Thursday, January 26, 2017

Advice for an unsuccessful prospective student

This morning I received yet another desperate email from a student looking for placement (or a job).
He has been struggling for four years since matric to gain entrance to a university or to get a job.
I am dumbfounded by how bad his attempt was.  Do students get NO life skills advice at school?

Here follows his email (censored to protect innocent people involved) and my reply.

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Wed, 25 Jan 2017 22:43:51 +0200
Subject: Fwd: my file

to. whom it may concern

my name is Paul XXXXXX  and I would to be considered to study at cput for space in any faculty please resume my certificate.. i'm in desperate need for school

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Tue, 24 Jan 2017 11:43:55 +0200
Subject: my file

please find attaches file of my certificate

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Thu, 17 Nov 2016 19:08:10 +0200
Subject: My application for a job vacancy at webhelp sa

To whom it may concern

Please find here with attaced file of my resume for a job vacancy with webhelp SA

I would love if my application would be successful and expect a call or email from you soon..

Kind Regards

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Thu, 3 Nov 2016 09:32:22 +0200
Subject: my cv...

Please here with attached file of my CV...


And my reply

Dear Paul

Thank you for your email requesting a place to study.  Unfortunately my Faculty cannot accommodate you at this stage and neither can we appoint you in a position.  However, since I sense your desperation and frustration, and since I care, may I offer you some "fatherly" advice - since my age allows it.

Always address an email seeking a position as a student or an employee to a specific person.  You know that I am Prof Cronje, so address me as such, and not as "to whom it may concern".  If you don’t show enough care to name the person you are addressing, then why should that person care to give you a position?

Always use appropriate capital letters.  You probably sent this email from your cell phone. That is no excuse for careless writing.  If your email is careless, how will the receiver know that the rest of your attitude is not also careless?

Use full stops after full sentences.  Once again - if you cannot even write a full sentence, how would I know you can write an essay?

If you apply to a university you need to apply to a specific course.  We cannot simply put you in any "space". We need to know what your interests and aptitudes are.  I suggest you visit a public library and use their public access computers to do a free online aptitude test to see what kind of area would suit you best. You can find one at this link:

Delete all previous emails in a chain. The receiver of a message should at least think that he or she is the only recipient.  Why would I want to give you a position if I can see that three other people would not?

Go back to night school and re-do Mathematics and Physical Sciences to obtain at least 50%. I know it is hard, but there are many NGOs out there who will help you get that result and with Maths and Science being such scarce skills even a 50% will be a way into a better life.

Learn to spell and to use the correct words:  "um" is not a word.  You mean "I'm", and you should write "I am".  Resume means "to start again" you mean "receive" or "review".

You can find some good advice about how to start seeking for a job here:

Finally, I include in this email Mr XXXXXXXXXXXXXXX an excellent doctoral student of mine.  If you need good advice about how to get to the top, contact him directly and if you are ever in Cape Town, buy him a coffee and talk to him about how to do it.

I wish you success in your future.

Best wishes

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Collectionism as an approach to Instructional Design

It was the emergence and rapid growth of Pokémon Go, and a number of “Badge Breakfasts” in Johannesburg and Cape Town that first sparked the idea with me.  I want to coin a new word for the phenomenon of micro-credentials in the world of learning and teaching. Pokémon Go muscled in on the phenomenon that people like to collect things.  The same way we collect souvenirs on our travels, pick up shells on the beach, or collect credits towards the next free coffee at our local coffee shop, we like collecting. In the field of elearning this phenomenon has also been recognised both by the open badges community and by the rise of SCORM and Experience API.
So I was looking for a term that would cover the phenomenon of collecting bits of learning and stringing them together to form a portfolio, or maybe even a qualification.  I was looking for a word that would resonate with Seymour Papert’s Constructionism. So, I looked first at collectivism, which describes the fact that knowledge rests in the collective – and I like it, because it resonates with Rhizome theory. But collectivism is about people working as a collective, it does not describe the act of collecting.  Then I found a word that had no definition in Google’s online dictionary – “Collectionism”.  I found one use of the word as hoarding. So I want to propose the use of the word Collectionism in the design of teaching and learning as a way of leveraging our natural tendency to collect things, and using that as a basis of developing a knowledge base.
Collectionism would then form the basis of what I want to call asset-based teaching and learning – where the learner is seen as someone collecting assets to construct an own skill-set, rather than as an “empty vessel” with a deficit that needs to be filled or corrected. The concept of collectionism will resonate with librarians, who are, by definition, builders of collections. So from the librarians one might borrow the act of classifying and categorising assets.  Of course in dealing with assets one is already borrowing from economists, and thus it would be necessary to find some way of classifying the assets that are collected.  This definition of assets can already be seen in the way that metadata is imbedded into badges. One could define assets by their size – in other words the amount of knowledge that is contained in a unit, or by their duration – in other words, whether they are permanent assets, such as degrees, or whether they have expiry dates – such as drivers’ licences.  .  Are they cardinal or ordinal assets – did you get them for achieving a stated learning objective, or did you win them in a contest? One could also define assets in terms of their tangibility or otherwise in other words, can the asset be “traded” in the form of a course and certification.  I could be trained as a life coach and based on that asset, I could coach, or even train other life coaches.  On the other hand, in intangible asset would be the fact that I was voted the best life-coach in the district, and thus could charge more for my services that someone else.

So that is my opening gambit.  How can we develop a system of assets and recognise them so that they can form the building blocks of all our learning? 

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Outline of a Masters or Doctoral Thesis or Dissertation

Ok, so two days ago I posted Chapter 4.  I didn't think of posting the others, because they have been on my website for years.
But then again, not everybody visits my website, which is at , and there may even be people who still don't know about my "Free online doctoral programme" which is at

For all of you then, here are the links, first to the "Logic of a thesis" and then a brief sketch of what goes into every chapter.

The logic of a thesis

So there you have it.  Now spend the weekend and just populate it.  Then you can submit on Monday.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

How to write up the findings chapter

I don't know why I have taken so long to describe the findings chapter. My "Free online doctoral programme" has been up for three years now, but still it is silent on the most important chapter. So, here goes.

In a traditional five section thesis, the findings make up section four, Introduction, Literature survey, Methods, Findings, Conclusions and Recommendations. Nevertheless, it is really the first chapter that you will write out completely. It is the most important chapter of the thesis the most exciting one, but also the most difficult one to get started with.

The most common mistake that people make is to write the chapter as an inventory of what the instruments told them.  They would start unpacking the demographics of the participants, and then launch into the questionnaire from question 1 to question 100, providing all the relevant statistics, and generally boring everybody to tears.  So how is it done?

The first thing to do is to orientate the reader regarding the research.  Do not be repetitive, but explain briefly the purpose of your research and why you followed the methods that you did. Then explain how you will structure the findings chapter.  Two structuring principles are important here.  Your theoretical or conceptual model and your research questions.  The questions are structured as they are derived from the theoretical or conceptual model.  A simple example would be if one were to use a system as a conceptual model.  So the conceptual model will say that there is an input, there are processes, there is an output and there is a feedback loop to ensure sustainability. From this the questions will be derived.  What is the input? What are the processes? What is the output? How is sustainability achieved? And that is how the chapter will be structured.

So after brief description of the research and the participants you launch into the story of your research.   The rhythm is this:

The question was...
The reason for this question was to determine...
The instruments used to get to the answer were...
The instrument that gave the best information was...
This is the information that the instrument gave (in narrative form)
And here is the evidence of that information (statistics, quottionss, screen captures, embedded video clips, transcripts)...
These instruments supported the answer in this way, and here is the evidence.
These instruments gave contradictory evidence (if any) and this is it.
So my tentative answer to the question is ...
This supports the literature that says... and contradicts the literature that says... and adds the following to our body of knowledge.

And so you go on, question by question question.  Of course, you start with the sub-questions and the lesser questions so that they all add up when you finally ANSWER THE MAIN QUESTION(S).

And that's it. You  have presented your findings.  Now write Chapter 5 the way Tjeerd Plomp suggests. Then tidy up the other chapters and ensure they are completely aligned with Chapter 4. Then submit and have a happy life.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Don't be tense about tense

Prof Alta van der Merwe asked me to write up something about the use of tenses in a thesis, so that she could get her students to cite me.
I can resist anything except temptation, so, for the sake of citation, here goes, Alta!

Use the simple present tense for things that go on indefinitely. Use the past tense for things that have just happened, and the past perfect for things that had already been completed by the time the research took place.

Chapter 1 - Introduction
This thesis describes   research that was conducted to determine if there had been a significant improvement in the results of a given treatment.

So to explain more clearly.  If you are writing about the thesis itself, then you use the simple present.  Chapter One deals with the introduction, rationale and research method of the study. Chapter Two reports on the current literature. Chapter Three describes the methodology.  All in the present tense, because those chapters fulfil those functions right now, and always will.

Chapter 2 - Literature survey
The literature survey is written predominantly in the present tense.  Smith and Jones say: "We don't know what we are doing but we publish it anyway" (2014 p. 67).  Note that Smith and Jones are two authors, so they say.  But the article by Smith and Jones says, because it is just one article.  If, however, you are telling the story of Smith and Jones and their research, then it is in the past tense. Smith and Jones conducted research in the 1990s, and found numerous instances of people publishing in fields that they know nothing about. As their article puts it (present tense) "People publish for the sake of seeing their name in print, rather than to contribute to knowledge" (Smith and Jones, 1990 p. 27).

Chapter 3 - Research methods
Here you use mainly the past tense.  You are describing what you did.  If you have to follow up on things that had already been done, then you use the past perfect, and if you have to cite and author to substantiate what you did, then you use the present tense.
Questionnaires were distributed among the participants who had already viewed the movie and they were asked to complete a four-point Likert scale,  Johnson (2013) suggests that a Likert scale should have an even number of points to prevent participants from taking a mid-point position.

Chapter 4 - Findings
All in the past tense.  It is what you found.  Even if you found things that will hold true indefinitely, it still remains in the past, because that is when you found it.  Yesterday I found that the sky was blue. The fact that it is blue today, and will probably be so tomorrow is irrelevant.

Chapter 5 - Conclusions and recommendations
Conclusions are written in the present tense.  The conclusions are your contribution to the body of knowledge.  It was found that some people did one thing and other people did another. The conclusion is that different people do different things.
Recommendations are written in the imperative.  More research should be conducted to determine the circumstances under which people do what they do.

So that's it. No need to be tense about tense.  Just tell it as it happens.

Friday, August 1, 2014

...But not everybody has a smartphone

The most frequently asked question (faq - is a really good abbreviation for it) that gets put to me during any discussion on Rhizomatic learning, is "But not everybody has a smartphone?"
To which I get tempted more and more to reply, but anybody who is serious about their own learning should take the trouble and get one.  At less than R700 on prepaid it is not a bad option.
Now Arthur Goldstuck points to a "Massive increase in SA smartphone purchases".
This is hardly surprising, if one considers that Moore's law observes that computer power doubles every two years.
Goldstuck points out that this growth in purchases is driven by apps, most  noticeably WhatsApp. He continues, though, that the tendency of apps to need constant updating is bandwidth hungry and that consumers, therefore, even though they may have the phone, will be hard pressed to buy the data.  Nevertheless there is a tendency for cities to provide free wifi in selected areas. 
So, the answer to the question remains. Every student should have a smart phone.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

I have just completed the Hour of Code

So I got the answer to the question that has been bugging me for all this time.
If the system is the one that learns, then what should we be teaching?
And as Andrew Lloyd Weber's Evita pointed out so poignantly, "The answer was there all the time":
So, to put it differently  If there's an app for everything, then what do kids still need to learn"
And the answer?  They need to learn how to put it all together.  The solution: CODING.
Victor Ngubeni stated on Facebook that he had just completed the Hour of Code.  So I thought it was a good idea and shared it on.  Then Niret Grobler commented that it was Awesome. So I thought I might try it too. And was it AWESOME.  In one hour I played "Angry Birds" and programmed a Zombi to eat a Sunflower.
I earned six "Mastery Trophies" and this beautiful certificate.  I learnt how to move, turn, repeat, use an "if" statement, and use an "If then" statement.  I intuitively understood for the first time why the "Go-to" statement is harmful, and I learnt a whole lot about my own behaviour as a learner.
In the process I interrupted myself two or three times to read WhatsApp messages from home (I am in Alaska for the #HETL14 conference) drink, coffee, etc. 
So, I learnt so much about 21st Century learning.  
I have never studied computer science.  In 1983 I did a six-hour course in programming a Commodore 64 in Basic. Yet those little bits of skill were enough to help me understand the logic behind just about every device I have ever had to interact with.  It made it easy for me to understand the concept of writing macros in Word or to create spreadsheets in Word and finally it helped me understand how to use IFTTT to navigate the maze of apps on my phone and to get them to work together.
The problem with the Rhizome, is that it is a maze. It has many many branches, most of which lead you nowhere, but many of which lead to aMAZING results.  And the point with programming, as is pointed out by the introductory video of The Hour of Code, is that it allows even a robot to navigate a maze.
So in our multilingual world and our multi-device world there is one language that we all need to learn to write - the language of code.