AAEE 2012 – Yes, Another Conference

In between writing up the conventicle (which I’m not doing yet), the CI Conference (which I’m doing slowly) and sleep (infrequent), I’m attending the Australasian Association for Engineering Education 2012 conference. Today, I presented a paper on e-Enhancing existing courses and, through a co-author, another paper on authentic teaching tool creation experiences.

My first paper gave me a chance to look at the Google analytics and tracking data for the on-line material I created in 2009. Since then, there have been:

  • 11,118 page views
  • 2.99 pages viewed/visit
  • 1,721 unique visitors
  • 3,715 visits overall

The other thing that is interesting is that roughly 60% of the viewers return to view the podcasts again. The theme of my talk was “Is E-Enhancement Worth It” and I had the pleasure of pointing out that I felt that it was because, as I was presenting, I was simultaneously being streamed giving my thoughts of computer networks to students in Singapore and (strangely enough) Germany. As I said in the talk and in the following discussion, the podcasts are far from perfect and, to increase their longevity, I need to make them shorter and more aligned to a single concept.


Because while the way I present concepts may change, because of sequencing and scaffolding changes, the way that I present an individual concept is more likely to remain the same over time. My next step is to make up a series of conceptual podcasts that are maybe 3-5 minutes in duration. Then the challenge is how to assemble these – I have ideas but not enough time.

One of the ideas raised today is the idea that we are seeing the rise of the digital native, a new type of human acclimatised to a short gratification loop, multi-tasking, and a non-linear mode of learning. I must be honest and say that everything I’ve read on the multi-tasking aspect, at least, leads me to believe that this new generation don’t multi-task any better than anyone else did. If they do two things, then they do them more slowly and don’t achieve the same depth: there’s no shortage of research work on this and given the limits of working memory and cognition this makes a great deal of sense. Please note, I’m not saying that I don’t believe that Homo Multiplexor can’t emerge, it’s just that I have not yet any strong scientific evidence to back up the anecdotes. I’m perfectly willing to believe that default searching activities have changed (storing ways of searching rather than the information) because that is a logical way to reduce cognitive load but I am yet to see strong evidence that my students can do two things at once well and without any loss of time. Either working memory has completely changed, which we should be able to test, or we risk confusing the appearance of doing two things at once with actually doing two things at once.

This is one of those situations that, as one of my colleagues observed, leaves us in that difficult position of being told, with great certainty, about a given student (often someone’s child) who can achieve great things while simultaneously watching TV and playing WoW. Again, I do not rule out the possibility of a significant change in humanity (we’re good at it) but I have often seen that familiar tight smile and the noncommittal nod as someone doesn’t quite acknowledge that your child is somehow the spearhead of a new parallelised human genus.

It’s difficult sometimes to express ideas like this. Compare this to the numbers I cited above. Everyone who reads this will look at those numbers and, while they will think many things, they are unlikely to think “I don’t believe that”. Yet I know that there are people who have read this and immediately snorted (or the equivalent) because they frankly disbelieve me o the multi-tasking, with no more or less hard evidence than that supporting the numbers. I’m actually expecting some comments on this one because the notion of the increasing ability of young people to multitask is so entrenched. If there is a definitive set of work supporting this, then I welcome it. The only problem is that all I can find supports the original work on working memory and associated concepts – there are only so many things you can focus on and beyond that you might be able to function but not at much depth. (There are exceptions, of course, but the 0.1% of society do not define the rule.)

The numbers are pasted straight out of my Google analytics for the learning materials I put up – yet you have no more reason to believe them than if I said “83% of internet statistics are made up”, which is a made up statistic. (If is is true, it is accidentally true.) We see again one of the great challenges in education: numbers are convincing, evidence that contradicts anecdote is often seen as wrong, finding evidence in the first place can be hard.

One more day of conference tomorrow! I can only wonder what we’ll be exposed to.