Practical Stats, MediaWiki, and SPAM!
Sep 8th, 2013 by Frank LaBanca, Ed.D.

This semester, I am teaching a graduate class in quantitative and qualitative methods.   As these topics are often challenging and sometimes bring out the “math phobic” in teacher-practitioner/students, I think it is very important to create learning experiences that allow the student to construct knowledge and be actively engaged (hands-on/minds-on) in the process.  To that end, I am attempting to utilize student-centered practices and limit teacher-directed instruction.

As part of the process, I am leveraging blended learning strategies.

  • Utilizing a Learning Management System (Moodle) for course resources.
  • Using this blog for my reflexivity and student feedback
  • Creating an online repository (student created) resource for domain-specific knowledge using MediaWiki

MediaWiki is the online software platform that drives WikiPedia. It has a user-friendly interface, is attractive and (purportedly) allows the instructor to focus on the content, not the platform.  However, since MediaWiki is used for WikiPedia, I have discovered that it is subject to major hacking and spamming.  I had a similar problem in the past, which required me to take down the site, and I found over the past week, the same problem reemerging.

Prior to me even populating the site with the previous data, I found that there were over 245 unlinked pages created.  Stuff about your dog’s ears, the latest stocks to buy, online gaming in China, and quite a bit of Arabic typology.  I started manually deleting these pages, which was quite tedious, and then went into the back end to find out that there were now over 12,000 users on the wiki and the front page had been “viewed” over 36,000 times.  Clearly an act of sabotage!  Either that or my “Practical Stats” popularity has become world renowned in just a few days.

Acts of Problem Solving.  Not knowing what to do, I first decided that I needed to turn off the ability for the wiki to create new pages.  I found a tutorial, access the Local php file and edited.  No more new pages . . . (Of course, now I can’t create new pages either, so this is not a long-term solution).  Some students register in the meantime.  More thinking, several days – I better turn off the ability to log on to the system and create a new account – more tutorials, local php edited again.  Now we’re pretty much shut down.  But what about all these users?  “They” (the bot-generated addresses) can potentially get back in.   A guide page suggests accessing the MySQL database via cPanel, use phpMyAdmin and find the code lines and delete them.  What does that mean?

A bit of trial and error, and I find the code and have access to 30 lines of entries (users) at a time.  I start deleting – this is going to take hours.  I look at the code above that is calling the data and decide to edit it.  How about showing 100 instead of 30.  Try that, seems to work. Let’s move faster, try “all.”  Ut-oh I’ve generated an error in the database.  A bit of haggling and reconfiguring and fffewww, problem solved.  I find that I can call 1,000 lines of data, then 2,000, and finally 5,000 at a time.   Eventually everyone is OUT.  If you are a student reading this here, your account has been deleted too.

I also deleted the bogus pages too.  Now I have to get back to populating the data and figuring out how to set up accounts.  Warning to all:  if you are installing MediaWiki, PRESET the safety protocols.

Toys of the trade
Feb 18th, 2009 by Frank LaBanca, Ed.D.


I will be giving a presentation on tools for research tomorrow at Western Connecticut State University.  I am going to do a little show-and-tell.  This picture represents the essential (and perhaps not-so-essential-but-boy-is-it-nice) gear for educational research.  The products I selected where what I deemed the “best” at the time. Best sometimes referred to price, sometimes quality, sometimes availability. 



Second monitor

It is so much better to be able to have multiple files open AND visible at the same time.  The setup is particularly simple with a laptop


Eee netbook

A small, inexpensive ($350) laptop that goes anywhere.  No optical drive, no speakers, small monitor, 4 USB ports, 120G hard drive, 1G RAM


Traditional laptop

I keep a wireless mouse and a wireless number pad close by when using this.


USB 2.0 cable

I keep one in every laptop bag I have and at every computer.  You always seem to need this to connect devices into the computer.


Cell phone

A critical feature to my cell phone is that it has a jack for a wired headset.


Mini recorder control

RadioShack Part 43-1237 ($14.99).  Allows me to attach a recording device to a standard corded land line telephone


Wireless phone recording controller

RadioShack Part 17-855.  This is currently not listed on the RadioShack website, but I used it in conjunction with my cell phone, when a land line was not available. 


IPOD Touch

Great for listening to files.  There are microphone adaptors for IPOD classics, although I have not used this technology.


Digital camera

I am very partial to Canon products, but everyone has their favorites.


Digital voice recorder

Olympus VN-4100PC.  Very cost-effective option.  Be sure that you have a USB 2.0 connection on the voice recorder.  Some are stand-alone units.  YOU DON’T WANT THAT!  Current model is the VN-5000.


Digital voice recorder

Sony ICD-MX20.  This was the highest rated voice recorder when I began doing my work.  Although it was pricy ($300), I found it worked extremely well.  Be prepared to buy an mini-SD or memory stick.  Internal memory tends to be small!  Current model is ICD-MX20R9.  My recorder came with great software for my transcription work: Digital Voice Editor.


Flip Video Camcorder

Low (web) quality video recorder.  Runs on batteries, has a built in USB that plugs directly into the computer.  It is SO easy to use.


Wireless presenter

Targus AMP03US.  So maybe I’m getting ahead of myself, but this is just such a great little gizmo.


External Hard drive

Back up, back up, back up. This one is a Western Digital 320 G.  So easy.  You just have to remember to do this OFTEN.


Flash drive

We all have one, get another and back up!  They really are so reliable. Sue Shaw ran hers through the laundry and it still worked fine.


Voice-to-text recognition software

Dragon Naturally Speaking is the Cadillac product.  I used Version 9 – New version 10 is available.  You still have to significantly edit your work and it takes a while.  I ultimately decided that I typed fast enough to do my own transcription using Digital Voice Editor software.  Dragon software took about 4:1 time to edit.  When I started transcribing, I was about 6:1.  By the end, I was under 4:1.


I would be remiss to not recognize my wepage provider, BlueHost.  Some of the best prices, but more importantly, fantastic service and techical support:


I currenlty employ:  Two WordPress Blogs (http://appliedscienceresearch.labanca.net; http://problemfinding.labanca.net), LimeSurvey (http://surveys.labanca.net), MediaWiki (http://practicalstats.labanca.net), as well as my homepage (http://www.labanca.net) which I construct on DreamWeaver (part of the Adobe CS3 Suite).  Surveys for my dissertation were orgininally hand coded in HTML and PHP, but I wouldn’t now think of using anything but LimeSurvey.


Please leave a comment and let me know what you think.  Discourse is, of course, always welcome!

Irony in the computer lab
Dec 2nd, 2008 by Frank LaBanca, Ed.D.

I am currently sitting in a computer lab in one of our district schools having a demonstration of a school data management system, PowerSchool.  (We are considering a migration from our current system.) The presenter is doing a real time demonstration of the system online, and all of the teachers, secretaries, IT dept members, and administrators are sitting at the computer stations.  

People are frantically taking copious notes on paper – they’ve pushed their keyboards out of the way and are scribing their information.  Only two of us are taking notes on the computer.  I recognize that some situations work better on paper – drawing figures, computing math, and the likes, but this (now) is different.  This is text-based knowledge acquisition.

How can we encourage 21st-century learning skills in our students, integrated with information technology, when so many of us are still entrenched in practices that do not reflect best practice use of technology?  It’s hard to teach effective use, when we don’t necessarily know how to do it well ourselves.

Extended instruction in one day offers challenges
Nov 25th, 2008 by Frank LaBanca, Ed.D.

I recently taught a day-long statistics class.  That should be enough to make anyone shudder, but please feel free to keep reading . . .

As part of the semester teaching assignment I have at Western Connecticut State University, the course has an extended Saturday class – 7.5 hours!  Clearly planning for that length of instruction with adult learners was a challenge.  When I began thinking about such an experience, I was really careful to ensure that the day got broken up into parts and that the learners would have a chance for some experiential, tangible learning.  I also had the opportunity to bridge from their other course:  Learning and Cognition. 

When I was originally hired to teach the course, I spoke with the program director, who was also teaching the second course the students were taking.  We discussed the extended day, and I said that it would be really great (cool) if we could connect the two courses together in some meaningful way.  The Learning class has the students observe a teacher (or video tape themselves) and analyze the instruction using an instrument called the CPR (Classroom Practices Record).  The CPR examines incidents of higher order thinkingquestioning in both students and teachers.  Since students had to observe both pre and post, I thought this would be an excellent opportunity to analyze data.

Therefore, the topic of the day was chi square, a nonparametric statistical procedure that has many benefits in educational research, and direct application to the CPR data that was collected.  I did a standard, direct instruction introduction to discuss the overarching concepts:

Following the instruction, I had the students participate in a hands-on activity using M&Ms to determine if the package (observed) contained what the company said would be present (expected).  The students appeared to aggressively engage in the activity. 

For me, one of the most facinating parts of the lesson was the inputing of a live data sheet.  I had established a spreadsheet on my Google Docs account and embedded the link in the PowerPoint.  When we got to that section, students entered their data, and on the projector we could actually watch in real time as data appeared.  It almost looked like watching live election returns.  Talk about a classic example of reconfiguring!  New information was being provided to the class (and actually the world at large) in real time.  There was no waiting, students could acquire and use their classmates information as it actually came into existence.  Can you imagine learning based on class data without any lag time?

After data entry, analysis on the M&Ms took place and students were relatively able to work at their own paces.  I think I was able to provide some one-on-one attention, although I’m not sure if everyone got entirely what they needed.  Nonetheless, I think most (if not all) students walked away with a clear understanding of the chi square statistic, and certainly had a major portion of their CPR project completed.

I would be remiss to also add that I also brought in three guest speakers to discuss their research interests and how statistics helped them bring meaning and understanding to their passions.

Levels of technology integration
Oct 29th, 2008 by Frank LaBanca, Ed.D.

I am in the process of writing a manuscript about 21st-century learning and the integration of technology. I have developed a three-tiered system to identify types of learning activities that integrate technology. Their descriptions are provided below. Can you help me by providing practical examples from the classroom of the different technology integrations? Your comments would be greatly appreciated.

The simplest integration of technology into teaching and learning is retrofitting. There is little change in instruction, but rather a different tool is used to facilitate similar learning strategies. This level of implementation has the instructor performing the same tasks, with the same teaching and learning strategies, only using the technology as a new tool. The teacher still delivers information directly to students and may have interaction via questioning. The use of the technology does not intellectually challenge students in any new or novel format. Instruction, although perhaps enhanced in some fashion, really is not altered in any meaningful way.

The next level of information technology integration offers educators more tools for learning. Retooling expands options for learning. For example, instead of being limited by the books available in a classroom or library, a virtual world of extensive, seemingly endless information becomes available using online tools. The information is generally available upon demand and is easily cross-referenced and verified by a cautious, critical eye. Although there is an increase in options for knowledge acquisition, there is still only a one way flow of learning: from source to student. Educators have the ability to do more to enhance student learning.

When truly considering the implementation of twenty-first-century skills in conjunction with core instruction, educators must reconfigure. Most recognize that constructivist-based knowledge acquisition occurs through a situated learning schema where students not only learn from the “Sage” (whether the Sage be a teacher or a website), but from social interaction with one another. Knowledge flow can occur in two directions. Therefore, students need to become producers of information, not just consumers. Implementing novel knowledge production in this bidirectional fashion certainly will cause changes to teacher pedagogy. It is probable that many educators will need direct and specific training and mentoring to implement this type of change.
Many web-based tools are specifically designed with interactive features. Sometimes dubbed Web 2.0 or the read/write web, these sites allow simple production and the ability for others to provide reactions or comments. Blogs, wikis, podcasts, discussion forums, photo albums, instant messaging, and voicethreads allow students to produce original work, publish it online, and solicit feedback from other classmates, the teacher, or the online world in general. Student-producers do not have to be savvy at programming. Rather, the web tools are menu driven, object-oriented, and often have interfaces that look like common word processing software packages. This is important because it allows students and teachers to focus on content, concepts, and ideas, not the distracting minutia of web coding.

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