Peer assessment in teaching

This year I implemented a bunch of new things in my “Introduction to Research and Ethics” module, including peer assessment. I hadn’t done it before so was a little nervous about it, but it worked out really well. There’s a great write-up that my faculty’s CELT officer wrote with me about the process available here.

I was particularly chuffed at being mentioned in the minutes from the assessment board – it’s not often that particular lecturers get mentioned and commended by name by the external examiner!

I plan to put together a portfolio for an internal teacher fellowship application this year – so wish me luck!

If you’re one of my incoming second years – you have this to look forward to! If you went through it last year, you’ll be pleased to know that I’ve learned a lot from your experience and appreciate your patience!

Learning history through Dungeons & Dragons

So I’ve been DMing a game of Dungeons and Dragons regularly for a few weeks now. It’s not my first game, but it’s certainly my most complex. It’s the first where I’ve built the world up fully myself and set up the encounters and so on throughout the game.

The setting is, basically, “ancient Yorubaland” (the quotes implying that it is in no way historically accurate), where people from Oyo and surrounds have been suddenly threatened by strange enemies that appear from nowhere and take captives away (or kill them if they resist). Fairly standard stuff. In this game there are desert elves, jungle elves, “high” elves, humans, and old, wise warthogs. My group had been wanting to ditch the European medieval fantasy tropes so it was a good opportunity to learn a bit about ancient Nigeria, and let me tell you, the Yoruba freakin’ kicked arse. At basically everything, but especially cavalry warfare. They also have pretty awesome gods (orisha), which is always important in a D&D setting. You can read quite a lot on the Oyo empire here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oyo_Empire

The enemies, however, come from far away, via the Ethereal plane through portals. They are yuan-ti that hail from, basically, Tenochtitlan, which have been fighting the elvish city-states to the north (Cholula, Huejotzingo, Tlaxcala) in a highly ritualised forever-war aimed at providing the yuan-ti with sacrifices for their god.

This war is basically [SPOILERS TO MY D&D GROUP – DON’T READ THIS LINK] the Flower War which I had never heard of before and which is pretty amazing. It’s also happening at the eve of Iberian dwarves arriving to, uh, well, trade or something with the local people. It’ll be interesting to see what happens there… 😉

So basically I have been learning a boatload about historical areas I never knew much about, for a D&D game in which I mispronounce just about everyone’s and everything’s name. So my lesson for you is: go play D&D and learn about cool historical stuff!


 

Image is of the Great Pyramid at Cholula: “Teocalli vid Cholula, Nordisk familjebok bd 4” by Nordisk familjebok, Vol 4. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Teocalli_vid_Cholula,_Nordisk_familjebok_bd_4.png#mediaviewer/File:Teocalli_vid_Cholula,_Nordisk_familjebok_bd_4.png

Today I turned off Facebook.

Since 2007 I’ve been on Facebook. That’s around 8 years. I had around 300 “friends” and I enjoyed some of the long discussions I’d have with people on there. However, it’s just not worth the privacy cost any more. Facebook has been slowly eroding my privacy over these last 8 years, and I’ve finally realised that it’s too much for me. There wasn’t any particular thing that pushed me, but Sal’s post here reminded me what Facebook (and other companies’) goals are, and about the underhanded ways in which they repeatedly change their privacy policies to achieve those goals.

I’m resigned to my lack of privacy with my mobile phone/laptop/tablet company (Apple) but at least they just want to sell me cool tech. I’m resigned to my lack of privacy with Google, but that’s basically because it’s Google and there’s not much you can really do about it these days. (Not that I’m saying it’s good, but that “unplugging” from Google is a mammoth task that currently isn’t quite worth it for me given the usefulness of their stuff.)

Facebook, however, is something I can live without. If you’re here because you’re wondering where I’ve gone, I’m on twitter @liedra (yes, they’re not exactly angels either, but I know where I stand with Twitter – everything is not private!) and on Google Plus (as my full name). I realise this will likely make planning some things annoying for my friends who like to use Facebook events. I am sorry. I’d still like to come! Email me (liedra at this domain) instead – it comes straight to my phone. Or you can text me. Ask for my phone number. Thanks for understanding.

Hopefully I’ve made you think about your own privacy cost. Is what Facebook is doing worth it for you? I’d hope that the fact an ethicist is leaving Facebook means something to you. But don’t take my word for it, just think about it for yourself. You likely already know that it’s a problem, but have avoided thinking about it, much like I have over the past 8 years.

The picture above has been my profile background picture for almost a year. I still love it. You’ll probably find pictures like that here in future. Or on Google Plus. Or on Twitter. :)

Future Research Leaders

I was lucky to be chosen this year for the DMU Future Research Leaders scheme as one of 12 from a pool of 40 candidates. Today was the first session where the programme was outlined and we all introduced ourselves. I think this will be really good for me for a few reasons:

  1. I’m at a stage in my career where I have a permanent job so I need to strategise and work out where I want to be and what I want to do with myself.
  2. I’m not very good at the above as I’ve always really done other people’s research (apart from my PhD). So I need to work out how to pitch myself and carve out a niche.
  3. I need to learn how to deal with my career around potential career breaks, and how to juggle things once I’m back.
  4. I really really love interdisciplinary stuff and want to keep doing it, but also want to be REF-able in order to keep the higher ups happy with giving me research time. This’ll help me work out where to pitch what I do better.
  5. I probably want to be a prof one day, so it’d be nice to work out how to do that.


There’s an external guy who’s an ex-PVC and who’s run a department for a while and research groups and who’s seen it all running the programme and we basically chat once a month and get some one-on-one time 3 times a year, and to top it all off I get £2000 to go and do some awesome research with some awesome people.

The best bit is that unlike many of these things where I’m often the only woman at them, 11 out of the 12 people on this programme are women. How awesome is that?! Apparently it was completely not engineered; these were just the best candidates. And by the sounds of things they are all very interesting and dedicated people, many of whom have dealt with or are dealing with some of the issues I listed above. So yeah, I’m super excited about the whole thing!

As part of the exercises for the programme we will need to write up little responses to the monthly prompts. I will share some of them here because I think it’s useful to be able to reflect on them later and also to get some other input from people who are also interested in these issues.

Picture by Robert Donovan

ANZAC biscuits

Straight from my mum’s recipe folder – this is an oldie but a goodie (and 1 day too late for Australia Day…) If you don’t have golden syrup, you could try maple syrup or honey.

1 cup rolled oats
1 cup plain flour
1 cup caster sugar
¾ cup desiccated coconut
125g butter (salted)
2 tablespoon golden syrup
½ teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1 tablespoon boiling water

Combine oats, sifted flour, sugar and coconut.
Combine butter and golden syrup, stir over gentle heat until melted.
Mix soda with boiling water and add to melted butter mixture, stir into the dry ingredients. The mixture should not be too moist, but if you need more moisture, add a little more water.

Place tablespoons of mixture on lightly greased oven trays; allow room for spreading. Flatten a little with your fingers.

Cook in a slow 160 deg C oven for 20 mins. Loosen while warm then cool on tray.

 

On the shoulders of giants

This article originally appeared on medium.com

This is a reasonably quick tutorial on a new workflow that I have been wanting to perfect. The aims of my workflow are as follows:

  1. To be able to future-proof my writing.
  2. To be able to easily access all the things that I know other people know about stuff.
  3. To be able to easily reference the things I need.
  4. To be able to access all this information from anywhere on any platform.
  5. To be able to export my data in case Something Happens.
  6. To be able to do it all preferably for free.

The motivation from this came from observing my head of department and how he works. 20-something years ago he wrote himself a database front end into which he painstakingly copied and pasted quotes and categorised them. He is becoming increasingly frustrated by the program because it’s stuck in the 90s but he can’t escape it now because it’s so useful. I wanted to be able to recreate it with all the amazing tools that academics use these days but nothing quite seemed to be able to do it all at once. My mistake was that I wanted a feature of Qiqqa (which is free but Windows-only) whereby you could tag quotes within PDFs. The mistake was that I tried so hard for so long to look for PDF-annotation tools that fit in with reference managers… I didn’t want to have to import PDFs twice. Nothing (other than Qiqqa) really managed it. And Qiqqa’s tablet support is apparently a bit rubbish.

So one day I had an epiphany. And this is the result of it.

Tools you need

  1. Zotero, Mendeley, or another reference manager. The main features you want from this is to be able to do inline citation in Word, and to be able to export a single reference as some sort of unique identifier so you can find it again easily (I use a full citation in Harvard style).
  2. Evernote
  3. A multiple clipboard buffer app. I use Flycut on Mac OS X. You can find it in the app store. There are lots there for Windows but I haven’t quite found the best one yet. Will update when I do.
  4. Microsoft Word (this is the one exception to my “free” thing, as I have it already and you probably do too if you’re an academic).

Procedure

  1. I make a notebook in Evernote for a particular area that I research. The one I’ll be using here is called “Video Games”.
  2. I find some journal papers or books or whatever I want to read for my research.
  3. I import them into Zotero in the usual way (I’m not going to give a tutorial on Zotero — there are plenty out there).
  4. Now I’m going to read them. As I read, I copy into my multiple buffers (using cmd/ctrl-C) the quotes I’m interested in.
  5. Once I’m done reading/copying, I go to Zotero and export as bibliography entry the paper I’ve just read. To do this you right click the paper from the main pane in Zotero, and “Create Bibliography from Item…” I choose Output Mode to be Bibliography and Output Method to be Copy to Clipboard. This basically puts the citation in my clipboard buffer.
  6. I open the notebook I created in Evernote and open a new note. I paste in the citation as the title, and then one of the quotes from my buffer.
  7. I tag the quote with whatever tags I feel appropriate. For example, I’ve been writing about “male gaze” today. Here is a quote:

Become the male hero. Help the female hero. That’s what the male gaze does to videogames.

This quote has the tags: male gaze, sexism, story development

8. Continue on with the rest of the quotes as with steps 6 & 7.

9. When I come to write the paper, I can now search for tags that include whatever I am writing about, e.g. “male gaze”. Voila! A whole load of quotes that I can then easily write about, copy & paste, etc. into Word and easily cite using my reference manager.

Screen Shot 2014-12-09 at 16.29.15

The best bit is that it stops me doing what I have done in the past — i.e. read old papers and just rewrite the bits for background where I’ve written about it before. It saves me printing out reams of paper only for the paper to be read once and forgotten about. It also allows me to keep up to date in the subject area because I’m constantly adding new papers with new tags. I’m hoping it’ll allow me to build up a corpus of knowledge about my field, so that when someone says “hey Catherine, tell me all about the male gaze in video games” I’ll have a boatload of stuff ready to show them. ☺

Screen Shot 2014-12-09 at 22.57.38

Hope that helps. Any questions or suggestions, hit me up!

liedra.net revision circa 2014

It’s almost 15 years since I first bought the domain name liedra.net. I started out with the site full of terrible poetry and homages to Nick Cave. It then went on to host my first ever blog, which I wrote in terribly insecure PHP3 and a MySQL database with an empty root password. The internet was a lot more naive back then. I recall being impressed with sites that had image link maps or whatever they were called and had one of those for a bit. I ran an early version of WordPress for a while, but that was terribly buggy and insecure. It’s still probably terribly buggy and insecure but at least it’s being cared for a lot better than it was back then. I had several rounds of custom written photo gallery applications before I realised that I just didn’t have the stamina to keep up with regular updates. I failed miserably at blogging once I had a real job and real responsibilities.

So here we are again. Round … well I’ve lost count now. 6? 7? 10? Probably not as many revisions as waferbaby but then I don’t have that sort of fanbase either. I strongly suspect only my mum and dad will read this. And probably random students who’ve come here via the SoDIS helper or Peermark systems I also run on this server. Hi! You’re pretty smart. Do well in my classes, ok?

Who knows what I’ll use this for, but we’ll see. I have vague plans of at least collecting all my non-paper academic writing in one place, so here’s as good a place as any to do so. See you all some time!

Online anonymity isn’t as easy as the firms offering privacy apps want you to think

This article was originally published on The Conversation.

You can Whisper it, but don’t expect it or you to stay secret forever. Malcolm Campbell, CC BY-SA
You can Whisper it, but don’t expect it or you to stay secret forever. Malcolm Campbell, CC BY-SA

In a post-Snowden world, anonymity is what people want online. Smartphone apps offering anonymous messaging are popping up everywhere – Secret, Whisper and now Yik Yak. The latest additions to privacy-protecting technology, they claim to provide anonymous, location-based confession, expression, and discussion platforms.

But there are two major issues with these apps: the false sense of anonymity security they provide, and their potential as platforms for bullying.

Coming back to bite you

Anonymising social media apps such as these are run from a platform that is immediately identifying: your personal smartphone. Significant amounts of data about your identity and location are often used by these apps, not only to geo-locate you for things that are location-sensitive, such as locally restricted posts, but to track you as a unique user by associating your posts and data with unique identifiers such as your device’s internet IP address, phone IMEI number, and usage patterns. These can be used to block abusive users, send push notifications, track software errors, show personalised adverts, or enable other features.

Not only does this mean that users are not actually anonymous, but that the company can be asked to hand over this data by law enforcement or government officials. In fact, each of these three “anonymous” apps include statements in their privacy policies to this effect.

This is dangerous when, for example, Whisper claims to be able to protect whistleblowers through the anonymity it provides – this is simply not true. Fortunately the other apps don’t make such strong claims, but can still lure you into a false sense of security that what you say won’t come back to bite you later.

If you wish to be anonymous online, apps like this won’t give it to you. In fact, no apps on smartphones really can. True anonymity consists in technical and identity anonymity. This means finding a way to prevent tracking through geo-location, IP address, phone identification or usage patterns. This requires more robust but more difficult to use technologies such as Tor, and the skill to use them properly. Until then, all you have is “pseudonymity”, and app-makers’ promises that they will “make it hard” for others to access your data.

Of course, anonymous apps’ actual lack of anonymity can help with the second problem, that of their potential use for bullying. These apps are aimed at young people who are particularly vulnerable to online bullying. Yik Yak has attempted to address this, after much criticism for allowing bullying to take place by geofencing schools, prohibiting use of the app within a school area.

However, this doesn’t stop bullying away from schools. Yik Yak has tried to counter this by removing negatively rated posts, blocking users that frequently post negative content, introducing rules prohibiting bullying, and relying on peer review of posts to ensure problems are flagged up. But there’s still been significant problems with abuse.

Whisper also has moderators that respond to negative content, tracking problem users and banning them. Secret, which uses similar methods, including algorithmic detection of bullying, user flagging, and moderation, is reported to have problems countering bullies. So is it so bad that these apps aren’t truly anonymous? At least then bullies, which can cause so much grief, can be dissuaded from their activities or brought to justice. But there are situations where, as a society, anonymity is needed or desired for good reasons – in oppressive areas, to reach out to people for advice, to blow the whistle.

Society won’t allow anonymity

This illustrates the problems with anonymous smartphone apps to begin with – they can never be fully anonymous partly because society won’t let them. Society will want safeguards against bullies or threatening behaviour to be built into any easy-to-access social media technology that is used by children and young adults. Inevitably that requires removing much of any anonymising aspects. This sort of technology also never works well with the requirements of start-up companies, because at some point the start-up needs to make money, and that is often based on knowledge about their user base.

It is also a reminder that the technology we develop is never value-neutral. Society shapes technology, which in turn shapes society. Sometimes these values conflict, and it’s hard to know how to prioritise. Anonymity is a very difficult problem in itself: app developers shouldn’t muddy the waters offering anonymity when they can’t deliver, and they should also be very clear as to the reasons for not offering that anonymity.

Users who wish to remain anonymous should beware of “too easy to be true” offerings and stick to tried and tested methods, else what they say under the guise of “anonymity” might just come back to bite them.