O'Really?

July 3, 2013

Manchester Digital and Higher Education in 2013

xkcd good code

Writing good code is often harder than it looks via Randall Munroe at xkcd.com

Manchester Digital is the independent trade association for the thriving digital sector in the North West of England. Last night they held their AGM and elections for new members of their council. I was encouraged to stand for election, and alongside 19 other candidates, had to give a two-minute  “manifesto” in a hustinglightning-talk format. Here’s roughly what I said, from the perspective of software, hardware and developers, with some added links and a bit more polish:

The success of Manchester’s Digital economy is dependent on educating, recruiting and training a pool of talented developers to work in the region. As identified in the Manchester Digital skills audit, developers are often the hardest roles to fill, as many graduates and potential employees are drawn to other high-tech hubs like London, Silicon Fen and Silicon Valley, California for employment.

Addressing this issue is an important for Manchester Digital and requires closer collaboration between Higher education, Secondary education and employers. As a tutor at the University of Manchester, with responsibility for managing internships for students in Computer Science I am in a strong position to enable more collaboration between educators and employers. As a council member I would do this in four ways:

  1. Encouraging students to consider employment in Manchester as their first job, by promoting internships and graduate vacancies with local organisations alongside traditional graduate programmes at larger multinational companies
  2. Listening to what employers in Manchester want so that students can be better prepared for the workplace, while balancing the competing needs of training and education.
  3. Challenging local employers to raise their game to compete with larger employers and attract graduates to work for their organisations
  4. Inspiring the next generation of scientists and engineers by extending current work with schools and supporting undergraduate students doing outreach work involving Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). For example: through the STEMnet ambassador programme, Code Club, Animation FestivalTeenTech and related work.

These are key activities that will enable the continued success of Manchester’s Digital Economy and I ask Manchester Digital members to vote for me if they agree. Thank you!

Whatever the outcome, the AGM & hustings were great fun and it was good to catchup with old friends and meet some new people too. Hope to see some of you again the Manchester Digital BBQ on 11th July…

June 18, 2013

Peter Suber’s Open Access book is now freely available under an open-access license

Peter Suber's Open Access book

Open Access by Peter Suber is now open access

If you never got around to buying Peter Suber’s book about Open Access (OA) publishing [1] “for busy people”, you might be pleased to learn that it’s now freely available under an open-access license.

One year after being published in dead-tree format, you can now get the whole digital book for free. There’s not much point writing yet another review of it [1], see Peter’s extensive collection of reviews at cyber.law.harvard.edu. The book succinctly covers:

  1. What Is Open Access? (and what it is not)
  2. Motivation: OA as solving problems and seizing opportunities
  3. Varieties: Green and Gold, Gratis versus libre 
  4. Policies: Funding mandates (NIH, Wellcome Trust etc)
  5. Scope: Pre-prints and post-prints
  6. Copyright: … or Copyfight?
  7. Economics: Who pays the bills? Publication fees, toll-access paywalls and “author pays”
  8. Casualties: “OA doesn’t threaten publishing; it only threatens existing publishers who do not adapt”
  9. Future: Where next?
  10. Self-Help: DIY publishing

Open Access for MACHINES!

A lot of the (often heated) debate about Open Access misses an important point about open access being for machines as well as humans, or as Suber puts in Chapter 5 on Scope:

We also want access for machines. I don’t mean the futuristic altruism in which kindly humans want to help curious machines answer their own questions. I mean something more selfish. We’re well into the era in which serious research is mediated by sophisticated software. If our machines don’t have access, then we don’t have access. Moreover, if we can’t get access for our machines, then we lose a momentous opportunity to enhance access with processing.

Think about the size of the body of literature to which you have access, online and off. Now think realistically about the subset to which you’d have practical access if you couldn’t use search engines, or if search engines couldn’t index the literature you needed.

Information overload didn’t start with the internet. The internet does vastly increase the volume of work to which we have access, but at the same time it vastly increases our ability to find what we need. We zero in on the pieces that deserve our limited time with the aid of powerful software, or more precisely, powerful software with access. Software helps us learn what exists, what’s new, what’s relevant, what others find relevant, and what others are saying about it. Without these tools, we couldn’t cope with information overload. Or we’d have to redefine “coping” as artificially reducing the range of work we are allowed to consider, investigate, read, or retrieve.

It’s refreshing to see someone making these points that are often ignored, forgotten or missed out of the public debate about Open Access. The book is available in various digital flavours including:

References

  1. Suber, Peter. Open Access (MIT Press Essential Knowledge, The MIT Press, 2012). ISBN:0262517639
  2. Clair, Kevin. (2013). Kevin Michael Clair reviews Open Access by Peter Suber The Journal of Academic Librarianship, 39 (1) DOI: 10.1016/j.acalib.2012.11.017

March 15, 2013

Creating with the Raspberry Pi vs. Consuming Apple Pie at the Manchester Raspberry Jamboree

MiniGirlGeek

Thirteen year old Amy Mather aka @MiniGirlGeek steals the show at Manchester Raspberry Jam 2013

Last Saturday, the first ever Raspberry Jamboree rolled into town, organised by the unstoppable force of nature that is Alan O’Donohoe (aka @teknoteacher). The jamboree looked at the educational value of the Raspberry Pi (a $25 computer) one year on from its launch on the the 29th February 2012. Here are some brief and incomplete notes on some of the things that happened in the main room, aka ‘Jamboree Central’. The workshops and other events have been covered by Jason Barnett @boeeerb.

A key feature of the Raspberry Pi foundation (and the Jamboree) was neatly summed up by Paul Beech (aka @guru) who compared the Raspberry Pi to various Apple iThings. Paul’s view is that when it comes to computing, Apple gives you a “sandy beach, sunbed and cocktail” to passively consume digital content with while the Raspberry Pi gives you a “desert, knife and a bottle” to actively create new things (see his tweet below).

Consuming Apple Pie on a sandy beach, with a sunbed and a cocktail

Engineering evangelist Rob Bishop used Apple Inc. to illustrate what the Raspberry Pi is about in his talk ‘one year on‘. Rob pointed out that a huge amount of effort at Apple Inc. is put into making Computing invisible and seamless. This is great if you’re consuming content on your iPad or iPhone, and what many users want – easy to use, with all the nasty internal gubbins tucked away, out of sight. This is tasty Californian Apple Pie, which many of consume in large amounts.

However, invisible computing is a problem for education, because it is difficult to demonstrate the Wonders of Computer Science (Brian Cox’s next TV series) with a device like the iPad.  Many of the internals of modern devices are completely inaccessible, and it’s non-trivial for budding young engineers to build anything very interesting with it particularly quickly.

In contrast, the Raspberry Pi can be challenging to setup, just getting the Operating System up and running isn’t always straightforward. However, there’s a ton of interesting stuff you can build with it: Nifty robotics, bionic bird boxes, musical hackery, twittering chickens, live train departure boards, internet radiossinging jelly babies and loads of other pideas. Try doing that with your iPad…

Creating with Raspberry Pi in the desert, using a knife and a bottle

Most of the jamboree focussed not on Apple but on the things that can be created with Raspberry Pi: the What and Why and When And How and Where and Who with keynotes from Steve Furber [1] and talks and panel sessions from:

A highlight of the jamboree was the closing keynote given by the thirteen year old Mini Girl Geek on what she’s been doing with her Raspberry Pi. MiniGirlGeek (aka Amy Mather pictured above) stole the show with her demo implementations of Conway’s Game of Life in Python. [update: see video below]

What’s interesting is that Conway’s Game of Life is used as an exercise for first year undergraduates in Computer Science at the University of Cambridge. So it’s great to see teenagers mastering the “knife” of Raspberry Pi, and reminds us that Raspberry Pi is no “sunbed and cocktail” but with a little patience, ambition and talent there’s plenty to capture the imagination of young people about Computing.

References

  1. Steve Furber et al (2012). Computing in Schools: Shut down or restart? Royal Society Report

February 4, 2013

On becoming a STEMnet ambassador: What, why and how?

A piece of raspberry pie

Creative Commons licensed picture of a DayGlo Raspberry Pi by @kevinv033 on Flickr

STEMNet is an organisation in the UK which creates opportunities to inspire young people in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). Recently, along with about 15 PhD students from the CDT in Manchester, I became an STEM Ambassador. This post briefly describes what STEMNet is all about, why you would want to get involved and how you can do so.

What is STEMNet?

STEMnet is a network of volunteers (STEM ambassadors) who help schools and teachers by providing extra support in the classroom to teach topics in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Teachers can ask the network for all kinds of help, it might be, for example:

  • role models to do a Day in the Life of… session (e.g. Astronaut, Star Gazer, Genetic Engineer, Roboticist etc)
  • help with a Raspberry Pi workshop
  • support running a Science club
  • demonstrations of interesting technology that might not normally be available in school
  • et cetera

Ambassadors (who have been vetted by the DBS) respond to teacher requests or propose their own ideas. Ambassadors commit to doing at least one education or outreach event per year, and often end of doing more. Interesting and varied learning experiences usually follow.

Why you should get involved

There are plenty of reasons to get involved in STEMnet:

  • It can be great fun working with young people.
  • The world would probably be a BetterPlace™ if we had more scientists, technologists, engineers and mathematicians. STEMNet is working towards achieving this important goal.
  • Schools and teachers need all the help they can get in the classroom, teaching is a challenging but important job.
  • If you think you’re a nifty communicator, there’s nothing quite like a classroom full of teenagers (or younger) for testing your theory.
  • Join an active and diverse network of around 30,000 ambassadors across the UK

How to get involved

Contact your friendly local STEMnet co-ordinator if you would like to become a STEM Ambassador. For Greater Manchester, that’s the good folk based at the Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI): Daniel O’Connell and Donna Johnson (featured in the video below).

We’ve got some exciting new projects planned via STEMNet, in addition to what’s already going on at cs.manchester.ac.uk/schools. Watch this space!

January 11, 2013

A joke about teaching and learning via Jason Bangbala

The MOOC

What, if anything, can stop the MOOC? Creative Commons licensed picture via Giulia Forsythe on Flickr.

The debate about Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) is making lots of people think harder about education and how people learn. Are we witnessing Higher Education’s Napster moment, where online services replace physical ones [1] ? Is undergraduate education over-priced [2]? How can education be improved [3]? What is the point of Education anyway? These are all interesting and mostly unanswered questions.

You might hear it said that secondary education is often delivered by excellent teachers, with questionable subject knowledge, whereas higher education is delivered by experts with excellent subject knowledge, but poorer teaching skills.

Jason Bangbala, an educational consultant, puts it another way.

What is the difference between primary, secondary and higher education?

  • In primary education, the teachers love their students.
  • In secondary education, the teachers love their subject.
  • In higher education, the teachers love themselves.

True? Hmmm, I don’t know. But it is funny…

References

  1. Moshe Vardi (2012). Will MOOCs destroy academia? Communications of the ACM, 55 (11), 5-5 DOI: 10.1145/2366316.2366317
  2. Salman Khan (2013). What college could be like Communications of the ACM, 56 (1) DOI: 10.1145/2398356.2398370
  3. Fred Martin (2012). Will massive open online courses change how we teach? Communications of the ACM, 55 (8) DOI: 10.1145/2240236.2240246

November 30, 2012

The University of Mo-chester, UK: Scientific Movember Team

Movember is now in its tenth year but like many men, I’ve resisted the urge to grow a Mo because of

  1. an inability to grow a decent moustache
  2. a reluctance to look like a p0rn star / seventies pervert / gay cowboy [delete as appropriate]
  3. a fear of scaring off potential collaborators, customers, undergraduates, postgraduates, friends etc
  4. a long history of fine facial foliage from Errol Flynn to Tom Selleck, Henry Wellcome to Freddie Mercury, Charlie Chaplin to Lemmy from Motörhead. How can you compete with distinguished facial hair like that?

Then I looked around me and thought, what the heck,  that’s not stopping anyone else. So with a few colleagues we got together and created the University of Mo-chester, CSMCR team. So far we’ve raised over £1000 for prostate and testicular cancer and you can still sponsor us. There’s a group photo of us below – you can’t actually see my moustache in that picture because it is blonde. Honest guv’.

csmcr mobros

CSMCR Mo Bros, from left to right: Bijan Parsia, Sean Bechhofer, Alan Stokes, Nicolas Matentzoglu, Dimitri Tsarkov, Kristian Garza (cheating with a beard!), Matthew Makin, Simon Harper, Jim Miles, Yours Truly, Michele Filannino and Toby Howard.

There’s an interesting back story to Movember, told here by its Aussie founder, Adam Garone:

Movember isn’t just about raising money, it’s about raising awareness too. If you’re a bloke, have you felt your balls lately, for testicular cancer (obviously)? Do you know about prostate cancer? With a few caveats [1], Movember is having a generally positive effect on human health [2] – and its a lot of fun too!

References

  1. McCartney, M. (2012). Is Movember misleading men? BMJ, 345 DOI: 10.1136/bmj.e8046
  2. Jeffcott, M., Cagiannos, I., & Zorn, K. (2012). Movember update: The Canadian perspective Canadian Urological Association Journal, 6 (3) DOI: 10.5489/cuaj.12037

July 13, 2012

Animation 2012: Computer Science for Schools

Animation 2012 at the University of Manchester

Computer Science as a subject in mainstream UK secondary education is in a pretty sorry state [1,2,3] but it’s not all doom and gloom. While many long suffering school children are being force-fed a nauseating diet of Excel, PowerPoint and Access others are enjoying a nutritious platter of Raspberry Pi, Hack to the Future and Animated fun.

Here’s a brief report on one of these tasty appetisers: Animation 2012, a UK schools animation competition now in its fifth year.

The day kicked off with prizes being awarded for the animation competition. To get a flavour of the creativity and skill involved, you can see winning examples online.

Following the prize giving there was a carousel of activities which included:

Animation 2012 was great fun for all involved, congratulations to all this years winners, hope to see you again next year. There were 526 Schools involved from across the UK, with 914 entries. 58 students were involved in the 35 winning entries from 31 different schools. Thanks to Toby Howard, all the organisers, supporters (Google, Electronic Arts and NESTA) and associates (Computing at School, CS4FN and BAFTA young game designers) for putting on an impressive show.

References

  1. Steve Furber et al (2012). Computing in Schools: Shut down or restart? Royal Society Report
  2. James Robinson (2011). Eric Schmidt, chairman of Google, condemns British education system: criticising division between science and arts, The Guardian
  3. Keith Stuart (2011). Michael Gove admits schools should teach computer science: education secretary recognises the failings of ICT courses, The Guardian

September 8, 2011

UK Riots: Blame it on the Baby Boomers

What caused the summer riots of 2011 in the UK? Many reasons have been suggested and a long list of possible causes has been drawn up over the summer.  The baby boomer generation should be added to the list of suspects. It is the baby boomers, those born roughly between 1945-1965, that caused the riots – it’s mostly their fault [1].

Riot police looks on as fire rages through a building in Tottenham, north London Sunday, Aug. 7, 2011. A demonstration against the death of a local man turned violent and cars and shops were set ablaze. (AP Photo/PA, Lewis Whyld)

Arson and rioting in Tottenham, August 2011 (AP Photo/PA, Lewis Whyld)

UK riots: a long list of suspects

Who or what can we blame for the UK riots? It’s complicated but we could

It is hard to conclusively prove that any of these suspects are guilty as charged because the causes of rioting are complex. However, it seems likely that the unequal wealth and influence of baby boomers was a contributing factor in the UK riots. You can read all about it in Mr Willett’s intriguing book [1,2].

References

  1. David Willetts (2010) The Pinch: How the Baby Boomers Took Their Children’s Future – And Why They Should Give it Back ISBN: 1848872313. See full book reviews in The Telegraph, The Times, The Guardian, The Economist, The Daily Mail and New Statesman

April 1, 2011

Circular logic is the best type of logic, because it’s circular

Me Fish!One of the great things about logic is there are so many different flavours to choose from. If you thought that logic came in just one flavour (vanilla), then think again. Now, I Am Not A Logician, but I can’t help marvelling at the bewildering array of  logical flavours on offer including, but not limited to:

So if you’ve ever wondered which logic was the “best” kind of logic, then maybe Antonio Cangiano can provide an answer. Antonio recently stated that:

Easy, you see? Circular logic, is logically the best…

References

  1. Lucas Laursen (2009). Computational biology: Biological logic Nature, 462 (7272), 408-410 DOI: 10.1038/462408a
  2. Critical Reasoning for Beginners, Oxford University iTunesU

[Creative Commons licensed circular shot by Hamed Saber]

January 19, 2011

Animated speeches at the RSA

Filed under: education — Duncan Hull @ 7:51 am
Tags: , , ,

The Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures & Commerce (RSA) has an interesting series of video lectures from “the world’s most inspiring thinkers”. If you haven’t seen them already, they’re worth watching not just for their stimulating content but for the beautifully produced hand-drawn animations. The one below is from Ken Robinson on the purpose of education:

There are a whole series of these along the same lines on the RSA’s YouTube channel. The illustrations are really good (but it doesn’t seem to say anywhere who the artist behind the work is?)

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