Thursday, November 11, 2010

Foundations for a New Science of Learning

Interesting article that brings together a number of different areas that relate to learning.  It particularly looks at very early stages of learning (ie in babies) and the importance of the social aspects of this.  eg Babies do not learn phonemes from machines or television as they do from other people.

Unfortunately, the place I was most interested in - formal learning the paper gets very weak.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Learning styles

Nice article looking at the literature on learning styles and concluding " no clear evidence supporting any of the many theories about learning styles. They fault weak methodology and the commercial nature of much of the research"

Why so many theories of education?

Stephen Downes asked "why education has so many different theories, as opposed to pretty much any discipline that is not fiction, which has just one main theory. "

I don't think multiple competing theories is restricted to education, but affects the whole of the humanities and social sciences. I think that there are a number of reasons for this (some better than others).

Firstly, we bring a huge amount of baggage with us - political beliefs, religious beliefs, the society we live in etc. Thus we can have Marxist, capitalist, Christian, Muslim etc theories of society and of education.

Secondly, but related to the first, there is no agreement on what education is about (or for). Is it to enable us to be good workers (wage slaves?)? or is it to develop the whole person in an Enlightenment way? Or is it to make us good believers? (Well we have faith schools in the UK) Or, what is the balance between these competing demands on education.

Thirdly, there is no agreement on whether learning is social or individual (for lack of a better word). Clearly, at some level learning is what occurs inside the learners head, but equally clearly it has social aspects too.

Fourthly, measurement is extremely inaccurate for a number of reasons. Marking is an art not a science (however hard exam boards try). Get two people to mark the same script and the marks can vary enormously (hence double marking and double peer review). Also, we examine (ie look at) what we (easily) can rather than what we may want to. We use proxies to the real learning. Thus, it is very hard to know what has been learned.

Fifthly, Learning theories seem to have problems with the disconnects between:- formal and informal learning- what the student wants and what the teacher / system want- learning and using that learning (there are plenty of stories - and some research - into students being able to answer exam questions on eg physics questions, but not being able to apply that to the real world.

In conclusion, I would suggest that the social sciences (and I would lump education in there) are not comparable to the physical sciences as they start from ones political perspective and therefore there will be competing incommensurate theories. The nearest I can think of the sciences is evolution and so called intelligent design. Because they start from different premises (evidence and faith respectively) they cannot actually be compared.

Is homeworking better for the environment

According to a new study: Rebound: unintended consequences of transport policy and technology innovations working from home saves at best 0.4% of the energy used compared to going to work. They also suggest that home shopping does not save energy except in very limited circumstances. It seems to me that this must depend on how you do it. They suggest that heating homes, for instance, uses a lot of the energy and that people travel more for social reasons.
It seems to me that it must depend on what you do. I hardly ever put the heating on, and only turn the printer on when printing (maybe once a week). Admittedly I would probably cycle to work in which case their would be little energy used getting to work. However they say

"It does however require energy to heat or cool the home office. lt may also
lead to people moving further from the workplace, which could stretch urban
cities further apart (this is often referred to as sprawl). Aebischer and Huser
(2000) reported that there would be a 30% increase in household energy use if
one person in a household was working from home. lt was also found that the
number of non-commuting trips increases slightly with telecommuting"
As for online shopping, if it is being delivered by the postman - who goes past the house every day - what is the extra energy? Their evidence is based on a 2001 report which claims:

"Matthew and Hendrickson (2001)demonstrated that roughly the same amount of
energy is used to distribute 1 million dollars worth of bestseller books inU.S.
metropolitan areas by traditional retails (28-33 TJ of energy) as by online
shopping (30 TJ of energy). A similar study inJapan concluded that traditional
retail has a lower environmental impact in dense urban areas (Williams and
Tagami, 2001)."
I would have thought that this would have changed significantly in the last few years. Local shops have closed so people may have to travel further to shop and there has been a vast increase in online shopping so that there may be significant volume savings.
However, a large part of their argument seems to be based on the "Rebound effect" whereby if we make savings in one place then it is ok to use more elsewhere (I don't commute so I can go further for my holiday).

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

That bus just OVERtook me

Well, we have had problems with bendy buses, but here is an idea which looks even more scary for the average cyclist....

Yup, the idea is that it rides over two lanes of traffic.  But I have a number of questions:

  • How do you stop cyclists getting stuck in the rails?
  • What happens if there is a lorry in the bus lane?
  • What happens to cars changing lane?
  • How does it go round corners?
  • What happens to the cars at the junctions.

Still, it looks like a nice idea.  When I was young I envisaged a car with legs so it could overtake a traffic jam.  could come to a town near china one day?

Friday, June 11, 2010

Can students evaluate lecturers effectively?

An interesting summary of an article (which unfortunately is not (yet?) freely available in an IR on student assessment of their lecturers. Suggesting that they prefer lecturers who "teach to the test" rather than foster deep learning. They study made possible because the USAF teach the same course to different groups of students, and marking is done by question not by cohort.

What are the implications of this for the NSS?

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Cloud

I have been thinking about "The Cloud" for some time now, and trying to understand what is new about it.

When I started in computing in 1980 I worked for a company called Hoskyns, which was a leader in what was called "facilities management".  This meant that they would run your computers (mainframes) for you - so that you could concentrate on the core business of the company.  Sometimes it worked well for both parties and sometimes not.  It tended to work well (as I remember) because Hoskyns could take over the entire computing for the company and were often providing much of the software anyhow.

In the 1990s there was much interest in outsourcing which was driven by the idea that businesses should concentrate on their core business and all other services should be handled by specialists brought in to provide that service.  This was especially true of cleaning and catering, but many other services were outsourced, including computing.  Whereas cleaning and catering has worked (in the sense that companies have stuck with it on the whole - though often to the detriment of the working condition of those actually doing the work) the picture in IT has been much more mixed with some notable disasters.  There are many reasons for this, but I would suggest that amongst them are:

  • The lack of flexibility that most outsourcing contracts offer so that changes can become prohibitively expensive.
  • Parts of the computing are effectively providing core services to the company so that close control is needed.
  • Lack of understanding of all the issues by the company that is contracting the service (the outsourcing provider is a specialist doing it all the time, the company outsourcing its services does it once and does not fully understand the issues.
  • Loss of control of things like when upgrades happen causing additional costs.

No doubt there are others, but there have been expensive fiascoes - especially in the public sector.

Now, these tended to involve moving control of existing services to a third party.  However, with the cloud we seem to be wanting to change our systems at the same time.  This worries me hugely - the costs of implementing a new system are large.  The staff development costs are usually the largest single cost (though often hidden in higher education as the loss of staff productivity through time out for training, lower efficiency while systems are learnt as they are expected to be absorbed).

So I think that the cloud needs to be approached with caution, with the following being areas where it may make sense:

  • Where new systems are being adopted anyhow
  • Systems that do not fully belong within the institution.  I am thinking here especially of VLEs and e-portfolios where continued access from graduates of the institution makes sense.

In short I think that there are some opportunities that the could offers, but it is nothing like as great as many of its advocates seem to suggest.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Research impact

Perhaps Dilbert has caught what many people feel about the research impact of the REF:

Perhaps Dilbert has caught what many people feel about the research impact of the ref