This category pulls together various topics that might be of some continuing interest, involving either media impact or issues of educational policy:

Philosophy Discussions and Debates

In Our Time

It has been exciting – if a bit nerve-racking – to appear on Melvyn Bragg's wonderful programme on Radio 4, which goes out live on a Thursday morning at 9 a.m., and in which his questions are penetrating and not pre-scripted (beyond a general gist). So far, I have been involved with four of these:

Debating God's Existence

In 2011, William Lane Craig, the prominent American philosopher of religion and Christian evangelist, toured a number of British universities debating with atheists and sceptics. Richard Dawkins' refusal to engage with Craig at an event in the Sheldonian Theatre that I was invited to chair caused quite a stir, provoking a suggestion of cowardice from an Oxford colleague in The Guardian, and various jokes from Christian sources including a campaign of advertisements on Oxford buses, a couple of Hitler Downfall parodies, and some cartoons, one of which had me in the firing line.

The week before the Sheldonian meeting, I debated with Craig at Birmingham University, and both events were filmed:

Software in the Media

Outreach to Schools in Computer Science

In January 2012, UK Education Secretary Michael Gove gave a speech announcing an overhaul of the school syllabus to do away with "boring IT lessions" and introduce teaching of Computer Science. In the wake of this, I was invited to speak at the national conference of IT teachers, explaining how programming could be taught effectively to young children using self-learning systems that require no prior special training on the part of the teachers. One of the upshots of that conference, on 21 June, was the first of what might be many visits of young children to Oxford to learn programming. Some memories of this were captured by Headteacher Karine George in her Tweets of the visit of Westfields Primary (35 children aged 9-10).

Obama/Ayers Controversy

Very shortly before the US Election in November 2008, I got dragged into the Obama/Ayers ghostwriting controversy, when some prominent Republicans tried to enlist my help – and that of my Signature software – in discrediting Barack Obama. Subsequently I wrote an article for The Sunday Times exposing the plot, and ended up on the front page – a rather surreal 15 minutes of fame!

Coleridge/Faustus Controversy

In October 2007, Frederick Burwick and James McKusick published Faustus: From the German of Goethe, carrying the bold subtitle Translated by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. The last chapter of this substantial scholarly tome consisted of a "Stylometric Analysis of the Faust Translations", using my Signature software to corroborate the authors' claim that Coleridge was indeed the translator (though I didn't become aware of this until after the book had been produced). This quickly provoked a major literary controversy, in numerous websites and journals (including the Times Literary Supplement and The Guardian), which is best documented on the Friends of Coleridge website.

A Foray into the World of Marketing

In August 2005 I received out of the blue an email from Craig Kolb, a business analyst with the company Ask Afrika. He wanted to try using chatbot technology in a marketing context, and had identified my Elizabeth system as the most suitable for the purpose, owing to its power, control, and flexibility. Working together, we developed a script that Craig then used to investigate South African consumers' reasons for choosing their mobile phone network. A joint paper "Connecting with Elizabeth: Using artificial intelligence as a data collection aid" was then accepted for the "Connections" annual conference of the Market Research Society (MRS), held at the London Barbican in March 2006. Click the following for the abstract, the published paper, and the PowerPoint presentation (which looks very different from my usual material, after being jazzed up by the Ask Afrika marketers).

Educational Policy

Degree Classification

The heading above links to a page relating to my design and implementation of a uniform system of degree classification across the University of Leeds. This work mainly took place between 1992 and 1998, with the new classification system operating across all faculties in the University from 2000.

Funding Allocation within Oxford University

In November 2006 I circulated a briefing note to the Philosophy Faculty, emphasising the dangers which I saw in the impending Joint Resource Allocation Model (JRAM). I then wrote a longer paper entitled JRAMifications, which was published in Oxford Magazine 258, pp. 16-19. To my surprise, the briefing paper was discussed (inaccurately) in The Daily Telegraph (whereas the Oxford Magazine article sank without trace).

Admissions Test for PPE at Oxford

In December 2006, immediately after the PPE Admissions round had concluded, I circulated to colleagues in the Philosophy Faculty a discussion document What is Wrong with the PPE Admissions Test? The subsequent discussion led quickly to our abandonment of the old test, and the adoption instead (both for PPE and, the following year, for E&M) of the Thinking Skills Assessment.


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