Friday, July 13, 2012

All MOOC'd out

I haven't had much time to do any Stats 101 this week, but yesterday I found myself with a bit of time. I logged into the course, and immediately had a Homer Simpson moment. Don't leave the course in the middle of a section. D'oh! It seems obvious, but the last time I was working on it, I got to a quite important explanation and left it before doing the examples (normalization, posterior probabilities) so when I returned to the course, I looked at the screen with what I imagine was the same look that students often have when we ask them something they obviously don't know. I just could not get my head around the example in front of me, so I had to go back, and look at the previous video again, and then I was aware that I was copying the calculations and plugging in the numbers, but I really didn't understand what I was doing, and I was pretty confident that if the prompts were taken away and I was asked to perform the calculation, I wouldn't be able to do it. Mmhmm. Something to think about...

Coincidentally, earlier on I had looked at Ray Land's keynote at the Threshold Concepts conference in Dublin. He was talking about students' understanding (or lack of it) and how they go through a process of mimicking - using the language and the conventions of a subject or a discipline without really understanding what they are, but which is probably a powerful step on the road to understanding. This is something that we, as educators, need to be on the lookout for, because sometimes confident use of the language can mask lack of understanding at a deep level. I wonder if our examinations system encourages this to a certain extent - MCQs with verbal prompts in the answers as opposed to writing on a blank piece of paper, or researching a topic for a presentation or...but I digress. (I could start to talk about Bloom's (or Graham Gibbs' SOLO) Taxonomy here, but I won't.)

Yup, I was definitely mimicking all right. Ray also talked about psychological capital, and how a combination of factors is required for someone to succeed - a combination of optimism, hope and perseverance (the references to the literature are in Ray's talk, so please watch it.). I'm not put off by my hiccup on the Stats 101 course, in fact, I predicted it in the first post (maybe it happened because I predicted it?!). My motivations for doing the course are to understand statistics in order to complete a doctorate, so I'm pretty motivated! (And I can get help from AQMen if I need it, but I feel that I have to understand it well enough to be able to ask the right questions.) I did move on and completed the other examples, and managed to do them (mimicking all the way), and have moved on to programming Bayes Rule (Anyone doing Udacity ST101 - indent the program otherwise it returns an error). I am still confident that I'll keep going on with the course, and I'm still on the lookout for that point when I really start to understand it...

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