06 November 2013

Positive and Normative theories, Inductive and deductive methods. What's the difference?

Let's try and separate the concepts of normative, positive, induction and deduction. First off, we need a distinction between the types of theories and the methods of proof that we use to test their validity. 
Here's an analogy:
Proof by INDUCTION and POSITIVE theories are kind of like ROAD and CAR
Proof by DEDUCTION and NORMATIVE theories are kind of like RUNWAY and AIRCRAFT
Roads and runways kind of look the same, they are black, hard, made of the same stuff, but they have very different designs and do very different things.
Cars and planes both get you places, but again, have very different uses. Which one is better? Well that depends on what you are doing. I can't just take a plane to Chadstone shopping center. Really a a car is only the best tool for this job. 
Naturally a car matches the road, and runways are used by planes. But they can swap if they have to. Cars drive on runways all the time. There are MANY cases of planes landing on highways in emergency because it's better than crashing. 
This what I mean by theories and their methods of proof crossing over. You simply use whatever theory is best able to do the job. 
For illustration, have a look at this image below. Cars, roads, planes, and runways all in one image. It's one of the few places where the country's main highway also crosses their international airport. You'd make sure you don't mix up the differences between road and runways here otherwise there could be a very messy outcome. So too it is with your theories. Mixing your meaning often means your ideas will crash. 

And this is 100% real. No Photoshop. 

The point is, don't confuse the two. If I want to fly to Gibraltar, I wouldn't say "I'm going to take the runway to Gibraltar". Likewise, I wouldn't say my idea is deductive. Instead you would say "I have a normative idea and I will show you how it works using deductive methods".

I hope this makes the idea clearer for all! 

-Tetracarbon out

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21 August 2013

Gaming the job hunting market

Yesterday I meet our Graduate Careers Officer who was describing how HR firms use computer algorithms to automatically filter out the rubbish CVs and cover letters, providing the time to humans to focus on the short list of good candidates. For many good applicants, this is a problem because they now have to guess what the computer will filter out, and what will get them to the inbox of a real human. 
Seriously, go talk to this guy. He is great!
This smells like a game to me. 
And all games can be beat!
Games have players, objectives (and interests), available resources, asymmetric knowledge and defined rules. Job hutting pretty much fits all of those elements, the only difference is that now the computer strengthens the rules. The problem is, candidates do not know what the rules actually are. 

Computer says: "No"
We know computers have just made it harder to get the interview stage. We also know that the interview is a completely separate skill set. Let us narrow the game to encompass only "getting to the interview" range. 

The smarter players will think strategically, that is, "I think that you think <ABC>, therefore I will behave in <XYZ> manner so you react <123>". Strategy is about changing your behaviour and positioning  your resources such that that your opponent will react in a way that benefits you.

Smart job candidates know that employers will program their computers to hunt for words like "leadership", "self motivated", "attention to detail" and "teamwork". Further the position description has a lot of job specific buzz words - eg:  it might ask for "database skills" or "PeopleSoft". If your application doesn't say these words at least three times, you will be automatically filtered out. It's brutal. 

So how can we bomb the algorithm? Easy! Guess the keywords and repeat these words - a lot. This might beat the computers, but it would certainly make for boring reading when the human picks up the CV, so you would fail at that stage. Conceptually the candidate must write very tight writing that strikes a balance between being repetitive and being readable. 

We need a balance between writing for two audiences, the computer and the human. 

A better way would be to simple write stuff for the computer, and write different stuff for the humans. This is easy, as a computer will read all strings found on the CV or email, but it does not do so optically. Thus for everything you want the computer to read, but the humans to ignore, you change the font to WHITE. White text on white paper (or a white screen background) is illegible to humans, unless they select the text with mouse. 

For example, half of the text here is missing. I'm sure that the first thing you did was SELECT/HIGHLIGHT the text and you will be able to read it just fine - but you only do this because you know that the text is really here. You don't want the HR person to do that, because they will think of it as "cheating." So put that test in your CV where there are white spaces on the document that are less obvious, such as headers, footers, a signature space, etc - cram all your computer-only text there and make the text white. 

Or you could just use metadata - but that is a blog post for another day. 

Happy job hunting.

-Tetracarbon out. 

           Always play by the rules, but be sneaky if the rules permit it. I hate Star Trek but the whole point of the Kobayashi Maru scenario was that it was designed as a no-win scenario to test the problem solving abilities to find the the best of the best. 

21 July 2013

How to fix the cap on self-education

How to fix the cap on self-education

The Government’s $2000 cap on self-education is yet another example of a poorly thought out policy that only marginally increases revenue with little regard to fairness or implications. Wane Swan’s announcement justified the cap would not harm most Australians as the average claim was only $905, and this reform would stamp out rort claims for “first class airfares, five star accommodation and expensive courses.” He is right. It will probably stamp out all education beyond worker’s first degree since education has never been more expensive, thanks to Government policies both state and federal, Liberal and Labor.

Worse, the Australian Taxation Office has confirmed that even if the employer pays, they will incur FBT on education and Professional Development over $2000 under the “not-otherwise-deductible” rule. Professionals should expect a significant drop PD in after 1 July 2014.

There is little hope of change. During an election year the opposition would have prominently promised to repeal the cap if they had any intention to do so. So far the coalition has remained silent.

Professional associations such as the Australian Medical Association, CPA Australia, the Institute of Chartered Accountants Australia and others are worried. Universities realise the cap effectively increases the true economic price of their professional master programs by roughly 40%. Many professionals need to attend ongoing PD just to maintain registration. Naturally, there are many interests that wish to completely scrap the cap.

There are better ways to curtail rorts, reduce complexity, improve fairness and economic efficiency.

The core problem is the mismatch between physical capital and human capital. Currently if a tradesman spends $50,000 on a van he would not be able to deduct the cost, but would be able to claim the depreciation over 8 years. Conversely, a university student who spends $50,000 on his undergraduate degree will receive no tax benefit unless they were already working in their field. Unfortunately, you need a degree just to get into your field. Almost no one can claim their undergraduate education as the cost is “incurred too soon”.

Judges have consistently reasoned that the purchase of an enduring productive thing is a capital asset, but an investment in skill is something that is “used up” immediately and thus should be expensed. This ignores the fact that a tertiary education is a productive human asset that lasts the length of a professional career.

In fact we have already addressed this income/capital mismatch elsewhere. Both loan establishment costs and business-related capital expenditure (commonly known as ‘black hole’ expenses) are specific deductions allowed over 5 years. Depreciation splits the cash flow from expense, spreading expense out over the useful life of the asset. If we can arbitrarily depreciate these intangible capital expenses, then why not allow depreciation on education?

I propose that we allow deductions for depreciation on all Australian nationally recognised tertiary tuition over 10 years. Workers would still need to show a necessary and sufficient connection between their current employment and their study – just as they do now for PD. To give students the incentives to complete their studies, deprecation claims would only be allowed from the day of graduation. All other immediate deductions for self-education would be restricted or disallowed.

This reform is designed to help lift long term labour productivity. All businesses are a combination of labour and capital. Currently the owners of costly but productive human capital are subsidising the owners of physical capital which is abundant, diversified and underutilised. This proposal seeks to equalise the tax treatment of human capital with physical capital.

This is a better way to crackdown on junkets by simply focusing on recognised education by quality providers. The compliance burden could be reduced as the ATO could automatically provide a depreciation schedule as part of tax payer’s annual HECS statement. Other providers could print a claims schedule as an attachment to their academic transcript.

This preference to recognise business expenses and penalise productive individuals is a recurring theme in our taxation system. The taxation bias contributes to an Australian economic environment that is heavy with physical assets, such as of mining and property, and leaves the nation with a dearth of technology and research industries. Not all forms of investment receive a ‘fair go’ under our current tax system.

If our leaders truly want a smarter Australia, we will need a smarter tax system.

-Phillip out

19 June 2013

The One Minute Survey - efficient low tech student to teacher feedback that works!

The One Minute Survey - efficient low tech student to teacher feedback that works!

I have added a small incremental improvement to allow students to give a rating from 1-5, indicating how well they understood the ideas. Using voice recognition software, I can efficiently transcribe all student responses, even for large lecture groups

16 June 2013

Audience retention

Analytics is powerful stuff. Previously I would have had no idea who is listening in my lecture theatre but YouTube makes it so easy to track your audience's attention span.  This give you some pretty brutal feedback on what parts of your video have worked well, and what parts turn your audience off. 

You can see for yourself.  Click on each image for an enlargement. 

-Tetracarbon out. 
Introduction to Accounting Theory
Duration 16:21

Luigi seeks tax advice - Tax Law Assignment Question 

The parable of theory
Duration: 5:30

Taxation and sustainability - how these ideas are linked
Duration:  2:52

Why not Wikipedia?
Duration:  2:07

11 June 2013

A marketing approach to social media for teachers

Primary Audience: Lecturers, tutors, and other adult educators.

Why educators need to know about social media:
It’s hard to get away from social media.  Traditionally teachers were able to keep their public and private lives quite separate, however that’s increasingly difficult as students often try to “friend” you on Facebook. Do your students really need see or “like” photos of your kids? No.

Rather than seeing this as an issue, I realise that this is an opportunity: Students are willingly engaged, they care, and most importantly they are coming to me. Teachers can use social media marketing techniques to influence and transform students’ lives in a way that would not be done easily in the classroom.

Social media is an effective
communication tool.
Teachers must realise they live a public life, so must actively manage their reputations just as would any professional sportsman, celebrity or politician. Thus if celebrities and presidents can harness the power of social media in order to convince their audience, teachers should be able to do the same, since we are predominantly in the business of communicating to shape minds, just as are spin doctors. So while our message is more difficult and complex, the principles of good communication remain the same.

Although most educators hate the idea of participating in a popularity contest, a genuine connection between the learner and the teacher must exist for any message to have effect.  We must speak where our audience is most likely to listen. This means using what they use. 

Of course, there are many risks. And the burden of responsibility is disproportionately heavy on the teacher rather than the student – however these risks can be mitigated with prudent management.

Social media is broad; this guide focuses on using Facebook to influence student attitudes. 


The best thing you can do is to create a separate work account and private account. Do not allow any overlap. Never allow anyone to friend both accounts. Never ever, If anyone tries, immediately ban them from one account or the other. Be brutal.

All social media tools use predictive technology that will suggest that you friend/connect/follow other people based on your connections.  You do not want your students contacting your children. Some things you must keep secret.

For the private profile you should:
  • Not use your real name (yes, this will break the ToS)
  • Not use your face on the profile picture (most people use pictures of their kids or pets)
  • Not publish your phone numbers or other identifying details
  • Lock your privacy settings down as tight as you can
  • Explain your actions to your private audience (so they don’t try to cross the line)

For the public profile you should:
  • Use your real name
  • Make every post public
  • Make your face as the profile picture
  • Publish your work email address
  • Always write in full sentences
  • Ensure you post according to the public persona you wish to create

Holding two contacts is a little controversial, and it technically breaks the Terms of Service.  Facebook inc is aware of the practice, and is publicly disapproving, although I notice they have not yet cracked down on the practice as many people have multiple accounts as identities for their kids or pets. So for the moment it’s a taboo. Both Zuckerberg and the NSA dislike multiple identities for roughly the same reasons.

Google+ has done much better to separate people's identities by creating “circles” that allow you to publish different post to different audiences. Unfortunately nobody (other than Google employees) uses Google+, so you will have to go where your audience is and stick to Facebook.

Logging in and out of different accounts is a pain, but if you use different browsers for different accounts you can easily segregate the two. For example, you can use Google Chrome for your public account and Firefox for your private account and remain simultaneously logged into both. This trick also works for smart phones but is less effective.


The chances are that you are already using Facebook, however don't know how to turn your favourite toy into a rugged work tool.  It’s up to you to exercise soft skill and lead by example.  Unlike the classroom or LMS, you cannot control the social media ground.

The key is to maximise your message impact. Think about what marketing messages you receive on Facebook already – what things annoy you, and what things do you actually like?

The key difference between social media marketing and regular advertising is a sense of “being sold to”. Avoid sounding plastic at all times. Our whole lives we have desensitised ourselves to advertising.  Indeed, the court is expected that a reasonable person would be able to tell the difference between a genuine message and advertising that constitutes a “mere puff” (Carlill v Carbolic Smoke Ball Co 1893 Court of Appeal UK). Craft updates that really “sound like you”. Develop your own persona and use this voice, avoid merely parroting the corporate line.

Remember your audience (the students) do expect to be spoken to as students, so its ok can give them instructions. Just avoid “barking orders”. NEVER insult your audience. This makes you a target for attack. I have seen many teachers complain on Facebook that students are stupid, or are lazy - this is a great way to get fired!

If you do have a situation that could explode, alert a senior immediately. You never want to be seen to be covering up the truth.

Avoid being positive about everything. Provide commentary where appropriate. For example, I teach taxation, and while I remain politically neutral, I do regularly comment on the taxation policy of the government of the day. Some things I promote, but others I am very critical of. Students expect teachers to be able to apply their learning to the real world, and thus commentary demonstrates your mastery of your field, and also makes the learning realistic. You need to exercise tact; avoid being a shock jock.

Be passionate about your field. I constantly post about how much I love accounting. I make light of the matter, and even list Lucca Paccioli as my grandfather.  It’s a light hearted way of protecting my real family. Always love what you do. If you want the students to care, so should you.

Never use a linking tool that posts to twitter and Facebook (or elsewhere). Your audiences on each platform are very different. For the same reason, never use an RSS link feeder.

Do post links to interesting things you read on the net that are relevant to your field. Always make a quick comment on the link that contextualise why students should read the link.

Unless it’s part of your strategy, avoid ranting about politics or sport.  You might love Hawthorn, but most of your audience do not. If you really must post about sport, try to segregate your audience somehow or ensure it’s not sport-spam.

Never send friend requests to students.  Let them friend you. They consider this to be “THEIR” playground, and so you are a guest in their space. If they friend you, they probably want to read what you have to say. If they don’t like it, they don’t have to read it.

Don’t get upset if they unfriend you.

NEVER never never force students to use social media. Remember, it’s not your space to pollute with work.

I wish people a happy birthday as it makes them feel special. Although, I don’t post my own birthday because I don’t want them to know, and it may invite presents from students that others might construe as “bribes”. Presents to teachers are not uncommon in Asian cultures.

Make ALL your posts publicly available. Most modern classrooms are designed to be visible from the outside. This transparency means that it is difficult for unscrupulous students to level false accusations against teachers, and likewise difficult for teachers to misbehave in private. Your dealings on Facebook should remain the same as your interaction in the classroom - open door and transparent at all times. Assume nothing you do using your work account is private. If a student has a private matter, invite them to e-mail you using your work address rather than Facebook chat messenger.

Be clear to them that you do NOT have to give instant replies.

Occasionally you will be criticised, so develop a thick skin. If remarks are inappropriate, simply delete them, however if the complaint contains any validity, you should address it publicly. If you are attacked, sometimes it is better to draw on your infantry of social capital and invite the discussion of others – many will support you. Many times silence is the best option.

Stand up to bullies when you see another person being victimised. The chances are that you won’t see it, but always provide the moral leadership.

Update regularly. I try to make one post every working day. An abandoned account shows students that the account is probably a decoy, and that students will keep searching until they find your real account. To ensure consistent updates, I use scheduling software to update my social media channels with my key central themes. This gives my message on track, and I randomise schedules over daylight hours to make it look as if I am on Facebook as much as my students are.

Encourage past students to give advice to current students.  This has helped me build a community where the class content can be discussed, and seniors can help juniors. This is especially true when past graduates let new graduates know about jobs! Networking is important.

Avoid posting 20 messages consecutively and nothing for days. This looks like spam. Timing is important so space out your message intervals. Try to leave at least 90 minutes between posts, but don’t post more than 6 times a day. If you do have lots of ideas down, use a scheduling tool such as Buffer.

Photos generate more engagement than videos or text. Again, keep it real. Good photos taken from a smart phone generate more engagement than professional photos that look like an advertisement. Photos shot on campus make for great engagement. 

Celebrate their achievements. Like every photo of them on their graduation day. 

One idea per post. Longer or more complex writing goes into a “note”.

You need to understand that different social media platforms tend to attract different audiences with different attention spans. While this might be work for you, it’s a playtime for them. So keep it short and snappy!  Posts less than 2 lines long are almost always read. Paragraphs are not.  If you need practice, learn to tweet.

Social media is a risky environment, but ignoring it is likewise foolish. Even if you do not have a social media presence, you can still be the target of some very nasty attacks. I believe it is always better to show leadership and always be on the front foot.Displaying judgement, being tactful and maintaining dynamism are key points.

02 June 2013

Formative Meta Assessment: how to teach exam technique without teaching exam technique

Poor examination performance is often blamed on either poor content knowledge and poor exam technique. Students often accept the first but exam technique is underpinned by a skill of critical thinking which is a much more troublesome skill. From the student’s perspectives, poor content knowledge is known-unknown, but critical thinking is an unknown-unknown.  Content knowledge is declarative knowledge but exam technique is a tacit know-how. Consequently students tend to fixate on the tangible and visible symptoms, thus naturally believe more rote is the correct solution to compensate for that which they don’t know how to learn. Unfortunately these two skills are synergistic rather than additive, and thus over-compensation in shallow learning will yields little additionally when compared to a deeper approach to learning.

Teachers frustrated attempt to teach exam technique, but many find their results are often disappointing. This is because teachers mistakenly use declarative teaching techniques to address what is a tacit problem.  It is not that the student’s do not know how to write and thus ought to learn, but rather they do not know how to think, and thus they struggle to express clear thoughts.  A behaviourist approach ignores the weak internal thought processes that caused the poor performance. Essentially, both teachers and students fixate on the wrong tool to address symptoms and ignore causes.

Students need to understand that when they try and fail it is often not because they didn’t study hard enough, it is because they failed to think differently. Education is what remains when the learning content has been forgotten.

The ability write clearly depends on the ability to reflect on one’s own performance and compare it with that of other reference points. Essentially all good writers are ‘self-taught’ as they benchmark and reflected on their writing against those of others. Typically undergraduate students are only given unreachably high reference points such as peer reviewed journals or textbooks and lower points of reference such as Wikipedia (seen as weak) or peer’s work (seen as plagiarism or cheating) are to be discouraged. Yet the ability to self-critique depends on the ability to compare it with useful reference points, but these benchmarks are not provided to students.

Academically weak students (Biggs’ “Roberts”) are unable to see any resemblance between their performances with that of a peer reviewed journal, and consign the task to be insurmountable.  Indeed, the whole point of peer reviewed work is that it is the highest claims to truth in terms of reliability. Weak students feel are ill equipped to critique that which has been produced by an academic god, and been subjected to the a gauntlet of other academic gods.  The weak student will not find any weakness, and so never practices or learns the ability to provide a critique.  Without the ability to critique others, they can never hope to critique themselves and so are doomed to actively avoid self-reflection.

Teachers’ other prescription to simply “read more” is ineffective because no amount of reading declarative content will magically teach the shallow learner to suddenly become self-reflexive. The teacher’s call to read alien works sound hollow because there is a complete disconnect between study and final performance. If a student does not know how to critique others, they cannot do so for themselves.

Students would be able to critique their own work better if they had practice in critiquing someone of a closer reference point. Luckily such a close reference point is handy - it is sitting next to them in class. Teachers have critical this ability to make judgments because they exercise judgment all the time. Why not let students have this same opportunity; the joy of grading papers.

-Phillip out

This post is a follow on from a previous reflecting on my own practices. http://www.tetracarbon.com/2012/06/am-i-really-teacher-centred.html

28 May 2013

Revision lectures! Advanced Accounting Theory and Accounting Information Systems

The Exam Crunch / Formative Meta Assessment 
This is a video of a Formative Meta Assessment practice session otherwise known as the "practice exam crunch". Students are asked to grade past papers and we discuss why they graded as they did. 

Advanced Accounting Theory  
Advanced Accounting Theory Final Revision lectures were split over two days.

Warning: these are both long lectures

Accounting Information Systems
Final Revision lectures - these are not the most fun lectures, but they probably are one of the most important.

Warning: This is a 2 hour revision class. 

-Tetracarbon out.

23 May 2013

Peer ratings in group assessment: How to foster personal responsibility for independent learning

Group assessments breed the problem of free riders.  Each member within the group has varying propensities to do work and different objectives.  If you are lazy and you know it, the chances are that there is somebody in the group who is more hard-working than you are, so there is an incentive to slack off knowing that the hard-working person will probably cover for you as it is in their interests to make sure that the marks are as high as possible.  This is manifestly unfair, and is a problem to teachers as the marks no longer reflect the capabilities of each student within the group.

Yet it is possible to design systems that foster personal responsibility for independent learning. To address the ‘free-rider’ problem, my students are asked to rate each other’s performance on professionalism and effort in a group assignment. This peer grade is then used to weight individual performance within the group; thus each group member receives a mark commensurate to their contribution to the total.

Here's a quick visual overview: 

STEP ONE: Grade the paper as you would normally.

STEP TWO: Students rate each other on their respective performances. I use a simple Likert 1-5 scale where 5 is maximum.  Students should be given some rubric or guide.  The teacher should specify in what circumstances would someone deserve a 5 or in what circumstances would they receive a 1.

STEP THREE: The ratings are then summed and an average rating is awarded to each student.  In this case student A has worked the hardest, and so he receives an average scalar rating of  1.11.

STEP FOUR: The rating is applied as a scalar to the base mark, pushing the hardest working student up and vice versa for those that have not applied themselves.

Safety checks
Wherever there are new rules, enterprising individual may see opportunities to exploit the system.  This is a good thing, because it means that educators have the power to adjust the system to build in effective safety checks.
Self-interest: Students might rate themselves higher
Self-ratings are required to ensure reflection but are ignored
One student might pressure a weaker student into an unfair rating
Ratings are collected during the invigilated final examination, effectively making it a secret ballot to foster honest peer ratings.

Ex ante harassment: Ratings may be used to victimise another student to the point of failing. (How can we avoid a popularity contest)
The algorithm ensures no student can fail solely due to poor peer ratings. 
Ex post harassment: Students target someone that rates them poorly.
Group mark and individual final grades are disclosed, but not the individual peer ratings. 
Ratings come too late to intervene
At mid project, students submit a short self-reflection on the group dynamic. Teachers use this qualitative data to match against quantitative peer ratings to detect unfair collusion.

Task rational: How can we explain this to students?
Students are often suspicious of new assessment mechanisms as ways for teachers to extract more work for little intrinsic reward. Therefore, it is important that you explain that this system reflects rewards in the real world. High wages and success are often achievable by simply being part of a growth industry, but likewise, high performing staff are often usually rewarded well regardless of what industry they join. The design of peer weighted grades refocuses attention on individual learning within the team, as the balance between teamwork and personal responsibility are crucial skills for professional success.

Other Providers
Peer evaluation mechanisms have been about for a long time, so I can not claim this system as being my own. There is a great program out of the UK called Web PA which seeks to do this exact system.

In Australia, there is a program developed at University Technology of Sydney (UTS) called SPARK+.  Spark is quite an impressive piece of software, however is quite complex for teachers to use and the interface could be polished. SPARK is well researched and is methodologically solid and used internationally. If you are doing this for a large number of students, it is probably better to use dedicated software for this purpose.  SPARK is also quite cheap, as I understand the UTS is currently providing the software on a cost recovery basis.

Happy grading one and all
-Tetracarbon out.

Falchikov, Nancy, and Judy Goldfinch. "Student peer assessment in higher education: A meta-analysis comparing peer and teacher marks." Review of educational research 70.3 (2000): 287-322.

Goldfinch, Judy, and Robert Raeside. "Development of a peer assessment technique for obtaining individual marks on a group project." Assessment and evaluation in Higher Education 15.3 (1990): 210-231.

Willey, K. and A. Gardner (2010). "Investigating the capacity of self and peer assessment activities to engage students and promote learning." European Journal of Engineering Education 35(4): 429-443.