Tuesday 1 October 2013

Lets talk about referencing... No! I want to tell you about PLAGIARISM!

I am getting frustrated about all this talk and all these resources on plagiarism.

I don't profess to have any expertise on the subject of referencing, but I am an interested party.  I know about using the Harvard system and I know that students find it hard to grasp at first.  Like anything, if it is new it needs to be learnt and mistakes will be made.  

Soon after the end of my first semester at University I heard about a course friend who had been accused of plagiarising.  I never saw him again in lectures as he left soon after, his confidence having been taken away by the experience.  His 'crime' was simply that he had been educated in a different country that looks upon these things in a different way, and he had not fully understood the consequences of not properly referencing.  To me though, the real crime was that education had lost a bright and inquisitive mind. 

Throughout my first year as an undergraduate, the subject of referencing was raised a few times, but we were never really taught why it was important and how to do it correctly.  Instead we were given a tired old handout, originating from an American University, and there was some further information on the University VLE. Part of the problem was also that there is so much for a new student to take in, that it is sometimes hard to know what is important.

A few years later I was given the opportunity to join a team creating reusable learning objects (yes, I know, the name simply rolls off the tongue and is as clear as mud). We immediately jumped on the subject of referencing and what resulted was these resources that try to make it a little bit easier for students to understand what they need to do.  Unfortunately, with the fast pace of technology, coupled with our changing expectations, these look quite dated now.

Referencing Books

Referencing your work using Harvard

Soon after these were created I started to see many others, and now almost every university has their own version to some degree.  However, in the past few years I am seeing less resources about referencing and more about plagiarism.  Instead of teaching good technique, we start by warning about the consequences of not referencing.  This is the wrong way to teach.  

Each time a journalist writes an article about plagiarism, the ears of Senior Management Teams prick up and they worry that the negative press will impact on their income and reputations.  Soon after, a new plagiarism resource is born, with willing academics touring the conferences, using all manner of sesquipedalian terminology to persuade the audience of the value of their new tool. 

Technology also plays its part with software that can almost replace the academic, knowing to the nth degree what you have cut and paste and where it all originated from.  We now hear of cases of students who, god forbid, reuse their own work and end up being punished for it. That's not something a real academic would ever do in order to meet targets, is it??...

But, to my mind there is a solution.  We need to chill out. First year students should be given time and freedom to learn.  During this time plagiarism should not result in punishment for the student, but should be seen as a weakness of the teaching.  Students should be free to make mistakes, and every university should be teaching referencing positively with the same rigour you would expect for any subject. After all, if it is that important, then we should be willing to give students time to learn how to reference correctly.  

There is also a role to be played in Further Education and Sixth Forms, who could teach about referencing much better than they do now.  I recently did a short course on Psychology, six weeks learning about Piaget, Binet and Vygotzsky. At the end of the course we were asked to write a 1500 word essay on what we had learnt.  We were asked to show our work to the teacher before handing it in for marking.  It was only after that point, once we had completed our drafts and been given feedback, that we were asked to add a Bibliography on the end of it.  No real explanation given to why, just it was required and we would be marked down for not doing it.

Like so many of my posts, I do not have an ending.  I am frustrated at this trend of teaching that seems to be conducted in such a negative manner and it annoys me that we should place the responsibility for plagiarism on the individual from day one.  But I would like to think that there is a lot of good practice going on, despite what I have read.  So perhaps the best ending to a post like this would be if people reading this share their own thoughts and experiences, as that would end up being the best conclusion.

Monday 11 March 2013

Further reading recommended by EDCMOOC tutors

On Saturday Martin asked during the Twitterchat about further reading for those who have been on edcmooc...


Some were unaware that Sian Bayne had already posted "A short reading list for continuing #edcmooc" on Feb 28th. All her suggestions are linked to make it easy.

Since then, both Hamish Macleod and Jeremy Knox have responded to the question...

More details can be found on Wikipedia for Rainbow's End and a video of Andy Clark speaking about 'Natural Born Cyborgs' can be found here on Vimeo.

Alien Chic can be found on Amazon.

A quick search reveals a YouTube video in 'Plain English' about Actor-Network Theory, plus Wikipedia has an entry for it. I haven't watched it all yet so please let me know if it is worth keeping. If you prefer to go straight to the book, it's here.

If any more tutors respond then I will add them to this post... or if you have your own suggestions, feel free to add them to comments and I will add those to the blog too :)

My #EDCMOOC artefact (along with Sandra's underneath)

I've been asked about my artefact today but I have taken it offline.  My artefact was a fake twitter account, using one of the tutors as the subject for my deception.  You can interpret this in many ways but for me the big reason for doing this was my discomfort with anonymity, the rise in identity crime, bullying and trolling and the general threat that creating a fake identity poses for the person whose identity has been taken.  In education cyber-bullying and trolling of other children is a constant problem and a cause of much misery.  

To create the account took a matter of minutes, all that was required was an email address under your control for verification and a few bits of personal information. It would be quite straightforward to create an entire digital footprint for this fake identity, it would only take a matter of hours to set up the accounts and build a profile.  A few hours for me, but the misery that it could create would take a lot longer to overcome.

As a record for my artefact I created this Storify.  It is a bit of an ego trip as I also included many of the positive comments I received.  However, the creation of it also helped me to reflect on the criticism I received, which I now consider to be fair comment and is reflected by one of my assessors.

I was also 'lucky' enough to be able to help Sandra Sinfield in the production of her artefact.  'Unfortunately', Sandra's internet connection was broken shortly after she sent me her PowerPoint. I transferred the PPT into SlideRocket, then recorded the presentation using Camtasia.  I added a couple of videos, one from Go-animate and another to demonstrate the steps for creating a stickman.  I think Sandra did a pretty good job ;)

Sandra's artefact

And the Go-animate

Friday 8 March 2013

Report Writing Study Guide

In my last blogpost I showcased a Mindmap for sections of a report, so I thought it a good opportunity to share a related study guide I created last year.

At university Report Writing was a real problem for me.  It looks easy enough, but understanding what goes in which section, how to write an Abstract... or even knowing what an abstract was, as opposed to an Executive Summary, proved to be somewhat of a challenge initially. For a class full of freshers who were still going through the transition of 'understanding the language' of university, it turned out to be something of a barrier. The module booklet and a lecturer handout were not clear or very detailed, so we were left frustrated... not being aware there was study skills support available also compounded the misery.

So, in the end, we resorted to looking in books and on websites. Of course, this just helped to confuse us further.  Not realising that there were many different types of report or that section headings could mean slightly different things to different disciplines meant we just got ourselves into a pickle.  If I could show you some of the first reports my classmates and I did, I think after you'd stopped chuckling, you would realise we needed a bit of help.  Sadly, that help never came, but as we grew more experienced and learnt from our mistakes and poor marks, we improved. By the third and final year they were even quite polished.

A few years later and I got the opportunity to produce a few study guides for a friend and her very excellent "Essential Study Skills" book. I have mentioned the book before in an earlier post, but a good thing is always worth repeating... Anyway, having learnt a thing or two about doing assessments I really enjoyed the opportunity to make something I could share with others.

I am by no means an expert in study skills. I often find myself looking at study skills books myself, trying to work out what people mean or need, but the creation of the study guide below was a good way to focus on some of the things I had learnt and to be reminded, with fondness, the journey I went though to learn how to write reports.

I do intend to write a full and comprehensive guide to report writing, but this is still in the  development phase and has gotten quite long. This one is much shorter and I hope anyone who stumbles upon this blog will find it useful. If you have a particular learning resource (doesn't have to be about report writing) that you really love or found useful, please share it with me in the comments... or tweet the link. Thanks

Thursday 7 March 2013

Sections of a Report

Today I have been procrastinating.  The way I often do this is by playing with webtools. Yesterday I came across Spicynodes, an interactive mind-mapping tool.  It offers a free, basic service to individual users so I thought I would take advantage.

Last year I created a Report Writing study guide for a book on Study Skills. Contained within that PDF is a table and a normal mindmap that I thought I could combine using this tool. 

To create this took me about 2 hours plus tinkering time. If I was more familiar it would have taken a lot less. The result of my work is below. It looks a bit squashed in that small box, so I recommend opening it up to full screen. I would welcome feedback.

Spicynode URL: http://www.spicynodes.org/a/bcc43a22547c75b9ac978a2a826c31be

Sunday 3 February 2013

#edcmooc No long words, a few stats and braving my lack of confidence as a writer

Becoming a blogger

When I first joined the #EDCmooc Facebook group there were many calls to become a blogger.  I did to a fashion, linking some Prezi's I'd created and talking about them. I even got a few nice comments. But later I was told that that is not really blogging. Oh! okay...

Since then I've made many attempts to post just one article.  It isn't really in my nature to do it this way, I am more of an off-the-cuff sort of guy who has thoughts and writes about them straight away.  If I am doing something more thoughtful, I will think about it for sometime beforehand, often allowing myself to procrastinate in order to let my subconscious put my thoughts into place, then I'll create a mind map, a Prezi or a pdf, whatever was required at that time.  But I don't blog, it makes me feel too exposed.

If you look at the back office of this blog, it is filled with half finished posts;  A couple of paragraphs about crowd-based learning, a paragraph discussing stats, the beginnings of a song I'd created about MOOCs.  All unfinished and sitting there waiting for me to give them some attention. As Angela Towndrow said to me on Twitter, "too many intros..."

The issue of confidence and exposing your thoughts is further exacerbated when you look at who else is a student. So many of the group are academics... or have expertise around education.  It's somewhat daunting to expose yourself to a group made up of that level of expertise and talent... and then you read their posts; Long words and expressions, theories and pedagogy that I have only the loosest understanding of, despite my time working and studying at university.

Finally, much of what I want to write about I am not entirely certain about.  I have not drawn conclusions, instead the lightbulb is still quite dim.  I do have ideas but when you are writing about them publicly that is scary... and it explains why my previous two posts were about objects I'd created.  It's much easier to be criticised about something you have created, than to be criticised for your own thoughts.  It's less personal and not as much of a risk.

Oddly, I have no such fears of exposing thoughts in Facebook or Twitter. I quite happily tweet away, saying all sorts of rubbish or signposting many articles that may not stand up to scrutiny.  Somehow that's different.  When a person writes back to disagree it doesn't feel quite as personal... most of the time, anyway.

A few stats

Last week I posted a few thoughts on Google+ about the numbers of people who were participating and asking the question if the Facebook group is actually as successful as people are saying.  I then deleted the post after receiving less than enthusiastic replies, suggesting I was 'having a go' and that I was being unfair.

It's quite easy to believe that it has been a wonderful success, especially when the people running the Coursera course add links to the group in official email, giving it the authenticity and reach it had lacked before.  And then there are the blogposts that sing its praises. Well, actually, singing the praises of the small group who have been so creative.... and deservedly so!

I'm a bit of a lefty so it's natural for me to be concerned with those who are not participating, rather than those who are. Last weekend I did a few basic sums and did a rough count of who was posting to the Facebook group.  They are somewhat rough as I don't have specific numbers to hand and there are no analytics I can refer to, but when I calculated them I thought they were sufficiently interesting to write about.

At the time there were 38,000 people signed up for the course.  Of those, 1,900 had joined the Facebook group, or 5%.  Interestly, and something to debate at a later time, of the 1,900 only 32% are male, less than a third. Of those 5% only 10% or 190 were actually posting to the group, and of those 190 only about 25% were posting anything other than a twitter handle, an email address for access to the wiki, or a 'hello' to the group.  A few more were 'liking' posts, but most were silent or as we say on mailing lists, lurkers.  It is clear from monitoring Twitter that there are many more reading the posts than contributing, but it is impossible to work out how many without data tools.  

The numbers reminded me of some marketing articles I had read about Facebook Pages, where only 1% or 5% (depending on what articles you read) of LIKES are turned into sales.  It made me ponder if there was something similar going on with the group... But this was where the thought ended, not knowing enough about the subject for me to go any deeper.

If we turn our eyes to Google+, where apparently all the good conversations are now being had, there is a similar degree of participation... and noticeably, the same people are doing all the talking. Most of the members only participate to introduce themselves or to add a +1. It's a very small, albeit fluid group of people who are posting regularly. And of those there are only about a dozen who have posted since the beginning... and they tend to be the same people who have created so many of the resources the rest of us are consuming.

I am not drawing any conclusions from any of this but I thought it is worth thinking about.  I suppose it all depends on how you measure success and I can see big holes in my own argument.  Personally, I find it amazing that people have voluntarily, without any suggestion from Coursera, created so much for other people to see and use and share.  I am bowled over by the level of conversation and how nice everyone seems to be. It actually restores a bit of faith.  

To conclude

A lot of the articles that you read about the internet and social networking talk about people coming together and collaborating. Lately much of that is directed towards Twitter where people have tweeted about serious issues like Syria and Egypt, alerting the rest of the world to the atrocities happening within those countries.  But as someone interested in education what I have looked for and what I am experiencing now is being part of a learning community that does more than just talk and link articles. A community that makes use of the tools available to them and creates things that are useful, meaningful and practical. This is what I really hoped for when I first came online and started using social media. Time will tell if it lasts beyond the course.

Friday 21 December 2012

An alternative way to make use of your tweets

I am a bit dull on Twitter. I tend to use it for signposting articles and other things of interest relating to Higher Education. Sometimes its a video, maybe a webtool, but mostly its articles I read in the UK press.  Earlier this year Sandra Sinfield, a wonderful old-school academic from London Metropolitan University, noticed a theme running through my tweets that she thought would make a good presentation.

She asked me to make a Prezi and feeling inspired, and having first been given a basic PowerPoint to act as an outline, I created the above prezitation.  It was one of the first I had made so it would benefit from me redoing it, now that I know more about picture quality and creating a zoom that does not make students feel sick. But what it does show is how we can use our tweets to make something creative.  

For those interested in my method, it was a bit laborious (I can understand why people prefer Storify). 

1. Sandra supplied an outline
2. I took screenshots of the pages I had posted on twitter
3. I edited the shots using Paint.net
4. I embellished and added extra material that i thought would be suitable e.g. Youtube videos
5. For tweets without links I looked for suitable images that went with the text
6. I would make lots of tea and complain a lot.

The resulting Prezi was used in lectures with trainee teachers.

So the question is, how do you use your tweets?
Twitter Bird Gadget