Tuesday, June 30, 2009

InSITE: ICTs and Network Relations

Inge Hermanrud of Hedmark University College in Norway had a talk on ICTs and Network Relations. He has been working with people from two different “distributed” organizations – the workplace security organization and part of the tax authorities. What they have in common is that there often comes up cases which look like nothing they have seen before, but which may be similar to something from another part of the country. It is, of course, a goal that similar cases are treated similarly across the country, so a certain amount of sharing of experiences is needed.

It turned out that people who had frequent relations used several communication channels, for instance both phone and email simultaneously. Those having infrequent relations, on the other hand, had problems with “multitasking” (doing other things while supposedly taking part in a discussion online) and individual drop-out.

As a lot of the Norwegian government is based on this kind of organizations, it would be important to improve the cooperation between different geographical regions. Therefore, Inge’s research is important.

Monday, June 29, 2009

AT&T Mathematics Error

I'm currently following donttrythis on twitter - he apparently was quoted a price of .015 cents per kb when he signed up to a service, but was charged 1.5 cents per kb. When he complained, they said that "data is charged at .015 cents, or a penny and a half, per kb".

Apparently, the difference between .015 cents and 1.5 cents is lost on AT&T. (On the other hand, his more than 50,000 Twitter followers (at the moment: 63,856) seem to help him get them to accept his claim - even though I'm not sure they still understand the mathematics.)

This case is of course similar to a maths problem Verizon wireless had some time ago.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

InSITE: Meaningful Learning in Discussion Forums

Raafat Saade and Qiong Huang’s paper was on Meaningful Learning in Discussion Forums. In online courses with maybe 1300 students and where use of online discussion forums (ODF) is mandatory, there is obviously needed some smart strategy to evaluate the participation.

One could look at what the students do in various levels of detail. At the macro level, one could look at numbers showing each student’s 1) participation and 2) interaction. At the micro level, one could analyze 3) the interaction or 4) cognition. One of the claims in the talk was that, from a learning point of view, cognition is the most interesting of these, while participation is obviously the easiest one to measure.

However, in my context I think that I can find a measure that is both interesting and (quite) easy to measure. I will come back to that later if it proves useful.

I will surely have to read this article closely, as the topic is so close to one of my projects for next semester.

Friday, June 26, 2009

InSITE: Departmental Collaboration for the Community

Joseph Chao gave a talk about Cross-Departmental Collaboration for the Community. The talk centered on a project where programmers and technical writers work together in projects with real-world customers to solve real-world problems. One major problem detected was – unsurprisingly – that the programmers was so busy programming to meet the deadline that they didn’t have time to discuss documentation with the technical writers. Thereby, the technical writers were left to themselves trying to figure out how the program worked.

It’s an interesting project, although not very relevant to my setting.

HPM Newsletter 71

The new issue of the HPM Newsletter (no. 71) was published today. It is available from the HPM website.

In this issue:
- a note on Giorgio T. Bagni, an Italian colleague who tragically died earlier this month
- information on new books: Geir Botten's book on the first Norwegian textbook in mathematics and three books related to Paulus Gerdes' work
- the first announcement for the ESU 6, which will be in Vienna, Austria 19th-23rd of July 2010
- information on how Narges Assarzadegan uses history of mathematics in her work
- a call for possible collaboration on history of mathematics for primary school students.

In addition, there are the usual stuff (information on new articles in the field, interesting links and announcements of events).

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

InSITE: Design Alternatives for a MediaWiki

Sumonta Kasemvilas had a talk about Design Alternatives for a MediaWiki. Earlier attempts at using Wikis in higher education have made apparent that there are some challenges. For instance, only using watchlists to keep track of changes has turned out not to be sufficient, students feel that the wiki is not easy to navigate and an overall “summary table” of what is going on is missing. Her efforts to enhance MediaWiki to make it better suited for higher education seems promising.

Monday, June 22, 2009

InSITE: Learning objects vs informing objects

A panel discussion with participants Robert Skoriba, Alex Koohang, Fred Kohun and Richard Will discussed the novel concept of “informing object”. As far as I understood, the main problem with the concept “learning object” was considered to be that one should not call something a “learning object” before one has established that learning has taken place. I never got round to ask this question, but I suppose that the same goes for “informing object” – that some sort of informing has to take place before that name is warranted.

To me, who is not familiar with all the preexisting concepts, the discussion soon turned confusing. Someone asked how “informing object” would relate to “information object” and “knowledge object”. And all the time, what the “object” would be, was a bit unclear.

I was, however, made aware of the depository of learning objects called Merlot, which I should look at.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

InSITE: Learning Objects and OOP

Namdar Mogharreban’s talk Regaining the ‘Object’ of Learning Objects, tried to link the concept of “learning objects” back to the idea of object oriented programming (OOP). He envisaged a model for creating learning objects based on a Learning Pod, which is, in the language of OOP, be a class. A learning object should be an instance of a Learning Pod with certain properties, values and behaviours (for instance the age of the learner, bandwidth, learning style, learning history and bandwidth).

I am a sceptical person, and often my first thought when confronted with a theoretical framework is “does it make sense in real life?” That is also my question here. The complexity of the concepts one wants the learner to learn, means, in my mind, that the specifications needed to get a useable learning object will be very extensive. For instance: if a pupil works on a multiplication algorithm for two-digit numbers, which learning object that will make sense to him and help him will depend of his understanding of the numeral system, on whether he has worked on the area model of multiplication, on whether his parents have shown him an algorithm already, on whether he knows the basic multiplication facts and so on. Thus, answers to all of these questions will need to be parameters for the Learning Pod when making a new learning object.

A counterargument might be that I compare the learning object to a perfect teacher who knows all his pupils’ backgrounds and has the time to individualize everything. Perhaps that is unfair, and the learning objects created in this way should rather be compared to the imperfect teaching many pupils get today, because they are taught by undereducated and overworked teachers. But still, I want to see the Learning Pod in action before I hoist the flag.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

InSITE: Taxonomy as a Vehicle for Learning

Not surprisingly, I was present at Brodahl and Smestad’s talk on A Taxonomy as a Vehicle for Learning.

In this talk, we described the development of a taxonomy (classification system) of VaniMaps (a subgroup of learning objects that we have defined ourselves – see the link above for details) and also described a teaching sequence in which this taxonomy was used to foster discussion in a class of (mainly) teacher students. The teaching sequence used polling (electronic questionnaire) as a tool for collecting the opinions of the students. When students were confronted with their different opinions, they got curious about what the reasons might be for the variations – thereby leading to discussions.

It is terribly hard to describe all of this in just 20 minutes, especially since both the context of teacher education, the basics from mathematics education research as well as the theory of learning objects must be assumed to be unknown for some of the listeners. I think it went quite well, however.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

InSITE-Connect: A Model for Dynamic Interdisciplinary Interaction

The keynote speaker of the InSITE 2009 conference is Gerry McKiernan. He gave a talk on social networking and Web 2.0 technology and how that could be used to improve the interaction within such a network as Informing Science.

One major problem with research networks today is that they are "paper-based", in the sense that the main output of the researchers are papers published in journals and presented at conferences. This is a very slow discussion, in which you will not get an "answer" until someone cites you and discusses your work. Of course, there are also lots of oral discussions in conferences, as well as lots of email discussions and so on. However, these are not archived, so in a sense they are here today, gone tomorrow.

Gerry McKiernan discussed several different networks already existed to (as I understood him) motivate Informing Science to make a move to some form of Web 2.0 technology. He mentioned several niche online social networks. One of them is ResearchGATE, which is a "professional network for scientists". SciSpace.net is a "collaborative network for scientists", which you need an invitation to join. Social Science Research Network is created to facilitate early distribution of research results.

Then there is Ning, of course. There are lots of communities on Ning, including the Norwegian Del og bruk, a sharing network for teachers which already has almost 2000 members.

One particular important sentence which could have been a motto for his whole talk, is this: "It is not about publication, it's about ideas." With all the silly index systems and systems for publication points, it is easy to forget this. In today's academia, it's better to have one moderately good idea that you can write five sufficiently different articles about, than to have one excellent idea that you only write one article about before moving on to other areas. The systems ask us to ask ourselves first if we could write more articles on the same old thing rather than doing the hard work of thinking about something new. The social networks, on the other hand, are not about publishing in the publication point way of thinking, but it is about distributing ideas to get our ideas further. Therefore, I wish I could ignore the publication points and just be Web 2.0-oriented...

Monday, June 15, 2009

Wikis in teacher education

In one project, I will try to develop a wiki for students in teacher education, which should function as a “Wikipedia” for teacher education. By that, I mean that the articles should be within the context of teacher education. For instance, an article on multiplication would not only say what multiplication is or how it is done, but also include examples of pupils’ misconceptions, ideas of teaching materials and so on.

The wiki ("eleviki"), is currently on a very early stage, but I hope to start using it with students in August.

A lot more could be said on this and my other main interests, but this should suffice for now.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Workshops at InSITE 2009

The InSITE 2009 conference started off on Friday with some workshops (the day before the official opening of the conference).

Tim Ellis and Bill Hafner gave a talk on “Security and the Professor”. They looked at security issues for the professor in the modern age. Only some years ago, most professors would only use the PC at work, thereby leaving all security concerns to the institution. Nowadays, however, work is brought to the home PC, to a laptop or mobile device using wireless networks and to internet cafes everywhere. That makes a whole range of new security problems which we should be aware of, particularly if we are working on confidential information, such as student grades. Ellis and Hafner analyzed the security risks from three perspectives: the environment, the network and the computer. It was an interesting reminder, although personally I tend not to work on confidential materials, luckily.

William H. “Bill” Burkett talked about “Academic Uses of Second Life and other emerging/converging technologies in your classroom”, with rather more weight on the “other” part. Personally, I’m not too convinced about the use of Second Life – it needs to be used quite a lot to be worth the fuss of making all students install the program (on every computer they use) and to register and then design their avatar. However, he also gave the link to a blog with some links to interesting resources.

Then there was a workshop presenting the Informing Science Institute’s journals and books. There are no less than eight different journals connected to the institute, which all publish all articles online free of charge (as well as on paper for a fee). Moreover, the institute publishes books that are also available online (but also on paper). I do like this policy a lot, as it means that the ideas will be more easily available to others.

Thereafter, there was a panel on the topic “What is Informing Science?” One major difference of opinion in the panel was whether it would be better to stick to the original idea of Eli Cohen, which pointed out three main components: a client, a delivery system and an informing environment. Actually, Eli Cohen himself disagreed with this, thinking that the field had evolved so that we could no longer simply stick to the original, founding ideas. Obviously, for a newcomer like me, it is far too early to have opinions on this.

Finally, Linda Knight and Terry Steinbach held a very useful workshop titled “Creating Research Manuscripts for Publication”. Including editor and reviewer experience, they gave helpful advice on how to work on a research article. For instance, they had a checklist of ten points – if you follow these, you will be sure to get your paper published. They also showed an interesting diagram of an article, showing which links should be there. For instance, obviously any problem you mention in the introduction should be revisited in the end. While much of what they said sound like common sense, it is still easy to miss one or more of them when you are busily writing an article. So I think it will be nice to look back to this workshop in future.

Friday, June 12, 2009

ICT in mathematics education

I have been interested in ICT in mathematics education for many years.

The most important result so far is the paper A Taxonomy as a Vehicle for Learning (written with Cornelia Brodahl of University of Agder) which will be presented at a conference this week.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Gay issues in teacher education

Last year, the Norwegian newspaper Blikk did a little research on what Norwegian teacher education included on gay issues. The conclusion was depressing: "Ingen undervisning om homofili” (”No teaching about homosexuality"), claiming that the only teaching about homosexuality is the three-hour lecture that I give every year.

I don’t believe that the situation is quite this terrible, but I do believe that there is little in the way of systematic teaching in this area. Luckily there are some efforts. There are textbooks to come, and some information is provided by the authorities. Moreover, I am editing a “resource” for lecturers who want to include the topic in their teaching (on behalf of the group FHiOHL, and with money from the rector of the university). The second edition will be available this autumn.

Just a few weeks ago, a new study showed that almost half of Norwegian gay, male 10th graders are bullied in school. There is plenty of work to do.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Equations in WolframAlpha

Tor Espen writes about how WolframAlpha can be used while working on equations in high school. WolframAlpha not only solves the equations, but can give a stepwise explanation.

Of course, there's been software around for a long while which can do this, but to have it in the same search engine that you use for every other task, is very helpful. (And if it's in WolframAlpha today, it will be in Google tomorrow.)

Sunday, June 7, 2009

History of mathematics in mathematics education

One of my main fields of interest is how history of mathematics may enrich mathematics teaching. It’s only natural that I have this interest, as I have a Masters degree on history of mathematics.

My main work in the area has been a study of Norwegian textbooks, a study of the historical content in the TIMSS 1999 Video Study, and an interview study on teachers’ conceptions of history of mathematics. I have also been a co-editor of the HPM Newsletter since 2004.

I believe that the history of mathematics may enrich mathematics teaching in important ways, but that it’s currently not easy for the individual teacher to start including history of mathematics, and my main work so far has been to analyse the situation to try to see what can be done to improve the situation in future.

Four main areas

In this blog, I will write about anything connected to my work, but it will tend to include more about my main research interests, which are:
1) History of mathematics in mathematics education
2) Gay issues in teacher education
3) ICT in mathematics education
4) Wikis in teacher education

To get this blog started, I will, in the days to come, write short posts on these four topics to introduce them.