• Levelling Lifelong Learning: Annual Progress Review

    Elsheindra the healy-dealy night elfI have my annual Ph.D. review meeting tomorrow afternoon. As usual, I’m more than a bit nervous, especially as I made the big step this academic year of completely dropping my former Ph.D. work and starting a brand new topic that intersects the boundaries of my three main interests: communities, learning and teaching, and Internet-enabled technologies. As part of the review process, we’re asked to produce a 4-page report that explains what we’ve done since the last report. In your first year, this report ought to focus on your thesis proposal, although many students won’t yet have one. I do have some ideas about what I want to do and how I am going to go about it. I’ve made an online version so that it will be indexed and easily findable by others interested in World of Warcraft and e-learning.

    The 30-second summary: Examine how metaphors and game design of World of Warcraft motivate people to learn and to work, with an eye to transferring motivation, social knowledge building, and persistence to online higher education practices, like community building for lifelong learning.

    Click the “More” link below to continue reading the online version of the proposal and progress report. A downloadable PDF version is also available.

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  • Metric MDS & Data Delivered

    I had a good meeting with Thufir on May 14th, lasting almost the full allotted hour. This was because I’ve recently had a breakthrough with my MATLAB analysis and can quantitatively evaluate the similarity between different people or different algorithms with my multi-dimensional scaling (MDS) diagrams. I took some output to the meeting which compared my half-baked algorithm against the cosine normalization version. Both use hypernyms, but how they weigh the hypernyms is different. My automated analysis algorithm also produces an MDS cluster diagram as output for each of the data files provided (see anal1ahyper and anal2ahyper).

    Multidimensional scaling visual representation of document similarity using Anal1a

    Multidimensional scaling visual representation of document similarity using Anal2a

    Anal1a, in terms of clumping, doesn’t look very good, at least not anymore. That was not previously the case, but I had revised my algorithm to make it symmetrical as per the insructions of a computing statistician here at the University of Sussex. He claimed that the Procrustes Rotation needed symmetric data and my nonsymmetric data, where Doc1 vs Doc2 didn’t have the same similarity as Doc2 vs Doc1, was not going to work. That change has, I believe, altered the efficacy of the algorithm and things are no longer clumped together as promisingly as they were previously. The clumps should be a two- or three-letter short code followed by a digit. Therefore, ac1 and ac2 belong together. Pl1, pl2, and pl3 belong together, and so on. The clumping is significantly better in the already symmetric cosine normalization algorithm (anal2a). The two speech processing documents are clumped together (sp1 and sp2), all of the Power PC and G4 documents are together (pp1, pp2, g4c), and the three Pine Lake tornado stories are clumped far away from everything else (which is all computer-related) and together on their own. Excellent clumping, in fact. So the hypernym hypothesis looks like, on these short documents, it is working well with cosine normalization.

    Visual representation of Anal1a mapped onto Anal2a using Procrustes Rotation

    Here’s the final bit of loveliness: comparing one MDS cluster diagram against another. MDS output is mapped to the vector space independently. That is, the same data will produce the same visualization or mapping, but different data is mapped to a different vector space, so you cannot just compare one MDS matrix to another directly. That is where Procrustes Rotation comes in. It applies a series of intelligent matrix transformations, trying to map the second vector matrix onto the source vector matrix. As a side benefit, essential in my case, it always provides a fitness measure to tell you how close the two were. on a scale of 0 to 1. So these two, as you can see (see above image), even after the transformations, were not that close together. As it happens, though, this is not particularly useful information to know. I am currently more interested in assessing how close the two algorithms are to human classifiers.

    This recent success gave us plenty to discuss, particularly with respect to metric and non-metric data. The MDS community calls source data metric when the similarity or dissimilarity data is symmetric. That is, the value at row 2, column 1 is the same as the value at row 1, column 2. Classical multi-dimensional scaling (MDS) is designed to only work with metric data. SPSS includes the ALSCAL and PROXSCAL MDS algorithms which can work with non-metric data, but MATLAB’s classical MDS does not because it treats things as Eucledean distances–another reason why I had to alter the Anal1a algorithm. The primary reason I now had metric data for everything, however, was because the computing statistician had told me I needed it for the Procrustes. Hawever, as we were examining my output, it occurred to me that Procrustes did not really care if the data was symmetric, so long as the dimensions of the data were the same (the same number of rows and columns). Which leads us to question whether the application of the method is statistically sensible or not. To that end, I need to track down a new computing statistician and perhaps a mathematician and discuss the process with them. My original computing statistician has retired.

    Earlier I said that comparing one machine to another, to see how they fit is not useful information, but what would be interesting is to prepare a matrix of all the possible combinations of human judgements, cosine normalization, and weird formula:

    cosine   wrd form.   human
    cosine (anal2a)		x
    weird formula (anal1a)           x
    human                                        x

    So that is my task for my next meeting (on the 16th of June). Before then, I need to figure out how to get MATLAB to take multiple tables as data. In SPSS, I could paste in several tables (representing all of the people’s individual data, for example) and it would work with that. That is necessary in order to aggregate the peopel to do the comparison. Onward ho, then! Progress at last!


    I need some help in using MATLAB and MDS, so I looked to Google to find resources. There seem to be more MDS resources than when I last looked quite some time ago. I found a useful page with links and pointers to MDS-related resources at http://www.granular.com/MDS/. From there, I obtained most of the resources for a pyschology course organized around MDS taught by one of the MDS’s primary researchers Forrest Young. I downloaded all the notes in PDF format and stored them away to browse through. Young is the same researcher responsible for developing the ViSta software (Visual Statistics System), which looks a lot like that Canadian object-oriented, icon-based programming language. I remember looking at ViSta before, but I don’t think it supported doing things like MDS and it hasn’t been recently updated for anything other than Windows.

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  • Meeting with Supervisor

    I had a short meeting with Thufir today to check on how much progress I have made at reintegrating myself back into the flow of university life. The number of things I managed to check-off from my last to-do list was woefully short, but still progress of a sort. For example, retroactive intermission was granted. I now have until September 30th, 2006 to finish my DPhil. That required very little work on my part or my supervisor’s to put through. It was the fastest resolved intermission request ever. I also wrote up my 30 words and scrounged up a picture for the next HCT brochure. The only other completed task off my list was sending an e-mail to the Bulletin mentioning my Open University teaching award, about which I have yet to hear anything. As I only submitted that late last week, he figured it was still early days.

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  • Of iPods, Infrastructure, and Intermission

    Today was my first day back at the University after an extended absence. I filled it in by doing mostly administrative things. Let there be iPods, bibliography software, and printing everywhere!

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  • Meeting with Supervisor

    I met with my supervisor briefly this afternoon. Given that I’d just been gone for another 6-month period, his first serious question was whether I wished to continue with my Ph.D. or whether I needed an “easy way out.” I assured him that I still wanted to finish my Ph.D. and that I didn’t need an “easy way out.” That question once again settled, we then proceeded on to the practicalities of actually doing a Ph.D. With my recent long absence, he was all in favour of me applying to extend my last batch of intermission to cover the fall and spring terms. He suggested I write another letter to Phil Husbands, asking for intermission due to work.
    As always, the issue of my health and medication was included. I assured him that my health had been good of late. He thought I looked a lot healthier, too. My medication usage, I had to relate, was not completely perfect, but it was a lot better. I explained how I was trying to balance my life a lot better, taking weekends off and suchlike. I have been aided in this quest by a dynamic to-do-list manager called LifeBalance. I showed him my desired versus actual pie chart and today’s to do list and explained how it was time- and place-sensitive. By trying to do things only in the time slots allocated for them and relaxing outside of work/research hours, my health has improved and I’m not quite as stressed.

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  • The Return of the Student

    Today was my first day back at the University since leaving for a three-week trip to Canada at the beginning of last October. I’ve been a student at the University of Sussex since, I think, the fall of 1996. Yes, I’ve been a Ph.D. student now for 8 years. While, that doesn’t beat the record of Dr. Robert Runte, a celebrated perpetual student in my personal circle of friends, it’s certainly getting up there.
    The last time I went away for an extended period of time, I came back to discover my desk was now occupied by someone else. Space is always at a premium here, even though the IDEAs Lab is fortunate to have their very own space fairy. This time, however, I only needed to shove aside a few piles of electronics gizmos. My “new” office is shared with the lab equipment manager, who made good use of my empty desk space.

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  • Balancing Intermission & Other Tasks

    Yesterday both Livingstone and I had mail from Linda saying that my application for intermission had been sent off to the powers that be at the end of August. By then we already knew as a letter had arrived that day. Intermission has been granted. My maximum period of registration is now January 9th, 2006. It sounds like a long time away, but it’s not really. I basically have two years to get myself out of the door, unless I can get an extension.
    CSRP Technical Reports:
    I had mail from Celia today. I’ve been assigned my own CSRP number of 565. I need to pick up a form to attach to the hardcopy of my paper. Before I do that, I need to some tweaking and Livingstone would like to review it before it goes. Once that’s all done, I can send it off to Frank Shipman at Texas A&M who has agreed to provide some external support for me thanks to the evangelizing of Jim Rosenberg.
    Life Balance:
    I spent part of the afternoon purchasing and configuring LifeBalance for my Macintosh. The thery is that it helps you to more easily balance the different aspects in your life. It does this in several ways. One of the ways is by displaying a visual pie graph of how you spent your time versus how you would like to be spending it. It also allows you to define places, hours, and projects and I believe you can then use it in a mode which encourages you to work on the appropriate thing at the appropriate time and optimize your time usage.
    Wireless Working:
    Met with Kelvin Pope of Computing Services today to see why we couldn’t get my internal AirPort card on the network. It turned out that it was a MAC address issue. I had somehow twice obtained the wrong MAC address for my laptop, which is why it wasn’t getting an IP address. This is now all solved.