27 February 2010

On a defence of plagiarism

At the risk of becoming incestuous, because Jim Hamlyn quotes me approvingly (thanks, Jim), the link is to a very thoughtful and nuanced discussion of plagiarism and the standard academic "zero-tolerance" approach.

22 February 2010

On libel reform in the UK

(Sorry--if you are not a UK citizen [well, we're not "citizens" actually, but "subjects" of the monarch, but you get the idea] I don't think you can join this party. But not being a British "subject" does not excuse you from the pernicious influence of these laws...)

You may know that the UK is the "libel capital of the world". It is the court system of choice for anyone wishing to silence critics or dissent, no matter how well founded and almost regardless of its UK connections. Libel awards are stupidly high, and costs astronomical, so few organisations and almost no individuals can afford to defend themselves.

Tomorrow, the British Chiropractic Association's suit against the science writer Simon Singh goes to appeal, and on Wednesday the House of Commons' Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee will release a report  that, amongst other issues, will look at the impact of English libel law on free expression.

So this is a critical week to make your views known; go to http://www.libelreform.org/ and read the arguments and sign (or not, depending on your judgement; and it is conceivable that there are sites arguing the opposite case. If so, feel free to comment--I won't block any fair argument.)

(This is not a party political issue in any sense.)

18 February 2010

On norm-referenced grading

A fascinating insight into how a US professor grades forty essays, on a norm-referenced basis. (If you're not familiar with that term, have a look here, with a more opinionated piece here.) Apart from her initial remakrs about approaching the drafts like a copy-editor, I have no idea what actual criteria she is using to make her judgements.

I referred here to another columnist's approach to grading, which seems to be based on the amount of work a student submits rather than on its quality;
"...you made the deadlines -- which is what I expect from everyone -- and you handed in the assignments -- which is also what I expect. That level of work secures students a "C" because that's what we call "meeting the minimum requirements" and in no case would that snag anybody an automatic A."
I may grumble about subject benchmarks and the generally dead hand of the Quality Assurance Agency on higher education in the UK--and of course the system conspicuously fails to deliver the consistency it claims--but at least the insistence on criterion-referenced assessment does mean that students and colleagues should know more clearly where they stand than in what appears from a distance to be a highly arbitrary world across the pond.

17 February 2010

On virtual portals or ramparts

Last week P and I had lunch with R, a former student who is now working at the Open University. She was seeking our assistance in trialling a social networking package based on sharing teaching resources, which of course we were happy to support. ("Support" because I'm retired and P has no authority to commit the university to such a collaboration... Yes, I know...)

Today, this came up again. And I had to think hard to remember what the project offered. It certainly was nothing I could imagine actively seeking. It joins a series of repositories and resources with similar aspirations. I'm sure that much of what they contain is brilliant, but it is more trouble to find and access it than it is to to re-invent it from scratch.

A few thoughts;
  • Do we know how many people really use these resources, as a proportion of those teaching these topics? If I were to go by all the stuff I read in the blogosphere, absolutely everyone is on Facebook and Twitter all day. I heard on the radio today that "the average person" spends 55 minutes on social networking on their mobile each day. Rubbish! Have these people never heard of sampling?
  • Where is the disinterested research on the added value of e-learning, other than in dedicated distance learning programmes? This time last year I did an on-line (of course) course on on-line tutoring, which was full of assertions about how wonderful e-learning was. And full of passionate conviction on the part of people who have a vested interest in it. It was very well done; the design, implementation and on-line support were state of the art. It took six weeks to learn much less than I would have picked up in an hour face to face. (That is just my opinion--but the other side has little more evidence...)

  • Who has time to go looking for other people's stuff, and then re-configuring it to suit their own teaching, and re-configuring their own teaching to fit round it? It's quicker to develop it for oneself.

But the linked article is about the hard-core e-addicts. "Second Life" is probably the most egregious example of futile expenditure of time, effort and money to achieve very little. I have sat through several presentations and demo. sessions by the true believers. I do remember one in which the principal avatar was a character whose head was a flaming skull--very conducive to rigorous and dispassionate academic debate. Then there was a crude simulation of Mendelian genetics at about primary-school level... And the much better simulation of paramedic practice scenarios. That was quite vivid, but I know from sitting in on such teaching that the AV bells and whistles can't hold a candle to the timing (in particular) of an experienced practitioner overseeing merely paper-based problem-based-learning.

The very fact that I write a blog, and have two web-sites, and set up a blog for each module I teach indicates that I am not a total luddite. But e-learning has a very long way to go, and so it should. It's as much an obstacle as a opportunity to learning, even for the "millennial" generation.

12 February 2010

On acquiring craft skills

I just posted this to a blog for a specific taught module (it's great to be so opportunistic--the programme finished less than half an hour ago), but it may be of wider interest. Apologies if you are overseas and not able to access the BBC iPlayer link--or if you arrive too late at the party and it has expired.

Do watch this delightful programme for its own sake. OK--discount the "reality-TV" artificial competitiveness and deadlines.

But. Let's discuss what it says about the acquisition of craft (a.k.a. psychomotor) skills, about the role of sheer repetitive practice, about whether "reflection" matters in doing this, about the importance of constructive and encouraging feedback (Sarah is a living case-study), the zone of proximal development, and in the final minutes the issue of transformative learning.

And all communicated through a story.

11 February 2010

On Pepys' diary

Simply the most perfect RSS feed imaginable! A parallel, entry by entry, version of the most famous diary in the world, with superb rollover annotations. Brilliant.

And strangely absorbing, as opposed to, say George Orwell's diary, which is pedestrian, flat and deadly boring.

Incidentally, neither would qualify as "reflective", would they?

08 February 2010

Maintenance information

Sorry there's no content here just now--following on from the need to relocate to Blogger's servers, the good news is the search box re-appeared in the navigation bar. The bad news is that it doesn't work. It appears that I am not the only person to experience this problem and Blogger seems to have failed to fix it for some time.

So I have inserted a Google Custom Search box in the side-bar on the right, just above "Previous Posts"; this will search not only this blog, but the "Doceo" and "Learningandteaching.info" sites as well, so it should actually be more useful. Please let me know if you have any problems with it.

07 February 2010

On on-line frustration and anger and the learning experience...

An odd coincidence. As I was walking the dog this morning, I was trying to reconstruct what I was doing this time last year, and thinking about a short on-line course I had undertaken on on-line tutoring. In particular I thought about how frustrated I had been by the process, and how petulant I rapidly became as a result, and how I became a tutor's worst nightmare. I blogged my reflections; they are mostly to be found here (start at the bottom of the page, of course).

And then I checked the blog feeds--and there was the linked post, which described a very similar experience to my own of a year ago, although the context was slightly different.

It occurred to me that "setting ground rules"--the exercise which so annoyed Jim--was perhaps necessary precisely because of the frustrating lack of capacity of this limited-channel medium of on-line discussion to which people can so readily respond with the kind of adolescent tantrum I barely managed to contain but which Jim handled so much more elegantly. We have all doubtless encountered examples of immoderate on-line offence and defensive rage, which flare up so much more readily in this strictly mediated environment than they do (in my experience, at least) in real life.

I have every sympathy with his notion of a "social gift" offering a superior approach to the maintenance of order*, but... I can't remember whether my on-line course we covered ground-rules. I've just looked at the (conspicuously useless) recommended text to check and they do not appear in the index at least. I do address them on the teaching site.
  • But... Contextualise. Both our on-line learning sessions were ultimately about us doing to others what was now being done to us. Both were based on the premise that "this present group is mature and civilised and won't need much external 'control'", alongside, "that will not always be the case." That seems fair enough, on the basis of experience.
  • So: on the on-line course;

      Task oriented communication is "privileged".
      Process communication is more difficult to manage. Instant spontaneous feedback about how an intervention is "taken" is not possible; nuanced feedback (the lift of an eyebrow signifying "did you really mean to say what I just heard you say?") takes ages and is almost always misunderstood.  
      Reduced to impoverished communication, it does make sense to be explicit about the rules; as long as the reasons are clear. Yes, it is second best, but compared with tenth-best, that's good...  
* On re-reading his original post I find the source of his quotation is what I had cited, viz. For the past year or so I have been dipping into and savouring at leisure, Lewis Hyde's The Gift (Edinburgh; Canongate, 2007. ISBN 978 1 84195 993 1. Originally published in the USA by Random House in 1983. It's a wonderful meditation on giving, receiving, exchanging. 

06 February 2010

A new address

In response to various technical changes instituted by Blogger, I have changed the hosting arrangements for this blog. I really don't have much of a clue about how all this works, and I hope the RSS feed, etc. continue uninterrupted, but do let me know if you experience any problems.

The good news is that the search box is back, on the navbar at the top of the page.

On "refuting"

"I refute (an allegation)"

Can one do that? Surely "refuting" is the result of some judicial process, rather than a personal claim? I may reject or deny or contest an allegation, but some other body has to refute it?

(This post is all my own work. I deliberately consulted no external sources on this definition; that is the point.)

On responsibility for climate change

There's another survey tonight whipping up a fuss about the declining proportion of the population believing in "man-made" (sic) climate change.

It doesn't matter! IF it is happening, it is futile to allocate "blame". There is an implicit assumption that if "we" caused it, "we" can sort it out.

Not so.

On a thoughtftul consideration of what constitutes plagiarism

No--I'm not posting this (merely) because I am quoted approvingly. Jim Hamlyn explores what "plagiarism" means in the context of a discipline in which (critically, implicit) allusion and reference matter a lot, and provides much food for thought.

01 February 2010

On the point of teaching

An excellent piece on being able to see the wood for the trees in relation to teaching;
In discussions of “effective” teaching, we often hear about the “objectives” that teachers should spell out and repeat, the “learning styles” they should target, the “engagement” they should guarantee at every moment, and the constant encouragement and praise they should provide—all in the interest of raising test scores. The D.C. public schools IMPACT (the teacher assessment system for D.C. public schools) awards points to teachers who implement such practices; Teach For America addresses some of them in its forthcoming book.

Except for the misguided notion of targeting learning styles, none of these techniques is wrong in itself. But together they raise a barrier. Instead of bringing the subject closer to the students, this heap of tools proclaims: “No entrance! The subject is too hard without spelled-out skills, too boring without adornment, and too frustrating without pep talks and cheers!”

Worse still, such techniques take precedence over the lesson’s content. A literature teacher is evaluated not for her presentation of specific poems, but for stating the objectives, keeping all students “on task,” reminding them about the relation between hard work and success, using visuals and manipulatives, and, ultimately, raising the scores. It matters little, in such a system, whether the poem is excellent or trivial, what kind of insight the teacher brings, or what the students might take into their lives."
My sentiments exactly, as I've note before on the blog  and on the site. And thanks to Sheffner for saving me the trouble of looking up those urls for myself!