Just the facts

By Gordon Rugg

There’s a popular belief that it’s possible just to “teach the facts” without getting into needless complicated theory.

It’s a nice, comforting idea. Unfortunately, not all nice and comforting ideas are true, and this particular idea is one that just doesn’t stand up very well to the facts.

This article is about the problems that you encounter when you apply this idea to reality. It starts with an apparently clear, simple example of a “fact”; the date when the American Civil War ended.




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False dichotomies in education theory

By Gordon Rugg & Sue Gerrard

False dichotomies involve presenting something as if only two choices were possible, when in fact there are other possible choices.

Some false dichotomies are easy to spot; those don’t usually get very far. Others, though, are much subtler, and have become part of our everyday world; for instance, the dichotomy between work and play, or the dichotomy between feminine and masculine, or the dichotomy between healthy and unhealthy.

When you unpack what’s going on in a false dichotomy, you usually end up with a much clearer and more useful understanding of what’s really happening. That’s the topic of this article.

binary beads

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Academic writing and fairy tales

By Gordon Rugg

It’s spring. To some people, it’s a time of flowers and buds and growth and new hope. To other people, it’s the time when they’re trying to write their undergraduate dissertation, and are feeling lost and confused.

This article is intended for people who are grappling with academic writing, and who are having trouble working out what the core concepts are. It has elements of humour in it, but the underlying point is completely serious. It’s about the deep structure and the internal logic of academic writing. Most people are unfamiliar with those two topics in the academic context, but they’re very familiar with them in a different context, which is the core of this article. That context is the fairy tale.

This article goes through the key stages of an academic article, mapping them onto the corresponding stages of a fairy tale, and explaining the underlying logic behind them.


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Visions of course structure

By Gordon Rugg

There’s a long-running debate in education about course structure. The debate tends to be polarised by visions of a stark choice between total control on the one hand, and total chaos on the other hand.

The Brueghel painting below sums those visions up pretty well, with its depiction of embattled educators striving against the forces of darkness and chaos.

However, the reality is more complex, and also more useful.


Image from wikimedia

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The Three Ignoble Truths (with apologies to the Four Noble Truths)

By Gordon Rugg

The Four Noble Truths are profound Buddhist insights into the nature of being. The Three Ignoble Truths aren’t… However, they’re useful to know when you’re making plans.

First Ignoble Truth: Hardware breaks and software crashes.

Second Ignoble Truth: Resources are never there when you need them.

Third Ignoble Truth: People fail to deliver, get sick, and die.

But, as part of the balance of being, there’s always chocolate as a consolation…

From Rugg & Petre, A Gentle Guide to Research Methods (2006). Open University Press/McGraw-Hill, Maidenhead, UK



Finding out what people want, in a nutshell

By Gordon Rugg

Here’s a short summary of why it’s difficult to find out what people really want, and of what to do about it. It’s our do/don’t/can’t/won’t model. We’ve blogged about this topic before, and we’ll blog about it again, since it’s important. This diagram gives an overview of the framework we use.

four way requirements matrix

Hoaxing the Voynich Manuscript, part 7: Producing the text

By Gordon Rugg

The six previous articles in this series looked at the component parts of a hoax. This article shows how those components can be put together, to produce  the text for a large document consisting of meaningless gibberish. This process is much the same regardless of which script you use for that gibberish, and regardless of which illustrations you use. The script and illustration issues are discussed in article 8, which I’ve already published

There are a few key points about this hoaxing process that are absolutely central to understanding why it gives new insights into Voynich Manuscript research. These points are:

  • This process  isn’t random.
  • This process isn’t deterministic – there isn’t an algorithm that would let a future researcher reproduce the text within a given page using the same table and grille.
  • This process produces numerous complex statistical regularities in the output text as completely unintended side-effects of a very simple production process.

This method is fast and easy to use. You can generate meaningless gibberish text as fast as you can write it down. I’ve produced quasi-copies of various pages from the Voynich Manuscript, where I’ve copied the original illustration, and generated the appropriate amount of meaningless gibberish text to match the amount of text in the original page. It consistently took about an hour and a half per page. More time spent on text within a page was balanced by less time spent on illustration and vice-versa, so each page took about the same time regardless of whether it was mainly text, mainly picture or a mixture.

At that rate, one person working alone could produce a document as long as the Voynich Manuscript (about 240 pages) in under ten weeks.

Here’s how the method works.

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