses.
  • During their own time, identify and engage with curricular and extra-curricular activities that will help them to develop the bioscience and employability skills that today’s employers require.
  • Learn about teams and team-working and identify how they might fit and work best within a team/project group and articulate (in writing) their progress in team working and the contribution they make.
  • Learn how to positively present themselves to others in writing (e.g. via a CV, personal statement or online job application) and in person, via networking, a more formal interview/assessment centre or presentation
  • Learn about the hidden jobs market and how to network and positively communicate their skills and career plans to others, in person and in writing and practice working effectively in a team.
  • Learn to work alone to gather and present written information related to their future career plans and the company/employer they wish to apply to.
Syllabus
  • Lecture/workshop (1 hour): Career/life planning: what are your next steps - what is an ideal graduate, what careers are open to graduates and bioscientists in particular, what factors can influence your career/life plans e.g.: degree, interests, values, motivations and skills.
  • Lecture/workshop (1 hour): Who might employ you and how, when and where to make contact with potential employers?
  • Workshop (2 hours): The skills that employers want in new graduate-level recruits
  • Workshop (2 hours): Team-working roles and skills (students to complete a team-working test e.g. The Belbin Test, or an equivalent, before this session)
  • Workshop (2 hours): The job application process (including presentation skills)
  • Workshop (2 hours): The job interview process
  • Workshop (2 hours): Effective networking
  • Workshop (2 hours): The value of work experience
  • Workshop (2 hours): The work experience search
  • Workshop (2 hours): Preparing for work experience, politics, fitting in, asking for help/information
  • Seminar (2 hours): Feedback/question and answer session
(20 hours in total

Teaching methods
Delivery type Number Length hours Student hours
Lecture 10 2.00 20.00
Independent online learning hours 18.00
Private study hours 62.00
Total Contact hours 20.00
Total hours (100hr per 10 credits) 100.00

Private study:
20 hours: Students will be expected to spend 1 hour following each lecture/workshop completing the relevant sections of a career development workbook/flow chart.
- 18 hours independent online learning: Students will be expected to complete online: self-awareness tests, a team working-related test e.g. Profiling for success and CV and online job application form; they will also be expected to use the University websites, including LeedsforLife, skills@thelibrary and Leeds University Union websites to help with identifying opportunities for their own employability skills development and to use iDECIDE for their own career planning.
- 42 hours: Students will be expected to:
a) Visit the University Careers Centre and learn about its website and other resources that could help them with their future work experience/career/life plans e.g. learn from guidance materials re. CV writing, interview skills and how to prepare for assessment centres.
b) Research potential employers online, on paper and in person via careers or networking events or fairs and via their own personal networks too
c) Explore who might offer them work experience (shadowing, an internship or placement) or an actual job in the future
d) Develop targeted job applications and prepare fully for course related presentations, interviews, assessment centres and networking opportunities.

Progress monitoring
To ensure satisfactory progress throughout the module: Students progress/performance on formative and summative tasks will be monitored by academics during and after each workshop session and any struggling students identified so that additional advice/support can be provided where necessary:
  1. Formative tasks and worksheets will be devised for each of the workshops and students will be provided with immediate constructive feedback on their performance either by their peers and/or the group academics/facilitators.
  2. Start and end of module improvements in CV writing, LinkedIn profile completion, interview and presentation techniques will be monitored by peers and academics.
  3. Students will be required to spend time monitoring/reflecting on their own progress each week by completing a careers direction workbook based on workshop content, online revision and private reading sessions. The workbooks will also be monitored on an on-going basis and formally (as part of the assessment) at the end of the module. General feedback will be provided too.
  4. Students will be encouraged to seek help outside of the module too and perhaps to sign up to the alumni and development mentoring scheme so that they can ask for help from people perhaps already working in a role in which they are interested in getting moving towards.
Module manager and lecturers will be notified of students failing any formative or summative tasks/assessments, so that additional support can be provided. Conditional release of support material, based on completion of each week's workbook worksheet, will ensure student involvement.

Methods of assessment
Coursework
Assessment type Notes % of formal assessment
Group Project Team working 0.00
Presentation Group presentation (groups of 4) and individual reflection/log of the team work and their own contribution to the process and outcomes. All members to contribute equally to the final presentation 35.00
Reflective log Students to reflect on their own career/life plans via completion of a flow chart and skills development workbook on a weekly basis 25.00
Assignment Job application (to include completed CV and personal statement) and 1000 word review of company /employer 40.00
Total percentage (Assessment Coursework) 100.00








Monday, December 09, 2013

Can you trust MCQs?

Blackboard logo With rising student numbers and increasing pressure on feedback turnaround times it is almost inevitable that we will see the increased use of online MCQs, at least for formative if not for summative assessment. But can you trust MCQs?

I recently stumbled across Blackboard Grade Centre Item Analysis Discrimination. No, I hadn't seen this before either.


So is this the answer to construction of good (valid) online MCQs?

Blackboard's (sketchy) description of how the tool works is that "Discrimination correlates question performance with overall performance on the test". Hang on - if the categories are not independent, is this analysis valid? The Discrimination score tells you whether good students (those who score highly on the test) do better than poor students, or whether poor students (who get low scores on the test) answer the question correctly. Is this a valid basis for judging the value of a question? In my hands, the tool also fails to calculate scores for some questions for reasons not given. So is it better than nothing? Well, possibly. Is it a valid analysis of question utility? You decide.

Get ready for lots more MCQs in the coming years. And keep lying awake at night worry about using MCQs. In the future, we will all be Sebastian Thrun.




Thursday, December 05, 2013

BioSET project update

BioSET logo Time for a quick update on our BioSET project.

We have had two meetings recently. The first one on 13th November was a progress update on employability case studies. Much of the discussion at this meeting centred on the pressures on final year students. As a result, it was decided to widen the number of participants by inviting any interested second year students to join the project.

On 4th December we met again and welcomed a number of second year students who were interested in finding out more. One of the outcomes from this meeting was the decision to hold a blogging workshop on 11th December, so I'll be writing more after that.

Recent blog posts from participants:

The first Case Study and Pioneering Xerte territory

Xerte Web Design and Science Writing Case Study Part I





Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Why *do* I still blog?

Thinking The month's crunching of blog stats coupled with a bit of end of year retrospection reveals a familiar pattern of declining readership, which is mirrored almost exactly by an increase in followers on various social media sites. This pattern is occurring on not just one but many established blogs written by different people on many different topics, so it's a general trend, which now prompts the question, is it still worth spending the time to blog?

Although there is some value in simply writing for writing's sake without thinking about a readership, for most blogs, having clear goals and objectives makes the time consumed by blogging more worthwhile. If your goals are measured purely in terms of eyeballs, then the answer may well be that blogging is no longer worth while. But I have always regarded this blog as a sort of online notebook, and the readership and discussion which comes by virtue of carrying out the activity publicly, although welcome, is almost incidental. As a personal repository, this blog is worth more to me than my sharecropping activity on social networks, although that is also valuable.

For my longest running blog, readership has now declined to a fraction of its former level, and if this were the only criterion, writing it would no longer be worth while. But the fact is that my publication schedule forces me to read the current research literature in that area, something that would almost certainly get squeezed out if I stopped writing it. One of my guiding principles in blogging is to add value to whatever I am discussing, not simply reblog or point at information. Blogs such as the Economist Explains are beacons in that regard, and I attempt to emulate them. That surely has to be a worthwhile activity.

The Guardian notes that most academics are blogging for professionals peers, rather than for the public in any general sense. The same article also notes the growing risk of being a publicly-identifiable academic blogger. This is a further part of the diminishing returns for blogging.

Is blogging still worthwhile? Just, but it's a close run thing.


See also:



Monday, December 02, 2013

Mobile phones make you unhappy and stupid

Mobile Or do they?

Usual caveats apply, i.e. only one study, but more importantly consider cause and effect - do mobile phones make students unhappy or do unhappy students use mobile phones more .... ?


The relationship between cell phone use, academic performance, anxiety, and Satisfaction with Life in college students. (2014) Computers in Human Behavior, 31, 343-350
While functional differences between today’s cell phones and traditional computers are becoming less clear, one difference remains plain – cell phones are almost always on-hand and allow users to connect with an array of services and networks at almost any time and any place. The Pew Center’s Internet and American Life Project suggests that college students are the most rapid adopters of cell phone technology and research is emerging which suggests high frequency cell phone use may be influencing their health and behavior. Thus, we investigated the relationships between total cell phone use (N = 496) and texting (N = 490) on Satisfaction with Life (SWL) in a large sample of college students. It was hypothesized that the relationship would be mediated by Academic Performance (GPA) and anxiety. Two separate path models indicated that the cell phone use and texting models had good overall fit. Cell phone use/texting was negatively related to GPA and positively related to anxiety; in turn, GPA was positively related to SWL while anxiety was negatively related to SWL. These findings add to the debate about student cell phone use, and how increased use may negatively impact academic performance, mental health, and subjective well-being or happiness.