Archive for July, 2013

A.T.L.A.S., F.O.C.s, L.L.O.C.s and M.O.O.C.s what’s in a name

Wednesday, July 31st, 2013

Based on the current media success of MOOCs I am proposing a new teaching revolution based on the same model – ATLAS

Applied Textology Learning And Stationary – the disruptive use of photocopied hand outs to revolutionize Higher education, because it’s broken.  I just need to get an Ivy League Professor with a good but rudimentary grasp of pedagogy (preferably with contacts in Silicon Valley) to get an interview in a few big name papers, preferably financial ones because I’m going to need some cash to get this going.  And don’t tell me it’s been done before; the photo copiers of today bear no resemblance to those ancient models from 5 years ago.

Yes, I know this is a massive oversimplification and manifestly unfair to many people, but I’m trying to make a point.  The current MOOC mania is more about re-branding, selective memory and commercial hype than any real change.

At the risk of repeating myself.

MOOCs are free online courses with unrestricted entry (which is good thing).  A course being, some text based content and an automated quiz, at the minimum, and scaling up from there.  These have been around for over a decade.  They weren’t disruptive in Higher Ed because they require a specific, and targeted business plan to make any economic sense.  Despite the spoutings from vested interests and the uninformed, this hasn’t changed.

They don’t become viable until you start talking about adding a fee, turning the MOOC into a FOC – Fee based Online Course (which we have also had in various forms for over a decade).  If the business plan is to make money or cover your costs, the course by definition is no longer a MOOC.  What you have is a fee based course that offers a loss leading introduction to entice people into the money making part of your business.  And there’s nothing wrong with that, it’s becoming a standard model of online commerce.  But it’s not a MOOC, it’s the LLOC – Loss Leading Online Component (my term)  of your fee based course.

The generic use of the word MOOC just perpetuates the confusion.

It appears that the vast number of journalists reporting on ‘MOOCs’ don’t understand this.

Moodle – Negative marks in the gradebook

Monday, July 29th, 2013

This won’t apply to many people, but given the difficulty I had tracking down an answer to what should have been a simple question I thought I would post the solution here, so there is one more place to find it (honestly Moodle docs needs a total overhaul by a decent technical writer).

Certainty Based Marking can be a quite useful feature in a Moodle quiz. But it can also result in a negative mark.

question behaviour

Unfortunately while the negative marks will appear in your quiz results they wont appear in the Grade book.  The Moodle Grade book doesn’t automatically recognise negative marks,.  It gives the student a zero.

To change this go to the Settings block and click Grades.

Select Categories and Items from the top menu, then click the Edit icon

Grades categories

Now set the Minimum Grade to the desired negative mark.  Click Save Changes.

Grades categories2

eTexts – Are students ready?

Monday, July 29th, 2013

The argument used to be despite the rise of digital e-readers, like the Sony, Kobo and Kindle, that students wanted paper texts not e-texts

The increasing acceptance of the ipad started to move opinion, which increased as Apple targeted schools and facilitated deals with publishers and new resource developers.  Replacing 10 kilos of books with one small device is a compelling argument for change.  At the same time, smart phones were getting larger (and smarter) making them more useful as interactive devices compared to earlier ‘killer’ devices like the original Blackberry.

This bit of recent research shows

  • “E-textbook use showed a 16 percent increase over the 2011 survey, with 79 percent of respondents saying they had used one and 66 percent saying they use one frequently; and
  • When asked about e-text adoption over the next decade, 17 percent of those surveyed said they believed only electronic texts would be used in 10 years, 55 percent said they would be more commonly used than print, and only seven percent said print textbooks would still be dominant.”

As with all research, I’d like to know a bit more about how the respondents were recruited and what the participation rate was, particularly given that it was commissioned by company dealing in digital education resources.

A crucial question not apparently asked was, whether the resources they were using were free or paid, and how much influence this had one their choice (actually, did they have a choice?).

Still, it gels with what I’m seeing around me.

Of course a major road block is finding the right resource, particularly if you’re looking at free or low cost options.  It’s still easier for academics in our research focused institutions to deal directly with 2 or 3 publishers (even if that costs students more) than scour the internet smorgasbord for suitable resources.

Another interesting result was,

“Among students who told researchers they don’t always complete assigned readings before class, 53 percent said they would be more likely to do so if the material was available on mobile devices, a seven percent increase as compared to the 2011 survey;”

I think this fits with the increasing success of Blended/Flipped teaching models.

So we’re not on the slopes yet, but we can see the snow.

Weekend Funny – Exam howlers

Saturday, July 27th, 2013

Piranha states and Franco’s right-wing panties

“Terrifying typos, marvelous malapropisms and baffling blunders feature in this year’s crop of “exam howlers”.

Every year, lecturers marking examination scripts are asked by Times Higher Education to share their favourite student slip-ups.”

More free etexts – OpenStax (peer reviewed)

Thursday, July 25th, 2013

Here’s another provider of free etexts.

“OpenStax College offers students free textbooks that meet scope and sequence requirements for most courses. These are peer-reviewed texts written by professional content developers.   Adopt a book today for a turnkey classroom solution or modify it to suit your teaching approach.

Free online and low-cost in print, OpenStax College books are built for today’s student budgets.”

You also have the option of customizing your own version.  More info here.

The $30 alternative to a $600 lecture theatre tablet.

Wednesday, July 24th, 2013

I’m stretching the truth a little for the sake of a catchy title, but I’ve had an idea that I think will work.

Until recently our university had a teaching tablet loan program (HP EliteBook), but as times and personnel and budgets change so do organizational priorities.

So, I’ve been looking at alternatives to support staff in our department who were previously in the tablet program.   I have had a chat to a few people and it seems the main use of the tablet is marking up slides during lectures.   Very few have made the tweaks that let them move around the room (we have a software application called MeTL that does this).  Interestingly the most commonly used presentation technology gadget is the handheld laser pointer/lecture controller.

I will point out that most staff have ipads (the ipad 1) but apart from the serious Apple devotees, they find they have to jump through too many hoops to make them work as mobile mark-up devices in lectures.

What I have found is (a slightly compromised) best of both worlds – the wireless pen mouse.  People can move around the room and can draw on their slides by using the mouse on their hand or a student’s desk, and the scroll wheel allows them to go forward or back in the presentation (just like the laser/presenter).

pen mouse

It’s not a perfect solution.  You have to activate the ‘pen’ option in your PowerPoint, which is a little clunky, the range is only 10m, and you need to install specific drivers to adjust the sensitivity (drivers which aren’t currently on the PCs in our lecture theatres).   But hey, $30 is doable, particularly when the alternative is nada.

As with all innovations it’s only worthwhile if people are prepared to use it, so I’ve ordered one to trial.  I’ll let you know how it goes.

A free book for students looking for work (and more from Bookboon)

Tuesday, July 23rd, 2013

The are a few ‘free’ ebook organizations around providing a range of models.  Flat World Knowledge was good one, but they went to a paid model.  Bookboon has an ads model which appears to working.   The quality looks OK.  The main limitation is students have to go to the site to get the book, you’re not allowed to load it onto your site.   That seems more than fair.


Here’s a bit about them

“ publishes free and openly available eBooks for students and business professionals. The books can be downloaded in PDF without registration. Our mission is that students should be able to go through university without having to pay for textbooks.

How we make this possible – Your future employer pays for your textbooks

We finance our textbooks with a low number of high quality advertisements. The advertisements are mostly employer branding from companies who intend to recruit the students reading the textbook after they graduate. So in essence, your future employer is paying for your textbook!

We have set a 15% advertising limit per book. This limit has been set together with professors, business professionals, and student organizations in order to ensure the whole experience is in line with the high quality of our books.”

Weekend funny – Social Media

Saturday, July 20th, 2013


Samsung Note II – The new size of mobile?

Friday, July 19th, 2013

The Palm Pilot is back and now it’s better, it’s even changed it’s name to Samsung Note

Palmpilot5000_eu note

Obviously it is streets ahead of the old Palm but it in some ways it is another case of back to the future.

Originally I was skeptical about the size of the ipad because I was so used to my pocket sized digital PDA, and my laptop, which had an A4 footprint (this was before laptops became portable desktops).  Of course the difference wasn’t just the size, the ipad had cool apps, and outstanding functionality (instant on, touch screen, battery life).  The ipad was Mac Donald’s, my devices were steak and 3 veg.

The problem for me was size was important, size meant convenience.  I don’t want to carry around clipboard, or a ‘man bag’ or a brief case when I move around university.  I had an original iPhone but it a pain to use because it was just that bit too small.

I wanted what I had 15 years ago; the biggest functional device that will fit in my pocket.  The Note gives me that, in fact I haven’t picked up the ipad since I got the Note.   The ipad is now a convenient ‘coffee table’ device; it has become a portable device rather than mobile one.

As an enterprise device the Note still has the limitations common to both the ipad and android devices in that it doesn’t naturally integrate and synch with my work enterprise system.  There are work arounds, but I would prefer a device that synchs up like my laptop, in the mean time I’m stuck with  gmail and Dropbox.

Before we had MOOCs

Thursday, July 18th, 2013

In a previous post I used the ‘Back to the Future’ movie poster as a means of expressing my opinion on the current MOOC hubub.

Perhaps I could have looked further back.  It seems the idea that tech can replace learning professionals has been around for a while.

before we had moocs

Have a look at his article from Paleofuture.  Make sure to look at the related articles.