Digital kids / Analogue schools

Recently I came across a collection of quotes on the website of Scott McLeod, an Associate Professor in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies at Iowa State University. It mostly consists of quotes by David Warlick but also has a few from other blogs.

Here are a few that I enjoyed:

  • “I’m getting tired of hearing people continue to ask for the evidence that technology helps students learn. It doesn’t matter. We know that good teachers help students learn. We need technology in every classroom and in every student and teacher’s hand, because it is the pen and paper of our time, and it is the lens through which we experience much of our world.”
  • “One of our problems has been that we have tried to shape the technology around outdated notions of what schooling is about, rather than reshaping our notions to reflect new world conditions…  In a rapidly changing world, it becomes much less valuable to be able to memorize the answer, and much more valuable to be able to find and even invent the answers…  We can’t keep up with making the technology the curriculum. All we can do is prepare our students to teach themselves. It’s the only way to keep up.”
  • “The kids who start school today will be retiring in the year 2065, and yet we know as little about what the world will look like then as we do five years from now. We can give them all the content we want, but in this age, in won’t make much difference if we don’t teach them how to learn first. And they do that not by spitting back at us what they “know.” They do it by being creative, by trying and failing, by succeeding and reflecting.” (

I think it’s great that people are challenging the traditional stereotypes of students, classrooms and the learning process and I agree that rote memorisation and the regurgitation of facts does nothing to prepare our students for the challenges of reasoning in a clinical environment.

Link to the original PDF:

Knol: a unit of knowledge

Knol, described as “a unit of knowledge” by the project’s creators, is a new initiative by Google that allows anyone to write an article, called a “knol”, about any topic. It’s a bit like Wikipedia in that respect but is limited to discrete articles with no links between them. Authors can also decide how much freedom to give users in terms of editing, either allowing anyone in the public, only knol collaborators, or no-one at all to edit their knols.

The bulk of the knols written so far seem to be focussed on health and medicine and have been written by specialists in that particular field. After a brief review of some knols, I felt that they seem to be of a higher general standard than those of similar topics in Wikipedia. One of the advantages of knols is that there’s a structure and flow to the article that may come from having been written by one author and that unfortunately is lacking in some Wikipedia articles that often suffer from having been tacked together by many editors.

Of course, a potential disadvantage of having only one author may be a lack of either depth or breadth to the article, as well as raising questions regarding the credibility of the author. Having said that, many knols have complete reference lists and in-text citations that seem to offer reassurance in terms of the accuracy of the knol content.

I’d suggest including Knol as a useful point of reference when beginning to research a topic. It’ll not only give you a good overview of that particular subject, but will also point you in the direction of other sources.

Links: and Wikipedia article on Knol

The machine is us…

I came across this great video on YouTube today that looks at the direction the web is taking in terms of the separation of structure and content, as well the role of social networks in creating the semantic web. Strictly speaking, it’s not directly related to education or healthcare but it does have an indirect impact in that it gives us a hint of where we might be headed and of some of the ways in which we can use these tools.

Here’s the link:
YouTube – Web 2.0 … The Machine is Us/ing Us

Clinical guidelines: should we be using them?

I attended a lecture a few days ago by Karen Grimmer-Somers, a professor at the University of South Australia and Director of the Centre for Allied Health Evidence (CAHE). An adjunct professor at the University of Stellenbosch, she visits Cape Town every year or so and this year we were fortunate enough to have her visit our physiotherapy department. She gave a great talk about the emerging use of clinical guidelines in healthcare, as well as the standards around their development and discussed why we should be looking to these guidelines in our practice.

Traditionally, clinical guidelines have been viewed with suspicion by anyone interested in working from the evidence base, as “guidelines” were often little more than one individual’s personal opinion. Over the past 5 years however, the approach to producing clinical guidelines has radically changed, with vast amounts of time and resources being poured into their development.

Nowadays, a clinical guideline focuses on the current understanding of a particular condition and makes use of a diverse range of academic literature to establish an approach to best practices, based on the outcomes of a large number of the studies available. They also inform the reader what level of evidence has been used to establish “best practice”, from systematic reviews of the literature (Level A) to expert clinical opinion (Level D). This allows the clinician to make up their own mind about how solid is the foundation upon which the guideline is built and how much weight to allocate it.

Here are a few links to some of the organisations responsible for developing guidelines (in no particular order). Since different organisations are tasked with developing different guidelines, you might have to look around until you find what you’re looking for. You should also bear in mind that not only are new guidelines being developed all the time but old ones are typically reviewed every 2-3 years, so you need to make sure you have the latest version.

And an article looking at both sides of the use of clinical guidelines:

With the international movement in healthcare towards evidence-based practice, it seems logical to make use of any tools available that would assist us in this regard.

Managing content 2.0

The past year or so has seen a move towards more sophisticated uses of the so-called “Web 2.0” technologies, a term that’s thrown around a lot these days and a formal definition of which is proving elusive. Rather than trying to define and structure it, I prefer to think of “Web 2.0” as an organic approach to computing…a merging of the traditional desktop application and online services. At some point I think there’ll be no difference between “online” and “offline” and indeed the boundaries are already increasingly difficult to make out. Google Gears, Adobe’s Integrated Runtime (AIR) and Mozilla’s Prism project are all looking to further blur the lines between the Internet and your personal computer.

Two good examples of the integration between desktop application and a user’s online experience are Zotero and Scrapbook. Both are Firefox extensions that are easily installed and have a shallow learning curve.

Zotero is fully integrated with Firefox and is described as a “next-generation research tool” that allows a user to capture relevant data from sources while browsing and storing that information in a local database for offline use. It “recognises” the structure of content and “knows” where to store information like title, author, publication and other bibliographic data. With academics and researchers spending more time finding their sources online, a tool that facilitates the process of managing content is most certainly welcome.

Articles discussing Zotero:

Scrapbook is another Firefox extension that adds a significantly enhanced note-taking feature to the browser. Users are able to capture sections of webpages (or entire sites) while browsing, edit text, make notes and add comments. Again, this content is stored locally for offline use.

Both of these extensions are examples of how new technologies are blurring the lines between “online” and “offline” and creating tools that take advantage of new approaches to content management. With the huge volume of information available today, a new approach to the managment of that content is necessary. Gone are the days when renaming a document is enough. Together with desktop search and tagging, tools like Zotero and Scrapbook are essential for anyone with a vested interest in managing a large volume of content.

Edit (07/07/08): I can’t believe I left out PDF Download, another Firefox extension that makes managing PDF documents within the browser a lot easier and more flexible.  Up until the latest release, my main use of it was the option to automatically download any PDF document, rather than open it in the browser, a process that’s really time consuming.  With the newest version, PDF Download also offers the option of converting any webpage you’re reading into a PDF, which I find really useful as I prefer working with PDF’s instead of saved webpages.

On Wikipedia as a reference

I’ve only just gotten around to reading the January 2008 edition of “Hands on”, the newsletter of the South Africa Society of Physiotherapy (SASP) and it was with interest that I noticed a citation by the editor (Editor’s note, page 2) for Wikipedia. Unfortunately, only the name of the website ( was mentioned and not the full URL, so I couldn’t check to see exactly what had been referenced. It was in relation to a discussion about WHO, the Declaration of Alma Ata and “Health for all”.

I’ve always used Wikipedia as a reference point, a place to begin researching a topic. It often gives a useful summary of the topic and if it’s a well researched article (a key point), will include citations and external links to sources. The controversy surrounding the use of Wikipedia among teachers and students is, in my opinion, largely because of misunderstanding. Misunderstanding by academics of what Wikipedia is and what it isn’t, and misunderstanding by students on how to use this great resource.

I don’t think that the use of Wikipedia in itself as a reference is the problem. I believe that the problem is more likely that we don’t teach students a better way to search for and recognise credible articles online. There are fantastic articles on Wikipedia that are as good as those of other encyclopedias (both online and in print), but there are also extremely poor ones. We need to begin teaching students how to recognise the quality of an article, to take from it what is useful and to disregard the rest.

Expanding the e-learning curriculum: oral presentation from SAAHE

In this oral presentation at the SAAHE conference, Dr. J. Dempers of the Division of Forensic Medicine at the University of Stellenbosch discusses the use of digital video to enhance the e-learning curriculum already in place in the Forensic Pathology Department. Currently, the department makes use of Blackboard to manage all course content besides testing, calendaring and video. Dr. Dempers made the argument that the use of video could not only provide a valuable alternative teaching and learning tool, but could also be a source of income for the university, should the content be of value to other institutions.

My notes are available in the following formats:

OpenDocument (.odt)
PDF (.pdf)
Microsoft Word (.doc)

ICT to support physio students: my presentation at SAAHE

Here is the full content of the presentation I gave at the SAAHE conference on 20 June, 2008. In it I discuss some of the key findings of my Masters thesis, “The use of information and communication technology as a means of providing support to physiotherapy students“. They include:

  • Students view ICT as a means of accessing information, rather than obtaining support.
  • Students fail to use ICT to enhance communication, even though they have the skills to do so.
  • Research was highlighted as the area in which more than a third of students were least confident.
  • Students are unlikely to approach their peers for support.

These findings suggest that South African physiotherapy students do not make use of ICT in ways that would enhance their education, even though the literature showed how beneficial new technologies can be in this regard.

The presentation is available in the following formats:

OpenDocument (.odp)
PDF (.pdf)
Powerpoint (.ppt)

Note: I know that the OpenDocument and PDF formats include all the notes I made and contains most of what I actually spoke about. I’m not sure if the notes on the slides were included when I exported to the Powerpoint format. The reasons for this are varied and have nothing to do with me.

Assessing the assessor: keynote from SAAHE conference

Here are my notes from the second keynote address I attended at the SAAHE conference at the University of Stellenbosch on 20 June, 2008.

Professor Christina Tan from the University of Malaya (Malaysia) discussed the importance of ensuring competence among those responsible for examining students, as well as a few interesting points on why we examine and it’s relationship to the curriculum. Again, the emphasis is on medical students and again, I feel that the principles outlines are equally applicable to our approach to assessing physiotherapy students.

You can download my notes in the following formats:

OpenDocument (.odt)
PDF (.pdf)
Microsoft Word (.doc)

Ethical eating and healthy lifestyle

I know that I might be pushing the boundaries a little here but I figure it’s my blog so I can do what I want, right? I’m going to mention a few links to some worthwhile reading if you’re interested in making healthy and ethical eating choices, which kind of fits under a broad definition of healthcare.

The first is the Ethical Co-op, one of a growing number of organisations who try to provide affordable food to consumers interested in making ethical choices about what they eat. While I was living in the UK, I noticed that most of the “fresh” food available in supermarkets doesn’t originate in England. Rather, it gets flown in from North Africa and Western Europe, which, if it wasn’t heavily subsidised, would end up costing a lot more than it does. This has far-reaching consequences for both local farmers and international consumers (local farmers get screwed because they can’t sell their produce at fair market value and international consumers must either pay high prices for locally produced products, or just can’t get them because they’re immediately exported).

If we buy food that’s locally sourced, we support local farmers who can then offer their products at true market value, we cut down on the carbon cost of our food because it isn’t flown halfway around the world and we can enjoy food that’s fresh and grown without chemicals. It may cost a little more, but sometimes that can be a fair compromise.

Here’s a few links to some interesting blogs on healthy living:

A list of organic markets in or near Cape Town
Organic box schemes in or near Cape Town
Mother city livingliving the good (green) life in Cape Town
Wild Organics (scroll down the page a little for 11 reasons to buy organic)
Ethical Co-op blog