Archive for January, 2007|Monthly archive page

A new approach

I’ve got four project students coming to see me today. I’m trying a new approach, instead of giving the students specific times, I’ve told them that I’ll be around ‘most of today’, and asked them to see me whenever’s best for them.

There are two reasons for this. Firstly, I didn’t have my PDA with me when I was scheduling the appointments, but there’s also some fairly good practical and pedagogical reasons too. Practically, it’s the first week of teaching, so the students are not yet aware of where they may be ‘slack’ time between lectures and tutorials. Pedagogically, it may remove the time limit when I schedule students back to back. I usually allocate half an hour to an hour for a session, depending on what they want to talk about (assuming they give me a vague idea about the subject manner).

The downside is of course that I can feel ‘trapped’ in the office, and worried about missing a student. We’ll see how successful this experiment is. If two of the four students come along, then I’ll be happy.

Update – as of 15:15,  only one student turned up… and when I checked my Outlook we had agreed a 12:00 meeting.  So all in, I think I can say that the ‘just drop in’ approach was a total failure.

Back to teaching

This should have been posted on Monday, looks like I hit the wrong buttons!

I’m guessing that before the advent of whiteboards, the start of term (or semester) would have been detected by the increase of chalk in the air.

Nowadays, there would probably be an increase in toner particulates. Of course that assumes that there are enough laser printers, or photocopier in service – but I’m still saving that rant for another blog (though one working multi-function printer to service over 2,000 students strikes me as more than a little ridiculous).

Only two thirds of my postgraduate students managed to make it to the lecture and seminars today, because of the low numbers I’ve been able to identify the missing people and have emailed them. The actual session went well I think (Action Learning Sets theory and practice), and the timetable for the rest of the semester is taking shape as well.

I’m working from home tomorrow to get the second assignment written, and to make sure that all is in place for my PRINCE2 module teaching on Thursday. Some things happening outside work may change these plans, but they’re out of my control to some extent.

T324 Briefing Day

This is the closest I could have done for a ‘live blog’ for today’s course briefing at the OU. I’m in a hotel room in Luton as I’m seeing some friends down here tonight, and heading back tomorrow.

Wireless access in the hotel is just £2.50 for two hours, which strikes me as a bit of a bargain, BT openzone is £5 for 90 minutes, so this is less than half price. I can also log on/off as necessary, so I’m typing this off-line, to ‘squirt the bird’ later.

Today was an interesting day for two reasons, one of them being totally unintentional.

Firstly, the course briefing itself was useful. I’ve got a stronger feeling now for the structure of the whole of the course, and how it hangs together. The important thing I have to do now is to translate this into a format that I can tell my students in the first tutorial. (Talking of which, I’m on thirty students and counting, that’s a lot more than many other tutors). I think it’s fair to say that there’s still a lot of work to be done by the course team, but they are aware of this. I’m looking forward to the podcast which forms part of Block 1, as it seems to contain some controversial statements by someone from OFCOM.

I may still be a little wary about the amount of maths in Block 1, and how students will react to this, but the maths does drop off as the course progresses. Block 3, the socio-political elements looks really good, looking forward to it.

The second, unexpected benefit came from using ‘Notebook’ view in MS Word for Mac, I upgraded my iBook over the Christmas break (I think I blogged, but can’t check offline). This is a view which creates normal .doc files, but through an interface which allows for a more structured view and allows icons, and bullet lists in a much easier way. After trying and failing to make notes on my Palm Z22 at the start, I used my laptop and this notebook view, and it really worked.

No chance to work on my UCE stuff, I’ll have to spend some major PC time tomorrow when I get back. I hope everyone else has a good weekend.

Module preparation

Today was going to be a final ‘check up’ day on my teaching for next semester which starts on Monday, checking that I knew where the rooms were, equipment was there, print off class lists and make sure that I had all my repro done for the first couple of weeks – I’ve yet to blog about the crazy situation regarding printers within the faculty, that will have to wait until I’m really calm.

Instead I’ve been putting together assignments (2), and the first three weeks worth of lectures for the new module I’m teaching next Monday.  I’m not as far advanced as I’d hoped to be, so I’m taking my laptop tomorrow in the hope that the isolation of a hotel room tomorrow afternoon (and the promise of a dip in the pool when completed) will act as a spur for me.

I don’t mind these rush jobs.. I think I heard someone call it ‘extreme lecturing’ as homage to the ‘extreme programming’ and even ‘extreme ironing’, and sometimes you can produce your best work when under pressure.  We’ll see what happens over the next few weeks with this module, in comparison to the other modules that I teach next semester – there’s enough of them to choose from and they’re all new, apart from IT Professional Practice.

So later I’m packing my overnight bag ready for my trip to Milton Keynes.  All of my documentation has strange, seven digit codes littering it, the delights of haveing sat-nav which works on postcodes, so after going to MK7, it’s a quick trip to LU1 before heading back to WV10.

I’ve been looking for wireless hotspots, and have found a few, mostly in pubs it has to be said in Luton, so you may find a rare Saturday posting from me tomorrow.

Anyone seen my students?

I’m typing this and popping out of the office every five minutes. Four new final year students are expecting me to be helping me make their module choices at the moment, but I’ve looked in the two rooms I would have expected to find them, and they’re not there, and some aimless wandering around (be me) hasn’t helped.

I’m afraid no pictures were taken of me suited and booted yesterday. It was a very busy day, and I came out to my frozen car with mixed feelings. Student interviews were OK, though they were very nervous and showed it. The groupwork exercise I observed was pretty poor, I’m trying to get an electronic format up for you to have a look. It’s a variation on the classic ‘balloon debate’, but with an aircraft crash and brief biographical details. The presentations were not much better… from standing in front of the OHP, reading directly from cards clutched tightly in the hand. Some of the debate after the presentations was interesting – I asked one student who supported the banning of smoking in public because it was anti-social whether obnoxious ring tones on mobiles should also be banned as I found them anti-social.

It was a good, but long day though and I came back to a ridiculous number of emails, which I’ve only just sorted through between trying to find the new students. I have visions of them all clinging together lost at the local shopping centre. I hope they make it back for Monday!

Talking of which, with the best laid plans etc. I’ve just been thron in the deep end teaching a brand new module next semester, starting on Monday.  It’s a postgraduate module called ‘Organisational Perspectives’.  I’ve got some thoughts on content and presentation, but I’ll need to spend some time in the next couple of days preparing materials… and I thought I was going to spend some time after the briefing meeting in Milton Keynes on Saturday splashing around in a hotel pool.

Some good news though – got an email through late last night –

I am pleased to inform you that your abstract entitled Critical Success Factors to Engage Reflection in Education: Professional Development of Educators and Students has been accepted for submission as a paper for the ICEL 2007: The International Conference on e-Learning

Suited and Booted

Tomorrow will see an event rarer than a lunar eclipse, me in a suit.  I’ll also be out of email contact all day.

Between the second and third years,  our students have the option of taking a placement year to gain some money and practical experience.  The students have to find the placement themselves, but we provide a lot of support and have a dedicated placements office who run a series of lectures and workshops.

Tomorrow I am taking part in a mock assessment centre for these students, which runs for a total of four days at a suite of rooms just outside Birmingham.  There students take part have an interview, take part in groupwork activities, and give a fifteen minute presentation on a controversial subject.

It’s a long day, for both staff and students, but I found it rewarding last year, not least of which giving informal feedback to students, and seeing how nervous they are – better to be nervous in this situation than in a real interview.

This nervousness comes across in the use of ‘noise words’, such as “basically, I basically studied the subject basically because I” etc. etc.

So tomorrow I undergo a personality change from a relaxed, easy going academic to an industry leader – think The Apprentice without the tears… mostly.

As I so rarely wear a suit, I’ll try and get a photo of it and add this to the blog Thursday.. an incentive not to read I suspect.

A busy day

Today is a day for clearing up loose ends.  Whilst it’s necessary to have these sorts of days, I don’t find them really enjoyable, I’d much prefer to concentrate on a single thing, see that through, then go home!

Firstly placement visits.  The visits themselves were made last October/November, but reports have to be written, employees chased and faxes found (then lost, then found).  I’d had the paperwork on one of these floating around for ages, but got them all sorted and put to bed.

Then it was a reference, this time for a student who’s applied to do a PhD.  These take a lot of work, and I’ve only partially completed it, mostly because our printers within the faculty have died, so I’m having to take this home to work on.  Not ideal by any standard.  I’m working from home tomorrow though, so should be able to do this.

Holiday forms, research ideas for students, and looking through dissertations has taken up the rest of the time.  I should now be able to concentrate on getting a lecture knocked out for week 3 of teaching (we’re currently on week zero, the week before the start of teaching).  This evening I’m  working for the OU on doing the same eTMA workshop training which I did on December 9th.  I’ve had a couple cancelled, this is only the second one that I’ve done.  A long day then, but hopefully satisfying, but I’ll need more caffeine to get me through it.

Plagiarism detection

UCE has signed up with Turn It In for a while now to check projects and major pieces of work for plagiarism.  It’s not used for every piece of coursework, as at the moment staff have to submit the work.  If it was set up ‘properly’ then students would submit their own work to the service, and we would be able to do this for much more work.

I’m still surprised how long it can take for the report to come back – in these days of instant gratificaiton even through the web it’s sobering to have to wait twenty minutes or more for a report to come back.  The report comes with two easy metrics so that you can tell at a glance if there is an issue… a colour coded traffic light, and a percentage match figure.

The work then starts however, as you have to exclude previous submissions of the coursework (this just brought the  piece of work I’m checking at the moment from 80% to 19%, still worryingly high though), and maybe the bibliography and clearly quoted pieces of work.

Where JISC has the edge is that it also compares the work with other submitted pieces of work to the system.  Therefore a repository should be built of work which should improve the incidence of plagiarism detection.

We have some clever people in our department who do research in plagiarism, and contract cheating.  In the Summer of 2006 the profile of the department was raised significantly by this piece of work, and gave us some much needed publicity at the time.

Of course, identifying cheating is only useful if we have the sanctions in place to do something about it, and both UCE and the Open University are very ‘hot’ on this, though I may (and do) moan about the amount of preparation required to take this further, it is necessary.

The weekend is calling!

Abstract sent

There were times when I didn’t think we’d make it, but my co-author and I have submitted the abstract, and she  has good feeling that it’s going to be accepted.  Possibly a little later than I should have, I checked the proceedings of last years conference.  The papers look very interesting, but I’m also pleased to say that no papers were submitted with our specific research interest.

The paper has evolved as they always do (see the mind map posted previously, very little has made this into the final version), but this paper builds on the word we did for the SIGSAND 2006 symposium about using blogs to encourage reflection.  When presenting the paper in Galway, I was challenged by someone in the audience with specific regard to whether I myself maintained a blog, and if I didn’t wasn’t it hypocritical for me to expect my students to do so.

I blustered at the time, and provided some very good reasons (to me at the time) why not.  After a few false starts using another commercial blogging tool, I started this blog.  Even after the very short time this has been running I’m finfing it useful, both for personal reflection and as an aide-memoire.

I’m typing this as I invigilate an exam, using the wireless network at university.  Coverage is patchy in places in the building, but seems to be holding up OK here.  I think in five years time we’ll see this fuss about authentication and WEP keys as being rather quaint, as we will the limited download speeds… my beloved iBook only has an 802.11b Wi-Fi card, but as I only have half meg broadband at home it’s hardly an issue there as it’s still ten times faster than the speed I connect to the Internet.

Another mind map

You may have spotted from my post yesterday that I was a little concerned about preparing the conference abstract.  I managed to get something out to my co-author early yesterday afternoon, which we’ll work on today and hopefully get out tomorrow.

I was literally staring at a blank piece of paper when I made the posting yesterday, but come coloured pens and another mind map, and I was ready to start.

As I wanted to share the map with my co-author, I used FreeMind (the standard package used at uni) to prepare the map and save it as a .gif file to  send via email.

You’ll see that this is much closer to Buzan’s mind maps.

Mind map on blogging