25 September 2010

On celebrating punctuation

For some reason I missed International Talk Like a Pirate Day (19 September) but there's a slightly more serious celebration today, albeit U.S.-based (is that punctuated correctly?). (Where should the question mark go? Was that final full stop necessary?) It's national Punctuation Day over there.

Which reminds me of the Apostrophe Protection Society, too. What is moot, of course, is whether the apostrophe should be protected. German, after all, has a similar genitive construction and gets along without it.

18 September 2010

On-line tools

Seeing as it is the beginning of a new academic year, here are some free (or very cheap) and less well-known on-line tools I have found useful for broadly academic purposes.
  • Pride of place has to go to Dropbox, for a simple idea, brilliantly executed. It's an on-line backup service, but it is also local. Install it, and you can not only access your files from a web browser on any machine, but it also sets up a folder called, unsurprisingly, "Dropbox" on your own machine. Anything created or edited in that folder will automatically be synchronised with the on-line version in the "cloud", whenever you are on-line. Moreover, you can set up the same Dropbox folder on other machines, and they will all be synchronised all the time. You can keep folders private or grant sharing permissions, so it is great for collaborative work. The first 2gb of storage is free, up to 50gb is about £6.50 a month ($9.99). (Full disclosure; if you sign up with the first link, I get 250mb for whoever signs up--and that of course will apply to you if you recommend others. If you don't want me to make anything out of it, go straight to http://www.dropbox.com )

  • Dropbox is simply a storage service, and I don't think it supports synchronous collaborative working. It also requires that you have your editing application on your own machine.

    Say you are doing some groupwork and want to collaborate on a final presentation on-line, either on a document or a slide show. Google documents is the simplest way. It provides near-clones of office applications--word-processor, spreadsheet and presentation package entirely in the cloud, and it is easy to set up permissions and invite others to collaborate.

  • Searching on the web is second nature--but so is coming across stuff and then losing it again. Bookmarks are tied to the machine on which they were created. If you use Firefox as your browser, there is an excellent plug-in for capturing pages and their citations, for tagging and searching, called Zotero. Slightly less ambitious but more simply implemented is Instapaper; click on a button on the browser and save a page to read later.

  • Searches tend to go for a single target; but what happens when your interest is in the connection between two targets? Or more, in the real world--at the moment this tool is limited to two, and it uses Wikipedia as its knowledge base. It sounds dubious, but in practice the peccadiloes of misrepresentation in Wikipedia don't matter much. Try it at conceptlinkage.org/ for an instant outline.

  • Once you have accumulated material, of course, the next hurdle is how to cite it. And here I get into arguments with colleagues. When I mention the next resource, they say it is a cheat. It is fudging the acquisition of an academic skill--proper referencing. I've discussed this elsewhere, but in short, it's a specialised academic skill which ought to be acquired by aspirant academics. Other people can turn to easybib.com/. (But note that the only citation format which is totally free is MLA. That is a humanities format; the format most commonly adopted in education and cognate areas is APA; to get that might cost you the equivalent of £10 p.a.)

  • There's a very different approach to presentations from the ubiquitous PowerPoint (tm.. whatever) at http://prezi.com/. It doesn't suit everything, but it's a brilliant alternative; follow it as it matures. Note that it comes in three versions; if you sign up from an academic address (e.g. ...ac.uk, or ...edu), you can get the second premium version for free.
Enough for the moment, but further suggestions welcome. Have a good year.

    16 September 2010

    On plagiarism. Again

    Every so often someone attempts to spam the comments on my blog posts with irrelevant,  fatuous, probably unintentionally patronising and sometimes barely literate remarks, which are nevertheless signed with or incorporate a link--to a cheat page. That's why I have to keep comment moderation on. Such as:
    • I have been visiting various blogs for my dissertation research. I have found your blog to be quite useful. Keep updating your blog with valuable information...
    The link is disabled of course; I may be naive and stupid, but not that much!

    And a few weeks ago I was looking for guidance material on the structure of a dissertation in response to a request for advice. I found plenty of references, but of course none of them carried any substantive guidance--just advertising for essay and dissertation-writing services. So I wrote my own--for free, of course.

    So it was interesting to read what Dan Ariely got for his money, according to the post above; and it is worth circulating it. Unsurprisingly, these scams do not deliver what they promise!

    13 September 2010

    On links...

    Just some things I have recently come across:

    10 September 2010

    On reference and allusion

    (The link is to an earlier post which alludes to this)

    Last night we had an induction session for the new intake of an established part-time course. For reasons beyond our control (the economic squeeze and an aggravating change in funding arrangements) we did not hit the threshold numbers and so it appeared the course would have to be cancelled. (The situation today is rather different, I'm happy to say.)

    But as we were discussing the situation with the new potential intake, it occurred to me that they had a vested interest in doing some recruiting, so I encouraged them jokily to "go into the highways and hedgerows and compel them to come in" (Luke 14:23) ...to be met with totally blank looks of incomprehension. It wasn't even a particularly multi-cultural group, but it appeared that no-one picked up the quotation.

    Perhaps it is just me, but I am increasingly frustrated/disappointed that I can't take for granted that even mature students will appreciate allusions and references, not only to the Bible but to Shakespeare and the literary canon, and historical events and political slogans...

    But as someone pointed out last year--I haven't a clue about references to recent music in particular, or TV. Am I simply being elitist? (I'm guilty as charged on being elitist is some respects) Or is our communication impoverished by not sharing a cultural hinterland which enriches dialogue with such references?

    Or, of course, has the insistence of managing with such a shared code been a covert means of limiting access to privileged education and employment to those who have had the surplus time and resources to join what has always been a restricted club? (Yes, but how much has it mattered?)

    And what does it mean for how we express ourselves as teachers?

    [Addition, 11.09 --how could I have missed the opportunity to link to the Beloit College Mindset list? Obviously it is highly US-centric, but it makes a telling descriptive but definitely not prescriptive point.]

    05 September 2010

    On getting it

    Declaration of interest: I have a Skoda (Diesel Octavia Estate--perhaps the least "cool" car imaginable) and I am delighted with it. Obviously no-one would pay me for as oblique an endorsement as this. Indeed, I might not have noticed the ad. at all had I not owned the product and had the theme in mind. So much for potential corruption. Chance would be a fine thing!  However...

    The strap-line for the current Skoda TV ad campaign is; "Manufacturer of happy drivers."

    Not of "great cars", even if they are (and I am old enough to remember Skoda jokes.)

    They've got the point--and analogously the main point for beginning teachers.

    Good teachers are "manufacturers of accomplished learners".

    Now why did I say "accomplished"?

    On the irrelevance of reflection.

    I'm returning to the theme of reflection. As I argued in an earlier post and paper (the paper is here) reflection is not all that it is cracked up to be. However, a couple of pieces I have just come across have another interesting and related point; actually it is becoming less and less relevant to working practice, because it is in any case being squeezed out of many jobs, along with any scope for discretion.

    As Crawford (2010) --discussed here-- has pointed out in relation to much manual work, the Taylorisation of labour has relocated decision-making and discretion in the trades and crafts from the individual or team of practitioners to the managerial system. Reflection is thereby rendered fairly irrelevant.

    In the Guardian on Tuesday, Aditya Chakrabortty makes a similar point, in this case applying it even to managerial level jobs--particularly in supermarkets. The article sub-title includes "There's not much call for thinking these days". His source for the supermarket material is a press-release (we'll have to wait for the full study) from the ESRC Centre on Skills, Knowledge and Organisational Performance (SKOPE) is based in Oxford and Cardiff Universities.

    In rooting around their site, I came across a paper very relevant to my area of interest (teaching in post-compulsory education) Lloyd and Payne (2010). They say:

    "The FE sector in England and Wales has been particularly affected by the implementation of NPM [New Public Management], with the emphasis on ‘market-testing’ and performativity. Researchers have drawn attention to the detrimental impact on lecturers’ work, including the loss of control and autonomy, and on teaching and learning itself [...]. FE lecturers in England, it is argued, have been positioned as ‘delivery agents’ of government programmes and priorities, weighed down with heavy workloads and onerous administrative demands, in a system that constricts the ‘space’ available for teacher-led innovation, creativity and improvement [...]." (p.5-6: references removed)
    This of course accords well with Peter Hadfield's and my views (2009) expressed here

    Lloyd and Payne go on to quote lecturers interviewed whose remarks (p.12) suggest strongly that the insistence on "reflection" has become yet another managerial stick with which to beat the staff. It has become more of an act of contrition than a professionally development process. And once it comes to be seen like this within any occupational group, it is time to ditch the idea; it's tainted and corrupted.

    So has Taylorism won?

    Hadfield P and Atherton J (2009) “Beyond compliance: accountability assessment and anxiety, and curricular structures to help students engage with troublesome knowledge” in C Rust (ed.) (2009) Improving Student Learning 16; Improving student learning through the curriculum Oxford; Oxford Centre for Staff and Learning Development, pp 158-170

    Lloyd C and Payne J (2010) "'We have got the freedom' A Study of Autonomy and Discretion among Vocational Teachers in Norway and the UK" SKOPE Research Paper No. 95 July 2010 [retrieved from http://www.skope.ox.ac.uk/sites/default/files/RP95.pdf accessed 5 Sept 2010]