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As a fourth year doctoral candidate, in addition to having completed comprehensive examinations and prospectus and working on the dissertation, my thoughts are also turning towards the job market and securing that first academic position. This purpose of this blog is to chronicle the trials and tribulations of completing my Ph.D. and finding that first job.

Thursday, June 30, 2005

Blog Statistics for June

Just a quick run down of the stats for this blog for the month of June...

As of roughly 11:00pm, there have been 162 page loads from 102 unique visitors. Of those 102, 91 have been first time visitors and 11 have been returning visitors. This is an average of 3 visitors per day throughout the month.

Not surprising the majority of visitors came from Canada and the United States, however, there were also visitors from Malaysia, Ireland, United Kingdom, Australia, Hong Kong, and Puerto Rico.

The majority of these visitors came from Darren Cannell's Teaching and Developing Online or Technorati.

The most popular entry this past month was How computers make our kids stupid, closely followed by Creating your web presence.

See you next month...


Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Are computer games a boon or our ruin?

Not even sure where this one came from, but someone (probably Stephen Downes' OLDaily e-newsletter) directed my attention to an article entitled "Are Computer Games Rebooting Our Minds? The hot debate moves to a big conference in Vancouver" (see http://www.thetyee.ca/News/2005/06/16/GoodGames/ ) by David Secko from the June 16, 2005 edition of Tyee.ca.

The article begins with a provactive question:

For kids and the rest of us, are computer games a boon, or our ruin?

I think that this is a great question. One slant to take on this could follow these lines... Do video games corrupt the minds of children? Do video games shorten the attention span of children? Do video games contribute to the problem of overweight children?

However, we could also go in another direction... How can children sit for hours and play a game that has only intrinsic rewards (i.e., the kids don't actually get anything when they win)? What is it about video games that makes it so engaging to children? How can we design learning situations in our classroom that are just as engaging?

These are two very different sets of questions, but really get to the root of this issue. Are video games a distraction for education? Or can education learn something from video games?

This is similar to an earlier entry that I posted entitled "Gaming in education" back in March. In that entry I asked, and will ask again, "So, what is it about gaming that gets kids going? And how can we go about designing research that gets at what is going on here so that we can figure out ways to do more of it?"

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Saturday, June 25, 2005

My new web presence

Well, the University of Georgia finally forced me to it...

Instead of conforming to their new web disclaimer, I got some information from a friend of mine and finally bit the bullet to get my own domain name.

I still havent removed my old website from the UGA server, but will take some time over the next week to remove it and replace it with a page that re-directs them to my site listed above. I'll also go back to my old site at the National Capital Freenet and re-direct some of the front matter to that site as well.

Anyway, just a quick entry to direct people to my new site and I'll update you on my new professional web presence soon. Any feedback that you have in the meantime is appreciated...

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Monday, June 20, 2005

Disclaimers on your web presence

Something that has been bothering me for a while now is this message that I (and every other student, faculty ad employee at UGA) received from the university last month. It read:

Subject: new web site disclaimer policy
TO: UGA faculty, staff and students
RE: New policy requiring disclaimer statement on Web pages
On April 21, 2005, the University Cabinet adopted a new policy requiring a disclaimer be placed on all Web pages residing on the UGA Web server, or that otherwise explicitly or implicitly indicate an affiliation with the University of Georgia. Please note that pages that provide OFFICIAL information on behalf of the University are NOT required to affix the disclaimer. The policy, including the specific language of the disclaimer and detailed information regarding the requirement, may be viewed at


Please review this policy to determine its applicability to any Web site under your control. This particularly applies to any personal sites of students, faculty and staff, as well as those of student organizations. Please note that non-compliant sites are subject to removal from the UGA Web site. We trust that the policy and explanatory document at the link above will answer your questions. Additional questions may be addressed to wsdp@uga.edu.

Thank you for your cooperation in this matter.

The problems with this are numerous. The first thing is that this disclaimer must be on every page of your website, not just the first page, but every page. So in my case, all 200-odd pages. However, if you follow the link above you findout that some websites hosted on the university server are exempt. Which ones is another story, as the descriptions are quite vagued and you can make an argument that website developed as a course project could be exempt and may not be exempt. When you e-mail that e-mail address, you get a standard message that thanks you for your question and states that they will be using these questions to form an FAQ that will be posted at a later date (note that I sent a question to them on May 24, 2005 that still hasn't been addressed). Finally, no where on the e-mail above or the linked website did it state when all this had to be done. We later found out that it is June 1, 2005 for the main page and August 1, 2005 for the remainder of the site.

This got me thinking about a number of things, the first of which was the amount of work that was ahead of me as I added this stupid little disclaimer to all of the pages of my website. I also started thinking about the purpose and advantages of using a university server. I mean I have website available to me from a number of different places: my ISP (Charter), the National Capital Freenet, tons of free servers, this and my other blogs, etc.. Why use the university server?

I used to think that it was part of an institutional think and looked more professional in the academy. However, when I look at people like David Wiley (http://davidwiley.com/) and Stephen Downes (http://www.downes.ca/), both well respected members of the academy that many would argue are ahead of the curve in terms of thinking about technology and its uses in education. Neither of those individuals rely upon institutional servers, but have instead their own domains.

Based upon this, I have been exploring the idea of registering my own domain and using that as my professional site. I figure if I have all this work ahead of me, I might as well take the time to explore what other options are out there available to me.

So I ask this question to those from the academy that may be reading this entry: As a member of the academy, what are the perceived and real advantages of using an institutional server for your professional site?

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Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Be careful about your web presence

A couple of day ago I posted an entry over at The Program entitled "Be careful what you blog." The post was actually inspired by an entry that I read by Rovy Branon at Situativity: Learning in Context. Rovy posted an entry about a month and a half ago under the title the "Great Blogging Story."

In that entry he briefly gives a caution for students to be careful about what they blog, using a story that he found (i.e., "Hoist by my own petard!"). As I describe on The Program, the essence of this story is about a law student, who was blogging about his studies all semester long and on the final day of classes, the professor calls on him (for the first time all semester) in a way that let's the student know that the professor has been reading his blog all along. The story is interested and underscored by many of those who chose to comment on it.

It was kind of interesting to read all of the comments that people made about his story. I particularly liked the one individual who commented that as a law student himself, after hearing about how many of the big thinkers in his field commonly disagree with each other decided to write a fictional debate between two of the big names. Apparently he had selected the two authors of his textbook without realizing it, and his professor appeared to take great enjoyment in both outing this students and in pointing out that these two individuals got along quite well and often wrote together.

These stories were interesting because of the things that I posted in my last entry (i.e., Creating your web presence). In that entry I asked the questions: "So you have to ask yourself, what shows up when you Google yourself? More importantly, how many other people have done that and how does that impact what those people think about you?"

Based upon these new stories, let me modify that question a bit... What do you want to show up when people Google you? More importantly, how does what shows up impact what people think about you?

Tags: blog, blogging, blogs, graduate student, graduate students, graduate school, higher education, education

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Creating your web presence

Between an entry at Darren Cannell's site and the entry that I posted at The Program earlier today, I got to thinking about the importance of a graduate student's web presence. Basically, these two entries were based upon this short little piece written on this blog called "PR Studies" (which professes to be a blog "about public relations from Leeds Business School at Leeds Metropolitan University"). The piece in question was an entry entitled "Why students should blog" .

Essentially this piece is a list of advice for those who are considering starting a blog or are just in the process of starting one. As I'm only been at this for three months now (over the three blogs that you see on the right of your screen and this one), so let's see how I stack up.

  1. All writers, aspiring and professional, need to practice their skills. Treat a blog as a playground for ideas and styles. [CHECK]
  2. It's a new medium, and there are some new lessons to be learnt: about the virtue of links, about RSS, about the merits of posting comments, and about Google PageRank and other web metrics. [CHECK]
  3. As with all writing, you first need to read, read, and read some more. This is the most important lesson you can learn. [CHECK]
  4. You are looking to make a name for yourself, and blogs give Google plenty of current content to be indexed. This will help you appear on a Google search result, especially if you're lucky enough to have an untypical name like Piaras Kelly. I predict that more and more employers will adopt this technique before interviewing candidates on the grounds that if you can't make a name for yourself, you probably can't do it for them either. [CHECK] - Although there are two other "Michael Barbour"s in academia it appears when I check on Google.
  5. You'll learn valuable lessons applicable to the real world. You'll realise that Rome wasn't built in a day: a blog is no instant route to fame and fortune, but nor is a public relations campaign. [CHECK]
  6. Conversely, you'll learn that it is possible to have your thoughts and ideas picked up by others (real world public relations). It should give you a buzz. [CHECK]
  7. You'll make connections: of ideas and with people. [CHECK]

So, seven for seven, not too bad I suppose... However, I have to be honest and say that number 4 really stuck out for me.

You see, we have a professor in my department that will Google every single applicant to the program to see what comes up. I'm not entirely sure what he is looking for, if it is to see if there is anything embarassing about that individual which may reflect poorly upon the program, if it is to see if there has been any scholarly output from this individual that has been picked up by this search engine, if it is just o see what kind of web presence the individual has (given that we are in a program of Instructional Technology), or maybe a combination of some of these or none at all. I'm really not sure.

However, it has made me uniquely aware of my own web presence. I mean I don't think that there is a person among us who hasn't Googled (interesting how that has become an acceptable verb in our society) our own name in a semi-vanity exercise. But over the past two years, I have been acutely aware of exactly what I contribute to the web, through my own homepages, projects that I have been involved in, comments that I have made in web-based discussion forums, and even now on the blogs that I maintain.

It is this last one that concerns me the most I suppose. For example, since 25 May there have been visitors to this blog from the United States, Canada, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, Germany, the Czech Republic, Latvia, and Australia. The visitors to my other main blog, Virtual High School Meanderings, have come from from Saudi Arabia, Taiwan, Switzerland, Hungary, Republic of Korea (i.e., South Korea), Brazil. Canada, the United States, Venezuela, Ireland, the Netherlands, Poland, Estonia, Turkey, Hong Kong, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, Portugal, the United Kingdom, France, Spain, Italy, Norway, Denmark, Ukraine, South Africa, Iran, India, the Philippines and Japan. Between these two blogs, people from some thirty-four different countries have seen a piece of my web presence. Granted, many of these are probably brough here through Blogger's "Next Blog" feature (look to the top right of your screen), probably a good guess given that most visitors spend less than 5 seconds here.

But when I look at my our homepage, I've had visitors from eleven US states, two Canadian provinces, and Turkey (oddly enough). According to my StatCounter (and if you haven't seen this yet or don't have any stats generated at your site, I strongly encourage you to check it out), most of these have found their way to my professional portfolio via Google.

So you have to ask yourself, what shows up when you Google yourself? More importantly, how many other people have done that and how does that impact what those people think about you? In case you're curious, this is me - although not all of the hits are me.

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Thursday, June 09, 2005

Kuhn, education and paradigms

In the literature in instructional technology, I often see the shift from a behavioural view of education to a cognitive view of education referred to as a paradign shift akin to what Thomas Kuhn described (see Kuhn, 1970). About two months ago, after a professional development session orgnized by our student association, I was speaking with this professor in Adult Education here at UGA and he told me that Kuhn felt that education didn't have the requisite things for a paradign shift to actually occur and that those in education who cited Kuhn's work were taking his ideas out of context.

Sparked by this notion, I ordered up the third edition of of Kuhn's famous (?infamous?) The Structure of Scientific Revolutions from Amazon. In an e-mail that I received from this professor, he said:

Kuhn's response to critics and confusion over the concept of paradigm and what that entails...He offers disciplinary matrix as one alternative and discusses specific dimensions. The question for Kuhn was on the nature of science and its development and in the post-script, among other issues, he encourages others to explore his thesis as it applies to other fields... Do his criteria for what constitutes a paradigm and shift fit the field of education?
Personally, I'm having a little difficulty with this (which is why I am posting about it in this forum). Kuhn writes that he "concludes with a brief discussion of two recurrent reactions to [his] original text, the first critical, the second favourable, and neither, I think, quite right" (p. 207). The second one that he is talking about is "a number who have taken pleasure from it have done so less because it illuminates science than because they read its main thees as applicable to many other fields as well. I see what they mean and wold not like to discourage their attempts to extend the position, but their reaction has nevertheless puzzled me" (p. 208). Kuhn feels that "though scientific development may resemble that in other fields more closely than has often been supposed, it is also strikingly different" (p. 209).

So, it would appear that Kuhn, while encouraging people to consider his notion of a paradigm shift in other fields, at this stage had not seen convincing evidence that it actually existed in fields other than science. At least that is what I take away from this. Are there any others out there that have a different view of the world and word of Kuhn?

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Monday, June 06, 2005

How computers make our kids stupid

I was scanning Darren Cannell's Teaching and Developing Online, which usually serves as sources of inspiration for my entries on my Virtual High School Meanderings blog, and came across this entry "How Computers Make Our Kids Stupid". Anyway, the entry made reference to an article that appeared in the June 06, 2005 edition of Maclean's.ca entitled "How computers make our kids stupid: There's growing evidence that too much cyber-time dumbs down our children" by Sue Ferguson (see - http://www.macleans.ca/topstories/education/article.jsp?content=20050606_106930_106930).

Ferguson describes how

It's never been easier for kids to get their fingertips on a keyboard or to cruise cyberspace. Statistics Canada reports three out of four households with school-aged children regularly access the Internet, and a growing number of users are turning to high-speed connections. Our schools now have about a million computers, 93 per cent of which are online. Although we already boast a 5:1 ratio of students to computers (compared to an average of 8:1 in the developed world as a whole), the push is on in many districts to equip each middle- and high-school student with a wireless laptop. With homes and classrooms crawling with mouses and modems, anyone resisting the digital impulse seems either hopelessly naive or in a state of downright denial.
With this reality, it seems that we have a growing body of evidence that is starting to suggest that this may not be the best for today's students and their learning. While I don't have the citations handy, there was a study or two that came out of Britain recently that suggested that students using computers performed lower on standardized tests than students not using computers. Granted, I have to wonder about these types of studies, as it seems to me that teaching with technology is inherently different than teaching without technology and would thus make any control group suspect - but that's probably a topic for another entry.

Something that is slightly more convincing to me, however, was the study reported by Ferguson in this article. It didn't deal with experiment and control groups, but looked at student performance and their reported behaviours outside of school.

Perhaps the most persuasive evidence for taking a more critical view is a broad-reaching and rigorous study published last November. University of Munich economists Thomas Fuchs and Ludger Woessmann analyzed the results of the OECD's PISA international standardized tests. Not only did they tap into a massive subject pool -- 174,000 15-year-olds in reading, 97,000 each in math and science from 31 countries (including Canada) -- but they were also able, because participants filled out extensively detailed surveys, to control for other possible outside influences, something remarkably few studies do. Their results, which are only now starting to make waves among pedagogy experts, confirm what many parents have long intuited: the sheer ubiquity of information technology is getting in the way of learning. Once household income and the wealth of a school's resources are taken out of the equation, teens with the greatest access to computers and the Internet at home and school earn the lowest test scores.
With this type of information, I'm wondering if people like Larry Cuban and Todd Oppenheimer may be right... Maybe using technology in the formal schooling environment isn't the way to go? Or maybe the way that we use technology in the schools isn't effective based upon how we are using that technology (see my entry at Virtual High School Meanderings on Do Today's Students Think Differently? for more on this thought)?

So, which way does this equation run? Is it the technology that is failing us? Or is it that the way kids learn these days is just different and formal schooling, with or without technology, has yet to catch up?

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Saturday, June 04, 2005

Help with determining foundations comps question

Okay all - or as they would say down here - y'all,

I need some help from those reading this... I am in the process of negotiating my comprehensive questions and while I am well underway with complete questions or next to final drafts on three of my questions, I am having trouble figuring out what to do about my Foundations question. You see for our comprehensive exam process we have four questions (i.e., foundations, research/theory, practice and methodology) which you negotiate with individual members of your committee and then have between four to eight weeks (depending on what you negotiate) to complete those four questions in roughly 60 pages.

Now, let me give you some background to my research interests. Students enrolled in the web-based classes from the virtual high school in Newfoundland perform better than students in the traditional classes on end of year standardized exams. While this is a common finding in delivery comparison studies, in most instances it is because the students in the web-based courses tended to be the "better" students (i.e., more independent in their learning, self-motivated, high achieving, etc.). than the students in the traditional classroom. However, back in Newfoundland because web-based delivery is the only way that the majority of students in small rural schools can access some of these courses, you really have the same type of mixture in web-based courses that you would have in traditional classroom courses (i.e., everything from those on IEPs to those you could give the textbook to and tell them to come back in ten months to take the exam). So, my interest is trying to figure out why this is occurring. What's happening in Newfoundland to produce these results? Or more specifically, what factors affect student performance in web-based learning in Newfoundland?

Right now I have some hunches as possible suspects, including at the institutional (i.e., virtual high school) level:
  • design of the asynchronous course content
  • design of the asynchronous tutorial items
  • synchronous delivery of the content (i.e., interactive classroom)
  • asynchronous delivery of the content (i.e., e-mail, discussion forums)
  • synchronous tutorial services offered by the virtual high school
  • tutorial services from other students in the course

At the school level:

  • guidance from the administration
  • guidance from the distance education co-ordinators
  • tutorial services from school-based teachers
  • tutorial services from other students

In looking at these possible factors, I'm wondering what sort of foundation work in instructional/educational technology could help me prepare for a dissertation that may include these factors.

Throwing out some ideas, when I look at all of the possible factors and see alot of ones that deal with tutorial services, I think that maybe Vygotsky and his zone of proximal development may be a theoretical basis for some of this. If this does provide some basis for these factors, how much of a role would things like situated cognition and activity theory play?

When I look at the synchronous and asynchronous delivery of the content, I think that maybe Moore's theory of transactional distance (particularly the new elements that are being added to it) may be applicable (or even Moore's thoughts on interaction that have been built upon over the years).

There is also the issues of scaffolding and resource-based learning that may factor into it.

Finally, if I lean towards the learning sciences, theories of cognitive development (such as those by Piaget and Erikson in particularly) could be factored in.

Having said all of that, I'm sure that there are others that I have missed.

What I am looking for guidance on from everyone out there is cyberspace is twofold. What do you see as the potential theoretical underpinnings of some of these factors? Secondly, is there any type of question that looks at the foundation of instructional/educational technology that could allow me to get at some of those?

I look forward to any feedback that you might have...

Tags: dissertation thoughts, ,