Legal challenge to MCQs

A report this morning discusses a dyslexic medical student’s proposed legal action against the use of multiple choice tests on the grounds of discrimination. 

Naomi Gadian, a student at the Peninsula Medical School in Devon, is taking action against the General Medical Council in a move which her solicitor suggests could force all providers and monitors of professional qualifications to adapt their examinations to remove MCQs.  Although dyslexic candidates face challenges with most examination formats, the report cites John Stein as stating that MCQs are problematic for dyslexic candidates because of specific difficulties caused by confusing letter order.

The outcome of this case will be very interesting, though it seems likely that MCQs won’t be going anywhere for a while yet.

Update: The BBC has posted a useful exploration of some of the issues around dyslexia and MCQs – well worth a look.

Lively start for 3D mashups

Google’s tentacles have now penetrated the 3D space with this week’s launch of Lively, a 3D social environment which allows users to furnish and style their own rooms and invite their friends round to admire them.  Is that really all it is?

Well, apart from anything else, it’s Google: as Google’s Head of 3D Operations Mel Guymon says, ‘Google making a play validates the space like no one else.’  It’s straightforward to install, runs via a plugin in Internet Explorer and FireFox (but, significantly, not yet on the Mac OS or Linux), and like Vivaty, it provides a 3D context in which to view 2D user generated content like YouTube videos.  Every room comes with HTML code to allow users to embed them into a web page or, in Guymon’s ‘standard use case’, their Facebook page. 

The obvious comparison is with Second Life, but they’re really very different creatures.  Reuben Steiger, CEO of one of Lively’s two preferred content developers, says:

I think you’re going to see a lot of blowback at first from people that don’t matter.  The Second Life cognoscenti.  They’ll be pissed because they can’t build stuff and blah, blah, blah.  The real test is whether other people like it.  If they do, that’s when it gets interesting. 

To be honest, I think it’s a pretty superficial comparison.  SL offers a fantastic space for those with the skills and inclination to build content – but at a price.  If you don’t own or rent land, you can’t really build anything.  If you can’t afford land, you can’t afford to be creative, and your in-world experience is reduced to passively consuming other people’s creations. 

Lively, by contrast, is currently completely free for the end user, but provides them with no content creation tools whatsoever at the moment.  Users create rooms by selecting a room name, and can then choose from around seventy shells or bare environments (both indoor environments such as two, three and five room apartments, a coffee shop and a dungeon and outdoor environments such as treetop windmills, a graveyard and a winter scene).  These can then be furnished from an extensive catalogue of furniture, toys and other goodies.  Avatar choice and customisation are pretty limited but movement and camera use are very easy to get to grips with (and infinitely easier than Second Life at its worst).  There’s text chat but no voice, and you can stream music or embed videos from YouTube; further integration with Google Gadgets is planned for the future which is where things could get really interesting for educators.  On the downside, it’s pretty laggy: popular rooms such as World of Warcraft (how could I resist?) and presumably also the inevitable sex rooms that keep springing up despite regular weeding-out took a while to fully rez, although you can start to move around and interact with content fairly quickly.  There’s a limit of 20 avatars per room at the moment, with additional users becoming passive observers.

I don’t really think there’s any need for the SL community to feel threatened by Lively – in fact, just the opposite.  Lively really isn’t trying to compete with SL in terms of direct content creation, although its potential as a 3D environment for mashups is very exciting.  Where SL could really benefit from Lively is in familiarising reluctant users with 3D environments: it’s so user friendly and so easy to quickly create your own little space without learning sophisticated and intimidating building techniques and without financial investment that it could create a whole new audience for virtual worlds, with SL providing a natural next stage for those who become frustrated with the limitations of Lively.

EduPunk’s not dead?

Having not heard a murmur about that slightly embarrassing EduPunk craze since around the time Sheila blogged about it almost a month ago, I’d kind of assumed that everyone had agreed to forget about it and pretend it hadn’t happened (rather like Cut the Crap, really). 

However, it appears to be alive and well in Wales at least, where Pontydysgu will be hosting a live radio show on Monday night featuring the Manic Street Preachers of EduPunk (that’s Martin Weller, Mike Caulfield and Katherine ‘LibPunk’ Greenhill).  Part of the ongoing Sounds of the Bazaar series, the show will include ‘interviews, music, opinion, poetry and more’, exploring ‘the EduPunk phenomenon’ and whether it’s more than just ‘a ludicrous social construction by white males the wrong side of 40′.  The show broadcasts live from 19:00 to 20:00 BST (20:00 – 21:00 CEST) and should be available to listen to later for those who can’t make that time.

One of the ten percent

Andy Powell delivered a fascinating and thought-provoking presentation yesterday at the UCISA User Support Conference at the University of Reading.  Not that I was there to see it…

As Andy took the stage in Reading in front of around 120 delegates, his Second Life avatar Art Fossett waited in front of an audience a tenth of that size in the Eduserv Island Virtual Congress Centre, ready to deliver his presentation simultaneously in both venues.  Andy’s slides were projected on the large screens in the virtual centre, and (as far as I could understand anyway) it was this that was broadcast to the real life attendees.  Andy used SL’s talk facility, fairly recently implemented, to speak to both actual and virtual attendees together.  For me, the voice channel and 3D sound worked extremely well: it’s very well implemented and I had no problems with it at all, although a couple of my virtual colleagues were unable to hear his talk.  Virtual delegates benefited during the curtailed Q&A session that followed (as Andy warned, it seems that presentations in SL always overrun) by having one of our number also present in Reading and able and willing to relay questions and comments from the RL audience to us.

Although those of us attending virtually definitely benefited from the event being made available in SL, I’m curious as to how much the RL attendees benefited from it.  Despite my previous peenging about highly visible backchannels at conferences and events, Andy was keen to encourage ‘chat heckling’ from SL delegates in order to demonstrate the value of the mixture of text and voice channels running simultaneously.  Being bound by the conventional format of a RL event of a static speaker, slides and an attentive audience, the real potential of SL was rather hidden: as Andy’s own presentation says, while ‘SL can be used to deliver lectures… [it is] most suited to “active” learning styles’ such as building, coding, discussion, role play, machinima and performance.

Andy did offer some caveats for the use of MUVEs in education.  Just as virtual attendees numbered about a tenth of the number of RL participants, so only around 10% of the RL audience had a SL avatar.  Andy cited Linden Lab’s own research that a massive 90% of accounts don’t make it past the orientation stage, and 90 day user retention remains at 10% despite significant changes and improvements within the environment and associated support.  He also argued that as many as 90% of people feel ‘alienated’ by virtual worlds and it is therefore inappropriate to focus pedagogic activities around MUVEs.  Unsurprisingly, there is evidence that they are much more effective for distance learning than for face to face classes.

Issues of identity in MUVEs are deeply fascinating.  At a recent Engineering Subject Centre event exploring the use of SL as a teaching aid, we were asked to identify ourselves and our institutions at the start of the session and almost all of us happily did so.  The suggestion by one participant that we should add this information to our avatars’ profiles, however, caused consternation:  people seemed very resistant to the idea, and one individual pointed out that people who use the same avatar for non-work activities would not be happy to share such personal information with random people they may meet inworld.  Despite the fact that I only use SL for work-related activities, I felt exactly the same sense of discomfort about explicitly associating my avatar with my real world identity.  Similarly, despite signing up for the Twinity beta, I’ve never actually logged in as by the time I got around to it they’d decided to embrace the use of real names – something I’m just not comfortable with. 

However, Andy raised the suggestion that the nebulous nature of identity in MUVEs might be part of what is turning off so many people: as well as students having to remember different RL and SL names for their teachers and peers, and lecturers (and possibly enterprise systems) needing to associate SL names with RL students for assessment and accreditation, appearance and even gender can be completely transformed in moments.  As we all know, we never really know who we’re talking to online no matter how much we want to fool ourselves, and perhaps the way an environment like SL celebrates and revels in that rather than trying to disguise it contributes to the alienation so many people seem to feel.

JISC funding for eassessment

There’s still plenty of time to get bids in for JISC’s current assessment-related circular - the deadline is noon on 1 August.

Two parts of this circular, Calls I and II, directly relate to assessment and offer funding ranging from £45,000 for a six month demonstrator project up to £200,000 for a two year ‘transforming curriculum delivery’ project.  Demonstrator projects will include an additional £15,000 funding available to the original developers of the toolkits with which their project will be working.

JISC have made a breakout room available at next week’s CAA Conference for potential bidders to use for scoping proposals and consortia.  Myles Danson and John Winkley will be available on both days to provide advice and answer questions, and are likely to be found on the JISC stand at the event.

There are several invaluable presentations from last week’s community briefing event which prospective bidders will want to check out, in particular Myles‘s presentation on the demonstrator projects, presentations by Sarah Knight and Lisa Gray on the transforming curriculum delivery call, and Sarah Davies‘s extremely helpful guide to bidding.  John Winkley‘s presentation to our last SIG meeting on various JISC assessment funding activities also provides useful information on both this call and some other imminent ITTs.

Lead institutions must be HE institutions funded by HEFCE or HEFCW, or FE institutions with 400+ FTE HE students; institutions and organisations which do not meet these criteria are welcome to apply as part of a consortium led by an eligible partner.  Please check the full text of the circular for full details.

Update: an updated version of Resources for Writing Successful JISC Bids was posted on the eLearning Focus site as I was writing this post and is definitely worth a look.