Two good things

by reestheskin on 19/10/2016

Comments are disabled

First of all a link to an interview with Joe Ito and Barack Obama. The latter you may have heard about, but Ito is the head of the MIT media lab. Interesting, in that he has no higher ed qualifications. But then again, Jacob Bronowski, was deemed ineligible for a Chair in the UK because he appeared on the radio and TV. But can you really imagine this sort of thing from the bunch of tyros we call a UK government?

The second, an example of how sometimes it seems that scholarship is more in evidence on the web than within the walls of the academy. You think you understand the scurvy story, or how medical progress happens. Read on.

Edtech, Edinburgh and the blackboard.

by reestheskin on 17/10/2016

Comments are disabled

“In the early 1800s, slate blackboards represented change. For centuries, students had used handheld tablets of wood or slate. Teachers moved about their classrooms, writing instructions and inspecting students’ work on individual slates. When the Scottish educational reformer James Pillans became the rector of Edinburgh High School, in 1810, his use of a blackboard was revolutionary. He explains in an 1856 memoir, Contributions to the Cause of Education:

I placed before my pupils, instead of a crowded and perplexing map, a large black board, having an unpolished non-reflecting surface, on which was inscribed in bold relief a delineation of the country, with its mountains, rivers, lakes, cities, and towns of note. The delineation was executed with chalks of different colours.

Widely recognized as the inventor of the blackboard, Pillans doesn’t specify how he constructed the apparatus……Pillans used his innovation to teach Greek as well as geography, noting,

The very novelty of all looking on one board, instead of each on his own book, had its effect in sustaining attention.”

Sounds familiar.

Kim Kankiewicz , The Atlantic

Distance learning and the unbundling of education approaches its 200th birthday

by reestheskin on 02/10/2016

Comments are disabled

Interesting post from Tony Bates on the history of distance learning, and the University of London External Programme, which started in 1828.

Unfortunately I have no knowledge of the individuals who originally created the University of London External Programme back in 1828. It’s a worthy research project for anyone interested in the history of distance education.

I was once (mid-1960s) a correspondence tutor for students taking undergraduate psychology courses in the External Programme. In those days, the university would publish a curriculum (a list of topics) and provide a reading list. Students could sit an exam when they felt they were ready. Students paid tutors such as myself to help them with their studies. I would find old exam papers for the course, and set questions for individual students, and they would send me their answers and I would mark them. Many students were in British Commonwealth countries and it could take weeks after students sent in their essays before my feedback eventually got back to them. Not surprisingly, in those days completion rates in the programme were very low…

But I am fascinated by (and was ignorant of) the following:

Note though that teaching and examining in the original External Programme were disaggregated (those teaching it were different from those examining it), contract tutors were separate from the main faculty were used, and students studied individually and took exams when ready. So many of the ‘new’ developments in distance education such as disaggregation, self-directed learning, and many of the elements of competency-based learning are in fact over 150 years old.

Someone Is Learning How to Take Down the Internet

by reestheskin on 18/09/2016

Comments are disabled

“Over the past year or two, someone has been probing the defenses of the companies that run critical pieces of the Internet. These probes take the form of precisely calibrated attacks designed to determine exactly how well these companies can defend themselves, and what would be required to take them down. We don’t know who is doing this, but it feels like a large a large nation state.”

Bruce Schneller (the ‘security guru’ in the words of the Economist) at Lawfare. You use it. And it is quite possible. Worth a read in full.

“I actually believe that we need domain specific online learning environments that cater to the pedagogies appropriate to different disciplines.” Mark Smithers

As compared with the LMS as all about management and and not much about learning.

Big data exceptionalism

by reestheskin on 19/05/2016

Comments are disabled

This comment (and phrase) from Bruce Schneier struck a chord with me.

NYU professor Helen Nissenbaum gave an excellent lecture at Brown University last month, where she rebutted those who think that we should not regulate data collection, only data use: something she calls “big data exceptionalism.” Basically, this is the idea that collecting the “haystack” isn’t the problem; it what is done with it that is………Under this framework, the problem with wholesale data collection is not that it is used to curtail your freedom; the problem is that the collector has the power to curtail your freedom. Whether they use it or not, the fact that they have that power over us is itself a harm.

Of course, as Alan Kay said, we need ‘big ideas’ rather than assuming ‘big data’ will do our thinking for us. This is not to deny that large data sets are not useful, nor that they do not allow you to answer questions, you might not have been able to do so before. But A/B testing only gets you so far. And beware technicians who want to mould nature to their method, not vice versa; or change what meaningful consent means.

Textbooks: easy money

by reestheskin on 18/05/2016

Comments are disabled

‘The rising prices of textbooks appears to be reaching a tipping point, the professor adds. The latest US Census Bureau statistics show that textbook prices increased more than 800 per cent from 1978 to 2014, more than triple the cost of inflation and more than the rate of increase of college tuition.’


Every Episode of David Attenborough’s Life Series, Ranked

by reestheskin on 09/05/2016

Comments are disabled

Nice paean to David Attenborough, with the above title. There was a time when it is said that people like Jacob Bronowski were denied academic advance in the UK because he has appeared on TV. How the world of impact has changed. But just as many of us get excited by the power of the web to broaden access and change higher-ed, we should remember that some of the most potent educational agents of the twentieth century, got there before us. I am thinking cheap paperbacks (Pelican); the BBC; the OU on the BBC; and the movement throughout the 1930’s and beyond for prominent academics to reach out to that large part of the population who had been denied access to higher ed. If we want to build large scale resources for higher ed, we could do worse than look at the extraordinary teams the BBC put together. So, please don’t start lectures with those dismal learning outcomes, but just look at how Bond movies grab the attention and focus of their audience. Or just look at the Ascent of Man.

The best camera in the world is…

by reestheskin on 03/04/2016

Comments are disabled

And not just because you have it in your pocket. Sean Baker has filmed a whole movie about ‘two miniskirted transgender prostitutes on the hunt for a woman who’s had an affair with one of their pimps’ with ‘just’ an iPhone. Below is an image my daughter Elizabeth Rees took, again, just with an iPhone. The subject matter is not the same, the father would add.

Lizy picture

Must reads from Donald Clark

by reestheskin on 03/04/2016

Comments are disabled

10 text layout FAILS in online learning

10 top INTERFACE rules for online learning

10 similarities between Higher Education and the Catholic Church on the eve of the Reformation?

10 ideas on use of much maligned TALKING HEAD videos in online learning. Including: ‘Do NOT have some small, postage stamp size video embedded in the corner or anywhere else for that matter’.

10 things you really need to know about reading on screen for effective online design

I know, I just couldn’t resist another Catholic church reference. At least those Christian Brothers taught me a thing or two.

Her Ph.D. candidate had an offer for a job paying more than $1 million a year

by reestheskin on 26/03/2016

Comments are disabled

Fei-Fei Li, a Stanford University professor who is an expert in computer vision, said one of her Ph.D. candidates had an offer for a job paying more than $1 million a year, and that was only one of four from big and small companies. On the candidate’s list, one of the biggest technology companies was ranked lowest, in terms of both money and excitement, she noted dryly.

NYT. Time will tell.

Data is a toxic asset, that needs to be culled.

by reestheskin on 16/03/2016

Comments are disabled

I had previously posted Alan Kay’s nice slide to the effect that ‘we need big meaning rather than big data’, but here is a nice article by the ‘security guru’ Bruce Schneider on the dangers of collecting and storing data:

Data is a toxic asset. We need to start thinking about it as such, and treat it as we would any other source of toxicity. To do anything else is to risk our security and privacy.

In health and in education, expect major data breeches.


Tech and the classroom: deja vu all over again.

by reestheskin on 24/02/2016

Comments are disabled

From the Chronicle of Higher Education.[via Audrey Watters].


MOOCs, and being dragged, kicking and screaming.

by reestheskin on 18/02/2016

Comments are disabled

Nice post from Donald Clark:10 ways MOOCs have forced Universities into a rethink.

One morsel of clickbait, which just happens to be true, is:

A common question when MOOCs are mentioned is, “How do you monetise MOOCs? It’s usually delivered with a ‘Gotcha’ tone. The financial and business models in education are complex. However, we can be sure of one thing, the current University system can’t monetise itself. The whole structure is propped up by state spending and huge loan books.

Not something you see too much these days: analogue innovations

by reestheskin on 17/02/2016

Comments are disabled

But sounds great……MXR analogue

OA, CC and ‘Confusion will be my epitaph’.

by reestheskin on 15/02/2016

Comments are disabled

I had thought I ‘got’ Open as in terms of OER, Creative commons and the like, but clearly I am missing something (and in truth I have suspected I am missing something, for quite a while). This is from Stephen Downes:

Your new word for the day is ‘copyfraud’. Here’s the definition from Wikipedia: “Copyfraud refers to false copyright claims by individuals or institutions with respect to content that is in the public domain. Such claims are wrongful because material that is not copyrighted is free for all to use, modify and reproduce.” In the current case, copyfraud also applies to materials that are license CC-by. As Peter Murray-Rust writes in the GOAL mailing list, “Springer took all the images published in its journals and stamped COPYRIGHT SPRINGER over all of them and offered them for sale at 60 USD. This included all my publications in BioMedCentral, a CC-BY Open Access journal…” In another post he notes that Oxford University Press is “charging large prices for re-use of CC-BY articles (e.g. 400 USD for use in an academic course pack for 100 students.”

Clearly my idea of what CC-BY meant is wrong. There are other issues however I don’t understand. You use material from the web marked CC-BY-SA in a lecture or video that is hosted on a private site (say a university VLE). How does this work?

Students flocked to his evening classes

by reestheskin on 14/02/2016

Comments are disabled

Marvin Minsky has died. There is a wonderful description in Steven Levy’s ‘Hackers’ about Minsky and The Tech Model Railway Club and Midnight Computing Wiring Society at MIT. It is inconceivable now to imagine a university tolerating such a state of affairs: the state of affairs that was key to the development of the modern world. Rebellion and discovery are often of a piece.

The people in charge of the lab, particularly Marvin Minsky, were very understanding about these things. Marvin, as the hackers called him (they invariably called each other by last name, knew that the hacker ethic was what kept the lab productive, and he was not going to tamper with one of the crucial components of hackers. On the other hand, there was Stu Nelson, constantly at odds with the rules, a hot potato who got hotter when he was eventually caught red-handed at phone hacking. Something have to be done. So Minsky called up his good friend Ed Friedkin, and told him he had this problem with an incredibly brilliant 19 year old who had a penchant for getting into sophisticated mischief. Could Fredkin hire him?

Stewart Brand’s description nails it:

I think that hackers — dedicated, innovative, irreverent computer programmers — other most interesting and effective body of intellectuals since the framers of the US Constitution….. No other group that I know of has set out to liberate a technology and succeeded. They not only did so against the active disinterest of corporate America, their success forced corporate America to adopt their style in the end. The quietest of all the ‘60s subcultures has emerged as the most innovative and powerful. 

Professor Nicholas Negroponte, co-founder and chairman emeritus of the Media Lab, says:

“Marvin talked in riddles that made perfect sense, were always profound and often so funny that you would find yourself laughing days later.”

And from the Economist’s obituary.

He also, almost by the way, did other things, such as inventing a confocal scanning microscope and robotic “seeing hands” for surgery. His own intelligence continually leapt between postulations and speculations, all delivered with an endearing smile: what a thinking machine would have to notice when it drove down the highway, whether robots could be made tiny enough to beat up aphids or dexterous enough to put a pillow in a pillowcase, what would happen if you wrote “Eine Kleine Nachtmusik” to a different rhythm. Students flocked to his evening classes, never quite knowing what mental challenge he would toss out next.

Publishing: compare and contrast

by reestheskin on 09/02/2016

Comments are disabled

Remember those compare and contrast questions (UC versus Crohns; DLE versus LP etc.). Well, look at these two quotes from articles in the same edition of  Nature.

The first from the tsunami of papers showing that ‘Something in rotten in the state of Denmark Science’ — essentially that the Mertonian norms for science have been well and truly trampled over.

Journals charge authors to correct others’ mistakes. For one article that we believed contained an invalidating error, our options were to post a comment in an online commenting system or pay a ‘discounted’ submission fee of US$1,716. With another journal from the same publisher, the fee was £1,470 (US$2,100) to publish a letter. Letters from the journal advised that “we are unable to take editorial considerations into account when assessing waiver requests, only the author’s documented ability to pay”. 

The second is about attempts to piggyback on the arXiv server. An earlier article and blog post from Timothy Gowers says more.

Discrete Analysis’[the journal] costs are only $10 per submitted paper, says Gowers; money required to make use of Scholastica, software that was developed at the University of Chicago in Illinois for managing peer review and for setting up journal websites. (The journal also relies on the continued existence of arXiv, whose running costs amount to less than $10 per paper). A grant from the University of Cambridge will cover the cost of the first 500 or so submissions, after which Gower hopes to find additional funding or ask researchers for a submission fee.

Well done the Universities of Cambridge and Cornell (arXiv). For science, the way forward is clear. But for much clinical medicine, including much of my own field, we need to break down the barriers between publication and posting online information that others may find useful. This cannot happen until the financial costs approximate to zero.

Publishing and a race to the bottom

by reestheskin on 29/01/2016

Comments are disabled

There is an article in the FT highlighting the woes of Pearson, and the wisdom of selling the FT and the Economist. My interest is in the vigour and prospects for textbooks in a digital age, a topic that feature highly in the article. As some other commentators state, maybe we are going to see a race to the bottom with margins being slashed as ‘free’ but poor quality becomes the norm. Just like what has happened to most quality journalism. There are of course alternatives, if only the universities would step up.

“Did you know that this is the 30th anniversary of the very first fully online course?” –

Via Tony Bates.


“A very simple explanation is: In corporate, they have money”

Many big companies also pay for corporate learning services to administer and track internal programs like sexual harassment training. That has already led some academic-focused start-ups to rethink their audiences.

A very simple explanation is: In corporate, they have money,” said Josh Coates, the chief executive of Instructure, an ed tech company that has broadened its strategy.

In 2011, Instructure began marketing a learning management system, called Canvas, to universities and school districts. Last year, the company expanded its business into employee-training platforms for corporations. Mr. Coates said he expected that Instructure would eventually derive much of its revenue from companies, which pay higher fees than schools.

“If they can make an employee 2 percent better by paying $50 for corporate training, they are going to do that in a heartbeat,” Mr. Coates said. “A school can’t do that kind of calculation. It’s not an obvious return on investment.”


In time, the smartphone will become the device of choice for knowledge acquisition, news, training, general education, heath and transaction services. In Africa alone, 400 million smartphones will be activated in the next four years — most of those running Android.

frederic.filloux in the Monday Note.

[direct link to this aside] 

Layout matters

by reestheskin on 12/11/2015

Comments are disabled

I have just been browsing on the new FT beta site. Coupled with Mediumquartz and the Intercept as examples, we have eventually rediscovered what the typographers learned hundreds of years ago [even look at my homepage!] Text, benefits from space; and narrow text blocks work even better. Rich DeMillo doesn’t follow, but the content more than makes up. He is blogging again now that his new book has been published. Recommended.


by reestheskin on 10/11/2015

Comments are disabled

Great video from Bruce Schneier (in the Economist’s words, ‘the security guru’). A number of reasons for posting. First, re his comments on 23andme, we will see an attempt to link individual medical records with state security. Whereas once, society would demarcate safe-havens (journalist enquiry, legal representation, medical care), this may no longer hold in the future. In the UK, I doubt any online medical records are private in the sense that we once understood that term. The second reason, is of course that although Schneier’s background was in cryptography, it is his breadth of knowledge as a public intellectual that makes listening to him so compelling, and at the same time shines a not so flattering light on too much of UK academia. Third, his views on social change are nuanced — but still he is an optimist. A great summary of one of the key issues of our time.

Using Keynote to create simple voiceovers

by reestheskin on 31/10/2015

Comments are disabled

Just because some colleagues  asked:

“The promise of handwriting recognition has out-lived the need…..In the meantime, no one saw the smartphone revolution that brought on the destruction of incumbents and rise of new services such as Uber.” Nobody really knows.

The Monday Note  [direct link to this aside] 

Hypertext. Nobody gets it…

by reestheskin on 06/09/2015

Comments are disabled

From boingboing. This reminds me of the story told by Kary Mullis  when he tried to explain PCR to people at a meeting. Nobody — including Nobel laureates —  could see why he was excited.

To commemorate the 50th anniversary of the first publication of the word “hypertext,” Gigaom talks to Ted Nelson, who coined the term and then introduced it in a 1965 paper for the Association for Computing Machinery. 

What kind of reaction did you get from others? 

No one, absolutely no one that I met, could imagine interactive computer screens. Whereas I could see them with my eyes closed, practically touch them and make them respond. It was very sensual. 

And all during the 1960s and 1970s I was trying to tell people what interactive screens would be like, in my writings and my talks. But no one got it.

When pilgrims came to San Leonardo he would offer them—as the monks of old had done—a bed for the night, a share of his meagre dinner and a glass of the herb grappahe distilled himself. In the evening he would wander away both to pray, and to allow himself, twice a week, half an hour to pray with others on his mobile phone—for he was not entirely cut off from the traffic of the world.

From an Obituary of Armando (Padre Pietro) Lavini, “God’s builder” [direct link to this aside]