All posts by john

Cloud services: Data security questions for researchers

Services like Dropbox and Google Drive can be very useful for researchers conducting research across institutions to share their files and work on projects together. They are easy to use, are low cost, or even free  but some of the security aspects are overlooked. Some people keep their whole lives on one or another of these services.

I've written before about the practical pitfalls of using the free services for collaborative projects (2GB+2GB does not equal 4GB but 2GB). Sharing your dropbox with others is more like moving extra people into your house rather than building extension.

Researchers working for universities and other institutions make strong commitments to participants about the security of their data, but we rarely stop to think about the security of the data we use. Electronic data security is much more complex than the days of locking up the data in a secure filing cabinet.  There are obvious advantages of electronic data shortage, mostly notably that the data is unlikely to be wiped out by an catastrophic event such as a fire.

A few months ago I ran a session with a few colleagues on data security. I'm not a data security expert, but I know that security is important and  the consequences of a breach can be serious. In my session I asked my colleagues to look on the internet and find out the answers to each of these questions about a cloud storage service or any other service which relies on large amount of your data.

All you have to do for this activity is allocate each person or group a service: For example one group could look at Dropbox, another at Google Drive etc. and then answer the questions about each one.  As well as cloud services we also looked at services such as the questionnaire service surveymonkey and Wordle, a service which produces pretty word frequency pictures.

These are my questions if you wish to use them yourself (no special expertise required).

 

Why might you choose this program/service?
Where (geographical location) is your data actually saved?
How/ how often is the data backed up?
Under what legal jurisdiction is your data held?
What are the risks of using this program/ service to maintain data?
What steps can be taken to mitigate these risks?
What are the risks of using this program/ service to participants in our research?
Are there different risks for a free service compared to a paid service from the same provider?
How easy was it to find the answers to these questions?

Any other comments or questions?

 

Websites you can look at include:

Clouds (basic free + paid services ) Dropbox, OneDrive, GoogleDrive iCloud. These are the better known ones, but there are also lots of smaller providers.

Research service: Surveymonkey, BOS online survey tool. 

Project/ file sharing Sharepoint, Basecamp

Home solutions Owncloud,  WD cloud

Other stuff: Wordle

No solution is going to be perfect on all counts, but knowledge about the various services is surely an ethicalnecessity as much as it is a practical problem.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

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Installing classifier- A file sorter for Linux

Linux Format LXF244 contains a short review of Classifier, a useful piece of software for sorting files into their different types. The program can be installed through the Python pip repository via the Terminal (CTRL+ALT+T): The instructions in the magazine are simply:
sudo pip install classifier


However, there are a couple of pre-requisites required in order to make this work 'out of the box' (I'm using Mint 18).

I had already installed Python, but if you need to do this:

sudo apt-get install Python

Pip is installed with Python, but may need to be upgraded. NB the code suggested here did not work.

pip install --upgrade pip

Then you can install Classifier:

sudo pip install classifier

Help can be obtained via:

classifier --help

Or

classifier -h

This brings up the following text in the Terminal:
All commands start with classifier:

-h, --help show this help message and exit
-st SPECIFIC_TYPES [SPECIFIC_TYPES ...], --specific-types SPECIFIC_TYPES [SPECIFIC_TYPES ...]
Move all file extensions, given in the args list, in
the current directory into the Specific Folder
-sf SPECIFIC_FOLDER, --specific-folder SPECIFIC_FOLDER
Folder to move Specific File Type
-o OUTPUT, --output OUTPUT
Main directory to put organized folders
-d DIRECTORY, --directory DIRECTORY
The directory whose files to classify
-dt, --date Organize files by creation date

I have used the basic function to sort out my downloads folder which contains a enormous variety of files: In my case:

classifier -d Downloads

Apparently, there is no undo here so be careful.

This sorted my Downloads into various subfolders according to their type.

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New article: A 'radical response' to the Teaching Excellence Framework

My latest article 'The UK Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) as an illustration of Baudrillard’s hyperreality' has been published in Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education. Not all university staff feel able to write about the TEF in the way I have done here and one reader has fed back to me on the importance  of having a radical response to the TEF.

Canning, John (2017) The UK Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) as an illustration of Baudrillard’s hyperreality. - Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/01596306.2017.1315054 

Abstract: This article examines the ‘Teaching Excellence Framework’ (TEF) for UK universities through the lens of Jean Baudrillard’s concept of hyperreality. I argue that the TEF is a hyperreal simulacrum, a sign which has no traceable genealogy to the practice of learning and teaching.

 

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Higher Education Pedagogic research as Cinderella: Thoughts on recent article by Cotton, Miller and Kneale (2017)

D. R. E. Cotton, W. Miller, and P. Kneale (2017) The Cinderella of academia: Is higher education pedagogic research undervalued in UK research assessment? Studies In Higher Education  http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/03075079.2016.1276549

I thought I’d share a few thoughts on Cotton et al’s recent paper on the status of pedagogic research. As an HE pedagogic researcher myself, it is tempting to nod my head profusely taking comfort in the knowledge that there are a few people out there who understand the situation.

The central trust of the paper concerns the 2014 Research Excellence Framework and the particular politics surrounding the inclusion and exclusion of HE research in the Education ‘Unit of Assessment’. Cotton et al also touch on the fact that many HE pedagogic researchers have teaching-only contracts or are non-academic staff and are therefore intelligible for the REF. I was a non-academic member of staff in my previous job, so my research, for good or ill, was not visible to the university’s processes. Even though there were advantages to being off the ‘REF radar’, being a ‘non-academic’ meant that my research was somehow invisible to the university.

My main point of interest in this article was the authors’ discussion of the relationship (or lack of relationship) between pedagogic research and Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL). I have long been concerned about Boyer’s (1990) separation of SoTL from the ‘Scholarship of Discovery’ (that is original research that advances knowledge):

To most academics, scholarship means reading papers and being informed, not undertaking primary research. So when pedagogic research and SoTL are conflated, it implicitly devalues the former. To make further progress in developing the profile of pedagogic research, and integrate it into research assessment, high quality pedagogic research should be viewed as something quite distinct from SoTL. Whilst it may contribute to teaching enhancement in HE (as may discipline-based research through the research–teaching nexus), until it is viewed inherently as a research endeavour, rather than as ‘scholarship’, submitting HE pedagogic research into the REF will continue to be open to challenge. (Cotton et al 2017)

I played a small role (Masika et al 2016) in the recent HEA-funded SoTL project cited by Cotton et al (Fanghanel et al 2016) carrying out interviews with people in educational development units about SoTL at the institutional level. My personal conclusion in carrying out the interviews was that rather than being contested, SoTL is a concept which few people have any views on. This distinction is important – it is not that people have different understandings of SoTL that is the issue, but that SoTL seems to have an almost mystical, deistic status. We believe SoTL exists, but do not agree what it is and behave as if its existence has no material consequences.

When SoTL and pedagogic research are conflated we end up in a situation where quality research into higher education teaching and learning is given parity of esteem with the practice of reading a book or article on teaching every now and again which is reported institutionally as ‘participating in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning’.

References

Boyer, E. L. (1990), Scholarship reconsidered: Priorities of the professoriate. Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching

Cotton, D. R. E; W. Miller, and P. Kneale (2017) The Cinderella of academia: Is higher education pedagogic research undervalued in UK research assessment? Studies In Higher Education  http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/03075079.2016.1276549

Fanghanel, J., J. Pritchard, J. Potter, and G. Wisker. 2016. Defining and Supporting the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL): A Sector Wide Study. HEA Report. https://www.heacademy.ac.uk/resource/defining-and-supporting-scholarship-teaching-and-learning-sotl-sector-wide-study.

Masika, Rachel, Wisker, Gina and Canning, John (2016) Defining and supporting the scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL): A sector-wide study, SoTL Case Studies[. York: HEA https://www.heacademy.ac.uk/resource/defining-and-supporting-scholarship-teaching-and-learning-sotl-sector-wide-study

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Beall’s list of predatory journals

Over the years Jeffery Beall from The University of Colorado as undertaken the painstaking task of identifying what he calls ‘predatory journals’ and predatory publishers. Predatory journals or publishers are those which charge authors large sums of money in order to publish in open access so-called academic journals. Predatory journals offer little (if any) peer review or and articles are often published ‘as is’ complete with spelling and grammar errors. The articles themselves are often very low quality, but it shouldn’t be taken as given that all research published in these journals is bad.

Over the weekend I spotted a tweet on my timeline pointing out that all the content had gone from Beall’s website. The weblink went to an anonymous ‘pro-openaccess’ site entirely devoted to attacking Beall’s work and speculating as to the reasons why.

I am very pro open-access, but with open access comes the risk that some individuals and organisation will attempt to exploit the author pays model. Researchers who lack mentoring support and/ or have not done their due diligence can be taken in the journals which seem very enthusiastic to publish their work. (I’m actually have concerns about the‘Gold’ open access model operated by many reputable journals, but that’s a topic for another blog post.)

Many academics, myself included, have referred people to his site when they have expressed concerns that an invitation to publish seems a little dubious. I also link to Beall’s list on the open access language teaching research website yazikopen. However, Beall has not been without his critics. As well as those who stand to gain financially from predatory publications, others have questioned his emerging status as the world ‘policeman’ on academic journal standards.

While I sympathise with the perspective that one person cannot and should not be the ultimate authority on these matters, I believe that Jeffrey Beall performs a very important public service to academia in publishing these lists. In a world where anyone with an internet connection can publish anything online there are going to be people who see this as an opportunity to exploit others. Not all open access journals are predatory and new journals should not automatically be viewed with suspicion.

Since Beall’s website is currently down I’ll finish by outlining some characteristics which may suggest that a journal is predatory. None of these factors alone will demonstrate beyond all doubt that a journal is predatory.

  1. The journal appears to be one of suite of journals that has yet to publish any content. Predatory publishers often ‘launch’ a number of journals at the same time.
  2. The journal promises fast peer review turn-around times. (I have yet to see evidence of peer review in my field which takes less than 3-6 months, let alone 3-6 days).
  3. The journal requires that authors pay a fee on publication (though many reputable journals do this, especially in the sciences). In some cases predatory journals don’t mention the fee until the article has been accepted.
  4. The quality of English (or other language) on the journal website is very poor, containing typos and spelling errors (which should not be the case for organisation in the publishing business).
  5. The published articles are generally of low academic quality. They may have been published with clear factual errors and/ or show no evidence of having been proofread. Papers with graphs, tables and diagrams may not have been set out well and are clearly word documents converted to .pdf.
  6. The same individuals seen to be on the editorial board for lots of different journals from the same publisher.
  7. You are listed as a member of the editorial board, even though no one asked you. Some predatory publishers mine the internet for ‘reputable’ editorial board member names.
  8. A newish journal is called the American/ British/ Canadian Journal of X, yet evidently has no connection to its supposed country of origin.

The key way to avoid becoming a victim is to do your own due diligence and ask for advice from a trusted colleague, mentor or supervisor.

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New article: Conceptualising student voice in UK higher education: four theoretical lenses.

Canning, J. (2017) Conceptualising student voice in UK higher education: four theoretical lenses. Teaching in Higher Education,
http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/13562517.2016.1273207

Abstract: The ‘student voice’ is highly profiled in UK higher education, yet highly under-theorised. Over the past 20 years UK universities have gone from a taxpayer-funded, free at the point of use model, to one supported through tuition fees via Government-backed loans. Subsequently, there is a growth of discourse about universities as businesses and students as paying customers/consumers whose opinions and demands must be considered. This article outlines four possible theoretical lenses (or frameworks) through which student voice can be analysed, enabling an exploration of the vested interests and power relations entailed. These lenses draw on (1) research on student voice and power in compulsory education; (2) regulatory capture from Economics; (3) the notion of students voice as part of an incomplete whole and (4) non-representational theory, developed in Human Geography by Nigel Thrift.

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Teaching Excellence Framework: Brief lessons from the 1990s

The Additional Guidance for Year 2 of the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) was published earlier this week. In many respects the TEF is very different to the Teaching Quality Assessment of the 1990s, but it has been interesting spending time this morning reading two articles from that period. I was starting my undergraduate degree when the first article was published and working on my PhD at the time of the second.

To quote Cicero:

Nescire autem quid ante quam natus sis acciderit, id est semper esse puerum. Quid enim est aetas hominis, nisi ea memoria rerum veterum cum superiorum aetate contexitur?
Not to know what happened before you were born is to be a child forever. For what is the time of a man, except it be interwoven with that memory of ancient things of a superior age?
Variant translation: To be ignorant of the past is to be forever a child.
Chapter XXXIV, section 120 Cicero Orator Ad M. Brutum 46BC

And a few quotes from the articles in question:

Nevil Johnson (1994). Dons in Decline: Who Will Look After the Cultural Capital? 2Oth Century British History 5 (3): 370-385

Measurement has by now become an obsession of the present government, a litany recited with unreflecting dogmatism day in, day out. (p.378)

It no longer really matters how well an academic teaches and whether he or she sometimes inspires their pupils; it is far more important that they have produced plans of their courses, bibliographies, outlines of this, that and the other, in short all the paraphernalia of futile bureaucratization required for assessors who come from on high like emissaries from Kafka's castle. (p.379)

Cris Shore and Susan Wright (1999). Audit Culture and Anthropology: Neo-Liberalism in British Higher Education. The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, Vol. 5, No. 4 pp.
557-575

Thus, even though the audit explosion has encouraged cynicism and staged performance, it is very hard for individuals or institutions to escape its influence. (p.570)

Anthropology's predicament recalls that of Joseph K, the protagonist in Kafka's The Trial. Part of the reason he was so powerless was because he was unable to identify and therefore challenge the reason for his arrest. And because he never understood the system of power to which he was subjected, all his resolve dissipated and he eventually went meekly and willingly to his own execution. The lesson for anthropology in the new neo-liberal 'trial' is that we have become the agents through which power operates and unless we wish to follow in the steps of Joseph K, we would do well to engage in more political reflexivity (p.572)

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How do we select the right 11 year-olds for the right schools? Can assessment be tutor proof?

A new Prime Minister and a new education policy. Not content with merely continuing the long established journey towards the privatisation of ‘state’ schools by stealth (i.e. academisation), Theresa May is keen on the idea of reintroducing grammar schools.

This is not a post about whether selection by ability is a good thing or not, though that may come in a future post. Instead I want to ponder how we decide which children will go to the grammar schools and which ones will not.

Selective schools, both state and private, already exist of course. These schools have to have a means to identify which pupils to take and which pupils not to take. The traditional method of selection is through a one-off 11-plus exam. Proponents of grammar schools argue, publicly at least, that grammar schools often a better chance of academic achievement for bright children from poorer/ disadvantaged backgrounds. However grammar schools always were, and still are, disproportionately filled with middle class children. Alongside the many advantages of coming from a better-off/ more advantaged home, there is a whole industry around tutoring/training to pass the grammar school entry exam. My eldest son is now in year 6 and if we lived in a grammar school area I would now be throwing the proverbial kitchen sink at him to ensure that he gets into a grammar school-- after all, bringing back grammar schools for the ‘brightest’ (say 25%) children also means bringing back secondary modern schools for the other 75%. I went to a comprehensive school but know a lot of people who talk about ‘passing’ or ‘failing’ the 11+. The so-called ‘failure’ seems to have had a lifetime affect on the post-war generation.

This brings us to the crux of the matter. The twittersphere has been abuzz about the need to ensure that the ‘tests’ (I use the word here to cover any sort assessment) are tutor-proof. In, other words is it possible to design an assessment that will reliably discriminate between ‘able’ and ‘less able’ which does not discriminate on the grounds of previous experience, background or performance? Is there a means of assessment to prevent a less-able child getting into grammar school because she has had private tutoring to help her pass the test at the expense of bright of an able child who does not enjoy these advantages? This takes into the even more dangerous territory of ‘innate’ intelligence that can be separated from previous experience and from teaching and learning. Is there a test that can separate the disadvantaged child who may not have performed well in primary school and may not have ‘engaged in education’, but would benefit from a grammar school education from a pupil who does well because she works hard and has a supportive (or pushy) home environment?

To be totally reliable such a test would need to be:

1. Impossible to game through studying or the practice of learning and teaching. (Despite what proponents of IQ type tests say, like any test, the more you practice the better you get at them). The tutor-proof assessment goes against the whole point of assessment which is to evaluate whether learning has taken place. Assessment might be able to predict future learning achievements, but only on the basis of past learning.

2. Be culture/ value free. The tests would need to ensure that children were not disadvantaged by going to the wrong school, growing up in the wrong type of household or with parents from a different culture to the prevailing local culture. For the most part cultural bias can be taken into account, but not eliminated completely. Cultural bias can many forms and assessment can reward knowledge of both so-called ‘high’ and ‘low’ culture. The belief that cultural bias can be eliminated completely is more dangerous than cultural bias itself.

3. Not rely on luck. There is a subtext in the grammar schools debate that grammar schools are/ will be good schools and other schools not so good. If in attempting to eliminate the above questions we end up with an assessment which is only slightly more reliable than a coin toss, a dice throw or a game of snakes and ladders then the whole point of selective schools in undermined.

4. Transparent and fair. If those taking the test do not know how marks are allocated or exactly what is being assessed then the assessment is neither transparent or fair. Once teachers/ tutors/ parents know what kind of questions are asked on a test they can learn how to do better on the exam and this lead to testing to the test.

I’ll write in more detail my thoughts about selection at age 11 in a later post, though you’ve probably guessed I’m not very keen on the idea.

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