Monthly Archives: February 2016

And they look really spidery too

Another great Excel article from Mynda Treacy​, this time about her​​ views on radar charts. It’s safe to say she’s not a fan. Some great points here about data visualisation and how to get messages across. I’ve never used a radar chart, but that’s more because I’ve never really understood them.

Excel alternatives to radar charts
Radar charts display data in a circular fashion, which is the opposite of the straight line comparisons we’re able to subconsciously perform. This means we have to work hard to make any comparisons and as a result we’re likely to make mistakes in our assumptions.​

She mentions this article ​by Stephen Few, who weighs in further but does recognise when these radar charts might have their uses.

Keep radar graphs below the radar – far below (pdf)
This one advantage motivates me to ease up just a bit on my repugnance toward radar graphs.

Data, data, everywhere – any of it helping?

Data and education. Educating ourselves with data? On data? Improving education by improving data?

We might have the data, but have we got the answers?
Regarding what he calls ‘technical validity’, are we measuring what we are supposed to be measuring? Then, in what he describes as ‘normative validity’, are we measuring what we value, or are we valuing what we measure? Two important questions for us all to ask about the data that our systems are awash with.

Some great points here, refreshingly honest, about the state of data and information in schools. And here’s a response of sorts, albeit from a higher education perspective:

Taking the data conversation to a new level
The publication of this report is a significant moment in our journey to build a better data infrastructure for UK higher education because it is coming from a very different place. The members of the Higher Education Commission are senior, experienced leaders, strategists and Politicians and previous Commission inquiries have addressed topics like the regulation and the financial sustainability of HE. These are not people whose natural habitat is the world of petabytes, XML and FUNDCOMP; they are perhaps the most un-nerd bunch you could ever assemble. Yet their decision to base this inquiry on data in HE is in itself a recognition of the fundamental transformations that data technology is enabling.

Meanwhile, though:

Students hit by University of Greenwich data breach
Students’ names, addresses, dates of birth, mobile phone numbers and signatures were all uploaded to the university’s website. They were posted alongside minutes from the university’s Faculty Research Degrees Committee, which oversees the registrations and progress of its research students. In some cases, mental health and other medical problems were referenced to explain why students had fallen behind with their work.

EU et UK HE

It’s let’s-have-a-heated-debate time again, this time about whether or not we should stay in the European Union.​​ Here are a few articles on the higher education angle to all this.

Contemplating a Brexit for UK HE
I’ve left the strongest argument that the HE sector can muster till last: the student trade. 6% of all students in UK universities are from elsewhere in the EU. That’s a lot of fee income. And, over the decades after their graduation, it’s a lot of soft power. Of course it’s more than that too. It’s an example of our open society. It changes us to meet, argue, learn from, befriend and fall in love with people from other parts of Europe.

What has the European Union ever done for us?
The EU is both a catalyst and an enabler of collaboration. It breaks down barriers to collaboration and makes working across borders easier by reducing the level of bureaucracy which researchers face when putting together complex multi-national bids.

Both authors think we should stay in the EU and that the UK higher education sector, and society as a whole, benefits from our continued membership, but both seem to worry that their arguments are quite weak and can be easily rebutted.

I can’t imagine for a moment though that many people are giving the academy much thought in this debate. Unfortunately.

Superhero storage?

​Trying really hard to get excited about this.

Eternal 5D data storage could record the history of humankind
Coined as the ‘Superman memory crystal’, as the glass memory has been compared to the “memory crystals” used in the Superman films, the data is recorded via self-assembled nanostructures created in fused quartz. The information encoding is realised in five dimensions: the size and orientation in addition to the three dimensional position of these nanostructures.​

[…]

“It is thrilling to think that we have created the technology to preserve documents and information and store it in space for future generations. This technology can secure the last evidence of our civilisation: all we’ve learnt will not be forgotten.”​

An incredibly clever way of storing ​data, to be sure, but haven’t we heard all this before? And it’s not how you store it but how you read it that’s key, when pondering the far future.

Reading without words

​A novel, visual way of reading books.

Punctuation in novels
Here is a comparison of some other books — notice how large a break A Farewell To Arms was from the past. There almost no commas, just sentences, dialogue. How refreshing and wild that must have been! Look at how spartan Blood Meridian is compared to everything. Pay attention to the semicolons which seem to have disappeared from writing.​

Weightlifting for the brain

Something for 21 February, International Mother Language Day.

Being bilingual changes the architecture of your brain
Plus, making a decision with every word you say may actually be like weightlifting for the brain. Every time I choose “washing machine” over “lavadora,” or vice versa, my brain gets a little stronger. Kroll thinks this constant cognitive challenge that bilinguals face may be responsible for an observed improvement in what’s called executive function, or the ability to filter out unnecessary information and make decisions.​

Reshaping or shrinking the curriculum?

EBac: ‘With what authority is it being argued that art, social sciences, D&T, and the rest, are not “stretching”?’
The idea of core academic subjects is an example of lazy thinking. It seems unconnected to the conversations being had in other educationally high-performing countries about what it is to be educated today. In England, we need high-quality options that are broad, rich and deep for all children, not the five restricting pillars that we are being offered.​

Should we not be keeping our options — and the options of the students that come through our schools — as open as possible?​

Useful invigilator training materials

​It’s coming up to that time of year again. Time flies when you’re having fun, right?

The Exams Office: Invigilation
Exams officers are required to recruit, train and deploy invigilators. An effective team of invigilators can not only ensure that exams run smoothly, but they can also undertake a range of additional tasks which could help ease the burden placed upon exams officers during an exams series. The Exams Office has produced a series of support resources which will help our members develop the best possible team of invigilators in their centre.

Digital good?

Interesting publications on design, technology and change for ‘good’
“I’m pulling together a list of interesting, thought-provoking reading on how design, technology and change (the three things that, for me, define ‘digital’) can help organisations that work in the community, voluntary, charity, non-profit, social enterprise type space.”

There are some interesting people in the non-profit and public sectors, with some great ideas about how technology and a more digital outlook can improve organisations and help people. Hopefully Dave’s reading list is a growing resource.

Recreating Ofsted’s Inspection dashboards

Thoughts on managing variability: School’s own data in the Ofsted inspection data dashboard
“To try to overcome some of these issues while still presenting the data in a format very similar to the official dashboard I have thrown together a spreadsheet that emulates the Ofsted layout as much as I can (given Excel’s limitations).”

This looks like a really useful resource, but I think I’ll need a fair amount of time to get my head round it all.