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Monday, February 20, 2006

Nuvvo online classes

Nuvvo is a free service that enables anyone to create an online course. Their business model is based on taking a commission from the tuition. It will be interesting to see how well this works.

Although many courses are free, one disadvantage is that the content is not available without logging in and thus will not be indexed by the major search engines. This limits open courseware applications.

Thanks to the Stingy Scholar for the link.

Friday, February 17, 2006

PAET conference in Philly

Just a reminder that the Philadelphia Area Educational Technology Conference is this coming Wednesday February 22, 2006. We'll be discussing games, podcasting and related issues.

Peer Review in the Google Age Meeting

There will be a special session of the Drexel RSS club meeting on Thursday, February 23, 2006 at 11:00 EST. Locals are welcome in 4020 MacAlister. We can also take a few online participants via Netmeeting - contact Jean-Claude.Bradley@drexel.edu for details or to RSVP.

Peer Review in the Google Age: Brief presentations by the following speakers with links to their thoughts on the subject

Jean-Claude Bradley
, E-Learning Coordinator for the College of Arts and Sciences and Associate Professor of Chemistry, Drexel University

Peggy Dominy and Jay Bhatt, Librarians at Hagerty Library, Drexel University

Heather Morrison, Librarian at Simon Fraser University

Jean-Claude Bradley mp3 podcast/screencast vodcast and Powerpoint
Peggy Dominy and Jay Bhatt mp3 podcast/screencast vodcast and Powerpoint
Heather Morrison Powerpoint

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Drexel College of Business RSS feed

I just heard from Jennifer Maden that the Center for Teaching Excellence in the Drexel LeBow College of Business now has an RSS feed. Keep those Drexel feeds coming.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

ACS wiki on chemical biology

The American Chemical Society has just started a wiki on Chemical Biology. There is not much there yet but we'll keep an eye on it from time to time. Unfortunately it does not appear that there is an RSS feed available.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Peer Review in the Google Age

Peer review in science has been the subject of significant controversy. Peggy Dominy has links to some recent articles discussing the matter. Dave Bradley points out that some journals are moving towards removing the anonymity of reviewers.

In a world where finding information is laborious, the knowledge that a document is from a "“trusted source" is valuable. I remember spending tremendous amounts of time as a graduate student in the early 90's using the Chemical Abstract books looking for articles about my research. An article from the Journal of Organic Chemistry was likely to have a reliable experimental section and it was worth my time to physically locate that article and photocopy it. Other sources might not have warranted the effort.

But the situation is different today. The only reason I have for visiting the library now is to see my librarian friends. The fact that I can download articles from my office or my home has made things easier. But just as importantly, my ability to quickly filter through databases using flexible queries saves a tremendous amount time. The source of the information is really not as important as my ability to find it online immediately.

The idea that peer review is useful to "authenticate" research has always seemed a bit strange to me. After all, the targeted audience for most scientific articles consists of (by definition) peers of the author. What makes the reviewers selected by an editor any more capable of validating an article than the targeted audience?

Of course reviewers do not repeat the experiments in an article and cannot check for fraud. This can only be determined over time, after other researchers have had a chance to try to use the reported techniques. Once in a while a big scientific fraud case makes the news and that would happen with or without peer review.

Sometimes it is clear that reviewers do not even read the articles, as was made evident from the green light given to a computer generated document of random jargon.

From an editor's perspective, peer review is a cost-effective way to maintain the quality and focus of a journal. And certainly for the well-known journals in a given field, it is essential. However in an age when anyone can start an online "journal" and select reviewers that remain anonymous, the term "peer review" is not a very good indicator of quality. Unfortunately it is still used a kind of gold standard in academic promotion and tenure when counting publications.

I think the real issue is that we have to separate the problem of efficiently communicating scientific information from the problem of convincing a committee of the impact of a faculty member's scholarship. And when doing open science, the first concern is the communication of the information. Heather Morrison, Peter Suber and others are also commenting on this. That's why we're blogging our entire undigested laboratory notebook as close as we can to real time.

When I was looking a synthesis of a key compound for our malaria project, I was not interested in peer review. Others who are thinking about repeating our experiments will probably not care either.

This does not prevent the subsequent write-up of a peer reviewed article summarizing the experiments, just like talking about experiments in a conference usually does not prevent publication in most journals. There is plenty of room for both types of communication.

First disclose, then discuss and finally convince when necessary.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Financial Times podcasting article

A few of my students and I were interviewed in this Financial Times article on lecture podcasting. Kathryn is actually the student who requested a vodcast of our organic chemistry class for her ipod video and got me motivated to get it done this term.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Blogger as lab notebook

This week I moved the experimental data of the work in my lab to a new blog. Each experiment will be a separate post. I currently have one graduate and two undergraduate students contributing. We will still continue to use the main UsefulChem blog to discuss experiments and synthetic strategy but the raw data will be housed separately.

Thus experiments are interlinked with discussions about them. And links can be made from the experiments to the molecules used in the UsefulChem-Molecules blog.

In terms of carrying out open source science, there are three objectives that I am trying to achieve with this:

1) Access. Posts on Blogger are very quickly indexed by Google and other major search engines. That means that fellow researchers can be alerted on the same day that an experiment takes place in my lab using, for example, MSN RSS or Blogsearch queries.

2) Transparency. There is not a document produced by a human being that is not shaped by a motive other than impartial disclosure. Often what is not mentioned is just as important as what is. Experiments that don’t yield desired results are usually not reported. And that is even more true for experiments that are somehow botched or suboptimal in some way. Any chemistry grad student can tell you that there is tremendous value in discussing failed experiments with others who are equally or more knowledgeable. However, this discussion is usually limited to lab co-workers. By recording ongoing experiments in blogs, I can help you just by knowing what you are trying to do, even if you have not yet succeeded.

3) Replication. There is no gatekeeper to convince in this system. No software to download. No server to set up. Almost no learning curve. Anyone doing science is free to replicate in their field of interest. Fully democratic science.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Open education history

Dave Wiley has a nice summary of the history and current state of open education.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Science research blogs

Although there has been a lot of attention directed to science blogs recently, most of these deal with the summarization of research already published elsewhere.

What has not yet been widely done is the use of blogs or wikis to actually do science by communicating and debating experimental details from scientist to scientist in public. I have started to list initiatives such as OpenWetWare and our own UsefulChem.

For this reason, I was very interested in this post from ChemPort, noting this paper:

Blog-based research notebook: Personal informatics workbench for high-throughput experimentation
Shin-ichi Todoroki, Tomoya Konishi and Satoru Inoue
Applied Surface Science
Volume 252, Issue 7 , 31 January 2006, Pages 2640-2645

Unfortunately, from reading the article, it looks like this research blog is password protected. I think that the main advantage of using blogs to communicate scientific information is the ease of sharing content openly through channels such as RSS.

If the authors do have public scientific blogs available I will update here.

Friday, February 03, 2006

AFT article

Here is an article I wrote for the American Federation of Teachers on educational technology.

I teach, therefore iPod

By Jean-Claude Bradley

Experimentation with several new technologies in the classroom is bringing a kind of renaissance to the educational world. Podcasting stands out as one of the popular new teaching strategies to enter the scene. It generally refers to the distribution of mp3 audio files to portable audio devices like iPods or computers.

Making audio available on the Internet is nothing new. What makes podcasting different is that the distribution is made by a subscription process. Users subscribe once and from that point forward the files are automatically downloaded onto their computer or audio device when the files become available on the server. Before podcasting, users would have to keep checking for updates manually, which was just not practical for most people.

This subscription process is built on RSS, which stands for Really Simple Syndication. With the tools currently available, creating and subscribing to RSS feeds really is simple. Some universities have created a central service to handle the recording, hosting and creation of lecture podcast feeds. Purdue’s Boilercast is a good example of this strategy.

For universities that do not provide a central service, teachers are still able to podcast their lectures by using easy-to-use and, for the most part, freely available resources. For example, a podcast can be created by using the services offered online at Blogger.com and Feedburner.com. Even the mp3 files can be hosted for free at sites like Archive.org.

Although a handful of teachers conducted podcast pilots in early 2005, the podcasting of lecture audio recordings really took off in the fall of 2005. Both university-initiated top-down efforts and individual teachers started to provide lecture recordings to students via podcasting, and these efforts happened in conjunction with Apple’s release of a version of iTunes that simplified the podcast subscription process. In fact, browsing the educational section of iTunes is a good way to assess the courses now available as podcasts. Most of these are freely available to anyone.

For the most part, podcasting involves the distribution of audio files only. It is certainly possible to podcast video (vodcasting) but this may not be practical for long lectures due to the large files involved. One option is to podcast small pdf files to provide material to follow along with the audio. Video also can be hosted on a streaming server to circumvent downloading large files. Videotaping the teacher is one way to obtain video, but it requires a video camera and an operator with sufficient technical knowledge to see clearly what is drawn on the chalkboard or displayed by a projector. A much simpler alternative is to run screen capture software that records whatever appears on the screen of the teacher’s laptop or TabletPC along with the audio during a lecture. When distributed to students, the resulting screencasts provide a very similar experience to being in the classroom, with the added control of being able to replay any part of the lecture at any time.

The arrival of this technology is forcing some teachers to re-evaluate their role as educators. If the recorded lecture is available online, why go to class? This concern is voiced in much of the dialogue taking place online over this topic (see, for example http://drexel-coas-elearning.blogspot.com/2005

One approach to deal with attendance is to only give partial material so that the students still will have to come to class for the full benefit. But if an archived lecture is just as effective as a live one in transmitting the basic subject matter, that can be an opportunity to shift the role of the teacher to a higher, more interactive level. Lectures can be assigned and class time can be spent integrating knowledge through conversation and creative assignments that deal with real world applications of the subject matter. We have only begun to see what this technology will make possible for the future of education.

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