Author Archives: Daniel

Student loans: Bistromath continued

It’s been a while…

I’ve posted a few times about the odd Bistromath of student fees a few times, and some of the odd, unexpected and weird consequences of having different fees and loans schemes across the UK.

Generally, this has been receiving less coverage in the press of late, but I found this piece from February reporting that the responsible government department needed to be given an extra £4.1 billion just this year to cover the shortfall in funding caused by lower than expected loan repayments. I would not be surprised to see some future governments to sell the loan book for below value for instant access to needed cash, but it is clear that the student loans and fees scheme now present in England is substantially adding to the UK debt and deficit.

Here is the quote from the fifth paragraph:

Treasury figures – also highlighted by Labour – show that the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills has been given an extra £4.1bn this financial year to cover losses as a result of lower-than-expected repayments from student loans.

New Book: SLOODLE – Conexión de Entornos de Aprendizaje

Towards the end of last year, Dr Ruth Martinez published her book SLoodle. Conexión de Entornos de Aprendizaje. The book is in Spanish (obviously!), so I can’t really say too much about the contents, but I asked Ruth for some more information the book. With SLOODLE having been such a large part of my academic life for a few years, I’m always glad to hear of successes (or even failed attempts) at using it, and great to see this book appearing.

You can purchase the book from Editorial UOC, Ruth’s synopsis follows…

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Above average worries

I’m not sure which of these stories is the most worrying…

Above average mortality rates in a hospital.

When it comes to encouraging girls into science, “nearly half of the co-educational state-funded schools we looked at are actually doing worse than average“.

That this nuclear plant has a safety record that is worse than average.

This older report that (in England) any school found to be below-average would fail its inspection. (I’m not sure to what extent this guidance has been followed).

Actually, what is worrying is the common thread of all of those reports. Let’s ask that mathematical wizard Mr Gove about the last point:

Q98 Chair: One is: if “good” requires pupil performance to exceed the national average, and if all schools must be good, how is this mathematically possible?
Michael Gove: By getting better all the time.
Q99 Chair: So it is possible, is it?
Michael Gove: It is possible to get better all the time.
Q100 Chair: Were you better at literacy than numeracy, Secretary of State?
Michael Gove: I cannot remember.


While behind many of those stories there are important issues need addressed, the issue can never be that almost half of anything are performing worst than average. Because that is the definition of average. You take a whole load of scores, find the average score – which is going to be in the middle – and then work out which scores were above or below average. Amazingly in many cases almost exactly half will be below average.  Because that is what average means.

In every case there are two issues:

1. How big is the spread between scores and if there is a broad range or outliers whose absolute scores indicate very poor performance (or very large variations in performance), can the causes be identified and can we create solutions that work.

2. More importantly, why don’t journalists and politicians appear to understand that for real world data sets almost half of anything is going to be below average. How can (the presumably well educated) people who write news for the BBC websites or who run the Education Department in the UK government not understand what an average is?

Reflecting on a Second Life

Vivian Kendall passed away a few days ago, after a long fight against illnesses over many, many years. A Washington State based artist, I only ever knew Vivian through one of her creations – her digital extension into the world of Second Life, Osprey Therian.

On hearing the news, I logged back into SL to respond to some messages and send some of my own, and with a slight melancholy to revisit some of the locations that once were much more familiar sights and regular haunts.

There is a sensation that many retired residents of SL have when revisiting after a long long break of finding the place empty or deserted, and the realization that their friends are no longer around. In fact, the latter may be true, very few of my old friends were in SL at that point and most probably rarely log in now, but dropping into Kuula (still the home of New Citizens Inc., a group dedicated to mentoring and supporting new users) I found a large cluster of avatars chatting, talking, sharing knowledge and skills, learning how to build virtual stuff, or just picking up some free virtual goodies. Pretty much as it was some seven/eight years ago when I first visited Kuula as a new resident myself.

I started SL because I had read so many stories and it seemed so crazy that I had to try it out for myself… and found that I could use the world as a platform for irreverent creativity, making silly stuff that was just silly or funny and that I was able to share these creations and take pleasure in the amazing creativity of others. I made a few fun things, but was generally a bit of a slacker.

But inspired by what I saw, I became convinced that virtual worlds could be a useful platform for formal education – and I became more and more involved in that side of SL and virtual worlds. I created a new avatar, slightly less irreverent, as an attempt to partition the ‘fun’ and ‘work’ sides of SL. Possibly a mistake, as I then found that there simply wasn’t time to maintain two virtual lives – but overall it turned out well, and my most successful academic and educational work all owes its origins to Second Life.

I got to know a huge range of amazing folks from around the world. Some became academic collaborators, many others I still keep in touch with through Twitter, or Facebook and it is amazing to follow the careers of many of these folk.

Just today I saw an update from Henry Segerman who has taken his hobby of creating mathematically driven 3D art from the virtual world to the physical one with the help of 3D printing.

A sculpture that projects from sphere to a plane

Stereographic projection from sphere to a plane

Some of the other folk I know have gone on to do whole hosts of amazing things, academically, artistically, or simply had good careers. But even if success in this world did not follow, that was never the point anyway. Many just had fun and an outlet for creative exploration in SL or just from being part of a community where life was a form of play.

The communities you became part of, the communities that existed in Second Life were almost certainly the best thing in Second Life – not finding a community that you could be part of or relate to was probably the most significant reason for people leaving SL within hours of starting. I was lucky enough in my Second Lives to be part of some really fantastic communities and to be able to visit many many more.

And I was lucky enough that Osprey Therian was a member of some of those communities, and to be able to experience some of the wonderful events, shows and general fun stuff she made happen in SL.

So I’m thinking of SL, the strange world where we met and how it seems to have started so many voyages and stories for so many folk, and wondering where these journeys are going to lead us over the next decades.

But this weekend Osprey Therian, a veteran voyager around Second Life, will be making a final dangerous journey, and many of her friends will be there to see her off and wish her well. I may not be able to attend, but my thoughts are with Osprey as she leaves these familiar shores and seas.

Vacancy: Lecturer in Intelligent Systems at UWS

There is a current vacancy in Intelligent Systems at the University of the West of Scotland – the application deadline is the coming Friday, 25th October 2013.

More details can be found here.

Some points to note: An interest in games is desirable. The university runs a Skillset and BCS accredited course ‘Computer Games Technology’ which focuses on the programming side of game development – with four years of C++, maths and physics all being key parts of the degree programme. While teaching onto the CGT course is not necessarily part of the post, the course does include a Game AI class, so getting an appointee with an interest in games would definitely be positive from the viewpoint of the CGT course. CGT is also a member of the PlayStation First scheme, which means that we have access to PlayStation hardware and developer networks.

While the job title is ‘lecturer’, as per most modern academic appointments research record will likely be an important deciding factor. For those used to the North American system, the title ‘Lecturer’ in the UK is roughly the equivalent of an Assistant Professor.


10 ways your e-portfolio sucks

Hmm these ’10 things…’, ’20 top…’ type blogs are very popular these days. This one is directly inspired by a former student (anonymous for their own protection) whose e-portfolio site was sent my way by a games industry recruiter.

Universities love e-portfolios and all sorts of personal development planning (PDP) stuff. E-portfolio systems such as Mahara are often integrated into LMS/VLE software allowing students to populate their portfolios with all their university work and reflective thoughts. However, this might not result in a portfolio that an employer actually wants to read – or that will help someone get a job. Having had my eyes almost burnt out from reading one portfolio, here are some thoughts on a top ten things not to do in your e-portfolio…

… and feel free to comment below if you know of other portfolio sins and must-dos or must-don’ts.
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SLOODLE Ongoing: Virtual worlds and learning management systems

Going back a few years, I helped Jeremy Kemp found a project called SLOODLE, a kind of e-learning mash-up between Second Life and Moodle (and later OpenSim as a Second Life alternative). This is still being maintained by Edmund Edgar at Edmund has been doing a great job, updating things to maintain compatibility with the latest versions of Moodle, and enhancing and adding to the tools and features available.

Unfortunately I’ve had very little time to work with SLOODLE over the last couple of years, so it’s pleasing to discover the range of work that others have been doing with it in the mean time. A quick search uncovered the following since 2012:

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Education in OpenSim – Reflections from the OSCC

It was the OpenSim Community Conference at the weekend – which included streams on Education and Research. Although I was only able to attend a couple of sessions in-world (including my own!), the conference was also live streamed, and a video archive of the talks and presentations is now available.

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Urban Legends in Education

A recent article in Educational Psychologist sets out to debunk three urban legends in education: Digital Natives, Learning Styles and Self-Educators. This takes me back to the early days of this blog – which was started in no small part because I had a bad feeling about the idea of ‘Digital Natives’ as presented by Marc Prensky and similar ideas from others.

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