About Thomas Lancaster

My name is Dr. Thomas Lancaster, and I am a Associate Dean in Recruitment at Staffordshire University in the United Kingdom and a Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy. My background is in the Computer Science discipline. My best known academic research relates to student plagiarism and contract cheating. Please browse around the blog and the links, and feel free to leave your thoughts.
Website: http://thomaslancaster.co.uk
Thomas Lancaster has written 124 articles so far, you can find them below.


How To Get A Complete University Education For Free?

If you’ve ever wanted to study a university level subject, but have been put off by the cost, there are now alternatives out there. And, many of these are supported by well known higher education brands and offer access to lectures and other materials for free.

iTunes U has been around for a while now and provides access to content from the likes of Oxford, Stanford and Yale. It’s a reworking of an old iTunes concept where lecture recordings could be made available through iTunes.

iTunes U packages up the content in a neat app (ideally accessed through an iPad), potentially providing a better learning experience. It’s possible to access archived content, or to sign up to follow courses along live (often the same ones that real students are paying for at those institutions).

Coursera is a newer competitor in the free education marketplace and supported by universities including Princeton. The courses are differentiated from those on iTunes U by largely being created exclusively for the site (of course, these often repurpose content that an educator would already be using with their own students).

The Coursera subjects tend to be shorter than those on iTunes U (6 to 8 weeks are common) and rely more on students following on along live with the course. Many of these have areas where support is available (either through the tutor, or peer support with other students). There can also be assignments and certificates awarded for completion.

The big disadvantage for both of these types of courses is that they do not carry university credit. So, they don’t offer an alternative to attending a university where a recognised qualification is needed. However, for many people, particularly visual learners, this disadvantage will be outweighed by the free nature of the resources.

For potential Computer Science students, these can offer a method to get familiar with supports prior to the start of a course. They also allow students to cover areas which are not included in their course (no Computer Science course can cover everything), which can offer an advantage in the job marketplace. They may also be useful to students looking to expand into a new area for a Final Year Undergraduate Computing Project.

Current Computer Science students may also find these useful, as they can offer an alternative way to approach different subjects which they are currently studying. The different presentation styles and examples can help students who find a particular subject difficult, or can help to stretch students who want to develop more advanced skills in a particular subject.

Computer Science tuition is well represented on Courses A. Some of the upcoming courses offered include such staples such as algorithms, logic, compilers, human computer interaction and artificial intelligence. There are also novel areas available, such as web intelligence and social network analysis, as well as the opportunity to pursue areas of personal interest, such as Internet history and e-learning.

When added to the different subjects available through iTunes U, these resources are worthy of a full exploration.

The Best Way To Take Notes At Conferences And Workshops?

When attending an academic conference or workshop, it’s always useful to take notes. There might be some good ideas shared during the workshop which don’t exist on slides circulated afterwards (often the case during discussions). And, it’s unlikely that sessions will be recorded (and that you’ll have time to watch them).

But, too often notes end up being hastily scribbled down or not referred to again.

What many events are now doing is encouraging notes to be taken and shared using social media (and tablet devices, smart phones and laptops).

For instance, a workshop I was recently involved with ended up with both Twitter and Facebook discussions (here are some examples of what was recorded on social media during the event).

In this case, the Facebook discussions took place in a Facebook group.

The Twitter discussions all used a consistent hash tag.

Both of these were set up quite independently, and so led to quite different types of discussions.

There are a lot of benefits of an approach like this to people organising (and funding) the events, particularly in the increase in visibility. In both cases, people interested, but who could not attend, joined in the discussion.

The discussion created inside the event itself is also useful, particularly where delegates pick up on similar points, engage in virtual discussion and retweet. The permanent and immediate record of the event is useful for both delegates and organisers too.

There are also criticisms to this approach. One I’ve heard is that it creates two classes of delegates – those who are involved in social media and those who are not. But, this certainly doesn’t preclude people keeping their own paper and private notes.

One way I saw this used well at a recent conference was having a blogger who was monitoring the social media channels for post ideas. That created a permanent record of what was going on to add to the (sometimes hard to find at a later date) social media discussions.

I also know of academics who use a similar approach in class, encouraging students to take and share notes using social media – something which I may well try myself over the coming year.

 

How does this approach work for you? Is electronic note taking at events useful? Just use the Comment box to share your thoughts.

Plagiarism Indicators For Academics

All academics, regardless of the level of the student, need to be aware that some students may take short cuts when producing academic work.

These slides (from my SlideShare account) outline five different indicators that work submitted may not all be the student’s own.

 

Many times, what you find when marking work will just be an indicator that something is out of place. This can lead to a more thorough search by hand.

TurnItIn, and other similar tools, are excellent as starting points, but often a specific Google search can identify parts of the web that are hidden to TurnItIn, so this approach is particularly useful.

 

What other indicators do academics use? Have you found any interesting plagiarism cases using indicators? Use the Comments box to share your findings.

Growing Your Professional Network With BranchOut

Did you know that there’s a way to manage your professional contacts inside Facebook?

The BranchOut App works in a similar fashion to the LinkedIn professional social network. It takes the form of an App which runs inside Facebook.

Facebook friends generally become your BranchOut contacts, but you can also reach other people through the extended network and there are a number of job opportunities advertised on BranchOut.

At present, BranchOut is primarily Facebook based, but the profile page can be accessed from outside Facebook, giving you another good professional view. I’d also imagine that this will grow further outside Facebook in the future.

Here’s what my profile looks like:

The BranchOut Profile For Thomas Lancaster

One way to use this is to include professional contacts within your Facebook friends. Use the Privacy settings to keep the information that you display to this group within Facebook suitably restricted. Then include them as professional contacts within BranchOut to access the benefits of their network.

Whilst BranchOut isn’t a LinkedIn competitor yet, it does offer a lot of potential and is one of the up-and-coming social tools which I believe that you should be using to present yourself professionally online.

You can view my BranchOut profile here.

 

Computer Science – Birmingham City University – Word Cloud

I thought I’d generate another word cloud, so here’s one for BSc Computer Science at Birmingham City University, the course which I’m in charge of.

The text for the word cloud was generated by manually taking the text from the four tabs on the official BSc Computer Science course information page on the Birmingham City University web site.

Word cloud showing the BSc Computer Science course at Birmingham City UniversityIt’s interesting, as I think that this represents the course and it’s industrial focus very well, in particular the focus on software and systems. Many of the main course areas are prominent. The only word which looks out of place is the word credits, but that’s reflects the details of specific modules provided (quite rightfully) on the course information page.

Feel free to try this for your course and let me know if the word cloud offers a good representation.

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