Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Underestimating the impact of fly-in fly-out

I read the paper and see people write, "fly-in fly-out will buy me my house" and I can't believe my eyes.  The idea of being away from my family for extended periods for money would keep me up at night, if it was the only solution.  It seems naive and short sighted.

The impact on a family must be horrendous.  One parent effectively looking after everything to do with the house, another 4000 km away with nothing to do but work.  The only payback being a few extra dollars per hour.  It may pay off the house, but it would certainly put my marriage under strain.  I value time with family a lot higher than that.

In schools we see this impact emerging with dual income families and one parent FIFO.  Kids get limited support from parents as instead of sharing the load of parenting, it is placed on one overworked person trying to juggle 100 balls in the air and usually a job aswell.  I could only liken it to the load of the single mum, something that I wouldn't wish on anyone.

Needless to say the load ends up somewhere and typically it is with kids in schools unable to socialise effectively and study adequately.  There is a cost to FIFO and we haven't paid it yet.  It's on its way and we had better put some thought into it.  These kids are coming and many may be underdeveloped and lack self discipline after being left alone for extended periods of time.  It has the potential to be a mental health issue (with kids lacking belonging), a policing issue (with kids not being adequately monitored), an education issue (with attendance and performance dropping) and a social issue (with families under strain).

Encouraging true regional areas seems to be the only real solution and it will take years to create viable communities in outlying areas.  Royalties for regions was a ridiculous notion but if refocussed now that money is available, it will be an interesting exercise spending money to make regional centres attractive - fixing health, education, lack of amenities and creating a broad spectrum of service based jobs (built around decent populations); rather than risky exiles from city centres with fear of never being able to return due to increasing land values.  Just ask a teacher trying to return from a regional centre how easy it is to get a job in Perth after a regional posting now independent public schools has reduced the available pool of places.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Extinction Event: School Librarian

As a kid I loved the library, I was a book a day kid.  I didn't really care what it was, as long as it was interesting in some way and over 300 pages.  I never understood picture books as the picture created in your own mind was the fun of it.  I still own a decent science fiction collection from the 50's and 60's.

but.. I think the school teacher librarian and the idea of a library itself is on its last legs.  The non fiction section completely lacks relevance (it always was too small to be useful) and has been surpassed by online resources or class based texts.  The day of the printed book, even fiction, is passing.  I realised this when I watched my wife prefer to read her book on a backlit iPad than the paper copy next to her.

Specialist research tasks are no longer the domain of the librarian.  There's no reason why a bibliography by a student can't be written using a tool like 'Papers' - it's a task now that does not need a specialist teacher.  There's no reason why a teacher can't prepare a list of articles for students to research from and keep for later use - I've never seen this done by a librarian anyway (albeit it was more common with paper books).  Electronic documents can be annotated and highlighted just like paper - without printing and photocopying time/expense.  Students with laptops are ringing the death knell of the library being IT centres, distributed computers in classrooms are just more useful.

When I look at a library I see a shell of the learning centre it once was.  I see broken computer labs with kids playing games, too loud to promote study.  I see old mouldy books last read in a previous decade.  I see old brown furniture that wasn't even that well made to begin, not old enough to be retro, not new enough to be modern.

Libraries could become study centres again with the right management in place.  Librarians though are too expensive to use managing study centres.  Once a fertile ground for breeding librarians, now that paper books are becoming extinct, so are librarians.  The person choosing, storing and sorting books has been overtaken by digital resources selected by the masses or distant experts.

Where does this leave the librarian?

Sadly, I'd suggest out of a job.  I can't see such traditionalists re-inventing themselves into something as required as the librarian was.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Papers: Creating a glossary of terms

After writing my last article on using Papers I thought to myself, I need to write a glossary of terms at some point, maybe Papers can help.

If I use the search function in Papers, I can search for the term and view how other authors have interpreted them.

I started with 'microblogging' and came up with 8 documents:

Then I clicked on the first document, on the right hand side a list of pages and entries appeared where the term 'microblogging' was used:

The entry itself was highlighted at the bottom of the page.  This entry did not have a good definition so I clicked back on my search list and tried the next entry:

In searching for the glossary item I discovered a table that I had missed and thought may be useful later in defining what microblogging was and why microblogging was important from Halse (2009).

My first glossary item came from a post from Romania of all places:

"Microblogging is a Web2.0 technology and a new form of blogging, that let the users publish online brief text updates, usually less then 140-200 characters, sometimes images too. The posts can be edited and accessed online, or sent as SMS, e-mail or via instant messaging clients. Usually the microblogs authors embed their posts as a widget on blogs or sites." (Holotescu, 2009)

A second item:

"Microblogging is a variant of blogging which allows users to quickly post short messages on the web for others to access. These messages can be restricted to a certain number of individuals, sent exclusively to a specific contact, or made available to the World Wide Web." (Costa, 2008)

Both came from conferences, indicating that completed formal research may be still coming and that microblogging is a relatively new phenomenon.

Quite a cool use of the search function, something that would have taken ages trolling through multiple pdf files or rewriting from sticky notes attached to paper.

I will need to look further into why ellipses are turning up in reference lists though.


Costa, C., Beham, G., Reinhardt, W., & al, E. (2008). Microblogging in technology enhanced learning: A use-case inspection of ppe summer school 2008. Proceedings of the  ….

Halse, M. L., & Mallinson, B. J. (2009). Investigating popular Internet applications as supporting e-learning technologies for teaching and learning with Generation Y. International Journal of Education & Development using Information & Communication Technology, 5(5), 58–71. University of the West Indies.

Holotescu, C., & al, E. (2009). Using microblogging in education. Case Study: Cirip. ro. 6th International Conference on e- ….

Papers: Finding lost articles

Here's something I do a lot.  I'll read an article, quote it in a document and then forget where I quoted it from.   Then I'll have a rummage, fail to find the document and have to remove the quote, undermining the argument I was trying to build.

This happened to me this morning and I had an idea.  Perhaps Papers can find it for me.  The quote was:

" However, most Yers ...".

I selected "Papers" at the top of the left hand pane to bring up all articles.

Then in the search box typed my quote:

And up came the relavent document:

I was then able to click on the document and find the quote that I had highlighted previously.

This may sound like a trivial task but I can see that this would also be very useful when checking the validity of quotes when proofing a document.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Papers: Using Collections

Papers collections can be a bit confusing at first, but once you figure it out, finding articles is considerably easier, especially when you are reading 50-60 papers a week preparing for a literature review.

A collection (folder) of articles can be created by

File->New Collection->Manual Collection

All unfiled articles are automatically added to the "Unfiled Papers" collection

To add an article to a collection, drag it from the main pane to the collection.  Once filed it will disappear from the "Unfiled Papers" collection.

If you make a sub collection (a collection in a collection) articles will be automatically added to parent collections.  I found splitting Case studies and Editorials handy, since case studies typically have more depth (useful for a literature review) and reviews/editorials are wider reaching (useful to get a big picture look at where research trends are developing).

Things to remember about collections:
  • If you delete an article from a collection, it will again appear in "Unfiled papers".
  • If you delete an article from "Unfiled papers" it will be moved to Trash.
  • If you move an article directly to Trash, it will be deleted from all collections (but can be restored from the Trash).
  • If you delete a file from Trash it is permanently deleted.

This can all be disorientating at first (with articles appearing all over the place), but once figured out, it is quite useful.

A useful tip when wanting to move a file between collections is to delete an article from a collection and then add it to the desired collection from "Unfiled papers".  This will save you from having multiple copies of the same paper in different collections (but takes a bit of courage the first time).

Another interesting feature is the detection of duplicates.  If you download the same file twice, Papers detects it and prompts you to delete it.  The indicator is on the far right hand side near the bottom when looking at an article or in the main pane on the left hand side column.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Papers: Citations and Referencing (Mac)

I'm a fairly lazy researcher and loathe the tedious process of referencing - like many in the new generation, I enjoy finding and using a new idea, care little of the source, file the articles poorly and then find it difficult to reference them properly.

Luckily technology has come to the rescue.  EndNote, Papers and Sente can do some of the menial tasks in the past I may have written applications to do for me.  They do the work of filing and scraping references from online journals and all I have to do is verify the results to make sure it is correct and adequate.

My first efforts were with Papers for iPad which made the process relatively easy, and now that I have Papers for my mac, creating bibliographies and citations is a trivial task - at about the level of complexity I am comfortable with.  It's not to say EndNote and Sente are not better, it's just that I am familiar with this relatively cheap ($49 for a student version) option with iPad support.

I know why referencing is important, I do - I just don't care that much, the implementation and spread of good ideas is what a research practitioner is about; and a good idea can come from anywhere not just a renowned journal or academic.  Being able to recognise a good idea is a mark of a real practitioner, especially where early adoption is concerned.  If you can't do this, you end up implementing ideas that are aging and reaching end of life cycle, taking high risks on projects that are likely to fail or using ideas that have little merit.

Back to the problem at hand.. Papers installation and setup is quite simple.  It took me a little longer than this to figure it out, I hope this can help save you a little time.

Install papers from here. A 30 day trial was available at time of writing.

In the Papers application go Papers->Preferences->Access and enter the university library journal search url at the bottom of the page.

Now go to File->Open Library Website

Use your search page to find a journal article.  The journal search pages are widely different but the process is usually quite similar.  Here's one example:

Papers will attempt to scrape the page for the citation and is generally quite good.  To increase accuracy of the citation download a citation file (the endNote/RIS citation format works well)  and Papers will automatically detect the downloaded file and use it instead.  Quickly you will find that although not perfect, it is superior to manually recording citations.

Next click on a fulltext pdf representation of the journal article.  Papers will add it to the citation and the unfiled papers section for later reading.  Each pdf/citation can be added to a collection for use when generating an article or research proposal.

Once the article and citation is downloaded, the tab will be renamed with the name of the author (an important check to ensure the right citation is linked to the right article - sometimes it gets confused and overwrites the library website tab, restart the app if this happens).  Sections of the article can be highlighted whilst reading the article and notes can be added for later use.  The journal articles get automatically renamed and can be filed in folders (collections) to aid in relocating the article file later.

You can also add a bookmarklet to other browsers to add articles directly from a browser.  This also works quite well but lacks the workflow listed above.
Liking creature comforts, I enjoy reading articles on the couch on my iPad.  Papers allows me to link to my iPad effortlessly and annotate articles.  Grab it from the appStore.

The true heart of Papers though is in the ease of adding citations to articles that you are writing.  This works in Pages and Word, even Blogger!  Within any of these apps press control twice and a citation menu appears.  Type the author or title and then select the article that you are working with - it inserts the citation directly into the document.  When you are finished adding citations, go back to the citation menu and at the touch of a button a reference list can be created.

For the article above to get the the reference in APA format for Blogger would be "control, control" then

The citation is:

(Nehme, 2010)

The reference found is:

Nehme, M. (2010). E-learning and Student's Motivation. Legal Education Review, 20(1/2), 223. Australasian Law Teachers Association.


Web 2.0 usage in the classroom

This is the year of web 2.0 usage in the classroom.  Teachers have avoided using technology in the classroom and have stated that the failures in the past is a justification for not using it in the future.  I'll put my hand up and say that I was one of those.

Then I did a host of research for my "on again" masters.

I think the time has come that we give this a good look.  The failure of learning management systems (LMS's) can now be overcome.  Social media applications provide the gloss that engages students online.  It gives them reason to revisit and get access to information that they require at critical times during their "learning journey" (bleuch.. writing that leaves a bad taste in my mouth - but best describes what I mean).

Online applications are now reaching the level that they can be useful in the classroom and superior to direct instruction.  There is enough competition that application vendors are willing to listen to classroom requirements, assist teachers with implementation and work towards a successful implementation (rather than an "overstate the possibilities, take my money, dissappear" approach.  I'm sure this sounds familiar to many of us).

Web 2.0 extends the classroom beyond four walls - blogging, microblogging, social networking, cloud computing are being used effectively in higher education and there is little reason it shouldn't be used in primary and secondary settings.  Not doing so causes equity issues for our students when they enter higher education.

Students are now IT literate in ways that can be useful to implement in the classroom.  We're not teaching mail merging, Excel and Access usage anymore.  We're talking small bites of IT understanding and using it to directly aid classroom progress.  Microblogging (short notes sequentially placed on a wall similar to facebook) attaching IWB notes for revision, getting a better idea of progress through online marksbooks, providing tools for online collaboration and creating active subgroups within a class, shared development of documents through googledocs, improved organisation through calendars, online project submission,  annotation reducing paper usage, creating digital rather than paper notes using applications such as notability or goodnotes, classroom monitoring software, vod and podcasting - these sorts of things take small amounts of time to implement, are typically free and can make real differences in results, it's now accessible, cheap and works.  These things can be done now, not tomorrow, enabled by tablet and 1-1 laptop access.

I'm not glossing over the learning curve for us, or the overhead of starting the progress but.. if it can clearly be shown that these techniques are superior, it is worth the effort.  I think this time has come.

Even in Math, technologies are starting to mature that reduce IT overheads and improve the classroom experience especially in revision, organisation and note taking.  It's time that schools and universities embrace what can be done to improve teaching pedagogy where new technologies drive student performance. Perhaps we could give less prominance to engagement and self esteem.  These two come primarily as a result of performance and to get engagement with web 2.0 in a class, I think it has to be shown that performance is the primary result.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

CAS calculator and differentiation

There are a host of ways to find the first derivative on the CAS calculator and to solve calculus problems quickly.  Sometimes I think exam writers are well behind what these calculators can do and fail to understand how trivial some problems have become.

Let's start with simple substitution into an equation:

a) Find y at x=3 for y = 2x^2 + 2x + 2

The "|" is important between the equation y = 2x^2 + 2x + 2 and x=3

Let's now find x if we know y.  This is a little harder as we have to solve the equation.

b) Find x at y=14 for y = 2x^2 + 2x + 2

The easiest way to do this is to type 14 = 2x^2 + 2x + 2, highlight it using your stylus (this is important!) and then go

Note that it find both possible solutions (unlike using numsolve with the incorrect range specified)

Let's find the first derivative.  For this use the 2D template in the soft keyboard

Go keyboard -> 2D -> Calc ->

c) Find the 1st derivative of y=2x^2 + 2x + 2

Note that I removed the "y=" this time.  I differentiated the expression on purpose as it makes the next part easier.

Finding the 1st derivative/gradient/instantaneous rate of change at a point is also easy.

d) Find the 1st derivative of y = 2x^2 + 2x + 2 at x = 3

As you can see, it is a mix between c) and a)

Last but not least we can find a point for a particular gradient.

e) Find x at y' = 14 for y = 2x^2 + 2x + 2


To find y itself we could repeat a)

It's very much a case of thinking what you need and then finding it.  As you can see it can all be done with one line on a CAS calculator, things that would take multiple steps on paper.  TanLine is also a useful function that can be investigated and used to quickly find tangents.


Click here for more CAS calculator tutorials