20 April 2013

Items to Share; 20 April

I shall be away for a few weeks, and I'll resume sharing when I get back.
Education Focus

Other Business

15 April 2013

No comment...

Dear webmasters team,
I need to advertise an essay writing service. I have just found your Education resource http://learningandteaching.info/ and I'm interested in text link placement at your website. Are you interested in putting my link (education related service) at homepage or inner pages FOR MONEY?
Please, email me your rates for 3/6/12 month placement. 
If you have some other quality educational resources for advertisement, please, send me the list of them!
I am waiting for your positive reply!
Regards, Andrew

Items to Share; 14 April

Education Focus
  • Brain-Training Games Don't Actually Make You Smarter : The New Yorker 'Last year, the New York Times Magazine published a glowing profile of the young guns of brain training called “Can you make yourself smarter?” The answer, however, now appears to be a pretty firm no—at least, not through brain training. [Meta-analysis concludes] the games may yield improvements in the narrow task being trained, but this does not transfer to broader skills like the ability to read or do arithmetic, or to other measures of intelligence. Playing the games makes you better at the games, in other words, but not at anything anyone might care about in real life.' 
Other Business
  • Tom Lehrer’s Mathematically and Scientifically Inclined Singing and Songwriting, Animated | Open Culture 'Nobody can deny the importance of learning how to subtract or how to tell one element from another, but we’d do well to keep Lehrer’s sharp human insights, present implicitly in all his music and explicitly in some of it, in mind. So put one of his records on the next time you have a birthday of your own, taking a bracing shot of his wit before you continue, as he put it in “Bright College Days", "sliding down the razor blade of life.”'  He's just celebrated his 85th birthday
  • Anxiety and Avoidance - NYTimes.com  'When avoidance prevents one from dealing with life, it is maladaptive. But when avoidance is proactive and part of active coping and agency, it helps the person control the accelerator, brakes, and the track switches. It is a useful adaptive activity.' 

10 April 2013

On spurious academic "tools"

The other day I was contacted about advertising on learningandteaching.info. That is not unusual, and I always turn it down--the site is not a commercial venture, and the expenses are trivial at the moment. However, on this occasion the proposal was to promote free plagiarism checking services, and suggested links from my page on plagiarism.

There is indeed a good case for such services. Probably most students' institutions now use plagiarism checking software, principally Turnitin, and require its use at every point of assessment submission. That's fine for them, but not such a good deal for the student, who is frequently not allowed to use the service to get formative feedback on their work--there are various reasons for this, but they chiefly focus on security issues. So, although the sheer size of the checking database is important, a lighter-weight service tailored to the student's needs can be very useful as a way of ensuring that they do not stumble unintentionally into plagiarism--after all the consensus is that much plagiarism is the consequence of ignorance of academic conventions about citation and originality, rather than deliberate cheating. (See links from the page cited above.)

So I entertained the idea of linking to some of these services, as a service of my own rather than via their advertisement, and I went to the urls provided, to find both of them point to Grammarly, which sells itself principally as a grammar checker and whose plagiarism tools are very limited in the free version.

The other plagiarism checker is apparently free-standing, but touts itself as a means of ensuring that web content is original, because that helps with search engine optimisation. That is not quite the same as assuring academic integrity, and of course it works only from public web pages. It also has a (proper) grammatical error in its submission box; "watch the article re-writer do it's thing". I suppose it may be some limited use, but if you can access a proper service, do so.

Grammarly gave no useful information at all about what content was not unique; as I had rather expected, payment would be required for any more detail. It emphasises its use as a grammar-checker. Moreover, the list of "grammatical rules" which flashed past was spurious. It included "split infinitives" and "prepositions at the end of sentences" and use of the passive voice among many other items which concern obsessive pedants and no-one else. It gave a "score" of 44% to a section of a forthcoming book which has already been proof-read and edited by real live people. Of course there was no recognition of the register or style of the piece (that is available on paid versions), nor of differences between US and UK usage and spelling.

It has been reviewed to similar effect and in more detail here, and here.

But it's not merely the technical incompetence of the service which concerns me. More pernicious is its impact; if I were a less-than-confident student getting a report like that I would feel incompetent and highly discouraged. I am not in favour of "going easy" on students lest they be discouraged--they do need accurate, stimulating and usually uncompromising feedback. They do not need to be treated as "fragile learners" to use Kathryn Ecclestone's term*.

But services such as these are nit-pickers on steroids; they mistake adherence to aribtrary "rules" for good practice in writing, and generate innumerable Type I errors as testimony to their rigour. They are con-tricks, and should be avoided, which is why I have not linked to them.

* Ecclestone, K. (2010) Transforming assessment in lifelong learning, Buckingham: Open University Press

08 April 2013

Items to Share: 7 April

Education Focus
  • It's a Flipping Revolution - Do Your Job Better - The Chronicle of Higher Education  'For those who haven't been paying attention, "flipping" is a teaching technique that involves abandoning the traditional lecture (or just not relying on it so much) and replacing it with interactive approaches that experiment with technology and require students to gather information outside of class and be prepared to engage the material in class, rather than sit passively listening to a faculty member talk.' 
  • The philistines have taken over the classroom | Frank Furedi | spiked "In recent decades, education has been transformed into an instrument of public policy, a means for achieving objectives that are entirely external to learning. Education is now expected to put right the failures of adult society, to transform apathetic youngsters into responsible citizens. Education is meant to promote social mobility, multiculturalism, responsible sex, sound financial behaviour and emotional wellbeing, and to provide youngsters with a variety of key skills. [...] The teaching of knowledge itself, for its own sake, is frequently dismissed as an old-fashioned custom that is not relevant to the twenty-first century." Frank lays about him with characteristic gusto! 
Other Business
  • Is CPR for the victim or the bystanders? : The Last Word On Nothing  'David Newman, director of clinical research in the department of medicine at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City, says: “It’s crazy talk to believe that everybody should always get this invasive, punishing burdensome procedure when we know that the overwhelming majority — even the people who might be considered the most appropriate — are not going to survive it,” ' 

04 April 2013

On potential pedantry...

Sadly, Oliver Kamm is now behind the (London) Times paywall, but I'd be interested in his take on this...

On the (BBC Radio 4) news a few minutes ago, there was yet another reference to the "potential threat" from N. Korea's nuclear weapons.

What other kind of threat is there?

A threat refers to something which may happen, detrimentally, in the future*. It is by definition potential. To qualify it as "potential" --or indeed "actual"-- is otiose, superfluous** and indeed meaningless.

And the same goes for danger, risk, and more positively opportunity.

I ought to get out more..

* Sorry! "going forward". Yeugh!.

** Yes, to use both almost synonymous adjectives is itself either one or the other, but can it be both?

01 April 2013

Items to Share: 31 March

Education Focus
  • A Response to Ben Goldacre’s Building Evidence Into Education Report. Part 1 and  Part 2 | Scenes From The Battleground "Goldacre has not realised that much, or even most, educational debate is about worthless nonsense that can already be shown to be wrong long before the RCT stage. He assumes that education is like medicine was in the 1970s, whereas it is probably more like medicine in the 1370s. He assumes that we have clear aims and sound theories which need to be refined with better empirical research to identify those situations where we have been misled. However, it would be fairer to say we are at war in education over our ultimate aims and over the underlying theories. We are not 1970s doctors needing information about the effectiveness of certain drugs, we are medieval doctors trying to find the correct balance of the four humours." 
  • Why Doesn’t Teacher Feedback Improve Student Performance? | Faculty Focus  '“regardless of levels of motivation to learn, students cannot convert feedback statements into actions for improvement without sufficient working knowledge of some fundamental concepts.” Because they evaluate student work so regularly, teachers bring to the task a working knowledge of these concepts. Unfortunately, they provide feedback assuming students have the same knowledge, which they do not.' 
  • Presentation Zen: Eric Mazur: confessions of a converted lecturer  "To many people, the approach Dr. Mazur advocates may hardly seem new or controversial. After all, many instructors work hard today to make their classes more interactive. However, the one-way, didactic approach to teaching is still common in many schools today. " Yet another edu-brand.
Other Business
  • To be sure, journalists love cliches - Washington Post  "But ultimately, the list begs the question: If even this hastily convened national conversation can midwife a new way of writing — call it Journalism 2.0 — will the tightly knit community that is the mainstream media finally begin thinking outside the box?"
  • Graphene super-toys last all summer long  "researchers at UCLA discovered they could make single-layer sheets of graphene by coating a DVD with graphite oxide and then "playing" the disc in a plain old DVD drive. And then [that it] could be used, for example, as a mobile phone battery that lasts all day, charges in a few seconds, and can be thrown into a compost bin after use." This does sound like a proper breakthrough.