Understanding large numbers in context, an exercise with socrative

I came across an exercise that aimed to demonstrate that numbers are easier to understand when broken  down and put into context, it’s one a number of really useful resources for the general public, journalists and teachers from the Royal Statistical Society. The idea is that large numbers associated with important government budgets–you know, a few billion here, a few billion there, pretty soon you’re dealing with large numbers–but such large numbers are difficult to get our heads around, whereas the same number expressed in a more familiar context, e.g. a person’s annual or weekly budget, should be easy to understand.  I wondered whether that exercise would work as an in-class exercise using socrative,–it’s the sort of thing that might be a relevant ice breaker for a critical thinking course that I teach.

A brief aside: Socrative is a free online student response system which “lets teachers engage and assess their students with educational activities on tablets, laptops and smartphones”. The teacher writes some multiple choice or short-response questions for students to answer, normally in-class. I’ve used it in some classes and students seem to appreciate the opportunity to think and reflect on what they’ve been learning; I find it useful in establishing a dialogue which reflects the response from the class as a whole, not just one or two students.

I put the questions from the Royal Stats. Soc. into socrative as multiple choice questions, with no feedback on whether the answer was right or wrong except for the final question, just some linking text to explain what I was asking about. I left it running in “student-paced” mode and asked friends on facebook to try it out over the next few days. Here’s a run through what they saw:

Screenshot from 2015-03-31 14:54:19Screenshot from 2015-03-31 14:55:13Screenshot from 2015-03-31 14:55:52Screenshot from 2015-03-31 14:56:40Screenshot from 2015-03-31 14:58:46Screenshot from 2015-03-31 14:59:21


Socrative lets you download the results as a spreadsheet showing the responses from each person to each question. A useful way to visualise the responses is as a sankey diagram:
sankeymatic_1200x1000 (1)

[I created that diagram with sankeymatic. It was quite painless, though I could have been more intelligent in how I got from the raw responses to the input format required.]

So did it work? What I was hoping to see was the initial answers being all over the place, but converging on the correct answer, that is not so many chosing £10B per annum for Q1 as £30 per person per week for the last question. That’s not really what I’m seeing. But I have some strange friends, a few people commented that they knew the answer for the big per annum number but either could or couldn’t do the arithmetic to get to the weekly figure. Also it’s possible that the question wording was misleading people into thinking about how much would it cost to treat a person for week in an NHS hospital. Finally I have some odd friends who are more interested in educational technology than in answering questions about statistics, who might just have been looking to see how socrative worked. So I’m still interested in trying out this question in class. Certainly socrative worked well for this, and one thing I learnt (somewhat by accident) is that you can leave a quiz running in socrative open for responses for several months.



QAA Scotland Focus On Assessment and Feedback Workshop

Today was spent at a QAA Scotland event which aimed to identify and share good practice in assessment and feedback, and to gather suggestions for feeding in to a policy summit for senior institutional managers that will be held on 14 May.  I’ve never had much to do with technology for assessment, though I’ve worked with good specialists in that area, and so this was a useful event for catching up with what is going on.
"True Humility" by George du Maurier, originally published in Punch, 9 November 1895. (Via Wikipedia, click image for details)
“True Humility” by George du Maurier, originally published in Punch, 9 November 1895. (Via Wikipedia)

hypothes.is for web annotation

A while back I went to the OER annotation summit where I learnt about hypothes.is, a tool for adding a layer of annotation on top of the web. If the idea of annotating the web sounds like one of those great ideas that has been tried a dozen times before and never worked, then you’re right and (importantly) the hypothes.is team know about it. It’s also one of the great ideas that is worth trying over and again because of its potential. Today I took a quick look at how they’re getting on, and it looks good. hypothesisButton

WordPress LTS?

A question: does WordPress have anything like the Long Term Stability branches of Ubuntu?

The Cetis website is based on WordPress, we use it as a blogging platform for our blogs, as a content management system for our publications and as a bit of both for our main site.  It’s important to us that our installation (that is the WordPress core plus a variety of plugins, widgets and themes) is stable and secure. To ensure security we should keep all the components updated, which not normally a problem, but occasionally an update of WordPress or one of the plugins causes a problem due an incompatibility or bug. So there is a fair amount of testing involved whenever I do an update on the publications site, and for that reason I tend to do updates periodically rather than as soon as a new version of each component is released.

Last month was fairly typical, I updated to the latest version of WordPress and updated several plugins. Many of the updates were adding new functionality which we don’t really need, but there were also security patches that we do need–you can’t have one without the other. One of the plugins had a new dependency that broke the site, David helped me fix that.  Two days later I login and half the plugins want updating again, mostly with fixes to bugs in the new functionality that I didn’t really need.

I understand that there will always be updates required to fix bugs and security issues, but the plethora of updates could be mitigated in the same way that it is for Ubuntu. Every couple of years Ubuntu is released as a Long Term Stability version. For the next few years, no new features are added to this, it lags in functionality behind current version, but important bug fixes and security patches for existing features are back-ported from the current version.

So, my question: is there anything like the concept of LTS in the WordPress ecosystem?


Initial thoughts on EPUB-WEB (Portable Documents for the Open Web Platform)

In a W3C Unofficial Draft White Paper “Advancing Portable Documents for the Open Web Platform: EPUB-WEB” published 21 Nov 2014, Markus Gulling of IPDF (curators of the EPUB standards) and Ivan Herman of W3C (curators of web standards) have highlighted the potential of a specification that brings EPUB on to the Web. Informally known as EPUB-WEB, the vision is that this specification would make “EPUB a first-class citizen of the Open Web Platform and as a result significantly reduce the complexity of deploying EPUB content into browsers, for online as well as offline consumption” facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

eBooks and libraries, the right to eRead? #ebooks14

About once a year I go to some meeting or another on libraries and eBooks. I nearly always come back from it struck by the tension between libraries, as institutions of stability and the rapid pace at which technology companies are driving forward eBook technology.  This year’s event of that type was the Scottish Library and Information Council’s 13th annual eBook conference. The keynote from Gerald Leitner, chair of the European Bureau of Library, Information and Documentation Associations task force on eBooks was especially interesting to me in introducing the Right to eRead Campaign. facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Euclid in colour and technology for learning

I work in the area commonly known as Learning Technology, or Educational Technology.  I don’t have much time for trying to pin down what exactly constitutes “technology” in that context, and certainly none for considerations like “printing is technology, does that count”.  But today I bought a book which does quite literally(*) illustrate advances in printing applied to learning.

euclid2The book is a reprint of the Oliver Byrne’s The first six books of the elements of Euclid in which coloured diagrams and symbols are used instead of letters for the greater ease of learners which was first published in 1847. Instead of the conventional referencing of lines, shapes and angle by letters used in geometry text books. So instead of:

Proposition 30: Straight lines parallel to the same straight line are also parallel to one another.

Let each of the straight lines AB and CD be parallel to EF.
I say that AB is also parallel to CD.
Let the straight line GK fall upon them. Since the straight line GK falls on the parallel straight lines AB and EF, therefore the angle AGK equals the angle GHF.
Again, since the straight line GK falls on the parallel straight lines EF and CD, therefore the angle GHF equals the angle GKD.
But the angle AGK was also proved equal to the angle GHF. Therefore the angle AGK also equals the angle GKD, and they are alternate.
Therefore AB is parallel to CD.
Therefore straight lines parallel to the same straight line are also parallel to one another.

This book has:euclid1

Colour printing of books was not common in 1847, it only became commercially viable after the invention new printing techniques in the C19th and mass production of cheap synthetic dyes, starting with mauvine in 1856, so this can fairly be called advanced technology for its time. Like many uses of technology to enhance learning, when colour printing of text books did become commonplace, it wasn’t used with the same imagination as shown by the pioneers.

* except, of course, that “literally” means according to the written word and this is a book of pictures. #CetisPedantry


Licence information in schema.org and LRMI

When the Learning Resource Metadata Initiative (LRMI) technical working group started its work it focused on identifying the properties and relationships that were important for educational resources but could not be adequately expressed using schema.org as it then stood. One of those important pieces of information was the licence under which a resource was released, and so the LRMI spec from the start had the property useRightsUrl  “The URL where the owner specifies permissions for using the resource.” When schema.org adopted most of the LRMI properties, useRightsUrl was an exception, it was not adopted pending further consideration–not surprising really given the wide-ranging applicability of licence information beyond learning resources.

Back in June the good news came that with version 1.6 of schema.org included a license property for Creative Works that does all that LRMI wanted, and more.

What does this mean for LRMI adopters?

Some adopters of LRMI have already started using useRightsUrl.  Such implementations are valid LRMI but not valid schema.org, which means that they will only be understood by applications that have been written specifically to understand LRMI and not by the general purpose web-scale search applications. This is sub-optimal.

In passing, let me mention another complication. With schema.org you have a choice of syntax: microdata and RDFa 1.1 lite. With RDFa there was already a mechanism for identifying a link to a licence, that is rel=”license”.  Just to complicate a little more, RDFa allows name spacing, and the term license appears in at least three widely used namespaces: HTML5, Dublin Core Terms, and the Creative Commons Rights Expression Language–hopefully this will never matter to you.  To exemplify one of these options I’ll use the HTML that you get when you use the Creative Commons License Chooser (but let’s be absolutely clear, what I am writing about applies to any type of license whether the terms be open or commercial):

<a rel="license" href="http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/">

The good news is that all these options play nicely together, you can have the best of all worlds.

If you are already using itemprop=”useRightsUrl” to identify the link to a licence using LRMI in microdata, you can also use the license property and rel=”license”. The following  LRMI microdata with a bit RDFa thrown in works:

  <body itemscope itemtype="http://schema.org/CreativeWork">
    <a itemprop="license useRightsUrl" rel="license"
        Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0) licence

If you are using LRMI / schema.org in RDFa, then the following is valid

  <body vocab="http://schema.org/" typeof="CreativeWork">
    <a rel="license useRightsUrl"
       Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0) licence

License does what LRMI asked for and more

In my opinion the schema.org license property is superior to the LRMI useRightsUrl for a few reasons. It does everything that LRMI wanted by way of identifying the URL of the licence under which the creative work is released, but also:

  • It belongs to a more widely recognised namespace, especially important if you are wanting to generate RDF data
  • I prefer the semantics of the name and definition: a license can include  restrictions of use as well as grant rights and permissions.
  • the range, i.e. the type of value that can be provided, includes Creative Works as well as Urls

That last points allows one to encode the name, url, description, date, accountable person and a whole host of other information about the licence (albeit at the cost of the not being able to do so alongside LRMI’s useRightsUrl quite so simply)


The inclusion in schema.org of the license property is good news for aims for LRMI. If you use LRMI and care about licensing you should tag the information you provide about the license with it. If you already use LRMI’s useRightsUrl or RDFa’s rel=”license” there is no need to stop doing so.


You are free to adapt the What is Schema.org briefing

Editable files for the What is Schema.org briefing are now available from the Cetis Publications site. The process of enabling editable copies of this publication has leads me to some reflections on the publishing workflow behind it.

We published What is Schema.org? a Cetis briefing paper for LRMI in June, as with most of Cetis’s publications it is covered by a CC Attribution licence so, according to the terms of that  licence

You are free to:
Share — copy and redistribute the material in any medium or format
Adapt — remix, transform, and build upon the material