Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Cuttings: June 2015

What if the problem isn't with MOOCs but something else? - article by Matt Crosslin in EduGeek Journal. "Many other articles have pointed at 'student motivation' as being a huge problems with MOOCs.... Our system in the U.S. relies on motivational techniques that are predominantly extrinsic in nature. We spend decades indoctrinating learners with this context, and then when an idea comes along that relies mostly on intrinsic motivation, we blame the idea itself rather than our system....You can say MOOCs are failing because they lack sufficient 'student motivation,' but what if it was actually the case that society has been failing for decades and MOOCs are just exposing this?"

Creating an online course - cartoon from Edugeeks Comics. "ID [Instructional Designer]: Thank you for meeting with me to create your online course. // Prof: No problem - but there is no need for a long meeting. I am already finished with everything you need. Here you go. // ID: 17 hours of video lectures for your course? Do you hate all of your students, or are you just trying to bore a few select ones to death? // Prof: Don't be silly - that is just the first week. For the second week we actually figured out how to point the camera at my PowerPoint slides..."

Why Technology Will Never Fix Education - article by Kentaro Toyama in The Chronicle of Higher Education. "The real obstacle in education remains student motivation. Especially in an age of informational abundance, getting access to knowledge isn’t the bottleneck, mustering the will to master it is. And there, for good or ill, the main carrot of a college education is the certified degree and transcript, and the main stick is social pressure. Most students are seeking credentials that graduate schools and employers will take seriously and an environment in which they’re prodded to do the work. But neither of these things is cheaply available online.... Even an equitable distribution of technology aggravates inequality....Well-educated men with office jobs disproportionately complete MOOC courses, while lower-income young adults barely enroll. The primary effect of free online courses is to further educate an already well-educated group who will pull away from less-educated others. The educational rich just get richer. So what is to be done? Unfortunately, there is no technological fix, and that is perhaps the hardest lesson of amplification. More technology only magnifies socioeconomic disparities, and the only way to avoid that is nontechnological: Either resolve the underlying inequities first, or create policies that favor the less advantaged."

The Invisible Learners Taking MOOCs - blog post by George Veletsianos on Inside Higher Ed Blog U. "So far we have interviewed more than 70 individuals who have completed a range of MOOCs. Three of our initial findings question the initial excitement that surrounded MOOCs and contradict the initial hope that these types of courses can help anyone, anywhere, at any point in time to succeed.... [1] Successful online learners have sophisticated study skills. For example, nearly every individual that we have interviewed described his or her notetaking strategies.... [2] Flexibility and a flexible life are often essential for engaged participation. A significant proportion of the learners we interviewed either live flexible lives that enable them to participate or appear to be exceptional in their abilities to create time to participate in these courses.... [3] Online learning is an emotional experience....Anxiety, appreciation, embarrassment, and pleasure are some of the emotions that learners used to describe their experience in these courses to us....Ultimately, our research calls into question whether open courses, in their current form, are the democratizing forces they are sometimes depicted to be... In order to create more egalitarian structures for education, we need to start peeling away the multitude of barriers that prevent the most vulnerable populations from participating."

When Actors Replace Instructors as On-Camera Talent - article by Dian Scaffhauser in Campus Technology. "Instructors have typically been the on-screen talent for the recorded lectures used in online courses. But when Purdue University began expanding the online certification courses in its Engineering Professional Education program, the design team came to a fundamental realization: Mundane 20- to 40-minute lecture videos of a 'talking head' no longer provided a learning experience that professionals taking online courses would tolerate....As a result, Purdue has begun pulling away from the use of subject-matter experts (SMEs) for pre-recorded lectures, replacing them with professional actors instead. The result has been much happier students."

You Can't Always Get What You Want - text of lecture by John Naughton at Trinity College Dublin, 29 April 21015. Video in his Memex 1.1 blog. "In saying that technologies are socially shaped, I don't mean to imply that the nature of these technologies is unimportant or irrelevant... Digital technologies are particularly interesting because they have particular affordances which make them radically different from earlier general-purpose technologies which have changed our world....
First, there are zero - or near-zero - marginal costs... Then there are network effects - the phenomenon whereby the value of a network increases exponentially with the number of users... Thirdly, there is the strange fact that wherever you look in cyberspace you never see a normal distribution. No bell curves. Instead, what you see are power law distributions - the ones in which a very small number of actors, sites, agents attract the vast majority of the interest, interaction or trade, with everybody else scrabbling for business or attention in the so-called Long tail. Fourthly, there is the phenomenon of technological lock-in - the process by which a proprietary technical standard becomes the de-facto standard for an entire industry."

Prejudice and a BBC pioneer: the amazing story of Grace Wyndham Goldie - article by Charlotte Higgins in The Guardian. "On the night of 23 February 1950 the evening’s television began with the usual announcement of the schedule.... This was an exceptional evening: the night of the general election, with Clement Attlee’s huge 1945 majority contested by Winston Churchill. The turnout that day was an immense 83.9%.... The election programme went on until shutdown at 2.13am, shifting between Wilmot [former war reporter Chester Wilmot) and the experts in the studio and Richard Dimbleby in Trafalgar Square... There had been endless kerfuffles about how to get the checked and verified results to the TV studios – in the end they were telephoned in from Broadcasting House, where they were being collated for the wireless operation. Studio hands in gym shoes ran the results between Studios A and B. They were then handwritten on caption cards by volunteers from the design department. 'It took about 40 seconds from the result being handed to the caption artist for them to put in the figures, and that was time enough for my people to use their slide rules, and then pass me a slip of paper with the result percentaged, so I could say, "A swing of such-and-such",' remembered Butler [psephologist David Butler] .... The evening established, from a standing start, the basic recipe for election-results programmes that is still followed today – an anchor and experts in the studio providing analysis aided by now unrecognisably whizzy graphics, along with outside broadcasts. And it was very largely the work of one woman: its producer, Grace Wyndham Goldie."

How Music Got Free by Stephen Witt - review by Steven Poole in The Guardian. "In most histories ... , the users who began swapping MP3s on the internet are presented as ordinary folk: college students on Napster and then pretty much everyone on BitTorrent. This gives the story a democratic feel, with the music-loving people rising up against the venal idiocies of the corporate music world. But, as Stephen Witt shows with a kind of gonzo glee in his closely reported and brilliantly written book, it was not ordinary people who were doing most of the 'ripping'. There was in fact an organised criminal conspiracy to steal music."

Longplayer: the app that lets you listen to a 1,000-year-long song - article by James Bridle in The Guardian. "At midnight on 31 December 1999, a piece of music began to play for a thousand years. At heart, Jem Finer’s Longplayer is the application of a few simple and precise rules to six short pieces of music, but the result is an infinite composition which will not repeat itself until 31st December 2999.... Released this week, the Longplayer iOS app brings the experience of listening to deep time to everyone’s pockets. Created in collaboration with Daniel Jones, a sound artist whose work includes musical pieces based on live weather conditions and Twitter conversations and the designer Joe Hales, the app introduces users to Finer’s circular score, allowing them to follow the passage of reverberating chimes as they intersect, or to slide them into the background to play out continuously. It’s deceptively simple, belying both the complexity of the piece itself, and the thought that has gone into it."

Reading the Comments by Joseph M Reagle Jr - review by Zoe Williams in The Guardian. "What can we learn from the internet’s 'bottom half'? How does one distinguish in the first place between content and comment? Is comment a quintessentially modern form, created by and fashioning the internet? Or is it a continuation of the more ancient arts of critique, review, heckle and abuse – as old as language? It is plain to me that the modern comment is quite distinct from communication that came before it, whether a letter in green ink or a glowing, 'Dear Points of View, imagine my delight … '. Comments need to crowd around a source – since the internet began, media new and old have experimented with getting readers to go off and chat on their own: it’s almost never worked. But once they have converged on a source, the presence of the original author is not required, indeed, it can become a bit of a killjoy."

Inequality: What Can Be Done? by Anthony B Atkinson - review by Tom Clark in The Guardian. "Atkinson does not want a revolution, nor even to eliminate all economic distinction incrementally, as reformist socialists such as Bernard Shaw once hoped to do. After a lifetime of analysing inequality, the Atkinson ambition is merely to narrow the gap in the UK to where it stood when he started. It ought to be a realisable dream – it is a reality in egalitarian corners of northern Europe – but after an election in which Britain rejected moderate social democracy in favour of an inequality-indifferent Conservative government, it may seem impossible. Atkinson demonstrates how – without violating any fiscal constraints – different political choices could start to make a difference.... "

Poetic visions: my Vingt Regards to Messiaen - article by Michael Symmons Roberts in The Guardian. "Vingt Regards [sur l'Enfant-J├ęsus] consists of 20 short piano pieces, ranging from two minutes to nearly 15. Each piece has a subtitle, and each represents a particular regard on the newborn Christ. For regard, read gaze or contemplation, but also a different angle on the scene. Some of these regards are from familiar perspectives: God the father, the star above the stable, his mother, the angels. But others are much stranger: regard from the heights, from time, from silence, of the son upon the son."

The crisis in non-fiction publishing - article by Sam Leith in The Guardian. "Amid the ambient wails of doom about the publishing industry, I’d like to enter a note of encouragement. The mainstream may be getting dumber by the day, but we are living in what looks like a golden age of publishing for, of all people, the university presses.... These days I’m very seldom excited by a trade non-fiction title, roaring as most of them are down the middle lane of the same motorway, to the degree I’m excited by the original and vital byways that university presses are exploring for the general reader."

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