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images.jpegViruses. Malware. Network interruptions. Program bugs. Version incompatibilities. Now, add to this list of things that can go wrong add a vendor who sells “corrupt files” that can be submitted in lieu of homework, hopefully buying a day or two more to work an an almost done homework. That’s the latest twist we get from the Chronicle of Higher Education’s Wired Campus Blog’s posting of ‘The Computer Ate My Homework’: How to Detect Fake Techno-Excuses .

The scheme is pretty simple:

Corrupted-Files.com, a Web site developed in December as a joke, its owner says, offers unreadable Word, Excel, or PowerPoint files that appear, at first glance, to be legitimate. Students can submit them via e-mail to professors in place of real papers to get a deadline extension without late penalties. For $3.95, the site promises a “completed” assignment file will be sent to the buyer within 12 hours, to be renamed and submitted by the new owner. By the time a professor gives up on the bogus file, in theory, a student will have been able to complete the actual assignment.

The article then goes on to explore ways to detect and possibly handle such events.

The comments section chimes in with two dozen or so additional suggestions – everything from “use paper” to “develop work process” with the selection of a topic, the submission of a brief reading list, then an outline, and finally the paper itself. The latter one appeals to me because it has the advantage of testing the assignment system, keeping students on track, and generally emulating best practices. The comments themselves could be edited to be a part of the “how to submit a paper” instructions.

Definitely a good read for courses with a writing requirement.

Marc Beja, ‘The Computer Ate My Homework’: How to Detect Fake Techno-Excuses, The The Wired Campus in The Chronicle of Higher Education (Online), June 10, 2009. http://chronicle.com/wiredcampus/article/3818/the-computer-ate-my-homework-how-to-detect-fake-techno-excuses

Image. A Google thumbnail found with a image search for [gremlin]. Alas, the source of that image is no longer on the page that google points to, illustrating another way the computer can eat your homework.

What happens if you ask Google to compare the GDP of France and Germany, or ask it how many cows were in Vermont each of the last ten years? You may find a web page where someone has posted that information, or you may have to search for several sites and gather the information for yourself, or you may find some  references to follow to do some research. Google is fantastic, wonderful, certainly but is not designed for those kinds of questions.

Enter Wolfram Alpha.
Wolfram|Alpha
Dr. Wolfram, of Mathematica and New Kind of Science fame, is launching a new type of web search engine that combines the symbolic representation and calculating capabilities of Mathematica with natural language processing. Or, to quote: “Fifty years ago, when computers were young, people assumed that they’d quickly be able to handle all these kinds of things. And that one would be able to ask a computer any factual question, and have it compute the answer. But it didn’t work out that way. Computers have been able to do many remarkable and unexpected things. But not that. I’d always thought, though, that eventually it should be possible. And a few years ago, I realized that I was finally in a position to try to do it.”

Natural language processing is still in its infant stage and “for example we’re still very far away from having computers systematically understand large volumes of natural language text on the web.” So, Alpha begins small with “trillions of pieces of curated data and millions of lines of algorithms.”

Read more or watch for the launch later this month, here: http://www.wolframalpha.com/

What happens if you ask Google to compare the GDP of France and Germany, or ask it how many cows were in Vermont each of the last ten years? You may find a web page where someone has posted that information, or you may have to search for several sites and gather the information for yourself, or you may find some  references to follow to do some research. Google is fantastic, wonderful, certainly but is not designed for those kinds of questions.

Enter Wolfram Alpha.

Dr. Wolfram, of Mathematica and New Kind of Science fame, is launching a new type of web search engine that combines the symbolic representation and calculating capabilities of Mathematica with natural language processing. Or, to quote: “Fifty years ago, when computers were young, people assumed that they’d quickly be able to handle all these kinds of things. And that one would be able to ask a computer any factual question, and have it compute the answer. But it didn’t work out that way. Computers have been able to do many remarkable and unexpected things. But not that. I’d always thought, though, that eventually it should be possible. And a few years ago, I realized that I was finally in a position to try to do it.”

Natural language processing is still in its infant stage and “for example we’re still very far away from having computers systematically understand large volumes of natural language text on the web.” So, Alpha begins small with “trillions of pieces of curated data and millions of lines of algorithms.”

Read more or watch for the launch later this month, here: http://www.wolframalpha.com/

101-books-stack_color.jpg.jpeg
This morning’s Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, May 5th) fills out some of the details of a rumored “large screen” ebook reader, a device expected to provide a paperless platform for newspapers, magazines, and … academic textbooks.

Geoffrey Fowler and Ben Worthen report:

Beginning this fall, some students at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland will be given large-screen Kindles with textbooks for chemistry, computer science and a freshman seminar already installed, said Lev Gonick, the school’s chief information officer. The university plans to compare the experiences of students who get the Kindles and those who use traditional textbooks, he said. …

Five other universities are involved in the Kindle project, according to people briefed on the matter. They are Pace, Princeton, Reed, Darden School at the University of Virginia, and Arizona State.

The road to e-textsbooks will likely be rough – publishers are reluctant to give up distribution control to Amazon (or Google, or Sony, or Walmart …), campus bookstores are nervous, and students are likely reluctant to abandon the used textbook marketplace.

Geoffrey A. Fowler and Ben Worthen, Amazon to Launch Kindle for Textbooks, Wall Street Journal, MAY 5, 2009.

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB124146996831184563.html

Cafe table
Trent Batson, professor of English, director of academic computing, entrepreneur and bon vivant, has an article in Campus Technology exploring the role of Web2.0 in education, particularly higher education. He observes:

For decades, a minority among educators has advocated alternate forms of teaching and learning. The umbrella term for these alternate forms is “open education,” (cf Opening Up Education, Kumar and Iiyoshi, MIT Press, 2008). The litany of alternate forms is long: co-op learning, experiential learning, service learning, internships, semester abroad, field study, authentic learning, problem-based learning, adult education, extension courses, and on and on. Each of these alternate forms was designed with the assumption that traditional classroom learning was the norm.

With the dawning of Web 2.0, these alternate forms of teaching and learning are now becoming the “native” forms for this age. Open education, open knowledge, and open resources are different faces of the Web 2.0 revolution in higher education.


from Trent Batson, “Why is Web 2.0 Important to Higher Education?”, Campus Technology, April 15, 2009. http://campustechnology.com/articles/2009/04/15/why-web-2.0-is-important-to-higher-education.aspx. Image from Batson’s Web2.0PortfolioInitiative, http://www.trentbatson.com/

First it was Flickr, now its YouTube. Hoorah for the Library of Congress as they begin to place portions of their vast video holdings on this popular site.

Early Films: Edison CompaniesFirst collections include the 2008 National Book Festival author presentations, the Books and Beyond author series, “Westinghouse” industrial films from 1904, scholar discussions from the John W. Kluge Center, and the earliest movies made by Thomas Edison, including the first moving image ever made.

Watch for more in future:
http://www.youtube.com/user/LibraryOfCongress

Responding to Diversity Issues in the Classroom: A Developmental and Social Justice Approach
Friday, April 10, 2009 9:00a.m. to 12 Noon in Allen House, room 204.
This half day workshop engages participants in building an understanding of how to have meaningful conversations about diversity issues and how to confront difficult situations more effectively in the classroom context. Participants will gain a deeper understanding of both the dynamics of interpersonal conflict in general and practical responses that promote understanding and critical thinking. Using case scenarios, you will practice interpersonal skills and productive responses to interpersonal conflicts related to cultural and/or social justice.
Facilitated by Sherwood Smith, Director, Center for Cultural Pluralism and IPS faculty.
Register by sending an e-mail to: mheining@uvm.edu2.

The Office of the Assoicate Provost for Multicultural Affairs and Academic Initiatives presents Blackboard Jungle 2 Symposium March 27 and 28. For more information and to register visit the website
The Center for Teaching and Learning is pleased to present two events associated with professional development opportunities offered this week:

  • Multicultural Education at UVM: Dialogue on Dimensions,Monday, March, 30, 12:00 – 1:30 pm
    UVM’s Diversity Requirement seeks to advance multicultural education at the curricular level. During this colloquium, faculty who are teaching approved Diversity 1 and 2 courses will examine their courses through the lens of Dr. James Banks’ “dimensions of multicultural education,” discussing content integration, knowledge construction, prejudice reduction and equity pedagogy.
  • Universal Design For Learning in the 21st Century,
    Wednesday, April, 1, 9:00 – 10:30 am
    Workshop: In any semester, approximately 75% of UVM faculty will teach a student with a documented disability. Universal Design For Learning (UDL) outlines course development and teaching strategies that will not only meet the needs of those students, but will also enhance learning for all students. Join us for a discussion on applying UDL principles and strategies to meet our diverse student needs related to physical and cognitive ability, social class, primary language, ethnicity and culture.

For more information and to register, please go to the “Events” link on the left menu.

Is there an added added academic value in incorporating multimedia scholarship into student projects? This is the question addressed by Mark E. Cann of USC in a recent article titled Multimedia in the Classroom at USC: A Ten Year Perspective. This past fall he recast a previous essay assignment into a group multimedia project in order to compare previous students’ written work to current students multimedia work. He graded them according to the same basic criteria (clarity, coherence and cogency) and wondered if they would ” produce more insightful analyses than conventional written essays.”

He found four ways in which the students’ multimedia projects differed positively from the written version. According to Cann, multimedia scholarship invited or encouraged students to:

  1. prioritize and dramatize their main points by highlighting text, incorporating eye-catching images, or employing engaging video clips. This contrasted to conventional papers where students often buried their main point in the middle of a paragraph or expected it to emerge miraculously from the
    text.”
  2. “assume multiple perspectives by using hyperlinks…While students might have done the same class analysis in a traditional essay, the fact is that they had not done so until their use of new media prompted them to experiment with multiple perspectives.”
  3. layer their analyses. Students were able to explore an issue in depth by employing hypertext links to break it down into major components, then analyze major components by using links to break them down into subcomponents, and so forth.”
  4. experiment with interactive analysis. Students were able to use new media to demonstrate how making one choice likely results in one set of outcomes and subsequent options whereas making a different choice likely results in a different set of outcomes and subsequent
    options.

He goes on to describe how a grant had allowed a group of faculty from the university to develop and discuss similar projects between 1998 and 2003. Some of the challenges the group found were “that teaching and doing multimedia scholarship was extremely time-consuming for faculty, TAs, and students” and that there was a “tension between devoting class time to course content and devoting class time to training students in basic computer skills.” They concluded that “the time and tensions were tolerable because multimedia scholarship did in fact add academic value to our classrooms. However, we learned from our discussions that multimedia scholarship added academic value to our classrooms in very different ways. We also learned that we all had trouble explaining to each other exactly how multimedia scholarship added academic value to our classrooms.”

That experience led to the development of a university-wide Honors Program in Multimedia Scholarship. Developing that program, and undergoing the review process, forced the participants to articulate how multimedia can add academic value to student scholarship.

Implementing the program has confirmed the belief that multimedia “requires students to become adept in the use of new media tools” but that it can “develop students’ capacity for active learning and creative scholarship.” Faculty also “emphasized the importance of multimedia scholarship for enhancing
students’ analytical skills. Several faculty members emphasized the utility of new media for investigating multiple perspectives on issues, facilitating interactive understanding, and addressing issues involving contingency and ephemera.” Some felt that “employing new media promises to develop students’ capacity for active learning and creative scholarship. Multimedia authorship demands that students not simply receive meanings but also participate in the construction of meanings.” Others agreed that “multimedia scholarship promises to strengthen students’ ability to communicate their research and findings to other people.”

Cann concludes the article with a discussion of the recommendations the USC program has made for the program. These can be useful “best practices” for anyone contemplating the addition of multimedia projects into their course. Full article at:
http://www.academiccommons.org/commons/essay/multimedia-classroom

Blackboard’s wiki option has made it easier for us to experiment with this collaborative writing application, but designing good wiki assignments remains challenging. There are a number of web sites that assert that wikis can be powerful learning tools, a number of sites that discuss how to create wikis, and the usual line up of sites that promise that wikis will cure all ills. The following article goes beyond the hype and basic how-to by describing three challenges to creating wiki assignemnts, and suggesting how they might be used to better support learning.

Reynard, Ruth. “3 Challenges (with Benefits) to Wiki Use in Instruction,” in Campus Technology. Feb. 11, 2009.

According to Reynard, current writing about wikis promise that they will “highlight higher-level thinking skills that teachers would love to see developed in their students. The reality is, however, that just as with any actual use of technology in instruction, there are always challenges, not only in practical terms with familiarity with the technology itself but, more importantly, in a pedagogical sense as the benefits to teaching and learning are examined more thoroughly. How can the instructional uses of a wiki be maximized to ensure this higher level of engagement with students?”

She continues that “There is a temptation with using a tool like the wiki for teachers to simply introduce the tool and ask the students to use it, and then watch to see what happens…While knowledge around this is still growing, we do know from teaching in general that students respond poorly to badly designed assignments with no real purpose articulated as to their connection with the learning outcomes or direct benefit to the student’s overall learning experience.”

The challenges she addresses are:

  1. Creating Meaningful Assignments: Motivation
  2. Grade Value for Constructed Input: Affirmation
  3. Collective Knowledge Use: Learning

The suggestions she provides are simple, concrete, and probably quite effective. Good reading for anyone who is considering using wiki assignments in their course.