Tuesday, 20 August 2013

A very brief and shallow analysis of the funniest jokes.

The Edinburgh Fringe Festival takes place every year and according to Wikipedia "is the world's largest arts festival, with the 2012 event spanning 25 days totalling over 2,695 shows from 47 countries in 279 venues". Every year at the festival there is a competition for the funniest one line joke. The winner for 2013 was this joke by Rob Auton:
"I hear a rumour that Cadbury is bringing out an oriental chocolate bar. Could be a Chinese Wispa"
You can see all the top 10s over the past year here:
I've spent an hour or so this evening grabbing all the jokes and doing some very basic analysis of them in Python. The full github repo with all the code (and the data set) can be found here.

Shorter jokes are better

The mean length of the jokes are 88 characters and 17 words. Taking a look at the distribution of the word counts we see that quite a large proportion of the jokes have between 10 and 15 words in them even though there are some jokes that are twice as long.

This does not necessarily imply anything but if we take a look at the rank of a joke against the number of words we see (a very slight) trend towards an affirmation of the fact that shorter jokes rank better:

Joking often does not necessarily help

There are certain comedians who has more than 1 joke in the list of top tens (this does not necessarily imply that they were joking at multiple festivals as some comedians had multiple jokes ni the top 10 of a given year). If we look at the mean and minimum (best) rank per number of jokes:

we see that a part from the 1 comedian who has four jokes there does not necessarily seem to be an advantage of joking often...

The words don't seem too important

One final bit of preanalysis done is to look at the words in each joke. Before removing the common words (I use the nltk python library which has a set of common words) the distribution is given below:

Once we remove the common words we get:

A part from the word 'FAT' which appears in 3 jokes I can't say I recognise any words that I'd normally associate with jokes so I don't suppose there's any particular words worth honing in to.


I can't say that I've found anything too amazing here but if anything the python file in the github repo contains the data from the past 5 years so if I (or anyone else) had time I'd take a closer look at some things...

On a technical note, pretty much everything above was done in pure matplotlib and the nltk library is very easy to use. This is all in the github repo...

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Social Constructivism in Big Classes

+Theron Hitchman (who is a great guy to follow on G+ and one of the go to guys as far as I am concerned when it comes to Inquiry Based Learning (IBL)) recently posted on G+ wondering how he was going to manage with a course of his having 68 students enrolled.

I am still understanding IBL but it is one of many teaching methodologies that use a constructivist model (here's a post by +Dana Ernst about an article that claims that these approaches aren't that great). I have spoken about constructivism before when reviewing a great education book. The basic concept of constructivism is that students need/should learn through a personal 'construction of the concepts'. IBL does this by giving students the reigns to the direction and also the discovery of the content of a course (I am sure +Dana Ernst+Theron Hitchman  and others could either forgive me or correct my brief summary).

This is often done (although not exclusively, take a look at +Bret Benesh's post) done through the use of student presentations and generally needs a non-lecture based approach: which is difficult with a large number of students!.

Theron's post on G+ got a lot of comments with people offering advice and +Bret Benesh wrote a nice blog post suggesting a peer learning approach.

I thought I would throw in my two cents as I have recently designed a new course that made use of peer learning.

The course is a statistical programming course on our MSc programme here at +Cardiff University.

You can see all the resources for the course here.

To deal with large teaching numbers in that class (this was the first year of running and it had 27 students but I certainly believe that my approach is scalable and I designed it thinking that I'd have 40+ students at times). I used a peer learning approach based on flipped classrooms, problems and with a hint of IBL thrown in.
  • First of all it took a lot of preparation. I flipped the class completely putting together a full set of notes as well as a full set of videos (you can see them on the site).
  • I made groups of 3/4 out of all the students.
  • For every topic, I put together a set of problems that all the groups where told they had to complete. I called these 'challenges' (it seemed a bit snappier) and you can see them on the course website.
  • Every class (this course was taught in 8 sessions over a 4 week period) started with the me asking who would like to present a solution to the challenge.
The students were aware that their final mark for the course would take in to account participation in these presentations but I made it clear that the corresponding contribution would be mainly based on the fact that they tried and not necessarily how good a job they did. In essence I did not really care whether or not they managed to do the challenges, I just wanted them to work on it!

By the beginning of the 5th session, students were happy to present and needed no gentle nudging from me. In fact some of the students who presented started off by saying "I didn't manage to do this but this is what I tried". Seeing that students got that it was ok to not succeed at something was really great to see. Whenever that happened the students would start discussing amongst themselves how to do a particular problem: and would teach each other!

Throughout all of this, I would sit at the back of the room and vary rarely say anything at all. At times I would perhaps nudge a bit with a "does anyone know a different way to do that?".

One of my favourite memories of the course was towards the end when at the beginning of one session I did not prompt the students to start the class. All of them were just chatting amongst themselves (not about the course) and I was sat at the back observing. After a while one of the students turned around and looked at me questionably. I just smiled. She got up, told everyone that they should get started and the class started teaching itself. That day I didn't actually say anything.

I think this happened to work well because the challenges were designed in such a way so that students were lead through the curriculum but given the nature of the course I also made sure that they had plenty of resources with which they could practice things further.

I encouraged the students to find other resources then the ones I put together and also encouraged them to share their solutions with each other after each session (I believe they used a dropbox folder but I emphasised that I would stay out of the way).

The whole course culminated with one of the assessments being a presentation where the students (still in their group) had to teach me something that was not in the resources made available to them. I wrote about this here and one of the things a group put together was this cool gif of the Mandlebrot set:

I'm currently going through a teaching certification process and have blogged about it many times. You can see my various portfolios [here](http://www.vincent-knight.com/home/teaching/pcutl) but if I am to take only one sentence from everything I've done so far it would be this pretty cool definition of teaching:

"To create learning opportunities."

I believe that teaching in a constructivist framework does exactly that and I really hope that large classrooms do not dissuade educators from using it :)

Anyway, what I hoped would be a perhaps helpful post for +Theron Hitchman ended up just being another page or two of me rambling on...