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Research Terms


The many methods used all have names. In a brave attempt at getting my head around these I’ve started this list for the terms I stumble upon in H809 and related reading.

CRD : A cluster randomised design – by class as it is impractical to teach different things to the same group. (Torgerson and Torgerson 2001. p. 321)
CCT : Case Control Trial – A characteristic of this approach is that the two sets of schools may well be different in a number of aspects other than the intervention being tested, and this may affect the results. i.e. Schools needed to have been either chosen randomly or chosen because the had a similar intake and similar results.
Epistemological : the study or a theory of the nature and grounds of knowledge especially with reference to its limits and validity. (Merriam-Webster)
Ethnography : studying a particular culture by learning to live the life of its members (Hammersley & Atkinson, 1994).
Exploratory RCT: The explanatory trial design is probably the one with which most people are familiar.   (Torgerson and Torgerson 2001. p. 320)
Evidence based research: Randomized Control Trials  (RCT) – as Dr B. Price Kerfoot et al (2006-2012)
Interpretive paradigm: qualitative methods.
IRD. An individual randomised design – as with Spaced Education at Harvard Medical School under Dr. B. Price Kerfoot. (Torgerson and Torgerson 2001. p. 321)
Positivism: a belief in the application of a particular model of the methods of the natural sciences. In Wegerif: verification of hypotheses, numerical measurement, tests of statistical significance and experiments.
The pragmatic RCT : the environment in which the trial is conducted is kept as close to normal educational practice as possible, though the sample has to be far larger to detect smaller changes. (Torgerson and Torgerson 2001. p. 320)
Quantitative: of, relating to, or involving the measurement of quantity or amount. (Merriam-Webster) Coding schemes and publicly verifiable criteria to make categorisations. (Wegerif and Mercer.  1997. p. 271)
Qualitative: of, relating to, or involving quality or kind. (Merriam-Webster) Interpretative method (Torgerson and Torgerson, 2001) Interpretative analysis of transcribed speech = qualitative.  Are the techniques valid? The study of shared knowledge over time. Crook (1994) ‘Qualitative analysis can be effective for generating theories but not so effective for rigorously testing them (Hammersley, 1992).


Hammersley, M. (1992) What’s Wrong with Ethnography. London: Routledge.

Kerfoot.B.P., Yineng Fu, Baker.B., Connelly.D., Ritchey.M.L., Genega.M.G. (2010) Online Spaced Education Generates Transfer and Improves Long-Term Retentionof Diagnostic Skills: A Randomized Controlled Trial, Journal of the American College of Surgeons, Volume 211, Issue ,September 2010, Pages 331-337.e1, ISSN 1072-7515, 10.1016/j.jamcollsurg.2010.04.023.

Torgeson.C.J., and Torgerson.D.J. (2001) The Need for Randomised Controlled Trials in Educational Research British Journal of Educational Studies , Vol. 49, No. 3 (Sep., 2001), pp. 316-328


Reading – nothing quite beats it, does it?

Fig. 1. This week’s reading – almost. I’ve got the stack by the bed too, which includes ‘The Gutenberg Galaxy Marshall McLuhan (half way through) and ‘The Shallows’ Nicholas Carr – which I read wearing boxing gloves to resist removing the pages.

Here we see:

Passion at work: blogging practices of knowledge workers. The 2009 doctoral thesis of Lilia Efimova – who, naturally, has a wonderful blog.

Spaced education improves the retention of clinical knowledge by medical students: a randomised controlled trial. (2009) B Price Kerfoot, William deWolf, Barbara Masser, Paul Church and Daniel Federman – try QStream to get a flavour of this, then read a dozen papers from Dr Kerfoot.

The Music of Business (2013) – Peter Cook. Business with rock playing. He’s an Open University Business School MBA Alumnus, former Tutor on ‘Creativity, Innovation and Change’ a module I did early in 2012.  Should be fun.

In Search of Memory : the emergence of a New Science of Mind (2006) Eric Kandel. I may not be about to study neuroscience of psychology but this may help get my head in the right intellectual space.

Delete : The virtue of forgetting in the digital age (2009) Viktor Mayer-Schonberger. Of the Oxford Internet Institute. On my second read as my interest is in memory and what I consider to be an infinite capacity to learn and gain more knowledge. I know it’s just a film but I do rather think that if we could live forever our minds wouldn’t let us down (Groundhog Day).

Using Computer-based Text Analysis to Integrate Qualitative and Quantitative Methods in Research on Collaborative Learning. (2010) Wegerif and Mercer.  As part of the module H809. Already read, reviewed, dissected and taken notes.

A map to get to the University of Southampton Highfield campus from Southampton Central Station.

Your Research PhD (2005) Nicholas Walliman – I’m sure I’ve read more of this than the Kindle suggests, though it must just be very long.

Authoring a PhD: how to plan draft, write and finish a doctoral thesis or dissertation. (2003) Patrick Dunleavy. I’m following the instructions to the letter.  From these two books I’ve drawn up a ‘plan’ on a sheet of A1 paper. I need a bigger sheet, so I’ll double these up or use wallpaper backing paper to plot the detail. I’ve got my head around RefWorks and have a healthy collection of papers to read, usually picking of a couple each day.

H809 Practice-based Research in Educational Technology. Only week 2. This is making me approach anything I read with enormous care. Courtesy of Google it doesn’t take long to track down the authors – I like to know what they have written since simply to get a perspective on where their career has gone or is going. Not the guide that is recommended to judge a paper but when faced with a list of potential papers on the same topic I hope I pick out the authority based on institution and their CV.

Just read:

Evidence for Delayed Parafoveal-on-Foveal Effects From Word n2 in Reading (2012) Sarah Risse and Reinhold Kliegl – A remarkable read, even if it takes a microscope to a piece of text and how we read. Fascinating. 

While still reading:

The Gutenberg Galaxy (1962) Marshall McLuhan

The Timeless Way of Building (1972) Christopher Alexander

and about to attack

The Shallows (2009) Nicholas Carr


When reading we need a perspective of what has been and what is coming up.

Before you get stuck,  a  couple of definitions:

Parafoveal = dependent on parts of the retina external to the fovea. The fovea is a small rodless area of the retina that affords acute vision.

SACCADE  = that small rapid jerky movement of the eye  as it jumps from fixation on one point to another (as in reading) Merriam-Webster

What follows is about the use of word-accurate eye-tracking technology to help understand how we read – I find it most revealing in relation to Dyslexia.

During reading of English, information is effectively used from three to four letters to the left and up to 14–15 letters to the right of fixation (McConkie & Rayner, 1975, 1976).

If you’ve got an eBook if you don’t already, go for this kind of seting:

Reducing the window to thirteen characters increases the fixation duration by 30 percent, decreases the saccade length for forward saccades by 26 percent, and increases reading time by 60 percent, as compared to a window size of 100 character spaces. (McConkie & Rayner, 1975)

Parafoveal preview starts the identification process of a word before fixation.

If I understand what follows correctly it means that it is easy to read phrases and sentences as part of a body of text, than it is to read one word at a time in isolation.

We get a perspective of what has been and what is coming up.

Our results suggest that previewing word n2 can result in delayed parafoveal-on-foveal effects, which are lagging behind or spilling over into postboundary fixations on word n1. The present findings do not disconfirm the general hypothesis of serial word-processing during reading, but they strongly suggest that mislocated fixations are not sufficient to account for the complex dynamics of processing in the perceptual span during reading. (McConkie & Rayner, 1975)

In this article, research on the following topics are reviewed with respect to reading:

  • (a) the perceptual span (or span of effective vision),
  • (b) preview benefit,
  • (c) eye movement control, and
  • (d) models of eye movements. (Rayner, 2009 p. 1456).

This makes sense if you watch very closely as someone reads. I’ve not done this since I was a child, watching a parent or grandparent read. Children struggle when they plod as if from one stepping stone to another. I wonder if it would be better for the child to skim read and get a sense of the story rather than reading it word for word?

It is my contention that most of the time in such tasks, either (a) eye location (overt attention) and covert attention are overlapping and at the same location or (b) attention disengagement is a product of a saccade programme (wherein attention precedes the eyes to the next saccade target). (Rayner, 2009 p. 1458).

In reading, for example, the line of text that the reader is looking at can be divided into three regions: the foveal region (2 degrees in the centre of vision), the parafoveal region (extending from the foveal region to about 5 degrees on either side of fixation), and the peripheral region (everything beyond the parafoveal region). (Rayner, 2009 p. 1459).

Saccade duration, the amount of time that is takes to actually move the eyes, is a function of the distance moved. (Rayner, 2009 p. 1459).

NB. Saccade size in visual search can be highly variable depending on the complexity of the array; when the array is complex and crowded, saccades are shorter (the same would hold for a highly complex scene). (Rayner, 2009 p. 1460).

Regressions (saccades that move backwards in the text) are the third important component of eye movements in reading and occur about 10–15% of the time in skilled readers. The long saccades just mentioned tend to follow a regression since readers typically move forward in the text past the point from which they originally launched the regression.Most regressions are to the immediately preceding word, though when comprehension is not going well or the text is particularly difficult, more long-range regressions occur to earlier words in the text. (Rayner, 2009 p. 1460).

Variables include (Rayner, 2009 p. 1460) :

  • text difficulty
  • reading skill
  • characteristics of the writing system
  • typographical variation (font)

– as text gets more difficult, fixations get longer, saccades get shorter, and more regressions are made (Rayner, 1998).

Dyslexics suffer from – longer fixations, shorter saccades, and more regressions – with normal text.

i.e. Bugger around with fonts, choice of words and other typographical variations and you start to replicate what it is like to be dyslexic.

Beginning and dyslexic readers have longer fixations, shorter saccades, and more regressions than skilled readers (Rayner, 1998), as do less skilled readers (Ashby, Rayner, & Clifton, 2005).

  • Function words are skipped
  • Fix is greater on longer words – 8 letter words are almost always fixated, 2 letter words are fixated 25% of the time.

How does this inform us of best practice for reading academic texts?

Read through with equal care more than once?

Skim read, the read with focus … or these three then stop and take notes. Or take notes from the start?

It is also clear that the spaces between words (which demarcate how long words are) are used in targeting where the next saccade will land. When spaces are removed, reading slows down by as much as 30–50% (Morris, Rayner, & Pollatsek, 1990; Pollatsek & Rayner, 1982; Rayner et al., 1998a; Rayner & Pollatsek, 1996; Spragins, Lefton, & Fisher, 1976). (Rayner, 2009 p. 1469).

  • How were manuscripts laid out?
  • What do early print look like?
  • When did the need for spaces, sentences, paragraphs and such like develop?

There’s a science to writing as well as an art.

Over the past few years, it has become very clear that the ease or difficulty associated with processing the fixated word strongly influences when the eyes move (Liversedge & Findlay, 2000; Rayner, 1998; Starr & Rayner, 2001). (Rayner, 2009 p. 1472).

Fixation time on a word is influenced by a host of lexical and linguistic variables (Rayner, 2009 p. 1472):

  • word frequency
  • word predictability
  • number of meanings
  • age of acquisition
  • phonological properties
  • semantic relations with the fixed word and previous words

This is consistent with the view that what influences when to move the eyes during reading is different from visual search. (Rayner, 2009 p. 1472)

To what degree is reading a visual process or a cognitive process?

This debunks Marshall McLuhan theorising about the shift from the meaning of words in an oral tradition compared to the written word.

When raeding wrods with jubmled lettres and found that while it was fairly easy to read such text, there was always a cost associated with transposing the letters. (Rayner, 2009 p. 1473)

It is thus quite clear that lexical variables have strong and immediate effects on how long readers look at a word. While other linguistic variables can have an influence on how soon readers move on in the text, it is generally the case that higher level linguistic variables have somewhat later effects, unless the variable more or less“smacks you in the eye”. So, for example, when readers fixate on the disambiguating word in asyntactic garden path sentence there is increased fixation time on the word (Frazier & Rayner,1982; Rayner, Carlson, & Frazier, 1983; Rayner & Frazier, 1987) and/or a regression from the disambiguating word back to earlier parts of the sentence (Frazier & Rayner, 1982; Meseguer, Carreiras, & Clifton, 2002; Mitchell et al., 2008). (Rayner, 2009 p. 1473)

On the other hand, it is certainly the case that more and more researchers are turning to eye movement recording and data as a means to examine important issues about how the brain/mind handles information in various tasks. Many brain imaging techniques now enable researchers to also record eye movements(though rather crudely), and attempts to simultaneously record eye movements and event related potentials in reading and other tasks look very promising (Baccino & Manunta, 2005;Dambacher & Kliegl, 2007; Sereno & Rayner,2003). Thus, the future looks very bright with respect to the possibility of learning more about cognitive processing and how information is processed in the tasks described above via the use of eye movements. (Rayner, 2009 p. 1487)


McConkie, G. W., & Rayner, R. (1975). The span of the effective stimulus during a fixation in reading. Perception & Psychophysics, 17, 578–586. doi:10.3758/BF03203972

Rayner (1998)
(Ashby, Rayner & Clifton, 2005)

Rayner, K 2009, ‘Eye movements and attention in reading, scene perception, and visual search’, Quarterly Journal Of Experimental Psychology, 62, 8, pp. 1457-1506, Academic Search Complete, EBSCOhost, viewed 11 February 2013.

I love words


Fig.1 On trying to understand the meaning of foveal

The 15 second quiz

Merriam-Webster – the ‘sticky’ web dictionary using gamification to build the brand and hold your attention.

Who’d have thought it a decade ago.  ‘Sticky’ was the Holy Grail – but applied to an online dictionary?

I love words.

I have used many online dictionaries, including ‘the dictionary’ and the OED, and of course Wikipedia. Increasingly I pick Merriam-Webster from the list offered.

The response page is clean (ish) i.e. you get an unclutted, quick and short definition, which is all you want if you are trying to read a text.

You can, by default, find you are ’embedding’ your relationship with the word by adding a comment.

  • What brings you here?
  • Why were you after this word?
  • You may then be intrigued by the responses other people have left.

Then there’s the quick 15 second quiz.

A crafty way to up your Pub Quiz or Mastermind General Knowledge.

Fig.2 Another distraction in the Merriam-Web online dictionary

And there’s a pithy video clip on some highfalutin stuff about words. Except of course it isn’t, you’d just expect it to be so. They’re very down to earth. There’s the best explanation of the important difference between – its and its – for example.

My distraction? My word(s)

  • Foveal
  • Profoveal

That collection of nodes in the retina we subconsciously use when focusing on the fine detail of something – often used for reading tough texts where the ‘profoveal words’ i.e. those just out of vision and typically a few down the line from your centre of focus could distract if and where the word is bold, in colour, underlined … or the purposes of the research papers I am reading, if the word or phrase has a hyperlink.

Do you want you reader to read at an uninterupted measured pace – or tangle their eyes in barbed wire?

The aim, as they eventually figured out with the printed word, is a form or set of patterns and guidelines that make the reading of text on a screen easier, engaging enough so the the issues and facts begin to stick, without it being a mess.

I often wonder if a ‘porta-pront’ App – so you read as a Newsreader would do, offers the most uncluttered way to read text?

We’re still a long way short of a digital expression of the written word – the guiltiest group are academic papers. These are for the most part highly formalised layouts based on analogue moveable print.

Where I can I cut and paste and entire paper into Google Docs, then reformat so that I can scroll through.

Now what on earth did I get up to do 20 minutes ago?!

Ah yes.

This little gem.

Risse, S, & Kliegl, R 2012, ‘Evidence for delayed parafoveal-on-foveal effects from word n+2 in reading’, Journal Of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception And Performance, 38, 4, pp. 1026-1042, PsycARTICLES, EBSCOhost, viewed 11 February 2013.

A fascinating read that debunks the thesis of Marshall McLuhan – not that I was looking for one. It appears we don’t so much see words as perceive them – that there isn’t such a disconnect between oral traditions of communication and learning and the written word. McLuhan is known for the ‘medium is the message’ in relation to mass media in the 1950s/1960s. Other than the fact that he failed to acknowledge that people didn’t stop talking to each other or reading just because they could watch TV, he also likes to ignore radio in this argument. To cite McLuhan in relation to the Internet is a further calumny as it is mixed and multi-media. But, importantly, and no differently to the coming of print or radio or TV we remain human first and prone to communicate as we have always done – either orally, or through interpretation of what we see and do in a mixture of oral and visual terms. 


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