Category Archives: Education

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.

Indeed.

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?

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.

 

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.

Continue reading

When is a MOOC not a MOOC?

The new breed of MOOCs are now coming in for increasing scrutiny as the stakes are being raised higher – with some education systems in the US in particular hoping to replace expensive campus based teaching with lower cost online teaching. This seems a bit hasty, as the limited evidence so far would suggest that for many learners an online only option might not be ideal [citation needed].

But my biggest issue with the new MOOCs is that they really aren’t MOOCs at all…

Continue reading

Programming – Women’s Work

Following on from a heated debate online yesterday I thought I would post about why promoting careers in computer science/programming/science to under-represented groups is necessary and worthwhile. As it happens, this also comes as Chi Onwurah, MP for Newcastly-Upon-Tyne, has called for greater gender equality in the games industry (as detailed here).

Expect a graph and lots of footnotes…

Continue reading

Festival of Dangerous Ideas

I’m not sure how many dangerous ideas there will be (some?), but the Festival of Dangerous Ideas will be taking place around Scotland in June.

From the Festival web-site:

The Festival of Dangerous Ideas aims to re-establish the importance of dangerous ideas as agents of change in education – to shift the axis of what is possible!

It is for everyone who is passionate about education including college, university, school staff and students as well as those engaged in education throughout the creative communities.

Continue reading

Gove vs The World

Update: Within about an hour of posting this I saw the news that Michael Gove has backed down on a major part of his proposed teaching reforms, the rapid introduction of the EBacc. Opposition from the deputy prime minister and Ofqual, and realisation that some of his reforms might break EU rules appear to have caused this. I guess I should add these to the Gove vs the World list below. ~ Daniel, 7/2/2013

Update: Gove’s U-turn is perhaps not all it seems. He is still pushing for quite aggressive and sweeping reforms. See “Gove vs The Exams Regulator” below. ~ Daniel, 8/2/2013

One of my Twitter contacts said this of Michael Gove: “He is spot on with his reforms. More teaching, less examining, listening to employers.”

To be honest, Gove really doesn’t appear to be much of a listener to me – to give him credit, the recent announcement of the inclusion of Computer Science in the EBacc shows that he is capable of listening. I suspect that lobbying by the high-tech industry – including personal pleas from Google’s chairman – made this possible. There is perhaps a small part of Gove that recognises that however much he worships the past, that the future is digital and perhaps Britain ought to be ready for it.

But this ‘listening’ to what people are saying to him doesn’t appear to come naturally to Gove. At least not when the people doing the saying aren’t leaders of the world’s biggest multinationals. And when people have the temerity to disagree with Gove, he frequently turns to insults and outrageous attacks to dismiss them. (And it seems that his advisors might be helping him out here, in ways that they perhaps shouldn’t)

There is a lot I would like to say in this post, but rather than try and ‘finish’ this post before I publish it, I’ll publish now and update over time…

Gove vs. The World – round one starts below…

Continue reading

FutureLearn: The OU Strikes Back

Having lost the public grount to the big US Universities on free online education, as Coursera, Udacity and EdX have gained massive numbers of users over the last 12 months, while OpenLearn has been largely ignored by the press over the same period – despite some re-branding and development on the web site. From a brief glance, one of the key changes to OpenLearn is the degree to which it now promotes the non-free OU courses, though that is only to be expected.

But now the OU is leading the first UK based open-learning consortium to try to regain ground lost to the American giants, with FutureLearn. The universities forming the initial grouping of the consortium are The Open University along with Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, East Anglia, Exeter, King’s College London, Lancaster, Leeds, Southampton, St. Andrews and Warwick. Overall, a slightly surprising collection of Universities, drawn from three different UK university groupings – perhaps highlighting the somewhat artificial nature of the groupings that do exist.

FutureLearn has been launched, but no details yet on what courses will be run, and nothing much to go on yet as to how it’ll differ in practice from any of the existing options. More choice is obviously going to be good for learners, but we are still waiting to see how universities will actually make these consortia financially sustainable in the long term.