Tag Archive | reviews

Repositories of evidence – The eLearning Professional

As I said yesterday – two new post-graduate courses started, with ‘The eLearning Professional’ (the OU’s H808, developed by the Institute of Educational Technology, a leader in the field of online teaching and learning) being the second post-graduate course I am currently working on towards an MA in Online and Distance Education (MAODE).

Also for this course, all study content is available online, this time sources are rather widespread – with no convenient reading list on Delicious readily available or a neatly compiled eReader. I had seen some criticism on the OU’s site by previous students regarding the lack of clearly communicated learning outcomes. This issue no longer exists: there is a whole document available which clarifies learning outcomes. It definitely helps when working through the study guide and the calendar. It may also help getting back on track later, when I am getting lost somewhere between networking, prosuming and a looming deadline…

This is a course that seems to cover a lot of ground: technically and theoretically. It’s also been my first course ever at the OU where, within a few hours after engaging in the forum, someone asks me to network outside the OU boundaries (Twitter! Blogs! Delicious!– great! I did miss that bit during my undergrad studies).

The first block of 4 units is to be studied over a period of 8 weeks, it contains a diverse range of external online sources, it required signing up for an Open Access Journal (usually we’ve got access to the vast range of journals via the OU’s online library) – I did not encounter one single broken link. That’s brilliant (and not taken for granted). The remaining blocks are not yet accessible (which I feel is micro-managing us), so planning and working ahead will be limited – and that’s a clear minus as my schedule is going to be packed over the next few months.

Applied to the ‘4 areas of competency’ as the course team calls them, i.e. practice, communication, technology and research, is a framework of skills, reflection, critique and proactivity. Hence, the pieces students produce for blogs, wikis, podcasts and eportfolios will become objects (or artefacts) for the ‘repository of evidence’. They will, at least to me, also become subject to extended scrutiny:

  • theories of power,
  • knowledge construction,
  • the politics of identity as well as
  • other sociological concepts

have already been crossing my mind while I skimmed through the material which has been written from an elearning/educational perspective. Apart from this, students will be developing their own personal portfolios, and they will be evaluating various systems and templates in this respect.

Assessment is multi-faceted. There is academic writing required but also reflective commenting, report-writing, forum-discussions in relation to online [asynchronous] collaboration which may entail some synchronous debate on Elluminate Live! which enables audio-conferencing and real-time online collaboration. The collaborative production of podcasts towards the end of the course in January 2010 will probably be located in there, at least in part. The first paper is due in early November, it covers 2,500 words, the following is to be submitted by mid-December, word limit is 4,000 – this one is double-weighted. The last one is an examinable component of 5,000 words, it’s a composite of ePortfolio, essay and commentary and counts 50% towards the overall mark.

There is also guidance as to copyright restrictions in this context, which I think useful to discuss at an early stage. Not least because plagiarism used to be an issue in undergraduate courses where exam marks for a considerable number of students tended to mysteriously drop down towards the fail-barrier – which regularly resulted in claims ‘papers must have been messed up by external examiners…’ I do hope to find some more in-depth material on attribution in particular in relation to online collaboration in this course – and hopefully a lot more fellow students who blog, tweet – and raise questions as to what accounts for 21st century literacies from an eLearning professional’s perspective.

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Andy Field’s Discovering Statistics using SPSS – a student review

As mentioned before in my post on Research Methods and Skills here is a review of the book by Andy Field that has proved to be most helpful in my current post-graduate statistics course:

FIELD, A (3rd ed.) (2009) Discovering Statistics using SPSS. London: Sage.

For this 820 pages oeuvre there is a companion available with a number of student resources such as multiple choice questions and a flash card gloassary. Field’s companion on Sage
I got the edition which includes a 13 months student licence for SPSS Version 17.0.

Here are a number of reviews on Amazon . It is the most user-friendly, smart-structured, and accessible as well as entertaining Statistics book I have come across. If you are a busy student with more than a commitment to studies, try this. Field is doing a fantastic job in providing an all-you-need volume which does not step into the trap so many other authors seem to be unable to avoid. All those who believe they can fragment statistics and provide either the maths only, or the SPSS only or some statistics chunk food that leaves you unsatisfied as you still don’t understand how to apply findings to a case other than the model discussed.

Field’s book provides a 16-pages glossary, 7-pages references, index plus an appendix which contains the following:

  1. Table of the standard normal distribution
  2. Critical values of the t-distribution
  3. Critical values of the F-distribution
  4. Critical values of the chi-square distribution

There is a separate chapter about SPSS, the environment, the viewer, the SmartViewer, the syntax and more. A list of mathematical operators, Greek symbols and English symbols comes in very handy, so does the brief maths revision
EasyMaths .

Each chapter highlights at the end the important terms which is very useful for revision. There are self-tests, references for further reading and interesting real research as well as areas which explain either ‘strange dialogue boxes’ (in SPSS and how to make sense of them) or concepts (such as degree of freedom).

The chapters are structured in a clear manner, the language is clear and terms are explained throughout so that you won’t have to flip nervously through several books at the same time and do the work a smart author and editing team would have done for you. Formulae and tables produced in SPSS are displayed in a logical manner, for instance the dialog box to be selected in SPSS is followed by a scatterplot which in turn is illustrated by SPSS outputs. The latter are also explained in detail so you know what they actually mean, how to write them up in a conventional way, how to analyse them and how to interpret the outcome. Key terms have been printed in red and the SPSS dialogue boxes also come in colour.

Recoding, for instance, is explained for those using the recode function in SPSS but also for those who do a lot of recoding, there is the syntax and a related file on the CD. There is a number of data sets available to play with, Field has chosen to provide areas such as the impact of Viagra on a person’s libido (getting those on board who are tired of jobs in postoffice.sav or the little inspiring government statistics on traffic) in order to explain ANOVA (analysis of variance).

Field’s Statistics Hell is also very useful and offers:

  • Lectures on frequency distributions
  • Handouts: SPSS: t-test, frequency distributions and correlation

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review of the OU StudentHome: connectivity, interaction and synchronisation

The OU is redesigning the StudentHome I read on Twitter this week. That was long overdue, I thought – when guyweb asked anybody who uses the Open University StudentHome to tell him what they liked and disliked about it. Thorough improvement is imminent, I am hoping…

In brief, the StudentHome contains previous and future courses which are listed with marks, submission dates and course resources as well as links to the library, data about myself, the regional centre and the current (but not previous) associate lecturers. What I find useful and pleasant to access are the course-related sites, they were designed in a clean and user-friendly style.

However, there is no way to share items in social book-marking style among students or invite others to courses you have studied, add comments, suggestions and critiques (course reviews require approval). It very much conveys a notion of: that’s your StudentHome and you are home alone. OU studenthome calendar On the left hand menu there is an empty Personal Calendar which is equipped with an export function. Students will need to add all exam dates, essay cut off dates etc themselves, and are left with an ICS file. Not sure what that’s for, the site does not provide any explanation.
There is no way to get that simply into my Google calendar – link it with Facebook events, and there is no advise as to how to synchronise with my PDA.  So I do not use it. There is also a Personal Blog option which, unfortunately, won’t offer me the option to simply synchronise my already established blog and microblog. No way to add my RSS feed, no options to see other students’ blogs.
What happens if I enrol elsewhere? Will my blog expire? This must have been designed by someone who has never used a blog, and someone who does not enjoy the flow of communication.  Now that’s exactly what is paramount in an OU student’s life: communication and interaction with peers.  So, what I hope to see after the revamp is the following:

  • Lecturers remain largely invisible apart from the odd telephone tutorial and emails sent out to non-disclosed recipients.  I really hope that they learn to play a more active part in our studies.  First of all, it would be good to see what academic affiliation they have got or some links to their publications, projects etc.
  • As I said, we are still using old-fashioned telephone tutorials (undergraduate courses offer face to face tutorials and dayschools).  The size in my current courses is fantastic, there is no more than 5 of us discussing.  But we keep wondering why the OU does make no use of Skype.
  •  Podcasts.  Courses I have studied often contain audio material with interviews, often truly excellent material.  But the CDs have been protected, so I am unable to get the files on my mp3 player.  For any full-time working/busy student that would be of enormous help.
  • RSS feeds as well as social bookmarking would make life a lot more easy and exciting.  Often, I share an article on the BBC or The New York Times in Google Reader or Delicious – other students share them on Facebook.  The OU (Social Sciences), it seems, does not share at all.
  • Wikis (possibly some study-relevant) and Group Blogs would be a great step forward.  Not least also a step towards a stronger sense of belonging to an active student community that is keen on connectivity and sharing: blogs and wikis help gaining presentational skills and will improve a sense of authorship/dealing with plagiarism.
  • The libray is now on Twitter, there is also a blog and a page on Facebook. Great.  But you will need to collect the bits as it’s all very scattered and not all is relevant to non-librarians. 
  • The OU Youtube channel, for instance, is still not linked and you will only find it if you actually search for it.  There is also a lot OU teaching and research going on in Second Life – but you will need to spend some time on finding out about it yourself.  Or hear from non-OU academics what the OU is actually doing.
  • As I am a Social Sciences students, the StudentHome provides me with a link to the SOCSCI-PROG Social Sciences Subject (what’s that?).  There are links to a number of faculty staff blogs. Wow – but not one single link to a student’s blog.  To me that conveys a sense of hierarchy, but I might be wrong – perhaps they simply do not know any student blogs.  But then they announce that “Soon we will also be asking tutors to send in their selections”, which confirms my first impression.
    Links to  “Your undergraduate study” and “Learning Journeys” are made for undergraduates and retired learners – the one-size-fits-all might suit the OU, it definitely needs a thorough re-think. 
  • Now, a truly significant point is the lack of notifications we get about conferences, workshops, symposia etc.  There is one single hidden link to the ESRC Festival of Social Science – it’s listed in Latest News, where I would hardly ever find it had I not followed the invite to review the StudentHome.  Events at the British Academy, for instance, would be interesting to a large number of students, there is so much out there that the OU could share with their students (let’s not talk about money here and the related students=clients debate). 
  •  There is also no link to the Ethics Committee and their procedures.  When I was requesting approval for access to a dataset collected and made available by a university in the USA, I contacted my faculty who was sceptic of Master students getting involved in writing papers for international conferences.  That is something PhD students would not be doing before their 2nd year.  Well, thanks for the encouraging comments – I was left chasing for approval, resubmitting the explanations and obtained it eventually seven weeks later then.  Now I know who is the relevant contact in the Ethics Committee and how to deal with them – but why not making that information accessible to post-graduate students in general?
  • Professional associations such as BISA, PSI, SPA are listed on the StudentHome, although the number is very limited: only 10 have been selected.  Neither AoIR nor MeCCSA are mentioned.  There is a list of 9 think tanks and research bodies but it is just a plain list, no further advice, updates or anything else on grant applications, ethics guidelines etc.
    At Birkbeck College, University of London (BBK) lecturers forward at least once a week the large numbers of associations’ newsletters, event announcements etc to their students.  This is not the case at the OU, here students need to be way more proactive researchers in order to not miss out on social capital and all the vital information that helps from an early stage on to connect and grow academically. 
  • Finally, there is also no advice provided as to software packages more specific to our studies such as bibliographical packages, survey tools and file sharing applications. Available is, however, a range of Word-processing and anti-virus software links. 

SUMMARY  It’s a scattered universe, pages are not interlinked, they are not tailormade for students according to their level of study. They are compiled with a very broad picture of middle-aged student in mind probably with a working class background and rather interested in finding any job than in doing research or building a non-conventional career (the Careers link is the last resource I recommend for advice on funded PhD programmes).

The OUSA FirstClass conferencing system which is linked to the StudentHome is student-moderated and urgently requires a revamp too.  OUSA states that “Our conferences span interest, hobbies and lifestyle issues ranging from the serious and sensitive to the frivolous and purely for fun. We also have study rooms so that you can meet up socially with other students doing the same course or programme.”.  Over the course of 6 years I have only ever seen 2 associate lecturers posting there occasionally.

Perhaps the OU could learn from tools such as Moodle which is rooted in a constructivist approach.  The application aimes at interoperability, syndication and the fact that learners and teachers both contribute to the educational experience.  Simply installing new tools and making them accessible to students without rethinking the underlying assumptions, internal politics and barriers towards learning and teaching will provide us with dead tools, I am afraid.

Update on 5 April 2009: The Wikipedia site mentioned above refers to an eGov site that claims the OU is building an online environment under Moodle that will be fully operational by February 2007. More than 2 years later, there is still no sign of Moodle. Nor is there an explanation for the delay, other than that the Pro Vice-Chancellor who made those announcements then in no longer in charge.

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editing and publishing: a workshop @ IR9

On 15th Oct a workshop in editing and publishing took place in Copenhagen as part of the wider AoIR conference. As a fairly green post-graduate student my hopes were to gain insight into what appeared to me as a huge blackbox: the eminent celebrities of academia selecting in mysterious and unclear processes whatever they may want to publish, whenever and according to whoever’s rules. Something like this, admittedly cynical, had blurred my view. So it was refreshing to see a workshop aimed at de-mystifying the practices and rules, being actually overbooked, so obviously I wasn’t alone with my lack of clarity. Co-organiser
Marcus Foth – who did a fantastic job – reassured us that there would be a range of strategies available to make life somewhat easier and the help offered by the present co-editors would make the whole business much more of something that can be approached systematically.

Nick Jankowski, co-editor of New Media and Society clarified that the successful submission of a conference paper should be seen as the very first milestone prior to any publications in journals. Make sure you know whether your paper will be made available online or offline and how aspects such as embedded multimedia or screenshots will be dealt with. The UK standard is double blind and peer review – which may not be taken for granted around the globe, so better double-check.

We were then given an overview of abstracting and indexing services such as the Social Sciences Citation Index (SSCI), and the ISI Web of Knowledge as well as CiteULike which will help you map your citations with Google Scholar being another interesting option.

There is criticism as to bias and reflection of relevance, though, in so far as the SSCI for example was accused of being ideologically driven against free market oriented research. In contrast, Google Scholar was hailed as much friendlier and intended to empower individual academics with their Publish or Perish policy. There is a nice piece of software coming along that lists your statistics – exactly what we all want to know in these days, I guess.

In brief, we were encouraged to submit our manuscript by trying to establish a relationship in person with the editor/s or attaching a proper letter to the draft manuscript. Keeping in mind that this may be the first steps towards a life-long relationship, well sort of. Submission rules may differ: whether online or hardcopies might be required, books can be sent for review to more than one editorial board, journals usually only to one. Expect 2 weeks for the internal assessment and 3-8 weeks for external reviews. The author will be notified of the outcome, so brace yourself to be accepted, rejected or for the review/revise/resubmit cycle. The max period should be no longer than 12 weeks for revision, then the above repeats and the final decision to publish hopefully is going to reward you for all the hard work. Don’t be shy when it comes to following up, as Lisa McLaughlin, Editor of Feminist Media Studies pointed out: the tiny number of people working under volunteer conditions in some of the journals and the large number of submissions are behind the max time spans which can be expected: 12 months for revision, 18 months for publishing.

Now, that is certainly a nightmare for anyone researching new media, online social networks and the blogosphere…clearly, we had some discussion about this issue and tried to shed some light on the ways new media should be harnessed in the publishing industry, however, much more is to be discussed yet. Not at least because the seismic paradigm shift may entail a power shift.

The following individual academics provided discussed in panels as well as in small groups with delegates and this was an invaluable experience. I am most grateful Daniel Cunliffe‘s generous support and patient answering of all my many questions. He is Associate Editor of the New Review of Hypermedia and Multimedia. Elizabeth Buchanan, Associate Professor at Center For Information Policy Research in Milwaukee and Brian Loader, co-director of the Social Informatics Research Unit (SIRU) at the University of York, were remarkable in their critical views. Issues such as cultural differences, personal attitudes, the standard of assessment as well as differences among disciplines were at the centre of debate. A discussion of the ethics and politics of reviewing constructively and in a reflexive manner made me help to understand the wider infrastructure and gain an idea of what is possibly going to expect me in the not so far future. Certainly, I will try to see a reviewer’s comments from a much more holistic perspective and keep in mind that publishing and editing is of dialogical nature and are meant to strengthen the paper under scrutiny.

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