Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Helping People with their careers

Coaching or Mentoring, that is the question.

We are concerned in our school (Electronics and Computer Science) about the low numbers of female academics, and the apparent low progression rate from post grad, to post doc and academic.

Of course not all post grads will want to pursue an academic career, but we seem to have proportionally less females at each succesive level up the career ladder.

The University of Southampton has a number of initiatives which are specificially designed to assist/support female academics, post docs, post grads and undergraduates. See note at end of this post.

Plans are underway in ECS to introduce some life coaching for current post docs. Female post docs will all be approached directly, although the activitiy will be open to all post docs in the longer term.

Over in SES and Chemistry, there is a mentoring scheme which has just been launched. I think both approaches have particular strenghts, and will be interested to compare the two sets of activities.

WISET has already implemented action learning sets for senior female staff which has been found to be useful for those who participated, and may have contributed to a number of colleagues gaining promotions to Professorial level.

We have some fabulously high achieving women across our faculty of Engineering, Science and Mathematics. The provide wonderful role models for our female colleagues at all levels. Academic careers are highly competitive, there are some interesting issues inside the work we propose to consider to what extent the lower than normal levels of female progression is due to active choice, and to what extent it is due to structural barriers to female progression and the impact of perceptions on judgements made on both sides of the interview table.

WISET is a national organisation, and the local 'branch' is active in our faculty of Engineering Science and Mathematics. WISET's focus is predominantly on employed academic staff.

Theano is an initiative across the faculty which supports undergraduate and post graduate students.

Locally in ECS we have a group called ECS women which works to provide support specific to our school and the needs of students in our subject areas of Computer Science, Software Engineering, IT in Organisations, Web Technologies, Web Science, Electronic Engineering , Electro and Mechanical Engineering and Electrical Enginering

In ECS we also have a school diversity committee which concerns itself with all aspects of diversity amongst out staff and students.

Digital Native Myth or Reality?

Just yesterday I posted a Twitter reply to a friend's message stating that I thought the digital native/generation X/ Baby Boomer was an ill thought shorthand rather than anything based in reality.

Its a concept which we have touched upon in seminars in the Learning Societies Lab, especially in presentations from Dave Millard (LSL) and Linda Creanor (Caledonian Academy)

Today, I am checking out a friend's blog via Twitter, and hey ho I discover that my assertion is being to be backed up by a bit of evidence.

Better still I am going to be gathering evidence from my own institution (University of Southampton) looking at students' experiences and perceptions of technology in learning over the next few week and months for a which will contribute to a study (LLiDA) being run to follow this up.

From our perspective in Southampton, its also a follow up to the work we did on the benchmarking of eLearning. Benchmarking was interesting for a number of reasons, the data we gathered, and the methodology we used (EMM), our cohort which compared findings across the methodology, and some analysis of our perspective of a research intensive university.

So if you want to follow some of this through go take a look at the good work of folks in the Caledonian Academy and their Latest Thinking and which has a link to the paper by Anoush Margaryan and Allison Littlejohn.

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

PowerPoint is evil - alternative views

Much can be said about the way we communicate with presentation slides. PowerPoint is evil was a headline which grabbed many an imagination, and also struck a chord with the sentiments of people who had been bored to a near death experience.

Personally I am a great fan of the arguments presented by Tufts on visual communication. There are also many valuable resources and web sites which exist to advise the presenter. An instructive book which takes a theatrical perspective has been produced by Cliff Atkinsons
Beyond Bullet Points, which is available in our University Library, as well as via the usual online bookstores.

There has been some excellent work done by a consortium of US Universites who have looked at the assertion evidence approach to presentations - detailed below.

The issue is perhaps a little like driving a car. For some the instruction which is required has to be simple ones which will prevent the presentation stalling, and may even make it look like it is remotely coherent, but in the longer term you not only have to master the car, know how to drive it, but are able to ensure it stays on the road, and that you can navigate it to various destinations, always remembering that this particular car does not have the benefit of roads, signposts and certainly not motorwarys - pretty crap analogy, but it will have to do for now...

Rethinking the Design of Presentation Slides: The Assertion-Evidence Structure

Many of us ask our students (undergrad and post grad) to make presentations and are sometimes disappointed with the outcomes in terms of the content of the slides.

You may find this resource useful - developed collaboratively by a set of US universities specifically addressing the needs of engineering and scientific education. It is part of a wider set of material which also addresses technical writing.

From the web site....
" Recently, much criticism has arisen about the design of slides created with Microsoft PowerPoint. This web page challenges PowerPoint's default design of a single word or short phrase headline supported by a bullet list. Rather than subscribing to Microsoft's topic-subtopic design for slides, this web page advocates an assertion-evidence structure, which is shown in Figure 1 and which serves presentations that have the purpose of informing and persuading audiences about technical content. This structure, which features a sentence-assertion headline supported by visual evidence, is documented in Chapter 4 of The Craft of Scientific Presentations, a November 2005 article in Technical Communication, and the presentation "Rethinking the Design of Presentation Slides."

BTW I have no desire to revive the passionate debate as to the relative merits of presentation software options ;-)

Wednesday, 7 January 2009

Getting away from switches

Seminar from Paul Blenkhorn who is a visiting professor with LSL in ECS at Southampton got me doing a little thinking...

Titled "Getting away from switches" it included discussion of previous interfaces - now discontinued. Paul is working in conjunction with a Japanese University and various specialist hospitals who support people with physical disabilities.

The solutions offered are software virtual keyboards with a range of interface options. Be provided various example of how you select characters move around screen with switches by
The interfaces are to some extent user defined, but there is also constraint of affordance from the input devices. It seemed quite timely in the light of the onion video of the 'new' apple keyboardless computer ;-)

One option which Paul was giving the thumbs up was a Mouse wheel which can select column on keyboard then traverse individual keys. This was a bit like the jog wheel which Sony introduced a few years ago. This example moved away from pixel control, rather taking a functional cut on the screen, with the mouse wheel successively accessing usable areas of the the screen real estate

Another option he was very keen on was a ten key mouse, designed originally for numeric input I think.

We had a bit of discussion about the emergence of user interfaces (and their demise) and there were a few views offered on the persistence power of texting via mobile phones. People persist in using them, and they master them. My view is that the interfaces have been developed iteratively with millions of users and hours of user trials, effectively driving a rapid development cycle, spurred on by competition for market share. There was some discussion of possible artefacts in solutions and behaviours which arise from the differences between Japanese data input and english language user input.

Seems to me to be an issue about the difference between individual personalised solutions and generic solutions. There was some discussion of how user's needs might be assessed. I wonder if a recommender system might work?

Some kind of quick test and then you get served a particular interface with training, then a re-evaluation subsequently to fine tune, or recommend alternatives. There is also an issue about how long does training take.

I think that mobile phone expertise is a combination of personal muscle memory learning with intuitive design which enables the user to learn or remember how to use the system

I think it would be really interesting for Paul to do a head to head with Jon Maber. Jon has been working on his own specialist input device and it would be good to see how this is progressing. I also think that the two of them could stimulate some interesting discussion. I would also like to see some kind of symposium which brought together a range of interested parties and got some good discussion going in this area.