Archive for February, 2014

Back channels for student feedback during lectures

Friday, February 28th, 2014

I’ve had a query from an academic about using Twitter during a lecture (200+ students) to get live feedback and comments.  I’m not a particularly big fan of Twitter in the classroom for a range of logistical  reasons.

There are other options, but the one sitting right under our nose at Monash is Moodle Chat.

Some other products have better interface designs but Moodle chat provides some specific advantages

  • It’s private
  • There is no external registration required
  • Everyone has automatic access
  • There is in house tech support
  • Setting it up is simple and similar to other Moodle activities.

I’ll have a play with it to make sure it handles the load and does what we want, but at present it looks like the best option.

If you want to know more about using back channels for live feedback in your lectures have a look at this article by Rowan Brookes, one of our clever clogs academics.

She also has a blog

Format Cells/Columns not working in excel?

Wednesday, February 26th, 2014

An academic came to me with a formatting problem.  She had a spreadsheet of exported data, but the Date column was  full of numbers in the format  19920720  – she needed these to look and act like dates.  She needed to be able to subtract one date from another to get the number of intervening days.

Simple, I thought.  I selected the column and tried all the various date format options.  She had already tried that.  No luck.

Eventually I found this solution from ‘Karl’ on the site

1) (Save As) a Tab Deliminated.txt file.
2) Open New Excel
3) Open File and choose Tab Deliminated Option.  (Click through step 1 and 2 of the ‘Text Import Wizard’)
4) Go to each Date column and select it and chose Date DMY, MDY (Whichever) format.

5) Select Finish. All dates should now format OK.

There was another solution which also worked.

I inserted a blank column and inserted the formula =TEXT(D2,”0000-00-00″) .  D2 was the cell with the unformulated date.  It turned the number 19920720 into text in this configuration 1992-07-20.  I then copied the formula into the rest of the blank column.


The date/day calculations worked.

If someone has a simpler solution to fix the formatting failure please let me know.

A justifiable subject for a MOOC

Monday, February 24th, 2014

My big problem with MOOCs (apart from the frequently shoddy instructional design) is the typically naive (and usually absent) business plan under pinning them.*

The program mentioned below is something I think a MOOC could be part of. You could staff it at key advertised times through the year, maybe throw in a Google Hangout, and link it to f2f on-campus sessions.
It would help students achieve success at university, reduce the burden on lecturers, provide a social service to the community and make the uni look good to prospective students. That’s worth spending a buck on.

This article from is commenting on a paper by Nicole M. Stephens, associate professor of management and organizations at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University; MarYam G. Hamedani, associate director of the Center for Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity at Stanford University; and Mesmin Destin, assistant professor of psychology at Northwestern University.

For years, studies have found that first-generation college students — those who do not have a parent with a college degree — lag other students on a range of education achievement factors. Their grades are lower and their dropout rates are higher.

But the article is actually quite optimistic, as it outlines a potential solution to this problem, suggesting that this approach (which involves a one-hour, next-to-no-cost program) can close 63 percent of the achievement gap (measured by such factors as grades) between first-generation and other students.
What is the solution? A one-hour program for new students that is called a “difference-education intervention.”

In the program, college juniors and seniors from a range of backgrounds talk about how they adjusted to college, and how they sought out resources and people to help them with decisions, issues they didn’t understand and so forth.

Read more:
Inside Higher Ed

* OK, my three big problems…

Google Auto-awesome creates an Honda Jazz convertible

Monday, February 17th, 2014

A local railway station has been recently upgraded and put underground.  The old tracks across the road haven’t been removed yet so they now start on the foot path on one side of the road and disappear on the far edge of the other footpath.  So a snapped a few shots across the busy road on my Samsung Note and decided to let Google “Auto-awesome clean out all the cars for me.  Which it did, almost.


As you can see it removed the top of the car, but the lower half is close enough in colour to the barrier that it didn’t get filtered.

Weekend funny- A little help with selecting your course

Saturday, February 15th, 2014

scared straight

MOOCs and Groundhog day

Friday, February 14th, 2014

Mike Caulfield has reached into my head and stolen my thoughts again.

The Harvard “MOOCs for Alumni” Thing Parties Like It’s 1999

This is his response to an article in the Chronicle

The university plans to make some MOOC materials available exclusively to alumni, in an effort to help Harvard graduates reconnect with the university and one another.

Here’s my favorite bit from Mike’s post.

So we are faced with the endless circle of life of the digital learning initiative:

  1. Someone says — hey we should make money on this. But they can’t make money on it, because people generally want credit for the hundreds of hours they spend on a class.
  2. So someone says — well, what if we did it just for alumni, where we wouldn’t have to give credit? But that doesn’t work out either. Because math.
  3. Someone then says, you know, since we can’t make money on this, we should just give it away free, for the public good. There is a brief period of sanity! People love the free stuff.
  4. The open stuff starts to have impact. The institution buries the evidence of the failed for-profit venture and hides the bodies, proclaiming success of open initiative.
  5. A year later someone comes along and says “Look how interested people are in this free stuff! We should make money on this!”
  6. Repeat.

When I do my crabby Grandpa Simpson thing and tell the young ‘uns that we’ve been through this all before, they often think I’m being metaphorical, or constructing an analogy. But I’m not. We have been here before in as exact a fashion as one can be at a place in history again without violating fundamental laws of physics.

My big worry is that we’re approaching the time when institutions and academics who got sucked into the MOOC hype are going to see what they signed up for and bail on the whole online learning idea and we’ll see the baby go out with the bathwater.

Now is the time to start scrambling to get those resources re-purposed and propose new flexible/blended/hybrid/flipped units for our institutions.   If we don’t we may see a retreat into old habits rather leveraging the lessons learnt.

Dr George Siemens put the boot into xMOOCs

Thursday, February 13th, 2014

George Siemens is an internationally renowned and respected expert in the field of eLearning.

He was a pioneer in the original collaborative, pedagogically sound MOOCs.  This is before the emergence of the  over blow, over hyped, amateur designed, content based products that we now refer to as MOOCs.

This quote is a cracker.

“Regarding Thrun and Udacity, I think the gloating is absolutely justified because this was an individual that was able to get front page coverage in the New York Times and USA Today for saying really absurd things.”

via Stephen Downes OL Daily

MSOXMLMF error (for frustrated tech heads only)

Friday, February 7th, 2014

This is one of those posts very few people will be interested in, but those who are interested will want to travel to Melbourne and buy me a beer.

I am cleaning up a Samsung Series 7 PC Slate and yesterday I couldn’t open any MS Office applications without this message appearing.

MSOXMLMFDLL is either not designed to run on Windows or it contains an error.

Office would attempt to reinstall itself then reboot, but when I opened an Office app again the problem reoccurred.

So I woke up Professor Google and hit the tech forums.

I tried renaming the file , deleting it, copying in a ‘working’ version, running CCleaner (an otherwise excellent app), scanning for malware, running regsvr /u to uninstall it (it couldn’t find the file despite the path being exactly correct – I’m an old MS DOS user so I’m not a total bunny with the command prompt).

And forget the free download fixes.

Eventually I found a post where someone mentioned, almost in passing, you could also try creating a new Windows user account.

That worked, not only in the new account but it also fixed the original account.

The simplest and quickest fix – mentioned by one person – in a minor forum – halfway down the page – on the 7th page of a Google search.

Hand writing your lecture notes is better than using a laptop.

Tuesday, February 4th, 2014

Here are a couple of recent articles relating to note taking in lectures.

Pen-And-Paper Notetaking Superior To Typing On A Laptop

This article on Annie Murphy Paul’s blog talks about a study by psychologists Pam Mueller of Princeton and Daniel Oppenheimer of UCLA

“The students using laptops were in fact more likely to take copious notes, which can be beneficial to learning.But they were also more likely to take verbatim notes, and this ‘mindless transcription’ appeared to cancel out the benefits. Both groups memorized about the same number of facts from the lectures, but the laptop users did much worse when tested on ideas.”

“…these results suggest that longhand notes not only lead to higher quality learning in the first place; they are also a superior strategy for storing new learning for later study. Or, quite possibly, these two effects interact for greater academic performance overall.”

10 Note taking Tips for 21Century Teachers

This one from Med Kharbach at the Educational Technology and Mobile Learning blog is about a book by Walter Ong, ‘Orality and Literacy’.

Here are some interesting highlights from it :

  • Humans forget things easily, and the more time passes the more we forget.
  • Only 10 percent of an audio lecture may last in memory, but students who take and review their notes can recall about 80% of a lecture.
  • University of Washington research suggests that physical writing ( chirographic ) activates regions of the brain that involve thinking, language and working memory.

And of course there’s an infographic.  This one is from Course Hero out of Cornell University


I do have a a couple of questions (does anyone know where I can find the answers?).

  • Are handwritten notes on a tablet the same as pen and paper (assuming you are proficient using tablets)?
  • What is the difference between notes taken from a recording vs a live lecture.  Does physical attendance matter?