Monthly Archives: April 2015

Worked examples for Gorard (GS) and Allen and Vignoles (D) measures of segregation in schools.

I put together this paper of worked examples for the Gorard (GS) and Allen & Vignoles (D) segregation indices. It measures the extent of school segregation within a geographical area using Free School Meals (FSM) as an indicator.

Segregation paper (.pdf)


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13 wicked problems in assessing students in higher education

The concept of ‘Wicked problems’ is often used to refer to complex problems such as climate change or social inequality. Rittel and Webber (1973 –open access) outline 10 characteristics of ‘wicked problems’: 1  ‘Wicked’ does not been mean ‘evil’ here, but in set in contrast to ‘tame’ problems which are potentially solvable, even if they are very complex. 2

  1. There is no definitive formulation of a wicked problem.
  2. Wicked problems have no stopping rule.
  3. Solutions to wicked problems are not true-or-false, but good or bad.
  4. There is no immediate and no ultimate test of a solution to a wicked problem.
  5. Every solution to a wicked problem is a "one-shot operation"; because there is no opportunity to learn by trial and error, every attempt counts significantly.
  6. Wicked problems do not have an enumerable (or an exhaustively describable) set of potential solutions, nor is there a well-described set of permissible operations that may be incorporated into the plan.
  7. Every wicked problem is essentially unique.
  8. Every wicked problem can be considered to be a symptom of another problem.
  9. The existence of a discrepancy representing a wicked problem can be explained in numerous ways. The choice of explanation determines the nature of the problem's resolution.
  10. The social planner has no right to be wrong (i.e., planners are liable for the consequences of the actions they generate).

Here are 12 questions we face regarding the assessment of students in higher education -- this list is by no means exaustive. If you are convinced any of these are not ‘wicked problems’ I’d love to hear from you. Some of these are UK specific, but every country will have its own version of the problem. The same problems are true of other sectors of education as well.

  1. Is the UK degree classification system fit for purpose?
  2. Should/ can student work be assessed anonymously?
  3. Are some courses under assessed or over-assessed?
  4. Is a degree from one university the same standard as the same class of degree from another UK university?
  5. Is a degree from a UK university equal to a degree (in the same subject) from a university in another country?
  6. What say should students have in how they are assessed?
  7. (When) does an assessment accommodation (e.g. for disability) provide an advantage? E.g. how much extra time in exams is needed to gain an unfair advantage?
  8. Could a student object to a form of assessment for moral, ethical or religious reasons? How should they be accommodated (if at all)?
  9. Are assessment regulations across a university consistent? Should they be?
  10. Are students able to avoid particular topics of types of assessment through strategic module choice?
  11. Are too many students getting ‘good degrees’? Why is the growth in the number of students getting good degrees often cited as evidence of falling standards?
  12. Why (in the UK) do we call marks ‘percentages’ when we rarely give marks above 80 or below 30?
  13.  Are we under assessing formatively and over assessing summatively?  (From Juliet Eve)
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  1. Rittel, H. W. J. and Webber, M. M. (1973) Dilemmas in a General Theory of Planning. Policy Sciences 4, pp. 155-169
  2. I don’t know if people still say ‘wicked' to mean ‘cool’ or ‘great’, but it doesn’t mean that either.

First experiences of a Linux (Ubuntu) virgin


I'd be meaning to give Linux a try for the past couple of years. I recently bought a new PC installed with Windows 8.1, so decided to give Linux a try on the old PC.

This post documents my experience for the Linux-curious than giving actual instructions on how to get started. It is also based on my current understanding and two weeks experience. It is not an expert view!

What is Linux?

Linux is an Operating System (OS), like Windows used by most PCs and OS X used by Apple computers. In lay speak it is the thing that holds everything else together.

How much is Linux and where do I buy it?

This is probably the wrong question for a variety of reasons. You don't go into PC World or computer store and pick a copy of Linux up off the shelf. Linux can be downloaded for free (and legally). It is open source so people can develop their own versions of Linux and give it away or sell it as they see fit.

This is leads to a second point about Linux. You don't just go to the Linux website and download a copy of 'Linux'. Lots of different versions of Linux are available – these are known as 'distributions' or 'distros.' These can be downloaded and installed for various internet sites. I chose to use Ubuntu  as that seemed to be the distribution of choice for the Linux virgin. Other distros include Debian and Mint. Magazines such as Linux Format often come with a disk with a particular distribution on.

How do I install it?

I'll tell you how it did it as I'm sure that there are other, possibly better or more expert ways. I had my two PCs next to each other. I got on my new PC (pretty high spec) running Windows 8.1 and I went to the ubuntu website and burned a copy of Ubuntu 14.04 onto a blank DVD (it has to be a DVD, it won't fit on a CD). I made sure everything that was on my old PC has been transferred to the new PC (a process beyond the scope of this blog post). I put the Ubuntu DVD into the DVD drive of the old PC and followed the instructions. I opted to allow the installation to delete my Windows 7 installation though it appears you can run Ubuntu alongside Windows 7 without major problems (but alongside Windows 8 is another matter apparently).

I won't go through the installation process in detail, but it was pretty straightforward.

Is it basically free Windows?

Screenshot from Ubuntu 14.02.2 running Gnome desktop
It's an operating system and it looks a bit like Windows at first glance, but that's where most of the similarity ends. The biggest initial difference is that Linux makes extensive use of the command-line (CTRL+ALT+T) to install software and perform other functions. Some of these commands are similar to MS-DOS, familiar to those who remember pre-Windows PCs from the 80s and 90s. In reality though knowledge of MS-DOS probably isn’t that useful. It is useful to buy a book about Linux commands. I purchased the Kier Thomas' Working the Ubuntu Command-line prompt, just £1.15 for the Kindle version.

The Linux command window
The Linux command window

What about software?

The Ubuntu distro comes with some software pre-installed. This includes the Office suite LibreOffice (which can also run on Windows as a free alternative to MS Office) and the familiar browser Mozilla Firefox. It also comes with software to play CDs and DVDs.

Not all software is available for Linux, at least not officially. My eldest son is something of a Minecraft enthusiast, and although apparently possible to run Minecraft on Linux I have yet to get it working. Most familiar Windows software has its Linux 'equivalents' though they may not look exactly the same. Programs like Skype have Linux versions.

Installing software (including updates) is the thing that is most different and I'll save the details for another post (though there's plenty of information online).


Where their any teething problems?

Apart from the learning curve I wish I could say there were not problems. However, I did experience problems with the system crashing. This was solved by installing the GNOME desktop. Basically, from what I understand, some old graphics cards cannot cope with the latest versions of the Ubuntu desktop. I don't know the spec of my old PC graphics card, but it was second hand and only cost me £10. It coped with running Windows 7, but Ubuntu 14.04 was too much for it.

Will I be giving up Windows 8.1?

I don't like Windows 8 at all. It's not as bad as Vista and had it not been for Windows 7 I might have tried Linux a few years back. However, Windows is too familiar to give up and I'm yet to feel confident enough to rely on Linux for everything. I use software such as Minitab and Nvivio which I don't believe work in Linux. There is however WINE (which stands for WINE is not an emulator) which can be used for running Windows software though I've yet to try it.

Downsides to Linux Ubuntu

* Steep learning curve, especially the command line

* Some software difficult (or impossible) to run.

* Above mentioned problem with my graphics card.


* Fast. It runs as quickly on my old 4GB of RAM PC as Windows 8.1 on my new 16GB PC.

* Free. Nothing to lose if it I can't get on with it.

* Ubuntu comes with Libre Office, Firefox and some other software pre-installed so you can get going straight away.

* So far I have solved most of my problems by looking online e.g.on the Ubuntu website.

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