Author Archives: David Hopkins

About David Hopkins

Learning Technologist: eLearning, mLearning, Blackboard, Social Media, eBooks, Open Badges, CMALT. Author: 'QR Codes in Education' http://bit.ly/15uQEOf

Essay mills turning out high-quality essays undetected

Know your students & their writing styles

I’m not usually one to moan or highlight something that annoys me, but when I read this article this morning I had that sinking feeling and face-palm moment!

What this article totally missed, and what I’ve been saying to academics (and anyone who’ll listen) is that these online plagiarism detection systems are only as good as the people looking at the results.

The TurnItIn ‘score’ is no measure of originality, despite being called an ‘originality report’. It is a measure of what percentage of the submitted text is matched against known sources (student papers, journals, books, Internet sources, etc.). So, a paper that gets a 50% score means that 50% of the text has been used or can be found in other submitted papers to the system. It is not saying 50% is copied/plagiarised from other sources. These matches could be down to poorly referenced work, badly quoted and or badly cited work, and even popular quotes. The 50% is only an indication to the academic that further investigation is required, that they need to

This annoyed me most:

“It is clear that this type of cheating is virtually undetectable by academics when students take precautions against being caught,”

If you rely solely on something like TurnItIn then yes, I agree, it is virtually impossible to detect cheating. But these submitted papers by the student should never be viewed in isolation – the academic(s) should have other opportunities for the students to submitted written assessment, along with email evidence and even forum/online comments, so the writing style of the student can be seen. Then, when the online paper comes in the academic can see quite easily that the style, language, grammar, punctuation, etc. is different, sometimes wildly so. From here the different pieces of work can be compared and an informed opinion can be made.

“But [Dr Lisa Lines] argues that much more radical steps will be needed to combat the use of essay mills, including greater use of exams and requiring students to give oral presentations on the topic of completed essays.”

Again, no. You don’t need to add more exams or more ‘radical steps’, you just need to be more prepared to get to get to know your students, their writing styles, their use of grammar and language. I’m sure, once you know this, it’ll be far easier to spot work that is out of the ordinary, for that student, even without the reliance on TurnItIn.

TurnItIn and other systems like this are to be used as part of a wider assessment strategy. The main focus of that strategy though should be the relationship between academic/teacher and student.

The scary part of this reliance on TurnItIn [other plagiarism detection tools are available] is this – I worked with one academic (a few years ago now) who actually based the student’s grade on the TurnItIn score. Yes! They even admitted they didn’t even look at the details or report or the paper itself. Anything with 50% matched or over got 50% grade or less (but never a fail). Anything between 20-50% match got a 50-60% score, and anything less than 20% of text matched got a better/higher score over 60%.

One another related topic, this article on the Guardian website – An essay I bought online was so bad I want a refund – but the firm won’t pay up – was also worrying. But at least the piece did answer the bigger picture here. It’s not about the ethics of a refund for the paper, it’s about the integrity of the student in trying to subvert the system. And from a law student too?!

“The use of these types of websites not only raises serious questions about whether an individual is meeting the standards required, but also whether somebody has the right character to enter a profession where honesty and integrity is crucial.”

Image source: Dom Pates (CC BY 2.0)

Learning Technologist pt.15

What is a Learning Technologist? Pt. 15

In May 2015 I joined Warwick Business School, WBS, as an eLearning Consultant. In September the same year I was awarded the ‘highly commended’ Learning Technologist of the Year award from the Association for Learning Technology (ALT). The strange thing is, that was the last time I posted about being a Learning Technologist here. After 14 posts I stopped.

There’s no reason for it, I didn’t even realise I’d done it until a few tweets last night from Clare Thompson (@ClareThomsonQUB) and Sue Beckingham (@suebecks) reminded me about it. Yes, I’ve continued to write about work and wider reading of the industry we’re in, but this is Clare’s tweet that prompted me to write here again, about being a Learning Technologist:

In the last two years I thought of and collaborated on, edited and then self-published  The Really Useful #EdTechBook. I’ve developed, supported, mentored, facilitated, and bled/wept over the creation of two MOOCs for the University of Warwick (Big Data and Literature and Mental Health). I’ve facilitated a total of 15 runs/presentations of all five Warwick MOOCs. I’ve two other MOOCs in development at the moment, one of which took myself and colleagues to Italy recently to interview and film important individuals for case study and ‘thought’ pieces who were attending an event in Prato Centre, Monash University, Italy. Oh, and I’ve met & interviewed Sir Ian McKellen and Stephen Fry, all part of the day job!!

YouTube: Literature and Mental Health

Outside of work on MOOCs I’ve been included on the EdTech Magazine list for 2015 and 2016 lists for ‘Top 50 IT Blogs Influential Blogs in Higher Education’ and the 50 Most Influential HE Professionals Using Social Media list. I was interviewed for the published work on How has Apple transformed your classroom? Part I, the Teacher’s Practical Guide to the Flipped Classroom and wrote this article on ‘Facilitating the Unknown’ in a Special Issue: Open Facilitator Stories, based on the amazing online course BYOD4L, and been involved in multiple weekly tweet-chats from/on LTHEchat.

And these are just the thing I can remember off the top of my head. Perhaps I should be more organised and keep better notes? Oh, and I still Sketchnote.

The great thing is that I have the interest and passion to do all this, all the time. I love being connected and in a position to collaborate or share knowledge and experience. I love that I can swap roles and identities so quickly depending on what the day brings – technical support, pedagogic support, management or administration, etc. No day is the same. No email asks for the same thing. No meeting covers the same thing (well, not very often).

Like Clare I find that IRL meetings can be awkward, conferences can be draining, events can be difficult to get everything done I want and see everyone I want to see AND still have time for the event itself. I’ve been reading the Quiet Revolution, about introverts, and engaging in their regular tweet chat. Having the time to reflect on events and conversations is important, and sometimes events can be so hectic there simply isn’t the time:

Oh, one final thing .. there’s always room for Lego! Pictures of Lego, actual Lego kits, or just talking about Lego.

Image source: clement127 (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Eliot Peper - Cumulus

Book review: Cumulus

This is one of those books that is firmly set in the science fiction genre, but striking similarities can be made to current events and current trends … with a little imagination.

First, the book. Written by Eliot Peper it’s set a number of years in the future, in Oakland CA,  it shows a world where one tech company is clearly ahead in the market, in all markets in fact. It has the mobile phone, data, cloud computing, autonomous cars, street architecture, etc. all wrapped up. There is nothing Cumulus is not in to, or leading on, or acquiring in order for it to expand and lead. Every aspect of [our] lives are connected and, ultimately, controlled by Cumulus … a world of “persistent surveillance”.

Cumulus takes place in a near-future Bay Area ravaged by economic inequality and persistent surveillance. It’s a dark, gritty, fast-paced story packed with political intrigue, world-changing technology, and questionable salvation.”

Spoiler alert – I will talk from here about details of the book and some of the story to it’s end. If you’d rather read the book (good for you!) please come back.

Cumulus can follow you from the moment you wake up (what you want to watch on the smart display in the bathroom) to getting dressed, to the café, to the office and when to order the lift and to which floor, and even unlock the door and boot up the computer (and mask the dividing screens). Even at work the smart displays (walls) can show whatever view or data stream you want (even know what you want and pull up the options before you ask). Cumulus is everywhere!

The central story is, for me, about the level of intrusion Cumulus, the company has, and how this could be used for various means. In the book it’s being used to aid the rich in all aspects of their lives – payments, transport, medicine, social interactions, health, etc. But it’s also the devision that prevents those without status, those without the full Cumulus ‘suite’, from breaking through to the social class barriers. There is a marked divide between the have’s and the have-not’s. Those with Cumulus and those without (but still relying on the infrastructure it provides, in whatever limited form it takes).

It is also used for nefarious means. One individual uses a ‘ghost’ programme to remove him from security cameras, location-based services, even using Cumulus to stop desktop scanners and camera phones working when he’s identified in the frame. Needless to say the analogue world wins over the digital – another main character uses camera film, not digital cameras, and catches the book ‘baddie’ in action and, when trying to scan or digitise the prints, finds out about how far the level of intrusion the ghost programme goes. From realising the digital control Cumulus has over each device they go ‘old school’ and print posters of the individual and post them on lampposts and billboards around the city.

And so Cumulus falls. But not before this character threatens to make all the dirty laundry public. And he has the means as well as the data.

Bring it back to what we have today. We don’t have the one leader that the book has, but it doesn’t take a genius to see how one of the market leaders could someday be the ‘one’ leader like Cumulus – Apple, Google, or Facebook. Each could be just one acquisition away from the deciding factor that gives it an edge over it’s counterparts. Whether this is cloud computing, AI, defence contracts, autonomous vehicles, etc. doesn’t matter.

But, I hear you ask, how could this happen? We’re too well informed and careful about the ethics of the data we create/leave to let this happen. Well, here’s something I’ve thought of, based on existing software and hardware. If I’ve thought of it, no doubt someone else has, and maybe even done something about it.

Here are the players already in the world. All I’ve done is link them together, and you can so how easy this dystopian future could materialise …

Now, here’s how you link them together … if I record my daily commute and upload it to YouTube then YouTube (or A.N. Other provider) can scan the footage and list/bake all the car registrations, along with time and place, in the metadata. The police or other organisation(s) takes this metadata and checks against the ANPR database. Hey presto, a database of cars, where they are/were and when (and even speed and direction of travel is created). Link other scanned videos and you can build journey patterns and individual lives from the data. Now whoever has that database has the potential to know where people are (over time you’ll even begin to predict where we’ll be and when) and where they should be. The smartphone data can also be used to cross-reference individuals and work out who’s in which car, travelling with whom, what they’re saying/doing/surfing, and what they’re doing whilst driving.

In the above scenario I’ve not even added the power of the smartphones we carry with us. Add this to the mix and you could build up audio or photographic evidence of what’s going on in the vehicle, make payments as you pass specific geotagged locations (toll roads, coffee shops, petrol stations, etc.) and even build detailed maps of communities, cultures, behaviours, etc. If you can identify one person, one vehicle, amongst all the ‘noise’, then imagine what you could do … ?

You see where I’m going? It’s almost Minority Report, and it’s definitely an element of Cumulus right here. Once you throw things like contactless payment, access (without knowledge) to our phone’s camera or microphone, GPS locations, social media check in, CCTV cameras, etc. then it starts to get very … um, worrying. The thing that’s scary, like in the book, is that these tech behemoths are currently operating in a vacuum between the law and ethics. There is no one keeping them in check (do you really believe they’re doing it themselves?) – if we accept the T&Cs without questioning them do we have the right to complain about how they use our data that we freely give up? Before long will we have handed all our rights over, without realising?

I love this book, I kind of wished it had been longer and gone into more details about the tech and it’s intrusion in the everyday lives. I am also inclined to read some of Eliot’s other work now – I like his style and I most definitely like the mind behind the stories. I’ think I’ll continue with Eliot’s earlier work the ‘uncommon stock‘ series now.

Yes, this Cumulus book is sci-fi, but it could so easily become mainstream if we let it?

bitcoin blockchain

Bitcoin and Blockchains explained

A slightly off-camber post here, but someone I trust mentioned that we ought to understand the bitcoin and blockchain development as it could be about to hit the mainstream. Here’s some explanation and videos to help.

The main point I hadn’t fully appreciated or understood is that bitcoin and the underlying blockchain is not just financial, although it is all about transactions – the transaction can be financial, but also information, knowledge, subscriptions, etc.? I think? It’s about the trust the chain has based on the underlying technology.

Bitcoin: “The system is peer-to-peer and transactions take place between users directly, without an intermediary. :4. These transactions are verified by network nodes and recorded in a public distributed ledger called the blockchain, which uses bitcoin as its unit of account.”

Blockchain: “The blockchain is seen as the main technological innovation of Bitcoin, since it stands as proof of all the transactions on the network. A block is the ‘current’ part of a blockchain which records some or all of the recent transactions, and once completed goes into the blockchain as permanent database.”

Watch this, see if it makes sense?

YouTube: The Bitcoin and Blockchain Technology Explained

“A block chain is a transaction database shared by all nodes participating in a system based on the Bitcoin protocol. A full copy of a currency’s block chain contains every transaction ever executed in the currency. With this information, one can find out how much value belonged to each address at any point in history.”

From this video I liked the section from 5:27, where I was thinking about the disruption to learning and education, especially how this fits in to the Internet of Things:

“Internet technology is disruptive and breaks the status quo. It opens markets and breaks the position of middle men all the time. Bitcoin and crypto-currencies have caused a paradigm shift. It’s time to explore this new technology constructively and critically and openly discuss potential applications.”

Here are some more links/videos to help explain bitcoin and blockchains:

  • Blockchain for dummies: “Non technical explanation of the block chain concept underlaying the Bitcoin network. This video is meant for people who want to get a grasp of this new technology.”
  • Understand the blockchain in two minutes: “Over the past decade, an alternative digital paradigm has slowly been taking shape at the edges of the internet. This new paradigm is the blockchain. After incubating through millions of Bitcoin transactions and a host of developer projects, it is now on the tips of tongues of CEOs and CTOs, startup entrepreneurs, and even governance activists. Though these stakeholders are beginning to understand the disruptive potential of blockchain technology and are experimenting with its most promising applications, few have asked a more fundamental question: What will a world driven by blockchains look like a decade from now?”
  • Blockchain: “It’s Going to Radically Transform Our Society’s Institutions” (Don Tapscott): “Don Tapscott, a leading theorist of the digital age, explains why the blockchain technology will fundamentally transform the institutions our societies are built upon. Because the blockchain technology powers the digital currency Bitcoin, it will not only affect how business is being made, but also our legal systems. Ultimately, the effect of the blockchain technology will be much more far reaching; it will also transform governance, healthcare, education, and various other pillars of our societies.”
  • The trust machine: “The blockchain is an even more potent technology. In essence it is a shared, trusted, public ledger that everyone can inspect, but which no single user controls. The participants in a blockchain system collectively keep the ledger up to date: it can be amended only according to strict rules and by general agreement.”

What do you think? Is there merit in the simplification of the ‘chain’ and trust of the networks that a blockchain can provide?

Image source: Dimitry (CC BY-NC 2.0)

student experience

What is the student experience?

It’s that time of year again when we hear more about things like the NSS survey (and results), teaching and learning showcase, graduates & graduation, league tables, and of course the student experience. But what is this ‘student experience’?

Is it the application process, the hall of residence, the equipment, the availability of books in the library, the quality of teaching, access to support, timely assessment feedback, employability, skills, digital literacy? Is it this? Is it more?

For my perspective, and from my own experience working in HE for the past 10 years or so, it’s all the above and more. The student experience starts at the open day (or before if you include the planning the institution puts into it, as well as the prospective student looking at where to go). It really starts in ernest as soon as the application is accepted and a place is given, right through to the actual 3 or 4 years of study, all the way to graduation and the alumni network.

From end-to-end the student will experience the whole institution, not just their own course or department, and not even their own building or campus. Is the university spread across multiple campuses, across different continents as well? How the university manages this will impact on a single student and their time of study. Is the course modular and pulls different departments together for delivery? Then the culture of each department will impact and affect those students, and needs to be carefully managed (no one wants one module to be vastly different or better/worse than another). Is the student body multinational and diverse? The support and teaching needs to reflect and involve the different cultures and expectations of these individuals too.

The list can go on and on. It’s fair to say that everyone working in further or higher education, whether it’s front-line teaching or research, administration, management, estates, etc. has an important role to play in how the students view and experience the course, the department, the campus, the employability, and value of the course. For someone to say that the student experience is not part of their role is not pulling their weight and is making everyone else’s job far harder than is necessary.

Here are a few articles I’ve found useful over the past year or so when looking at the student experience. Please feel free to add your own favourites in the comments box below:

Image source: clement127 (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Slack

Slack

So, I’ve heard a little recently about Slack. I’ve heard it’s good for improving communications between and within teams. I’ve heard it’s cut down on the amount of unnecessary or unwanted communications. I’ve also heard that, unless everyone embraces it then it will complicate your working practices and be a huge mistake.

So. what is Slack, and could/should we use it? Slack is ‘team communication for the 21st century‘, or a tool (not an app, although there is an app, and web client, and website) to make you ‘less busy’. Using channels, messages, files, integration with other online systems, etc. this has the potential to de-clutter your working practices, enable a cleaner workflow .. all the stuff that surely we could do with our current systems if we worked at it and used them effectively and efficiently?

So, I ask again. Why Slack? Is this just another tool that, if used badly or half-heartedly, has the potential to make even more of a mess of where we are, than we’ve already made in getting here? Is it that one wonder-tool that we’ve been waiting for to kick us into gear to streamline our efforts, to remove unwanted distractions, and to efficiently work collaboratively?

You know what? I have no idea.

Here are some resources I’ve found, and have found interesting. See what you think:

And these less-than complementary articles too are still worth reading, trying to find a balance in the slack-or-not debate:

Continue reading

Laura Ritchie

Book Review: Fostering self-efficacy in HE Students

This book takes me out of my usual reading habit and away from the work I’ve been doing for the last few years, and back to or rather closer to the kind of work / contact I used to have with academics and students. Laura Ritchie’s book ‘Fostering self-efficacy in Higher Education Students‘ is a well structured, well written, and well argued insight into the kinds of student-focussed capabilities that HE, and by association those who work in HE, should be aware of.

I have become very aware of this thing we call the ‘student experience’, about how we need to include the student body in more and more process and decisions in how courses, programmes, and administrative functions are organised and run, Through their inclusion we have an opportunity to capture their interest and passions in a way we can structure around the core materials needed for the structured learnin objects. This means, or rather should mean, we have a stronger ‘product’ to offer the students, making them a stronger ‘candidate’ when they graduate and enter the workplace. Whether we’re looking at business leaders, doctors, researchers, or other graduate employment routes doesn’t matter. What matters is that the student has had the best attention we can give them and the best outcome for their future. What they do with this is up to them, but we can say, with hand on heart, we did everything we could.

Student experience is, obviously, more than just this though. Learning and learning objectives are just a small part of attending university. There’s things like the Student Union, sports club, library, friends, family, work/jobs, happiness, health, etc. We have the ability to input and affect how these things happen, across campus (and beyond) so should we?

Well, obviously, yes we should.

“As teachers in higher education, we strive to put students at the centre of learning and teaching, and understanding the formation and role of self-beliefs can have a huge impact on this process. Developing self-efficacy happens through communication and active learning, which facilitates a two-way interaction between learners and teachers. This fosters trust, so teachers and learners can risk having moments of vulnerability where we are willing to expand learning horizons and grow. With established self-efficacy beliefs, students will have both the foundation and tools to successfully continue their learning after leaving the higher education environment.” Laura Ritchie

Of the themes of the books the ones closest to my personal interests dealt with ’embedding the foundations of self-efficacy in the classroom’ and ‘implications for life-long connections with learning and teaching’. I admit I’ve only skimmed the other sections so I could really focus on these two chapters that have a greater pull.

This final section, about ‘life-long connections with learning and teaching’ fits my current thinking more than anything. Our ability (responsibility even?) to our students is to prepare them for their eventual progression into the work force, in whatever form that may take. Skills developed during studies with need to fit the academic requirement for study and assessment (more of that another time) but we need to represent the real-world, the world outside of academia – are these skills transferable to an employee, not student, status?

“Establishing a strong sense of self-efficacy sets the foundation for a continuing pattern of learning and achievement that happens through professional development and an active pursuit of personal growth. Planning, seeking, reflecting on opportunities for training, and peer co-learning can facilitate a positive career trajectory and keep a teacher’s perspective fresh and fitting with today’s fast-changing workplace.” Laura Ritchie

Image source: David Hopkins

what happened to all the MOOCs?

What happened to the MOOCs?

MOOC = Massive Open Online Course

You knew that already, yes? Here are my thoughts for a Friday afternoon.

Massive – Yes, these courses are usually large. But anything that isn’t constrained by the number of chairs in a room has this potential. A course that has 200 people on it from a provider that has rooms that can cope with no more than 150 people would call this ‘massive’. We know that FutureLearn has had the largest ever online course (I’m not calling them MOOCs anymore) with 440,000 registered for one course, but we’ve yet to see the stats about how many who signed up actually started it, completed more than one week, even completed the course? I wonder if the larger numbers are reflected in the percentages of these ‘completors’ and whether they’re better/worse than those with (much) lower numbers (e.g. 5-15k sign-ups) or figures from other providers?

It’s a little strange that the Guinness World Record website has no mention of FutureLearn or online course, does that still make it a valid record?

Open – Yes, they’re open, but it’s increasingly difficult to find the ‘open’ version (especially on Coursera), you’ve really got to hunt for the link in amongst all the ‘specialization’ and ‘pricing’ links. If you didn’t know what to look for you’d be forgiven for thinking these MOOCs are not free. Open is also about the lack of requirement/prerequisites to already be educated to a particular level. Open, in this way means we can all try something we’d otherwise have to complete an application for (and pass).

Online – Yes, they’re online. Well, they are available to everyone, so long as everyone has access to a computing device and an internet connection. I would like to say personal access to a device and access to a reliable internet connection, but I appreciate this isn’t always the case.

Course – Yes, they’re a course; a collection of articles, videos and activities, maybe with discussion points dotted here or there (for social learning), and probably a test or end ‘assignment’ to prove you’ve learned something to qualify you for a certificate.

My point here is that I am seeing less and less, on the courses or platforms I see, that resemble MOOCs I saw two years ago. MOOC providers have to make money, yes, so there needs to be a way for them to make it, and statements and certificates and the like is a good way to do this. I’m just not sure we’re creating MOOCs for the reason we started – are we trying to force the learning into a model that is, essentially, for-profit now? What about courses that are really just about learning something new, not for CPD or to further a career, those that don’t have something that can be tested? Do you force a test or assignment just so an arbitrary mark can be assigned, therefore completing the numbers & stats in order for a mark/grade or completion rate for a certificate to be awarded?

Are MOOCs (and what we used to refer to as MOOCs) about learning or, as it seems now with exams, tests, assignments, certificates, etc. about the testing and payment options?

I’ll hang my hat firmly on the peg and say that, in the original and purest ‘ideal’ of a MOOC, MOOCs should be about expanding your knowledge, in any subject, for your own reasons and in your own time. Whether there is a paid-for option at the end (provided it’s still free for all at the start and everything inside the course is the same) shouldn’t matter. But it feels like it does. It feels like the commercial aspect is taking over. I hope not.

Image source: ms.akr (CC BY 2.0)

MOOCopoly

MOOCopoly

While searching for something else, I found this fantastic image/resources from Alan Levine – MOOCopoly:

“MOOCOPOLY is the game of teaching massively, openly online and includes the range of players from DS106, CCK08 to the Stanford trio, MITx, and more. Take your chance and many you will have community or not. See more about the making of this monster cogdogblog.com/2014/05/03/moocopoly-the-game/

Fantastic. While it’s based in the DS106 and other specific courses, there is much here for everyone who uses or is involved in MOOCs to take away and adapt. I can see a conference poster coming from this … ;-)

MOOCopoly

Click for original Flickr image: Alan Levine (CC BY 2.0)

Hashtag #4WordPedagogy

Hashtag #4WordPedagogy

Another fantastic hashtag ‘battle’.

Started by Jesse Stommel at the weekend, it’s a simple premise used before: use a hashtag and get the learning community to share their thoughts. Jesse asked us to write some pedagogic statements. In four words. Only four words.

Jesse has summarised his favourites in this Storify list, but here are some of mine, and some of my favourites:


What about you, what would/did you tweet?

Image source: Holly Hayes (CC BY-NC 2.0)