Friday, December 19, 2014

Analyzing Science Education in the United Kingdom

Characterizing science education dichotomously as either “formal” or “informal” doesn't make sense:

Increasing evidence suggests that individuals develop their understanding of science concepts in and out of school, using varied community resources and networks. Thus in contrast to historic research approaches that focus exclusively on single organizations and/or educational events, the current paper presents exploratory research in which we utilized specific community ecology analytical tools and approaches to describe and analyze the U.K. science education community as a whole. Data suggest that overall the U.K. science education community is highly interconnected, and collaborative within individual sectors and moderately interconnected and collaborative between sectors; schools and to a lesser degree universities were outliers to this pattern. An important conclusion was that management to maximize the effectiveness of science education the U.K. science education community would involve support for continued diversification of the number of science education entities in the system and encouragement of reciprocally collaborative, synergistic relationships. We posit that systemic research enables a broader, more comprehensive view of a system's strengths and weaknesses, offering useful insights into the structure and functioning of science education activities; insights that could help researchers, practitioners, and policy makers improve the overall quality of science education delivery for all.

Analyzing Science Education in the United Kingdom: Taking a System-Wide Approach. Science Education 17 December 2014 doi: 10.1002/sce.21140

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Increasing Student Engagement with Practical Classes Through Online Pre-Lab Quizzes

Quiz submission rates Laboratory practicals classes are an essential component of all science degrees, but are a pinch point because of rising student numbers, rising student expectations and falling student exposure to laboratory work prior to entering higher education. Augmentation of physical laboratory work with online interventions is not new, but as virtual laboratories become increasingly sophisticated, cutting-edge approaches have become less available to many institutions as they are unable to meet the investment or specialist skills needed to build or maintain these complex tools. This case study examines the possibilities for increasing student engagement with practical work using the simplest tools available in any standard virtual learning environment and available to all. Based on results obtained from a large student cohort, the results indicate that this low-cost, low-tech approach can achieve high levels of student satisfaction.

Cann, A.J. (2014) Increasing Student Engagement with Practical Classes Through Online Pre-Lab Quizzes. Journal of Biological Education, 15 Dec 2014 doi: 10.1080/00219266.2014.986182

PDF here

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Peer Assessment - Six is the Magic Number

Moon Peer assessment of high value written assignments? That pretty much describes this week. So this is of interest:

How to achieve accurate peer assessment for high value written assignments in a senior undergraduate course. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education 09 Dec 2014 doi: 10.1080/02602938.2014.987721
The psychometric measures of accuracy, reliability and validity of peer assessment are critical qualities for its use as a supplement to instructor grading. In this study, we seek to determine which factors related to peer review are the most influential on these psychometric measures, with a primary focus on the accuracy of peer assessment or how closely peer-given grades match those of an instructor. We examine and rank the correlations of accuracy, reliability and validity with 17 quantitative and qualitative variables for three senior undergraduate courses that used peer assessment on high value written assignments. Based on these analyses, we altered the single most significant variable of one of the courses. We demonstrate that the number of reviews completed per reviewer has the greatest influence on the accuracy of peer assessment out of all the factors analysed. Our calculations suggest that six reviews must be completed per reviewer to achieve peer assessment that is no different from the grading of an instructor. Effective training, previous experience and strong academic abilities in the reviewers may reduce this number.

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

The problem with wikis

Some time back a student pointed me at this great study of the use of wikis in education:

Grant, L. (2009). ‘I DON’T CARE DO UR OWN PAGE!’ A case study of using wikis for collaborative work in a UK secondary school. Learning, Media and Technology, 34(2), 105-117.

The problem with wikis

Although students in higher education have subtler and more passively aggressive ways of staking their claims to online space and contributions, the problem remains the same - it's mine, hands off! And there is exactly the safe problem in the research community.

And that, dear readers, is the problem with wikis, and why everyone hates them.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Problem-solving test: Pyrosequencing

Pyrosequencing I stumbled across this paper today. A very useful resource I'm sure many people could use:

Szeberenyi, J. (2013) Problem‐solving test: Pyrosequencing. Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Education, 41(2): 112-115.
Terms to be familiar with before you start to solve the test: Maxam–Gilbert sequencing, Sanger sequencing, gel electrophoresis, DNA synthesis reaction, polymerase chain reaction, template, primer, DNA polymerase, deoxyribonucleoside triphosphates, orthophosphate, pyrophosphate, nucleoside monophosphates, luminescence, acid anhydride bond, phosphodiester bond, mismatch, proofreading, 5′->3′ exonuclease.
Study the principle of pyrosequencing and answer the following multiple-choice questions.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Continuous Astressment

Bottles Wise educators keep a weather eye on what the OU does, so this policy change, to switch away from continuous assessment to final grades determined by the end-of-module assessment alone, is interesting. Pedagogically, it make the distinction between formative and summative assessment much clearer. In other words, it represents a return to the Good Old Days when we did not constantly bombard students with salami sliced assessment. Of course, the risk here is that having stepped off the treadmill, both staff and students might actually start to enjoy higher education again.

Jordan, Sally (2014) A review of a faculty-wide change in assessment practice for open and distance learners of science. In: 8th EDEN Research Workshop: Challenged for Research into Open & Distance Learning: Doing Things Better-Doing Better Things, 27-28 October 2014, Oxford, UK.
Previous practice in the Open University Science Faculty has been for all modules to be assessed by a combination of summative continuous assessment, with extensive feedback comments, and an end-of-module task (an examination or an extended assignment). This practice, although well established and apparently well received, has led to concerns, as reported elsewhere, that staff and students have a different understanding of the purpose of continuous assessment: staff see its purpose as primarily formative whilst students are primarily concerned with obtaining high marks. The revised practice still requires students to meet a threshold for their overall continuous assessment score, but the final grade is determined by the end-of-module assessment alone. The evaluation of the change in practice has been split into small practitioner-led sub- projects, comparing impact across different modules and levels, with the aim of identifying factors that lead to improved engagement. Sub-projects are both quantitative, e.g. comparing assignment completion rates before and after the change, and qualitative e.g. investigating student and tutor perceptions and opinion.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Developing Skills in Second Year Biological Science Undergraduates

Kingfisher Something not a million miles away from what is occupying most of my time this term - an undergraduate skills development module. We'd love the luxury of a mere 150 students in a "large" class (that would have been large for us a few years ago - large is now twice that size). We are also taking a PBL type approach, in our case, writing a 5,000 word research proposal, a challenging class for second year students, but our USP is a team-based approach. It remains to be seem how that will work out. Hopefully it will be as effective as this module.

Rosanna L. Robinson and James E. McDonald (2014) Developing Skills in Second Year Biological Science Undergraduates. Bioscience Education 22(1), 42-53. doi: 10.11120/beej.2014.00026
Development of skills in bioscience undergraduates is seen as desirable by academic staff, students and employers, and this is reflected across most degree programmes. However, providing the opportunity for students to practise skills may alone be insufficient for their development. With an evident discrepancy between the skills expected of students and those exhibited, there is a clear argument for explicit teaching of skills in degree programmes. However, student engagement with such modules can be low and with large class sizes, this can be a particular challenge. We designed a module to develop a range of skills for bioscience students, from information gathering, literacy, time management, independence and teamwork, to higher levels skills such as critical and creative thinking and practise of the scientific approach. We provided a framework of lectures to introduce each component of the module, but our approach relied on small group sessions with problem-based activities and self-directed learning supported by computer-based resources. There are frequent, varied, low-stakes assessments, including peer evaluation with rapid feedback. This module builds on skills acquired by students in their first year, links to other second year modules and culminates in preparation of individual student plans for third year projects or dissertations. The module is very popular with students, and the increase in marks for student assignments (particularly the project plan), are evidence of its effectiveness.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Negative feedback

Feedback We are just about to plunge into our first use of marking rubrics (bated breath). This paper makes clear that rubrics are not a magic bullet solution to the problem of transmission philosophy feedback.

Nevertheless, I think it's fairly clear that rubrics "save time". Therefore expect their use to grow and grow in coming years.

Using statement banks to return online feedback: limitations of the transmission approach in a credit-bearing assessment. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education. 17 Oct 2014 doi: 10.1080/02602938.2014.970124
Electronic marking tools that incorporate statement banks have become increasingly prevalent within higher education. In an experiment, printed and emailed feedback was returned to 243 first-year students on a credit-bearing laboratory report assessment. A transmission approach was used, students being provided with comments on their work, but no guidance as to how they should use these remarks. A multiple-choice question test, undertaken before and after the return of feedback, was used to measure learning. Although returned comments included model answers, test scores showed no overall enhancement, even when students’ marks for their laboratory reports were initially hidden. A negative and significant (p = .010) linear trend between relative test scores and test date suggests that even modest improvements in subject knowledge were lost over time. Despite this, students could accurately guess their mark based on emailed feedback alone, estimated and awarded marks being linearly correlated (p < .001). It is concluded that statement banks organised according to published assessment criteria can ultimately help students to appreciate how their work was graded. However, students should be encouraged to produce a structured response to received feedback if self-assessment is to occur.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

R for Everyone?

R for Everyone R for Everyone: Advanced Analytics and Graphics (Addison-Wesley Data and Analytics). Jared P. Lander. Addison-Wesley (2014) ISBN 0321888030

I've spent quite a few years searching for the perfect R textbook. Jared Lander's R for Everyone has been a revelation to me - I've finally realized there isn't one. Not that that going to stop me writing my own R textbook over the next few months. So how does that make any sense?

R for Everyone is probably the best R textbook I've found yet. But I still can't recommend it to my first year students because although parts of it are ideal, most of it is not. It's a good book but it makes the classic error of trying to be both an R manual and a statistics textbook - even though that's what I've been looking for for years. If you're an advanced statistician/R power user, you'll be looking for something like Michael J. Crawley's The R Book - but that's way over the top for my purposes.

So it looks like I'll have to proceed with my intention of scraping my R/statistics lecture notes together into a more presentable format and then publishing it online. And it will be the best R textbook for my needs. But it probably won't suit anyone else. Because the perfect R textbook is a mythical beast.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Taking Notes

PowerPoint I've been slightly concerned over the last few days about the number of students in my lectures, all of which have PowerPoint notes online, sitting passively rather than actively taking notes. This has spawned thoughts about the omnipresence of PowerPoint (which is not new) and lecture capture (which is new, at least for us). My first reaction was to have a bit of a rant, but like a good student, instead I went off and trawled the literature for some data.

And the literature is fairly clear that overall, providing PowerPoint notes does not ultimately affect student academic performance. Having said that, there may be some personal benefit in the reverse chic of being the lone PowerPoint standout (Nouri, H., & Shahid, A. (2008). The effects of PowerPoint lecture notes on student performance and attitudes. The Accounting Educators' Journal, 18).

But in spite of that, I still have my doubts. First, I wonder if there is a publication bias against negative results about academic performance and lecture room technologies such as PowerPoint and lecture capture. Second, most of the studies in the literature (as is typical for educational research), have very low statistical power, and I wonder if they are sufficient to overcome the whizzbang shiny effect of high investment technologies. The solution to this problem is a large, multi-centre and possible muti-discipinary study on this issue. But with no supporting evidence in the literature, how could that be justified? I can't find enough negative evidence to conduct my own study on the corrosiveness of PowerPoint. Even if I feel that the world would be a better place without it. And reality television. Or maybe I'm just getting old.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Sigh, lectures

Five Guys Named Moe The subject of lectures as an instructional medium generates far more heat than light. It's actually simple - good lectures, used in moderation - are good, bad lectures are always bad. Having said that, this post of the SEDA blog is balanced and worth reading:
Lectures are used far too often

Graham Gibbs - who else writes about education with this much sense?

Monday, September 22, 2014

Can you use the Internet to teach practical skills?

ECG The more educational research I read, the less happy I become with the anecdotal, unsubstantiated nature of most of it. So it's a delight to read a well conducted, and more importantly from the point of the literature, well analyzed, study (including effect sizes - hallelujah!).

So can you use the Internet to teach practical skills? Not really, not if they're real practical skills and not just content smuggled in under the guise of "practicals". Students learn practical skills by doing.

An evaluation of online learning to teach practical competencies in undergraduate health science students. The Internet and Higher Education. doi: 10.1016/j.iheduc.2014.09.003
The aim of this study was to evaluate the use of online delivery as a pedagogical approach to teach the practical and theoretical skills required for resting ECG electrode placement and interpretation.
Comparable results were found for all variables between the two groups, apart from electrode placement, whereby students in the classroom based group were significantly more accurate than their counterparts in the online group (p < 0.05). The effect size of this difference was large (0.91), whereas the effect size for all other measured variables were classified as small (0 – 0.49). Conclusion Online learning is an effective study mode in both theoretical and practical application; however consideration must be taken of the types of practical skills which it is used for. More complex practical skills requiring haptic awareness may best be delivered within a classroom setting if feasible, whereby the instructor can provide immediate feedback.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Education(al technology) Research in PeerJ

PeerJ I'm very surprised to see this paper appear in Peer-J. My previous conversations with Peter Binfield indicated that they would not be publishing "that sort of thing". Has there been a change in editorial policy at PeerJ? If so, Journal of Biological Education is going to have a fight on its hands.

Having said that, this is not a great paper. n=26 so low power and poor statistical analysis (no effect sizes). While it's great to have PeerJ as an outlet for education research, they're not doing themselves any favours by publishing too many low grade observational studies with little predictive value.

Nalliah RP, Allareddy V. (2014) Students distracted by electronic devices perform at the same level as those who are focused on the lecture. PeerJ 2:e572
Background. Little is known about the characteristics of internet distractions that students may engage in during lecture. The objective of this pilot study is to identify some of the internet-based distractions students engage in during in-person lectures. The findings will help identify what activities most commonly cause students to be distracted from the lecture and if these activities impact student learning.
Methods. This study is a quasi-experimental pilot study of 26 students from a single institution. In the current study, one class of third-year students were surveyed after a lecture on special needs dentistry. The survey identified self-reported utilization patterns of “smart” devices during the lecture. Additionally, twelve quiz-type questions were given to assess the students’ recall of important points in the lecture material that had just been covered.
Results. The sample was comprised of 26 students. Of these, 17 were distracted in some form (either checking email, sending email, checking Facebook, or sending texts). The overall mean score on the test was 9.85 (9.53 for distracted students and 10.44 for non-distracted students). There were no significant differences in test scores between distracted and non-distracted students (p = 0.652). Gender and types of distractions were not significantly associated with test scores (p > 0.05). All students believed that they understood all the important points from the lecture.
Conclusions. Every class member felt that they acquired the important learning points during the lecture. Those who were distracted by electronic devices during the lecture performed similarly to those who were not. However, results should be interpreted with caution as this study was a small quasi-experimental design and further research should examine the influence of different types of distraction on different types of learning.

Friday, September 05, 2014

The State Of The Internet 2014

Waxcap If you haven't already read David Kernohan's recent post You’ll Never Hear Surf Music Again, you should. And then spend the rest of this weekend thinking about it.

Since the politicians have ceded responsibility to government to corporations, I'm going to spend the weekend re-reading leviathan and thinking about how to respond.

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

A Vision Of The Future

Gateway To The Future I've had a vision of the future. Which is nice.

The major social networks have jumped the shark. Increasingly, social networks will be Balkanized into smaller interest groups. People won't leave Facebook or Twitter in droves but their attention will switch elsewhere as the zombie juggernauts become increasing desperate to hold our attention. (Facebook Messenger anyone? I thought not.) Photographers will share with other photographers. City networks will become more localized. Learning technologists will speak unto learning technologists.

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

I've just seen the future of Turnitin

Quantum Computer Quantum Turnitin, automatically detects plagiarism in all languages simultaneously :-)

That'll solve the plagiarism problem.

Won't it?

Based on:
Back translation: an emerging sophisticated cyber strategy to subvert advances in ‘digital age’ plagiarism detection and prevention. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education 26 Aug 2014 doi: 10.1080/02602938.2014.950553
Advances have been made in detecting and deterring the student plagiarism that has accompanied the uptake and development of the internet. Many authors from the late 1990s onwards grappled with plagiarism in the digital age, presenting articles that were provoking and established the foundation for strategies to address cyber plagiarism, including software such as TurnitinTM. In the spirit of its predecessors, this article presents a new, less-detectable method of cyber-facilitated plagiarism known as ‘back translation’, where students are running text through language translation software to disguise the original source. This paper discusses how this plagiarism strategy attempts to subvert academic attempts to detect plagiarism and maintain academic integrity in the digital age, before presenting useful detection tools and then critiquing three classroom plagiarism management approaches for their usefulness in the current digital and educational context.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Educational technology: You will be assimilated

Educational technology usage

What pisses me off about this is the inverse relationship between utility and frequency of use.

“Virtually mandatory”: A survey of how discipline and institutional commitment shape university lecturers’ perceptions of technology. (2014) 45(4)748–759, doi: 10.1111/bjet.12051
Although there have been many claims that technology might enhance university teaching, there are wide variations in how technology is actually used by lecturers. This paper presents a survey of 795 university lecturers’ perceptions of the use of technology in their teaching, showing how their responses were patterned by institutional and subject differences. There were positive attitudes towards technology across institutions and subjects but also large variations between different technologies. Two groups of technology were identified - “core” technologies, such as Powerpoint, that were used frequently, even when lecturers felt that they were not having a positive impact on learning, and “marginal” technologies, such as blogs, that were used much less frequently and only where they fitted the pedagogic approach or context. Rather than there being “leading” universities that were the highest users of all technologies, institutions tended to be heavier users of some technologies than others. Similarly, subjects could be associated with particular technologies rather than being consistent users of technology in general. The study suggests that university technology policy should reflect different disciplines and contexts rather than “one size fits all” directives.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The Circle by Dave Eggers

Summer reading Verdict: Hugely disappointing.

There's a great-novel-of-our-time to be written about privacy and online identity. This isn't it. I had great hopes for this book considering the number of rave reviews it has received but I was hugely disappointed by it. The writing, characters and plot are so clunky that I considered not finishing it - something I almost never do. Instead, I read angrily to the end, cursing a missed opportunity, and am now recovering by reading the Jim Crace.

Friday, August 08, 2014

The impact of placements on the academic performance

Year-long placements are good for student academic performance, but more effective for UK students than overseas students.
"The results in this study provide strong evidence to support a significant association between placements, final-year marks and degree classifications among not only UK but also international students...

Unlike international students, UK students are consistently and significantly influenced by prior academic achievement..."

Caveat: This research refers to finance rather then STEM students.

The impact of placements on the academic performance of UK and international students in higher education. Studies in Higher Education, 31 Jul 2014. doi: 10.1080/03075079.2014.943658
Motivated by an increasing number of international students in UK higher education, this study investigates the effect of year-long placements on the academic performance of 268 accounting and finance students enrolled between 2006 and 2009. The results show differences between UK and international students although both statistically and significantly increase their final-year marks and their chance to obtain a good degree (first or 2.1) following placements. UK sandwich students outshine international sandwich students in the final year, while UK full-time students significantly underperform international full-time students in the first year only. The academic performance of UK students can be partly explained by prior academic achievement and gender but that of international students is not related to any of these individual factors. There is evidence of self-selection among UK sandwich students since they outperform UK full-time students at all levels, while no such a pattern is found among international students.

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Teaching Quantitative Methods

Balls The best discussion of statistics teaching I've read for some time:
What can social science teachers do? Perhaps the fist priority is to disabuse students of the idea that statistics is all about numbers. It certainly uses them, but QM is more about the logic of evidence handling than fancy maths.

For several years now, there has been a desire to rescue QM from the ‘methods’ course silo and embed or integrate QM into substantive courses. This is easier said than successfully done. Teachers of non-methods courses have to be persuaded of the benefits of ceding some of their class time to methods issues. Assessment has to be changed to accommodate the new material. ... Perhaps the major challenge here is to persuade colleagues of the virtue of paying more attention to the way in which empirical evidence is treated...

There is one final resource that is perhaps the most important of all: the enthusiasm of teachers. There is nothing like excitement to stimulate students’ efforts to learn. When they grasp the formidable analytic power that even an elementary grasp of statistics can give them, and when they discover they can master skills they may have assumed were beyond them, students can come to share this excitement.

John MacInnes: (2014) Teaching Quantitative Methods. Enhancing Learning in the Social Sciences 6(2), 1-5. doi: 10.11120/elss.2014.00038

Thursday, July 31, 2014

The Song of Achilles

The Song of Achilles I've been trying to catch up on my reading this week and I started with The Song of Achilles, a book I bought for my vacation last year and never got to crack open.

The Song of Achilles is a straight retelling of The Iliad, with a Hollywood-friendly prequel tacked on (Brokeback Olympus). But I'm a numpty when it comes to classics - I know more about aboriginal creation myths than classical mythology and I don't feel on firm ground until we get to Beowolf and Gawain, so this was all new to me. Madeline Miller's text zips along and this is an easy read, Achilles as flawed hero and all.

But what I like about The Iliad was the sense of the Greeks being free from the crushing weight of history. I know that classics is all about tradition and the gods, but there's a lightness to being alive 2,500 year ago that we have lost - in particular, in the invention of language. Don't have a word for that? Make one up. And if you feel that being a plaything of the gods and the institutional barbarity of Greek society wasn't a picnic, then you'd better delete your Facebook account.

So now I need Madeline Miller to turn her attention to The Odyssey. Which I'd guess, given the attention that The Song of Achilles has received, she is doing right now.

Friday, July 25, 2014

What the evangelists get wrong

Wordpress This week, as the culmination of long running frustration at my ISP - who I've been paying good money to host my own domain - I finally pulled the plug and moved back to

And it feels like freedom. Freedom to concentrate on content rather than technology. Freedom to concentrate on what I want to say rather than how I'm saying it. Maintaining my own domain felt like an albatross around my neck. If Wordpress ever does anything I don't like, I'll simply move again. It's that sort of world now.

What the evangelists get wrong is technodeterminism.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Monday, June 30, 2014

An assessment arms race and the case for slow scholarship

"This research questions the impact of assessment on university teaching and learning in circumstances where all student work is graded. Sixty-two students and lecturers were interviewed to explore their experiences of assessment at an institution that had adopted a modular course structure and largely unregulated numbers of internal assessments. Lecturers rewarded student work with grades and controlled study behaviour with assessment. In some situations it was possible to experience hundreds of graded assessments in an academic year. Students were single-minded when it came to grades and would not work without them. These conditions contributed to competition for student attention and a grading arms race between academics and subjects. In this context, the spaces for achieving certain educational objectives, such as fostering self-motivated learners, were marginalised. Both students and lecturers were unsatisfied with this situation, but neither group could envisage radical change. Students were generally happy to accumulate small marks, while being irritated and stressed by frequent grading. Lecturers were aware of better practices but felt trapped by circumstances. The idea of slow scholarship is introduced to encourage a re-think of such assessment practices, support a positive shift in assessment culture and contribute to the theories of assessment."

Tony Harlanda, Angela McLeana, Rob Wassa, Ellen Millera & Kwong Nui Sima. An assessment arms race and its fallout: high-stakes grading and the case for slow scholarship. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education 30 Jun 2014 doi: 10.1080/02602938.2014.931927

Student’s experiences:
  • Students were being assessed constantly and because of this they had no time to do any of the work required of them outside core-graded curriculum activities.
  • All students regularly missed teaching sessions in order to cope with assessment loads. They also cooperated in small groups to ensure that both assessment deadlines could be met, and that course materials were shared.
  • Students who had high expectation for their grades felt they were always working at sub-optimal levels and thought they could do better work than that handed in. These students seemed more stressed than those with lower expectations, so the impact of frequent summative assessment may not be equal across the student body.
  • Students were stressed by the lack of coordination of assessment tasks between the courses they were taking (up to four a semester) and even between sections of the same course. For example, they found that several assessments could be due at the same time and that lecturers were unaware of all due dates.
  • Students expressed a preference for having many small internal-graded assessments and felt that large assessments were too high stakes. None wanted to revert to a final examination carrying 100% of the marks.

Lecturer’s experiences:
  • Lecturers did not know how many assessments each student was subject to as there was little communication between lecturers, departments and programmes.
  • They were reluctant to reduce the number of assessments, despite experiencing high marking loads. The reason given was that students would then spend all their efforts on tasks that carried marks in other modules. This situation suggested assessment was being used to control students’ behaviour and resulted in competition between teachers and departments.
  • Lecturers felt that they were under student pressure to give marks for any submitted course work, even when they thought this might not be appropriate.
  • It was recognised that overall grades might not reflect overall performance when small marks were given for tasks.
  • Non-graded forms of assessment (i.e. formative assessment) were not considered.

"However, one lecturer suggested that frequent assessment was perfect preparation for a neoliberal world in which students would continue to be assessed, judged and accountable throughout their lives."

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Say no mow! Your help needed

Say no mow

Help Plantlife persuade councils to manage "Bee Roads" better: Sign the petition

1. Road verges are the life-giving arteries of the countryside, linking habitats and acting as vital corridors for wildlife to thrive on. They also represent a remnant of our native grassland which has suffered catastrophic losses over the last century.

2. They can act as buffers to some of the most impoverished areas, be they six lane motorways or intensively farmed fields.

3. Combined with railway edges they are the single most viewed habitat in the country, giving millions of people every day direct contact with the changing seasons and colours of the countryside

4. When managed correctly road verges can support remarkable diverse collections of species. The good news is that good management often involve simply doing less, allowing the verge to develop and plants to set seed before cutting takes place.

5. Road verges can be genuine community reserves, people form close relationships with them and there is an army of volunteers who with training can act as the guardians for them.

Monday, June 23, 2014

What do students know?

Epistemology First year undergraduate courses in higher education tend to be designed based on assumptions of students’ prior knowledge. Almost 600 undergraduates at five UK universities, studying biological sciences, were given an MCQ test in their first week at university, based on biology A-level (pre-university examination) core criteria. Results demonstrated low-level retention of basic concepts. There was variation between subject area and examination board and an inverse correlation between MCQ score and time since taking A-levels. By discovering what students remember from their pre-university learning, undergraduate courses can be designed to be more student-focused and so develop a deeper-learning teaching strategy. The results also suggest that, if A-levels are to be redesigned to enhance their impact for students entering higher education, creating programmes which encourage retention of key concepts should be a key factor to consider.

Harriet Jones, Beth Black, Jon Green, Phil Langton, Stephen Rutherford, Jon Scott & Sally Brown. Indications of Knowledge Retention in the Transition to Higher Education. Journal of Biological Education 20 Jun 2014 doi: 10.1080/00219266.2014.926960

Friday, June 20, 2014

Barriers To Biology Fieldwork

Quadrant This paper considers a range of factors that may contribute to an unwillingness or inability of teachers to participate in the teaching of biology through fieldwork. Through a synthesis of the views of both pre-service teachers in training and primary school teachers in practice we explore the relative importance of a wide range of potential barriers and potential responses to them in the context of the wider literature. We conclude that although fieldwork may be impeded by the interaction of a wide range of individual barriers, including an individual’s predisposition towards the outdoors, it is possible to group interacting barriers into two main areas: school culture and teacher confidence. It is also apparent that barriers may assume different levels of significance when considered in general terms rather than when applied to a particular context and that the significance of barriers may change through time. Encouragingly, we have also shown that in-service teachers have a willingness to overcome these barriers.

Scott, Graham W., Margaret Boyd, Lisa Scott, and Derek Colquhoun. Barriers To Biological Fieldwork: What Really Prevents Teaching Out of Doors? Journal of Biological Education ahead-of-print (2014): 1-14.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

What has taxonomy ever done for us?

"If taxonomy and systematics have a range of educational benefits, why have they been squeezed from university curricula in many countries, including the UK? Thirty years ago, most first year biology undergraduates would have been able to identify a range of common animals and plants, skills which their degree courses would expand on. Nowadays this is typically no longer the case, many courses failing to develop identification skills, despite their continued requirement in a range of professions, including environmental consultancy. Some of the reason behind this shift is the fact that fewer staff with a research interest in systematic biology have been recruited to university positions in recent decades, something which at least partly results from the increased use of citation metrics such as journal impact factors to evaluate science quality. Since impact factors reflect the number of workers citing a paper, they are much higher in fields with large numbers of active researchers. With such a scheme a ‘top’ taxonomic journal, of the kind which actually includes species descriptions, might have an impact factor of 3, whilst in cell biology, for example, a similarly prestigious journal may have to score 10 or above. Since impact factors form a key component of exercises to assess university research, such as the UK Research Excellence Framework, they inevitably influence hiring and funding decisions. Taxonomy loses out in this process, and indeed the citation index has been identified as an impediment to the description of the world’s biodiversity. A simple step towards a solution, which makes use of citation metrics, is obvious here – and that is whenever a species name is used in the scientific literature, the author(s) of that name are included, and reference made to the work in which the name was first published. Taxa are hypotheses, after all, and in what other branch of scholarship would one fail to cite the originator of an idea? Bad referencing is something we frequently bemoan of our students, so perhaps it is time for the rest of us to tighten up?"

David Bilton What have taxonomy and systematics ever done for us? Journal of Biological Education 48(3) 17 Jun 2014 doi: 10.1080/00219266.2014.926653

Monday, June 16, 2014

Seen it all before - Disruption is Dead

Remember how MOOCs were going to disrupt higher education? Remember how technology was going to disrupt ... everything?


The Disruption Machine - What The Gospel Of Innovation Gets Wrong. New Yorker, June 23, 2014.

Why terrorism is good news for scientists

"... there is another cogent reason for the recent demise of the ‘mad’, evil scientist: decreased reliance on scientists to represent the feared ‘Other’ and provide the situations and objects of dread that inspire horror films. There are now alternative ‘competitors’ for that role: insane gunmen, religious fanatics, terrorists, extortionist companies, destroyers of the environment and passionate, violent adherents of many persuasions from animal rights to right-to-life protesters. Since 2001, we have learned to fear most the terrorism and fanaticism arising from political systems and fundamentalism and, underpinning them, the unpredictable madness of despotic or fanatical leaders. As before, the psychology of the unbalanced, evil mind is the real and abiding source of fear, but this is no longer attributed to scientists. The ‘popularity’ of the mad scientist as both fictional character and movie star has declined because we no longer need him. The new face of terror is the terrorist."

Roslynn D Haynes. Whatever happened to the ‘mad, bad’ scientist? Overturning the stereotype. Public Understanding of Science June 10, 2014, doi: 10.1177/0963662514535689

Monday, June 09, 2014

Why I fell in love with Blipfoto

Blipfoto Many years ago I was an enthusiastic photographer (Pentax K, FP4). Now I am on my way to becoming one again.

Over the past couple of weeks I've been making an effort to use the camera in my phone every day. At first, as an ex-photographer with failing eyesight, I didn't enjoy it at all. But gradually I got to like it more and more, pushing the limits of what a phone camera can do (and filling me with the urge to buy a proper camera again after many years). But what had the most impact was joining Blipfoto, an online photo sharing site where users upload one photo a day as a journal entry.

I've had a Flickr Pro account for years and most of the images here are hosted on Flickr, but that community has never engaged me in the way that Blipfoto does. Likewise Instagram. And since I use Flickr for "work", the mix with more personal use is not an easy one. (To say nothing about my reservations concerning Yahoo's stewardship of Flickr.) Using this word-dominated blog as a photo journal also didn't feel right, but what clinched it was the community at Blipfoto. That and the reflective nature of choosing, posting and writing about one image a day rather than the constant barrage of Instagram.

So please subscribe to me on Blipfoto (RSS feed here), and consider joining yourself.

Thursday, June 05, 2014

Engaging Students with Audio Feedback

Audio feedback
Students express widespread dissatisfaction with academic feedback. Teaching staff perceive a frequent lack of student engagement with written feedback, much of which goes uncollected or unread. Published evidence shows that audio feedback is highly acceptable to students but is underused. This paper explores methods to produce and deliver audio feedback to a range of students engaged in a variety of academic tasks with the aim of maximising student engagement while working towards a framework which could increase the use of audio feedback by teaching staff.

Alan Cann (2014) Engaging Students with Audio Feedback. Bioscience Education. doi: 10.11120/beej.2014.00027

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Coursework versus exams

Exams Nothing too startling in this paper, but people want evidence, so here it is:

"In the UK and other countries, the use of end-of-module assessment by coursework in higher education has increased over the last 40 years. This has been justified by various pedagogical arguments. In addition, students themselves prefer to be assessed either by coursework alone or by a mixture of coursework and examinations than by examinations alone. Assessment by coursework alone or by a mixture of coursework and examinations tends to yield higher marks than assessment by examinations alone. The increased adoption of assessment by coursework has contributed to an increase over time in the marks on individual modules and in the proportion of good degrees across entire programmes. Assessment by coursework appears to attenuate the negative effect of class size on student attainment. The difference between coursework marks and examination marks tends to be greater in some disciplines than others, but it appears to be similar in men and women and in students from different ethnic groups. Collusion, plagiarism and personation (especially ‘contract cheating’ through the use of bespoke essays) are potential problems with coursework assessment. Nevertheless, the increased use of assessment by coursework has generally been seen as uncontentious, with only isolated voices expressing concerns regarding possible risks to academic standards."

Coursework versus examinations in end-of-module assessment: a literature review. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education 23 May 2014 doi: 10.1080/02602938.2014.919628

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Teaching More by Marking Less

"A review of the history and research on grading practices may appear to present a bleak outlook on the process of grading and its impacts on learning. However, underlying the less encouraging news about grades are numerous opportunities for faculty members to make assessment and evaluation more productive, better aligned with student learning, and less burdensome for faculty and students. Notably, many of the practices advocated in the literature would appear to involve faculty members spending less time grading. The time and energy spent on grading has been often pinpointed as a key barrier to instructors becoming more innovative in their teaching. In some cases, the demands of grading require so much instructor attention, little time remains for reflection on the structure of a course or for aspirations of pedagogical improvement. Additionally, some instructors are hesitant to develop active-learning activities - as either in-class activities or homework assignments - for fear of the onslaught of grading resulting from these new activities. However, just because students generate work does not mean instructors need to grade that work for accuracy. In fact, we have presented evidence that accuracy-based grading may, in fact, demotivate students and impede learning. Additionally, the time-consuming process of instructors marking papers and leaving comments may achieve no gain, if comments are rarely read by students. One wonders how much more student learning might occur if instructors’ time spent grading was used in different ways. What if instructors spent more time planning in-class discussions of homework and simply assigned a small number of earned points to students for completing the work? What if students themselves used rubrics to examine their peers’ efforts and evaluate their own work, instead of instructors spending hours and hours commenting on papers? What if students viewed their peers as resources and collaborators, as opposed to competitors in courses that employ grade curving? Implementing small changes like those described above might allow instructors to promote more student learning by grading less or at least differently than they have before."

Teaching More by Grading Less (or Differently). (2014) CBE Life Sci Education 13(2): 159-166 doi: 10.1187/cbe.CBE-14-03-0054

Friday, May 23, 2014

The employability gap

The Guardian This is my current mantra. Most academics are only interested in producing clones who they foolishly imagine will follow the same career path as themselves (So many PhD students, so few jobs).

Just because your research is the most important thing in your life doesn't mean that it is important.

... if we always assume that particular subjects must lead to particular jobs, too many students will believe that the choices they make at 16 and 18 will define their career path for the rest of their lives.

... although there are plenty of Stem graduates, employers say they do not always have the additional skills needed. And it's not just employers, students are asking to be trained to be employable too. A National Centre for Universities and Business (NCUB) survey found that 92% of students want placements, work experience and internships to be a part of their university experience. However, less than half have had access to them, and a quarter want more links between their university and business.

We must stop giving universities employability ratings based on the first job a graduate gets, or the one they are in just six months after graduation. Instead, we should measure the advancement of graduates early in their careers, through promotions and upward moves across sector and role. We will then have a better picture of how universities are doing and how much value higher education is adding to the workplace.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

SafeAssign for plagiarism detection?

SafeAssign We are getting SafeAssign soon and I'm interested in the experience of anyone who has used it, in particular, those who have moved from Turnitin to SafeAssign. I'm particularly interested in the comparison between GradeMark and Crocodoc.

Thanks for any advice.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Is blog as platform dead?

Blogging I'm not about to give up blogging. I don't think I could, even if I wanted to (although I can easily imagine circumstances where I might go anonymous). But the question is, should I give up running so many blogs?

This blog is both of great sentimental and practical value to me and it's not going to go away. It is my online notepad and thinking space. I'm agnostic about the software, as long as it's there and it's easy to use. (The iOS clients for Blogger suck, unless I've missed something?) But the same is not true for other blogs I write.

What precipitated this introspection? I've just written my annual Internet Consulting Editor's report for AoBBlog. The number of users of the blog is up but pageviews down. The number of people we reach through social media is climbing and climbing. We now have a truly distributed audience for our agenda on plant science. So is the blog as platform significant any more? Yes, it's our space online, but is it more significant than the eyeballs on Facebook? The other event which impacted on me this week was Buzzfeed breaking the New York Times Innovation report. Reading this and watching the New York Times is like watching a car crash in slow motion. I mostly read the Times via Facebook, occasionally via links my PLE surfaces. I'm not emotionally attached to the Times in the same way I am to The Guardian, but this is still painful to read.
"An executive there described watching the aggregation outperform our original content after Nelson Mandela’s death," the report says. ‘You guys got crushed,’ he said. ‘I was queasy watching the numbers. I’m not proud of this. But this is your competition. You should defend the digital pickpockets from stealing your stuff with better headlines, better social.’

Does my distributed online identity depend on the the digital pickpockets - are they my partners, not my competitors? How do I stamp intellectual watermarks on my ideas to get the credit for them? Andrew Baron was right - write once, publish everywhere. I need to defend my digital profile, not be besieged in a digital castle.

Which brings me to the point of this post. For the last two years I've been watching the painful death of MicrobiologyBytes. More than anything else, MB is my flagship publication. But it's an external representation of who I am, and it doesn't feel as authentic as this blog. On the other hand, thousands of people on Facebook, Twitter and Google+ might disagree. How do I know? Because comments on the blog died years ago, but there's still a conversation going on on these other sites.

My gut reaction is to refocus the content I publish on MicrobiologyBytes. News is dead. My content has to be material that does not exist elsewhere - the unique value of explanation rather than content. I need to write long-lasting articles which my digital partners will distribute for me. That's largely what I've been doing with my microbiology spinoff, PoMV. But this is a conservative approach to a situation which demands radical action.

Some years ago I knew a small shopkeeper who took over the family business from his father. The shop had been going down the tubes for years. He kept it open to celebrate the 50th anniversary of his father starting the business, then closed it the next day. Shall I wait for the 10th year MicrobiologyBytes anniversary coming up soon then pull the plug, or shall I do it now?

Monday, May 19, 2014

Friday, May 16, 2014


I'm slowly getting to grips with the camera on my iPhone, and I've been playing around with apps to see how far I can push its capabilities. I'm a big fan of VSCO Cam and Cortex Cam, bit over the last few days I've been playing with ProCam2.

Decent macro shots is a lot to ask of a phone, but that's where it started. Focus is always a problem, and this closeup of Bellis perennis ...wasn't quite there.

Bellis perennis

A little practice and a little patience and things got better.

Bellis perennis

Static flowers such as this Ceanothus are easy enough, but the bees buzzing this shrub didn't stay around long enough to allow me to get on in focus.


I like the effect that I got on this dandelion seedhead.


So I switched to the kaleidoscope filter.


The simplest of the ProCam2 kaleidoscope filters has a lot of potential.



Whereas I'm less impressed with the fisheye filter.


So here's another architectural kaleidoscope shot - can you tell where it is?


Thursday, May 15, 2014

What's your institutional culture of assessment?

StuffedWithContent This paper caught my eye both for the topic (institutional cultures of assessment) and the research methodology (Delphi method).

Conclusion: Instilling a positive culture of assessment focused on student learning is a process, which involves redefining any negative cultures that exist and managing symbols and dialogues to slowly spread a positive culture of assessment. Even though defining a negative culture was seen as necessary to move to a more positive culture of assessment, assessment leaders stated change was difficult and slow, but necessary. Assessment leaders in this study had varying motivations for their desire to improve their campus’ culture of assessment, but the motivations were not based on defined theoretical frameworks as much as on metaphors...

Assessment leaders’ perspectives of institutional cultures of assessment: a Delphi study. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education 14 May 2014 doi:10.1080/02602938.2014.917369
Institutional cultures of assessment are praised as beneficial to student learning. Yet, extant studies have not explored the theoretical foundations and pragmatic approaches to shaping cultures of assessment. The researchers used the Delphi method to explore 10 higher education assessment leaders’ attitudes and theoretical perspectives regarding cultures of assessment. These expert assessment leaders were iteratively surveyed until a reasonable threshold of consensus was reached. Study participants viewed buy-in as a necessary component of a positive campus culture of assessment, and advice on reshaping negative cultures was offered. Assessment leaders’ guiding theoretical frameworks were implied and loosely defined with metaphors. Finally, advice is offered for improving cultures of assessment by symbolically connecting assessment to student learning through dialogue.

Image credit: Bill Ferriter 

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

The number of scholarly documents on the Web

The good news is that Biology can hold its head up (although not too high because Chemistry and Physics are better). Almost 1 in 4 of web accessible scholarly documents are freely and publicly available.

The Number of Scholarly Documents on the Public Web. (2014) PLoS ONE 9(5): e93949. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0093949
The number of scholarly documents available on the web is estimated using capture/recapture methods by studying the coverage of two major academic search engines: Google Scholar and Microsoft Academic Search. Our estimates show that at least 114 million English-language scholarly documents are accessible on the web, of which Google Scholar has nearly 100 million. Of these, we estimate that at least 27 million (24%) are freely available since they do not require a subscription or payment of any kind. In addition, at a finer scale, we also estimate the number of scholarly documents on the web for fifteen fields: Agricultural Science, Arts and Humanities, Biology, Chemistry, Computer Science, Economics and Business, Engineering, Environmental Sciences, Geosciences, Material Science, Mathematics, Medicine, Physics, Social Sciences, and Multidisciplinary, as defined by Microsoft Academic Search. In addition, we show that among these fields the percentage of documents defined as freely available varies significantly, i.e. from 12 to 50%.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Academic Literacies

Thanks to a great session on student writing from Steve and Alex on Friday I have arrived late to this classic:

Lea, M.R. & Street, B.V. (1998) Student writing in higher education: An academic literacies approach. Studies in higher education, 23(2), 157-172.
This article addresses the issue of student writing in higher education. It draws on the findings of an Economic and Social Research Council funded project which examined the contrasting expectations and interpretations of academic staff and students regarding undergraduate students' written assignments. It is suggested that the implicit models that have generally been used to understand student writing do not adequately take account of the importance of issues of identity and the institutional relationships of power and authority that surround, and are embedded within, diverse student writing practices across the university. A contrasting and therefore complementary perspective is used to present debates about 'good' and 'poor' student writing. The article outlines an 'academic literacies' framework which can take account of the conflicting and contested nature of writing practices, and may therefore be more valuable for understanding student writing in today's higher education than traditional models and approaches.

Models of student writing in higher education

I'm currently wrestling with digital literacies, and Lea and Street's landmark paper on academic literacies helps:
One of the main purposes of the research has been to move away from a skills-based, deficit model of student writing and to consider the complexity of writing practices that are taking place at degree level in universities. As a starting point, the research adopts the concept of academic literacies as a framework for understanding university writing practices.

academic literacies ... sees literacies as social practices, in the way we have suggested. It views student writing and learning as issues at the level of epistemology and identities rather than skill or socialisation.

Even though staff generally had a clear belief in these concepts as crucial to their understanding of what constituted a successful piece of writing, there was less certainty when it came to describing what underlay a well-argued or well-structured piece of student work. More commonly, staff were able to identify when a student had been successful, but could not describe how a particular piece of writing 'lacked' structure. We suggest that, in practice, what makes a piece of student writing 'appropriate' has more to do with issues of epistemology than with the surface features of form to which staff often have recourse when describing their students' writing.

As another lecturer put it: 'I know a good essay when I see it but I cannot describe how to write it'. This lends credence to the idea that elements of successful student writing are in essence related to particular ways of constructing the world and not to a set of generic writing skills as the study skills model would suggest. Successful university lecturers are likely to have spent many years developing acceptable ways of constructing their own knowledge through their own writing practices in a variety of disciplinary contexts.

One useful way of examining the relationships surrounding texts may be to start by examining the feedback that staff give to students as a genre. By examining some of the genres of students' written work and the genre of staff feedback on it we may be able to make more sense of the complex ways in which staff and students construct appropriate ways of knowing and reproduce appropriate forms of disciplinary and subject knowledge. There is a dynamic within the feedback genre, for instance, which works both to construct academic knowledge and to maintain relationships of power and authority between novice student and experienced academic. Assumptions about what constitutes valid knowledge may be inferred by analysing feedback but frequently such assumptions remain implicit...

Friday, May 02, 2014

Video feedback

Some notable findings in this work.
Students like video feedback. But not as much as they like written feedback.
Students like feedback on mobile devices. But most view it on a PC
Students never say no to feedback, but with limited time available, there's really no evidence that new methods work better than traditional methods.

Thursday, May 01, 2014

danah boyd - It's Complicated

Cover It's Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens. danah boyd, Yale University Press, 2014. ISBN 0300166435

I don't always agree with everything danah boyd writes. That's probably because I'm a crusty old British academic with capital letters in my name, and she ... isn't. But with one caveat, this is the best book about social media that I have ever read. What's the caveat? Boyd (it's the start of a sentence so excuse the capital letter) is writing exclusively about American teenagers, but the sense of what she writes is more generally true. I lied, there's a second caveat. This isn't really a book. It is, as she herself calls it, a monograph. So much the better - hurrah for this moribund form.

There's much to praise in the quality of boyd's writing, and even more in the amount of common sense in this slim volume, so make sure you read it. I wish I could encourage all senior managers in education to read it. Boyd has eloquently summed up her thesis and her findings in the title - it's complicated. Those who think otherwise definitely don't understand social media. I don't need to do more here than pick out a few passages that particularity interested me.

One of the strengths of this book is that boyd accurately defines over used and ill used terms such as bullying and networked publics, on which she is particularly strong:
networked publics creates new opportunities and challenges. They are:
  • persistence: the durability of online expressions and content;
  • visibility: the potential audience who can bear witness;
  • spreadability: the ease with which content can be shared; and
  • searchability: the ability to find content.
... What persistence also means, then, is that those using social media are often “on the record” to an unprecedented degree.

Nothing about technology is new:
Socrates is purported to have warned of the dangers of the alphabet and writing, citing implications for memory and the ability to convey truth. (Plato quotes Socrates as paraphrasing an Egyptian god. The relevant excerpts critiquing writing as a medium can be found at:

Technological determinism:
Utopian and dystopian views assume that technologies possess intrinsic powers that affect all people in all situations the same way.  ... These extreme rhetorics are equally unhelpful in understanding what actually happens when new technologies are broadly adopted. Reality is nuanced and messy, full of pros and cons. Living in a networked world is complicated.

Context collapse:
A context collapse occurs when people are forced to grapple simultaneously with otherwise unrelated social contexts that are rooted in different norms and seemingly demand different social responses. For example, some people might find it quite awkward to run into their former high school teacher while drinking with their friends at a bar. These context collapses happen much more frequently in networked publics.

Online identity and acting out, as illustrated by the "Stokely Carmichael problem":
In his 1985 book No Sense of Place, media scholar Joshua Meyrowitz describes the story of Stokely Carmichael, an American civil rights activist. In the 1960s, Carmichael regularly gave different talks to different audiences. He used a different style of speaking when he addressed white political leaders than when he addressed southern black congregations. When Carmichael started presenting his ideas on television and radio, he faced a difficult decision: which audience should he address? No matter which style of speaking he chose, he knew he’d alienate some. He was right. By using a rolling pastoral voice in broadcast media, Carmichael ingratiated himself with black activists while alienating white elites.

Social media is messy and means exactly what we say it means. Life is complicated. Get over it.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Self-theories: Their role in motivation, personality, and development

Self-theories For the past year Carol Dweck has been at the top of my reading list. I first encountered Dweck's work via Jo Boaler on the Stanford How to Learn Math MOOC - still by far the best MOOC I have participated in and the only one which has any lasting influence on my world view. It's taken me a year to get there because life got in the way, but here is a summary of my feelings about Dweck's research.

Dweck, Carol S. Self-theories: Their role in motivation, personality, and development. Psychology Press, 2000. Carol Dweck's overview of fixed versus incremental intelligence. This is the academic version of Dweck's popular book Mindset.

What's this book about?
The contrast between fixed and incremental theory of intelligences, and how to foster learning by encouraging the latter. This is a staggering indictment of the education system, with its increasing emphasis on performance goals, and yet further evidence that no-one is really interested in evidence-based practice, or at least, policy.

Dweck's work is interesting because it arises from observations of helplessness in the face of failure or challenge, in comparison to a mastery-oriented mindset which is unfazed or even stimulated by challenge. She is particularly concerned about the damaging effect of person-oriented praise in engendering "contingent self-worth", which results in helplessness in the face of failure (I am a hopeless case because I have failed rather than I need to approach this differently next time). Praising inherent "intelligence" is particularly dangerous, reinforcing the entity framework rather than fostering adaptability (Dweck (2007) The perils and promises of praise). Counter intuitively, praising good work creates vulnerability to helpless responses in the face of future failure. In contrast, she views self-esteem as non-inherent - based on what students do rather than what they are.

What are the implications of Dweck's work for higher education? Dweck believes that patterns of helplessness versus mastery-oriented responses are primarily environmentally driven and fixed early in childhood. Too late then to do much about inherent qualities when students present for HE. However, there are implications for feedback design in that strategy-oriented feedback is likely to be more effective than person oriented feedback. Disturbingly little work has been done on applying Dweck's ideas in HE, although there are a few examples that stand out, notably:

How can we instill productive mindsets at scale? A review of the evidence and an initial R&D agenda. (2013) In: A White Paper prepared for the White House meeting on “Excellence in Education: The Importance of Academic Mindsets.
Contains examples of interventions in HE, e.g. as a part of online freshman orientation activities - in which students filled out medical forms and learned how to sign up for classes - all incoming students were required to complete a 30 minute overview of the “university mindset.” This had a significant effect on academic outcomes (N = 7,342).

Is no praise good praise? Effects of positive feedback on children's and university students’ responses to subsequent failures. (2012) British Journal of Educational Psychology, 82(2), 327-339.
Independent confirmation of Dweck's results.

All of which brings me to the idea of applying strategy feedback as opposed to person-oriented disapproval for staff training.