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I wonder if exposure to the Web will change architecture?

The wonderful world wide Web 2.0 is fuel to and reflection of a purely human societal construct on speed or at speed – on speed gives us more of dark, evil, corrupt side of human behaviour while at speed we get the best of altruism, education, community and a desire to do good.

Now take a deep breath and look around you.

If or when there is a calamity in your life were do you turn? A few family members and a few friends who you will need to see and speak to face to face … not via Skype of face time. Locally I trust my community, neighbours and where required the police to keep crime at bay … venture beyond British shores and my faith, trust and experience of each community and its police service will vary.

The Web, because of its networks, means that we are never far removed from a criminal. Visiting the US this summer, fed by movies and not reassured by some of the places we ventured I felt there were guns of necessity on the hips of the police … and hidden guns on people and vehicles. Perhaps if you want to hold up a mirror to the best and the worst of the Web then you should hold it over a patch in California.

Why should the morals or lack thereof of one part of the world be allowed to poison and exploit the World Wide Web?

As, eventually, law and decency catches up a good deal of the filth and criminality will be shut down, locked behind barriers or diluted. In the mean time, like a layer of volcanic dust in the soil profile, a decade or more of anyone who uses the Web who has been exposed to beheadings and the vile, unloving side of pornography, to scams and suffocating spam will have this stain in the brains forever.

I wonder if exposure to the Web will change architecture?

I would feel happier living in a yurt – at least then I could see and know what my kids are doing and with everyone looking over each other’s shoulders – parents, grandparents, friends … and of course the dog, then that would be the best filter of all.

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Reflection on a decade of e-learning

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Having not taken stock for a while it was refreshing and re-assuring to consider the Open University postgraduate modules that I have taken, though it has taken this long to understand the meaning of a module that is approaching its final ‘presentation’. In some cases a better word for this might be ‘sell by date’ especially with a subject such as ‘e-learning’ as at least three of those listed below were on their final or penultimate presentation and it mattererd – ‘H817:Innovations in e-learning’ wasn’t particularly innovative for someone who had worked in the creation of interactive and online learning. I’m used to and value the amount of background theory, but I still feel that in these ‘H’ modules that form the Master of Arts in Open and Distance Education (MA ODE) is considerably biased towards learning in formal secondary and tertiary education, rather than applied L&D in business which interested me most – indeed I know of two people across these courses who quit early on because they were working in a learning creation position in business and felt the modules were not suitably applied. B822: Creativity, Innovation and Change was the exception as however dated some of the content (video content shot in the mid 1990s that included companies that had long since gone out of business and innovations such as laptops the size of a small trunk with a carrier bag of cables) the activities and theory in relation to innovation were timeless – it was also an MBA module. Any of us who have taken part in or hosted learning in an organisation involving games of some kind would have found B822 familiar – much of it also touched on the kind of creativity used in advertising, marketing, PR, events and communications.

H804: Implementing Online, Open and Distance Learning (2001)
H807: Innovations in Elearning (2010)
H808: The Elearning professional (2010)
H800: Technology enhanced learning: practices and debates (2011)
B822: Creativity, Innovations and Change (2011)
H810: Accessible online learning: supporting disabled students (2012)
H809: Practice-based research in educational technology (2013)

I’m continuing with these modules to demonstrate that the standard I am now able to achieve is sustainable so that working in academia, even studying for a PhD is viable. ‘H819:The Networked Practitioner’ is a new module. Reading through the course notes and first units (it came online today and goes live next week) I can see the care, clarity and thought that has gone into it, as well as the substantial use of a variety of online learning  tools for ‘connected’ or ‘networked’ learning … what some might call ‘social learning’ but here has more structure to it that that (parameters, goals, set tools etc:). It is tailored, every step of the way, to the production of a conference piece – there is considerable latitude here, but what is meant that you have a presentation that may be given in a variety of formats featuring a choice of core themes develop through the module but set in your ‘world’ or field of interest or expertise.

A teacher is taught to teach something in class, not simply to teach.

I  feel that I have learnt over the last three years how to teach online, but I haven’t developed a subject specialism, prefering to date to behave as if I were in an e-learning agency serving the needs of many, disperate clients. For this module, and potentially for one or two beyond, I hope to develop and demonstrate how the history of the First World War can be taught using e-learning – apt as we approach its centenary. In parallel I will be taking a Masters in British First World War studies with the University of Birmingham. This is also a part-time course, and ostensibly ‘distance learning’ – though in this instance the distance component is handled by my driving to Edgbaston once a month for a day of intensive face to face seminars and tutorials. This in itself will make for a fascinating constrast with the 100% online experience of the Open University.

In the back of my mind, whatever the subject, my interest is in how to address the global problem of there being 123 million people who want to study at university, but only 5 million places. Even if every university modelled itself on the Open University there would still be a massive shortfall – the answer must be in Open Learning that is supported, possibly by a huge cohort of volunteer alumni, as well as qualifying participants as they accumulate credits. Somewhere in here there may be a question for me to address with doctoral research.

It’s disengenious of me to say that I’ve been studying online for a decade.

I did a module in 2001 but did no further online learning in the subsequent decade – though I did qualify as a swimming teacher and coach! The reason for thinking about a decade as a period of time in which to study is that some would say it takes this long to become an expert. This comes from a piece of research carried out at the Berlin Conservatoire in relation to muscians and the years of training and practice they need to put in to get them to the concert hall as a soloist. Actually it wasn’t years so much as tens of thousands of hours required – 40,000 I think it was with kids introdcued to the instrument early and pushed by parents and institutions getting the furthest youngest. Martin Weller, Professor of e-learning, suggests that a decade is still the time scale in which someone might be deemed a ‘digital scholar’. John Seely Brown, who has applied learning and e-learning to business in the US, notably at Xerox’s famous research institute, suggested earlier this year that scholarship or expertise of the kind we are talking about may be achieved in five years because online learning can speed things up. People do take two degrees in tandem if they study online. Is there a fast track to a PhD? My perspective as a parent with teenagers is that they could begin a part-time online degree in their A’ Level year and graduate at the same time as getting their A’ level results or the year after.

 

Teenagers doing physics with the intervention of a computer to prompt discussion: a paper reviewed

In the abstract we are told that ‘Although ICT resources are commonly expected to produce uniform benefits’ Tolmie (2001) Are they? And that, ‘they are necessarily employed within pre-existing contexts of educational and social activity’. Tolmie (2001)

When and where could a context NOT be pre-existing?? Something is, or is not. Context is an absolute.

Rather, what is that specific context. Otherwise this is tautology. It is like saying that electricity pylons go into an existing landscape. Isn’t this stating the obvious so that a gullible audience nod in agreement?

Tolmie (2001) talks of ‘unexpectedly diverse effects’. Unexpectedly or diverse? Surely not both.

Is this not something of an exaggeration? And in any case, such diverse responses should be either expected, or not presumed either way to be likely or unlikely to happen. It is very dangerous to pre-empt findings.

I visualise the introduction of new technology such as this as drops of ink in a pool of water in a stream  – it has to compete with the mix that is already there, as well as its natural flow and other behaviours – leaking away into the land and evaporation for a start.

My conclusion based on reading the abstract is to: Think people above all else. Internal and external contexts are fluid and based on responses too and feelings.

It is all complex, and more to do with the brains of the individuals than simply their context . Everything can and should be measured in some way, from an agreed benchmark, to monitor, track then analyse. It is far more complex.

Take any class, habituated by the classroom, the people around us and the pattern and behaviour of the teacher … especially on a warm Friday afternoon, no wonder the mind wanders. Just because a person is physically in a classroom, even participating in a task, does not mean that much is going in if they are dreaming of the weekend or Fiona Henderson from the girl’s school down the road …

The expression ‘oversimplified’ used by Tolmie (2001)  is a) hyperbole b) a value judgment.

Better ‘simplified’, preferably qualification of the term – simplified as in ‘clipped or contained’ that parameters are created because of the remit of the funding process. You are not able to ‘look outside the box’ as only that which takes place in the box is funded. There needs to be some of one and some of the other – research based on ‘tackling circumscribed needs’ while at the same time research that has an open brief and is open ended – that stands back to see the wood for the trees, rather than, to continue the metaphor, to examine only one kind of tree in the woods in order to avert the ‘mentality of one-stop resources’ mentioned by Oliver & Conole (1998)

How else do you address improving a situation other than by identifying the problems?

Anything else is misguided (literally), or indulgent. Far worse, in the NHS, and Post Office and Banking System have been wholesale computing systems that really were alien and universal.

Change management. Everyone has a point. Time to listen and involves matters most. The psychology of innovation. Resistance is despised. (Robinson et al., 1998)

Making the wrong assumptions that blame the teachers rather than the technology – which is a catalyst for complexity, rather than a tool for conformity.

Evaluation work also rarely does more than examine the explicitly intended effects of ICT, and so fails to identify unintended or serendipitous repercussions that may actually be a critical aspect of its impact (Jones, 1998).

But the entire point and context of an exam is to remove such context in the surroundings by placing the student in ‘exam conditions’ in a neutral space, where parameters of time and context are controlled and aim to be common to other students and impartial.

Surroundings mean different things to different people. It is naive and deterministic to think that people are so easily governed by their context. The individual over the surroundings. Unless we think students are like a uniform tribal grouping.

I’m through the reading and taking it further – reading the original paper to see if my concerns and amusement are justified.

I find the gender difference uninsightful and unhelpful – we know this anyway. Men and woman are different physiologically – which includes the brain where there are various documented differences especially between the differing amount of grey and white matter and the concentration of neurones and close connections in women compared to men. But the differences between men and women are not black and white (and their are not racial differences whatsoever) … within these differences there is considerable variety.

Now add each person’s context – which for me starts a few months after conception and every possible influence since – the same chaos theory that says that when a butterfly beats its wings in the Brazilian Jungle there is a typhoon in Malaysia will suggest that that marshmallow your grandmother gave you on Christmas day when you were six while watching Jimmy Saville introduce the Chart Show will influence how you respond to the 14 year old boy you have been paired up with in a physics class who offers you a handful of mini-marshmallows by way of ‘making friends’ who in turn is nervous about this strange but beautiful creature who he hasn’t noticed all year but rather fancies even though his older brother has his eye on her – what was that the teacher said checking the trajectory of your balls on the computer ?????

The wrong approach was taken, though the theory throws up some interesting questions

I will change my opinion as I go through my notes but my current stance is that a quantitative before and after study requires many hundreds of participants in a randomised controlled trial and the gender differences are a distraction – far better to have administered questionnaires before and after and drawn upon each students SATS results or some such to get some sense of where they were coming from in relation to physics.

More interesting pairings would be like-minds and enemies – really. A couple of buddies having a laugh might learn less than a pair who can’t stand each other, or another pair who are rivals.

Have I been watching too many teen movies? Probably.

Already I have a script in my head based on Tolmie in which far from being the less talkative, the FM pairs are chatting away to themselves (in their heads, written and delivered as stream of consciousness voice over), communicating in subtle ways through body language and as a result actually communicating more, not less than the ones who won’t shut up – and who may be playing up to the research conditions.

This is the other fundamental humdinger of a problem – these students are being tested under ‘lab conditions’.

My memories of teenager physics classes are more akin to St.Trinian’s with boys. I even have a diary to call upon which I may look at just to get me into the role. I have a household of teenagers and another five nephews and nieces in this age bracket if I need to be reminded of what it is (and was) like.

Oddly enough, work is often the last thing on their minds. Which is why homework is so important – fewer potential distractions.

This will be less than hearsay in due course – I am also refreshing what it was and is like to be a teenager through some additional reading. Problem is my daughter senses that I am observing her from time to time.

I’m just asking myself the same question I asked when she was born, ‘what is going on in there?’ – but in a quasi-academic rather than father-daughter way.

Researchers make the mistake of believing that their intervention – in this case using a computer to support a physics class by trying to prompt discussion – is going to make some measurable difference.

Can they not see the bigger picture, and how vast it is?

If each human brain has as many neurons in it as the visible galaxy – 98 billion, and each brain though similar, is connected in different ways, by gender but essentially by genetics, with every remembered moment of waking and sleeping life in between. This is why, to have something measurable, researchers taken to the lab and until recently would have stuck with sea-snails, rats and in the past cats and primates … while gradually observation and measurement of electro-chemical activity in the human brain has become possible.

When it comes to exams surely examiners know that the response to a unique set of questions in an exam, certainly at undergraduate level, if not at post compulsory level, will test the student’s ability to construct a response both from what they know, and what they have to surmise.

REFERENCE

Jones, C. 1998 Evaluating a collaborative online learning environment Active Learning

Oliver, M. & Conole, G. (1998) Evaluating communication and information technologies: a toolkit for practitioners. Active Learning, 8,3–8.

Robinson, H., Smith, M., Galpin, F., Birchall, D., Turner, I. (1998) As good as IT gets: have we reached the limits of what technology can do for us? Active Learning, 9, 50–53.

Tolmie, A. (2001), Examining learning in relation to the contexts of use of ICT. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 17: 235–241. doi: 10.1046/j.0266-4909.2001.00178.

Is neuroscience is going to blow this allow out of the water?

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KEY

Green = Activated

Amber = Engaged

Red = Blocked

What concerns me is the belief that theories of learning, which academics have identified in eduation in the last 90 years, are either key drivers or infleuncers in the design of learning. Surely these are all observations after the event. Like trying to analyse a standup comedy routine using a set of plans and parameters – ‘Good Morning, Vietnam’ comes to mind. As, I suppose would ‘Dead Poets Society’ to bring in Robin Williams again. Was the Khan Academy a product of such analysis? No? An investment banker wanted to help his nephews out with their Math so he recorded some videos. Actually, I jsut realised my wife is doing this for a friend’s daughter who is learning French – creating bespoke French language pieces for her to practice on. I can’t even think what either of them are – behaviourist or social-constructive and experiential. I’m afraid, given what the academic ‘gurus of e-learning’ keep coming up with they are probably the least intuitive or inventive because their hands and minds are tied by this kind of thing. Just my opinion.

If I want to develop a platform or school that uses e-learning I’ll go find myself a ‘Robin Williams’ kind of educator – someone has a natural flair for it, who engender a following, who most importantly delivers extraordinary results.

Looking back at school I know that what motivated me was two fold – my own long term goal and the quality of an inspired and informed teacher who had tutoring, moderating and teaching in their blood.

There’s a reason why research and teaching don’t mix. I’ve asked some academics about this and they have told me that they haven’t gone into the commercial sector, nor do they teach … ‘because they hate people’.

Where in these theories is the person?

This relationship, the rapport that can form between tutor and student is what is lacking and it is why, in my opinion, the lifes of the Oxbridge Tutorial, that one to one, or one to two or three hour long session once a week is far, far, far from dead.

Neuroscience is going to blow this allow out of the water.

Already the shift is very much in favour of genetics and the way our unique brains are formed as we develop as a foetus. It is nature, not nuture, so frankly, we can have anything thrown at us in terms of life experience and how we learn and how we respond will remain individual. This is the perspective of my father in law whose secondary education was the being in the Polish resistance during the Second World War, his first university a prisoner of war camp. He had England or the US as choices having decided not to return to Poland. And found himself learning English in Gateshead. The story continues … so what kind of learning was occuring in the POW camp?

He bartered lessons in German for lessons in English.

Social-situated in extremis.

Not that it can be injected into a class, and even less so in online learning, but ‘fear’ doesn’t half help turn a short term memory into one that will stick. Playing Devil’s Advocate, can ‘e-learning’ only ever be ‘cotton wool’ the safest, tamest learning you will ever recieve? Try reading an essay out in a tutor group – there’s fear! Try getting up in a hall of 300 people to make your point in a debating chamber – terrying. An odd conclusion to reach at the end of this reflection on the exercise – but where is the ‘fear’?

And I mean the right kind of fear, not the threat of the cane or other such punishment, but the fear of letting you down, or your side down, or of humiliation … against the public reward if you get something right?

Pinned down in a collapsed cellar in Warsaw my father in law believed he would die. He was the only one alive. Everyone else had been flattened. By some chance he had been standing under a beam that had partially protected him. He made promises he’d keep if he lived. He was found. A smash to the head.

Does learning have more impact when there is something at stake?

Try introducing this element into an e-learning module.

The impossible hypothesis – people learn better and make decisions with firmer convictions, where their life is at stake?

Then again we turn to neuroscience and will conclude that some will, some won’t, that the response of the individual to a shared experience means that you get as many different outcomes as there are people.

Institutions think that grades divide students – that’s only the tiniest fraction of what makes each person in that class different. If the student isn’t suitably self aware to know how to play to their strengths and managed their weaknesses then the observant tutor and others who are part of the institution should be doing this on their behalf – as parents, friends and siblings might do. Even with medical intervention.

The ‘Flipped classroom’ for me is finding ways to work with the individual who happens to be in a class that is probably already sorted by age and culture, if not also social class and gender.

And therefore already inappropriate.

Maybe the classroom has had its time. A short-lived interlude in human development over the last 70,000 years.

Teenagers and technology

Fig.1. Letters from Iwa Jima. Clint Eastwood directed Movie.

In one of those bizarre, magic ways the brain works, last nigmt I watched the Clint Eastwood film ‘Letters from Iwo Jima’ then stayed up reading in bed (quest for a very specific paper/set of papers on teenagers/young adults, health, presription medication) while waiting for my own teenagers to come in from a concert in Brighton.

Fig.2. Last minute reading for H809 TMA01

I stumbled upon ‘Teenagers and Technology’ by Chris Davies and Rebecca Eynon.

After a chapter of this I did a One Click on Amazon and kept on reading through the next couple of chapters.

I kept reading once they got home.

My mind constructed a dream in which instead of bagging letters home from soldiers, I found myself, Japanese of course, constructing, editing and reassembling some kind of scroll or poster. I could ‘re-enter’ this dream but frankly don’t see the point – it seems self-evident. I’ll be cutting and pasting my final thoughts, possibly literally on a 6ft length of backing wall paper (I like to get away from a keyboard and screen from time to time). Reinforced by a Business School module, B822 Creativity Innovation and Change I found that ‘working with dreams’ and ‘keeping a dream diary’ are some of the tools that can be used.

If I wish to I could re-enter this dream over the next few months as a short cut to my subconscious.

We’ll see.

I’m not sure how you’d come up with a Harvard Reference for a dream.

Fig.3. fMRI scan – not mine, though they did me a few years ago

Perhaps in 20 years time when we can where an fMRI scanner like a pair of headphones a set of colourised images of the activity across different parts of the brain could be offered.

Dream on 🙂

How to improve asthma patient outcomes using spaced education

Cover of "Living with Asthma"

Cover of Living with Asthma

There had been no plans to make this content public, but I thought I’d share it because of my interesting realisation that the Zemanta search tool may be  a reasonably valid way to winkle out papers relevant to a topic of interest. Out of habit it now I offer link to further content that on first appearances seems to  offer similar or contrasting views. Before I look at the selection that was offered to me, and the 7 from the 16 or so I was offered I am going to go through conventional route using the Open University Online Library and see what I may find that to any large extent differs.

I am not a physician or Medical Docotor, though I am asthmatic and have been in, on and off a variety of inhalers and sometimes oral steroids for some thirty years.

Preventer – Inhaled Steroid – two puffs twice a day. Used with a spacer to reduce chances of thrush.

Reliever – as needed, which is generally never, with rare need if I develop a chest infection, in which case I may end up on antibiotics anyway.

Oral Steroids – Very rarely, usually related to a chest infection. Once every five years?

Nebulizer – Never. Unlike my late father and one (or two) relations who take the view that they only need the preventer when they are wheezy … and end up hospitalised when they have an asthma attack and in the case of my father on steroids for so long that he became diabetic.

Preventative measures – know your triggers, avoid them, keep fit and attend an annual Asthma Clinic. I have to be cautious with house dust allergy and its partner in crime – damp. The odd list of triggers includes, at times, bleach, cumin seeds, one of the Lucozade sports drinks (odd that, coming from GSK who also produce asthma drugs). Possibly white flour. Yeast causes other problems too. We have a dog, but I’m not comfortable for long in a house with soft furnishings where there are cats. Get the bedroom windows open as often as possible. Use a specialist vacuum cleaner on the mattress, pillows and duvet. No carpets. No curtain. Leather sofa preferred.

Fig. 1. Twenty years ago I found myself producing, directing and writing a two information videos for a major pharmaceutical company – ‘Living with Asthma’ and ‘the Cost of Asthma’.

These had a shelf life of some ten to fifteen years, eventually to be replaced by DVD and online interactive equivalents. We did a combination of narrative drama reconstruction – a thread from a TV soap  in which a protagonist has an asthma attack, interviews with patients and experts (doctors and pharma) and narration with 3D animations and charts.

The purpose of this exercise is to:

  • Justify and explain the question for a piece of empirical research.
  • Offer FIVE pieces that  support then set you research on its way.
Though an academic exercise I’m going to treat this as something that could find funding, and that I could carry out.
What is the proposed research about? Asthma patient ignorance of best practice in relation to taking their prescribe drugs – why they are taking the drugs, how they work, when they should take them, how and how often …
What is it trying to find out or achieve? Improve patient care i.e. compliance (UK) – so taking their medicine correctly. This is important where the condition is chronic and the symptoms aren’t continuous. People tend to lapse taking the preventative drugs … it takes several days on onset of symptoms for these to kick in.
How will it go about doing that? A randomised controlled trial in which all asthmatics are invited to sign up to receive information over a period of x months, reminders about asthma and their drug taking regime.
What will we learn from it and why was it worth learning? That a significant percentage of asthmatics who have been prescribed an inhaled steroid (preventer medicine) to take twice daily are failing to do so, simply because they don’t see the need to do so unless they are feeling wheezy (a misconception, it should be taken regardless) or they allow their inhalers to run on empty for some time before being aware of this.That a significant percentage of asthmatics, probably largely the same group as above, misuse their reliever inhaler a) taking it too often b) not correctly inhaling so that drug ends up lining their mouth rather than entering their lungs.Taking the right dosage of inhaled steroid, as prescribed, in the correct manner, is likely to reduce need for the reliever inhaler to nil and will result in less long term damage being done to the lining of the lungs.It will improve patient outcomes, reduce the use of inhibitors and reduce hospital visits or overnights where a person has suffered an avoidable asthma attack.

 

H809 Tutor Marked Assignment QQs on scope, sense cam and blogging

Blogging

The idea of looking behind blogging came from the reading … but did I reference it???

i.e that innovations never occur in isolation, there was always something else beforehand.

The mistake we all make is to assume that innovations land on a pristine landscape and we react with typically human surprise at this new marvel that will either revolutionise or destroy everything. I need to remember where I read that!

Something on innovations … eeek.

It does matter though, with blogs there is clearly a history of

a) keeping a diary

b) citizen journalism in the form of leaflets and ‘letters to the editor’

c) authors keeping a writer’s journal and

b) scientists and explorers keeping a formal ‘log’.

That and human nature to write stuff down – well, at least 1% of the population do, which gives the other 99% something to read.

Life Logging

Sense Cam came out of the efforts of Gordon Bell, now 81, and for the last 10 years head of research at Microsoft.

He got it into his head to digitise everything and then wear a gadget around his neck to capture even more. This seems moronic and his own writing isn’t academic, more a memoir, but others, Microsoft and University of Southampton, have pressed on. The Sense Cam is a fag-packet sized device you hang around your neck – a camera with a light and sound sensor, then triggers the taking of a picture as you go about your daily business (could be awkward). At the end of the day these pictures are downloaded and software filters the stuff.

Southampton (WebSciences) have examples of this.

You can now buy a SenseCam made by Microsoft and various Microsoft Research Labs are trying them out. The hope is that in time such a device will help support those with dementia or any kind of memory fade … the evidence from Southampton illustrate Ebbinghaus’s ‘Forgetting Curve’ – how we forget stuff pretty fast over days/weeks against use of various methods, including a Sense Cam. It does appear, naturally, that looking back regularly at a set of carefully selected pictures (I think there has be human intervention for obvious reasons) the patient/student subject is far better able to recall, retain, and therefore I presume to restore and ‘fix’ memories better.

I am starting to wonder if a person is indicating for Alzheimer’s or some such that they might use such a device ?

Or the Google Glass device to do the same thing. If I were a first year medical student doing my disection I’d like to use a sense cam to personalise a record of the activity, for example.

If I go down the blogging route ‘is blogging a valid activity for student assessment’ is far too broad while ‘Can blogging by students of journalism writing in English in Hong Kong be used as a formal part of assessment’ might be doable. Off the top of my head here, but let’s say there are 4 to 6 colleges where such a course is offered in Hong Kong …

So what about a geographically defined study?

China might be problematic due to restrictions on use of the Internet (and its vast size). Perhaps Poland!? Somewhere where the numbers aren’t huge. Then again, doesn’t it depend on the methods and tools you use? I am struck by this stuff they call ‘Big Data’ where a cohort of 10,000 on an Open Course (this at Stanford using Coursera) can reveal the nuances of ‘poor teaching’ – where in the past 1 or 2 students made the same mistake it goes unnoticed, but when 2000 students make the very same mistake then there’s clearly something wrong with the course.

To use Diana Laurillard’s apt phrase ‘it depends’. (don’t ask me where or when she said it, if you know, please tell me so that I can reference it correctly).

 

The Shallows – Nicholas Carr – I’m about to give up after Chapter 3

In Chapter 3, ‘Tools of the mind’, after a potted history of maps (not cartography) and clocks (not horology), we get an equally potty view of the plastic mind and neuroscience. Carr is no neuroscientist – three decades ago he took a first degree in English Literature (Dartmouth College) followed by a Masters in American Literature (Harvard). He should stick to what he knows.

Though ‘The Shallows‘ is meant to be unavailable online I started to read a version someone has uploaded before the book arrived in the post. If I had the energy I would cut and paste the digital version into a two column table, landscape view, and write my notes alongside – like a translation. This is what I do with academic papers when they require and deserve close scrutiny. ‘The Shallows’, like any Airport best seller is only worth a once only skim read – I’m questioning my resolve even to do that.

It is like being asked to eat six plates of jelly (jello) and custard.

As a book it is a remarkably satisfactory artifact. Even in paper back the cover has a wonderful fine grittiness to it – like sand. I even open the book and breathed it in. For this experience 10/10. All publishers, especially those online, need to take trouble with the Art Work too. Of course the plaudits sing out ‘buy me, buy me’ but as reviews go they are about as helpful as one liners on the latest blockbuster.

Carr writes well enough, not quite Bill Bryson, but an easy and intelligent read, an amble through the relevant technologies to the present day.

Carr can be accepted as a cultural and social historian, his mistake is to want to want bash this evidence into shape to support his conception of the Internet and its dangers. It is like saying that ‘rural man’ is different to ‘urban man’, that the motivations, pace and opportunities are different. Whilst this may be true, the sorts of changes to the brain that Carr suggest are not occurring.

Carr’s conception of mind is both out of date and misconstrued.

I wonder if I have the strength to read on, not even to refute what he says chapter by chapter. I risk polluting my mind. The pleasure is the history, the cod science is irritating and unnecessary.  Carr is well read and would be a pleasure at a dinner party, but I don’t suppose he’s much of a listener, nor someone whose views are likely to change no matter how convincing the evidence that his hypotheses are mistaken.

My inability to concentrate on this book has nothing to do with what Carr will claim to be by Internet altered mind.

I have some 8 books on the go, 4 eBooks, the others in print form by the bed. It simply fails to engage me, even on the level of making me angry. I suspect that Carr takes an evangelical view on his perspective and couldn’t be changed – I tried telling something reading the Da Vinci Code that it was all made up but they wouldn’t believe me. We human’s have it in us to take things on blind faith. Clearly this is a trait that has brought us in evolutionary terms a long way, but if you want a scientific perspective on the Internet you won’t get it from Carr. If anything, from 2000 when I started buying books in bulk from Amazon and from 20101 when I started consuming e-Books voraciously, the Internet has increased my hunger for books – for their content. My preference is for e-Books for their versatility.

I used always to read with a pen and notebook by my side.

I now do everything on the one device, adding notes, highlighting, bookmarking, sharing snippets to Twitter and Facebook along the way and blogging chapter by chapter too. I stop to check the meaning of a word, or to read a footnote, even to download and read a reference where it helps my understanding. I buy books that are only available in print – Marshall McLuhan, Christopher Alexander, Gordon Bell, Robert Gagne, Engestrom’s Activity Systems (certain specific editions).

At no stage has Carr done either a research degree, or has he studied engineering or computer science or anything that might touch on the workings of the Internet such as e–learning.

He should have studied criminal law as he is good at is constructing a plausible, one–sided argument. Nothing by Carr, from what I can see, has been published in an academic journal – it would not be accepted. Those who have studied the Web, psychology, and neuroscience, would shred him. p.48 on the mind is the exact same shallow and ill–conceived thinking touted by that other writer of bias and conjecture – Marc Prensky (the digital natives debacle is largely his, though currently he’s denying he started that ball rolling).

The structural changes to our brains are infinitesimally minute and extraordinarily complex – a Mozart who has studied and played the piano, or a mathematician such as Einstein, have the same brain just as they have in human terms the same arms and legs. If their personality profiles are to be understood, one could imagine Mozart being the easily distracted, eclectic, butterfly online, while Einstein one imagines would treat it as a tool and an opportunity to stay even closer to the topics that mattered to him. One, in Kirton’s terms an ‘innovator’ the other an ‘adaptor’.

This is where Carr’s lack of understanding of human psychology is so telling.

‘Although the workings of our gray matter still lie beyond the reach of archaeologists’ tools, we now know not only that it is probable that the use of intellectual technologies shaped and reshaped the circuitry in our heads, but that it had to be so’. p.49

This is twaddle on so many levels it feels no more possible or desirable to refute than the enthusiastic chatter of a child. Carr doesn’t strike me as someone who easily persuaded when he has something wrong.

  • everything touches our minds
  • everyone is different
  • not everyone has access to the Internet
  • even those who do use it for a myriad of different things in a multitude of ways.
  • years of solitary confinement, or years in the trenches on the Western Front affect different people in different ways.

The Internet, as a changing and fluid platform of content, now on smartphones on smart TVs since Carr wrote ‘The Shallows’, where it impacts and changes our lives, the effect on each of us varies.

Human kind is not homogenous.

Carr’s thinking is shallow.

I got this kind of thing written on my undergraduate essays, in particular when I’d skipped lectures and based my research on back copies of the Financial Times (this would have been for a module on Southern Africa). ‘Journalistic’ was the put down.

This is journalism to be serialised in a Sunday Colour Supplement – it would be acceptable if the view were balanced. I have in mind a book to complement ‘The Shallows’ – a snappy title might be ‘The Deep’ or ‘The Corrections’ but both of these have been used.

Any suggestions?

An equally plausible stance would be to take everything Carr says and imply that it means the exact opposite – this would be just as imbalanced as ‘The Shallows’ though. The idea that the Internet is making ‘us’ profoundly smarter, that we are being re-wired into a super-race.

My own view is that the Internet is producing a glossary expansion in learning, increasing the depth and scope of education

‘The internet lies at the core of an advanced scholarly information infrastructure to facilitate distributed, data and information-intensive collaborative research’. (Borgman, 2007, xvii)

REFERENCE

Borgman, C.L. (2007) Scholarship in the digital age: Information, infrastructure, and the Internet. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

 

Self and Peer Grading on Student Learning – Dr. Daphne Koller

Fig. 1. Slide from Dr Daphne Koller‘s recent TED lecture (Sadler and Goodie, 2006)

I just watched Daphne Koller’s TED lecture on the necessity and value of students marking their own work. (for the fifth time!)

Whilst there will always be one or two who cheat or those who are plagiarists, the results from ‘Big Data’ on open learning courses indicate that it can be a highly effective way forward on many counts.

  1. it permits grading where you have 1,000 or 10,000 students that would otherwise be very expensive, cumbersome and time consuming
  2. as a student you learn from the assessment process – of your work and that of others
  3. student assessment of other’s work is close to that of tutors though it tends to be a little more harsh
  4. student assessment of their own work is even closer to the grade their tutor would have given with exceptions at opposite ends of the scale – poor students give themselves too high a grade and top students mark themselves down.

Conclusions

  •  it works
  •  it’s necessary if learning reach is to be vastly extended
  • isn’t human nature a wonderful thing?! It makes me smile. There’s an expression, is it Cockney? Where one person says to another ‘what are you like?’

Fascinating.

‘What are we like?’ indeed!

REFERENCE

Philip M. Sadler & Eddie Good (2006): The Impact of Self- and Peer-Grading on Student Learning, Educational Assessment, 11:1, 1-31

 

Blogging breached the guidelines a bunch of us followed in 2002 – now anything comes and goes on e-folded origami paper we call a blog

Fig. 1 Blogging brings like minds together – through their fingertips

I did a search in my own blog knowing that somewhere I cited an academic who described blogging as ‘whatever you can do on electronic paper’.

Chatting about this at dinner my 14 year old son trumped my conversation with his mother as I tried to define a blog and what can go into one with one word ‘anything’.

For me there has been a slow shift from text (the weblog-cum-dairy journal thingey), to adding pictures (which have become photo / image galleries, photostreams of Flickr and concept boards of Pinterest), to adding video … to adding ‘anything’ – apps, interactivity, grabs, mashups, music …

My starting place is here.

This ‘eportofolio, writers journal, aggregating, dumping ground, place for reflection and course work’.

You see, is it a blog at all? This platform, I’m glad, has its design roots in a Bulletin board.

The limitations of our OU Student Blog platform works in its favour.

I can only put in two search terms. In Google I might write a sentence and get a million links, in my wordpress blog it might offer have the contents.

Less is more.

Here I search ‘blog paper’ and get 112 posts that contain both words.

I’ll spin through these an add a unique tag. My starting place.

But to study blogging would be like researching the flotsam and jetsam that floats across our oceans – after a tsunami.

RESEARCH

Starting with a book published in 2006 ‘Use of Blogs’ I want to read a paper ‘Bloggers vs. Journalists’ published in 2005. A search finds richer, more up to date content. Do I even bother with this first paper? (ironic that we even call them papers).

I can’t read everything so how do I select?

  • Toggle through the abstract, check out the authors, see where else such and such a paper has been cited.
  • Prioritize.
  • Use RefWorks rather than my habit to date of downloading papers that MIGHT be of interest.

Whilst storage space is so inexpensive it is virtually free there is no need to clutter my hard drive, Dropbox or Google Docs space.

Which makes me think of one of my other favourite metaphors – kicking autumn leaves into the breeze. That or drowning in info overload, or as the Robert de Nero character in Brazil, Archibald ‘Harry’ Tuttle, who vanishes in a pile of discarded paper … my mind wanders. We do. It does.

I stumble in the OU Library as I find I am offered everything under the sun. I am used to being offered academic papers only. So far all I’m getting are scanned images of articles in newspapers on blogging. All feels very inside out.

Where’s the ‘turn off the printed stuff’ button?

I fear that just as I have never desired to be a journalist, preferring the free form of your own diary, letters, and of course blogging and forums online, I will struggle to write within the parameters of an academic paper. I’m managing assignment here, so I guess I’m learning to split the two. A useful lesson to have learnt.

Serendipity

Is this a research methodology?

I am looking at a book on blogging, ‘Use of Blogs’ (Bruns & Jacobs, 2006). I have it open on p.31 Notes (i.e. references) for the chapter Journalists and News Bloggers.

As I pick through these articles, papers and reviews written between 2002 and 2005 I find several of the authors, a decade on, are big names in the Journalism/Blogger debate. It’s as if I am looking at a tray of seedlings.

It strikes me as easier to start in 2006 with 27 starting points when the field of debate was narrow, rather than coming in from 2013 and finding myself parachuting into a mature Amazonian jungle of mixed up printed and digital, journalism and blog content.

Courtesy of the OU Library and RefWorks I have nailed this article after a decade of searching:

Druckerman, P (1999) Ellen Levy Has Got The Write Project For the Internet Age — It’s a Year of Scribbling Down Almost Everything; Ah, Yes, It Was a Raisin Bagel, New York, N.Y., United States, New York, N.Y.

Reading this around 23rd /24th September 1999 prompted me to start blogging

Then I’d been reading blogs for a few months but had a mental block with uploading HTML files and then along came the first ‘ready made’ DIY blogging platforms.

The last 12 years makes amusing reading – particularly the battle between journalists and bloggers. And who has won? Is there a difference anymore? Journalists blog and bloggers are journalists and entire newspapers are more blog-like from The Huffington Post to the FT … which within three years will close all its print operations.

To be used in learning and to be a genre to study blogging needs to be part of formative assessment

A blog therefore becomes ‘an active demonstration of learning’ with cumulative feedback. I’ve only received ONE Tutor comment in my OU blog and that was to say why was I blogging and not getting on with my TMA. This person had their head so stuffed inside primary school education of the 1960s it made me feel like tossing my cap in the air.

Why MAODE students blog (Kerawella et al, 2009) depends on their perceptions of, and for:

  1. an audience
  2. community
  3. the utility of and need for comments
  4. presentational style of the blog content
  5. overarching factors related to the technological context
  6. the pedagogical context of the course

Cited x30

REFERENCES

‘Bloggers vs. journalist: The next 100 year War?’ 2011, Public Relations Tactics, 18, 4, p. 17, Business Source Complete, EBSCOhost, viewed 18 February 2013.

Bruns, A. Jacobs, J. (2006) Use of Blogs.

Kerawalla, L, Minocha, S, Kirkup, G, & Conole, G (2009) ‘An empirically grounded framework to guide blogging in higher education’, Journal Of Computer Assisted Learning, 25, 1, pp. 31-42, Academic Search Complete, EBSCOhost, viewed 18 February 2013.

Rosen, J. (2007) ‘Web Users Open the Gates’, Washington Post, The, n.d., UK & Ireland Reference Centre, EBSCOhost, viewed 18 February 2013.

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