Slacker’s guide – week 4 TOOLS!

There is nothing, i think, that leaves me feeling more frustrated than ‘tools’ that are supposed to be easy to use. I think in the rush to explain to people that a tool is useful, the teller often forgets that they struggled with inferior tools before they found this New Awesome Tool. They forget that they already understood exactly what it was they were looking for and then found this New Awesome Tool and figured out what it was for. I am not this person. I have come to learning analytics with a simple desire to be able to track what happens in an open course without having to shove people in a black box. I want to track people in the wilds of the internet. I’m not exactly sure how i want that done yet… and so we look at the tools.

Slacker’s run through content
Two tools this week… Gapminder. If there was any tool that you should spend five minutes downloading to your computer… this is it. This is the plug and play impress your coworkers with your amazing mooc learning kapow tool. It’s an adobe air application on your desktop… really, no excuse here. A slacker’s delight. How useful is it? well… if you study population dynamics… or social studies or something maybe. But who cares… i looks AWESOME!

and needlebase. This is a bit more of a serious tool. I’ve included the introductory video from the website here as its better than any tour i would do. You’ll be wanting to set aside 4 or 5 hours to take a serious run at this baby. It really will scrape content from a bunch of website and pull it into a database… i just didn’t find it ‘quite’ as slick as this video suggests. I didn’t get into trying to mix and match data… which is the real power in this application but i did build this little database by scraping a pile of content off the site. A person with more energy could do something very cool with this system. It also gives you great sympathy for people who complain about data that isn’t clean… grr…

Facilitated session – Why exactly would we want to do analytics in learning?
The recording of this week’s friday discussion will be hearty food for skeptics. We took a run at talking about what can be measured, why we would want to measure it and brainstormed some ideas about how one might use these new tools to change the way that we look at structuring education. I really enjoyed this chat…

On tools
There are some incredibly powerful data tools out there right now, and as long as you can scrape the data in an organized way, there are few limitations to what you could produce. The big question remains: what do i ask? I think moving forward in this field is going to require people to start asking new kinds of questions from the data. This was certainly one of the central themes from the Friday discussion and is likely going to be the challenge confronting many the first time they look at the tools. Yeah… it’s cool… but what do i do with it? Many of the people currently touting the tools are coming from years of struggle working with inferior technology… for most of us, its a bit more of a challenge. Good luck, and please post any results somewhere i can find them 🙂

Week 3 LAK11 – Slackers report

Ah… the semantic web. The saviour of the internet, and the evil empire enforcing its evil standardization upon my freedom. I’ve always been a little suspicious of this particular topic. Not that I’m opposed to any kind of stardardization, railroads and the lack of standardizations with bank cards at grocery stores come to mind (grrr…) But the semantic web and how data is ‘linked’ is pretty important to analytics. time to dive in.

Skim of the week
This might seem like an odd choice for a week three skim, but I don’t think we can really pass by the classic Tim Berners Lee World Wide Web proposal. In it he suggested that ‘links’ and ‘hypertext’ could be a really awesome way to collect information. If you watch closely, you’ll notice that he doesn’t like things like ‘keywords’ because you can’t trust keywords to be put in the same way by two different people. As a possible replacement, he suggests that keywords are provided and have an existence of their own ‘nodes’ that could reflect what people mean by those words. When people say ‘they meant to have the semantic web in the beginning’ this is the kind of thing they were talking about. Skim it. Claim to have read it.

Other resources

  • The web 3.0 video… to which i will use ‘hypertext‘ to send you to another place on my blog where i talked about it. Thanks Tim!
  • Semantic Web: An Introduction: a ‘real’ introduction to the Semantic Web. I simply CANNOT force myself to read this page. You might like it 🙂
  • Hilary Mason: Machine Learning. A really cool presentation… if you ‘play with computers’ ’cause that’s who she claimed was her audience. I really enjoyed this.

Dragan’s presentation – Semantic Technologies in learning environments
I would call this a medium level presentation. If you don’t really understand how the web works and you’ve never considered how messy it currently is… you might find this challenging. If you are that person and you’re willing to put the time in searching out what people mean by things like RDF and ontologies this could be a nice introduction to why some people are so excited about the semantic web. Short version? Our systems don’t talk to each other. Facebook and moodle… no talkee. Semantic web is not opposite to social web. rules and structures vs. ecological approach.

Kimberly Arnold – Purdue Signals Project
How does learning analytics work in an institutional context? The first part of this session talks about who is doing analytics and why exactly educational institutions might want to do this in the first place. This is a lighter talk than Dragan’s… more of a narrative of what has been happening at purdue. Much more about how the inside of a university works and less about how the internet works. A nice balance really compared to the other presentation.

Sorry this came up a bit late… and is a bit short. see you in a couple of days.

MOOC newbie Voice – Week 2 Big Data… must be important… it’s big!

Response to my week 1 slackers guide was quite nice thank you very much so i thought i would take a run at doing week 2. I found the title of this week a touch intimidating but found the actual articles quite approachable. There is something going on with data out there, and we are increasingly at the mercy of the data that is out there and, if nothing else, knowing something about it makes us a little more paranoid.

Week 1 skimming
There’s a reason why people are addicted to the ‘top ten’ reasons style posts. They’re easy to skim. My pick for skimming this week is The Telegraph article on the 10 ways data is changing how we live. It gives you that 10,000 foot view of why you should care about big data… some of the other articles might drill you with ‘content’ and ‘research’ about his topic, but my selection will allow you to just kinda drift through the content and get a vague sense that you know what is going on. Which, of course, is how we like it.

Notes on some of the other resources

  1. For those of you interested in getting started thinking about how to interpret data… I really like this blog post from the extra resources list. A beginners guide to figuring out what the charts might mean and connected to a bunch of other resources.
  2. If you’ve never read “more is different” it’s a classic. it says that… uh… more is different. Is short and approachable.
  3. stephen wolfram’s TED talk. Interesting brain candy, and a nice introduction to his work, but not really the sort of thing that leaves you with a sense of what its going to do for you.
  4. This one... a gonzo style interview with a dude who’s been in the industry and gives you an interesting background into how the web ACTUALLY works from a web perspective and how new data has changed that. You’ll need a bit of server understanding (and care about it) to get the full understanding, but it’s a really cool introduction. I liked it 🙂

This week’s activity
SNAPP is uh… kind of a snap. I haven’t poked too far into what I’ll be able to do with it but the video offers you the opportunity to look like you’ve done the test… which is what we are looking to provide here at ombuds central. Feel free to watch the vid, get a quick sense of what SNAPP is, and speak offhandedly about it at your next staff meeting.

This week’s presentation – Ryan S.J.d Baker

This is a more content based presentation than the one we saw last week. It’s got that ‘what is it, give me an example of it, move to next sections’ kinda presentation. If you like your things ordered and your definitions where you can reach them, this is the presentation for you. This is the end of the business that i am very, very suspicious of. The speaker is talking about how students manage their work inside their specially structured educational software. Build software, create it so you can test things, and then draw conclusions from that. Suspicious of it… but still happy that i saw the presentation.

Don’t tell George, but i found the middle part of the presentation where george was asking questions, to be the most valuable for getting a sense of what they actually do with the testing. (you can pick that out by checking out the blue progression lines at the bottom of the screen and pick the spot where there’s a big space between slides)

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