Blogging University


I’ve found that in the realm of student centered learning, a lot of people are concerned about learner a missing out on important concepts.This is something that would need to be overcome, especially in applied topics such as nursing.

Considering that with respect to the social media tools and their use within education, I’ve been looking at how we could get more out of blogging as a pedagogical tool. I think the use of blogs and Wiki’s are great, but because they are the unmeasured autonomous component they are often swept away, even though they make the best learning experience.

What if the teachers could integrate blogging in a way conceptually similar to googles 20% time? What if a fifth of your grade could be pass/fail marked over blogging assignments. When you need to know about models of memory consolidation, why not expect a student to spend three hours researching and producing a simple blog post explaining it?

You could have students publishing to their blogs or wikis daily, and some blog topics might be specified while others are free choice. The teacher can then guide students through important concepts, have a good measure of real understanding and the students can benefit from autonomous, empowered, intrinsically motivated learning habits.

It would connect learners for networked learning, and it would add both variety and rigor, which are both essential for beneficial, lasting learning. Realistically, what are the reasons that we aren’t trying this?


What Do We Value?

Photo Credit: Tax Credits

Photo Credit: Tax Credits

In a recent seminar we concluded that some of society’s values are misaligned. In a world where some economically developed countries are now developing robots to care for their elderly while one can be paid hundreds of thousands of pounds for making yet more money through the financial markets. Consider that also in terms of education. We say we want to deliver value for money in an education system, which we do through batch processes, shipping students through to get the best ‘value’ for money. Interestingly, some less economically developed countries scratch their heads because they can manage to empower their students with an individual laptop each while we, well… can’t.

Some people will tell you this is the natural flow of things. That that is just how it is. That the refuse collector (who really keeps our streets clear of rats and disease) doesn’t warrant such a high salary. Or the teaching assistant, who might be the difference between children achieving a meaningful role in life, or being left to fail. It’s all to do with our values. It asks the question: what do we value? Do we desire for every child to find purpose in life? Or do we value ‘get rich quick’ schemes based on leverage and speculation?

The problem is that this question seems too anecdotal. Is there any variables, or any break down at all that could give it some depth? I think there is. Look at how businesses measure value? Typically in terms of cost I would say. They ask: for every pound I put in, how much do I get back? It drives their decisions of who to hire or what equipment and raw materials they might choose to use. So value might be what you get back to what you put in. And good value typically means you get back more.

The value of return is measured in more than money. If you value a £300 set of Bose headphones, the sound quality must be worth more than £300. Although, can you put a price on quality? Where society’s values are mixed up then is the worth they place on individuals. It looks to me that we place our worth on things, not people.

I also believe that this applies to education. Not just for teachers and commissioners, but for learners. As a higher education student, what do I value? How do I value my time? Or entertainment? What types of work or study are likely to yield the largest dividends in the long term? And it is in no way clear cut. Ask anybody the right leading questions and they’ll tell you they value study. Which is right, if one wishes to do well; more study typically leads to a more empowering job. But we all need balance, so a measure of recreation and entertainment also yields increasing returns.

We need to carefully discern how to value each, and I think it is something that can only be learned individually after one has selected one’s own overarching values of getting a good education.

Value is so much more than monetary. There are things which are somewhat priceless, but wherein we will experience a ‘law of increasing returns’ for putting resources into it.

Research Methods Blogs

icon-36401_640Two years ago at the start of my degree, a portion of our research methods grade was based on writing a bi-weekly blog (and comments) on research methods in psychology. There was some pretty common traps that students starting out on their academic writing fell in to.

Firstly, we had about a thousand blogs on ethics, validity and whether outliers should be removed or not. Because of this it did make me wonder what there was to write about beyond this. Two years on I think I have the answer, and it has been a light bulb moment for me as I contemplate gearing up for a higher academic work load.

Imagine you are a PhD student, and the first phase of your study is to read a whole pile of journal articles which you will then need to understand and use to plan your own research.

If you take your highlighter to it in depth you’ll be reading for far longer than three years. If you read merely to say you did it your recollection will be similar to that of attending lectures. If you want an idea of what results were found, then the abstract and elements of the conclusion often do the job for you. My question here is: what are you actually reading for?

As we blogged for our science of education blog this semester I eventually worked out that there was good marks to be earned by critiquing the evidence already cited by other students. Looking out for things like conflicts of interest or invalid measures. In short, marks came from evaluating the research methods.

I’m seeing the same pattern as I’m starting to write my dissertation. Prior to my academic blogging experiences I was stalling for what to write, anxious about the task ahead of writing a good literature review. But when you see a 2000 word literature review as no more than 10x 200 word critiques (blog comments) the job seems a lot more manageable.

This perspective of examining the research methods gives purpose to the review I am conducting, as it really does set the stage for my own research. It shows the challenges to overcome and the cause/effect relations between different variables and study techniques. And in doing so, your work then carries the general results and findings thus far.

Now I don’t claim for one second that my undergraduate work compares like for like with the work of a PhD student. However undergraduate learning is a taster, modelled around high level academic study, so these ideas seem to take me a step closer to developing professional skills. Academics aren’t there to memorise literature. They definitely aren’t there to copy it either. You’re trying to seek and sense so that you can add new value later on. Considering, evaluating and comparing the research methods looks like a really balanced way to objectively evaluate research to expound on its potential.

Web 2.0 Model and Real Learning

Last week I gave a talk about how the Raspberry Pi computer models the psychological concepts of the MUSIC model (Jones, 2009), and also semantic encoding and social networking.

While I was speaking, something occurred to me. There are two factions of opinion to the use of technology in education. There is the movement to put the capitalistic, closed source and blatantly expensive iPad into our classrooms, and there are also products such as the Raspberry Pi, which are cheap, open sourced and have undergone a huge level of development from hobbyist programmers.

Both of them have landed up with a top product but for different reasons. There’s a culture in the Apple organisation for making things such that they can persuade people to want them. From that perspective, they can’t go wrong. But they have made a product and a framework that is simple to use, and allows for plenty of sharing. While you are often roped into subscribing to a lot more of the apple ecosystem than you might like to (think proprietary peripherals), it works, and it is an enjoyable experience to use.

Now the Pi on the other hand has a crowd sourced developing model. The genius to this is that average Joe is empowered to do his own coding. Thus the scope for innovation is practically unlimited. Through this we’ve seen numerous teaching models and novel ideas that make the Pi a true sandbox for creativity.

I read an interesting article this last week also about web 2.0 culture. Web 2.0 has done a lot more than merely make the internet interactive. What is has done is streamline discussion and empowered the individual to speak out. Retweets and reblogs amplify topics and the freedom of speech that web 2.0 affords, along with its audience and network of critics means that crowd sourced innovation and power is easily found. It is not hard then to see how the pedagogical support for the Raspberry Pi and other open source tools have only gotten better.

Jon Husband (2007) talks about how such learning can be likened to a fishnet. As you will see from the image below a fishnet can be lifted up and let down from varies nodes, creating short term and flexible hierarchies. The internet is “all periphery and no centre” (Hamel, but see Husband, 2007), yet there is times when a centre of control and direction is needed. But as the fishnets movements are governed by the waves of the sea, so too must the educational and commercial institutions adapt with such flexibility to make the best possible use of people and learning opportunities.

Picture Credit: Hamel (see Husband, 2007)

Picture Credit: Hamel (see Husband, 2007)

I am sure apple must have a similar such culture within their organisation, which has produced a fantastic product. I must say however that while the iPad is a tool; a means to an end to create something else. On the other hand, the Raspberry Pi’s open nature has empowered people to a level of unprecedented opportunity to dissect, understand, create and share.


Social Media in the Workplace

networkI have spent a lot of time studying the use of social media in relation to education, and I have concluded that it is very useful. Evidence suggests that crowd sourced projects (such as Wikipedia) actually work, and contain a lot of depth in their articles. The manor of empowering individuals to connect with experts and peers, to share and to discuss, leads learners to enter the flow experience and benefit from intrinsic motivation.

But where does that fit in with employers? Surely it would be a significant turn off to a recruiter when Jimmy the graduate enters and starts lobbying colleagues to use twitter, or to blog on a public forum about day to day operations? It might be fair to say that while academic can benefit from tearing down walls, an element of business success surely comes from keeping them up.

An article by Rachel Happe (2013) provides a good synopsis of the ‘what’ social media can do. And it needs to be noted that social media is merely the vehicle through which it is delivered. Too many people have seen the ‘like us on Facebook’ ads on the back of the breakfast cereal box, or have seen someone on Facebook repost some meme and equated that with social media’s benefits. But the real benefit (and this is why SM is only the vehicle) is in the human relationships that it quickens.

Building relationships is the essence of a dynamic organisation. Experiential learning is essential, but cannot be transmitted via lecture or writ. What you need is the person. Not only do you need the person, but the person needs to be empowered to share. Now think about the reasons they might not share? They might be dissatisfied with their job, they might have fear of becoming dispensable, or they might feel animosity to the person needing the information. Trust and unity are the principles behind the networked organisation for which SM is the vehicle. As I said before, the university benefits from taking down its walls to the wider world. The business could benefit from at least taking down walls within.

Empower the employees to make their own connections. Let them have fun and communicate over their areas of expertise. Regardless of the medium used (email often still suffices) it is the intrinsically motivated and connected workers who have the flexibility and connections that let the organisation solve problems dynamically – in a whole new way.

I don’t even think this is a surprise for a lot of businesses. People have been talking about networking for years. But often it is still an uneasy topic to approach. Still, for motivation and new solutions let these principles be born in mind. The work in education, and according to Harold Jarche (2013), learning is the work!

The only thing that interferes with my learning is my education (Albert Einstein)

This is a blog from one of my fellow class mates. While I didn’t read/comment on it during the assessed period, I heard good things about it so have come back to visit it.
I see the arguments in the main post to be robust, and what is interesting is that in the comments section, about one quarter of the class come to take-on the author over her conclusions. Jesse (the class teacher) humorously describes grades as a ‘sacred relic’ that students pay a bit too much homage to. But note how so many of the class still fight in favour of grades, typically based on reasons of keeping stability/the popular vote.
My own thoughts on grading are thus: the menace of grades is the token economy that grading has fostered. We need, even so, a way to certify what people can do, however what right have we do draw a line of dissemination separating those who can and those who can’t. The real classification needs to merely be those who can, and those who can’t YET. And, this needs to be qualitative certification. Using instead mastery learning paradigms, qualitative feedback and portfolios are a much more positive way to measure skill and capability without creating a class of sub standard graduates that inevitably make the tail end of the bell curve.

Science of Education

In this module we have been involved in student-centred learning, becoming independent learners by actively choosing topics of interest for our blogs. My central focus has been on evaluating the grading process.  Grading is an integral part of the education system, yet its use is often questionable.

My initial blogs focused on the issues with grading, with the belief that with certain adjustments, the grading process could be improved. For example, there is a disparity between the subjective process of grading, and the ‘objective’ assessment produced (Kohn, 1994). Markers aren’t machines, and are subjected to a number of influences in the grading process (York, Bridges & Woolf, 2000). Therefore educators must decide whether to follow strict guidelines (or use automated marking) to obtain objectivity and reliability, or accept the subjectivity of grading, allowing students to surpass the mark scheme through novel creativity.

As I gained…

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One iPad Per Child

This is my talk on 1:1 iPad policies and social learning that I gave as part of my Science of Education class of my undergraduate psychology degree.

Of the many movements seeking to comission 1:1 computer access in education, I review the arguments for and against, specifically relating to the recent ‘hull report’.

I talk about how the mere distribution of iPads to students without pedagogical change has key shortcomings, yet when looked at through an autonomy supportive social paradigm, they can be a real enabling force for students.
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One iPad Per Child by Chris James Barker is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.