Archive for category Teaching

Edinburgh degree ceremony

Duygu in her doctoral robeThis weekend, I travelled up to Edinburgh to see one of my PhD students, Duygu Bektik, receive her doctorate in the Usher Hall.

As always, the ceremony was a very emotional occasion. Several people told me they were near tears while watching the opening video, which showed some student journeys to graduation, and the subsequent stirring organ music. I missed that – as an academic I was standing in a robe in a corridor, waiting to process in – but the entire event was very inspiring.

The ceremony was one of two OU degree ceremonies to be held in Edinburgh that day, while another took place in Birmingham. The OU is such a big institution that degree ceremonies are held from March to November, from Edinburgh to Torquay, and from Dublin to Ely. In our case, the graduates filled half the stalls of the massive Usher Hall, while their family and friends filled the rest of the stalls and the theatre circle.

For everyone concerned, this is a very big occasion. It is the culmination of many years of part-time study, typically alongside work, or family responsibilities, or caring responsibilities, or sometimes all three. Some have also been dealing with serious illness or disability. Many had their families out in force, cheering and whistling at their success. One young boy was waving encouragement to his mum from the aisle.

Some students walked or wheeled on steadily, others waved or bowed or danced or dabbed. One did a Morecambe and Wise ‘Bring Me Sunshine’ dance. Many were dressed in their best clothes, one was in evening dress and another in full-on Scottish punk. This being Edinburgh, several of the men were in their kilts, and the ceremony ended with a rousing rendition of ‘Scotland the Brave’ by a piper.

Amongst the robed university staff on stage were not only me, as Duygu’s supervisor, but also her husband, who works at the university. She was one of just two students receiving their doctorate that morning, and was the first to walk up and claim her new status. Once that was done, she joined us on stage, as a new member of the Open University academic community. Well done, Duygu – a great achievement.

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PhD examining: open learner models

University of Birmingham railway stationOn 26 October, I was at the University of Birmingham for the viva of Matthew Johnson. His focus was on ‘The Impact of Technology on Metacognition in Computer-mediated Learning’ and, more specifically, on the use of open learner models.

For those who haven’t encountered open learner models before, they begin with a domain model. This takes a subject area and sets out which knowledge underpins other knowledge. For example, in primary-school mathematics, pupils will struggle to understand multiplication if they haven’t first understood addition, and they will struggle to understand addition if they haven’t first understood number. Multiple-choice tests can be used to assess where a learner is in terms of the domain model. The result of these tests is a learner model, which can be used to make automated decisions about which subject knowledge a student should cover next. An open learner model exposes the logic behind this model to the learner. For example, a learner might wonder why they have been give work to do on simple multiplication, and they could explore the open learner model to find out it was because they had got three specific test questions wrong. This would provide a basis for reflection on their learning and on the subject area, and could also give an opportunity to challenge the learner model.

A thesis abstract remains a work in progress until the final version is printed and agreed, but this paragraph from it gives a sense of what Matthew has been working on:

The thesis finds it is possible to measure metacognition using indirect methods that correspond to post-hoc learner accounts, and that technology does not influence metacognition for all learners. Evidence supports claims that: technology can support elements of interaction important to the regulation of cognition; significant themes of metacognition transfer to OLMs; defining a profile for those identifying as stronger self-assessors is possible; and that OLMs remain relevant in metacognition research.

Matthew was originaly supervised by Susan Bull and later by Chris Baber.

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Leverhulme Writing Week

A sunny week in May away in the Peak District with most of the Leverhulme-funded PhD students in open world learning and many of their supervisors. Lots of writing was done, but also a lot of community building.

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LAK17: doctoral consortium

Screen Shot 2017-03-31 at 09.19.17A very busy week in Vancouver at the LAK17 (learning analytics and knowledge) conference kicked off with the all-day doctoral consortium on 14 March (funded by SoLAR and the NSF). I joined Bodong Chen and Ani Aghababyan as an organiser this year and we enjoyed working with the ten talented doctoral students from across the world who gained a place in the consortium.

  1. Alexander Whitelock-Wainwright: Students’ intentions to use technology in their learning: The effects of internal and external conditions
  2. Alisa Acosta: The design of learning analytics to support a knowledge community and inquiry approach to secondary science
  3. Daniele Di Mitri: Digital learning shadow: digital projection, state estimation and cognitive inference for the learning self
  4. Danielle Hagood: Learning analytics in non-cognitive domains
  5. Justian Knobbout: Designing a learning analytics capabilities model
  6. Leif Nelson: The purpose of higher education in the discourse of learning analytics
  7. Quan Nguyen: Unravelling the dynamics of learning design within and between disciplines in higher education using learning analytics
  8. Stijn Van Laer: Design guidelines for blended learning environments to support self-regulation: event sequence analysis for investigating learners’ self-regulatory behavior
  9. Tracie Farrell Frey: Seeking relevance: affordances of learning analytics for self-regulated learning
  10. Ye Xiong: Write-and-learn: promoting meaningful learning through concept map-based formative feedback on writing assignments

The intention of the doctoral consortium was to support and inspire doctoral students in their ongoing research efforts. The objectives were to:

  • Provide a setting for mutual feedback on participants’ current research and guidance on future research directions from a mentor panel
  • Create a forum for engaging in dialogue aimed at building capacity in the field with respect to current issues in learning analytics ranging from methods of gathering analytics, interpreting analytics with respect to learning issues, considering ethical issues, relaying the meaning of analytics to impact teaching and learning, etc.
  • Develop a supportive, multidisciplinary community of learning analytics scholars
  • Foster a spirit of collaborative research across countries, institutions and disciplinary background
  • Enhance participating students’ conference experience by connecting participants to other LAK attendees

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Dr Bektik: Duygu’s viva

duygu-vivaOn 14th December, Duygu Bektik defended her thesis successfully, and now only minor corrections stand between her and her doctorate.

Learning Analytics for Academic Writing through Automatic Identification of Meta-Discourse

When assessing student writing, tutors look for ability to present well-reasoned arguments, signalled by elements of meta-discourse. Some natural language processing systems can detect rhetorical moves in scholarly texts, but no previous work has investigated whether these tools can analyse student writing reliably. Duygu’s thesis evaluates the Xerox Incremental Parser (XIP), sets out ways in which it could be changed to support the analysis of student writing and proposes how its output could be delivered to tutors. It also investigates how tutors define the quality of undergraduate writing and identifies key elements that can be used to identify good student writing in the social sciences.

Duygu was supervised by me and by Denise Whitelock, Anna De Liddo and Simon Buckingham Shum (now at .

Her viva examiners were Paul Mulholland and Gary Wills (University of Southampton). The viva was chaired by John Richardson.

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Validating qualifications

Durham publicity shot of graduating studentsOn 22 June, I travelled up to Durham with a team from the Centre for Inclusion and Collaborative Partnerships at The Open University in order to carry out a validation review at New College.

We had been asked to validate the Cert ED and the Professional Graduate Certificate in Education courses run by the college, which does not currently have the authority to award qualifications at this level. Like many other colleges in England, it asked the OU to validate its courses, so that students completing those courses could receive certificates from The Open University.

Through its Royal Charter, the OU is able to validate the programmes of institutions that do not have their own degree-awarding powers or that wish to offer OU awards. Validation is an iterative process, carried out over a period of time, culminating in an event that brings together participants. The process covers ten areas:

  1. Rationale, aims and intended learning outcomes of the programme of study
  2. Curriculum and structure of the programme of study
  3. Teaching and learning
  4. Admissions and transfer
  5. Assessment
  6. Staffing, staff development and research
  7. Teaching and learning resources
  8. Other resources for students
  9. Programme management and monitoring
  10. Programme specification and handbook

The process requires close scrutiny of relevant documentation, discussions with staff and students involved with the programmes, and tours of the facilities. A very interesting day, and a chance to get a detailed overview of how two qualifications work in practice.

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Rhetorical analysis and tutors’ grades

Duygu presenting at LAK16One of my doctoral students, Duygu Simsek (now Duygu Bektik), presented on her work at LAK15.

Simsek, Duygu; Sandor, Ágnes; Buckingham Shum, Simon; Ferguson, Rebecca; De Liddo, Anna and Whitelock, Denise (2015). Correlations between automated rhetorical analysis and tutors’ grades on student essays. In: 5th International Learning Analytics & Knowledge Conference (LAK15), 16-20 March 2015, Poughkeepsie, NY, USA, ACM.

When assessing student essays, educators look for the students’ ability to present and pursue well-reasoned and strong arguments. Such scholarly argumentation is often articulated by rhetorical metadiscourse. Educators will be necessarily examining metadiscourse in students’ writing as signals of the intellectual moves that make their reasoning visible. Therefore students and educators could benefit from available powerful automated textual analysis that is able to detect rhetorical metadiscourse. However, there is a need to validate such technologies in higher education contexts, since they were originally developed in non-educational applications. This paper describes an evaluation study of a particular language analysis tool, the Xerox Incremental Parser (XIP), on undergraduate social science student essays, using the mark awarded as a measure of the quality of the writing. As part of this exploration, the study presented in this paper seeks to assess the quality of the XIP through correlational studies and multiple regression analysis.

Duygu’s slides

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