Tuesday, October 21, 2014

R for Everyone?

R for Everyone R for Everyone: Advanced Analytics and Graphics (Addison-Wesley Data and Analytics). Jared P. Lander. Addison-Wesley (2014) ISBN 0321888030

I've spent quite a few years searching for the perfect R textbook. Jared Lander's R for Everyone has been a revelation to me - I've finally realized there isn't one. Not that that going to stop me writing my own R textbook over the next few months. So how does that make any sense?

R for Everyone is probably the best R textbook I've found yet. But I still can't recommend it to my first year students because although parts of it are ideal, most of it is not. It's a good book but it makes the classic error of trying to be both an R manual and a statistics textbook - even though that's what I've been looking for for years. If you're an advanced statistician/R power user, you'll be looking for something like Michael J. Crawley's The R Book - but that's way over the top for my purposes.

So it looks like I'll have to proceed with my intention of scraping my R/statistics lecture notes together into a more presentable format and then publishing it online. And it will be the best R textbook for my needs. But it probably won't suit anyone else. Because the perfect R textbook is a mythical beast.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Taking Notes

PowerPoint I've been slightly concerned over the last few days about the number of students in my lectures, all of which have PowerPoint notes online, sitting passively rather than actively taking notes. This has spawned thoughts about the omnipresence of PowerPoint (which is not new) and lecture capture (which is new, at least for us). My first reaction was to have a bit of a rant, but like a good student, instead I went off and trawled the literature for some data.

And the literature is fairly clear that overall, providing PowerPoint notes does not ultimately affect student academic performance. Having said that, there may be some personal benefit in the reverse chic of being the lone PowerPoint standout (Nouri, H., & Shahid, A. (2008). The effects of PowerPoint lecture notes on student performance and attitudes. The Accounting Educators' Journal, 18).

But in spite of that, I still have my doubts. First, I wonder if there is a publication bias against negative results about academic performance and lecture room technologies such as PowerPoint and lecture capture. Second, most of the studies in the literature (as is typical for educational research), have very low statistical power, and I wonder if they are sufficient to overcome the whizzbang shiny effect of high investment technologies. The solution to this problem is a large, multi-centre and possible muti-discipinary study on this issue. But with no supporting evidence in the literature, how could that be justified? I can't find enough negative evidence to conduct my own study on the corrosiveness of PowerPoint. Even if I feel that the world would be a better place without it. And reality television. Or maybe I'm just getting old.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Sigh, lectures

Five Guys Named Moe The subject of lectures as an instructional medium generates far more heat than light. It's actually simple - good lectures, used in moderation - are good, bad lectures are always bad. Having said that, this post of the SEDA blog is balanced and worth reading:
Lectures are used far too often

Graham Gibbs - who else writes about education with this much sense?

Monday, September 22, 2014

Can you use the Internet to teach practical skills?

ECG The more educational research I read, the less happy I become with the anecdotal, unsubstantiated nature of most of it. So it's a delight to read a well conducted, and more importantly from the point of the literature, well analyzed, study (including effect sizes - hallelujah!).

So can you use the Internet to teach practical skills? Not really, not if they're real practical skills and not just content smuggled in under the guise of "practicals". Students learn practical skills by doing.

An evaluation of online learning to teach practical competencies in undergraduate health science students. The Internet and Higher Education. doi: 10.1016/j.iheduc.2014.09.003
The aim of this study was to evaluate the use of online delivery as a pedagogical approach to teach the practical and theoretical skills required for resting ECG electrode placement and interpretation.
Comparable results were found for all variables between the two groups, apart from electrode placement, whereby students in the classroom based group were significantly more accurate than their counterparts in the online group (p < 0.05). The effect size of this difference was large (0.91), whereas the effect size for all other measured variables were classified as small (0 – 0.49). Conclusion Online learning is an effective study mode in both theoretical and practical application; however consideration must be taken of the types of practical skills which it is used for. More complex practical skills requiring haptic awareness may best be delivered within a classroom setting if feasible, whereby the instructor can provide immediate feedback.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Education(al technology) Research in PeerJ

PeerJ I'm very surprised to see this paper appear in Peer-J. My previous conversations with Peter Binfield indicated that they would not be publishing "that sort of thing". Has there been a change in editorial policy at PeerJ? If so, Journal of Biological Education is going to have a fight on its hands.

Having said that, this is not a great paper. n=26 so low power and poor statistical analysis (no effect sizes). While it's great to have PeerJ as an outlet for education research, they're not doing themselves any favours by publishing too many low grade observational studies with little predictive value.

Nalliah RP, Allareddy V. (2014) Students distracted by electronic devices perform at the same level as those who are focused on the lecture. PeerJ 2:e572
Background. Little is known about the characteristics of internet distractions that students may engage in during lecture. The objective of this pilot study is to identify some of the internet-based distractions students engage in during in-person lectures. The findings will help identify what activities most commonly cause students to be distracted from the lecture and if these activities impact student learning.
Methods. This study is a quasi-experimental pilot study of 26 students from a single institution. In the current study, one class of third-year students were surveyed after a lecture on special needs dentistry. The survey identified self-reported utilization patterns of “smart” devices during the lecture. Additionally, twelve quiz-type questions were given to assess the students’ recall of important points in the lecture material that had just been covered.
Results. The sample was comprised of 26 students. Of these, 17 were distracted in some form (either checking email, sending email, checking Facebook, or sending texts). The overall mean score on the test was 9.85 (9.53 for distracted students and 10.44 for non-distracted students). There were no significant differences in test scores between distracted and non-distracted students (p = 0.652). Gender and types of distractions were not significantly associated with test scores (p > 0.05). All students believed that they understood all the important points from the lecture.
Conclusions. Every class member felt that they acquired the important learning points during the lecture. Those who were distracted by electronic devices during the lecture performed similarly to those who were not. However, results should be interpreted with caution as this study was a small quasi-experimental design and further research should examine the influence of different types of distraction on different types of learning.

Friday, September 05, 2014

The State Of The Internet 2014

Waxcap If you haven't already read David Kernohan's recent post You’ll Never Hear Surf Music Again, you should. And then spend the rest of this weekend thinking about it.

Since the politicians have ceded responsibility to government to corporations, I'm going to spend the weekend re-reading leviathan and thinking about how to respond.

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

A Vision Of The Future

Gateway To The Future I've had a vision of the future. Which is nice.

The major social networks have jumped the shark. Increasingly, social networks will be Balkanized into smaller interest groups. People won't leave Facebook or Twitter in droves but their attention will switch elsewhere as the zombie juggernauts become increasing desperate to hold our attention. (Facebook Messenger anyone? I thought not.) Photographers will share with other photographers. City networks will become more localized. Learning technologists will speak unto learning technologists.

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.