Archive for April, 2007|Monthly archive page

Staff Development Day

Yesterday I was at the AL (associate lecturer) staff development session at Harborne.  I was there to act as a ‘facilitator’ for the Technology Faculty session at the end of the day, but before that I attended two workshops.

The first session was called ‘a profile of disability’.  This was good to find out the processes behind a disability statement.  Clearly the OU is fortunate in that its size allows for a large amount of disability support available – an example is that their is a purpose built Disabled Students Allowance office at Walton Hall, the head office.
One controversial discussion was whether students whose first language is not English should be classed as a disability.  How is this different to another learning disability such as dyslexia or dyspraxia?  We didn’t really get to the bottom of the discussion, but it’s an interesting view.
We also discussed issues of disclosure, as there’s a legal requirement to record a disclosure to anyone within the university.
There was also some discussion of  ‘labelling’, and if we read that a student has schizophrenia do we see the label rather than a student.  I’m sure that these are issues that many academics have always struggled with, and I think the OU seems to be doing well.

The second session was about plagiarism, a particular bug bear of mine.  This session should have been really useful, but was spoiled for me by the boorish participation of another Associate Lecturer.  It was a minor point, she claimed that a point that I was trying to make was in a handout.. Which I had not yet received as it was still being passed around.  Whilst she apologised, this felt unprofessional in what is usually a very supportive atmosphere.    A term used which I do like is ‘sloppy scholarship’ which came through from the discussion.  This is particularly useful if you do not think that the student had an intention to deceive, but plagiarized work through ‘laziness’.
A handout was given from a Times Higher article from June 2006 by Phil Baty – “…staff found reporting plagiarism to be ‘stressful and discomforting, tedious and an emotional strain'”,Something which I can relate to, especially at the moment.
I’ll talk more about the final sessions later, I need to feedback to Malcolm before publishing to the rest of the world.
The next week is going to be a very busy week for me, and whilst I’m hoping to keep the blog going, there may be gaps.  Please do not adjust your RSS news reader!

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Using DVDs in lectures

This morning’s lecture was a bit of a hotch-potch of various things.  It started with student module feedback questionnaires, a fairly short process if all the students are there, but with latecomers and people not coming with pens, not understanding the difference between a tick and a cross, it became drawn out.  Apparantly though we have one of the highest return rates of all modules, which has to be good – we get the statistics much later in the year.

Then it was housekeeping, informing them of hand in dates, details of next lecture again, which then had to be repeated for those still coming in.

The ‘main feature’ was a DVD about the Data Protection Act.  Now I’ve had to sit through this more times than I care to imagine, but it’s fairly good at putting what can be very dry legislation in an approachable way.  The students did sit through it OK, and I’m pleased that the technology worked fine – I did have concerns so was in the lecture theatre an hour earlier checking the player and speakers all worked OK.

I learned very early on in my lecturing career that after students have sat and watched a video, they will not be sparkling with energy and enthusiasm.  I did not go through the interactive quiz on the DVD therefore, but dived (dove?) straight into the final part of the morning session, a lecture on an obscure management theory about IT development.  To give students their due, they did seem fairly well engaged, and those that weren’t didn’t snore too loudly.

Overall I think the session could have benefited from a clearer separation between the different tasks, and some activities where the students could have participated more.  DVDs are a great learning resource, but they do demand that the student is passive.  Splitting the DVD into chapters and only showing parts assumes that the student can maintain interest over a longer time period, and recall what went before.  I think before I use the DVD again, I’ll prepare a ‘quiz’ for the students to complete as they go through – even if it’s a ‘pop quiz’ asking trivia as they go along may provide greater engagement.

I’m in deepest Norfolk  visiting a placement student at this company tomorrow.  Have a good weekend everyone.

And in the beige corner.

Here’s the flip side to yesterday’s post.  This is my university desk/office.

Office at university

The packing crates are those of my colleague.  You’ll see that I try to keep this desk fairly clutter free – somewhat opposite to my home study.  There’s also very few distractions, I do have a radio behind me, but it’s only on when I’m on my own and doing things which don’t involve much concentration.

I’ve only been in this office for about nine months – this time last year I was clearing out my office of about three and a half years in preparation for the move.  I share the office with Joanna, who is very patient of the stream of students coming in to see me (and I am of her student contact too).  We both had our own offices for a good while, but we are fortunate that we only share with one other, some lecturers are in offices of four.

And the view out of the window?  I can see half a tree, and the rest of the view it taken up with the view of Galton building, which along with my building (Feeney) comprises the Business School.

Enough of this frivolity, back to normal postings tomorrow.

A clean desk….

Is the sign of a sick mind?

I have two main work areas, my study at home, and my office at work. This is a ‘compare and contrast’ exercise.

This is my home study.

Home study

You’ll see that there are some ‘distractions’ – my DAB Digital radio is always on when I’m not ‘listening again’ through the computer. The TV is not connected to an aerial or Sky, only to the DVD player (under the printer). I kid myself that this is for my Open University DVD’s, but in reality I play movies and episodes of Family Guy rented from Amazon.

The far wall has three bookshelves, 9ft by 7ft of books, folders and course materials. This is my ‘wall of shame’, I really need to sort this out and put the books in alphabetical order, and clear out my old OU course materials. A few times I know that there’s a book that’s there, but it’s took me too long to find. One book that’s not there is my Chambers Dictionary, this is used a lot on my Creative Writing course, so is resting on my Futon just out of shot.

It doesn’t come out well in the picture, but outside my window from my usual seated position I can see a tree, and the eaves of the house next door, where birds nest, and fly in/out all day. I’m assuming my neighbours know about this… the nest, not that I stare at their roof for hours on end!

So at least when I say I’m ‘working from home’ you’ll have a sense of where I am. I’ll compare this tomorrow with my office at UCE.

Students back

The students are back after their Easter break.  Most staff are on their final three weeks of teaching, but because of this intensive three week module, I’ve got six weeks teaching to look forward to.

I made the mistake of adding up all of the elements of assessment that I’ve got to mark this semester, exams and coursework.  It came to over 311 items… so far I’ve marked just 13 assignments.  Whilst I subscribe to the ‘JFDI’ mentality, it can still be a little overwhelming.  I’m guessing I’ll need all my tricks and tips to maintain my sanity…. and let’s be honest a few weekends working too.   That’s no bad thing at the moment, whilst I’m enjoying my creative writing course, and have had the course materials (bascially three music CD’s) for my musical appreciation short course, the weekends are dragging a little at the moment.

Still, this weekend I’ve got thirty OU Assignments to mark.. that should keep me out of trouble for a while.

Blogs in T324

I’m reading through the material for the next Block on the Open University course. There’s a section in there about ‘blogs’.

“Blogs are a sort of online diary in which the authors post opinions and links to website addresses they find interesting or useful. Some bloggers are authoritative and reliable, but you will also come across blogs that are really part of a company’s marketing.”

This does seem a very narrow and somewhat old fashioned definition of a blog. This blog serves three purposes for me.

    • Dissemination. I agree with the statement above about the ‘public diary’ and dissemination element, but the number of readers I get at the moment doesn’t mean that my primary audience is other people (I average about eleven readers a day across feeds and visits to the page itself). I probably read my own entries more than anyone else.
    • Reflection. I know I would say this as it’s a research interest of mine, and maybe this reflection could be done equally well in a traditional diary, but the possibility of an audience is an important factor.
    • Exploration. Giving me a space to explore new areas and write about relevant interests which I would otherwise not have a chance to, the most recent examples being the ‘Death by Powerpoint’ series, giving me chance to codify my thoughts. Will anything else come of these? Probably not, but as long as this blog is preserved, they are there for me or others to consider.

      The rest of this Block in T324 “Finding Out” is really well written and presented, and provides a good basis for student’s research skills. I look forward to finding out what students feel about this section.

      Catch up

      A little bit of catching up in the blog today.

      On Tuesday evening I went to a BCS talk at the tic (sometimes seen as rivals to ‘my’ Department of Computing) for a talk about Radio-Frequency identification tags (RFID).

      This was really interesting.. It must have been as I rather cheekily asked some questions, something I very rarely do at these kind of things. It was good to be there with Simon, who was interested in RFID from a commercial viewpoint. For myself I was interested because despite having supervised an MSc student last year, and setting an undergraduate project on the subject this year, I really had only the most cursory knowledge.

      Having been to two very interesting meetings, I’ve decided I should renew my BCS membership, even though I have to pay for it myself as I think it could be a real advantage.. And more than just having four more letters after my name.

      And yesterday I was London bound for a placement visit, which I’m pleased to say went very well. The student gave a presentation in a very intimidating lecture theatre, and apart from some typing errors on the slides, gave a good show of herself and the company. I really hope that they take another placement student next year, and that the student is allocated to me.

      Finally, another gadget to add to my armoury arrived yesterday – a wireless keyboard for my Palm Z22 PDA. I’m really impressed with it, and in fact have typed this blog entry on it ready for synchronisation with my Outlook and subsequent copying to WordPress. There are times when it’s not appropriate to lug a laptop around, this keyboard seems a good compromise, and with no Internet access, nothing to distract me from my scribbling too! Photo below courtesy of my camera phone.

      Wireless keyboard for PDA

      500 hits

      Sometime today the odometer on the site went from 499 to 501 hits.

      OK, this is probably what some popular blogs get in a second, but I’m still pleased.

      I’m out of the office tomorrow at a placement visit in London, but when I’m back I’ll be blogging about this event that I’m about to head off to.

      Death by Powerpoint III

      (last in a short series of discussions on this technology).

      Anyone? Anyone?

      Any body of a certain age will know the film Ferris Bueller’s Day Off – required viewing in my late teenage years.

      There’s a scene where an economics teacher is trying to explain a particularly dry subject – ‘Voodoo Politics’ I believe. The teacher is pointing to something at the board and trying to get the apathetic students to engage by tapping the board and saying “Anyone?.. Anyone?” before answering what has turned into a rhetorical question.

      I can feel very much the same way, and I think the culprit for this is Powerpoint. When running through a lecture, we expect students to sit there like a sponge and absorb the information… with the occasional smile or chuckle at a joke or anecdote (I wish!).

      Then we suddenly want students to switch attitudes and start interacting with us and each other. And because we’ve thought of this whilst preparing the lecture, why not put a slide up with the activity? Guess what happens… I usually end up tapping the screen and asking “Anyone?…Anyone?” before answering what has turned into a rhetorical question.

      I’ve found if the activity is presented in a different media – as simple as printing the question, or turning the projector off and directing students to their handout, then things go better. Of course, this takes time to do, but the benefits are tangible.

      I need to do this as a control group – ask one half of a tutor group to do the activity from the screen, and the other half to do the same (or similar) activity from another media. I guess this will have to wait until the next semester’s teaching, I’ve only got one more traditional teaching lecture this semester.

      Cough cough

      The cold I’ve been battling with all week has left me with a rib-aching cough. I’m fine as long as I don’t move, breath or really do anything but lie on a sofa. I’ve called in sick for the first time this year (or for about a year I think, apart from an occasional stinking headache), though I am checking emails and doing laptop based stuff.

      Normal service will be resumed soon, meanwhile if anyone could go and get me a bottle of cough syrup, it would be appreciated.