Why most published research findings are false

Why most published research findings are false

REFERENCE

Ioannidis, J A 2005, ‘Why Most Published Research Findings Are False’, Plos Medicine, 2, 8, pp. 696-701, Academic Search Complete, EBSCOhost, viewed 12 February 2013.

What is learning?

From E-Learning V

Fig.1. Learning that is connected, socialised and shared

Does learning happen within the head of an individual, or is it mediated, situated and distributed?

Learning as an artefact is the potential informed or insightful response in an individual’s brain. Learning as a process includes the mechanisms of the brain and everything that person perceives around them – which must indirectly include everything they’ve laid down in their memory and how the subconscious responds to any of it.

What does a test or exam measure?

A test or exam can only be judged by how it is constructed and where and how it fits into a period of study – is the test part of the learning process or an assessment? Are the questions open or closed? Are their significant time constraints or not? So they should test what they were designed to test.

Facts in an essays are like pepper in soup – the wonders of FutureLearn, the Paris Conference of 1919 and the birth of the League of Nations

From E-Learning V

Fig.1. Facts in an essays are like pepper in soup

How do you compare and mark a variety of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs)?

We need to treat them like one of those challenges they do on Top Gear, where Jeremy Clarkson – ‎Richard Hammond – ‎James May set off to Lapland in a Reliant Robin or some such and then get marks across six or so criteria. Hardly scientific, but it splits the pack.

So, let’s say we take THREE MOOCs, what criteria should there be? 

  • Commitment. What percentage of participants signing up complete the course?
  • Comments. I use the word ‘vibrancy’ to judge the amount and nature of activity in the MOOC, so this is crudely reduced to the number of comments left.
  • Likes. Another form of vibrancy where comments left by the team and by participants are ‘liked’. It has to be a measure of participation, engagement and even enjoyment
  • Correct answers. Assuming, without any means to verify this, that participants don’t cheat, when tested are they getting the answers right. This is tricky as there ought to be a before and after test. Tricky to as how one is tested should relate directly to how one is taught. However, few MOOCs if any are designed as rote learning.

You could still end up, potentially, comparing a leaflet with an Encyclopaedia. Or as the Senior Tutor on something I have been on, a rhinoceros with a giraffe.

It helps to know your audience and play to a niche.

It helps to concentrate on the quality of content too, rather than more obviously pushing your faculty and university. Enthusiasm, desire to impart and share knowledge, wit, intelligence … And followers with many points of view, ideally from around the globe I’ve found as this will ‘keep the kettle bowling’. There is never a quiet moment, is there?

I did badly on a quiz in a FutureLearn Free Online Course (FOC). World War 1. Paris 1919. A new world order … 

I think I got half right. I chose not to cheat, not to go back or to do a Google search; what’s the point in that. I haven’t taken notes. I wanted to get a handle on how much is going in … or not. Actually, in this context, the quiz isn’t surely a test of what has been learnt, but a bit of fun. Learning facts and dates is, or used to be, what you did in formal education at 15 or 16. This course is about issues and ideas. A ‘test’ therefore, would be to respond to an essay title. And the only way to grade that, which I’ve seen successfully achieved in MOOCs, is for us lot to mark each others’ work. Just thinking out loud. In this instance the course team, understandably could not, nor did they try, to respond to some 7,000 comments. They could never read, assess, grade and give feedback to a thousand 4,000 word essays. Unless, as I have experienced, you pay a fee. I did a MOOC with Oxford Brookes and paid a fee, achieved a distinction and have a certificate on ‘First Steps in Teaching in Higher Education’.

As facts are like pins that secure larger chunks of knowledge I ought to study such a FutureLearn FOC with a notepad; just a few notes on salient facts would help so that’s what I’ll do next week and see how I get on. Not slavishly. I’ll use a pack of old envelopes or some such. For facts to stick, rather than ideas to develop, the platform would have needed to have had a lot of repetition built into it. Facts in an essays are like pepper in soup.

Armed with an entire module on research techniques for studying e-learning – H809: Practice-based research in educational technology – I ought to be able to go about this in a more academic, and less flippant fashion.

Why some online learning works better than others

From E-Learning V

Fig.1 This is what a reading list looks like – too much of a good thing makes it a bad thing

I ‘do’ e-learning for two reasons:

  • love of a subject, or a desire to fill holes or build mountains in my knowledge
  • fascination in e-learning: what works and what does not.

FutureLearn is a magic platform

I love it’s simplicity, clarity and intuitiveness. In the right hands it’s the perfect cup of coffee. (and once a day takes about as long to consume)

Classy copy

The considered, edited and crafted content doesn’t dick about: it is a brief talk, or walk and talk BBC documentary style opening (video), followed by a a dozen paragraphs of a succinct piece of required reading that is then opened to the ‘floor’.

‘Connectedness’ is enabled

The threaded discussion looks more like this bulletin-board cum blog cum student forum. Perhaps, as this has developed over the last decade, is where the idea came from? As a bulletin-board each time you comment your thoughts are placed on the top of the pile: someone has to read it when they log in, or at least there’s a  greater chance of that.

This connectedness is facilitated and encouraged further by alerts you get as others comment in a thread you’ve contributed to or started.

Your contributions are sorted for you and so build, without you needing to do so yourself, into a threaded line of thought – you can see how you are learning, how your knowledge improves and your ideas develop.

There are parameters

There is a word count for each posting. 1200 characters I think and a time frame during which you can edit (15 minutes).

There is a modicum of overload

We, as students, are the masters of the time we have, or want to give to a thing. We are also the ones who know and control the pace. It is too simple to say that some people read faster than others, so can consume more. We approach text in very different ways. What is crucial and done in the FutureLearn module I’m doing on the 1919 First World War Paris Treaty is the amount of reading offered. It is more than enough, but not overwhelming. It takes itself and its students seriously by saying that ‘we think you can read all of this and contribute to the discussions in the time allocated – five hours a week’.

Module teams get it wrong when content is sparse or when they overload the student with that laziest of get-outs ‘the reading list’. Getting it right requires effort, confidence in the subject you are teaching and a belief and understanding of the way people learn and the platforms and tools now available and how their evolving use impacts on learning. I’m doing a couple of FutureLearn modules: ‘Writing Applications’ at two hours a week, compares to World War 1: Paris 1919 at five hours a week. The contrast couldn’t be greater.

It’s like the first offers you a small cup of coffee: no refills. Instant. You get it with milk whether you like it or not. While the second gives you a rich cup of coffee and, if you want them, a couple of refills. No more. There are parameters.

FutureLearn keeps it simple

What matters are the words people type. There are none of the mess of unnecessary buttons provided here. Honestly. Keep it simple OU. They just muddle things massively. Where used they invariably take away from the ability to communicate. It is enough of a challenge to type on a QWERTY keyboard. Plain text does the job. In the hands of the amateur (all of us), being able to add colour, change font size and a whole lot more serves no useful purpose.

Content is self-moderated by the group

A simple alert button allows you to flag something to let moderators know that something inappropriate is going on: hateful language, foul language, ‘drunken’ rants …

Go see

‘There’s something for everyone’.

How to take notes for effective studying and assessment

Fig.1. The muddy sides of the River Ouse, Piddinghoe. At low tide.

We are very good at forgetting: it’s vital.

We see, feel, sense far too much in our daily lives (which includes when asleep). Come to think of it what on earth was I doing on a student exchange to North America last night where I am twenty years older than my hosts … (probably sums up how I feel about the workplace).

See. Some memories are made for us, or by us whether or not we want them.

Learning though requires us to gather, create and retain stuff. Some of this stuff is forgettable; it doesn’t resonate, or is poorly taught or expressed. Or we simply don’t get it the way it is expressed, or the first time around.

Fig.2 Neuroscience of dummies

Make it a memory

At an OU Residential School the session on revision was packed. The tips made us laugh: sucking a choice of Polo Fruit sweets by subject theme – when you come to the exam repeat and each sweet will link you to that period of revision. Odd. But it worked often enough for me to convince me of its value.

Fig.4. Ebbinghaus and his ‘Forgetting Curve’

The science from the likes of Hermann Ebbinghaus and his ‘Forgetting Curve’ simply indicates how something fades, unless you go back to it a few times over several days over which period you make it stick. It doesn’t say anything about the ‘stickiness’ of the memory in the first place. Sometimes this stickiness is made for you. There is drama, there is an explosion. Most likely, by chance, the learning is anchored by some unrelated event like the fire alarm going off – that won’t work for 50 different things though.

Fig. 5 Multiple ways of making ‘it’ stick: read (book and e-book), highlight, tag and take notes.

If the module, or your tutor isn’t doing it for you then the next step is to dig around for a book, video or image that does it for you.

Most likely, and of far greater value, is for you to turn that lesson into a memory of your own creation. There is always value in taking notes, so never listen to the presenter who says ‘no need to take notes I’ll give you the slides afterwards’. Never trust the quality of the slides. What the person said will be of more value then the slides. You, and your handwriting, and your doodles are how it starts to become a memory. Then when you write up or rewrite those notes you do it again. You make it into something.

Fig.6 The River Ouse at low tide.

I’m fixating on the horror of drowning in a shell-hole in the First World War.

Ever since I was a boy those images of cowboys and Arabian princes sinking into quicksand has horrified me. What must it have been like? Walking the dog by the River Ouse at low tide just as it turned the gurgling of water backing up and filtering into the muddy bank gave me the shivers. That sound was ominous. It made a memory of the walk and the thought. It’s also what is sustaining me as I work at a short story.

Fig. 7 A family memory of a wedding in California. Will it stick?

We’ve talked about ‘memory making’ in the family.

It is the event, and the sharing of the event. My late mother-in-law was horrified that her daughter couldn’t remember a road-trip they did across the US when she was 13. I concluded that she hadn’t remembered much, or couldn’t remember much when it was mentioned out of the blue, as the trip was never shared. Conversations are and were always about current and future events. This is why it helps to get the old photo albums out from time to time. But there’s a loss. Do we make them anymore? Visiting a mislabelled album online is never the same.

Fig. 8. My late grandfather John Arthur Wilson MM with the author Lyn Macdonald at the spot north of Poelcappelle, Belgium where he buried two of his mates – 75 years after the event. He recalled it ‘like yesterday’.

Recalling the First World War

Some veterans would talk, others remained silent. Those who did not want to remember could and did forget. My late grandfather was a talker; it drove my mother mad. I came to love his recollections. Clearly, there were events that would have burned themselves into the memories of these men, but unless they talked about it, in a veteran’s association or with family and friends it was not going to stick. No wonder veterans would seek each other out over the decades. Nudged by histories and movies their memories could be changed though; sometimes they came to say what was expected of them ‘the rats were huge, the generals useless, the German bunkers impenetrable, the mud up to your waist, the sound of the individual shells … ‘

In conclusion

Whatever activities and devices are built into your module, you are responsible and can only be responsible for making something of it. Take the hint. Engagement takes time so make the time for it. These days it is made easier through the Internet. You can keep a blog to share or as a learning journal; you can talk it over with fellow students either asynchronously in a forum (or blog), or synchronously in a webinar. You can ‘mash it up’ with images, grabs, doodles and annotations. You can make it your own. It’ll stick if you want it to but superglue requires effort. Someone else ‘sticks it’ for you and it won’t happen.

News: Tutored Writing Retreats in Devon

FF:

I had the pleasure of spending four days on a writer’s retreat with the author and writing tutor Susannah Waters.

Originally posted on Why Work?:

In 2014, I am very excited to be leading two Tutored Writing Retreats at a wonderful place called Retreats for You, in North Devon.

I first came to Deborah Dooley’s welcoming house in September 2013, on the recommendation of three of my long-term writing students, who swore by the place for getting things done! How right they were. Under Deborah and her partner Bob’s care, I managed the Herculean task of 5000 words a day. (And a few runs in the countryside as well!) The house was warm and comfortable. The company of other writers, encouraging and convivial. Everything was done for me by Deb – cooking, washing up, laundry, bed sheets, wine-buying and drinking, snacks – which meant I was able to really let go and focus, nothing to worry about but my writing. Bliss.

So when Deb invited me to lead a tutored writing retreat, I thought it…

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Overworking the essay assignment and getting stuck in mental concrete aggregate

From E-Learning V

Fig.1. Over doing the reading

I’m trying to put to bed what might be my 27th assignment: the last three have been non-OU but the same rules apply: whether tutor marked assignment, end of module assignment or an essay.

Have I ever been cut out for this?

Clearly, getting from TMAs in the 50s and a couple of EMAs in the 40s to TMAs in the 80s (and beyond) and EMAs in the 60s and 70s (though never beyond) indicates that I’ve learnt how to provide what is required … and by default, that I have also learnt something (though my brain will complicate, and bury everything that goes in so fast that it’s like putting rotten tomatoes onto the compost heap).

This is what I prefer by far: ‘writing from the hip’ I call it, or ‘jazz writing’ where a stream of consciousness, or drivel, fills the page.

I am taking a moments break from the nightshift.

This nightshift, awake at 2.00 am and writing by 2.30am has, over several years, become my default position whenever I need a three hour run at something; even the dog is asleep. I have to struggle to hear much more than a buzz in my head and either the tapping on this keyboard or scratching away of pen on paper.

Can I bring to some kind of conclusion this ‘learning journal’ in relation to writing ‘the perfect essay’?

Despite my best wishes I am NOT a strategic worker or thinker: my curiosity is too much of a pull. I do exactly what I was warned against a year ago – ‘vanishing down rabbit holes’. I am the White Rabbit and Alice combined; an intriguing reference enthrals me so off I go. If I can I will source the paper, even get the long out of print book – I may even read the thing, take notes and then pop my head of this hole and wonder what the feck I’m playing at.

An essay needs a copse, not a forest. Imagine what it is like trying to turn an forest into an essay: too much wood (far too much paper). Not simply tough to digest, but any intrinsic pleasure from the act of writing at last is diminished by my knowledge of how much I will have to leave out.

In the dead of night.

Giving up alcohol and coffee has not helped.

In every respect the alcohol was by far the easiest thing to cut back and cut out – just the conclusion to a ten year minor skirmish that ultimately was or is a medical irritant (allergic to it). Last week I managed 48 hours, or as it 36 hours without coffee. Hardly an achievement given that I was comatose, walking wounded or asleep for the duration. A mug first thing since has found me taking an afternoon siesta and still sleeping for seven + hours. I am sitting with the requisite jug of coffee now.

I’ll get to the end of this and do it justice

‘On reflection’ the couple of EMAs in the 40s I received was because having done the work, and got reasonable TMAs I blew it with this last struggle and deadlines ending up submitting the latests draft as the seconds disappeared. This time I have had months, really, months and even now I have another three days. I just want to do what I know has to be done: get a good draft finished a few days before, then do the re-read and edit. Nothing less will do and only then can I feel I’ve done all that I feel I am capable of. The truth is this does not, nor never has come naturally to me. I prefer being up on my feet doing and taking part with a team of people.

Take a nap, then, trusting to my wits and the fresh sea air, I’ll be bobbing around offshore by mid-morning taking part in some global sailing charity event.

Is it a good thing or a bad thing to get stuck down a rabbit hole?

From E-Learning V

Fig.1 Alice in a hole

This thought, in relation to researching and writing an essay came from retired squadron-leader, prof. Peter Gray. I am often stuck down a rabbit hole; I indulge my curiosity and quickly get lost. It took me half an hour to scramble over images of ‘stuck down a rabbit hole’ mostly involving small dogs or variations on Alice in Wonderland and randomly including weird artworks and images of vertigo or claustrophobia before I decided to go with the above.

From E-Learning V

Fig.2. Types of moustache

This morning I have now been up for four hours and haven’t quite completed two hours ‘writing'; the rest of the time has been spent trying to find the right kind of beards and moustaches to put on a set of five male characters, ages between 17 and 60, in northern France in 1917. Seeing the respective beards on three of them, the other two are clean-shaven, is just the start. I then have to name and describe them in terms that are appropriate to the era. I can’t talk of beard types as a George Michael, Magnum or even Hitler. They have to be described with metaphors and words that would have been prevalent in the press at the time.

From E-Learning V

Fig. 3. Robert Twigger as Richard Francis Burton

I get thrown by spotting someone I know, then move onto how to describe parts of the outer ear and stumbleupon some fascinating fact about miniature portraits made of officers of the First World War as a keepsake. My searches are still prioritising French, so a few words or phrases might be entering the brain regarding Napoleon III beards and the like.

My curiosity indulged I check the word count for this morning’s efforts and I might come to 60 words added to yesterday’s tally; on the other hand, when I next need to describe a person sporting facial hair I ought to be able to do so rather more quickly.  On the positive side, with their moustaches, I have created an easy way to distinguish between the men and I’m rather taken by the aptness of ‘getting stuck down a rabbit hole’ as ‘being stuck’ is very much a part of the plot.

On writing away from home and other distractions

Fig. 1 Retreats for You, Sheepwash, Devon

Day One.

An hour with my tutor yesterday evening. Buzzed, but fell asleep soon after. It was a four hour drive yesterday afternoon/evening and I’d been up since 4.00 am or something. Which is when I woke this morning and rattled off 1 1/2 following guidelines on how to ‘set the scene’.

Armed with a pot of coffee I plan to get another hour in before breakfast.

The goal is to write four completed scenes, each of around 2,500 words this week. I may, a new experience for me, write each of these scenes several times as I try out the approaches I’ve been given.

The premise for my novel got the thumbs up as did my ‘voice': not so hot were the gaping holes in my scene setting – I leave far too much untold.

On verra. 

By the end of the week I will decide either to give up once and for all, or that there’s a future in it and the boxes of manuscripts, scripts, zip drives, discs and flopping discs, hard drives, notebooks and diaries have served a purpose or should go to the skip.

And I’ll rejoin the family for my birthday.

On dealing with a housemite allergy

From 2BlogI

Fig.1. Raycop

My habit when travelling is to take at least my own pillow, even a duvet and a mattress cover; this because of asthma and rhinitis and a fairly severe allergy to house mite dust (their faeces). I have on long stays ended up sleeping in bathrooms, on balconies, even in a tent in the garden. Most frustraingly with two more nights to go on what is otherwise turning into a transformstive, even pivital writing experience, it feels as if I have had a rubber tube shoved up my left nostril and a sack of sand liberally sprinkled with pepper, had been poured into my head then packed into place with the handle of a wooden spoon. I’ve been stuffed. The result is miserable, a face that aches, earache, a,igraine lije headache and a left eyeball that feels as if it is swimming in chillies.

The swollen soft membranes of my mouth and sinuses, even if I evacuated to the sea, may take anything from a few days to a few weeks to clear; work is severely compromised and my mood has sunk. A shame as the lessons and experiences I am having with my writing are hugely promising.