But Mr. Mason, I’m Innocent

August 28th, 2013

One of my favorite brain candy indulgences is watching re-runs of old Perry Mason television episodes. In this vintage series, there is something for everyone to enjoy. What was terribly serious acting in the 1950’s and 1960’s is now wonderfully campy. The theme music, in my opinion, is the best television theme music ever written (except for, maybe, Hawaii 5-0). Although there is conflicting information available on the Internet, according to Barbara Hale who played his faithful assistant — in nine years, Perry lost only one case because the client lied.

Honesty is a fascinating topic that has received a lot of scientific study. In his book, The Honest Truth About Dishonesty: How we Lie to Everyone – Especially Ourselves, behavioral economist Dan Ariely describes a wide variety of scientific studies that explore the factors that contribute to dishonesty. Several of the studies cited in the book were quite interesting and may have implications for face to face and online instruction.

“From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.”

This quote, often attributed to Karl Marx, was posted above the coffee pot collection box in the School of Education lounge at my undergrad alma mater. Everyone, even lowly undergrads, were welcome to partake. Payment was on the honor system. Students generally paid $0.25 and employees $0.50 or more. My 8:00 am instructor made the first pot of the day and often lamented the lack of contributions. He might have had more success if had supplemented the quotation with an image.

In a study conducted at the University of Newcastle, signage in the beverage area alternated between cheerful images of flowers and images of staring eyes. Contributions to the ‘honor box’ were significantly higher during weeks when the eye images were posted. The subconscious message of being watched was enough to prompt donations.

The power of suggestion.

In a study conducted at UCLA, (), students were divided into two groups. The control group was asked to think of ten books they had read in high school. The experimental group was asked to think of the Ten Commandments. Both groups were then asked to complete a task where cheating without being caught was an easy task. They found that the group thinking about the Ten Commandments, a moral construct followed by many people, cheated significantly less than those who were asked to think about ten books.

I cannot tell a lie.

In multiple experiments exploring the effects of an honor code or sworn statement, the results were similar to the experiment with the Ten Commandments. When participants were asked to sign an honesty pledge before beginning a task, cheating was significantly lower than signing the same pledge after the completion of the task.

The bottom line.

In summary, Ariely maintains that we all want to be honest, but, being human, we may be tempted to take advantage of unmonitored situations. How can we apply these findings to instruction?

Teachers in the face to face classroom have long known to be vigilant when students are taking in class exams. Those “watching eyes” definitely impact students’ thoughts about cheating. Instructors may also include an honesty pledge as a part of an exam to further reduce temptation.

But what about the online environment?

Some possible online options:

  • Feature a link to the academic honesty policy prominently on the course menu. Unless students collapse the menu, it will be a silent reminder onscreen as they work.
  • At the beginning of a test, include a true/false question containing a brief video of the instructor reminding the students of the academic honesty policy. In the question, include text such as ‘I have read and understand the academic honesty policy and ask them to agree.
  • At the beginning of a test, include a short answer essay question that requires the student to write out and submit his/her understanding of the academic honesty policy.
  • Include required tests for review purposes, but not for grading purposes. Use non-test assignments for assessment. Allow students to retake tests as often as they like. Reduce the overall grade only if a student does not take the tests and pass them at a specific mastery level.
  • Be creative with assignments to make them more cheat-proof. Click here to read some faculty suggestions.

Categories: E-Learning

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One is the Loneliest Number that You’ll Ever MOOC

March 8th, 2013

One is the loneliest number…  Three Dog Night – I need to be rescued. The MOOC that I am enrolled in has reached Week 5 of 8 and I am losing interest. If I were not committed to seeing this through to the end, I would probably drop out. Some lessons learned…

Small Group Participation – My small group has gone almost totally silent. This phenomenon seems to by typical. MOOC’s are notorious for their huge registrations and rapid drop off in participation. I’ve tried to join another group, but the community manager is apparently ignoring my request. I’m still stuck. MOOC organizers, please pay attention: As with any instructional environment, MOOC’s require some administration. In a course that is dependent upon user interaction, lack of participation cannot be ignored. If activity in a group is limited to just a few members, merge two or more groups together. The ‘silents’ might contribute later, but they have probably abandoned the course already.

Course Materials – This MOOC includes some projects that require the student to do a little shopping. One project requires spaghetti, string, tape, and 1 marshmallow. Honestly, marshmallows make me gag and they are not welcome in my house. I am not willing to buy a whole bag of marshmallows just to do this project. Another project requires a small amount of copper tape. Again, purchasing this item would be a waste of money. A suggestion for the MOOC sponsors – create a kit containing unusual items and make it available for optional purchase in advance of the class.

Free is not Free – Just because I did not have to pay to register for this MOOC, does not mean that it is truly free. I am investing my time and my time has value. I find myself rather intolerant of the poor quality of this experience. For example, the weekly synchronous meeting might be enjoyable to the presenters, but as a student, it is not adding anything to my experience of the topic. I have expertise in this content area, so I did not expect any amazing revelations. However, I did expect that the synchronous meeting would add value to the course, not re-hash readings or wander off into pedantic discussions over terminology. A few suggestions… Script your synchronous presentations. Break them down into 5-15 minute conceptual chunks. Save the extemporaneous discussions for the coffee house.

Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should – The weekly synchronous meeting includes a question submission feature and a chat feature. Questions, I understand. Chat, I don’t. The viewers spew forth a continuous stream of comments. Given my complaints about the quality video presentation, I can understand that the chatters find this to be a more engaging experience. However, as a teacher, I can’t help question why the presenters would choose to purposefully build in a distraction.

Why sponsor a MOOC? — I recently heard an interesting statement about free smart phone/tablet apps – “There is no such thing as a free app. If the app is free, YOU are the app.” The same seems to apply to MOOC’s. While we are not bombarded with advertising – the price you pay for most free apps – it is likely that the MOOC sponsor is using the content generated by the participants for research. All of those participating are basically lab rats. Lessons learned will be applied to later iterations (where a fee may be charged), used for justifying grant applications, and published in professional journals.

Will I do another MOOC? – Yes. I am already signed up for another MOOC that will begin at the end of March. It is sponsored by a different institution. Again, the content is also an area that I am already familiar with. I chose it because it appears to have a very different structure. It will be interesting to compare and contrast the two experiences.

Categories: Distributed Education, Open Source, Social Media

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When the MOOC Hits your Eye Like a Big Pizza Pie…

February 25th, 2013

Everything old is new again. Right now, MOOC’s  are all the rage. It’s easy to forget that this concept actually existed on the Internet in the past. About a decade ago, Barnes & Noble ran “BN University” offering free seminars, on a wide range of topics. If you wanted to be in a smaller class, you could pay for a premium seminar. Take a peek at the past via the “Way Back Machine”.

However, times and technology have changed. For a current view from the front lines, I joined a MOOC sponsored by the MIT Media Lab.  The course is titled Learning Creative Learning.  The course interaction takes place online using Google+ . About 24,000 people are registered for the course. About 10,000 have joined the main course hangout and about 3,000 are active in smaller groups of about 20-40 members.

My small group is from all over – a few from Brooklyn, a few from Kentucky, and a few international. Some have English as their second language. There are some artists and teachers and students and even one professional poker player! Although we are building a community online – I think everyone has made at least one posting and commented on at least one posting – we don’t really feel cohesive quite yet.

Each week there is a synchronous component. Everyone who can attend, hears and sees the “lecture” live and can post to a chat feed. The lecture is also recorded for those who cannot make the live session so they won’t be left in the dark.

Technical difficulties can and do happen. During week 2 Google+ was apparently down for a few hours. There was no status update to keep participants informed. During the second synchronous session, there was no sound for the first 10 minutes. Given the absence of closed captioning, participants in cyber space were left wondering what was happening.

Every MOOC will be different, but this experience leaves me wondering if MOOC’s will still be around in the near future. The course will run for 5 more weeks, but I can already think of a few suggestions that I would make to the designers of this MOOC:

>> If copyright allows, provide readings in a single downloadable package, not just individual links on a web page and make readings available in a format compatible with e-book readers/tablets (ePUB, Mobi, iBook).

>>Pay attention to the chat window during synchronous meetings. If there are problems, this is first place that attendees will try to make contact.

>>Presentations should add to the course. Re-hashing the reading is a waste of everyone’s time.

>> Keep accessibility in mind – Provide a transcript for videos.

>> Provide presentation recordings in downloadable audio files, as well as video. Unless the presentation is heavily visual, students will appreciate being able to listen on portable devices.

>> Free online resources come with built-in problems. There is no guarantee of service. Monitor availability and notify participants of outages and expected service resumption, if known.

Categories: Distributed Education, Open Source

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Eight Tracks, BetaMax, and CRTs

October 12th, 2012

If we build it, will they come? The lifetime of a new technology is often brief and the path is sometimes bumpy. Join me for a ride with the Time Traveler  to visit some past technologies.

The eight track tape was the first attempt to bring-user selected music to the automobile.  The old turntable scratching up the vinyl was definitely not a viable solution for mobile listening. After about fifteen years of popularity, the eight track gave way to the cassette. Theoretically, the audio quality was better on the eight track (faster tape speed, larger recording area), but cassettes were smaller and could be rewound.

Video purists say that BetaMax was far superior to VHS which became the dominant technology. However, VHS won out for very practical reasons – it was cheaper, easier to use, and it could record longer programs.

We’ve all witnessed the disappearance of the CRT over the last decade. The cathode ray tube as a computer monitor or television component is no longer sold. Our choices are now include LCD and LED, and even 3-D. Although initially more expensive, prices on the newer technologies have come down as popularity has risen. The newer technologies take up less space while providing greater viewing area and decreased power consumption.

Is there a message here for our adoption of emerging technologies? Based on the examples above, the answer would appear to be simple. Make the new technology portable, affordable, usable, and sustainable. Done. Right? Wrong.

Creating the “perfect” technology, does not assure that anyone will adopt it. In their global study of the social forces of technology adoption, Intel has found that “affordability and usability can actually work against desire.”  Social and cultural factors are often a greater influence than the actual features and capabilities of a given technology.

In the past year my personal tech collection has expanded to include a digital video camera, an e-book reader/tablet, and a smart phone. I could have purchased any of these types of devices over the last 3 or more years, so why wait?

The new video camera replaced my very old VHS camcorder because I had both a new niece and a new kitten that I wanted to record. The old technology was obsolete.

The tablet was purchased because I had been reviewing these devices for quite some time and I just wanted one. I felt that the technology was developed enough to make my purchase worthwhile.

The smart phone was purchased because I needed to update my cell phone contract to keep pace with my communication needs. Most of my family communicates via text message rather than voice.

Out of the three purchase decisions, only the tablet was made based on usability and affordability. However, the tablet, despite my reasons for purchase, actually had the greatest impact on my everyday routine.

As someone who receives dozens and sometimes hundreds of email messages each day, the tablet changed how I handle my email. In the past, on weekends, I would pull out my laptop to check email. Because it was easy to answer from the laptop, I would often find myself handling tasks on the weekend that could reasonably wait until Monday.

The connectivity of the tablet makes it easy to check messages, but the onscreen keyboard makes it more challenging to reply. That additional challenge is enough to make me think about priorities rather than reacting automatically.

Do you have any new tech toys? Why did you buy them? Do any of them affect how you do your daily routines? Have any of them changed how you use other technologies?

Categories: Hardware/Software

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Lost Your Marbles?

September 19th, 2012

Have you ever had one of those days when your brain seems to stall out? Maybe you haven’t had your morning cup of coffee or traffic was a real mess on your way to school or work. Don’t worry, there are tools on the Internet that can help you to gather up those mental aggies, steelies, and cat’s eyes.

Acronym and abbreviation equivalencies can be challenging to recall. Over 1 million acronyms are referenced on the Acronym Finder.  [Note: There is a lot of advertising on this site, but the information is good.]

Going beyond words, sometimes it’s nice to know the meaning of a phrase or proverb. The Phrase Finder meta search is the tool for you.

Maybe you are trying to find information on a topic and just can’t remember the address for the web site you want. You can find the most popular websites related to any topic with another meta-search site called TopSite.

Let’s suppose you would like to look up a word in the dictionary, but you don’t know how it is spelled. The OneLook Dictionary allows you to search using wildcards. Just provide the letters you know, and use an asterisk or question marks to stand in for the missing letters.

If you can describe a concept in detail, but just don’t know the word you need, try the OneLook Reverse Dictionary.  This tool indexes hundreds of online reference sites and does a meta search for you.

Is your bookmark list overflowing? Do you wonder why you bookmarked the sites on your list? Add a virtual “sticky note” to a web page using MyStickies.

Finally, where did I find all these pages? I don’t spend hours surfing the web. I’ve installed the Stumble Upon  app on my trusty tablet. When I have a few minutes here and there I fire up this app to visit random web pages. Sometimes, hidden treasures emerge.

Categories: Search

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Now I know my άλφα, βήτα, γάμμα…

July 2nd, 2012

Once again I am taking the free summer course in Modern Greek offered here at Stockton through the Interdisciplinary Center for Hellenic Studies. Greek is an amazing language and a rich source for much of the English language, but it can be an interesting challenge.

I struggled a bit last summer. Learning a new alphabet was surprisingly unsettling. I felt as if I had travelled back in time. Suddenly, I was five years old again, having to sound out words I had never seen before. The experience has made me think back to different reading milestones in my life.

One milestone occurred when I entered college as a freshman. After years of brown paper book covers and exhortations not to make any marks in my public school textbooks, I was suddenly free to highlight and scribble. Post-It Notes  were a godsend and made it easy to mark pages and write longer notes or questions when the margin space was inadequate. I actually hated to buy used books because the highlights and notes contributed by former owners were really distracting.

The next major milestone was Adobe Acrobat. While in grad school, especially while working on my dissertation, I used electronic documents rather than paper documents. I loved being able to highlight and annotate scholarly articles, search through the text and even search through my own annotations. I also loved the fact that all my lit review articles fit on one CD. (Otherwise, I would have temporarily lost my dining room to a mountain of paper!)

My most recent milestone has been the purchase and use of an e-reader tablet, specifically the Nook Tablet.  This device pushes the use of electronic documents even further. Now I can highlight, annotate, and search not just one article, but all of the books and files on my device. If I don’t find what I want, I can continue my search on the web. I can add the power of Nook Study  running on my computer. This application allows me to have multiple books open simultaneously and allows me to export my annotations to use as source material when writing reports.

While of this is very exciting, it is also a little scary. It seems that my reading and annotating habits are no longer 100% private. In a recent article, the Wall Street Journal reports that your e-reader is “reading” you. Major e-book providers are looking aggregate data about reading habits. They tally passages underlined, calculate how long you take to read a book, and check to see when you finish a book. They have found that non-fiction books are read “in fits and starts” while novels are read “straight through” and readers of “literary fiction” tend to drop a book more quickly or skip around among different titles.

While this is quite helpful to publishers and booksellers, I wonder if they would be willing to share information with educators. As the number of electronic textbooks goes up, tracking our students’ reading habits could be very helpful to instructors. What are students highlighting? Do they seem to be missing important points? What questions or reflections are in their annotations? How much time are they spending reading? Are they skipping important topics? All of this information could be helpful in the learning environment.

What do you think?

Categories: Hardware/Software, Human/Machine

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Greek, Higher Education, and The Guinness Book of World Records

November 20th, 2011

This summer I attended the free classes in Modern Greek offered by Stockton’s Interdisciplinary Center for Hellenic Studies. For me, one fascinating feature of the Greek language is the ‘absolute superlative.’ In English we comparative and relative superlative (e.g., better, best). In Greek, the absolute superlative is one step further, not just the greatest amount of some quality in the items being compared, but the greatest amount in existence.

Upon reflection, I realized that, although the English language does not have a grammatical structure for the absolute superlative, we do make an attempt to measure and record it. The Guinness Book of World Records is our registry of the biggest, smallest, fastest, slowest, oldest, youngest, heaviest, lightest… you name it… on the planet.

If you search the Guinness site for ‘college,’ ninety-nine records are returned. If you search for ‘university,’ two hundred-eighty results are returned. Some of these records are related to the institutional curriculum or products of research, but most items are related to extra-curricular activities like ‘Most People in a Pie Fight’  or ‘Most People Dressed as Smurfs’.

Pie fights and Smurf costumes are harmless diversions, but one of the most interesting recent records in higher education is missing from the Guinness site. This record seems to have been set in the fall 2011 semester at Stanford University for a free course in Artificial Intelligence.  According to The Chronicle of Higher Education, approximately 94,000 students were enrolled in this course.  While numbers are not yet available on how many students actually completed the course and demonstrated mastery of the course content, the fact that enrollment was so high ia wake-up call for all higher education institutions.

High enrollments in free courses are not the only clarion call. The non-profit higher education market is increasingly finding its space invaded by for-profit organizations.

Knewton, a for-profit company in New York City provides adaptive education in the area of mathematics remediation. The adaptive environment presents material in small chunks, using game mechanics and micro rewards. The system performs frequent assessment, and provides continuous updates on student performance. Mathematics is an area where machine grading can reliably indicate student mastery, but as adaptive instructional technologies continue to evolve, are other content areas far behind?

In recent years we have witnessed technology-enabled transformations in retail sales (think Amazon), the disappearance of newspapers as primary news sources (think Huffington Post, et al ), and a revolution in social interaction (think Facebook). Higher education is facing a similar transformation. We can ignore the influence of technology or we can imagine and construct a different future.

What is your vision of higher education in 5 years? 10 years? 20 years?

Categories: Human/Machine

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Gold Stars for Grown Ups

November 10th, 2011

Do you remember first grade? When I think back, I recall the smell of chalk dust, the long skinny poster of the alphabet running across the top of the blackboard, Dick & Jane, and the heavy duty swing set on the playground.

I also remember foil stars pasted on the top of my homework and test papers — an ‘A’ earned a gold star, a ‘B’ earned a silver star. Satisfactory artwork was randomly awarded any one of the remaining colored stars – usually blue, green, or red. In those pre-FERPA days, our school work was tacked up on the classroom bulletin boards with stars shining for all to see.

Of course, as I moved up through elementary school, stars and stickers were soon left behind. The red pen became something to be dreaded. Students quickly scanned their papers hoping to see few red marks and looking for a circled letter, hopefully a high grade.

As adults, we may receive rewards in the form of thank you notes, letters of commendation, professional advancement, and monetary compensation. While this kind of recognition is always appreciated, it is usually earned over the long haul. Often, we do not receive acknowledgement for everyday excellence. Where are the gold stars for grown ups?

Never fear, they actually do exist. If you want to give someone a gold star, visit +1me.com. Enter the email address of the person that you wish to acknowledge, choose the category for the “+1”, enter a brief message describing the reason for the +1 and submit. The person will receive an email message informing him/her of the +1 and why it was given. You don’t need to register, but if you do, a page will be created tracking all of your +1’s.

Gold stars are back. :-) Now about that swing set…

Categories: Social Media

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The “One Size Fits All” Gym Suit

May 4th, 2011

In the dark ages of public school education (perhaps even still today), there was one corner of the curriculum that required all students to wear a uniform – physical education class. The gym suits for girls  were one-piece abominations (some made of stretch material) that looked terrible on everyone.

Everybody hated the gym suit and yet it had its purpose – providing safe and reliable clothing for physical activities. It  was a standard that enabled the PE teacher to focus on instruction during each class period rather than wasting time dealing with disparate, and perhaps inappropriate, clothing choices made by students and/or parents that could potentially present a physical danger.

Assessment is a lot like the one size fits all gym suit. There is no one instrument that will fit every person, every function, or every environment. Despite the challenges that assessment presents, the process is invaluable for continuous improvement.

There are technology tools that can assist in the instructional assessment process.

Some students may be hesitant to participate in class discussion. For frequent or daily use, personal response systems (aka “clickers”) or cell phones can be useful tools for student and instructors for immediate feedback.

[Using PRS to Enhance Classroom Interaction will be offered May 11, 2011 at 11:00 am in D-018. Polling Features in Online Tools will be offered May 10, 2001 at 2:00 pm in D-019. Click here to register. ]

In addition to in-class or online interactions, students must also create academic artifacts that demonstrate their content mastery  (e.g., term paper, lab report, video presentation, podcast, or exam).  In many cases the academic work product activity is an electronic object that can be collected via a learning management system.

[Blackboard CE8: Assignments and Assessments will be offered May 9, 2011 at 2:30 in D-027. Click here to register.]

Mastery of content is demonstrated by how well the student’s academic work product matches the requirements defined by the instructor. In education parlance this is known as a rubric. (In Blackboard parlance – a grading form.)  A well designed rubric will help both student and instructor – the student will have a clear picture of expectations and the instructor will have a standard to use in evaluating each student and providing feedback, minimizing potentially intimidating “red ink”.

Finally, the student needs to be aware of his/her overall progress. Even the most detailed course syllabus can leave a student wondering “Where do I stand?” A progress worksheet or interim grade posted in the Blackboard grade book can be helpful.

[Blackboard CE8: Grading Forms, Goals, and the Grade Book will be offered May 11, 2011 at 9:30 in D-019. Click here to register.]

Categories: Hardware/Software

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How to Choose a Shower Curtain

April 13th, 2011

I am in the midst of re-modeling my bathrooms. It seems that when my house was built, the contractor used regular sheet rock behind the tile surround instead of greenboard. Moisture from the shower has wreaked havoc on the underlying wallboard and tiles are buckling.

As anyone who has done any home re-modeling knows, it is a very disruptive process. I’ve survived the selection phase – tub, tile, flooring, vanity, lighting, et cetera (and there is a lot of et cetera!) and work is underway. However, I have been stymied by the process of choosing a new shower curtain.

“How hard can it be?” you might ask. That’s what I thought before I started looking. Just pop on over to the local department store or bed and bath specialty shop, go through the samples, and pick one. In and out in 10 minutes, tops. Right? Wrong.

When you don’t like any of the local options, you go online and that is where your troubles really begin. Although some online stores will allow you to do a limited search based on price, color, and size, the only way to really know whether a shower curtain might be the right choice is to view the image. That process takes a lot of time. I am not kidding when I say that I have viewed pictures of over 1,000 shower curtains.

Wouldn’t it be nice if I could find a visual search engine? I could describe what I am looking for and the search engine would search into the images as well as the text description. The exact type of search engine that I am looking for apparently does not exist. (I think most people would call that a personal shopper.) However, I found some interesting resources in my online travels.

A company called Symmetri is working a search engine called Symbolyze that does not use words. Users of the search engine click on symbolic icons to drill down on topics of interest and retrieve images and film clips from the web. Right now, they just have a limited prototype online, but the concept is fascinating.

Symmetri also has a search engine called Search Cube that projects thumbnails of web page results or significant images from the results onto a three dimensional cube. The user then can rotate the cube using arrow keys and select a site by clicking on it. Up to 96 results are included on the cube surface.

Quintura supplements search results with a “tag cloud” – a group of words related to your search results. The larger the font for the tag the more frequently it appears in the search results. You can mouse over the tag and immediately view the refined search results. Quintura also offers a downloadable application that allows you to further refine your searches and save the results for later.

Yometa provides a visual comparison of search results from Google, Yahoo and Bing. Doing a preliminary search on this site will tell the user which search engine is most likely to provide the best results for a particular search.

Finally, for those who have way too much time on their hands, there is the pastime known as “Googlewhacking”. This is not visual at all, but something I stumbled over in my search. The goal of Googlewhacking is to select a two word phrase that will result in only one found website when the phrase is used in a Google search.

And my shower curtain? At this point, I am thinking of breaking out an old mechanical technology – my sewing machine – and making my own.

Categories: Search

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