Category Archives: research

Representing learning visually

I’ve been running workshops on research methods for some years now, but have done very little on visual research methods. My colleague Pauline Ridley recently ran a session on visual methods for our PGCert participants which I rather enjoyed. Visual methods can be useful in representing hard to verbalise experiences, visually abstract concepts and representing processes. Pauline was very keen to point out that the purpose of visual research methods is not for the researcher ‘to interpret’ visuals produced by others, but to use visual methods alongside methods focused on written or spoken language.

My two attempts to draw the concept of ‘learning’ (as challenged by Pauline) appears below. (A discussion of my drawing abilities would require a more substantial blog post).

Representing learning visually
Representing learning visually

The first image represents a very traditional image of teaching and learning. A teacher (on the left) talks and ‘transfers knowledge’ to the seated student who makes notes. It is interesting that this was the first things that came to mind as I has spent many years emphasising the need to escape didactic knowledge-transfer approaches to learning and teaching.

The second image was inspired by a remark made by Mark Goodwin who was my personal tutor during the second year of my geography degree at Aberystwyth. He said something to the effect, “It’s called reading for a degree for a reason... you are supposed to read”. (The image is supposed to be of a person reading a book). That utterance took less than 10 seconds to pass his lips, but it is something I’ve never forgotten and pass onto others.

Further Reading
Pauline Ridley and Angela Rogers(2010) Drawing to learning series (Open Access)

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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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Freaky teaching: Teaching Bayesian Statistics to Undergraduate Students using ventriloquist dummies

By virtue of its title Innovations in Education and Teaching International sets its aspirations very high. I’ve just been browsing the latest printed edition where Stewart and Stewart’s article ‘Teaching Bayesian Statistics to Undergraduate Students through Debates’ grabbed my attention. Like most people I have been educated in classical (or frequentist) statistics and have virtually no knowledge of Bayesian statistics—hence the title caught my attention. The article has therefore reminded me to rectify my ignorance.

The title gave me no clue to what I was about to read about though. The lecturer (second author Wayne Stewart) performs debates between ‘frequentists’ and ‘Bayesians’ using two ventriloquist dummies—Freaky the frequentist and his opponent, a doll depicting Thomas Bayes (c.1701-1761) in his persona as a Presbyterian minister (photographs appear in the article).

Personally I find ventriloquist dolls pretty sinister. However as an approach worthy of the label ‘innovation’, it’s going to be hard to surpass. Most of the students found the dummies funny though and claimed to have learned from them.

Sepideh Stewart and Wayne Stewart (2014). “Teaching Bayesian Statistics to Undergraduate Students through Debates.” Innovations in Education and Teaching International 51, no. 6: 653–63.

 

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My article was under review for six years: Here's the story.

Nearly 15 years ago I submitted my first ever article to a peer reviewed journal. That paper was a version of “Motivation for volunteering on heritage railways”. The fact that the paper is now self-published on my website indicates that the paper was never published. It was never actually rejected, but after six years under review I’d had enough.

I won’t name the journal or the editors involved. Although this is not an area I publish in now, (or am likely to) I am somewhat risk adverse. The three editors involved in the process are no longer editing the journal. My memory on some points might be a bit hazy, especially regarding the order of some of the events, but here goes:

  1. I submitted the paper in January 2000. It was based on my MSc dissertation. This was the days before electronic or online submission (at least was for this journal). I sent the paper (2 printed copies plus a 3.5 inch floppy disk) to the editor at a UK university.
  2. I heard nothing. I tried to contact the editor but could not find a phone number or email. I got in touch with the press. Still nothing. [Submit somewhere else which desks rejects it. My PhD supervisor assured me this was OK since I hadn’t heard anything after about a year.]
  3. Two years later (!) a new editor gets in touch by email with a single review of the paper. The reviewer makes helpful comments. I spend a couple of months responding to the comments. I then send the new version to the editor by email.

Interlude: Strange twist here which is nothing to do with the process. My MSc supervisor forwards me an email from a postgraduate student who wishes to read my dissertation. I get in touch with him and he comes to Bristol to read my dissertation in the library. We arrange to meet up and have a cup to tea together. It turns out that his supervisor was the reviewer and guessed that I was the author. Reviewer suggested to student that he get hold of my dissertation as it might be useful for his own work. I now know the identity of the reviewer and know that the reviewer guessed my identity.

  1. A few months later I get a second review from the same single referee. Comments were mostly helpful, but referee says that a lot of new work has been published since he/she last read the paper. (This indicates that the review was probably done soon after I submitted the paper, but I was not sent the review until about two years after it was conducted.)
  2. I revise the paper again and send it to the editor. We are probably up to about mid-2003 or 2004 by this point. The editor and I exchange lots of emails. Editor makes lots of helpful comments, helps me with matters of writing style etc. Indicates he/she is keen to publish it. No further reviews are conducted.
  3. Correspondence with the editor comes to a close. He/she recommends that it should be published in one of the 2006 editions. However, there is a catch… he/she is stepping down from the editorship and won’t be editor in 2006, so it’s not his/her decision.
  4. 2006 arrives and I hear nothing from the new editor. I email the new editor (not a name I know) who gets back to me fairly promptly. He finds my paper in the trail left by his predecessor. He informs me that it is now journal policy for all papers to be reviewed by at least two people. Mine has only been reviewed by one person so it can’t be published. Editor also informs me that that they want to publish more things which are not about railways.
  5. Get fed up and withdraw the article.
  6. Sit on it for a while then put it on my website.

Lessons learned.

Fortunately I now have many positive experiences of the publishing process to share. It has not been all plain sailing, but even the worst experiences have not come close to the ludicrousness of this article’s journey through peer review. Here a few lessons I would pass on.

  1. NEVER EVER let any journal not get back to you for one year, let alone two years. You are perfectly within your rights to submit elsewhere.
  2. Try to be clear on whether your article has been accepted or not.
  3. If you are not sure if the editor agrees with the reviewers, ask.
  4. I think I let the new 2006 editor off the hook. It seems a bit strange that a new editor would feel able to apply new rules about reviewer numbers retrospectively and ignore the recommendation for his predecessors.
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Workaround: Problems importing .MP3 files from Olympus Voice Recorder to PC

A technical note to myself here, but may help others as well. When I imported .mp3 files from my Olympus Digital Voice recorder WS-831 to my PC it was no longer possible to play the files. The solution is to go to Windows Explorer and change the extension of the file from filename.MP3 (MP in capitals) to filename.mp3 (mp in small letters). Then they should play on the PC. They can also then be imported into other applications (e.g. audacity) without any problems.

 

 

mp3 caps
Default saving of files on recorder
mp3small
Renamed file extensions
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The 20th anniversary of the rediscovery of calculus.

Last week I was listening a 2009 BBC Radio ‘In our time' episode “discussing the epic feud between Sir Isaac Newton and Gottfried Leibniz over who invented an astonishingly powerful new mathematical tool - calculus.”

Coincidentally I was reading through the Chronicle of Higher Education Forum yesterday and came across this gem from 1994. “A Mathematical Model for the Determination of Total Area Under Glucose Tolerance and Other Metabolic Curves”, Mary M. Tai, Diabetes Care, 1994, 17, 152–154. The paper outlines a ‘new’ way of measuring the area under a curve by adding up areas of rectangles and triangles which the author calls Tai’s method. In fact the method described has been understood for centuries as is known as the trapezoid rule. (I use this method in statistics for humanities for calculating the Gini co-efficient.)
I’ve not heard about the paper before and the journal quickly published responses pointing out that this method was not new. However, the paper continues to be cited… and not only by people talking about it.

There is an interesting discussion of the paper on Stack Exchange  about what should have happened to the paper. The first question might lie in wondering why no one out of the author, her colleagues, the reviewers or the journal editor had ever seen this before or something like it (I first remember coming across it in A-level Geography—pre 1994). On the other hand this demonstrates that it is perfectly possible for someone who has never seen as wheel to ‘invent’ the wheel, and the technique has been brought to a new audience, albeit about four centuries late.
This might be an extreme example, but I’m sure it’s not the only one of its kind. It begs the question though how much published research is genuinely innovative and how much is non-innovative stuff discovered independently.

Perhaps the most disturbing thing though is that twenty years later the paper is still being cited, and not just by people pointing out that this paper is nothing new. This paper from 2009 reads "Glucose and insulin areas were determined using Tai's model" (p.1046).

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More on using forenames in citation

My last post on whether we should use full first names in citations provoked some interesting discussions on twitter. In my own post I took the view that, where possible, I would use full first names in the references. I’ve just submitted an article to a journal which permits both “Canning, John” and “Canning, J.” so it’s not an entirely theoretical discussion. Inspired by Patrick Dunleavy’s (@PJDunleavy) recent blog post I went through my references and added in the first names of the authors I cited.

A dissenting voice about full firstname format came from Anne-Marie Jeannet @amjeannet who suggested that it can lead to gender bias in citation. She linked to an article on how citation practices lead to biases against women.  If I’ve understood her view correctly if we don’t know the gender identity of the people we are citing then citation bias can be prevented. I think it is a nice theory, but we would all need to publish in a gender neutral format as well as cite using just surname and initial. The other problem of course is that I know the gender of most people, even those I have never met, based on the first name.

My former colleague Catherine Baker (@richmondbridge), now in the history department at Hull, is keen on being cited as Catherine Baker rather than C Baker. She points out that that there are a lot of C Bakers in the world. Detractors might argue that there are not many C Bakers teaching history in Hull with research interests in the Balkans. However, location and research interests change so “Catherine Baker” is less likely to be mixed up with anyone else than “C Baker”. According to geneanet  there are 186,826 Bakers on the UK electoral role, 859,017 Smiths, but just 1,622 Cannings. Most of these do not publish in academic journals of course but the need for differentiation is likely to be important for those with more common surnames. This is just the UK of course and publication is an international endeavor.

If mistakes in citation occur first name and surname can help track an individual’s other work. An article by my former colleague Angela Gallagher-Brett (@angegallagher3b) was cited as Brett—the author or proofreader presuming thinking Gallagher was a middle given name and Brett the surname. If I didn’t know Angela Gallagher-Brett I expect I would be more likely to think Angela Brett was also Angela Gallagher-Brett than if all I had was A. Brett. (A recent article by James Hartley examines the issue of citation errors.)

The anglophone world actually has a high number of family names compared to other countries. David Wojick  puts a case for full names based on the Chinese experience where 1.2 billion people share fewer than 8000 family names.  As he notes, differentiating the people based on surnames and initials only would be difficult here, probably impossible.

So, as a consequence of Patrick Dunleavy’s post I opted to put in the full first names of all the authors I cited.

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