Archive for the ‘pedagogy’ Category

Today I came across two very interesting pieces which provide options for assessment when requiring students to participate using blogs and wikis. Assessment when using some of these technologies in education seems to be a continuing bugbear.

The first is a very interesting slidecast by Konrad Glogowski from the University of Toronto. Konrad explains one route to introducing the process of blogging into the classroom and how to develop that process with students. Here he uses a plant growing metaphor, which requires the students to consider what they want from their blog right from the onset. Formative feedback is given to the students partially based on the students’ initial considerations. The overall process applied is one of student enquiry, with them engaged on a topic of research of interest to them (hence ‘engaged’ is the operative word). Konrad nicely weaves in concepts from the work of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi throughout his presentation.

If you are even considering introducing blogging into your curriculum I would suggest spending 36 minutes to view this slidecast:

with a corresponding blog post.

Paralleling this but for introducing the use of wikis into teaching is this blog post. This article gives some of the academic theory for using this collaborative process. Significantly how to apply assessment to a collaborative wiki based process is considered. And interestingly there is an explanation of how a tool developed by the Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) called WikiDashboard was used to ‘measure’ contributions to wikis by individuals.


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This article is a quick breakdown of the BBC Radio 4 programme Analysis – Clever.com – broadcast 12 March 09 20:30-21:00

The programme addressed issues about whether the younger generation are only getting a superficial grasp of information, with their skimming techniques and superficial searching or are they actually becoming the most skilled and knowledgeable generation. Professor David Nicholas of University College London (UCL) seems to be in the former camp, while Don Tapscott (founder of the international think tank ‘New Paradigm’, and chairman of the nGeneration Innovation Network) is in the latter.

Stephen Fry, the famous comedian, actor, intellectual, raconteur and more recently the most famous British user of Twitter, compared the power available to someone with a computer or a mobile device with that of the greatest, most powerful monarchs of history, and concluded that we in society today have greater access to knowledge and understanding at the ends of our fingers than royalty and dictators of the past could ever hope for.

By viewing the logs of page accesses it is possible to see trends of people’s use of the web. Researches at UCL have used this approach to analyse people’s habits and are finding that searches tend to shallow across a large range rather than deep and concentrated. Prof Nicholas uses the TV channel hopping analogy. The commentator suggests that maybe this search process has become the enjoyable element, not the information itself. And Prof Nicholas concurs, thinking of his own approach he doesn’t go online to read, and there are many other distractions to capture one’s interest. Average time on a web page is less than a minute. Long articles just aren’t read.

Don Tapscott believes that after DNA the most important factor affecting how your brain is ‘wired’ is what you do during adolescence. The previous generation spent more free time passively watching television. The younger generation has traded in television watching for doing a range of activities on computers. It’s argued that this develops greater problem solving, engagement and other skills as interaction is increased, as they tell and retell their stories, as they work out strategies for game completion, and so on. [Rewiring in the brain is something that is happening all the time – connections and pathways are formed by experience, whatever the experience, learning to read for example.]

Jonathan Douglas the Director of the National Literacy Trust questions whether the perceived change in reading habits is a bad thing. He says that it might indicate that people are becoming more efficient in their reading approach. Stephen Fry thinks that it’s a misnomer to place the Internet at odds with books. He believed that they complement each other beautifully. And he points to similar arguments made when the novel was introduced; how novels would cause mass illiteracy, or at least a refusal or an inability to engage in serious study.

Don Tapscott thinks that the didactic model of the teacher standing at the front and pouring facts into the ’empty vessel’ of the students, who store it in short term memory until they are tested by the teacher is an outdated model: maybe suitable for previous generations where you left education and were set for life. Now, in his words, you are set for 15 minutes. But Professor Tara Brabazon of Brighton University disagrees. She has banned her first year students from using Google and Wikipedia. She believes they need to attain the standards required at university for reading and writing. She goes on to say that they don’t need Google because there is the library and online peer reviewed articles, which Google wouldn’t find, that they need to engage with. She believes that one problem with student centred learning is that students work within their boundaries exploring their own culture, when a well structured curriculum will cause them to transgress their boundaries and learn about other cultures.

When considering the question about whether the younger generation are best placed to utilize the digital environment, Prof Nicholas says that they don’t have the framework required to make the best use of it, they are unaware of the authenticity and authority of information, which hasn’t undergone the same rigorous vetting processes of (for example) the publisher. They aren’t therefore necessarily equipped to deal with this vast amount of information available to them. This is contrary to the popular assumption that the younger generation is better equipped than the older generations. Indeed, because the older generations do have an appropriate framework, they are the ones who are more empowered with greater access to a larger range of available information about which they can make informed choices.

So what about the ability of younger people to ‘multitask’? Well evidence shows that there isn’t actually such a thing as multitasking; there is the ability to switch quickly between tasks. And the research of Professor Martin Westwell of Flinders University, Australia shows that young people don’t have the ability to do this very well until they are in their 20s. So much of this available technology is actually acting as a distraction, preventing them from concentrating.

Prof Brabazon concludes by saying that the younger generation isn’t indulging in anything different than the rest of us; shallow, superficial users.

So, the presenter postulates, perhaps we should be less worried about the technology and more about the society we are living in that shapes the way we use the technology.

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What if you didn’t quite understand a fundamental law concept in your last lecture? What if you wanted a different perspective on that something or other? What if you wanted something explaining in a slightly different way?

How about attending a lecture on it at a different university? Maybe Stanford, Berkeley, Princeton, Yale, Harvard or MIT. Well maybe you can’t actually attend a lecture at one of those prestigious institutions of learning, but what about viewing a series of lectures recorded there in your subject?

Well via Academic Earth you can do just that.

Their mission:

‘Academic Earth is an organization founded with the goal of giving everyone on earth access to a world class education’.

Courses and subjects covered include:

If you want to see a whole 36 part lecture on general human anatomy covering the human brain and muscular system, nervous system, muscular system, digestive system, the liver, and so on, then that’s available. What about The Nature of Persons: Dualism vs. Physicalism, Physics I: Classical Mechanics, Introduction to Solid State Chemistry, and many more.

In addition the site runs a rating system, where registered users grade the standard of the lectures.

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There is an expectation that students can increasingly interact with materials, educators and their peers. A student response system (SRS), also know as instant feedback system, student voting or polling, is a tool that facilitates a rich learning environment within the traditional lecture theatre setting.

I’ve looked through some of the published literature and developed a presentation to highlight some of the advantages of using it for the learner, with some case studies to give a flavour of how it has been used by some instructors.

Link to SRS Presentation

Link to SRS Slidecast

(Clicking on the image will take you to the slidecast. Click to start the presentation, which will automatically scroll through the slides. Video and audio are embedded in the presentation.)

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Online personal portal environments have immense potential in education for a whole host of uses.

Three of the best known online portal tools are:

You can see comprehensive notes about online portals, and Netvibes in particular, from ‘Click On‘ by the BBC/Open University.

Firstly, they are an invaluable way to categorize and organize content of interest if you are a learner. You can place common items on the same page and categorize using understandable names. The content can come from any source that has an RSS feed, which delivers any changes straight to your particular portal page. This saves you lots (and we mean LOTS) of time and effort locating new content of interest to you. This has to be one of THE most useful tools for learners out there and it’s a mystery why more aren’t using them.

This has suddenly turned into a very useful research tool for your studies. Not only can you pull in relevant external reference content, you can also access all your own produced content. This means you can categorize content into separate sections for your different study areas. Then under the relevant section you can pull in all your bookmarks from your preferred social bookmarking tool, along with other content you’ve produced elsewhere; be that reflections or notes you’ve blogged, videos you’ve produced and hosted on YouTube (or elsewhere), your online lab notebook wiki, etc.

You can keep this content in your online portal personal, or (and this is a really good bit) you can share it with others. This means that portals can be used by educators to deliver relevant, topical content to a group of learners. Will Richardson has written about this in his Weblogg-ed blog. You can see how this can be used solely by the instructor educator or as a group resource with the ability for any of the group to add additional content feeds.

Extending this concept further, portals can easily be developed as the hub of content for a community to share resources.

I’ve been working for a while on the use of personal portals from a social education perspective. I played around by developing the uostech portal pages as a hub for Users of Scholarship Technology. I used this as an experimentation and research platform to ‘play’ around with how Web2.0 tools could be loosely harnessed for learning, teaching and research. I presented the uostech concept with a colleague at a Research 2.0 Workshop at the NCeSS Forth International Conference on e-Social Science, Manchester, UK, 18-20 June 2008. A slidecast of the presentation is available online.

By writing this post and working on uostech I realise that there is much more to be done with using online portal tools and I will develop more examples.

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I came across the Open Notebook Science concept today via a podcast. The term was put forward by Jean-Claude Bradley of Drexel, back in 2006.

Scientists maintain notebooks of their work, working through theoretical concepts and making detailed notes of experiments – how they are undertaken, what the results are, etc. Mostly the writings in these notebooks remain private. Only the successful experiments and final concepts are published in academic journals. However, the idea behind Open Notebook Science is that these ‘private’ writings are published online, and at the time the work is taking place. This means that the wider scientific community has access to not only data from successful experiments or final theoretical workings, but also from what may be considered ‘unsuccessful’ experiments or dead-end workings.

There seems to be a step change encompassed in this idea. No longer would you have to wait for the ‘delayed’ publication of results in academic journals before you could duplicate and build upon that work to progress scientific knowledge. This would inevitably lead to an increase in the speed of scientific progress and development of human knowledge.

So how would this material be published? Well, a wiki springs immediately to mind.

The wiki idea as a tool for research students to document their work was something I’ve been considering before I came across Jean-Claude’s concept. In May of this year I wrote a scenario for the research student needs from an institutional wiki:

“As a postgraduate researcher I want to use a wiki as a comprehensive ‘notebook’ drawing in all the strands of my research into one place. I can record and deposit all my data in various formats into the wiki. I can make links to useful and relevant external sources. This will assist cataloguing of my research, and assist final thesis writing up.

The wiki would need to be secure and archived if there was a system crash. I would require a high level or service availability, so the service must be robust. I would need on and off campus access. I want to be able to add other people with different rights access and have restricted access to some sections; for example I need read/write access, my supervisors needs read/comment access, external funders need read only access, etc. I may or may not want my supervisors to see data I am working on, so I need a toggle access switch for those ‘restricted’ areas. This access can’t be restricted to the University’s authentication system as one of my supervisors is an external, industry collaborator.

But as you can see this is the concept of a ‘closed’ notebook, whereas Jean-Claude’s is very ‘open’. I like the philosophy underlying Jean-Claude’s concept. But even for those who aren’t prepared to go that far, using a wiki tool for your notebook seems to be a sensible choice.

Jeremiah Faith in Boston wrote in his Big J’s blog about his experience with Open Notebook Science, including what he considered to be the potential positives and possible negatives. Jeremiah decided to make his notebook available as a pdf download.

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