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Three Identical Strangers

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The film "Three Identical Strangers" was shown on the television a few days ago.  It has been in my thoughts ever since, mainly because it was a moving film in its own right but also partly as an example of dubious ethical behaviour in terms of research.

The film is a documentary about triplets who had been separated as babies and adopted by three families.  The families did not know that they were triplets.  One of the triplets found out about one of the others by going to College and encountering many people who thought they knew him because one of his brothers had been to the same College the year before.  They got in touch and this made the news and the third brother recognised that they looked like him and contacted his brothers so they found each other.

At first, all seemed to be "happily ever after".  The brothers seemed to get on well, appeared on television programmes and opened a restaurant.  However, there then became tensions between them as it was apparent that they might look very similar but were actually different in key wells.  They also met their birth mother and there were some hints of something worrying as one of them reported that like many young men they could handle a lot of alcohol but their mother could keep up with them in etrms of "holding her drink".

Then, the flm turned even darker as it became clear that they had been separated for the purposes of research.  They had each been placed with a well off, middle class and relatively poor family and were monitored to see the effects of this background.  The families who adopted them were not told that this was happening and so did not give consent.

The story gets even murkier ethically.  There were other twins who were being separated and monitored and it seems that they all had birth mothers with mental illness so this seemed to be another focus of the resarch.  The word "seemed" is used because the aims of the research were not clarified and even some of the staff working on the research project did not know what the research was aiming to find out.  One of the triplets committed suicide and it is not clear if there is a link between his life circumstances and him taking his own life.

The remaining brothers tried to find out about their records  but these were confidential.  After a long struggle they have got access to redacted records but it is still difficult for them to find all the details about what the data means.

There are a variety of ways in which this research was unethical.  These include:

- flouting the principle of doing no harm.  Children were exploited and there was perhaps an expectation that there might be a genetic link to poor mental health

- they were separated into social categories rather than being placed with families that were best for their interests.  At least one of the parents stated that they would have adopted all three of the brothers given the opportunity

- they did not give informed consent

- they did not have access to their records.

Permalink 2 comments (latest comment by Patrick Andrews, Saturday, 21 Dec 2019, 10:40)
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Yet more on English as a medium of instruction course

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The final part of the course involved some micro teaching and a discussion/reflection on the experience.

The students did well and I learned a great deal about their subjects from this, which suggests their communication and teaching skills were effective.  However, one of the students told me how worried she was that some of her students would judge her English skills unfavourably compared to the English teachers in her university.  It seems that perhaps she is too perfectionist and her teaching of the content in an effective way should be the priority (but perhaps it is easier for me to say this than it is for her to feel this).

Thinking about these teachers, they are under a great deal of pressure.  Like most other lecturers, they are expected to be research active and publish, teach their content effectively and do this in a second language.  They will need great qualities and strengths but I think and hope they have those qualities.

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Research funding and the EU

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Edited by Patrick Andrews, Tuesday, 28 Jun 2016, 17:57

I have found this interesting site https://wizdom.ai/dashboards/leave-or-remain-impact-on-uk-research  about EU funding for research and how this impacts universities and regions.

It shows that Britain received the second most significant funding as a country (only Germany received more).  EU grants were most significant for the universities of Oxford and Cambridge.  According to these figures, the Open University received well less than a tenth of the amount these universities received but the amount is still large (26.8 million) and presumably supported a great deal of research work.  This, of course, feeds back into the production of teaching materials and informs teaching more generally so this will have been significant for the quality of courses (as with the other universities).

Permalink 4 comments (latest comment by Patrick Andrews, Monday, 4 Jul 2016, 11:45)
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National Associate Lecturers in Languages Conference Part 2, Stephen Bax

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Edited by Patrick Andrews, Thursday, 28 Apr 2016, 14:35

The second talk at the conference was by Stephen Bax, a fairly recently appointed professor at the OU.

He gave some background on his experience and interests.  He has experience of working in Arabic speaking and also studied the language. It seems that this interest in Arabic and the Arabic speaking world might become influential within the OU in the near future - I hope so as it is clearly an interesting and important part of the world.

He discussed his interest in languages more generally and referred to the mysterious language, Voynich (the name sounds Russian as "voina" means "war" but I think this is just a coincidence).  Apparently, it still has not been decoded although he has attempted parts of the manuscript.

He then referred to his role in encouraging research and referred to the important research that the OU is engaged in.  This is highlighted at http://www.open.ac.uk/creet/main/research-themes/language-and-literacies  He suggested that research is not intrinsically complicated although some of the details are.  He explained about his interest in eye movements while reading.  He referred to some very sophsticated equipment that can track these movements and showed some of the results demonstrating that effective readers move around a text rather than in a linear way.  This is quite familiar in principle from what I have read on reading as a skill but it would be useful to know more of the detail.

Permalink 3 comments (latest comment by Sharon Hartles, Thursday, 5 May 2016, 10:55)
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Research on Tutor Group Forums

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Two colleagues, James Roy and Lynda Griffin have researched the use of Tutor Group Forums and the following slide show presents some of the main findings:


The research is very interesting as there is great potential for learning in tutor groups and I have a stake in making my Forums as effective as possible.  I would like to write more reactions to it in the future.

At the moment, a key point that strikes me is that it is vital for tutors to maintain social presence.  An issue I am currently considering is whether it matters that some groups are much more active and likely to post and whether I, as the tutor can do anything about it.

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