Thursday, July 12, 2018

Wine Day

Vancouver Island has a growing reputation for producing wine - today we took a wine tour of the Cowichan region where we visited three wineries: Venturi Schulze, the Grouse House, and the Enrico Winery. Aided by our excellent tour guide Don Keith of Island Time Tours, we sampled 15 wines in total (5 at each winery). Different styles of wine and presentation by the wine producers made the day very interesting. We were picked up at 9:45, and dropped off at 16:00 - so it was a long time to visit three wineries, though lunch was also provided. To be honest, I had little interest in the white or rose wines - only the reds were worth trying for me. Even though I enjoyed the day I can’t really tell much difference between each wine.

A wine tour is also a great way to see the countryside. I was surprised to see hay being baled into the older style small rectangular bales. Since I used to do this job on the family farm (though more with straw than hay) I was fascinated with this method of farming which has almost died out in Ireland. While Vancouver Island seems to be covered mostly with trees - there is a thriving agricultural section here. Don also showed us some viewing points with spectacular views from the Island to the snow covered Mt Baker in Washington State in the US. This is a beautiful part of Canada and is well worth visiting.



Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Feeling Active (and Young) in Whistler

What a couple of days in Whistler, BC! When God was giving each country a share of His goodies, Canada got a great share. Yesterday we tried White Water Rafting on the Green River. My first thoughts are for the Wedge Rafting Company who must be the most organized bunch of people I have ever come across. Everything was done perfectly for a great experience - there were ten boats (about 60 people), and led by our guide Arianna we paddled across the Green Lake to take the rapids around rocks, twisty bends, and safely reaching our destination. I have done White Water Rafting before (in the Pyrenees), but this was way more fun. Yesterday we also got to walk across the brand new suspension bridge at the top of Whistler Mountain. Nice and wobbly, all you can do is go across and back - the observation area at the end is not ready for tourists yet. We also did the Peak 2 Peak gondola ride - not as exciting as rafting or suspension bridges. All we could do was go across and back, nevertheless it is a wonderful piece of engineering. I was surprised at how many people there were at the top of the mountain on a summer’s day. There were a lot of mountain bikers about, but many many more who like me were on foot.  

Today we tried zip lining - this is really cool. We did the Eagle tour which had five zip lines to try. While nervous at the thought of hanging from a wire between two mountains at first - once the first line was over I was quickly into hands-free mode. This is an adrenaline rush unlike anything I have ever done before - I already want to do more. Next time I’ll be keen to try longer lines with bigger drops.

Whistler is a fun place to be during the summer - I guess it is just as good in the winter for snow-based sports. The staff at everything we have tried are so helpful and professional - they were also very young, but had no difficulty looking after an old-timer like me. We leave tomorrow with a heavy heart, but are also looking forward to arriving in Vancouver Island for a few more days.




Saturday, July 07, 2018

Vancouver - First Impressions

A first full day in Vancouver City and I spent much of the day touring the city on foot. Granville Island was our main port of call - lots of shopping and lunch in The Keg. We took a 40 minute tour on a False Creek ferry (not worth it) up to the Science Museum - I will reserve checking this out until next week. I am really struck by the skyline of the city - lots of tall apartment blocks which thousands of apartments in the city. We could learn a lot from this in Dublin as I’m sure it would go as long way towards resolving our housing crisis. Vancouver does not look like a city destroyed by the tall buildings that we are afraid of in Dublin. It is also a very clean city, but like everywhere else, there are many homeless people on the streets. First impressions are good - this is a city that is very cosmopolitan and diverse. Looking forward to enjoying it some more.



Monday, July 02, 2018

Heat Wave - Bring it on! #data

So - the country is basking in a long heat wave, but not everyone is happy about this. Our airwaves  and media are full of advice about saving water, heat stroke/stress, sun burn - sometimes I think people think we are all idiots and need to be warned all the time. 

The recent high temperature of 32.0°C recorded at Shannon Airport is the highest temperature in all of Ireland since 1976. I remember that summer (and 1975) very well - dust and water shortages everywhere! I love heat waves and try to enjoy them as much as I can. I know there will be another World Cup in 2022, and another one after that in 2026 - but who knows if there will be another heat wave in Ireland?

Below is data from the CSO for Dublin Airport from January 1958 to May 2018 - my life time. The highest temperature of 28.7°recorded before this summer was in August 1990. The chart below shows the highest temperature recorded each month since 1958 - interestingly, the temperature has only exceeded 25°C on 20 occasions. 2018 will make it three years in a row that the temperature will have exceeded 25°C - global warming anybody? This also happened in 1999/2000/2001.

Click/Tap image to enlarge.

So the message is - enjoy the sun and heat. The rain and cold will be back!

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

How To... Perform a One-Sample t Test by hand and in Excel 2016

Yesterday I published a new video showing students how to perform a one-sample t test by hand. This test shows if there is a significant difference between a sample mean and a population mean. My students from next September will need to know how to perform this test by hand. Here's the video:

Today I am publishing how to do the same test using Excel. This has to be done manually step-by-step, as Excel does not have a Data Analysis tool of function to do this test. The same result is obtained - here's the video:

After a sudden burst of creating three new videos, that's it for a while as I am starting holidays from tomorrow. I will be on the lookout for new stats test to cover as I plan on adding some more to my modules next year.

Monday, June 25, 2018

Woodenbridge World War I Memorial Park

1,192 men and women from my native County Wicklow lost their lives in World War I - I did not know this. While leaving the Woodenbridge Hotel after a lovely lunch with my Mum and Dad last Saturday I noticed a sign for a memorial park which is about 50 metres from the hotel. It is located beside the River Aughrim and also on part of the old railway line that ran between Avoca and Shillelagh. The Stonehenge themed format of granite slabs lists the almost 1,200 people from each town and its surroundings in Wicklow, including 12 names from our native Carnew. Many surnames, like Doyle and Byrne, feature on nearly every slab - so many families in Wicklow were affected by the war. My Dad was deeply focused on the familiar names from families that he knew in the Tinahely, Carnew, and Shillelagh areas. Although he was born just 13 years after the war ended, names such as Noblett, Doran, Dowse, and Somers are very familiar to him. 

In the peaceful setting of this memorial garden in Woodenbridge it is hard to feel the horror of the war. Woodenbridge is also the setting of a famous speech when on Sunday 20th September 1914, John Redmond (leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party) urged Irish men to join the British army in the belief that it was for the common good. Little could he have thought that many of those who answered his call would die facing German and Turkish bullets. 1,192 dead Wicklow people (almost one for every day of the war which lasted 1,564 days) is a terrible toll undoubtedly repeated in every county in Ireland.  

My Dad was also interested in the location of the railway line, which he remembers taking in the 1930s and 1940s before it closed. In the photos below you can see the remains of a bridge over the River Aughrim, and some walls on either side of the river are still standing. The railway line opened on 22nd May 1865, but closed for passenger and goods traffic on 24th April 1944. It was finally closed altogether on 20th April 1945. The section from Woodenbridge to Aughrim however remained open until 1953 - part of it today has been redeveloped as a walking route called the "Tinahely Railway Walk".

Friday, June 22, 2018

How To... Calculate Spearman's Rank Correlation Coefficient (By Hand)

It's been a while (four months) since I published a new video on YouTube. My latest one, published today, is a statistics video showing how to calculate a correlation coefficient  - the technique used is based on Charles Spearman's rank-based test. A correlation coefficient tells us the strength (or weakness) of the relationship between two variables. If the data are normal you can use the Pearson's R, but if not - a non-parametric test such as Spearman's should be used. 

I was very rusty making this video and had several re-runs to get it (hopefully) right. This will be a new topic in one of my modules (Advanced Business Data Analysis) next year. Enjoy!

Thursday, June 21, 2018

How far will we go to stop cheating using mobile phones in exams?

Anyone taking part in an exam (or even taking part in a quiz) is warned that mobile phones are not allowed under any circumstances in the exam - there are often severe penalties for anyone caught even having a phone on their person, even if they are not using it. It's a simple rule which most people follow. Obviously, there is huge temptation to use a phone in an exam if you think you can get away with it - nip out to the loo and do a quick Google search for an answer. Exam invigilators can't follow you into a loo cubicle. I'm sure smarter people than me can figure out other ingenious ways to use a mobile phone. How can this be stopped? Should honest people be penalised for the dishonesty of others?

Image source: Ysgol Rhiwabon
The Guardian today reports that Algeria shuts down internet to prevent cheating during high school exams. According to this article, "The whole nation of Algeria went offline on Wednesday for the start of high school exams, the first in a series of internet blackouts to stop the possibility of students cheating". Also "mobile phone jammers and surveillance cameras had been installed in locations where the exam papers were printed". Drastic action indeed - the whole country has no access to the Internet for three hours! I don't know anything about the level of cheating in exams in Algeria, but the article does say that the "2016 exam season was marred by widespread cheating, with exam questions published on social media before, or at the start of, the test". I expect that Algeria is not much different than other countries. It was also reported in The Guardian on 18th May that "Iraq shuts down the internet to stop pupils cheating in exams".

Try blocking access to the Internet for even just a few hours here, or in any European country, or the United States!!!

Cheating will always take place, but it is important to stress that not everyone cheats. Some people will have a strong sense of right and wrong, and will just not do it. Others will not do it for fear of being caught, while of course many people will have prepared well for an exam and not need to cheat. My sense is that current measures work very well and that we have to accept that a small minority will still attempt to cheat. Shutting down the Internet is too drastic a measure to work everywhere.

An alternative is to allow use of the Internet in exams!

My thoughts - no one else's.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

My Ancestors married often!

Like everyone else, I have eight great-great grand-fathers. One on my mother's side of the family Richard Cullen, whom I have written about before in this blog - he married three times. I discovered this evening, while searching for a link with the late actor Donal McCann, that another of my great-great grand-fathers, James McCann, was married twice. First - he married my great-great grand-mother, Catherine Walsh, in 1869. The genealogy record is not strong on this, but their first son, William, was born in 1870. Their daughter Anne McCann, is my great grand-mother. Catherine (Walsh) McCann died on 2nd May 1908. Eighteen months later, James married Dorah Sheehan - according to the 1911 census, she had a daughter Margaret. Here is a screen grab of their marriage record which can be found at: 

James McCann died on 28th January, 1927. He is buried in St Michael's cemetery in Gorey, Co Wexford, with his son William and his first wife Catherine. No sign of Dorah in the grave with him, and she is not even listed in the list of People Buried at St. Michael's cemetery.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Continuous Assessment vs Over-Assessment

At the end of another academic year (my 16th!), I can look back on a year where I spent an enormous amount of time grading assessments. This past semester I have three modules with three separate assessments (usually two assignments and an exam). The class size is about 60 students on average - that's approximately 540 assessments to grade. For my remaining module, I have weekly labs that must be graded - so there are about 10 of these over the semester. With a class size of 35, this means around 350 separate sets of corrections.  That's almost 900 assessments to grade - all of this takes a long time! For students, they too often feel that they are constantly under pressure of many deadlines throughout the semester, with something due almost every week.

I'm a believer of Continuous Assessment being continuous (the notion of "repeating" a CA drives me mad!). By this I mean that it should be on a regular basis. It's hard work keeping up with weekly lab assessments, but I feel students get more out of it by building on their learning, and building up their grades on a weekly basis. But where should the line be before I cross over into over-assessment? If students are constantly under delivery deadlines (and the threat of penalties if they miss them), where do they find time to experiment, read extra material, examine case studies, take a break, and of course - prepare for exams? A single assignment, and a single exam seems to be the norm in many modules. This is great if you can use them to assess separate Learning Outcome, but it does not always happen that there is a neat division between Learning Outcomes. Designing assessments can be difficult because it is hard to get the balance right. Reducing the number of assessments takes the pressure off students, but we still need to ensure that the Learning Outcomes are assessed adequately. 

Here's a copy of a slide from a presentation by Jean Hughes (Office of the Vice President for Learning Innovation in DCU) relating to over-assessment, with some good tips to avoid over assessing students

Image source: Slide Player.

My thoughts - no one else's.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Aghowle Medieval Church

Looking north towards the Wicklow mountains from the front door of our house in Ballingate where I grew up, the hill of Aghowle looms large. Despite many years looking across Co Wicklow I had never gone over. My Dad Joe told me about the ruins of a medieval church located there - so yesterday we finally went over in glorious sunshine to check it out.

We found the church easily enough, even though the broken signpost was hidden by weeds at the side of the road. An OPW sign at the site told us that while none of the original monastery remains, it was thought that St Finian from Westmeath had established a monastery there in the 6th century. The ruins you see below date from the mid 12th century - incredible that they are still standing tall (over 10 metres) over 900 years later. 

There are a lot of very old graves dating from the late 1700s according to the headstones. This includes the headstone in beside the ruins where Owen Griffin has lain since 4th April, 1784. There are a handful of burials this century - a more peaceful place to rest cannot be found. There is a beautiful Celtic Cross - I'm surprised it has not been stolen. The most common surnames in the cemetery are Byrne, Doyle, and Keogh/Kehoe. Many headstones pay devotion to Our Lady of Lourdes - there is also some candles and small statues to Our Lady in an alcove that have recently been put there. Later we adjourned to the nearby Crab Lane pub - neither of us had been in it before. A cool beer on a hot day in Aghowle tasted excellent!

Wednesday, June 06, 2018

Death while in class #BobbyKennedy #memories

Bobby Kennedy.
Image source: Wikipedia.
On this day, 6th June 1968, I was 8 years old and in 3rd class at Carnew National School. Our classroom was a pre-fab building, and our teacher was a Mr Hennessy (what a pity I cannot remember his first name, he had a cool green MG sports car!). There's no way I would have remembered anything about this day except that it was the day that Bobby Kennedy was shot dead in far away Los Angeles. 

Around mid morning, a girl from another class suddenly came into our classroom to tell us that Bobby had been shot, but was still alive. We were all old enough to know who he was. I don't recall if our teacher got us to pray for him, or even if we talked about him. About an hour later, the same girl came to our classroom again and told us that he was dead. Breaking news the old-fashioned way!  The moment was not lost on us little 8 year olds - it was a tragic but historic interruption of our education on a typical day in school.

Bobby Kennedy was just 42 years old when he was murdered. He may never have become President of the United States - who knows even if he would have won the Democratic nomination or beaten Richard Nixon in the 1968 election. To a lot of us, he will always be simply Jack's younger brother. His toothy black and white image is seared on our brains with an "Only the good die young" message to remind us of who he was. 

Fuck you Sirhan Bishara Sirhan, fuck you.

Tuesday, June 05, 2018

Visiting Belfast #NoBorder

This past weekend I had the pleasure of visiting Belfast once again - since my daughter Vicki went to College there I have been a regular visitor, and I love it. This weekend we went to the Giant's Causeway and a drive around the Causeway Coastal Route. I had last travelled this route on my bike in 2014. 

Brexit casts a shadow from far-away London over Northern Ireland. Some welcome this shadow, while others dread the day next year when the UK leaves the European Union. While Northern Ireland voted 56% Remain and 44% Leave - it will leave the EU along with the mostly grey English vote who have had enough of Europe. Along with many people in Ireland I cannot understand the Brexit vote, and the national self-destruction it brings (from my eye). While driving across the border on the way to Belfast, and later on the way home to Dublin - the borderless border somehow feels natural. In a sense, driving from Co Armagh into Co Louth, feels like driving from Co Wicklow to Co Wexford - only a sign tells you that the two places have different names. 

Along with everyone else, I await the solution that the Oxford/Cambridge trained minds of the UK Government and Civil Service will eventually come up with. I truly believe that some of the smartest people in the world must be able to come up with a solution that works for everybody. The UK government does not yet seem capable of deciding what is best for the UK - but I am hopeful they will. Any kind of border between our two parts in this island must be avoided - but it seems increasingly impossible. I fear for the future and the return of the days when I feel that visiting Belfast will become a memory.

What would Fionn Mac Cumhaill think?

Friday, June 01, 2018

I haven't gone away!

Following my quietest month (just 3 posts in May) since July 2007, I hope to return to writing again this June. I plan some posts mostly about education in the next few weeks as the annual frenzy of grading assessments comes to an end. I have had my biggest classes ever this past semester, which meant a small mountain of grading to do. I feel as though I have been grading non-stop for the past 10 weeks or so. This is now over and there is the summer to look forward to!

Image source: memegen.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

29th May 1968 #ilovefootball

Exactly 50 years ago I watched my first ever football game on TV. It was the European Cup final between Manchester United and Benfica, United won 4-1 after extra time. At the time I was 8, nearly 9 years old.

I watched this game in my grandmother's house in Mount Argus - I must have been staying for a few days. As far as I recall, there was no mention of the game beforehand - I had no knowledge of football as I had never watched it before. My glamorous aunt Eileen came in to the house and said she wanted to watch Georgie Best (I think she fancied him!) - so I joined her in watching the game on a small black and white TV. My grandmother was concerned about me watching TV for so long, and the effect it might have on my eyes. So Eileen gave me sun glasses, and I watched my first match with them on. Weird. But wonderful. Many years later I saw a photo from the game and realised that Man Utd were wearing blur jerseys. I thought they wore grey!

I remember Bobby Charlton's two goals, but George Best was the star of the show for Eileen and me. He scored in extra time and we jumped around my granny's kitchen. I had never heard of Man Utd, Charlton, or Best before - but I was an instant fan of football. And wanted more. Today 50 years later - I still want more. So every time I see an eight year old boy at a game - I see myself 50 year ago in the same wonder of putting the ball into the net.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

What do you do when your Data Analysis project is not working? #analytics

We have all suffered project "block" at some stage - we reach a point where we don't know what to do next, or something we are trying to do just doesn't work the way we would like it to. It is common  in Analytics for students to understand how a basic data set used in class works, perhaps also understand and get the slightly more complicated example used in a tutorial - but when they try to use a new data set it doesn't fit neatly into what was covered in class. I carefully select data sets (many are recommended by text books) to use in class. They work for me and are often perfect for explaining concepts such as regression and principal component analysis. But what happens when students try to use their own or third party data in a project? Believe it or not, I do get students who often say to me "I can't find a data set", but what I really feel they are saying is "I can't find a data set that does what I want it to do".

Image source:

Jonathan Nolis, writing in Medium, poses "So your data science project isn’t working". He wonders what to do when you try to "predict something no one has predicted before", and "optimize something no one has optimized before", or "understand data that no one has looked at before". 

Sometimes the data you want just doesn't exist in the format you need, or is inaccessible behind a firewall or paywall that students can't afford to pay for. As Nolis says "If the data isn’t there then you can’t science it". Sometimes even after a suitable data set is found, the analysis leads to very little insight or a model just doesn't work. Students often forget that a "no" or a negative answer can also be useful. Either a data set will tell you something useful or it won't - go figure.

Perhaps you have asked the wrong or inappropriate question - mistakes happen. Nolis advises "Flops will happen to you and it’s okay! You can’t avoid them, so accept them and let them happy early and often". Most of the time we cannot control what data is stored or made available by an organization, nor can we make it give us the insight we want. There is no guaranteed pot of gold at the end of the Big Data rainbow. If there is value to be found, it will take effort to find it.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

An Apple for Teacher

"An apple for the teacher is always gonna do the trick,
If you didn't study your arithmetic."

Bing Crosby & Connie Boswell, lyrics to 'An Apple For The Teacher' (1939).

I'm feeling good at the end of semester - just got the equivalent of an apple for teacher! Thank you - you know who you are!

Monday, April 30, 2018

New YouTube Data #Analytics

I'm not sure exactly when, but YouTube have recently made available more data to channel owners - this time in relation to "Impressions" and "Click-Through Rates" (CTR). Impressions tell you how many times your video thumbnails were shown to viewers. The click-through rate shows the percentage of views per impressions shown. This measures how often viewers watched a video after seeing an impression. Data are only available since 1st January 2018. So - over the first four months of 2018 there have been 8,239,406 impressions, with a click through rate of 6.89%. This means that 567,695 thumbnails were clicked - accounting for just under half of the 1,141,427 views in the same period. It's nice to know where the view traffic is coming from. For me, YouTube are doing a good job of recommending videos - I have no input into this whatsoever. 

Here's a snap shot of analytics for the first four months of 2018:

Tap/Click Image to Enlarge.

The chart shows the number of impressions in blue. These data are very cyclical - every one of the low points shows the number of impressions on a Saturday. This cycle closely matches the weekly cycle for views and watch time as well. The brown line represents the percentage click-through rate - at its highest it was 7.47% (2nd January), at its lowest it was 6.08% (28th April). While the number of impressions increases over the four months, the percentage click-through falls. According to YouTube "Half of all channels and videos on YouTube have an impressions CTR that can range between 2% and 10%". It can be seen from the average duration (2:27 minutes) that my thumbnails are not regarded as "click-bait". YouTube tell us that: 
  • Higher click-through rate with low average view duration: This may mean your thumbnails are "click-baity" or that your content doesn’t meet viewers’ expectations
  • Lower click-through rate and high average view duration: This may mean that your thumbnails or titles aren't getting viewers to click
Another interesting stat for me to follow!

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

It must be exam time? #analytics #statistics

YouTube Analytics provides real-time data on who's viewing what over the past 60 minutes and over the past 48 hours, to content channel owners. Over the past year I have noted huge growth in the number of views and comments from viewers on my "How To... Statistics by Hand" playlist which contains 15 videos. Many of the comments I get are "Thank you" notes from students preparing for exams. As this is the beginning of exam season, I decided to take a look at some of the YouTube real-time data and see what it reveals.

Above are the top four videos being reviewed right now (during lunch Irish time). While the plotting multiple data in Excel video is my most popular at the moment, the next three are all Statistics videos. I expect that a lot of the views for these are from students revising for exams. If so, in the last hour 43 people viewed my How to... Perform Simple Linear Regression by Hand. Most of the overall views are from the United States, India, and the UK. Not many of my own students are watching - in the past hour there have been just two views of my videos in Ireland!

Saturday, April 21, 2018

A Very Old Photo

Researching and learning about my family tree has been an ongoing enjoyable experience for me. In some branches of my family I have managed to trace ancestors back to the late 1700s. I use Ancestry for my tree and it is a fantastic tool for both managing and researching the tree. It turns out that a very distant cousin lives close by my neighborhood and when I visited him recently he showed me the photo in its original frame below which features our mutual great-great grandfather - Richard Cullen:

We estimate that the photo was taken in the early 1870s. The photo features Richard and Julia Cullen, with their three sons (left to right) James, Bryan, and Richard. Photography was still in its infancy back in 1870 - it was invented in 1839 only 30 years earlier. No doubt people had to be perfectly still for the photograph - the Cullens were probably disappointed that the two younger lads could not keep still and their faces are sadly blurred. The boy on Richard's knee, also Richard, is my maternal great-grandfather. Richard senior was married three times. First to Mary Kate Giles (they lived in Wales) - they had two sons - Bryan and James in the photo above. His second marriage was to Julia Browne (they lived in Gorey) - she was one of eight Browne sisters from Gorey. They had five children: Richard (in the photo above), Patrick (who died as an infant), Mary Kate, Margaret, and another Patrick. His third marriage to Jane Cullen was childless. Four of the family are buried in St Michael's Cemetery in Gorey, Richard junior is buried in Mt Jerome Cemetery in Dublin, I don't know where James is buried.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

What a Good Idea: "Fines for late return of library books set to be abolished" via @independent_ie #14929DaysLate

According to @CormacMcQuinn, writing last week in the Irish Independent, our Government is about to introduce a new policy so that Fines for late return of library books set to be abolished. This is an effort to remove barriers to people going to the Public Library, and to encourage more reading. Fines of 5c a day for late books was probably not much of a barrier anyway, and probably cost more to collect that it generated. I like this idea, though I feel there should probably be some kind of deterrent to prevent people keeping books for  along time.

G.A. Henty.
Image source: Wikipedia.
I was also listening to the Marian Finucane Show on RTÉ Radio this morning where she had a discussion with one of our national treasures, Professor Joseph O'Connor, about libraries. O'Connor loved visiting libraries as a kid and feels that everyone should have access to the joy of books (and even the smell!). He told us about reading Enid Blyton books, which I recall also doing when I was young. 

I don't recall there being a library in Carnew National School or in the town during the 1960s when I was growing up. However, there was a library in my secondary school - Cistercian College Roscrea. When I was listening to Joe O'Connor I remembered that I still had a book from the CCR library: Orange and Green: A Tale of the Boyne and Limerick by G.A. Henty published in 1888 (Henty was a prolific author of books for boys - he published six in 1888!). I left CCR in 1977, so taking an estimate of the number of days from 1st June 1977 to today, it is 14,929 days. If I was fined 5c for each day, the total would be a whopping €746.21. I honestly don't recall if I forgot to give it back, or if I stole it, or if it was discarded by the library for free. In any case, I am 41 years late in returning it - I wonder does the CCR library want it back?

Monday, April 16, 2018

15,000,000+ Views @YouTube

Over the weekend my YouTube channel passed the 15 million views mark - this morning there are 15,008,683 views. As always, I am both astonished and grateful that so many people around the world are learning from my videos. Two other milestones that I appreciate are passing the 30,000 subscriber mark, and a new one-day record of 13,172 views. It has taken a long time for the disaster of May 2015 (which you can see in the chart below) to be reversed - but finally the figures are now better. The figure of 40,535,603 watch time minutes is only dated from 1st September, 2012 - this number is the equivalent of 77 years and 26 days!

Many thanks again to all my viewers - keep on learning!

Friday, April 13, 2018

Audio vs Written Feedback

A couple of years ago I used the audio feedback feature in the Turnitin Gradebook to provide a 3 minute recording of some feedback to each individual student about their assignment. Not many students commented on this at the time - those that did were positive about this technique. This past semester I have used audio comments again, mainly because I find that it is much quicker than writing out feedback to students. The 3 minute limit is a bit short - especially for students who exceed word counts or who produce detailed work.

It turns out that there is a lot of research on the use of audio compared to written feedback. For example - see an excellent paper Engaging Students with Audio Feedback by Alan Cann (2014) from the University of Leicester. Research tells us that evidence of the effectiveness of audio feedback is clear from published findings. So - if audio feedback is so effective, why do not more of us use it? Although producing audio files is relatively quick, and the rule of thumb appears to be that "one minute of audio is equal to six minutes of writing feedback" (see Lunt and Curran 2009). This means that the 3 minute limit in Turnitin is the equivalent of 18 minutes of written feedback. In my class where I recently used this there are 69 student assignments - using audio to provide feedback would take up to 207 minutes (3 hours and 27 minutes), while written feedback could have taken up to 1,242 minutes (nearly 21 hours). Quite a significant saving in time I think you'll agree. Cann also reports that the "use of audio feedback is popular with the majority of students" as well as that it has at least the "potential to save staff time". He is careful to warn that this is "only true if audio feedback is used as a replacement for text comments, not as an additional supplement". Audio feedback is "undoubtedly" more engaging to students.

I'd certainly like to use audio feedback a bit more - NCI uses Turnitin which provides this as standard (though I wish they would allow a slightly larger maximum than 3 minutes). Saving time is important to us all - especially coming to the busy end of year period. I'd urge other academics to consider it too, though I appreciate that in shared office areas that it might not be physically that easy to do. But Colleges could do more to provide audio friendly spaces not just for recording feedback, but for other audio-video uses too to enhance both the learning and teaching experience for both academic staff and students.

Cann, A. (2014) Engaging Students with Audio Feedback, Bioscience Education, 22:1, 31-41

Lunt, T. and Curran, J. (2009) Are you listening please? The advantages of electronic audio feedback compared to written feedback. Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education 35 (7), 759–769.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

The Busiest Time of Year #ImTooBusy

If you ask someone at work "How are things" these days you are very likely to get the response along the lines of: "I'm very busy", or "Jaysus - it's very busy". This is not just in my workplace, but in a lot of others too. In third-level education, very often the period of mid-April to the beginning of June is regarded as the busiest time of the year. End of semester, exams, grading, writing papers, and preparing for conferences - comes together into a melting pot of busyness that many academics are not slow to tell you about (as I'm doing now!). For the current semester, which has just two and a half weeks left to run, I have 200+ students. In addition to 12 hours class time per week, I have around 700 labs, assignments, and projects to grade - more than I have ever had in any of the 30 or so semesters that I have been teaching. This keeps me busy - most weeks this semester have been 50-60 hours.

I don't mind being busy, it's my job and I get paid to be so. But I have been reading about "Why you should stop telling people you're so busy". Deepak Chopra and Kabir Sehgal tell us that "constantly harping about your busyness can actually have adverse consequences"! Their three reasons to stop telling people that you are busy are: 
  1. You may be bragging
  2. Busyness isn't remarkable
  3. Busyness closes doors

We have all heard the mantra, "If you want something done, give it to a busy person". While I often find this to be true, Chopra and Sehgal say that if people think you are busy that they won't "present you with opportunities", or that "busyness may send the signal to your enlightened colleagues and associates that you aren't working smart", and that instead of "telling people how hectic and hardworking you are, take the time to ask them questions". Good advice indeed, that I and many other people I know should follow!

Finally, Chuck Carey, writing about sales in Compendian, offers advice on "How do you deal with the “I’m too busy” excuse?"

Image source: Compendian.

Using the cartoon about the busy king going into battle, Carey gives us two morals for busyness:
  1. The moral for the King is: Never be too busy to stop and listen to a salesman with a machine gun, if you are planning on fighting a battle with a sword.
  2. The moral for our salesman is: If you want to get the attention of the King, then you better be able to explain to him why it is in his advantage to take time to meet, or speak with you.

Saturday, April 07, 2018

Dead Fitbit

I have been wearing a Fitbit HR for most of the past year (and a bit!) - but now it is not syncing with my computer anymore. I tried everything I could to fix it - online Help is not much good. It has also become an unattractive device on my right wrist as it is now held together with Super Glue having come apart several times. Taking it on and off every day (it is not waterproof) no doubt puts a lot of pressure on the meagre strapping, and also remembering to sync it is a bit of a drag too. As I ride a motorcycle to and from work - the vibrations from the handlebars add about 5,000 steps each day (while I'm just sitting on the bike).

I have decided not to replace the Fitbit and the old one will be recycled. I do see the attraction of having this as part of a watch, but I will not be replacing my fabulous Nixon watch anytime soon.

Fitbit does allow you to download your data, though curiously only one month's worth at a time. For chart below I had to combine 12 separate monthly files. I wondered what a year's worth of activity would look like - so I plotted the number of steps recorded every day for 2017:

Click/Tap Image to Enlarge.

I wonder if anyone was asked to plot out activity levels in advance for a year - what would it look like? Clearly I am inactive a lot, the three blank times above were where I did not wear the Fitbit at all. I would have thought I would be more active, but no I'm not. The high peaks are almost all for days when I was teaching in College in the evening and therefore had the morning off - I usually went for a long walk. The Fitbit did not really work for me as a motivation to exercise more - I never looked at it and saw a number like 9,000 steps, and then thought to make it 10,000. After a year and a bit - this piece of wearable technology is not for me.

Friday, April 06, 2018

Smartphones in the classroom?

Image source: Barrie Today.
Everyone in my generation managed to get thorough primary, secondary, and third-level education without the use of a smartphone, or a mobile phone of any type. Indeed I had a giggle to myself when at a 40-year school reunion last December I learned after the Reunion Mass that some of the guys at the back were looking up the football results on their phones. Would I have done the same if I had a smartphone 40 years ago? Totally! Would I have used a smartphone to look up "dirty" pictures in class if I could get away with it? Most probably yes. Would I have googled a word for a definition? Absolutely.

And there is the dilemma - where is the line between educational use and misuse of any device in the classroom? I teach at third level and there is no way that I will have a rule in my classes banning smartphone usage. Indeed they are on many desks during class with students multitasking checking messages and communicating with friends and family. They also use their phones for classwork - but I would guess that this is a minor part of their usage. I'm guessing that the most common use of smartphones in my classes is for translations by students for whom English is not a first language. Most don't need to be told to keep their phones on silent, and in general my classes are not interrupted by phones. Several of my classes, and an increasing number in the college, require students to have a laptop anyway - so for me there is no argument about smartphone usage in third level classes. It is a behaviour issue and as long as you inform students at the beginning of the semester what is and is not appropriate - students usually go along with this.

There's probably no argument about usage of smartphones at primary level as most students will not own a smartphone - though maybe some 11 and 12 year olds might have them. But this will be an argument in the future as smartphones become even more ubiquitous than they are now.

Second level seems to be the battle ground at this time. In yesterday's Irish Independent Ralph Reigel writes that "There are huge issues around the rush to digitise classrooms" - it appears that there are different policies in our schools around smartphone usage. Some ban them outright while others don't. A key point for me in this article is the quote from a teacher who said that "it will be difficult for authorities to order controls while, at the same time, supporting the use of tablets in classroom" - too true!

Writing in, Rodney Jackson makes the point that "to deny today’s cutting edge technology from a classroom instead of embracing and exploiting it seems to be a draconian, counterintuitive measure". He also tells us that to "deny that the technological reality of today has any usefulness in the classroom is shortsighted and uninspired. As a citizen, parent and employer I expect more from our educators". Whatever career students go on to after school/college will require the use of a smartphone - they can be used for instant access to maps, definitions, case-studies. In contrast, textbooks get outdated very quickly.

Smartphones are learning devices too - let's not ban them and instead try a little harder to incorporate them into the classroom.

Sunday, April 01, 2018

GAA or Rugby? #ToughChoices

Cheers at The Aviva!
Today in Dublin you could go to the GAA's National Football League Final between Dublin and Galway in Croke Park, or the European Rugby Champions Cup quarter-final between Leinster and Saracens at the Aviva stadium. The Sports Gods got this one mixed up - it is not too often that there are two such huge games on in Dublin on the same day. Missing my GAA partner Kate, I went along to see the rugby rather than our usual trek to Croker - may the GAA Gods forgive me!

With a sub plot of Ireland vs England (always a good motivator for Irish fans of any sport) - Leinster put the current European Champions to the sword though at times they were dominated by the Saracens from London. However, three tries to one told the story and the results was never really in doubt. Saracens were guilty of  some dreadful handling errors, but the Leinster men were more than a match winning out by 30 points to 19 - a well deserved victory.

Next up for Leinster it is the Welshmen from Llanelli - the Scarlets. Those in the know at the match today said that the Scarlets would be favourites - but on today's form Leinster will take some beating.

BTW - Dublin beat Galway by 18 points to 14. Another summer of Dubs domination????

It's all over!

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Referendum 25th May #Repeal #Yes

Image source: The 8th Amendment.
So - the day has been set to hold a referendum to repeal the 8th Amendment to the Constitution with the 36th Amendment. Back in 1983, when the 8th Amendment referendum was held, I was against it and voted "No". I even had the badge (much to my Mum's annoyance) to show it. I recall it was a very divisive referendum campaign which at times was reduced to whether you were a baby killer or not. It was put into the Constitution by narrow-minded (but well-meaning) people who expected it to be a guarantee forever that abortion would not be introduced into Ireland. Who knew then that it would only take 35 years to reverse it (as I fully expect the electorate to do so).

In September 1983 I was just 23 years old, and was a student in Trinity at the time. I felt it was cool to wear a badge (I had an anti-nuke one too). I have always been pro-choice, but I definitely had no understanding of the implications of the amendment at the time - nobody predicted events like the X case or the multiple referendums as a consequence since. I suppose nobody would have predicted at either that religion would become a minor, rather than major part of our lives. I certainly hope that this is the last time I will be asked to vote on abortion.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Learning from the Revolution

Cuba’s revolution in 1959 (the year I was born) brought about a republic and a society unlike many others. Free health care and education for all is to be found side-by-side with ration books and 60 year old cars. Every Cuban person we have met is very friendly, though many are very poor. The Museum of the Revolution is a lesson in how modern Cuba was created. Cubans are proud of the Castro brothers and their comrade Che Guevara. Much of the threats to Cuba in the early days were from the USA whose CIA caused crop failures and diseases. The quality of some of the exhibits is poor, but there are English translations on everything. Nothing is hidden, the Bay of Pigs disaster, the Missile Crisis, and Cuba’s costly (2,000 dead) intervention in Angola get ample space. Outside are some of the military equipment of the Revolution, and of course the Granma - the yacht used by Fidel in the 1950s to begin the war against the Batista regime. By the end of the Museum I was almost a committed socialist rebel - almost!

Some photos of the day: