Electronic collaboration in the humanities

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  • Bull, Joanna & McKenna, Colleen (2004)Blueprint for Computer-Assisted AssessmentRoutledgeFalmer (London & New York) ISBN0-415-28704-9 202 pp 24.99tandf.co.uk enquiry@tandf.co.uk

    I awaited the arrival of this book with someexcitementI have been working and teach-ing online since the late 1980s and computer-assisted assessment (CAA) is an area thatsorely needs writing about. Especially needyare areas in e-learning and virtual environ-ments, which seem to stretch traditionalassessment to its limits.

    To say I was disappointed is true. But dont getme wrong. Its not what is in the book that dis-appoints so much as what is mentioned fleet-ingly but not in enough detailthe coveragedoesnt match its title.

    Blueprint for Computer-Assisted Assessment is arevised part of a project undertaken between1998 and 2001 by the authors and colleaguesfrom the Universities of Loughborough, Luton,Glasgow and Oxford Brooks. The authors pre-viously published several sections in 2000 and2002. Bull and McKenna note in the intro-duction that ...CAA... has been developingrapidly in terms of its integration into schools,universities, and other institutions... [in] itscapacity to offer elements, such as simulationsand multimedia-based questions, which arenot feasible with paper-based assessments.They go on to comment that while manypractical issues are described and discussed,the book draws throughout on the emergingbody of research into CAA, and related work inassessment and learning technologies.

    Blueprint contains 11 chapters (and fourappendices and a reference list). The first eight

    address educational aspects such as questionand test design, scoring and analysis, feed-back, and integration with other assessmentmethods and Chapters 911 cover technical,operational and support areas. And herein liesmy problem. Bull and McKenna give only oneof those 11 chapters, Chapter 8, to the areathey call CAA-related activitiesnamelyvirtual learning environments, computer-mediated communication, electronic markingof text, and the use of gaming techniques forassessment. The books focus is objectivetesting, and gives only brief acknowledgement,in Chapter 8, that in many ways, CAA examswhich use multiple-choice style questions are largely replicating paper-based testingapproaches... . Work in certain areas of caa isleading to the development of assessments thatare more interactive and quite far removedfrom both conventional testing and multiple-choice CAA (p 92). And thats that...

    So my disappointment lies in what I expectedthis book to be about from its title, and even theopening introduction fed my anticipation. Butin the end, while well written and soundlybased on research, it did not go anywhere nearas far into the newer areas of assessment as thetitle leads one to expect. If you are looking fora book to give you a research-based introduc-tion to electronic objective testing, then this isthe book for you. But for me, it whetted myappetite but did not at all satisfy my needs.

    Diane P JanesAssistant Professor, University of Saskatchewan,CanadaDiane.Janes@usask.ca

    Evans, Gillian (2002) Academics and the realworld Open University Press (Buckingham &

    Reviews

    British Educational Communications and Technology Agency, 2004.Published by Blackwell Publishing Ltd., 9600 Garsington Road, Oxford OX4 2DQ, UK and 350 Main Street, Malden, MA 02148, USA.

    British Journal of Educational Technology Vol 35 No 3 2004 381390

    Please note that all books from Kogan Page reviewed here are now published by and avail-able from RoutledgeFalmer:tandf.co.uk enquiry@tandf.co.uk

  • 382 British Journal of Educational Technology Vol 35 No 3 2004

    British Educational Communications and Technology Agency, 2004.

    Philadelphia, Pa) ISBN 0-335-21111-9 165pp 19.99 (60 boards)openup.co.uk enquiries@openup.co.uk

    There are two sides to Gillian Evans: she is aformidable historian and theologian, whichmakes it seem natural that she quotes in Latinwithout translating (and thereby taxes myrusty School Certificate Latin), and she is aleading member of the Council for AcademicFreedom and Academic Standards (whichgives her the impetus for the book underreview). But she is first of all an uncompro-mising academic who backs her heterodoxviews with 590 relevant references from Platoand Cicero via Newman to C P Snow and theDearing Report (1997, the most significant forover 30 years, on higher education in the UK).

    The fact that her views may be heterodox isitself these days an indictment of our societyand its relationship to academic valuesfor ifthere is one fault in this book it is that it is tooorthodox. While it is not blind to the faults ofthe past, its remedies seem to take too littlenote of the fact that even verities, that in someway seem eternal, have to be reinterpreted inchanging circumstances.

    Dr Evans jousts valiantly with the two powersthat are reducing the higher educationacademy in Britain to impotencethe stateand the market. She recognises that universi-ties are ill-equipped to defend themselvesagainst either, but that defend themselves theymust if they are to maintain academic values.Hence probably her most telling attack is on the willingness of academic managementto compromise, for instance as vice-chancellorsservants of the academic com-munityhave abandoned their role ofstewardship. In addition vice-chancellors failto act as a body, so thatnot hangingtogetherthey are at risk of hanging sepa-rately, which is surely an outstanding exampleof trahison des clercs.

    In the absence of a Constitution, Dr Evans isright in seeing a solution in an independentintermediary body. This could be the re-constituted Quality Assurance Agency (Elton,2001), and it is good to see her praise for itscurrent Director. But such a body would takepower away from both the state and the market

    and it seems improbable that either wouldaccept a reduction in their current powers. Theoutlook is not good.

    There is a significant omission in the bookthe absence of a European dimension ingeneral and consideration of von Humboldtsuniversity reform in particular. Had the bookbecome too long so something had to be cut?Much can be learned from, for instance,German experience over the centuries indefence of academic freedom. In that case, it isof course strengthened by a federal Constitu-tion, which declares in its first Article thathuman dignity is sacrosanct. It is to be hon-oured and it is a duty of the power of the stateto protect it. Such a statement has financialimplications!

    Dr Evans has written a courageous book andthere is just a possibility that academia ingeneral may profit from it. Therefore pleaseread it. It is unlikely that it will benefit her owncareer, but I doubt that will curb heras hermotto clearly is Fiat justitia et ruant coeli(Watson, W Quodlibets of Religion and State,1602).

    ReferenceElton L (2001) Quality assurance through

    quality enhancement Educational Develop-ments 2, 4, 13.

    Lewis EltonUniversity College, Londonl.elton@pcps.ucl.ac.uk

    Fallows, Stephen & Bhanot, Rakesh(2002) Educational development through infor-mation and communications technology KoganPage (London & Stylus, Sterling, Va) ISBN 0-7494-3565-8 224 pp 22.50kogan-page.co.uk kpinfo@kogan-page.co.uk

    I started reading this book with enthusiasm. Iwas busy with a project dealing with successfactors for the innovation of higher educationthrough the use of information and communi-cations technologies (IT). I thought, What acase of serendipity: the right book at the righttime. Unfortunately my enthusiasm wasshort-lived...

  • Reviews 383

    British Educational Communications and Technology Agency, 2004.

    This book is an example of common-sense educational technology/instructional develop-ment. Hey guys, look what we did. This initself can be very interesting, approaching thereaders as adultsquite a novel thought ininstructional design landand letting themactively draw their own conclusions for theirown situations. A second approach could havebeen using a few case studies as a basis forapproaching educational technology literatureand research, and then using those experi-ences to make the theory more poignant andapplicable, teaching us general rules for edu-cational development through IT.

    The problem is that the authors of this book doneither. What they do do is try to draw generalconclusions from these few pieces of casuistryand tell us what we should learn from theirexperiences and how we should use thoseexperiences in our daily practiceand thisdoesnt at all work, for me at least.

    There is, however, a refreshing exception.Maggie Hutchins, in her chapter on computer-mediated communication (cmc), presents afine and workable theoretical framework formaking use of cmc as educational technology.In particular, her discussion of cmc paradigmsand learning experiences (Lord, Im beginningto hate the word paradigm) and key featuresof cmc and related learning opportunities is anexample of how it should be.

    Almost all of the authors forget in their enthu-siasm that the proper first question to ask iseither What is it that we want to achieve withthe introduction of IT into education? orWhats wrong with education that IT canhelp? Rather they all seem to offer solutions tounstated problems. They appear to have takenthe cue from advertisers who constantlybombard us with solutions to problems that wedid not know that we had. Its time that bookwriters, editors and publishers, before theywrite, edit or publish books like this one, askthemselves: If IT is the answer, what then isthe question?

    Paul KirschnerProfessor of Educational Technology, Open Uni-versity, Netherlandspaul.kirschner@ou.nl

    Gale, Trevor & Densmore, Kathleen(2003) Engaging teachers Open University(Maidenhead & McGraw-Hill, Pa) ISBN 0-335-21026-0 135 pp 16.99openup.co.uk enquiries@openup.co.uk

    Engaging Teachers: Towards a Radical DemocraticAgenda for Schooling provides a well-organisedand thoughtful analysis of much that con-textualises and constrains teachers work inWestern democracies. It has little or nothing tosay about technology or about the role of tech-nology in bringing aboutor aiding and abet-tingchange agendas. To my mind this was alost opportunity for Trevor Gale and KathleenDensmore in their attempt to signpost ways inwhich communities, their schools, teachersand leaders should interact to progress suchchange.

    Despite social injustice and access issues,information and communications technolo-gies such as the Internet, email, and workingwith broadband videoconferences do have thepotential to bring stakeholders into closertouch with each other, to provide breadth ofinformation sources, and to increase the speedwith which action might be progressed. There-fore, it might have been useful for the authorsto consider what potential roles these andfuture technologies of these kinds could havein progressing a radical democratic agenda.Indeed, exposing some of the emerging socialjustice and economic control issues associatedwith access to technology might have madesome sections of the book less esoteric andmore engaging.

    Robyn SmythLecturer in Higher Education, Teaching andLearning Centre, University of New England,Australiarsmyth@pobox.une.edu.au

    Hills, Howard (2003) Individual preferences ine-learning Gower (Aldershot, UK & Burlington,Vt) ISBN 0-566-08456-2 180 pp 55 boardsgowerpub.com info@gowerpub.com

    The fact that everyone is different does not necessarily mean that we all learn in differentways. But it is true, by and large, that most

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    British Educational Communications and Technology Agency, 2004.

    methods of instruction make little allowancefor individual differences in learning.

    This book discusses how new technology canboth enhance and be constrained by differ-ences between learners. It provides two specificexamples of research on how learners differ(research by John Carroll and Gordon Pask,respectively). Then it describes one approach indetail, that is based on learning styles. Thebook concludes with two brief examples ofhow this latter work may be applied in practice.Each chapter is clearly written, cogentlyargued and followed by an excellent summary.

    The book is written for a training contextrather than an academic one. This means that,from an (my) academic point of view, some ofits strengths are some of its weaknesses. Thus,several examples are based on the authorsexperiences rather than on evidence, there arefew detailed references, and there are severalovergeneralisations. Readers interested insimilar issues in an academic context will findthe paper by Baldwin and Sabry (2003) morehelpful.

    In this book the later chapters rely heavily onwork arising from ideas on learning style asmeasured by the Myers-Briggs Type Inventory,and expanded by David Kolb in the US andHoney and Mumford in the UK. These ideas areaccepted by Howard Hills as largely correct.Sixteen different personality types are dis-cussed, and figures detailing the proportions ofmen and women who fall into these categoriesare given to one decimal place. The content is complex, but anyone who wants a clearaccount of this work will find it here. However,an academic might question the validity andthe universality of this particular approach(see Coffield et al, 2004). Nonetheless, theimplications of taking an individual differ-ences approach to designing instruction in thecontext of new technology are clearly dis-cussed by Hills (and by Baldwin and Sabry).

    ReferencesBaldwin L and Sabry K (2003) Learning styles

    for interactive learning systems Innovationsin Education and Teaching International40, 4, 325340.

    Coffield F et al (2004) Learning styles and pedagogy: a systematic and critical review

    Learning and Skills Research Centre, Insti-tute of Education, London.

    James HartleyDepartment of Psychology, Keele UniversityJ.Hartley@psy.keele.ac.uk

    Inman, James A et al ed (2004) Electronic collaboration in the humanities LawrenceErlbaum (Mahwah, N.J. (& Eurospan, London))ISBN 0-8058-4147-4 419 pp $99.95erlbaum.com orders@erlbaum.comeurospan.co.uk orders@eurospan.co.uk

    Call me snobbish but I was pleased by theabsence of e-terms. Possibly the idea ofcalling the book e-collaboration nevercrossed the editors minds but sometimes suchnew words seem a bit trite.

    I believe that collaboration, when it works, iswonderful. I was hoping to find here insightinto deploying the technology-mediatedvariety. My own limited experiences, both as astudent and as a tutor, have been disappoint-ing. There are answers in this book, or rather,options and issues.

    The back cover blurb writer maintains thatthis text is cutting edge. How can it be, whenthe technologies in the bookfor exampleemail, on-line discussion lists, hypertext andMUDs (multi-user dimensional systems, ie,text-based virtual reality) have been aroundfor over 20 years? Because of the quality of itsscholarship and writing, thats how. Manychapters left me reeling: even the foreword isprovocative with the use of strikingly bravetypography to represent s...

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