Archive for May, 2009

“Unintentional” errors in research result in misconduct charge

Monday, May 18th, 2009

Ok, there is more to this story than the headline – In the U.S. a professor of Economics published a scholarly article that showed the university he was employed by, “overemphasized athletics”.  The uni officials decided to examine his research and found errors, which they acknowledged could have been unintentional (actually they appear to aknowledge there was a “distinct” possiblity they were unintentional).  He doesn’t help his case by allegedly trying to distribute the paper to “parents and prospective students (interrupting college tours and intimidating a student employee, Bowdoin officials charged)” 

The professor is found guilty of misconduct in research.

California to have State managed open source text books.

Monday, May 18th, 2009

I’m not sure how I feel about this.  I suspect if they’re freely available they will be a great boon for those teaching outside of California.  Inside California they may end up being a way to cut school funding and may reduce teacher’s options (of course I could be totally wrong – I’m no expert in US education funding).  

“The governor of California has launched a new initiative to compile open source textbooks for the state. He hopes that the plan will help cut costs and improve the quality of education. The effort seems very promising, but the state’s complex standards and arduous textbook evaluation process will pose major challenges.”

Teaching in a time of influenza – group work

Friday, May 15th, 2009

When the flu is running rampant, students may not be as keen to gather in small spaces and breath on each other – so how do they collaborate?

One way to support remote groups is to set up individual group discussion topics in the Blackboard Discussions area.  First create the groups via the Group Manager in the Teach area.  The sign-up sheet option allows them to create their own group.  


In Build, create a discussion topic for the group, then click Set Release Criteria then click Add Group Criteria, then select the group.  For detailed info go to the MUSO support page –



If they want to have “real time” voice discussions they can use Skype ( .  Skype is free and allows simple web based teleconferencing (it can do one to one video conferencing but that’s not so useful for groups).  A lot of your students will already have accounts.  If they need to know more, this site has a good collection of How tos –

Google Docs 

For collaborative documents you can’t go past Google Docs, again many of your students will already have Gmail accounts so accessing Google Docs shouldn’t be a major problem.
Here is a very simple video explaining how it works.


What if they don’t have a computer/broadband, can’t make it work, their dog ate their keyboard (you know there’ll be some excuse), well there’s always masks.

If they are dead set on masks here’s what they need (according to US CDC recommendations) a N95 Dusk mask.  The Australian equivalent is a P2 mask.  You’re more likely to get them through Bunnings than your chemist.  If they have the flu they shouldn’t get one with an exhalation valve – they will just blow their bugs out through the valve.  Make sure it is tightly fitted particularly around the nose. 

face mask 
(From the collection of the State Library of New South Wales

And tell them not to draw on it – I know whiskers on your mask may look cute but they can bugger up filter material.

Teaching in a time of influenza

Monday, May 11th, 2009

Ok, this time it’s pigs that are out to get us rather than birds, but the basic features are the same – it spreads fast, it’s fairly nasty (although how nasty is a bit unclear) and it’s well (over?) publicized. 

From the Higher Ed perspective the virus doesn’t have to hit us to cause a problem.  A few cases in Melbourne (which will inevitably coincide with the usual rounds of the winter colds) may well be enough.  If people perceive a real possibility of catching it they will change their behaviour.   Two easy strategies people apply are avoiding public transport (if possible) and staying away from potentially crowded public spaces.  Say a temporary goodbye to a slab of our student population.  Universities in the U.S. are already confronting the problem ( but so far none have closed down, unlike the K-12 sector which has seen a number of temporary closures. 

If the flu does hit us in any significant way then we could be looking at a very disrupted semester.

How do we continue to provide a service when the face to face option is of limited use?  We get flexible.  There are a number of fairly easy to use (and free) tools out there to support teaching, the most readily available being Blackboard.

Over the next couple of weeks I plan to look at a few tools and strategies we could use if things go pear shaped.  The bonus is they are even quite useful in normal day to day teaching.   

You know this is serious – there’s already a T-shirt

Swine Flu - Bacon’s Revenge

Free Textbooks!?

Wednesday, May 6th, 2009

There has been a lot of speculation that the world of publishing is on the verge of a major upheaval similar to the one going on in the music industry.  At present the digitisation of novels, and ebook readers haven’t had quite the same impact as mp3 players.  Certainly book piracy does occur, but most people still prefer a book in their hand. 

It may be that text books will be the exception to the rule.  There are a number of international groups developing free digital text books.  In addition, there are a number of authors shifting to the Creative Commons licence which allows free distribution of their texts (most commonly, their ‘out of print’ texts). 


“CK-12 Foundation is a non-profit organization with a mission to reduce the cost of textbook materials for the K-12 market both in the U.S. and worldwide. Using an open-content, web-based collaborative model termed the “FlexBook,” CK-12 intends to pioneer the generation and distribution of high quality educational content that will serve both as core text as well as provide an adaptive environment for learning.”

Open Text Book 

“Open Text Book is a registry of textbooks (and related materials) which are open — that is free for anyone to use, reuse and redistribute.”

Global Text Project

“The Global Text Project, with plans to create a free library of 1,000 electronic texts for students in developing world. The library will cover the range of topics typically encountered in a university’s undergraduate programs. The global academic community and global corporations will be engaged in creating and sponsoring this library.”


“The WikiEducator is an evolving community intended for the collaborative:

  • planning of education projects linked with the development of free content;
  • development of free content on Wikieducator for e-learning;
  • work on building open education resources (OERs) on how to create OERs.
  • networking on funding proposals developed as free content”

Given that these are “not for profit” organisations and are generally targeting students in the developing world, perhaps, if we use a text, we could encourage students to make a donation.  As part of our social outreach, the university could also provide some funding and/or support staff who wish to contribute their expertise.   Perhaps part of our global marketing could be the distribution of free, world class, Monash branded etexts.

At present the number of texts is still a bit limited but this is changing rapidly.   In the near future academics may need to consider whether to continue with a commercial texts or shift to a comparable free digital text.  We are already seeing commercial publishers offer additional services beyond the basic text – it will be interesting to see how their business models evolve if academics begin to adopt free digital texts.

Fair use of audio no longer applies to YouTube?

Wednesday, May 6th, 2009

Warner Music Group appears intent on wiping every clip from YouTube that uses part of their catalogue.  Unfortunately, the automated software Google uses, removes any occurence, regardless of any ‘Fair use’ allowances.

If you’re looking for music for a video that you may want to put on YouTube, you could try somewhere like the Podsafe Music Network.  Not copyright hassles and you could helping the next Pink (for older readers – imagine if Edith Piaf brought her street personality onto the stage and dressed like a risque Carmen Miranda).