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Lazy writing … or pressures of deadlines? May 3, 2015

Posted by IaninSheffield in Musings, research.
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flickr photo by Patty Marvel http://flickr.com/photos/pattymarvel/16304315951 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-ND) license

I’m not sure when I started becoming a much more critical reader/consumer of information delivered through the Internet, or whether being ‘picky’ is just a personality trait, but recently one particular stream of information has become an itch I need to scratch.

For some while I’ve found Edudemic to be a helpful source of inspiration and information; its RSS feed has always found a regular place in my reader. From interesting and helpful ideas, emerging educational technologies and provocative articles, I’ve regularly found something to stimulate my thinking. Recently though, my spidey-sense has started to tingle when reading some of the articles. If someone writes

Although 80% of K-12 teachers do have social media accounts, such as Twitter for personal or professional use, most of them don’t integrate them into classroom lessons.

that figure makes me sit up and take notice. 80%? As much as that?! I don’t get the impression from colleagues that it’s as high as that, but maybe I’m missing something. First thing then is to check the source of that figure; the link was, as you can see, helpfully provided.

The survey from which the data arose was undertaken by the University of Phoenix and the article helpfully provided a brief overview of its survey methodology. As an ‘online survey’ wouldn’t it be fair to say that it drew from a skewed population? So rather than 80% of teachers, we’re already at 80% of teachers who would complete an online survey. What we don’t know is how the survey respondents were recruited; it could have been through social media sites and if it was, then how is the 80% figure now looking in terms of being reflective of the whole teaching profession? (The University of Phoenix article did provide contact details for anyone who wanted more details on the methodology, so we could doubtless find our answers)

Having spotted one instance of data perhaps not telling the whole story, other examples started to become apparent. In “Teachers Guide to Polling in the Classroom” we’re told that

Research has shown that students absorb new information into chunks, with 20 minutes being the limit for that information to go from short-term to long-term memory.

Which seems somewhat familiar, but rather than take it on face value, we can follow the helpful link. This take us to a brief article on “Use It, or Lose It! Retaining New Knowledge with E-Polling” within the Colorado State University website. This actually cites what sounds like an academic article (Orlando, 2010) and in the references provides a link … to another brief article on polling technologies. This casually mentions

… it’s been proven that most people can only retain about 20 minutes of content in our short-term memory before we have to reflect on it in order to move it to our long-term memory …

yet fails to tell us where the evidence for this claim can be found. So research may indeed have shown that ‘students absorb new information into chunks,’ but at least do us the courtesy of providing a specific citation for the actual source, rather than bouncing us around a couple of other articles, neither of which provide a foundation for the claim.

A final example (The Four Negative Sides of Technology) offered up plenty of threads at which to pick, including

More than a third of children under the age of two use mobile media.

Whereas what the report actually said was “38% of all children under 2 have ever used a smartphone, tablet, or similar device.” ‘Use’ as opposed to ‘have ever used’ might seem to matter little, but I’d argue there is quite a significant shift in emphasis by changing the phrasing slightly. In the same article there’s

A report from the United Kingdom revealed that kids who use computer games …

where the link doesn’t actually go to a report, but to a Telegraph article about the report, which inevitably includes journalistic license. Why not simply link directly to, and quote from the report itself?

I suppose I’m simply being pedantic, expecting authors who are trying to convey a particular message and who might be on tight deadlines, to be completely rigorous and accurate in their referencing. Or with the impending election here in the UK, perhaps my cynicism filter needs recalibrating. And yet with the ease with which headlines can be quickly bounced around the Internet these days, if people don’t take the time to verify for themselves the claims that are being made within an article and simply take a headline Tweeted out at face value, groupspeak and the echo chamber become the norm. That’s beginning to bother me.

“Reports of my demise have been somewhat …” July 9, 2011

Posted by IaninSheffield in Musings, Tools.
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winnowing

from A. Davey on Flickr

Caught a few tweets/retweets this morning pointing to a post “Death To The QR Code.” A bit harsh … and somewhat premature perhaps? Although the article is posted from a business/advertising standpoint, it was tweducators directing us there, so that set me wondering why.

But first let’s take a look at the article which suggests that QR codes are confusing, waste time and probably aren’t necessary. Problems cited include:

  1. having to download an app
  2. figure out how they work
  3. use the right app for the right code
  4. boot the app, wait for the camera to set itself up
  5. achieve the right distance and focus
  6. hope you have network connection.

So let’s take a look at those issues:

  1. Downloading and installing a QR code app takes what, a minute? Just once.
  2. Figuring out how it works … another minute? QR code readers aren’t highly featured; they don’t need to be, so are relatively straightforward to use.
  3. Really? I haven’t yet found a code that my reader couldn’t interpret. Maybe there are some proprietry ones, but hey if you want to hide the information you want to pass on, more fool you.
  4. Booting the app does take a moment … but don’t they all?
  5. Positioning is important … as indeed it is with snapping any photo, but we wouldn’t advocate not using cameras because of that would we?
  6. Connectivity? Maybe, but not all the secrets behind the QR codes do require a network connection. It simply depends on what you choose to put there.

The post suggests alternatives like just providing the URL. Er, but wouldn’t that mean booting up a browser and typing in the URL … correctly.That’s quicker? Wondering also how using a URL means that connectivity is no longer necessary? Another alternative the post suggests is that with improving features, we could just use image recognition? But surely the 6 problems they cited for QR codes apply equally for image recognition? Finally we’re told that near-field communication is all but upon us which will make things much faster and the need to fire up an app unneccessary. Well, possibly … but I wonder what the relative costs are for the producer of the information adding a QR code or near-field technology to their information source?

qr code

QR Codes: Give it time!

So I guess I found the article rather hypocritical, offering alternatives which in fact have the same drawbacks as QR codes themselves. But to return to my opening point, why would some educators wish to point us towards such an article. I can only assume (given that there was no further information in the tweet than a title and URL) that they support the notion that QR codes should have seen their day. Which bothers me a little. There are lots of people doing interesting things with QR codes; new refreshing things. They are experimenting, exploring and evaluating the different affordances that new technologies bring. Some of those explorations will be more successful than others, but the good stuff can be spread more widely for other educators to use to help their students’ learning. And there’s the rub I guess – if we cast aside what might be ‘in vogue’ just at the point where the wheat has been sorted from the chaff and the good stuff is starting to emerge, then maybe we risk failing to allow new opportunities the chance to become embedded. I sometimes worry that’s what happened (is happening?) with interactive whiteboards … or perhaps just technology in general.

Lack of Access . . . or lack of clarity? December 28, 2010

Posted by IaninSheffield in Musings, research.
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Since a number of people had been retweeting a news article on the BBC website (A million UK children ‘lack access to computers’ – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-12075057), it seemed I ought to check it out.

No computer

from maximolly on Flickr

OK, cards on the table first. Had the events described in this news item been taking place when I was in school, then I suspect, given my family circumstances, I’d have been one of the disadvantaged. Now that’s out the way, to the nitty-gritty.

Apparently the Government refused to comment, the journalist told us … twice. Well to be honest, I’m not surprised, but I’m not going to let that stop me.

Let’s start with the opening paragraph – ‘More than a million school children in the UK still lack access to a computer at home, research suggests.‘ Well exactly how many more? And is a raw figure particularly helpful? How many children of school age are there anyway? (8 071 000 in the 2009 school census according to the BIS Statistics site) So does that mean that about 1 in 8 children doesn’t have access? And if it does, how bad is that? Is it bad (or good?) on its own terms, or in relation to other similar countries?

Let’s pick that apart a little further then. Of the 1 million children:

  • how many are in the same household with siblings? Should we suppose that if there are let’s say three siblings in the same household, none has access? If that is the case, then addressing it might demand a different approach by the school, LA or Government, than if the 1 million are all in separate households.
  • How many are in families who have chosen not to have a computer in their home? And what should our response be to that choice?
  • What is the spread of lack of access by age? Should we expect all children of all ages to have the same level of access? Does a three year old need the same level and type of access as a 17 year old?

Moving on a little, the ‘research’ the article is based on is from the e-learning foundation, a worthwhile charity whose goal is to reduce the ‘digital divide.’ If you visit the site, I’d be grateful if you could point me at the ‘research’ item from which the BBC article drew its substance. It’s not in the News section, nor the latest Newsletter, nor the Chief Exec.’s blog, nor Press Releases. There is a reference to a Rowntree Foundation Report which sites 3.5 million children living in poverty in the UK, though I could find no reference to the computer access figures in there (I concede I might have missed it somewhere in the 120 pages though). Perhaps then the BBC had interviewed someone from the e-learning foundation who had provided them with the figures, and the website is yet to be brought up to date. There is mention of 1 million children lacking access to a home computer and Broadband access right there on the home page, but there’s no reference to the data source from which the figure arose.

The BBC article goes on to cite the results of a TES survey in November in which ‘more than half of teachers who took part in a survey … said pupils without access to internet or a computer at home were hampered in their learning.‘ Again since there is no link to the raw figures, it’s hard to take on face value. The journalist could of course have put it ‘almost half the teachers … said pupils without access to internet or a computer at home were unaffected in their learning.’ How many teachers were surveyed, from what backgrounds etc? And while we’re at it, how do these teachers know that not having access to a computer and the Internet hampered their learning? Where did their data come from? Let me just throw this into the mix – in the homes lacking in access, was that the only factor which might have hampered their learning? I suspect that sadly, these children are likely to be impoverished in other ways too.

Having swung a kick at the crutch of precision in the article, I have to declare my support for the sentiment it expresses. However the numbers arose, there are undoubtedly vast numbers of children who are disadvantaged with respect to ICT in their homes. It behoves us all to consider what we in schools are doing about that. As a reader of this blog, I suspect you’re not going to suggest that we back away from ICT, so what can we do to reduce the digital divide? Maybe we can look to the e-learning foundation to help us here … or maybe they ‘seeded’ the BBC article to prompt just such a reaction!

Did the article get a little more prominence than it deserved because the ‘retweet’ button’s just a little too easy? Maybe we ought to step back a moment before clicking? Maybe clarity was sacrificed … but given the cause, does that matter? Maybe I’m overdue a visit from the ghosts of Xmas past, present and future?