Monday, September 15, 2014

Neuro- The new brain sciences and the management of the mind – book overview

Checked this 2013 book out - authored by N. Rose and J.M. Abi-Rached and published by Princeton University Press.

I worked through the ebook available through CPIT library. The book is a good overview of the state of play with regards to neuroscience, neuropsychology and brings in perspectives and concepts already summarised in other books – for instance, as overviewed on this blog recently, by P. Churchland, Ramachandran and Broks

The book has 9 chapters, an introduction and conclusion and 7 chapters with each chapter overviewing the ‘functional’ aspects of the brain, implications.

The introduction (available frompublisher’s site) provides a good overview of the book and worth a read through before diving into the book itself. 

Chapter 1 covers the ‘neuromolecular brain’ is the historical overview of how we progressed through the last 100 years or so in our understanding of how the brain is structured and how it works. A summary of 8 points in page 43 sums up is presently known. The brain is an organ like other, evolved like other mammals, can be anatomised at the molecular level as being chemical transmissions partially dependent on neurotransmitters and a whole complex of other entities – enzymes, ion channels receptors, transporters etc. Different parts of the brain have different evolutionary histories. Mental processes reside in the brain, so mental states and processes can be potentially observable through the organic function of the brain.

The second chapter is on how the brain sees the world – ‘the invisible gaze’ summarise the long journey taken to the present in how to try to unlock what happens in the brain as it functions. From crude images to present brain scanners and the coloured pictures available through fMRI.

Chapter 3 is a call to heed research on humans rather than mice in ‘what’s wrong with mice’ maintains the argument that study of human brains cannot be completed through making assumptions from animal studies. For instance, page 84 has 6 points which include difficulties in assuming  animals and human behaviour are the same, although mechanics may be the same, biochemical may defer, difficulties with phenotypes, modelling human stressors in animals, weakness of current tests used in animals (mazes) and inferred to human responses, and many trials are not properly blinded or randomised. Hence, the specificity of humans needs to be accounted for.

The fourth chapter is a good discussion on how the brain goes wrong – ‘all in the brain’ covers mental illness and how brain function / malfunction?. How neuropsychiatry is still a work in progress and how although we have made many positive discoveries and applied to treatment, we have only scratched the surface in understanding why and how mental illness occurs.

Chapter 5 concentrates on the ‘social brain’ and summarises the work of social neuroscience, trying to understand why primates are ‘social animals’ and the role of the brain. The specialised area of social neuroscience is presented and discussed. Includes a thoughtful critique for and against the role of mirror neurons, their presence and function and theorised connection to our social nature.

Chapter 6 presents the other side of the coin ‘the antisocial brain’ and tries to unpack how criminality occurs. A historical overview of criminality and its associations with psychology, psychiatry and neuroscience is provided. A slight hiatus after the second world war due to Nazi research in the area followed by revival of interest from the 1980s with accessibility to CT scans. Cautions are discussed with regards to neurolaw – using brain science to try to explain (and sometimes provide defence) criminal behaviour.

Chapter 7 come together with ‘personhood in the neurobiological age’ with the perennial challenge of where the self comes from – the soul or the brain? As per previous chapters, the historical journey towards understanding who we are and the role of the brain is summarised.

The conclusion ‘managing brains, minds and selves’ brings in the challenge into the future. A glimpse of where to next.

I would not recommend this book as the first port of call on things neurobiological. It is written with an academic although, in general, readable style. The function of the book is to update the thousands of studies in the last two decades on brain function and the media hype around conclusions that may be drawn from ‘brain scanning’ . Therefore, the book is a more academic version of  'need for caution in using neuroscience findings', reminding one in drawing conclusions from limited, exploratory studies, many conducted on rats or small ‘building block’ studies which are sensationalised by the media.

Monday, September 08, 2014

Tec-Variety - book overview

Via Derek Wenmoth’s blog, book launched at DEANZ conference a couple of months ago.
eBook by Professor Curtis Bonk and Dr. Elaine Khoo (Waikato University) called "Adding some Tec-Variety - 100 + activities for motivating and retaining learners online".

The book is available via Amazon but the authors have also generously provided access to a free download of a pdf version of the book. 15 chapters with 10 chapters devoted to the “tec- tools” framed by 3 introductory and 2 closing / consolidating chapters.

The first chapter introduces the rationale and values for writing the book. The R2D2 (read, reflect, display, do) components used in an earlier (2006) book (empowering online learning:100+ activities for reading, reflecting, displaying and doing by Bonk and Zhang) is also introduced and discussed. The framework for tec-variety (tone / climate, encouragement, curiosity, variety, autonomy, relevance, interactivity, engagement, tension and yielding) also presented and substantiated. Chapter 2 covers the various literature on on-line learning attrition and retention, leading to the focuses of the book on setting up the right background for helping learners retain motivation in an online learning environment. Chapter 3 summaries the key learning theories’ stance on motivation – behaviourism, cognitivism, constructivism, social culturalism.

Each of the principles for assisting online learners to succeed then covered. Each principle recommends 10 learning activities, backed by examples, exemplars and resources. Principle one is to set up a tone or climate to ensure learners’ are psychologically safe, comfortable and have a sense of belonging to the course; Principle 2 covers the encouragements aspects of learning with feedback, responsiveness, praise and supports. Principle on curiosity has activities to provide for surprise, intrigue and exploration of the unknowns. Variety is principle 4 to provide novelty, fun and fantasy. In the principle on learner autonomy, activities to encourage learner choice, control, flexibility and opportunities are presented. Relevance is covered to provide activities for accessing meaningful, authentic and interesting learning. Interactivity recommends online activities for collaboration, team-based and community learning. Engagement is assisted by activities to bring about greater effort, involvement and investment (buy-in). The critical thinking aspect is addressed in principle 9 on tension with activities that challenge learners and provide opportunities to work with dissonance and controversy. The last principle discusses outputs in the form of goal driven, purposefully visioned and learner-owned evidence production.

Recommended activities cover a range of traditional (variants of discussion forums) to web-based, multimedia / multimodal type items. The emphasis is on learning centred activities with the learner contributing and producing content, either individually or with others, for discussion, critique and consolidation.

The penultimate chapter covers the important task of motivating instructors. The last chapter summarises the approaches and offers tables listing all the various activities and the risks, time, costs, learner-centredness and activity duration as a ‘selection’ tool.

Overall, a good overview of the possibilities for using a range of online learning activities, anchored by sound pedagogical rationales.

Monday, September 01, 2014

Neuroeconomics – via Coursera MOOC

Over the last month and a half, I have been working through a MOOC offered through Coursera. This is part of my professional development for this year, to augment readings (summarised through this blog this year) in the areas of neuroscience and neuropsychology.

The MOOC is offered through the Higher School of Economics which is part of the National Research University  located in Moscow. The presenter is Professor Vasily Klucharev. The course has a traditional structure. Videos each week as lectures – usually 3 – 5 broken up into 5 -6 minutes to 20 minutes. Each video has one set of multiple choice questions embedded. At the end of each week, a short multiple choice test is completed. There is a time limit on the quiz and 3 attempts are allowed. The exam at the end of the course is made up of 20 multiple choice questions.

The above supplemented with a short collection of suggested ‘readings’ in the form of book chapters and journal articles. There is also an active discussion forum which I have not had time to delve into but will try to catch up on at some stage.

Part one introduces the topic. Neuroeconomics is an interdisciplinary discipline to introduce aspects of psychology and neuroscience into rationalist economics. The foundation and rationale of neuroeconomics are introduced.

Week 2 goes through the neuroscience aspects required to understand how neuroeconomics itself works. Various means of accessing brain activity as decisions are made are also covered in week 2. Importantly, fMRIprocess is explained so that future graphs and explanations can be understood. FMRI images are statistical combinations of structural (what is activated) and functional (how often activated) brain activity. Brain activity is captured through magnetic resonance of blood flow through the brain as laboratory tests are completed by test subjects.

Week 3 begins the work on understanding how the brain goes about making decisions. The concept of a diffusion model for decision making is introduced and discussed in some depth.

Week 4 introduces the parts of the brain – the nucleusaccumbus (anticipates gain / reward), orbital frontal cortex (compares and integrates information regarding reward outcomes) and the dorsolateralprefrontal cortex (does the control and planning). Examples are provided of how each operates and then how all the brain sectors work in tandem to make value judgements and decisions.

Week 5 brings in the important contributions of emotion into how decisions are made. Emotions contribute either as innate or learnt responses. The theory of emotion states we appraise, evaluate, take action, make physiological changes or express through action. Emotional stimuli is thus assigned a form of ‘value’ albeit, subjective values. Emotions are also the product of brain activity and add a subjective dimension to how we make decisions as how each person comes to a ‘conclusion’ is coloured by the context, historical-social factors, ontology etc. etc. So, we hope to be rational thinkers but perhaps we are nowhere near as rational as we would like to be!

In week 6, the ways in which the brain makes decision either as option 1 (intuitive, heuristic, automatic) or option 2 (reflective, analytic, consciously monitored) are introduced. The role of the dorsallateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) is brought in to explain how people modulate their needs through self-control. Fairness and temporal discounting (delayed rewards) also plays a role. Therefore, decisions not necessarily rational but impacted on by emotions and the way various parts of the brain evaluate choices.

Week 7 brings in the contribution of ‘risk’, how does the brain assess ‘risk’? Is there a difference between risk and uncertainty? The ways in which we make decisions with an element of inherent risks is predicated by how the options are framed. We tend to be risk adverse if we see a gain but risk seeking when faced with a loss! Small probabilities are overweighted and large probabilities under weighted. Therefore, we will gamble on an outcome when faced with a losing proposition whereas if we perceive a sure win, we are conservative.
The last two weeks of the course discusses ‘society and brains’.

Week 8 discusses the ‘social brain’. Firstly, a video of ‘game theory’, the economics decision making model is presented. Revised the levels of complexity in neuroeconomics – neuron – brain – cognitions and emotions – society and biosphere. Social influences seen to be an evolutionary factor (selection between genes, between individuals within a group and between groups within a population). Correlation between social complexity and neo-cortex volume in primates. Game theory used to try to understand situations where decision-makers interact. Game consists of a set of actions and a payoff function. Uses ‘prisoners’ dilemma’ to illustrate cooperation. The neurological fundamentals of social cooperation are summarised with the role of mirror neurons highlighted.

The last week of the course, brings in the dimensions of evolution and the concept of humans as ‘economic animals’. The concept of cooperation as being innate in humans and to a slightly less extend in primates / apes is used as example of neuro-based pre-disposal to certain traits. Biological market theory is used to find out if there are natural examples of the existence of market type scenarios in nature. For instance ‘cleaners’ / groomers and ‘clients’ between animals – reef fish or anemones with small schools of ‘cleaner’ fish. Clients allow cleaners to enter their mouths without eating them. Monkeys have complex arrangements for grooming, with hierarchical and supply based systems. Market systems impact on how services are interchanged. Capuchin monkey experiments can be trained to trade coins for tools to perform tasks – usually leading to a food reward. Capuchin monkeys also learn value of coins, trading for ‘bargains’ and ‘gamble’ when loses are framed as wins (i.e. loss aversion). Both capuchin monkeys and chimpanzees reject unfair exchanges, indicating the perception of equality to be present in primates.

Overall, a very traditionally structured course with content delivered via weekly readings, video lectures, in lecture quizzes usually at the end of the lecture, multiple choice quizzes at the end of each week that count towards assessment and discussion forums. Took a couple of lectures to get used to the professor’s accent but the explanations were clear and powerpoint visuals usually helpful. The end of week quizzes were of variable quality, with many written poorly but the standard of multi-choice question construction did improve, so the lecturer was learning by doing and responding to student suggestions.

I am now enrolled in a few more courses to the end of this year to improve my understanding of neurobiology. These courses meet my individualised learning needs and are useful for professional development but you need to be committed to watching the hour or so of videos each week, taking notes, thinking through the information before attempting the quizzes. I would say I did learn lots of interesting facts and a couple of items I can apply to current projects. Of note is the opportunity to be introduced to up to date thinking on brain function, albeit, from a specialised point of view. 

Thursday, August 28, 2014

CPIT research month - week 4

Last week of research month this week. Yesterday, managed to get to tail end of Dr. Nick Kimber's presentation on 'skeletal muscle fat metabolism in humans'. The recommendation for avoiding obesity and diabetes is, it is better to be 'slightly fat and fit then thin and sick'. Standing instead of sitting at desks all days helps to accumulate more activity into one's lifestyle.

Then the 'great debate' on 'science is more creative than art' took place to a packed room. Dr. Michael Edmonds, Miranda Satherwaite and Dr. Jerry Sherman argued for the affirmative and the artists - Dr. Dorothee Pauli, Bruce Russell and Henry Sutherland argued that art is more creative. Due to the ability of the arts department to gather student and staff supporters, the arts motion won.

Today, a range of presentations from the Nursing Department. First up, Nicky Davis on 'perspectives of loneliness: an analysis of narratives of elderly widowed people'. Nicky provided background, rationale and motivation for the project which formed basis for undertaken Masters in Gerontology - to find out what is already known about loneliness and aging. Present PhD work digs deeper as loneliness is subjective and often discounted by supporters and professionals. Focus is on telling the story of widows / widowers of how loneliness is described, if experiences of loneliness change over time and what strategies used to manage negative features of loneliness. Selected 40 participants to match gaps in literature - urban/rural, gender differences and older than 75. Interviews carried out based around 7 prompt questions. For participants, loneliness was perceived to be based on individual / contextualised experiences and connected to expectations of aging. Cultural, ontological influences relevant and recommendation for need to understand the individualised nature of perceptions of loneliness when developing meaningful interventions.

Raewyn Tudor follows with 'role of craft in post-earthquake recovery: implications for social work practice'. Presents a shared project with Ada Campbell, Jane Maidment and Karen whittaker. The earthquakes provided a context to explore resilience and emergence of craft movement as a intervention to enhance community resilience. many interventions are government or NGO led and important for communities to identify ways to minimise psychological effects following trauma of natural disaster. Craft can be utilised as a metaphor for growth, recovery and discovery not only for individuals but wider society. Themes included crafting for recovery and healing; making social connections; a sense of vision for the city; and significance of the role of crafting.

Next, Glynnis Brooks presents on 'navigating uncertainty: how knowing influences doing'. - base on her work towards her PhD on 'how do social work practitioners make sense of and respond to elder abuse?'. Tries to unpack what 'old' is and what 'abuse' means. Elder abuse literature and knowledge of practice literature have commonalities with social work being complex; elder abuse requires acceptance and ability to navigate uncertainty which requires critical thinking and reflective practice. Individuals filter various explicit and tacit knowledge througseh their own lens and important for individuals to identify lenses before change occurs. There were differences in how 'old' was understood with only a few taking a flexible approach to understanding age - young old at 85 or old old with 60 plus. Similar to how to assess abuse - what is it and responses. Therefore, there seems to be bias to caregivers and family dynamics / circumstances with voice of elderly taken less into account.

Last up for the day and for this year's research month, Dr. Isabel Jamieson on 'supporting first year in practice for graduate registered nurses using the dedicated education unit model' from work with Deborah Sims, Michelle Casey, Katie Wilkinson and Racheal Osborne. Provided background of the Canterbury dedicated educational unit (CDEU) a novel concept for undergraduate nurse training. Revolves around students working with academic liaison nurses (ALNs) and clinical liaison nurses (CLN). This study concentrates on finding out how to better support new nurse graduates enrolled on to the national Nurse entry to Practice (NETP) programme based around a perceptorship model. However, one on one perceptorship model difficult to support, hence move to CDEU model. Bring in a liaison nurse (NLN) to support new staff member with various teams with a focus on recruitment and retention. Found new model to be effective. Support seen to be important along with aspects of direction /delegation and recruitment / retention. Support included peer, organisational, NLN, work teams and support for the CDEU team.

So ends a month for CPIT researchers to share their work. As always, a range of interesting topics with most having high applicability and relevance to the industries CPIT provides vocational education for.

Friday, August 22, 2014

CPIT research month - week 3 day 4

Today's lunch time presentation begins with the launch of the 'new' CPIT research repository, hosted on Equella. This replaces our old 'ROMs' repository which archived all research outputs and collated for the NZ performance based research funding (PBRF) system.

The theme for presentations from the Broadcasting School is around the theme 'media and change'. Dr. Ruth Zanker presents on 'fear and thrill in front of the screen - what children remember- an international study'. From an external collaborative project funded by the International Central Institute for Youth and Educational Television (IZI). Used examples from data - children's drawings to illustrate some of the direction of the project. Stage on of project with 631 tertiary students from 8 countries and stage 2 with 510 children aged 8 - 12 in 4 countries. Presented examples from stage 2 findings in the form of the pictures drawn to represent something funny seen on TV that contributed to nightmares.

Then, Brendan Reilly on 'the changing face of commercial radio'. Focused on radio 'sports news' and role of journalists. Does news have to be short clips with elements of drama? Used examples of high international performing Kiwis who deserve recognition and airtime. Media agenda influences what actually is reported. Compared sports coverage on two radio stations to pick up sports personalities who were covered. Only 14 sports covered with rugby, league and cricket having the most stories. Local community news no longer feature as local journalist no longer exist. Radio news comes through two sources and all radio stations report from these.

Last up for this week, Bronwyn Beatty presents 'in the cold: tracing the fan from the outcast to 'fantastic prosumer'. Definitions of fans have not been flattering and mostly of fans as being 'losers' and obsessives. Increase in technology has provided greater opportunities for fans to become even more deeply involved. Some create their own versions of their most loved fiction characters /stories through fanfiction. Collaborative efforts are simplified so fans begin to contribute to storylines. Copyright is challenged. Used case study of Harry Potter. How persecution of fans websites backfired, leading to a turn around and establishment of an official fan site. Similar case with Lord of the ring handling of fan 'one ring' sites. Therefore, fans now seen as ideal consumers rather than public nuisances.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

CPIT research month - week 3 day 3

The presentations for CPIT research month today revolve around the theme of 'teaching and learning'.

I present findings from the 'learning a trade' project. Summarise the contributions of individual, socio-cultural and socio-material learning towards trades people 'becoming' as they embody the skills, knowledge and dispositions required to practice a trade.Also obtain feedback from poster and draft dialogue for video to disseminate findings from the project. The poster is for workplace coaches to improve feedback process for apprentice learners and the video is to assist apprentices to become more 'mindful' learners through deliberate and reflective practice.

Next, Dave Maples presents on the Batchelor of Engineering Technology programme offered through the Metro Polytechnics. He presents on 'can a highly technical subject be delivered to remote students?' Reported on learnings from pilot study and how introduction of findings have now impacted on student learning. Important to keep learning sessions / video demonstrations are short (under 10 minutes), select less complex skills to video, keep to main points, watch out for background noise, lighting and shadows and provide summary of the activity at the beginning of the clip. Also reported on work to teach PLC programming to distance students. PLC1 hardware kits were developed and distributed to students. Test links set up between two institutions, NMIT and CPIT. Remote accessibility from CPIT established after a lot of work over logistical and technical issues. Students computers can be 'taken over' by tutor through adobe connect to assist with feedback on programming challenges. Other students are able to view the session.

Daphne Robson presents on work ongoing work (since 2008) with Dave Kennedy on tablets and touch screens delivered through 'classroom presenter'/' dyknow' and moving into BYOD for future. This presentation focuses on writing of questions. immediate feedback and peer learning were approaches students appreciated most. Tested 30 questions out of 154 questions to find out efficacy of questions in helping students learn math principles. Complete a table and fill in gaps were popular with identifying best strategy to solve problem, correcting mistakes even more useful. Students did not like text based open questions. So important to provide structure with easy and difficult / challenging questions - pitched at the correct level.

The midwifery team share their ongoing work with blended learning. They present on 'mind the gap: integrating theory and practice within a blended learning midwifery curriculum'. Mary Kensington and Rea Daellenbach shared the team's work. A progress report on changes and improvements made over the last few years. Surveys and focus groups run with 2nd year and newly graduated midwifes. Tutorials important to bridge the practical, reflective practice, theory through blended learning and off-job / classroom sessions. Students indicate tutorial as being very important to provide social connection, remove isolation, form communities of learners and opportunity to integrate theory (delivered online) and practice.

Niki Hannan from the teacher education team presents on her project 'exploring strategies for improving reading and numeracy outcomes for Youth Guarantee students at CPIT'. A project to find out if teaching approaches to embed literacy and numeracy worked for students. Compared pre and post ALNAT results to work out if there would be increase in literacy and numeracy of students and interviewed students, tutors and managers. identified themes that support improvements including ongoing staff professional development.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

CPIT research month - week 3 day 1

Today's session from Applied Sciences. Always interesting and especially to see how science is applied to real world problems. The overall theme this lunchtime around ' the science of small things: mites, microbes and micronutrients'.

First up, Dr. John Clark, who is a taxonomist who describes what he does as 'inventing new words to describe the multiplicity of life on earth'. John presented on 'sharpening the tools: towards better biocontrol in greenhouses using NZ native species'. John reported on approaches and early results from collaborative work with Universities, government bodies and with students. Basically to try to identify NZ insect predators which can eat white flies and their eggs. John's taxonomy is detailed on the NZ wiki species site.

Then Dr. Barbara Dolamore provides an update on on-going work on presence of toxins (from bacteria blooms) on Lake Forsyth. Specifically to measure level of the toxins in short fin eels, which are part of the traditional food source of local Maori (the Waiwera runanga). Tests in 2004/2005 indicated high levels in the livers of eels but only small amounts in muscles. In 2009, a channel dredged through the gravel banks on Birdlings Flats to allow the lake levels to be regulated. Although bacteria still present, no bloom occurred in 2014. Testing of eels harvested in 2014 reveals very low levels of toxin in eel livers and none in the muscles. Another collaborative project with universities, govt. bodies and the local iwi.

Dr. David Hawke also provided an update on his on-going work with regards to the contribution of seabirds to selenium levels in NZ soils. NZ soil deficient in selenium but sea bird colony soils have higher levels through bird guano. David reported on recent studies to find out if soils with higher selenium was taken up by native plants (not much) or animals living in streams by sea bird colonies. Established only mussels seemed to have higher selenium levels but more work needs to be done to find out what sort of selenium and mechanism used by mussels to carry the selenium.