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Monthly Archives: September 2010

Another packed programme of presentations this year, here are the highlights of some of them:

Ifan Hughes (Durham) spoke about the use of interactive screen experiments and the role of pre-lab tasks to increase the efficacy of the time students spend in laboratories.

Steve Hanson from the Centre revealed some preliminary findings from the soon to be published data on graduate skills in physics, based on detailed interviews with new graduates from around the UK (there will also be corresponding data published on chemistry and forensic science.)

Simon Bates (Edinburgh) reported on the shift there from years of recruiting undergraduates to now being able to select students and the challenges this has brought.

Vijay Tymms (Imperial) looked at whether repeated testing (at school) was leading to a shift from intrinsic to extrinsic motivation in students.

Fredrick Floether (Cambridge), our Student Award winner, spoke about his experiences as an undergraduate. He noted the movement towards documents existing only in electronic form (and the possible advantages of this), more use of animations and use of mobile devices. He noted the increase in online learning, the encouragement of students to take learning into their own hands and increasing interdisciplinary nature of science courses. Also highlighted was the increasing internationalisation of higher education, with students flowing in more directions around the globe in pursuit of their education but also the possible bifucation of students into those who attend a campus and those who teach themselves from online resources.

Dick Bacon from the Centre introduced the new adaptive questions that are now available in Question Bank with a call to try them and perhaps submit more to the collection.

Ross Galloway (Edinburgh) spoke about work with students whose coursework scores were significantly higher than their exam scores. These tended to be students whose qualifications were non-UK and who had taken a gap year, and interviews had shown that they had unrealistic ideas about exam preparation and the time it would take. Interesting, merely interviewing students about this appeared to have the effect of improving their subsequent exam performance, though no other intervention had been made.

Sally Jordan (OU) presented details of work on computer assessment of short-answer questions. She emphasised the importance of modeling answers on the real answers of students, rather than those of staff who answer questions differently. The unintended consequence of this has been the greater understanding of the ways students interpret questions which has been used to improve question.

Ross Galloway (Edinburgh) held a workshop on data handling skills. Discussion amongst the participants revealed the following:  teaching such skills tends to be concentrated in the early years and it is hard to convince  students are they should do some data analysis during the experiment as they would rather do it afterwards once the experiment is complete. At Edinburgh it was found that once teaching data handling skills stopped, improvement stopped also; students appeared not to pick up skills without support.

Robert Francis (NTU) detailed an archeo-astronomy project that was being used with school and university groups. A virtual field trip was built to enable pupils/students to be able to make the most of their field work.

Marialuisa Aliotta (Edinburgh) reported on the use of scoring rubrics, use of which students felt led to reduced variation and fairing marking.

Lynn Moran (Liverpool) spoke about outreach work which had grown from an informal grouping of students and had worked on tackling negative views of science.

Personal response to the opening Keynote of ALT-C 2010:

If he’d just said that we should get rid of bad lectures I would have agreed with him but…

It’s like the calls you hear to ban PowerPoint. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with PowerPoint, there is with bad PowerPoint presentations. Similarly, a call to get rid of lecturers is simply missing the point. We’ve probably all had a bad meal in a restaurant, we didn’t call for a ban on restaurants… or eating.

The only good reasons to stop lectures would be 1) because they do no good/do harm or 2) because we have something better. This morning we were not offered evidence of the first (disappointing as the scientific method was mentioned by the speaker) or ideas for the second (simply saying ‘doing more online’ does not count.)

Lecturing (and I don’t mean that in a pejorative way) is varied, because the people who lecture vary, as do the students and courses. You may have had a bad experience as an undergraduate, my experience as a physics undergraduate was a good one; let’s call it quits.

I’d like to suggest the speaker actually takes a look at what is going on in lectures today, rather than reach back for a memory of his undergraduate days. It is pointless to say you are angry at a situation but have no real ideas for remedies. Find out what’s going on and you will see what today’s lecturers are doing with their lectures. You’ll find (even physics) lecturers who know about cognitive overload and working memory, and ones carrying on Mazur’s work. There’s still work to do but that’s what the Centre I work with support. Let’s stop cursing the darkness and light a candle.

And last but not least: physics researchers should not teach because they would be ‘square pegs in round holes’ hopelessly held back by introversion and lack of social skills? Feynman managed both very well, Brian Cox isn’t doing too badly either. There are others less well known if you care to look; I will be meeting some of them immediately after ALT-C at our physics education conference. It’s called PHEC*; we may have no social skills but it can’t be said we have no sense of humour.

*Physics Higher Education Conference

This week is particularly busy for me, with two conferences back to back, ALT-C then PHEC.

I’d hoped to be included in a workshop at my first ALT-C but it wasn’t to be, still I went along. Crowdvine, which I’d never encountered before, was particularly useful when attending a large conference for the first time and without colleagues. It gave me an idea of who would be there and the topics that were uppermost in peoples’ minds, so when I arrived at the conference itself I hit the ground running.

It also got me using Twitter, which at that time was little known and still finding its feet. I don’t know if any of us knew then what we were going to do with it but I’m glad I persisted.

This will be my third ALT-C and my first time with a presentation which makes it particularly special. Crowdvine has again be very useful for pre- conference planning and I aim to be using Twitter in my usual ‘meeting’ mode (a cross between note taking and broadcasting.)

If you have an interest in open educational resources, whatever your discipline (or none),  do stop by poster 0225, flag me down during the conference or leave me a comment on Crowdvine.

Recently, I’ve been hearing a few comments that seem to suggest we should be using the most open of licences for resources or, frankly, not bothering at all.

The reasons include the carrot-y ones (‘the less restrictive the license the more likely your resource will be reused‘) to the stick-y ones (‘if there are restrictions on reuse, you just don’t get the meaning of open’.)

So I’m getting on my soapbox…

I love the idea of sharing that which does not diminish us and practice this with my own personal work (I do not own that which I create at work, so that’s a different story, but I’m working on it.) However, I do not subscribe to the all or nothing view of openness. Here’s why.

There are categories of resource that are just not suitable for completely open release.  Here’s are some examples (there are others) and if you disagree, leave your counter arguments in the comments:

  1. Sensitive material – e.g. forensic science photographs.
  2. Q & A that include the A –  good for self-educating students, but can there be nothing that educators can use ‘as is’ without having to change because students can look up the answers?
  3. Specialised tests – e.g. concept inventories, the outputs of which are only useful because when students meet them it’s for the first time.

Is anyone saying that the originator should never presume to select who should access a resource?

I’m also in favour of having a more restrictive license available in cases of new users, and not giving them a hard time if they use it. Organisations and individuals can be nervous about openness and what will happen; is there real harm in them ‘testing the water’ with a more restrictive license so they can get some experience and see that adding an open license does cause the sky to fall in? And if they do find that their resources don’t get much reuse, that might be the perfect time to explain that it’s opening the licence up that may solve that problem. In this way, the user moves in a more open direction and doesn’t need to be pushed or cajoled.

I’ve seen nothing that suggests that those that use the more restrictive licenses never graduate to less restrictive ones; I myself have moved from the most to the least restrictive CC licence as I have become more comfortable with the idea. I had to start somewhere and I’d like to extend that option to others.

I’m for encouraging sharing, and support this as part of my role, and to me that means understanding others’ motivations to share and the specialist knowledge they have about their resources. Saying ‘all or nothing’ when sharing,  might get you the latter; be careful with your zeal you don’t just put off the very people I am trying to coax into participation. The shallow end is there for a reason: paddlers have the potential to become strong swimmers.

(Many thanks to @Lawrie for giving me the impetus to complete this posting, started some time ago.)