Monday, 7 December 2009
I feel I am much more productive, get things done, and go home with all items on my daily to-do list crossed off (which is a great feeling!). And I have now just come across a piece on the BBC website where researchers say that constant email alerts disrupt disproportionally.
So far I don't miss it much. Occasionally I get a twinge, but can easily resist the urge to check. I'm always a bit shocked when I've got 10 new emails, as before they didn't mount up because I dealt with them as soon as they came up. Guess I have to get used to that...
Needless to say, I have also cut down on twitter and google reader, both of which I only check when I have time, eg when all my daily tasks are ticked off. Productivity Heaven!
Tuesday, 24 November 2009
Not any more. After reading an interesting blog post about time management, I have decided to change my ways. No more google email notifier (though I keep the calendar notifier up), no more open tab with gmail. No more instant replies.
It seems to me that this is a major drain on time (and interrupter of longer lasting tasks), and I will now aim to read my email (and respond to it) three times a day: morning, when I come into the office, lunch-time, when I have a break, and afternoon, before I'm ready to go. This means I won't be able to have on-going 'conversations' by email, and people will have to wait for replies longer, but I also hope it means I get more productive things done during the day.
As an email addict I don't know how long I will be able to keep this up, but I'm starting today!
Wednesday, 4 November 2009
In my Frameworks of English Discourse Analysis module I keep telling the students that there are four sections to the module (each lasting 5 weeks), and what the topics are that we are dealing with. Compared to how the module was run a few years back it has a much better thought-out structure to it, and I think this actually works quite well. Part of that was also to bring the topics of the lectures in line with the seminars.
However, in my most recent round of feedback, these are exactly the issues the students comment on: not being clear about the structure of the module, and the lectures not being related to the seminar topics. I myself feel I'm over-doing it, by telling the students at regular intervals where we are and what they have to expect, but it seem that this is still not enough.
Perhaps it is the absence of anything tangible: I have not given the students a handout with the module outline and the lecture schedule. So talking about the structure is probably not as effective as giving the students something in writing. I will have to do that in future!
Thursday, 29 October 2009
However, it then occurred to me that I might not want to list the URL of this blog in an official application... I have chosen the URL on the spur of a moment during the Web 2.0 in Learning and Teaching course, and it seemed fine for an ephemeral thing to play around with. I didn't really expect that it would develop the way it did...
So, I have just exported this blog (in other words, downloaded all the posts into a file on my computer) and then imported it again into a new blog at a new URL: http://learningteachingresearch.blogspot.com/ I feel happier putting this address into the application!
I am, however, not sure how to continue, whether I maintain both blogs, or continue using this one, with occasional synchronisations with the new one? Time will tell.
Wednesday, 28 October 2009
Then I needed to prepare this week's seminar session. Blank. Procrastination. Emptiness. Stress. The reason: I felt I needed to aim high, and find activities that would really live up to the high expectations that I now anticipate in my students. I couldn't possibly be letting them down by doing a second-rate thing, something I might have got away with in previous years. So I was contemplating what to do, dithering between different options, trying to (somewhat in vain) evaluate/second-guess which one would work better. In the end I ended up with a compromise which I think did work fine.
The problem with teaching is that you never stand still. You innovate, hit upon a successful improvement, and then you have to keep maintaining high standards. No time to rest and fall back. Constantly pushing yourself.
I guess it's a good thing...!
Friday, 23 October 2009
One issue that was always rather unsatisfactory is how to involve everybody (and not just the vocal and confident students) and how to get round the issue that it's a continuous stream (and not words in isolation).
Yesterday I suddenly had a flash of inspiration: instead of waiting for the students to volunteer solutions, and to ask somebody else when a word had been completed, I start with a random student. This students says how they transcribed the first sound (phoneme). Then I go clockwise through the room, each student contributing the next phoneme. If there are differences (there always are, due to the nature of the task), we briefly stop and discuss alternatives, before resuming the round robin.
Simple idea (pretty trivial, really), but it solves the problems. It also keeps all students on their toes, as they need to keep track where they are and which sound they have to do. And even the quiet ones have to participate. As it's low stakes (only a single sound each time), getting it wrong is not a drama.
Several options are available, multiple choice ('radio buttons'), check boxes, open text, scale, etc. The form can be embedded into a webpage, or sent by email, and this is just what I've done: each student registered on the module got a copy sent to them. All they need to do is to fill it in (which shouldn't take too long), and then that's all done.
The beauty of the whole procedure is that the results are automatically collected in a Google Spreadsheet, and you can even view an automatically created summary of all the answers. I'd be hard pressed to think of a way to make that easier!
Of course you can also use that for 'testing'. It just depends on the questions you're using. But it seemed to me to be an easy way of getting some feedback, anonymously, while the module is still running. The students will then also see the point in filling in the form(s), much more so than the end-of-year form they are usually being asked to fill in.
If this sounds like a sales-advert, it just mirrors how impressed I am with it. And amazed how I could have missed that in the first place...
Friday, 16 October 2009
Monday, 12 October 2009
Tuesday, 6 October 2009
Thursday, 17 September 2009
I think there are several factors that need to be considered: First, what is 'blogging'? Does it mean you have to churn out a post every day? Or every two days? Does it still count if you're posting at irregular intervals? I believe the latter is acceptable, otherwise there is too much pressure to write just for the sake of writing. As a comment on the THES site said, with RSS feeds it is quite easy to follow a blog without having to check every day for a new post.
Second, can we afford the time to blog? I think yes, as long as we are aware that a blog post is not a polished journal article, but something more 'raw'; however, the danger here is that you write something which you never can take back. Once it is out there, it always will be. But nobody should expect academics to be infallible, so there is nothing wrong with making mistakes. We're usually used to more scrutiny through peer review, and perhaps students who want to catch us out.
What then, is the point of blogging? For a start, you can disseminate knowledge. A lot of things I come across during my work are more bite-sized chunks of information/discoveries, too small to write up in an article. And if I wait and aggregate them, and do write an article, and get that reviewed and published, two years might have passed before other people can read it. A blog is much less formal, and is a much quicker route to the audience.
As for self-promotion, I think it becomes increasingly necessary to maintain a good on-line presence, and that not only applies to academics. And a blog is a good way to become more visible, raise awareness for the kinds of things you do, and perhaps even dispel some urban myths. As long as it does not interfere with your other tasks, I see no harm in academics blogging.
The next question, then, is the 'where'. Should universities provide blogging facilities? What if an academic moves to another university? What if the institution doesn't like what's written on the blog? Here we have the conflict between private views and those institutional ones. For the time being I guess it is safest to blog outside one's university, for reasons of freedom of expression and also the security of a fixed location.
If anybody reads those academic outpourings, however, is a completely different question!
Monday, 14 September 2009
Tweetdoc collects tweets and turns them into a PDF. Basically I'd get all students to mark their tweets with '#freda' or something, and then tweetdoc will be able to aggregate them in a single document (you can specify a date range as well as search terms). That seems like an OK solution to automatically produce a discussion document: everybody tweets about things they come across during the week that are in some way relevant to the module (and I think Discourse Analysis is almost everywhere...) and then in the seminar session the students get a tweetdoc as a handout, and comb through it, discussing what has been collected. Might work.
On the other hand, it might not; but it could work as an additional way of getting students who are interested in new technology to contribute to a seminar in a more indirect way. Perhaps they are too shy to mention something in the seminar, or by the time the seminar comes they've forgotten what they wanted to say. Twitter here can fill a gap between email to the lecturer (which might be too intimidating) and a direct communication in the seminar. It'd be somewhat anonymous (given the wide variety of twitter names) and as such might just be the ticket to more student-led discussions.
What do YOU think?
Thursday, 2 July 2009
However, one component of the plan worries me: originally I had planned to set up one blog per group, but ten blogs seems rather excessive. What is the answer? One blog for all the students? Several blogs for more than one group? Somehow I will have to strike the right balance between it being too fragmented and too crowded. I shall have to think about that in more detail. It also, of course, depends on the great unknown: how the students will take up Web 2.0!
Tuesday, 30 June 2009
One (fairly predictable, with hindsight) set are 'females' with more or less revealing avatars, typically with a large set of people they follow, very few followers, and very few updates. Their tweets are usually bait to click on links which lead you off to dubious web-sites. It seems that these accounts are run automatically, and randomly pick the people they follow. Or whatever.
More interesting is another category, the 'trigger followers'. I first noticed that when I tweeted that my scooter was in the garage. Promptly I acquired a follower 'scooterscoop'. Other terms which have had a similar effect are exam/essay (websites selling essays being triggered), 'paperless office', and 'giants'. When you tweet about going to the theatre to see the BFG, and mention that 'the giants are scary', you are suddenly followed by an account linked to a San Francisco baseball team.
The latter example shows how useless isolated words are for conveying meaning. If you read the full sentence, it is pretty clear that 'giants' here refers to actual scary creatures, and you would need a lot of extra context to make that apply to a baseball team (though it is not impossible).
A lot of these random followers have since unfollowed me (or have been removed in the case of the dubious females), perhaps bored to death with the utter trivialities of my life. I am not sure whether that is a good or a bad thing...
Tuesday, 9 June 2009
There are several reasons why I believe WebCT is not all that great for teaching. First, it's slow and clunky. Having moved it to a hosted environment rather than self-hosting it at Bham might have improved things a little, but it is still slow and clunky, that's inherent in the way it is implemented. Too Web 1.0. Doing anything in it takes ages, for example putting a link on. Creating the link wasn't too bad, but I wanted it in the top-left corner, and by default it started bottom-right. So I had to click on the properties/move/up about five times, having to scroll the screen each time. And all just for one link!
The second argument, which came to me today while responding to a comment on an earlier post, is actually far more important, as it deals with inherent motivation. Sure, we can make our students use WebCT because it is the only way they can get access to certain materials. But will they enjoy doing it? No. If I curse and swear while using it, then the students will not scream with pleasure either. That means, no points for motivation. It's a drudge, not an enjoyable experience.
However, blogs and other Web 2.0 stuff is interesting. It's part of modern life, and students will see that it is a useful skill. It is inherently useful to be able to find your way round this stuff, and many students are already used to it. That, I believe, is instrumental for participation. If they have a positive attitude and are interested, then they are much more likely to do things. At least that's the theory. I'll keep you all posted on how it goes next term!
Monday, 8 June 2009
In the initial post I have outlined my plans for teaching the module. Any feedback welcome!
But now something else occurred to me. Writing is only part of the whole equation. You also need to read stuff, in order to a) get ideas for things to write about or research and b) know what other people are doing to either avoid duplication of mistakes or wheel-reinventions.
Since acquiring the Papers program, I have collected almost a thousand papers. But I haven't nearly read enough of them. Part of the hunter/gatherer or packrat mentality... Useful paper, will read it at some point when I've got time. Only, you never have time!
And here is the solution: apart from writing 200+ words every day (or spend 30 minutes editing), I will now do the same for reading research papers. I just need to work out what the best modus operandi is for that; clearly reading a paper every day might be useful but not feasible. One a week? Not really enough, probably. I think I'll settle for 30 minutes initially, and then see how much I can manage to read in that time. But it's not only reading, also post-processing. Keeping notes in some shape or form, probably a mind-map. Mmmh, this is more complicated than I initially imagined.
Anyway, starting from today I will try to read a research paper for at least 30 minutes every day!
Sunday, 31 May 2009
Firstly, it does take a bit more time. On average I have recorded about 10 minutes of commentary per essay. After working out the best way to use the digital recorder I did not have to post-edit the recording, but I still needed to listen to it, which means another 10 minutes. Administrative stuff is fairly easy, as the recorder records straight to MP3, I only need to rename the file with the student id (which I announce at the beginning of the recording). The files are around 2 MB in size. Not sure about how to distribute them yet; for the time being they're all on a CD ROM that goes with the pile of essays.
However, my feedback is obviously a lot more detailed than it would have been just in writing. I do hope that the students find this useful, and I intend to ask them what they think. They will also get a(n ultra-short) traditional feedback form, as there has to be something on paper.
This whole thing was intended as an experiment, and on occasion I might try this again (let's see what the external examiner thinks of it first!), but I do not intend to persuade the department at large to do the same. It might not suit everybody, and for larger modules it is indeed a lot more time-consuming. And I wouldn't want to get anybody to change the way they work.
To be continued...
Thursday, 21 May 2009
Another common pattern seems to be using the wrong verbs with abstract nouns. Hypothesis are being fortified, an author enhances a concept, and various other examples which of course now escape my mind. Next time I shall keep a list, which I can then throw back at my students in the hope that the use of this list can be used to improve their academic written use of English.
Monday, 18 May 2009
Friday, 8 May 2009
Advertising jobs openly is not only good for equal opportunities, it also broadens the reach, and you might get a better candidate. I happened to be in a seminar where the professor announced that he had some money for a student to work on a bibliography project, and asked if anybody was interested. I wasn't, but at the time I knew somebody with a first degree in documentation/library science stuff, so I recommended that person. Needless to say, the professor was very happy and in the faculty council enthusiastically supported my proposal.
Now I am in the same situation: I got some money from our Learning and Teaching fund for a project on using podcasts in teaching. Part of that grant includes 60 hrs of a PG student doing some research on best practices. I could just have approached a student from our department I know, and that would have made life very easy for me. But, remembering the experience from all those years ago, I decided to advertise it to all PG students in the college (I thought that would probably sufficient for outreach, though I could have of course included all PG students at the university, which might have been fairer).
So far (deadline for applications is tomorrow) I received 8 applications from a variety of students from different subject areas within the college. I haven't yet received CVs from all of them, but I can see that early next week I will have a very difficult task at hand, deciding which of those 8 will be the lucky one. What I have seen so far is really great, there are some very good applications, which I would not have come across had I simply gone for the easy way out. No pain, no gain... Ultimately it will be very hard on those 7 who I have to reject, because I have to. Not because I want to, as all of them would probably be suitable candidates. I will also have to think of a fair way to make that decision, as I know some applicants personally, and have never heard of others. Perhaps this would be a good opportunity to involve my co-applicant (Hello, Bill!), as he might bring some more detached objectivity into the equation.
Friday, 1 May 2009
One project reported on an experiment where students were given audio feedback over the course of a year, and they all liked it (and so did the staff). With speaking, you can say more in the same time you'd need to write it, and it's also a richer medium -- presumably less ambiguous due to tone of voice etc. The time required to produce it is variable, from shorter to same to longer, and that probably depends on how streamlined the whole process can be made. Here is a summary of some of the advice given.
One of my seminar groups whose essays are now in my marking pile is fairly small, ideal circumstances to try it out. After consulting both the head of department and the exams officer I'll give it a go, but will have to provide a traditional feedback sheet as well. I've ordered a digital recorder (which can record straight to mp3), and will start marking their essays as soon as it has arrived.
Just need to think of a way to elicit feedback from the students to see what they thought of it. And a way to deliver it! Presumably using the dreaded WebCT. Maybe one thing it is actually useful for.
Tuesday, 28 April 2009
With your Zero Inbox (or was it 'Inbox Zero'?), if something crops up it is immediately visible as new, and in a nice case of a positive feedback loop you will want to deal with it quickly to get back to that pristine empty inbox.
And of course you have the satisfying blank page when there is no actual mail waiting for you...
Wednesday, 22 April 2009
Why not? Is this the typical whingeing about an unpleasant job? Partly. I can think of many things I'd rather do, and that I still have to do once the marking is finished. But that in itself is not the reason. Giving feedback should be one of the central tasks in education, but the ways we have available for it are not very satisfactory.
Ideally I would write an essay about the length of the students' submission to give them proper feedback about all the things I like and don't like about their work. Because the student will read it at some point, and might come back to me with questions about it, I have to be very specific, and have to make sure they can be read out of context (ie without having the student essay still fresh in mind). This is very difficult to do. And would consume more time than is available.
It is also the case that it is very hard to phrase feedback properly. I can easily read a text and decide whether I like it or not, but then telling somebody else why I came to that conclusion is difficult. Often these points are on an almost sub-conscious level, and hard to verbalise. It would also be a lot easier if it could be delivered in a face-to-face conversation, as interactivity would be much better than simply a list of bullet points with good and bad points about the student's work. Resource shortage however makes that impossible, apart from practical considerations.
Maybe it would be an idea to try out what other people have done: record feedback orally, and then send it to the students. It would be quicker to say something, rather than to write it down in great detail, but dealing with sound files might be more time-consuming in the end.
So it remains the only option for the moment, filling in feedback forms, printing them off, attaching them to the paper, and hoping that the students will be able to use them to improve their work. Unsatisfactory!
Sunday, 19 April 2009
Apart from that it's fantastic: you can listen to all sorts of stations from all over the world, sorted by genre or country, whatever. Recently I discovered a Canadian station (I think it was Canadian), Ancient FM, and they played some very interesting Renaissance music, which I then bought on iTunes. Great to broaden your horizon, but keep an eye on that bandwidth!
Wednesday, 15 April 2009
One important productivity tool is your inbox; the email one, not the David Allen conceptual one. Nothing is more depressing than an overflowing mailbox which takes ages to load and makes it hard to find what you need. So having a zero-inbox is really a first step towards feeling more positive and productive, at least that's the effect it has on me.
The first important step is to consolidate multiple email-addresses you might have (work, private, etc) to a single account, so that you do not have to check in multiple places all the time. This is very easy to do with gmail. Next, set up four labels for the important/unimportant and urgent/non-urgent combinations. I have chosen _A1 to _A4, as these will show up at the top of the "labels" bar on gmail. Each email that requires an action is immediately shunted off into one of those four mailboxes. Constantly archiving all the other mails you get is also very important, and occasionally, wenn stuff builds up, move everything into an _inbox, to get your Inbox Zero back. If you allowed it to build up, then it cannot have been important!
Another benefit, apart from the psychological one, is that when you're on the move, checking your mail is a lot quicker!
Thursday, 9 April 2009
Friday, 3 April 2009
Sunday, 29 March 2009
[p]eer review thus functions as a self-perpetuating disciplinary system, inculcating the objects of discipline into becoming its subjects. After all, those who manage the current system of peer review are of course those who have successfully negotiated it, granting an enormous inertia to the status quo.
Friday, 27 March 2009
Friday, 20 March 2009
Wednesday, 18 March 2009
Tuesday, 17 March 2009
This was a lot faster to do. I basically planned the whole lot, and then turned it into a presentation with Keynote. I recorded the voice in Audacity, cut out some pauses and speech errors, and then exported that as an mp3 file. Fired up GarageBand, created a podcast project, drag'n'dropped the mp3 file, exported the slides as images, put them into the podcast-artwork track, and created a podcast from that.
No nice transitions, though, as it's basically a slideshow only. And the aspect ratio of the images is all wrong, which is why they're a bit cut-off. Need to think about that next time I try. Presumably the images need to have a certain size (320x266 pixels), which I need to make sure I use when exporting them. Oh well, one always learns more...
Using Garageband I also have the option of creating a video podcast, but still images and videos don't mix. That is one situation where iMovie is better, as it automatically converts still images into (static) film clips.
Friday, 13 March 2009
Thursday, 12 March 2009
Only, it's rubbish.
That particular blogpost doesn't improve by being read aloud. Apart from the weird sound of my voice recorded it's also boring to listen to. Podcasts, I have decided, have to be free and spontaneous speech. Reading out stuff, especially words that have not explicitly been written to be spoken, just doesn't work.
OL's first rule of podcasting:
Podcasts are essentially spoken, rather than written language.
In the Web 2.0 course session there was an opportunity to gather some spontaneous speech: an impromptu interview with some participants. As I did the question asking, I think I'll take those snippets and put a frame around them, and I'll try to turn them into a more interesting podcast than the one I finally deleted this afternoon due to running out of disk space...
Wednesday, 11 March 2009
In addition, thanks to my new writing routine (see Don't break the chain!) I have less time to spend just surfing the web for nothing in particular.
So my tabs in Firefox keep multiplying, and I can hardly keep up with closing them. I guess there are a few possible solutions: speed reading is one, and better information filtering the second. With so much stuff available you sometimes just have to click on 'mark all as read' just to catch up. But don't worry, if it is important it will come around again!
Friday, 6 March 2009
Tuesday, 3 March 2009
Friday, 27 February 2009
Monday, 23 February 2009
Tuesday, 17 February 2009
Computing is my biggest category. I try to follow current technological trends, and I'm always amazed by the things that one comes across as a side-effect. Some of the tech bloggers are keen photographers, eg Tim Bray on his ongoing blog. Elliotte Rusty Harrold (Cafe au Lait Java News and Resources) is an avid birdwatcher. Tim lives in Vancouver, and often comments on life in Canada; apparently Vancouver is one of the three greatest places in the world, Hong Kong and Rio de Janeiro being the other two. Not sure where Birmingham would come in that ranking.
Friday, 13 February 2009
Thursday, 12 February 2009
RSS feeds, on the other hand, can be split into different channels according to topics. If I want to get information about research seminars in computer science (I don't get this now, because I'm not affiliated to the department), I simply subscribe to that respective feed. However, I would probably opt out of some research seminars in my own department or school which I then don't have to hear about. By being more selective, I can reduce my exposure to irrelevant information, and save much time while still getting more relevant information than before: by choosing feeds that I'm not in the email-target audience for. A win-win situation.
So what's stopping us? Habit. Lack of knowledge of alternatives. So let's hope many people will go on courses to learn about RSS feeds etc. I don't know what I'd do without Google Reader!
Wednesday, 11 February 2009
Monday, 9 February 2009
One reason for this is that Mac programs have a central menubar at the top of the screen, unlike Windows and other OSes which attach menubars to the respective application windows. It's somewhat of a pain to have to move the mouse to the main screen for a menu item, when your application is actually 30cm to the right.
However, my Heureka-moment came when I tried putting the external screen above my laptop. Now, instead of landscape I work in portrait mode. Much better, as I find it easier to glance up and down as opposed to sideways, especially if the monitors have slightly different resolutions. And the menubar? It's now in the middle of the workplace. Easy to reach from wherever I have the mouse, even though it's not supposed to be the optimum according to some law of UI, which suggests that the edge of the screen was best, as it is easiest to reach with the mouse–no overshooting possible!
I feel much more productive, and was supported in this feeling when watching Randy Pausch's lecture on time management (available for free on iTunesU): he advocated using three monitors (like he did), or at least two. Working on two screens is more like working at a desk, one screen is like the little fold-down table in a plane. And especially when doing stuff with the browser I find it useful, as the browser usually fills the whole screen, and leaves no space for other applications (such as text editors) to work with.
How many screens have you got?
Thursday, 5 February 2009
When looking at the 'business model' of Higher Education we shouldn't look at Retail. Students coming to us as customers, paying good money, and getting goods for it (a degree). Instead, it's the Athletic Club metaphor: Students come to University, and for a fee they get access to resources (library) and 'fitness trainers' (lecturers). They still have to put the hours in, lifting books, or nothing will happen. In order to get results, you'll have to work hard, not only depart from your (or your parents') hard earned cash.
This sounds to me a lot more plausible. No longer do I have to have a bad feeling to give a poor student a bad mark, as their tuition fees don't buy them the degree, they buy them the opportunities to study. Obviously I do feel bad because I should enable the student to get a good degree, but if they don't also work for it, it won't work.
University, on the other hand, goes on. Apparently Bham City University is closed tomorrow, pah! But quite impressively, attendance figures were high today, not more than about two students missing per seminar. Much better than expected. I hope that this was not only because my students are so committed and fit & healthy and keen (which they are), but also because my seminars have such a magnetic-like attraction that they cannot resist wading through the 2 inches of snow to get here.
There is so much out there in terms of technology, but I am skeptical whether much of it can usefully be applied in enhancing learning and teaching in Higher Education. This is a voyage of discovery, and I have no clue where it will end up.