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Manufactured serendipity? May 4, 2016

Posted by IaninSheffield in Uncategorized.
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Marginal Notes

flickr photo by BBC Radio 4 https://flickr.com/photos/bbcradio4/4741887686 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC) license

I’m not sure why it was such a surprise that a mote of inspiration happened by me whilst out for a run this morning, but it was. As a distraction from the discomfort of running, I often listen to podcasts. Sometimes they’re related to my studies, so I get a mental as well as a physical workout. Sometimes they’re just enjoyable or informative; Radio 4 podcasts are wonderful here. If I’ve something I need to ponder at greater length, I’ll leave the mp3 player at home. But today was just meant to be some light relief courtesy of ‘The Infinite Monkey Cage,’ which joyfully brings science and humour together. The topic was serendipitous discovery in science and how some of the great discoveries have come about by what appears to be chance. Not particularly closely related…

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#BobTaughtMe January 9, 2016

Posted by IaninSheffield in Musings, Uncategorized.
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You might not have heard of Bob Sprankle; a warm-hearted, informative and informed educator who passed recently. Tributes to Bob have rolled in over the weeks and have been curated by Wes Fryer on the #BobTaughtMe page.

I recently watched this moving, but joyful video from some of his friends:

Although I never knew or even met Bob, I thoroughly enjoyed and learned a lot from the Seedlings podcasts he hosted with Cheryl Oakes and Alice Barr. Here then are my thoughts on what #BobTaughtMe.

2015 Festival of Social Science November 11, 2015

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Marginal Notes

Yesterday the ESRC Festival of Social Science came to town; well OK, it’s been running for a couple of days now, but yesterday was the first events that I attended.

What can data visualisation do?

At the Showroom, this event arranged by The University of Sheffield provided four provocations on different topics, followed by a panel discussion of some of the issues raised. Alan Smith opened the batting by making ‘The Case for Charts,’ questioning whether charts were often used simply to break up blocks of text.

By Anscombe.svg: Schutz derivative work (label using subscripts): Avenue (Anscombe.svg) [GPL (http://www.gnu.org/licenses/gpl.html), CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons Using a bar chart from a UNESCO report entitled “Gender Parity Index …,” typical of the kinds of charts we often encounter in reports of this nature, Alan showed how it could be quickly amended to improve accessibility, ease of…

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When scrawling leads to learning July 24, 2015

Posted by IaninSheffield in Uncategorized.
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On opening a book borrowed from the library, I struggled to stifle the resigned exhalation reserved for those irritations caused by someone’s thoughtlessness.

flickr photo by ianguest http://flickr.com/photos/ianinsheffield/19355566994 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-SA) license

I have no problem at all with adding notes to a text that highlight significant sections, query your own understanding or indicate emerging themes. Quite the contrary in fact. So if you buy a book for your own personal use, then you have every right and very good reasons to annotate away until your pencil is no more than a stub. However, if that book comes from a library collection and will be borrowed by subsequent readers, then surely it is no more than considerate to erase your jottings before returning the book? Or am expecting too much and reverting to type as a ‘Grumpy Old Man?’ (and that’s rhetorical!)

As I inspected the notes to see why on earth the writer couldn’t be bothered to undo their misdeed, I found myself drawn into their comments and highlights, asking why had s/he underlined that sentence, what had that phrase been labelled as ‘important‘ for and why did they ‘disagree‘ with that section? In some sense I had begun to participate in a brief discourse with a fellow student on certain aspects of the text, albeit a uni-directional one. I found that I was interrogating their assertions, sometimes critically, often in agreement and occasionally wondering why they had (apparently) not noted an issue that seemed obvious to me. Perhaps there was value in not erasing sidenotes, but actually in adding to them? Sacrilege!

Unfortunately there’s a technical impediment here; that of space … there isn’t enough. For one student, sure; two perhaps or three at a push, but even with an overly generous typesetter, it’s unlikely to extend further than that. Unless of course we happen to be reading a digital version. Ebooks often have the facility to highlight and annotate text built in and if the ereader has Internet connectivity, then the highlights and annotations of the community of readers can be read by all … without fouling up the legibility of the page! Whilst it may not be the dialogue into which an online book club might enter, surely it constitutes some form of asynchronous discourse between readers which might assist one another’s understanding or challenge (mis?)interpretations.

The few instances I’ve seen in some ebooks have been less than helpful e.g. “9 people have highlighted this.” But perhaps that’s simply because we haven’t yet become sufficiently digitally literate with this new medium to exploit its potential … or the ebooks where I’ve witnessed that behaviour haven’t lent themselves to discussion. As a teacher working in financially limited circumstances and given their expense, I spent a lot of time endeavouring to ensure the longevity or our textbooks. Writing in them was … not an option! Had ebooks been available, I wonder if I’d have been brave enough to encourage my students to share their digital annotations, queries and opinions. Doubtless I’d have ended up with a few digital equivalents of hand-drawn male genitalia, but maybe that’s a price worth paying for the potential benefits, especially given how much easier it would be to identify the culprit … possibly!

Black tie not required June 4, 2012

Posted by IaninSheffield in Resources, Teaching Idea, Uncategorized.
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black tie

cc licensed ( BY NC ND ) flickr photo by sparkypics: http://flickr.com/photos/sparkypics/166671345/

In a recent assembly I introduced ‘Digital Quests‘ to our Y7s to Y10s; they’ve come a long way since the first conception (via San Francisco even!). The idea of undertaking learning beyond the classroom, away from teacher guidance and support and without the possibility of conventional certification would be quite new for many of our students and as a consequence influenced my ‘pitch.’ Given the aforementioned link with Badging, you’ll not be surprised that featured significantly, however I wanted to attempt to set the context within which learning in this way would be located. Describing the what, where, when and how of Digital Quests was fairly straightforward, but the why …

The findings from my dissertation suggested that our students have a rather skewed view of learning, influenced unsurprisingly heavily by their experiences in school. Although some will take music exams, karate gradings and so forth, school provides the bulk of their formal learning. The students I interviewed during my research displayed no appreciation that in fact the majority of their learning actually takes place through informal or non-formal settings. Since Digital Quests fall in the realm (I’d suggest) of non-formal learning, I wanted to try to illustrate the importance of this learning domain, for them now and into the future as lifelong learners. That’s when I chanced upon a highly informative graphic produced by Jane Hart which illustrated many of the facets of the three learning domains, though largely in the context of learning in the workplace. With Jane’s kind permission, I adapted it with the intent of using it to (hopefully) help our students appreciate a little more about the wider circumstances within which they learn. [And I think I’ll shamelessly claim that as a contribution towards our Learning to Learn agenda ;-)]

three learning domains

cc licensed ( BY NC SD ) flickr photo by ianguest: http://flickr.com/photos/ianinsheffield/7338094308/

My hope was that students might entertain the possibility that there are alternatives to the formal learning which seems to preoccupy them and that actually non-formal opportunities were deserving of greater consideration. The crucial factors are bounded by the purple outline which encompass learner autonomy and choice. In other words one of the ‘whys’ of Digital Quests (and other non-formal possibilities like MOOCs, P2PU, gaming/coding communities etc) was that students could choose the what, where, when and how of their learning … something they rarely have the opportunity to do within the formal system.

A couple of days later, a Y7 student came to ask me about signing up for the Cryptography course on Coursera, so at least some seed clearly fell away from the stony ground.