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Monthly Archives: March 2010

Professor Jocelyn Bell Burnell DBE is an astrophysicist who, as a postgraduate student, discovered the first radio pulsars.[1] Though this earned her supervisor a Nobel Prize, she was not included; far from being despondent she explains that no student could have expected to be included in such an honor in those days.[2]

Amazingly, only the second woman to be made a professor of physics in the UK, Burnell became the President of the Institute of Physics (IOP) in 2008, the first woman to hold this role.

I met Professor Burnell briefly at a IOP event where she was to give us a presentation on Project Juno[4] and couldn’t help but be impressed by her friendly manner (I was standing on my own as I knew no one there and she came over and spoke to me; it’s the sort of act that leaves an impression.)

With a lifetime of achievements and honors, including Fellowship of the Royal Society and a DBE, she nevertheless remains a modest individual; we are really fortunate to have her as our President.


[1] Cosmic Search Vol. 1, No. 1 – Little Green Men, White Dwarfs or Pulsars?

[2] Jocelyn Bell Burnell – Professor in Astrophysics, President of the Institute of Physics and gender equality champion

[3] Professor Jocelyn Bell Burnell DBE becomes President – IOP

[4] Project Juno

Today’s meeting was an opportunity for Subject Centres to learn more about JISC’s Curriculum Design and Delivery Programme, in particular the Design Studio.

The day started by looking at the programme which comprises 12 projects running from October 2008 – July 2012. The projects are all looking at institution-wide curriculum design issues and how practice can be improved or enhanced across the institution, with regard for necessary discipline variations, making curricula more responsive, flexible and agile.

Transforming Curriculum Delivery through Technology comprises 15 projects, two in FE alone, spread across the disciplines (sadly, none in physical science.) The emphasis is generally not on the technology itself but how it is being used (so may involve using established systems such as the institutional VLE.) Initial findings show a commitment to listen to learners and engage with stakeholders (though this can be difficult to measure) and to consider a cost benefit analysis (which is challenging to calculate.)

The Design Studio is an evolution of a wiki for the Programme. It comprises the outcomes of the projects (assets) and a design cycle linking them. The assets are tagged so (currently) the visitor can work through the Design Studio either by segments in the design cycle or through the tags.  Representatives of Subject Centres have requested a way visitors can look at this work with a discipline perspective and ways this can be achieved will be investigated as the wiki is developed.

Design Studio

Programme blog

Twitter: @circlespace


Yesterday, at the Girl Geek Dinner held at the Enterprise Centre at the University of Hull, attendees heard a presentation by Emma McGrattan of Ingres. Along with discussions about Software Engineer Barbie and whether men and women code differently (don’t go there), I was particularly interested in what she had to say about Open Source.

We had many IT students in attendance and she encouraged them to see getting involved in the Open Source movement as a way to get some real world experience, something to add to their CV and a way of finding what they were particularly passionate about within their discipline. We heard about Google’s Summer of Code and the opportunities it offered as just one example.

Could there be such enthusiasm for Open Source the UK in the future (as there is in the US) and could the OER movement become as popular?

Could we encourage student teachers and new lecturers (on post graduate certificate courses) to get involved in OER as part of their studies, contributing resources to some repository for which they could receive feedback or which could be developed by others? How much support would this need and who would/could provide it?

(My thanks to @iamhelenharrop for prompting me to attend this event.)

I’m intrigued by the idea of children ‘…leaning the kings and queens of England.’  What is the meaning of learning in this context? Is this in fact a way of saying memorising? Are we so unambitious?

I never had to memorise…sorry, learn this at school so I’d be interested to know how long it would take the average child to commit this list to memory? (While you were in the classroom doing this I was out with my class on the beach identifying shells and understanding their shapes. I hope you enjoyed yourself, I know I did.)

When it came to learning about history, my early memories are of looking at what life was like under different monarchs, if you know that you can easily put them into approximate order (the numbers after their names help too!) Yes, I know that it is more work than learning the list but it’s more…. interesting and you have to think  to derive the order. We do want children to think, don’t we? Having the order committed to memory doesn’t stop you thinking but recall of a list doesn’t constitute deep thinking.

‘History should be taught “in order — it’s a narrative”…’

I’m trying to imagine this. First day of school, you’re still haven’t learnt how to tie your shoes (or get them on the right feet) but your first lesson is… The Big Bang. I admit that’s going to be tough but if history’s got to be taught in order then that’s where you have to begin and you’ll have to start early as there’s such a lot to get through.

Really, does history have to be taught in order? Is there any reasearch which says this is the most effective method?  Also, I would have thought, just like other subjects, there would be some spiralling in on eras, easy stuff first (dress, diet etc) and then on to the more complex matters (religion, politics, law etc) later on.

If you do know what should be taught and how, ‘great minds’ are being sought for the task:

I’ve recently being enjoying reading and rereading a few golden era who done its. For the uninitiated, these are tales in which the amateur sleuth is prevalent and usually has the whole crime solved with the application of a public school education/common sense/a life spent in a small village (which, pound for pound, come across as the most crime ridden places on earth.)

Usually, there is only one police officer per crime which, if you found a body in your library today, I think would attract a whole fleet of coppers (unless it’s a common occurence in your neck of the woods, in which case I would consider moving, as corpses take up a serious amount of shelf space.)

Libraries, yes. If your house isn’t the sort to have a library, you’re patently rif raf and can forget a visit from that nice Belgian detective or the old lady with the knitting; this is not a genre in which you will appear other than as a parlour maid or the stiff.

But what was I talking about? Ah yes, technology. It struck me that it would be impossible to construct one of these simple mystery stories in the modern age as modern gadgetry as rendered much of the traditional devices of threat and tension redundant.

Isolation is just not what it used to be. You’re in a spooky old house in the middle of nowhere, the other inhabitants dropping like flies, and you find that someone has disconnected the telephone line. Kids, that used to be frightening. These days, who would care? Seriously, how long would it be before you even noticed that your own land line had been disconnected?

Stranded on an island with a homicidal manic? Call the emergency services with your mobile. Finding yourself lost in the woods when following the trail of a gang of crooks to their lair? The sat nav feature will solve that (or at least the compass.) And if you can take a few clear photographs of the gang members while you’re there (good job you went for the model with the better camera), that’s going to save the police artist a lot of work.

Think the other members of the diner party have  a ‘past’?  Google them. Person who may be able to corroborate a story unobtainable because they are travelling ‘out East’? No problem, text them, no one’s unobtainable these days unless they are on retreat (and taking it seriously, not Tweeting about it.)

I’ve just read my first who done it featuring characters with mobile phones and digital cameras as common place. How long before we get a story where the characters in a country house mystery are updating their Facebook status with the current body count and the amature detective is using Wikipedia to research untraceable poisons. Or have I just invented a new spoof genre?

I wish to start by stating that I am not a member of the word police (if such an organisation exists) and if it doesn’t that I’m not advocating we form one. I’d be continually having my collar felt as I’m sure I commit word crimes every time I speak or put fingers to keyboard; bad spellers don’t vote for spelling bees.

However as much as I love the flexibility of the English language and love the way it gets flexed, there are dangers that if we take it beyond its elastic limit it sustains permanent change that we never intended.

Language changes as we change, it’s a fact of English, resisting this generally only ends up making you look like King Canute. But I’d like to make a plea on behalf of the words that have no synonym. These, it would seem to me, are the ones that might need protection or at least someone to speak in their defence.

Though words have meaning expressed in dictionaries if we assign them new meanings (which is a polite way of saying ‘if we habitually misuse them’) the dictionary definition will change. This can be an economic thing, we take words and phrases that had one meaning in one age but are no longer needed so refit them for a new one, eg powder room.

However, other words get redefined bit by bit and we are left with the old word with a new meaning but no word for the old meaning. Amateur, for instance once meant doing something for the love of it, that certainly is its root, but how often do you see it used to mean that? Could you get away with calling someone an amateur and not have it sound insulting on almost every occasion?

I think we have lost the battle with that one, and decimate is going the same way. It means reduce by a tenth but on every occasion I hear it being used it sounds like the speaker means reduce to a tenth. Now if this is majority view this will in time be the meaning of the word, but why I am prepared to get my feel wet is… what do we call reducing by a tenth when we have lost the only word we have to describe it? We already have words that describe almost complete loss, we don’t need another word.

Think the loss of decimate is no loss? Consider this.  Unique is unique. It doesn’t mean rare or unusual or scarce. Those words describe at least the possibility of more than one occurence, unique means only one. Except of course if we keep misusing it and it will be lost with no way to quickly sum up the fact there is only one of something left, that what we are seeing we will see nowhere else.

Do spare a thought for the uniqueness of unique next time you use. It’s special so worth keeping for special occasions when it really deserves to get used.