Archive for the ‘higher education’ Category

“Flipping” education: a new term for an old idea

January 27th, 2012

I had never heard the term “flipped” teaching, so I wanted to make a note of it, via Mel Chua, who says:

my classmate Nikitha’s project for pedagogy class: redesign Purdue’s MATLAB-heavy intro-to-engineering first-year class to use a “flipped” model – view lectures at home, work on homework in class where there’s help available. (Mind you, this doesn’t mean they’ll implement it; she’s a TA, not the prof. Still, it’s cool.)

Flipped teaching is one of the ideas that could help sustain and justify small-group teaching as highly scaleable online learning becomes feasible and productive; MSNBC notes that, “Apparently even the Stanford students preferred watching the classroom lectures as online videos on their own time.” They report that 85-90% of Thrun’s in-person AI class at Stanford AI had stopped attending by the end of the class. Imagine Thrun’s shock: “These are students who pay $30,000 a year to Stanford to see the best and brightest of our professors, and they prefer to see us on video?”

In-class homework is not a new idea: the success of Berkeley’s Math/Science Workshop and UT’s Emerging Scholars Program (which I TA’d back in the days when I taught calculus) was based on providing challenging problems and group study support in class.

Nor is avoiding lecture: It would be interesting to compare the underlying philosophy of flip teaching to St. John’s, where, rather than listening lectures, students discuss the source materials in small groups. It was a wonderful way to learn!

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Stanford AI class, some off-the cuff reactions, envisioning a future of technical learning online

January 25th, 2012

I took the Stanford AI class. Overall I’m very impressed with the scalability and quality of the experience. I’m tempted to check Thrum’s TA roles for Udacity! While I don’t think that *every* kind of class should be taught in this way, for technical material with clear “right answers”, this is the (a?) right approach.

The class worked incredibly well overall despite a number of flaws. The best part was immediate feedback, on quiz materials and once the homework deadline had passed. When something is fresh in your mind, this is the real learning moment — so that’s invaluable for keeping student engagement. Even though so much of the class was rough at the edges, that, and a trust in the knowledge/expertise of the instructors, is the key aspect that would drive me to take this sort of class again. I also went in expecting to learn more about online learning (having both taken and TA’d other online classes); I did not expect to have such a powerful experience of the potential of this (relatively impersonal) approach.

“Education” means many things to many people. To the extent that education is about filling heads with core technical material, this is the future of education. In my mind, this pushes educators in several directions:

  1. pedagogical development / teacher training There are definite skills to be learned both in presenting course material and structuring courses for optimal learning.
  2. curriculum development and curriculum systems development
    There is incredible potential for increasing the personalization — for instance, there’s a kind of error that allows insight for the teacher, into how the student is thinking. For these kinds of errors, when a particular wrong answer characterizes a certain wrong way of thinking, you can provide specific feedback about the error, and even appropriate follow-up questions
  3. the tutorial model
    Formerly common in the UK — perhaps in Ireland, too?
    My impression is that this supplemented reading with personal interaction with a knowledgable person. Here the videos/class assignments provide structure, which could be supplemented as needed.
  4. exploring and justifying the need for liberal arts education, not as an alternative to technical training, but ideally in conjunction with and countering it.
  5. exploring and justifying what is the role of education in subsidizing research and stimulating researchers.

Here are some pros and cons, off the top of my head:
Material was chunked into short segments.
There were clear, regular assignments.
There was an active community of students, discussing in many places.
Discussion approaches improved over the course of the class (e.g. tagging questions to particular homework problems).
There were attempts at engagement (e.g. “office hours” where questions were submitted via
The students built tools for their own and others’ use; I relied heavily on the subtitling (much easier for skimming through the parts that I already understood).
The material was well-chosen.
Eminent instructors who know the field and are passionate about it.
The feeling of being part of a game-changing educational endeavor.

The classes were very video-focused:
–Other learning modalities were not well accommodated.
–Watching required a lot of time and for AI, no inherent speed-up capabilities were built in.
Feedback was not personal.
The schedule varied a bit more than necessary (DOS attacks, scalability issues, changes of plans)
Repetitive conversations in the online discussions made things hard to follow.
Lack of engagement in some ways.
Reliance on a number of external tools (e.g. google hangout for “office hours”, aiqus, reddit, …) made it difficult to keep up even with core discussion.
Difficulty inherent in the size of the class/scalability (e.g. google docs couldn’t handle the number of editors for course notes)
Assignments were not proofread in advance
Assignments could have made better use of the particular kinds of typical mistakes (“insightful errors”)
Class communication could have used improvement — for instance, announcements didn’t use RSS and important corrections didn’t always get shared.
There were two instructors with very different styles and pedagogical skills.
Some people complained about the “low tech” approach to videos — but I found it helped avoid sterility.
Class materials were sometimes not available at the moments when I had time.
Some material seemed simplistic.
Many students dropped out or lost interest (I haven’t seen statistics which were promised).

Assessment could be seen as varied or insufficient: several German testing centres were opened to allow students to prove their mettle in a timed environment.

The Stanford online classes (AI etc.) and Udacity came up in a DERI listserv discussion about the future of education. This is an answer to: “Care to share experience of the classes? How did it compare to a conventional lecture series? What were the pros and cons?”

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Reading styles

March 2nd, 2011

To support reading, think about diversity of reading styles.

A study of “How examiners assess research theses” mentions the diversity:

[F]our examples give a good indication of the range of ‘reading styles’:

  • A (Hum/Male/17) sets aside time to read the thesis. He checks who is in the references to see that the writers are there who should be there. Then he reads slowly, from the beginning like a book, but taking copious notes.
  • B (Sc/Male/22) reads the thesis from cover to cover first without doing anything else. For the first read he is just trying to gain a general impression of what the thesis is about and whether it is a good thesis—that is, are the results worthwhile. He can also tell how much work has actually been done. After the first read he then ‘sits on it’ for a while. During the second reading he starts making notes and reading more critically. If it is an area with which he is not very familiar, he might read some of the references. He marks typographical errors, mistakes in calculations, etc., and makes a list of them. He also checks several of the references just to be sure they have been used appropriately.
  • C (SocSc/Female/27) reads the abstract first and then the introduction and the conclusion, as well as the table of contents to see how the thesis is structured; and she familiarises herself with appendices so that she knows where everything is. Then she starts reading through; generally the literature review, and methodology, in the first weekend, and the findings, analysis and conclusions in the second weekend. The intervening week allows time for ideas to mull over in her mind. On the third weekend she writes the report.
  • D (SocSc/Male/15) reads the thesis from cover to cover without marking it. He then schedules time to mark it, in about three sittings, again working from beginning to end. At this stage he ‘takes it apart’. Then he reads the whole thesis again.

from (10.1080/0307507022000011507) Mullins, G. & Kiley, M. (2002), It’s a PhD, not a Nobel Prize: how experienced examiners asses research theses, Studies in Higher Education, 27, 4, pp.369-386. DOI:10.1080/0307507022000011507

Parenthetical comments are (discipline/gender/interview number). Thanks to the NUIG Postgrad Research Society for suggesting this paper.


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Quoted in Inside Higher Ed

July 17th, 2010

Earlier this week, Inside Higher Ed published an article about wikis in higher education. I’m quoted in connection with my work1 with AcaWiki, which gathers summaries of research papers, books, etc.

The article was publicized with a tweet asking “Why haven’t #wikis revolutionized scholarship?

Of course, I’d rather ask “how have wikis impacted scholarship?” — though that’s less sexy! First, the largest impact is in technological infrastructure: it’s now commonplace to use collaborative, networked tools with built-in version control. (Though “wiki” isn’t what we’d use to describe Google Docs nor Etherpad or its many clones). Second, wikis are ubiquitous in research, if you look in the right places. (nLab, OpenWetWare, and numerous departmental wikis). Third, “revolutions” take time, and academia is essentially conservative and slow-moving. For instance, ejournals (~15 years old and counting) are only just starting to depart significantly from the paper form (with multimedia inclusions, storage of data and other, public comments, overlay  journals, post-publication peer-review, etc). Wikis have been used for teaching since roughly 20022, meaning that academic wikis might be only about 8 years old at this point.

Other responses: Viva la wiki, says Brian Lamb, who was also interviewed for the article. Daniel Mietchen thinks big about the future of wikis for science.


  1. I used to be AcaWiki’s Community Liaison and now contribute summaries and help administer the wiki. []
  2. see e.g. Bergin, J. (2002). Teaching on the wiki web. In Proceedings of the 7th annual conference on Innovation and technology in computer science education (pp. 195-195). Aarhus, Denmark: ACM. doi:10.1145/544414.544473 and related source code []

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Onward and upward

September 4th, 2009

Today is my last day at Appalachian State University.

Monday I begin a new adventure as community organizer, helping launch Acawiki, a “wiki for academic research”. The brainchild of Neeru Paharia, Acawiki strives to make research papers easier to access and understand. Go write your own summary!

The next month will find me living in Massachusetts, my adult home, while preparing for a move to Ireland!

In October, I’ll be joining the Social Software Unit at DERI for a fellowship. The group does fascinating work on social software and the semantic web. This is a 3(or 4)-year Ph.D. project, where I’ll be working on modeling online discussions/arguments. More about that soon!

I’m looking for practical advice of all sorts—about community organizing, about moving to Ireland and living abroad, about success in Ph.D. studies. Consider this your personal solicitation for tips, tricks, and advice!

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JCDL 2009 Poster Session in Second Life

June 18th, 2009

Last night I popped into Second Life for a poster session. JCDL 2009 is going on in Austin this week, and several of the posters were on display in the Digital Preserve region of SL. Chris Beer asked for some screenshots.

Here’s the whole poster space from outside. (Click each image for the ginormous full-size screenshot.)
Poster Session Entrance
My avatar (TR Telling) is in a bright orange UIUC GSLIS T-shirt, thanks to a class tour Richard Urban led last year. With a closer look, you can spot the screen that was used to project MinuteMadness.

Here are two posters, “Finding Centuries-Old Hyperlinks” and “Toward Automatic Generation of Image-Text Document Surrogates to Optimize Cognition”.
Two Posters: "Finding Centuries-Old Hyperlinks" and "Toward Automatic Generation of Image-Text Document Surrogates to Optimize Cognition"Poster numbers were used for the best poster competition, I believe.

Large text-sizes really help viewing from afar; deft users can get a closer view with ‘mouse look’. I took a second screenshot of the “Finding Centuries-Old Hyperlinks” poster since it was my favorite. Xiaoyue (Elaine) Wang and Eamonn Keogh suggest cross-referencing manuscript pages using icon similarity.
Closer View of "Finding Centuries-Old Hyperlinks"Handouts could be really useful for a SL poster session — I had to settle for taking screenshots. Clicking on the poster could give a copy of the poster, which could include links to more information. A mailbox could facilitate sending messages to the presenters.

One presenter ‘attended’ from New York. Several people are gathered around her poster, which generated a lot of discussion.
In the left corner you can see one of the more visually striking posters, a study of LIS students’ impressions of the Kindle, after using it for something like 3 weeks.

To the right of the entrance is a sign that says “What did you think?”, which linked to a comment form to be completed on the Web. I succeeded at that box, but wasn’t able to figure out how to submit a second, in-world comment form.

My avatar is just stepping down from a rotating lazy-susan which held a striking comment box. Getting a comment form and filling it out was straightforward. However, dragging and dropping the form back onto the box, as suggested, didn’t work for me.

I had several interesting conversations, most notably a chat outside in the Poster Garden with Javier Velasco Martin who helped build and furnish the Preserve. Ed Fox was easily identifiable: his avatar’s first name is EdFox. For social gatherings, handles are useful, but for professional gatherings it can be reassuring to know who you’re talking with.

Here’s one last look at the dome from the outside. I love the bright aqua JCDL lettering. And, what trip to Second Life would be complete without some flying?
Flying by the JCDL Poster Session Dome With a closer look, you can see the large comment box in the center of the dome.

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Stop Intellectual Apartheid

March 30th, 2009

A call to action from BYU English professor Gideon Burton: Stop intellectual apartheid!

Let me illustrate how academic institutions enforce Intellectual Apartheid through a simple experiment you can perform right now. Let’s say that you are researching lingering effects of South Africa’s apartheid and you discovered (as I did using Google Scholar) a recent article, “Fantasmatic Transactions: On the Persistence of Apartheid Ideology” (published in Subjectivity in July, 2008 by D. Hook). Now for the experiment: click on this link to the full text of the article.

One of two things just occurred. Either you just gained immediate access to a PDF version of the full article; or, more likely, an authentication window popped up requesting your login credentials. It turns out that Palgrave-Macmillan publishes Subjectivity, and through their website one can get access to this article for a mere $30. Alternatively, one may subscribe to the journal for $503 per year.

You really don’t need to go to the developing world to recognize that advanced knowledge is a big club with stiff entrance fees. Even middle class Americans will think twice before throwing down $30 for a scholarly article. How likely will this knowledge ever reach scholars in Mexico or India? And just how broadly can the editors of Subjectivity expect it to reach when subscribing costs $503/year?

Gideon also gives suggestions for scholars, librarians, and administrators.

via Cameron Neylon on friendfeed

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March 28th, 2009
sms by amf on flickr

sms by flickr:amf

Web acceptance letters are now old hat: Newly admitted students at Baylor can get a text message acceptance note.

Since 2006, Creighton University has texted acceptance letters (via SMS bulk sender Dynmark), with messages like “Katie, congratulations. You’ve been admitted to Creighton!”.

Princeton’s acceptance notes made news a while back:

Source: Howard Wainer, “Clear Thinking Made Visible: Redesigning Score Reports for Students,” Chance 15 (Winter 2002), pp. 56-58. via Tufte. Wainer is also the author of Graphic Discovery: A Trout in the Milk and Other Visual Adventures, a very readable classic in statistics and information visualization. If you’ve meant to read Tufte but keep putting it off, this is the book for you.

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