The Edupunk’s Guide to a DIY Credential: A Review by Someone Else

Part of the reason I started Hapgood was to try to break the habit of wasting time engaging in Big Rhetorical Debates about Stuff That Capital-M Matters. Hapgood is largely about me getting back to the research and implementation focus that grounds me, and keeping the rhetorical stuff intermittent and focused on pressing concerns.

I’m not aiming for 100% success in that, but so far, so good.

So, having consciously avoided these debates, I was upset last week when I finally got around to reading the iDC mailing-list archives people had been telling me about and found the extent to which my name had been tossed around as a sort of plug for the Edupunk’s Guide. I stand by the things I’ve said, but my point was never to defend the Guide per se, but to simply argue that middle-aged educational technologists are not the only audience that people write books for, and a book that is reductive to us might be enlarging to someone else. I feel instead I’ve been pushed into a position as the token supporter of this.

I’m not. I really don’t want to write another word about Edupunk, never mind the guide. And post-iDC reading I’m not feeling very charitable to the Guide or its author at this particular moment. Actually, angry is closer to the truth, at least for the moment. 

But I find I have to post on this one more time. And the reason has nothing to do with Anya or Edupunk or EDUPUNK or iDC but with my high-school age niece. A while back, my brother had told me my niece (a junior) was struggling with the question of what she would do after high school. And seeing an opportunity there, I suggested that if she wanted to read the Edupunk’s guide and write up a review for me that I’d post it here. Real data from a real high-schooler. Win/win.

Due to a communication glitch, that review didn’t arrive until today, at a point where I’m sick of the whole drama. But it’d be unfair to everyone involved not to post it.

Here’s the upshot: My niece, Emma Caulfield, really liked it. you can read the full review here (which, keep in mind is written by a high-schooler, and sounds a bit book-reporty), but I think the crucial graf is this one:

I am currently a junior in high school, everyone knows one’s junior year brings a lot of academic pressure: the PSATs, the SATs, hard classes, high expectations, and looking into higher education. Stress sets in junior year—it’s well known. It was really refreshing for me to [read] this book, to see that not everything is as cut and dry as it is made out to be. It is easy to look at the future in black and white, but that makes things both more scary and less realistic. This book helped me to see that, to understand that it’s okay to be a little bit of an “Edupunk” to think a little out of the box. To read this book you don’t have to be dead set on a plan for the future, in fact maybe it’s better that you go into it with a totally open mind—it has a lot to offer, for anyone.

I honestly didn’t talk to Emma at all about this review (just passed the request through my brother) but this was my point, I think, about books like this. If they enlarge a high school junior’s conception of education I’m not entirely sure how important it is that it’s reductive for us. 

And probably the best comment came from my brother who has been a bit worried about Emma’s sense of life direction, if only in the way that all parents of high school juniors are worried about their kid’s sense of life direction. He said simply:

You know, I think it actually helped her.

That’s it. And if you are a Dad of a teen or tween you know that that’s a pretty good plug. Your toolbox for helping teenage girls is woefully small, every little thing helps.

In any case, I hope if people want to quote someone about the Guide they can quote Emma, or my brother, and I can maybe get out of this discussion. But I want to leave it with my point understood — it’s not what your words say, it’s what they do, and I think this book will likely do some good. 

As far as the larger Edupunk discussion, I’m out of it. Please batch replace all quotes of mine on the debate with the word “meh”. I’m sure it will add exactly as much to the discussion.

[P.S. I did promise my niece I’d put the whole review somewhere up under her byline, I’m still figuring out where the best place to do that is — if it ends up being here, that’s why the duplication.]

Increased Course Structure Improves Performance in Introductory Biology

Increased Course Structure Improves Performance in Introductory Biology

Lots of interesting (and maybe dubious?) methodological stuff in this. Its primary value for me was articulating a complex structured design fully, and testing that full design (rather than one or two smaller interventions). If you want to restructure your class like this, you could do it directly from the descriptions in this article, which is normally not the case with these things.

Of more immediate use to my own work is this: 

Without reading quizzes or other structured exercises that focus on acquiring information, it is not likely that informal-group, in-class activities or peer instruction with clickers will be maximally effective. This is because Bloom’s taxonomy is hierarchical (Bloom et al., 1956 blue right-pointing triangle). It is not possible to work at the application or analysis level without knowing the basic vocabulary and concepts. We see reading quizzes as an essential component of successful, highly structured course designs.

Do pre-tests boost achievement in online courses?

From an older paper which found that online courses involving pretests outperformed F2F instructions, but that online courses with no pretest showed no difference:

There exists a possibility that a pre-test works as a moderator affecting teaching and learning processes of ODE settings. For example, a pre-test might provide information for the online instructors to understand students’ academic ability to adjust the level of difficulty of the course content and offer appropriate feedback. Unlike F2FE settings where instructors gather information about student levels of understanding from facial expressions with direct communication, one of the biggest limitations of ODE was identified as a lack of information about students (Harasim, 2003). With regards to a self-learning perspective, a pre-test could help students recognize their own academic strengths and weaknesses. As Kozma (1994, p. 8) stated, “learning is an active, constructive, cognitive and social process by which the learner manages available cognitive, physical, and social resources to create new knowledge”, the self-recognition might work more positively in ODE settings in terms of individual and participatory learning.

There’s also, of course, a chance that a pretest in online instruction is a marker of a certain level/type of course design…

Informal Statistical Inference

What we are trying to do in our Stat Lit class is to develop good intuitions about data, rather than create mini-statisticians. Our belief is that everyone, in almost any job or civic task, has to make inferences from data without having access to complex data crunching tools or methods, and, as such, it is this “skimming data” approach that is most useful for students to acquire.

This paper introduces me to the useful term Informal Statistical Inference. The informal part is obvious enough — the statistical inference piece requires:

  1. A statement of generalization “beyond the data”
  2. Use of data as evidence to support this generalization
  3. Probabilistic language that expresses a level of uncertainty around the generalization

That’s narrower than Statistical Literacy, but still provides a nice skeleton for some meaningful Stat Lit outcomes. Worth passing on, I thought….

Openness and Analytics

I am sure someone has already commented on this, but it occurs to me that openness and analytics have a problematic relationship.

For instance, in the Intro to Psych course we are developing on several campuses, we’d like to use analytics to do things like nationally norm percent correct on questions. So you answer a question, and I see as a teacher what percentage of students nationally got that answer correct, and what other questions students that got that one wrong tended to also get wrong (or what support they found helpful).

That’s trivial to do in a centralized system. In a distributed world where everyone is working off of copies, and locally revised copies at that, it gets difficult — local alterations to question phrasing will corrupt your data….

AASCU, Red Balloon & National Course Collaborations

So this is really neat. I’m on the phone here with some American Association of State Colleges and Universities people on a conference call, and we’re hammering out how multiple state colleges and universities can best work together to build fully articulated blended and fully online courses that we share with one another.

The basic (proposed) organizational structure looks to be to nominate an e-course national coordinator and a scholar chair to work together to produce a course with a committee of scholars managed by the scholar chair. Students would buy into the course as if it were a textbook at a nominal fee that would be pumped back into a course account.

This would allow the funding of a 501(c)(3) general services unit which could be used run analytics on the data and coordinate the iterative improvement stuff based on that data. [There’s a bit of a sticky wicket there technology-wise, but let’s leave that aside for a minute].

 It’s not open, certainly, but it’s a massive step towards seizing control of our own destiny as institutions and realizing if we are survive we are only going to do it through collaborating and promoting inter-institutional reuse.

Hattie’s Table of Effect Sizes

Hattie’s Table of Effect Sizes

I need more information to make this table meaningful — and meta-analyses are always tricky things. But I think tables like this (and Hattie is just a follower here of Bloom and others) help people think about prioritizing changes to pedagogy.

What Hattie finds, of course, is unsurprising — feedback rules the roost when it comes to results. What would make this stuff meaningful of course is in-depth descriptions of how each attribute was defined and tested, but I guess for that you need the book