Friday, July 28, 2006

The World is Flat - Elliot says so!

The Church of Masie (term invented by Clive Shepherd on his excellent e-learning blog) has emailed me with their programme for November 2006 – it looks woeful.

Main theme ‘Learning in a Flatter World”. I assume this is a reference to Thomas Friedman’s book on globalisation. (Always ready to jump on a bandwagon after it's passed by.) If this is so, then the fact that every named speaker in the email is American also seems to have passed them by.

Stephen Covey – remember The 7 Habits of Highly…..well vaguely. Also crazy fundamentalist.
Marshall Goldsmith – sort of new age Buddhist coach!
Ken Blanchard – yawn.
Wal-Mart is to receive an award – presumably for low pay and becoming one of the most hated brands in the world.
BBC also up for award – say no more – see previous post.

A host of other stars including Micky Mouse, Goofy …… yip every year.

There is some good news - the excellent Jay Cross will also be there.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

BBC Bitesize: Warning – may damage your child’s mind!

End of the year and my kids are doing some homework – in this case the BBC KS3 (11-14) bitesize science tests in biology, chemistry and physics. Three sets of short tests and they’re howling with laughter. “This is just a load of crappola, dad” says Callum, then called me over every time he hit a howler, and that was pretty often. 

Let’s start with the stuff that’s simply WRONG. 
Q The products of photosynthesis are:
carbon dioxide and water (right according to Beeb!)
glucose and oxygen
light and dark 
Initially Callum thought he had learnt this the wrong way round, but no, the Beeb clearly have no idea what the ‘products’ of photosynthesis are – right answer is ‘glucose and oxygen’. 
OK, to err is human, we all make mistakes, but it doesn’t get much better in chemistry. 

Q A liquid has a pH of 1 – what does this mean? 
it must be sodium hydroxide solution 
it is strongly acidic 
it is weakly acidic (right according to Beeb!) 
Wrong again, the right answer is that ‘it is strongly acidic’. 

Q Which state is shown in this diagram? Diagram shows particles all touching each other in a beaker. 
liquid (right according to Beeb!)
Completely wrong, ‘solid’ should be the right answer. The particles are tightly packed and all touching each other. 

Q Which ammeter will have the biggest reading 
 Series circuit showing: ammeter – bulb - bulb – ammeter. ammeter 1 ammeter 2 (right according to Beeb!) they will read the same 
To quote the Beeb’s own words in the revision section, “It doesn't matter whether you connect the ammeter on the left or right of the lamp, it will still give the same reading". 

Q The diagram shows the waveform of two notes played on a musical instrument. Which sound is louder, A or B? 
Two waves (A & B) are shown. A has a higher amplitude but same frequency as B. A B (right according to Beeb!) 
WRONG – it is A. 

TWO RIGHT ANSWERS Then there’s the questions with two possible right answers. 
Q What natural process breaks large rocks into smaller ones? 
weathering (right according to Beeb!) 
Erosion involves movement, and often results in the breaking down of large rocks into smaller ones, e.g. in river beds, cliff erosion etc. 

Q Which of the following is NOT an effect of burning fossil fuels? 
global warming
ozone depletion
acid rain
smog fog (right according to Beeb!) 
Ozone depletion is also correct as the result of CFCs which are completely artificial (they did not exist in nature prior to synthesis by humans). They were used in air conditioning/cooling units, as aersol spray propellants prior to the 1980s, and in the cleaning processes of delicate electronic equipment. They are not the result of burning fossil fuels. 

Q What needs to be done to this circuit so that the lamp lights up? 
Series circuit shown open switch and a bulb. close the switch add another lamp add a cell (right according to Beeb!) 
 Again the first answer is also correct, and as it appears first, many choose it before reading on. 

Q Which part of the skelton protects the lungs? Skelton? 
Q What is the main reason why need protein in our diet? Missing word. 
Q  influenza, flu, is caused by? No capital at start of sentence. 
Q Which of the following is not a use of artificial satellites?? Double punctuation. 
Q Click the diagram that shows correctly how light beams and is reflected by a convex mirror. Sentence doesn’t make sense. 

STUPID OPTIONS This one is annoying as it makes the already awful tests invalid by giving the learner stupid and obviously wrong options. 
Q Which of the following is not a fossil fuel? 
velociraptor (STUPID OPTION)
Q What is magma? 
a chocolate ice cream (STUPID OPTION)
molten rock
bubbles of gas 

Q What can happen to a plant growing in soil without minerals? 
it grows really well
it grows poorly if at all
it leaves to find somewhere else to grow (STUPID OPTION) 

Q What are the tiny air sacs in the lungs called? 

Then there’s one that is so stupid you can’t get it wrong. 
Q What does the hazard symbol mean? Sign with word ‘CORROSIVE’ on it! 

TOO ADVANCED OR JUST CONFUSING To give KS3 kids questions that are too advanced or plain confusing is another all-too-common fault. Then there’s the downright confusing. 

Q Which of the following is not a way that we can reduce the use of fossil fuels? 
leaving the TV on standby all night
walking instead of going in a car,
turning the lights off when we leave a room
This becomes an exercise in logic for the learner with its double negative in the question and, in option 3, a triple negative! 

Q What does the heat energy supplied to an ice cube do when the ice is melting? 
it warms it up 
it makes the ice particles expand it breaks some of the bonds in the ice * 
 The first option is arguably correct, it does warm it up, and as it is the first option, many go for it. 

Q Which contains more heat energy, 
100 grams of water at 0 degrees C 
100 grams of ice at the same temperature? 
Strange question – absolutely designed to confuse at this level. They claim the water but a curious learner may question whether water can be water at 0 degrees C. 

Can it get any worse? Yes it does. This question is actually impossible to answer: 
Q What is the value of the clockwise moment on the wooden bar in N/cm, if each coin As half the question is missing, it is impossible! I kid you not. I could go on, as there’s lots of other errors, but I’ve already shown that the content is full of wrong answers, confusing (at times impossible) questions and poor English. 

The writers show a lack of basic science, as well as a lack of assessment design skills. Should these people be allowed near our children? You can go through the BBC learning content and find this slapdash approach in almost everything they do. Forget the idea that BBC=QUALITY. As a licence payer it makes me mildly annoyed, as an educator it makes me furious.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Future memory and learning

Future memories
Been researching memory theory (the real psychological key to learning) and came across a strange but massively relevant concept for learning – prospective memory – where you remember to do something in the future. It is tempting to see memory wholly in terms of the past, but we all have to remember to do things in the future. Learning works when it is applied.

We all have to remember to attend meetings, watch a TV programme or take a pill at times in the future. To do this our brains need cues to remind us. This is terribly important in the application of learning, where what we have learnt has to be applied in the real world.

Pop-in effect
The curious thing about such ‘memories’ is that they seem to just ‘pop’ into your mind. One school of thought (attention is necessary) claims that we need to be attentive, constantly monitoring to recall the intention. Another school (multiprocess) claims that attention and monitoring is not necessary. Whatever the mechanism, an understanding of what we need to do to encourage prospective memory is important in learning. We need to know how to store learning experiences so that prospective memory is used to best effect. It would seem that deliberately designed ‘representations’ to aide prospective memory really do work and that these need to be part of the learning process.

So don't forget to remember this idea next time you’re learning, teaching or training.

Winograd, E. (1988). Some observations on prospective remembering. In M. M. Gruneberg, P. E. Morris & R. N. Sykes (Eds.), Practical Aspects of Memory: Current Research and Issues (Vol. 2, pp. 348-353). Chichester: Wiley.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Dozy learners

Scientific American has published a paper in which learning was tested comparing those who learn then 'sleep on it' overnight, compared to normal '9-5' daytime learners.

Sleepers 76%, others 32%
They forced subjects in two groups to learn a new set of word pairs 12 minutes prior to testing--the well-rested radically outperformed those who had not slept; 76 percent of sleepers accurately recalled the initial pair compared to just 32 percent of their peers who had gone without shut-eye. "Memories after sleep are resilient to disruption," the researchers conclude in the paper outlining the finding published yesterday in Current Biology.

Sleep on it
This would suggest that the timimg of most education and training is not optimal. Evening homework for school kids, evening library study for students and late night reading seem to lead to much higher levels of retention.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Stop press - extortionist hits e-learning company!

Strange events down in Brighton's e-learning on.....

Futuremedia Announces Legal Actions Against Attempted Extortion

BRIGHTON, England/PRNewswire-FirstCall/ -- Futuremedia plc(Nasdaq: FMDAY), a leading European learning communications provider, today announced that it has taken legal actions against Mr. Maas van Dusschoten. Mr. van Dusschoten, an individual residing in the Netherlands, has attempted since February 2005 to extort cash and shares from the Company and has distributed inaccurate and defamatory information about the Company and its past and present management and directors. Futuremedia is taking these actions on behalf of the Company and its shareholders. Mr. van Dusschoten's activities have been reported to the National Association of Securities Dealers ("NASD"), the Securities and Exchange Commission ("SEC"), and the appropriate authorities in the Netherlands. In addition, the Company has instituted civil actions against Mr. van Dusschoten in theNetherlands where he resides.

Leonard M. Fertig, CEO of Futuremedia stated, "Mr. van Dusschoten has deliberately misled shareholders in attempting to achieve his own criminal purposes, and the Company feels it is important to make shareholders aware of these activities and the resolute efforts of the Company to put an end to them. We have ignored this individual's extortion demands for payment but need to protect the reputation of Futuremedia from these malicious falsehoods." Mr. van Dusschoten posts on the Yahoo! Finance message board under several pseudonyms, including "dickie_dickk", "Dick_I_Dick" and "fmday victims", and has posted bogus press releases and impersonated the Company's CEO, Leonard M. Fertig. He has attempted such extortion by demanding cash and shares from the Company in faxes, letters and e-mails to Futuremedia management in return for ceasing his activities, which have included misleading, incorrect, defamatory and untrue statements about the Company through posts on the Yahoo! Finance message board. Mr. Van Dusschoten has stated in his correspondence and threats that he has deliberately and intentionally caused the share price of the Company todecline through his efforts. The Company has consistently refused to succumb to these attempts at extortion.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Wasted youth - it's official!

Interesting article on home schooling in The Sunday Times this week. One paragraph really did knock me off my chair. Imagine a study in any walk of business or life that shows people simply waiting for 50-60% of their time for something to happen. That’s exactly what two researchers have found in both the US and UK. American anthropologist Philip Jackson, showed that children in school spent 50% of their time waiting. When Roland Meighan took a stopwatch into a primary school to conduct the same research with his students, he found they spent as much as 60% of their time waiting for something to happen.

I recently went into a school for a morning and saw how true this was. This was an advanced school that had eliminated unnecessary movements by hundreds of kids between classes by having only 3 periods a day. But even here it was obvious that most of the time, most of the kids were simply waiting to go into school, waiting or wandering about in corridors, sitting waiting on lessons to start, waiting on the teacher to check their work or waiting as they had finished their work. And why does the entire population of kids have to stand up ate the end of every hour and move classroom? What a massive waste of productive time, as well as providing ideal opportunities for bullying. Why don’t the relatively tiny number of teachers move?,,2099-2240330.html

Diversity training - More harm than good?

Further to my post on hopeless compliance training, I was told that a major financial company, with revenues of $14 billion worldwide, did some interesting diversity training in their London office earlier this month – they took the budget and invited people along to watch the England V Trinidad & Tobago match, with some spicy chicken thrown in! They, like many others, treat much of this stuff as a waste of time, and who can blame them.

At a recent conference on the subject, there was a long list of (I kid you not) Heads of Cohesion & Faith as well as Heads of Diversity, Heads of Inclusion and Heads of Equality. Few would argue that the laws; Equal Pay Act, Sex Discrimination Act, Race Relations Act, Disiability Discrimination Act, Part Time Workers regulations and more recent Employment Equality legislation on sexual orientation, race, religious belief or age, are sensible, but there is a sensible debate to be had about the crude training that attempts to effect behavioural change.

Louise Pendry of Exeter University claims that there’s no evaluative evidence showing that these programmes work. Even worse, many may do more harm than good. Tracie Stewart, a professor at Georgia University, has identified "backlash" or "victim blame", after some courses, where the learners, harbour resentment against other minority groups for the way they are made to feel. Rather than bringing people together, it may be reinforcing differences. Ethnic minorities may become over-sensitive, and doing as the Americans have done, policing it through legal cases, is hardly sensible. The social case may be strong but the business case is weak.

Munira Mirza investigated diversity training for the BBC and uncovered some awful training, including the popular Jane Elliot’s ‘blue eyes/brown eyes’ classroom courses. What was interesting were the comments posted after the broadcast:

When I was about 12 we had a policeman come in to school to talk about racism. He showed us a photo of a white man in police uniform running after a black man in jeans. He asked us what we thought was going on. Everyone- including a black child that he pointedly asked -said that it was a criminal being chased by a policeman. We were then told that we had made a "racist assumption" as actually the black bloke was a plain-clothes police officer. No-one raised the point that we would have probably said the exact same thing if the plain clothes officer had been white and a load of 12 year olds were told that they were racist. How helpful was that?
Hannah, Peterborough

'Diversity training' will lead to resentment, simply because grown men and women don't like being told how to behave. The whole business is superfluous. I suggest a straightforward mandatory clause attached to every employment contract in the country, reading 'You will treat all colleagues fairly and kindly'
al, UK

You cannot over-estimate the damage to race relations that "diversity awareness" training is causing in this country. It's having the opposite effect to that intended, causing divisions, resentment, and an increase in judgements based on race, where previously such things were actually quite rare. How do I know this? I was involved in putting together a diversity "toolkit" for a government department, and saw first-hand the effect it had as it was rammed down the throats of the staff.
Michael, Brighton UK

This is an example of companies trying to see if two wrongs really do make a right. I don't doubt that some people are racist in the workplace, but punishing many because of the actions of a few is ludicrous.
Andy Thorley, Crewe, Cheshire