Saturday, April 04, 2020

Working from home and the #NCIstayathomechallenge @ncirl @NCISport

A bit of light-heartedness never hurt anyone and the good folks NCI Sport started out to check on the College's student and staff on how they have been keeping active during this Covid-19 crisis. Check the #NCIstayathomechallenge hashtag and you see super contributions from many students as well as my academic colleagues @cormackd and @derbrad - both issuing challenges to me. I decided to make my own contribution, though it is not in the least sporty. I have not been out for a ride on my bike for three weeks, and I miss it terribly - so I had to find a way to fit it into my video.

For fun only, and not my real home office...

Friday, April 03, 2020

Covid-19 Data Sets #Analytics #Covid19

It has taken a while, but data on Covid-19 is now becoming available. While a huge amount of data obviously already exists, availability has been a different thing. Data scientists everywhere are itching to get their algorithms on these data. As stated by Jeni Tennison writing in The Guardian yesterday: "Wherever we look, there is a demand for data about Covid-19. We devour dashboards, graphs and visualisations. We want to know about the numbers of tests, cases and deaths; how many beds and ventilators are available, how many NHS workers are off sick. When information is missing, we speculate about what the government might be hiding, or fill in the gaps with anecdotes".

Now there are several sources - here's a selection that I am aware of:

Trusted Coronavirus (COVID-19) global data from our community experts

Search results for search in data uploads

World Health Organisation
Database of publications on coronavirus disease (COVID-19)

UK Office of National Statistics
Registered deaths (only published on a weekly basis, and with a delay)

Mobility Index using Citymapper App

Fill out a request to access their data which is aggregated from other courses

The Italians have been publishing data on Github since the beginning of March (in Italian)

The Irish Times
No data published, but excellent Corona Virus Dashboard

The Belgians have been publishing data at Sciensano on cases and deaths, broken down by gender and age group, and numbers of people in hospital, ICU, and receiving respiratory support

Happy data analysing everybody!

Wednesday, April 01, 2020

Why is Median Age More Important than Average Age? #Statistics #Analytics #Covid19

By the end of the Covid19 crisis, we will all become more data literate. Every day new figures are being thrown at us and we are learning new terms and expressions such as "flattening the curve". Today I want to give attention to the word "median".

The median is a measure of central tendency - it is the middle value of a data set when it is ranked from lowest to highest (or vice versa). In other words, half the values in the data set are higher than the median, and half are lower. In a normal distribution of data, the median will be the same or similar to the mean (average). In 1955, R.R. Sokal and P.E. Hunter (who obviously had nothing better to do) measured the wing lengths of 100 house flies (in 0.1 mm). They found that when they plotted the results in a histogram - they had shown an almost perfectly normal distribution, which educators in statistics have been using since as an example of a perfect normal distribution. In this data set, the mean (average) is 45.5, and the median is also 45.5 - here's what the distribution looks like:

Data source: Sokal & Hunter (1955)

Now let's take a look at some Covid-19 data. We are hearing a lot about the median age of death of Covid-19 victims - why not use the mean (average)? First, let's take a look at the distribution for the ages at death of 32 males and 16 females in South Korea:

Data source: DS4C: Data Science for COVID-19 in South Korea.

You can see straight away that the shape of the histogram differs a lot from the house fly data above. This histogram tells us at a glance that more older people are dying from Covid-19 than middle aged or younger people. The mean (average) age at death is 73.6, but the median age is 75 - a good bit higher. The median gives us a clearer picture of age at death than the mean. If you use the mean as an indicator, it gives a false picture. You can see in the histogram above that the shape is skewed by one person under 40 - this one value alone lowers the mean, but has very little impact on the median.

If you would like to learn more about median values, check out my YouTube video below:

Monday, March 30, 2020

Kurtosis, and flattening the curve #Statistics #Analytics #Covid19

Covid 19 has thrown up lots of new concepts that many people will not have heard about before. There has been much mention of "flattening the curve" in the hope that doing so will ease the burden on hospitals with a lesser surge of cases.

Well - there is a name for the shape of a curve: Kurtosis. It is also a descriptive statistic, a value of zero indicates a normal distribution (the middle curve below). Any deviation from this can be measured with kurtosis. A high positive value indicates a peaked, or leptokurtic, curve. A high negative value indicates a flattened, or Platykurtic, curve.

Image Source: ResearchGate.

Increasing the sample size often compresses and narrows the curve, making it more peaked. So part of "flattening the curve" in the current crisis is all about keeping the number of cases down. You can see from above that this results in a wider as well as a flat curve, making the duration longer. 

Sunday, March 29, 2020

First Full Week of On-line Classes - How was it?

Phew! Last week was my first ever doing all my classes on-line. Many colleagues have done the same, and from those that I have been in contact with - all seems to have gone well. It is a major achievement for everybody to turn around from delivering classes in lecture theatres and computer laboratories, to a totally on-line environment - all in just one week. Adobe Connect and Microsoft Teams, with a lot of help from Moodle, are the main tools being employed. In a short while, education is being revolutionized - I fervently hope that we do not go back to the way things were, and instead start to make use of more on-line learning and teaching.

Last week flew by, and I'm sure I am not alone in wondering what day it is. It is Sunday afternoon as I write this and I am taking a break from grading assignments. There is no structure to my day any more, so it doesn't seem to matter when I do things. I do have a timetable to adhere to for the next three weeks - so at least there is something regular for me. Going back to 9 to 5 will not be the same again - I certainly feel that I could do a lot more of my work at home. I do miss my colleagues and the chats in the corridor and staff canteen. The College is always buzzing with activity, and I miss this too. As the College has made the decision to finish out the semester on-line, there will be many students that I will not see again, and I am a bit sad about that.

For our 4th year School of Computing students (I have this class for Statistics) this coming week is their last in College. Their world has been turned upside down from just a few weeks ago when they could confidently look forward to a career in IT, to a very uncertain future indeed. I feel for them - I have just two more classes with them. There will be lots of new opportunities as a result of the current crisis - some optimism I hope.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

One of the Lucky Ones #wfh

Being able to work from home is a blessing in the current crisis, and I am one of the lucky ones to be able to continue working (and getting paid to do it!). I am also lucky that where I live, there is fantastic broadband speed. Added to this is the fact that I have been teaching on-line for the past two years. Converting all classes to on-line learning has been relatively straight forward. 

I'm hearing a lot on the radio and from newspapers about efforts by educators everywhere to get classes for their students on-line - not all are as lucky as me. It will be a huge transition for teachers/lecturers at every level to get the School/College academic year completed. Yet when all of this is done, educators everywhere will be tooled up in the latest technology. Pedagogy will be revolutionalized as we all realize that what we have been doing in the classroom for years can be done just as easily and effectively on-line. We will ask questions about the need for students to attend classes in lecture theatres and labs for a small, medium, large, or all parts of a course. As the population grows, and there is a need for more places at schools and colleges - perhaps the solution to shortages is right in front of us?

Will this be the lecture theatre of the future...

My Home Office Set Up.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Declining Views - Top Five Countries

The United States, India, Phillipines, UK, and Canada account for 60.9% of all views this year on my YouTube Channel. As I posted yesterday, there is a sharp decline visible in the number of views over the past two weeks - and I was quite surprised by this. Could it be related to the Covid 19 crisis? 

I decided to dig a little deeper into the decline in views by Geography, and was surprised to find that the decline started earlier than I had thought. In the chart below from YouTube Analytics, you can see the peak views for the blue line (USA, 24.4% of views) was in mid February:

Click/tap image to enlarge.

From mid February there is a gradual decline by week - almost halving the number of views for the US. The green line (India, 18.5% of views) doesn't start to decline until mid March - but is dropping now too.

I have no insight into why this is happening - there are many possiblilites. Obviously, people could simply be choosing not to view my videos anymore, YouTube may have made modifications to the algorithms that recommend videos, I still have a warning on my channel for violation of terms, and some of my videos are getting quite old now. One thing that I feel may be a reason is that all over the world Colleges are dropping exams and replacing them with assignments/projects. Suddenly the requirement to perform something like a t-Test and many other calculations during a two hour period in an exam hall no longer exists. I know from comments in the channel that many students use my videos to prepare for exams - this pressure is now gone.

Whatever the reason, I hope that the channel can bounce back. It is ironic that the number of views for my existing on-line material is declining when at the same time I am switching all my classes to the on-line environment.

Monday, March 23, 2020

Sudden Fall Off in YouTube Views

I'm sure that there are many side effects of the Covid 19 crisis, and one for me is the rapid decline of YouTube views last week. Usually there is a gradual increase each week from the beginning of January up to month of May before dropping off slighly for the summer. The overall performance of the channel this year has been less than last year, but the regular patterns of weekly views and gradual increase was maintained. Until last week.

The chart below of views since 1st January. The gradual weekly increase reversed slightly two weeks ago, but last week it dropped by an average of about 2,000 views per day. I did not expect this at all, in fact I would have expected views to increase. More details tomorrow on the geographic breakdown of the data below.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Reading Week Relief

Never was a week free of classes so welcome. Even though our St Patrick’s Day is more like a Doomsday, it too is a welcome break for everyone in Ireland - for one day at least we don’t have to worry about going to work.

Reading week offers students an opportunity to draw breath after 8 weeks in a busy semester. We have another Reading week after Easter - more welcome relief before the last week of the semester. It is a time for students to work on assignments, catch up on essential reading, study for exams, meet with project supervisors, and revise. For Faculty it is also a welcome break from class - most of the time during Reading week spent by me is on grading assignments.

For many students, study at College will be the last thing on their minds, or at least it will be way down their list of priorities right now. While it might be tempting to give up and drop out, I would encourage students to hold fast and finish out the semester as we are so close to the end. Many students may be considering deferring completion, and Colleges everywhere will have to consider this possibility and allow it. Many Colleges are in the midst of replacing exams with projects/assignments - this should make it easier for students to complete their studies.

Image Source: Reddit.
Most third-level institutions can continue to function using virtual classrooms - next week all my classes will be conducted through Adobe Connect virtual classroom software. This facility is not available to all Lecturers. Some colleagues are planning to record lectures, others plan to use voice-over PowerPoints, some will use Microsoft Teams, while I’m sure that many will not be in a position to provide a technical solution due to broadband/home computer issues, as well as lack of knowledge/training on how on-line classrooms work. It will not be easy for everyone to switch from a lifetime of standing in front of students in a lecture theatre, to suddenly switch to on-line delivery.

Please note: Views expressed in this blog post are entirely my own personal views, and not those of NCI or any other academic institution.

Friday, March 13, 2020

Making the Switch

This morning I had my first on-line class in a module that is usually delivered in a classroom. Attendance was excellent, and all students who tuned in were able to see and hear what I was doing. I used the familiar Adobe Connect and all its feature - my students seemed happy enough at the end of class. My five year old home computer stood up to the task very well.

The College closed at 18:00 yesterday, but some quick-off-the mark lecturers were in a position to deliver their regular classes online at 18:30. I will be moving all classes online for the remainder of the closure, which I predict will be extended into at least after Easter. I also attended a training session this morning on the use of Microsoft Meetings. While it seems like an excellent tool, I'm sticking to Adobe Connect. At minimum, we are advised to make sure all learning resources are added to Moodle and to be available during class time for questions.

So that's the first day of the closure over. We have a Reading Week next week, so no classes anyway. But I'm confident that I can continue the week after on-line when classes resume. It will be an interesting research topic for when this is all over to see how College closures impact on learning and teaching.

Please note: Views expressed in this blog post are entirely my own personal views, and not those of NCI or any other academic institution.

Thursday, March 12, 2020

Covid-19 - a Breakthrough for Technology in Education? #CoronaVirus

There is already a lot of Technology in education - we have become so reliant on it that most of us can no longer envisage learning without some kind of technology in the classroom. Despite some setbacks (eg, see: Co Meath school to reverse iPads-only policy after review), students everywhere are using their computers for learning. There's no going back on this.

With some Schools and Colleges already closed, and I'm certain - more to follow, the use of technology to replace face-to-face classrooms is on the agenda as we struggle to contain the Covid-19 virus. I'll only comment on the third level sector, as this is where I work. We of course use the likes of Moodle and Blackboard to manage content such as lecture notes, sample assessments, exercises, model answers, and links to relevant on-line material. But lecturers everywhere are wondering about or asking questions about virtual classrooms and how to use them. Since I already teach one of my modules on-line - I feel that I could easily move my other modules on-line for the rest of the semester. I may have to make different arrangements for students who do not have broadband access, but this may not be the problem it once was. I use Adobe Connect, which is excellent for on-line delivery of a class. A warning to others thinking that just because an old guy like me can do it, how tough can it be! Also a warning to educational institutions' management who think that moving everything on-line is the solution to the current crisis.

It is two years since my first on-line class and I am still learning the trade. From a Learning and Teaching point of view, it is a very different environment than the classroom. Way back in 2003, Morten Flate Paulsen*, Professor at Sør-Trøndelag University College in Norway, was one of the first scholars to research the distinction between on-line and classroom education. A simple summary of what he wrote to compare the two types of education:

Classroom Education:
  • Controlled by “bell”
  • Boundaries are socially accepted

On-line Education:
  • 24 x 7 x 365
  • More demand from students
  • Heavier workload for on-line teachers

In short, on-line education has a heavier workload than the classroom equivalent. Paulsen proposed the following strategies to reduce teacher workload in on-line education:
  1. Form a group of experienced and well-trained teachers
  2. Establish a system for technical and administrative support
  3. Shift attention from spontaneous interactive teaching to deliberate course design
  4. Pay special attention to the assessment workload per student when designing course assignments
  5. Restrict teacher interaction with individual students and small groups of students
  6. Encourage and facilitate interaction among students
  7. Automate response
  8. Develop a scheme to handle the demand for expedient responses
Sound advice indeed! However, we have to consider that we are two thirds of the way thought the last semester of the academic year and there is not the time, resource, or knowledge to implement above (written 17 years ago). We are also in the middle of a crisis (though not all education authorities see this yet) and we must put our students' learning first. Most will be understanding of the difficulties Colleges will encounter, and be sympathetic of our efforts to finish courses. But many (if not all) are already concerned about finishing modules and sitting exams. They are waiting.

Please note: Views expressed in this blog post are entirely my own personal views, and not those of NCI or any other academic institution.

* Paulsen, M.F., (2003). Online education: Learning management systems - Global E-Learning in a Scandinavian Perspective.

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Moving Lectures On-line #Covid19

News today that Trinity College are to move all lectures to on-line delivery (see "Trinity cancels lectures in bid to limit coronavirus threat" seems like a very sensible move given the threat of the Covid 19 spreading to Staff and Students. Other Colleges have  yet to follow suit - I feel that it is inevitable that lecture theatres will have to close, and a question placed over other large gatherings such exams and graduations. Already, both ourselves (NCI) and DCU have cancelled Graduation ceremonies due to be held next week. 

So - will transferring all classes to an on-line virtual classroom work? We are only four weeks away from the end of the academic year - should we do it?

For me I think I could cope quite well as approximately 25% of my teaching is done on-line already - so I am familiar with the technology. Some content and class dynamics will need adjustment, but as we are well in to the second half of the semester - this should not be a huge workload. I find that transferring a lecture which involves simply reading slides (already a major bad teaching strategy), to reading them online will not work and will definitely not engage students. Anyone who thinks that delivering a class on-line is the same as in a lecture theatre has not thought this through. Many Faculty who have never delivered a class on-line (the vast majority of Faculty in my view), will naturally be concerned about how this works and the effect it will have students' learning. It is better than no classes, and in most cases Colleges will have to make do with what they've got - I'm certain that students will be understanding if this all happens. These are difficult times, and we in the Education sector have to do our bit in the fight against this virus.

Please note: Views expressed in this blog post are entirely my own personal views, and not those of NCI or any other academic institution.

Thursday, March 05, 2020

TV Licence costs over the years #TimeSeries #Data

I got my bill the TV Licence today - €160 for the year is not cheap, but I pay it anyway. It got me thinking about how much this fee tax has cost me over the years. In 1986 when Roma and I first moved into a house together and got our first TV Licence bill, we decided to pay it. It was just as well because shortly afterwards we got the dreaded knock on the door from a TV Licence inspector. Luckily we were able to show our newly acquired licence. In the 34 years since we have not been visited by any more inspectors.

In 1986, the licence fee was £62.00 (€78.74). You can see below the trend in cost over the years:

Data source: Wikipedia.

We can also see that there were periods of stagnation over many years - the fee tax has been €160 since 2008. By my calculation I have paid a whopping €4,371.30 for a TV licence since 1986. of course this is after tax, so I would have had to earn around €6k/€7k to pay this. Is it worth it? 

The licence is free to those who are 70 or over - just 10 more years to go for me (and another €1,600 or more). 

Saturday, February 29, 2020

40 Years Ago

The blurred photo below is from 28th/29th February 1980 - the occasion is the Trinity College Pharmacy Student Ball. In front in the white shirt is a 20 year-old beardless Eugene who has removed the jacket and bow tie from his tuxedo - he was a 2nd year Science student in Trinity. My glazed eyes are possibly from having smoked a joint! On the left is the ever lovely 18 year-old Roma wearing my bow tie - a 2nd year Pharmacy student, it was our first ever date. Nobody could have told us then what would happen in the next 40 years.

Still mad about you.

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Last time at the Blood Platelet Clinic - Thanks @GiveBlood

Receiving an award from then
Health Minister Leo Varadkar. in 2015
A sad day for me today in that I will no longer be able to donate blood platelets at the Irish Blood Transfusion Service Clinic in St James's Hospital. My platelet count has been too low for several visits to the clinic in a row. I have been going there for several years and finished up with 155 donations, with a Silver Pelican, Gold Pelican, Gold Drop, and a Pelican Statuette (from Health Minister Leo Varadkar). There is now one donor less in this Clinic - I would encourage anyone who is interested in becoming a donor to try it out.

I will miss the camaraderie in the platelet Clinic - I have known some of the staff for several years. It was a bit of a wrench leaving there today. Thank you to all the staff, I do hope that my platelets were used to help people in need over the past few years. 

I will return to the whole blood register next time, it is only possible to donate 4 times a year (compared to 12 times per year for platelets). I hope to get a few more donations under my belt.

Good Bye Platelet Clinic!

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Assessments taken on-line

I had a really interesting experience the other evening when a colleague took over part of my on-line evening class to establish the ground for the students to take their tests online. At NCI we use a proctored system called RPNow, which basically records everything a student does if they take the test remotely. It makes it easy for us to detect if anyone is cheating, and therefore protects the integrity of our assessments. However, it can be a bit daunting for students to take a test like this for the first time. We gave the students a short mock test during the class - some completed it in 5 minutes, while others experienced a lot of technical difficulties and didn't even get to start the test after an hour.

All this begs the question: "Should students take proctored tests on-line?".

Let's first take a step back. The primary purpose of assessment is to “foster learning of worthwhile academic content for all students” (Wolf, Bixby, Glenn, & Gardner, 1991). In the year 605 AD, Imperial China introduced a strict system of assessment officially called the “Imperial Examination”, which was better known as “The Forest of Pencils”. This tough examination was designed to select the best administrative officials for the empire’s civil service. This assessment was found to be the best way to recruit civil servants – the best people were selected according to results, bribery and corruption were moved aside (Buckley Ebrey, 2010). Assessment has been part of education for centuries – there is no escaping it. So today should be no different?

It should be noted that most students are going to pass exams anyway. In the normal distribution below (Kashyap, 2019) you can see that less than 7% of students fail (F grade). Of course not all grading results in a bell-shaped curve like this, but it gives you a breakdown of what to expect. So if we know that 93% of students are going to pass, why bother with tests? For on-line students, why bother with tests with the added pressure of ensuring technology is working?

Image source: Ravi Kashyap.
In courses that I am involved with, most marks come from Continuous Assessment. For on-line courses, I feel that a good case can be made for assessing all Learning Outcomes with continuous assessment, and assignment/project work. I know that a lot of programmes do this already - right up to Masters level. Something for us to consider with new and updates to NCI programmes.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Election Poster Talk with @JoeCostelloIE

I bumped into Joe Costello of the Labour Party while out walking on East Wall Road this lunchtime and I decided to chat with him briefly, and he was gracious enough to do so. In what must be a sad and partly humiliating task for any defeated election candidate, he was taking down his own election posters, including the poster ties. Good stuff Joe! 

I mentioned to him that I had written to the Irish Times many years ago (2008) about this very topic. Joe was very supportive of the idea of colour coded poster ties, and he told me that Dublin City Council are actively considering such a move. He informed me that there is a €150 fine per poster if not taken down within a week of the Election, but no fine for poster ties. Clearly it is easy to identify who is responsible for a poster, but poster ties not so as they all seem to be either black or white. My sense is that the recycling message is getting through to candidates and their helpers, and any I observed this week seem to be doing so.

Joe Costello is still a councillor on Dublin City Council, and I'd love to see him push through local bye-laws on this. It was a pleasure to meet him.

Monday, February 10, 2020

One in Five YouTube Users using it for Learning via @pewresearch and @mitchell360

Image Source: Pew Research Center.
I cam across an article "Many Turn to YouTube for Children’s Content, News, How-To Lessons" by the Pew Research Center, which shows how important YouTube is becoming for learning. Though the article is just over a year old, it is telling how valuable YouTube has become in helping people understand things that are happening in the world. The survey shows that 51% of US adults who use YouTube say it is "very important" in figuring out how to do things that they had not done before. 

Many of the things we do are only done once, or very few times. You might only need to do one thing, but in order to learn how to do it you don't want to have to sign up and pay for a full course. You just want that one piece of learning.

Many years ago I had a conversation with the then CEO of Learning Productions: Scott Mitchell. This conversation took place some time in the year 2000. He pictured a platform where content developers could create content and make it available on-line for learners to use at any time. He imagined a learning wall where each brick was a piece of content that matched a learning objective. Content developers could choose what to develop and fill in blanks where necessary. More than one developer could create content for a learning objective. Users would comment and rate content so that the good stuff would get to the top. Developers would be paid for their work dependent on the number of times their content was used. This conversation/vision took place five years before YouTube was created. Little did I know it at the time, but YouTube would end up being a close match for what Scott had envisaged. What a pity we didn't build the platform - we could have been multi-millionaires selling it later to Google!

Thursday, February 06, 2020

I Didn't Think I Was a Senior...

Image source: Amazon.
Earlier today I was in the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre to purchase tickets for Blood Brothers later this month. I go to the Box Office rather than buying on-line because it saves a lot. I was asked by the attendant if the tickets were for "children", "adults", or "seniors". Having turned 60 last October, I chanced my arm and asked "What is the age for Seniors?" - her reply was "60"! Tickets for seniors are available at a €5 discount. 

This was the first time I availed of a senior's discount. While of course I'm pleased to have saved €5, I have no real idea yet about what it means to be a senior. I saw on Sunday in Woodies DIY that discounts for seniors are available on Thursdays, and I am also already being targeted on-line with ads for older people. 

I am now a (young) Senior - it's official!

Wednesday, February 05, 2020

Good News for YouTube Content Developers

Financial results for Google (Alphabet) for 2019 tell us more about YouTube earnings from advertising than before. Revenue from YouTube ads amounted to $15.15 billion in 2019 - up considerably from the previous two years. This is good news for me and other content developers using the YouTube platform to publish our videos (and allow YouTube to serve ads on them). The graphic below shows the growth in revenue over the past three years:

Infographic: YouTube: Surging Ad Revenue Figures Revealed | Statista You will find more infographics at Statista.

I can see this effect on my own channel. In 2018 there were 3,473,515 views on my channel, but this decreased to 3,159,607 in 2019 - a considerable decrease of 313,908 views (9% approx). However, in the same time my revenue grew by about 35% (approx). Long may this continue!

What it does show is that there is money to be made from YouTube. I don't earn anything close enough to an annual salary, but it is a nice top-up on the salary that I already earn. I don't know the exact figures, but I understand the breakdown in revenue that YouTube takes about 45c in every dollar, leaving 55c for creators. So if YouTube makes money, so do the creators.

So I encourage developers to try out the YouTube platform - you may not become a millionaire overnight, but even if it is just pocket money it's a nice way to get a little extra income. Do be aware that getting people to watch your video is not easy!

Friday, January 31, 2020

The Land of Milk and Honey - Brexitland

So - the UK leaves the European Union this evening, and presumably the milk and honey will start to flow tomorrow. Good luck to them. I do feel sorry for the 16 million who voted to remain, including majorities in Scotland and Northern Ireland who wanted to remain. I doubt that my life will change one bit as a result of this, but I do worry about the Border and what unintended consequences of leaving the EU might throw up.

Image source: The Courier.

All through the Brexit debate I have followed events with a mixture of bewilderment and disbelief - I still don't understand the decision to leave. In the 2014 Scottish Independence Referendum, people fought in on the basis of "Better Together". These same folks are now telling us that we are "Better Apart". At least the bitching and moaning about Europe that has been going on for years in Britain will stop. They want a trade deal with us despite the fact that they already had a deal that will have been far better than anything they can get in a new deal.

I wish Britain well for the future, but I will not miss you.

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

New YouTube Video: How To... Embed a YouTube Video into a Google Slides Presentation

It is just over five months since I last published a "How To..." video on YouTube - I feel it is time to do another. Last week I attended a presentation where the presenter played a video embedded in a slide. I know that it is not possible to do this in Microsoft PowerPoint, so I asked the presenter how did he do it. It turns out that he used Google Slides - no surprise that Google allows embedded video on its own presentation software, and not Microsoft's. So if you are a PowerPoint user, it is easy to switch to Google Slides for a presentation to embed a YouTube video (Google account required).

Embedding a YouTube presentation in Google Slides turns out to be very easy to do. So I made a short video showing the step-by-step procedure to do this. Here it is, enjoy:

Friday, January 24, 2020

A Simple Post Value Add to a Class

This week, I did something that I never did before in my 18 years of teaching in the College! I sent an email (via our Content Management System: Moodle) to my on-line class summarising all that we had covered in the previous evening's class. Even though it was the first week of the new semester, and it was also the first week for my students who were just starting their course this January - I was surprised at how much we had covered.

The module is a programming module, for many students it was their first time writing any code. Here's is (part of) what I sent to my class the next day:

Following last evening's class, you should be able to do the following (which is a lot for your first day!):
  1. Install R
  2. Install and run RStudio
  3. Explore the RStudio interface (4 quadrants)
  4. Create and save a new R script
  5. Use hashtags to insert comments/note in an R script
  6. Display a simple message in the console ("Hello World")
  7. Navigate and Set your Working Directory every time you start RStudio
  8. Watch out for syntax errors (the typos of programming) - as you have already found out, a misplaced comma can cause havoc
  9. Try to make sense of error messages so that you can fix code that does not work
  10. Use functions - we used print(), read.csv(), head(), tail(), plot(), and ggplot()
  11. Install an R library (we installed ggplot2)
  12. Run/load an R library
  13. Open a file (.CSV) in R and display its contents
  14. Read the contents of a file into a vector (diamondData in our example)
  15. Use R to refer to individual variables (eg, "carat" in the diamondData file)
  16. Be a programmer!
This is not an innovative thing to do - it's very simple, and I'm sure many other educators already do this. I chose to do this the day after to try and motivate students who were subjected to a four hour class in which many had frustrating technical difficulties, plus of course plenty of errors that first time programmers always get. I felt that a "look what you have done already..." message might be useful (as well as motivating) for them.

But when I was compiling the list, I think I'm probably the most surprised person - it is only when I see a list like this that I realise that far from being an introductory class, we did actually cover a lot of material. Obviously, I could put this on a slide for review at the end of a class, but I think that a separate communication rather than a simple slide works better - especially for on-line students. Hopefully I will do a few more of these in future classes.

Monday, January 20, 2020

A New Semester

Later this evening I will be delivering my first class of the new semester - a class on Advanced Business Data Analysis to students on the Higher Diploma in Data Analytics. Most of my teaching now is with H Dip students - I also have final year students for Statistics. The previous semester is not yet over in that there are still some exam processing to complete. I always look forward to semester II - the days get longer and we come out of the dreary winter, and of course there is the end of the semester to look forward to ahead of the summer holidays. The semester is also stretched out a little bit with reading weeks around St Patrick's Day and Easter.

At this stage in their course, students should be well settled in to their studies. On a one year course like the Higher Diploma in Data Analytics - students are half-way through, and are hopefully motivated to stick it out to completion. During semester I, we lost some students who, for a variety of reasons, have dropped out. There seems to be no clear reason why students drop out, but only this morning I got another email from a student announcing that while he liked the course, he was dropping out due to work commitments and a change of job. We also have new students starting out, some of whom I will have for my Programming for Big Data on-line class next Wednesday. It is always nice to meet new students - on day one everybody is very motivated and keen to get started. Many have dreams of changing careers and getting into the Big Data world, starting something new, getting a new job, earning more money, and learning lots of new skills. It can be a daunting prospect for many to be back at College after many years. Attending lectures, completing assignments, studying and preparing for exams, takes serious commitment - especially for those who are also working during the day.

So - to both continuing and new students, welcome to semester II. I do hope it will be an enjoyable learning experience for you. It's likely to be my last semester, so I hope to also enjoy it as both a learning and teaching experience.

Monday, January 06, 2020

0.3% - UK Statistic of the Decade via @guardian #Analytics

Just before Christmas, in an article entitled "Don’t glaze over. This statistic holds the key to UK prosperity" by Hetan Shah in the Guardian newspaper it was reported that "Productivity growth has fallen to 0.3% ", and that The Guardian had "named it the statistic of the decade". Shah writes that productivity in the past 10 years has been "truly terrible". Before the financial crisis productivity in the UK was growing at around 2% each year, but in the last decade that has slumped to an average growth of 0.3% a year. As Shah states - the end of decade report should be that the UK "must try harder".

When compared to Ireland, the UK's productivity is lower, as measured by "Nominal labour productivity per person" (Source: eurostat). Here's a plot of figures for 2010 - 2018 for both countries:

This shows that actual productivity in the UK has been static, while Ireland has recovered considerably since the aftermath of the financial crisis of 2008. Figures for 2019 are not available on the eurostat site - the impact of all the political uncertainty of 2019 is not included.

What above tells us is that productivity in the UK has hardly changed at all over the past decade - it was the same in 2017 and 2018, after the 2016 Brexit referendum. Indeed it is not much changed since 2010 - long before a Brexit referendum was even proposed. Whats all this Brexit fuss about?

Friday, January 03, 2020

Correlation is not Causation #Analytics

A mantra that data analysts/scientist learn very early on is "Correlation is not causation". Measuring the strength of a correlation is usually done using Pearson's or Spearman's Correlation Coefficient (values between -1 and +1). These measures simply tell us whether two variables are related to each other or not. Even if we get a value as high as 0.9 (a strong positive correlation), we still cannot say that a change in one variable is dependent on change in the other. Causation is not established. 

For any two correlated events A and B, the following four relationships are possible:

  1. A causes B
  2. B causes A
  3. A and B are consequences of a common cause, but do not cause each other
  4. There is no connection between A and B, the correlation is coincidental

So what should we do? If a correlation is established, then further investigation is needed to see if there is also a causal relationship. To do this we need a controlled study in the form of an experiment. For example, as you drink more coffee, the number of hours you stay awake increases (see a great list of Common Correlations here). An experiment to test if there is a causal relationship would be easy to set up, for example - get volunteers to drink different amounts of coffee (measured by the same cup size) and time how long they stay awake. It would be important here to have a control group who do not drink any coffee. This experiment should provide strong evidence that there is a causal relationship between drinking coffee and staying awake. 

Image source:

Statistics is not an exact science, mostly because we are dealing with samples instead of populations. While we can be 95% or 99% confident of a correct result, we cannot say 100% - there is always uncertainty. Comparing two variables also involves uncertainty as we are usually also dealing with samples. Be careful with experimental design, as any bias or non-random sampling will compromise your research work.

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

2019 is dead, long live 2020!

So - 2019 is almost over and 2020 is upon us. A new decade begins - this will be my eight decade, which makes me feel old despite only catching the last three months of the 1950s. A quick look back on the year of 2019:

Highlight of the Year
No contest here - this was the trip with Roma and a great bunch of bikers across the 2,848 miles of Route 66 from Chicago to Los Angeles in July. For 14 days we rode our Harley-Davidsons on Main Street America, and enjoyed every second of it. We got to see lots of iconic American sites - the highlights being: the Grand Canyon, Cadillac Range, a corner in Winslow, Arizona, Oatman, Joshua Tree and Petrified Forest parks, and much more. Definitely the trip of a lifetime, but I hope to get a few more of these in for what's left of my lifetime.

Educational Highlight of the Year
In January last I delivered my second module on-line. I really enjoyed this experience and felt comfortable in this environment. I will be doing so again this January (R Programming module) and I find that every time I do it, I get a bit better at teaching in the on-line environment. 

Entertainment Highlight of the Year
40 years after the movie was released, I finally got to see Grease. While I was familiar with a lot of the songs, many I heard for the first time. I did not know the story line - so it was a great evening's entertainment. Hopefully I can get to more shows in 2020.

Technical Highlight of the Year
No doubt about this - I got a Google Pixel 3a phone during the summer, and it is the best phone I ever had (after several iPhones). It just does everything, and of course is the perfect companion for anyone like me who uses a lot of Google's tools and features. Recommended.

YouTube Highlight of the Year
In mid October, my YouTube channel passed the 20,000,000 views landmark figure. Despite getting an official warning from Google/YouTube for violating their terms and conditions, it was still a good year. Views were down on 2018, but revenue and subscriber subscriptions were up. Lots of plans for this channel next year!

Turning 60
I don't feel like I am 60 years old, but on October 7th last - I did turn 60. If I get the "four score years and ten" life allowance, I have three of my four scores already used up. No regrets over the past 60 years, and I look forward to another score plus ten. It has, however, made me think about how to spend the rest of my days - the big plan is to retire in late 2020 and to enjoy myself travelling. There's a whole world out there to see, and I intend to see it. 

Roll on 2020!

Monday, December 30, 2019

YouTube Review of 2019

This past year has been a mixed year for my YouTube Channel. Views (3.1 million) are down considerably from last year's 3.5 million. However, earnings are up due to a splurge in advertising spending on YouTube during the last few months of the year. The number of views continues to follow a familiar weekly and seasonal pattern, with November and early December being the best time of the year:

Click/Tap to Enlarge.
The highest number of views on any one day was 13,915 on 10th December - this compares with the highest number of 15,252 views recorded on the same day in 2018. Right across the year, the number of views has been slightly under what they were the previous year. I have no explanation for this, but I did not publish that many videos in 2019 - I know that it is recommended to publish regularly to keep up viewing numbers, subscriptions, and revenue. The lowest number of views on any one day was 3,691 on 24th December. Curiously, on Christmas Day there were 3,983 views!

In 2019 I "gained" 10,242 subscribers, and "lost" 2,100 for a net gain of 8,142. This means that the channel has 44,646 subscribers in total - if current trends continue this should rise to over 50,000 during 2020, a nice landmark figure to look forward to. I wish I knew how to reach out to these subscribers to gather feedback to improve the channel.

I do have ambitious plans for more new educational videos during 2020. I am a firm believer that the learning-byte sized short "How To..." style video should be free for all to access. If you just at any one time need figure out how to do one thing, then there is no need to subscribe to or purchase a full course.

As always - I am both grateful and humbled that so many people find my short videos helpful and that I can reach out across the world to help them learn something useful.

Saturday, December 28, 2019

My Primary School #Carnew

Me. Carnew N.S. (1965).
Today, while on my way to see my Mum and Dad, I stopped off at Scoil Aodán Naofa (St Aidan's School) in Carnew, south Co Wicklow, where I went to primary school. To me it has always been simply "Carnew National School". I attended this school from 1964 to 1971 (aged 4 to 11).  As it was built in 1958 (the year before I was born), it was a relatively new school at the time. There were four classrooms (seen in first picture below), later extended to six with the addition of two prefab buildings at the back of this building. There are more buildings added since I was at school here.

I have only patchy memories of my time in this school. My first teacher was Mary Keating - a woman who took no nonsense and who ruled the classroom with a ruler. I can barely remember who else was in my class, I did bump into one (BB) last summer after a round of golf in nearby Coolattin - otherwise since 1971 I have rarely met my classmates. I can remember the names of only four teachers: Mary Keating (Junior Infants), Mr Hennessy (3rd class - I forget his first name), Seán Hallahan (4th class), and Frank Fitzgerald (5th class). I did not complete 6th class in Carnew and was sent instead to an Irish school in Trabolgan, Co Cork. I often wonder what would have become of me if I had stayed in Carnew, and not gone to Roscrea for secondary school. I still consider Carnew (Curnoo!) as my home town (even though I was a reared three miles outside the town), as this is where I went to school. Did I have a Curnoo accent (probably), rather than the posh South Dublin one I have now (according to my daughters)? 

There are now forbidding "Trespassers Will Be Prosecuted", "CCTV in Operation", and "Staff Only" signs at the school entrance - I would have loved to checked out the school and to see if the yard at the back is still there. Us country students used to have our lunch outside in shelters (the townies could go home for lunch), and the field beside the yard doubled as Croke Park/Lansdowne Road/Wembley. Alas - I has to look at Google Satellite Maps to see that all has changed since I left 48 years ago in 1971.

My entire life has been involved in education - Carnew National School is where it started.

Carnew National School - old buildings from 1958.
What was my first day at school like (in 1964)?

Friday, December 27, 2019

Decline in Number of Blog Posts

There are five days left in 2019, and I need four more blog posts to avoid falling under 100 annual posts for the first time since 2007. To date I have published 2,184 posts (including this one) - that's a lot of ranting, raving, and bullshitting! I do write about education, family, and in the past few years I have concentrated a bit more on data analytics and statistics. Overall - since a high of 262 posts in 2011 the number of posts has been declining on an annual basis. The exception is 2016 when I did an experiment to see if I could write a post every day. 

Number of Blog Posts by Year.

I don't have an explanation as to why I am writing less and less posts. Very few people read them, so it is very much a personal project to keep doing so. While I am an academic making a living as a lecturer, I am not engaged in research and writing academic papers. I should be, but I'm not. So blogging is my only publishing outlet. I like to comment on contemporary education topics and data related issues, but it is very much in the form of my thoughts on certain subjects. It is sometimes hard to think of something to write about, but I intend to keep going. Just three more posts in the next four days and I will hit the 100 target.

Monday, December 23, 2019

Time for holidays #HappyChristmas

Irish coffee glass.jpg
Image source: jules / stone soupCC BY 2.0Link
Today is the last day at work for most people, though many will have taken today off - especially those travelling. It is a quiet day in the College, and the roads were also very quiet coming into Dublin too. Despite this, it is one of my favourite days of the year. We have a tradition in the College to wind up the calendar year with Irish Coffees in the staff canteen - a great get-together with some festive cheer. 

The past semester seemed to have passed me by very quickly. I had the same modules as in the previous year and only minor updates were required to deliver them again - so not so much preparation for classes. I also managed to stay on top of continuous assessment grading - it's great to reach the end of the semester and not have this hanging over me. It was with a little tinge of sadness when I finished each module - I may not be teaching three of the four modules again. I will especially miss the Business Data Analysis module - I have come to love teaching statistics since I started doing so in September 2012.

January will be busy as I will have about 150 exams scripts and projects to grade. Once again I will not have any new modules, and will have just two Statistics classes and one programming class. The biggest thing that I will be participating in next year is the Programmatic Review of the Higher Diploma in Data Analytics. The documentation required for programmatic review is horrendous - I am not looking forward to this one bit. The length of time it takes is also huge. Even though this is just a one year programme, it takes a year to develop. The review will start in January 2020, and will be presented to a panel sometime in late 2020. Once confirmed (early 2021), we will then be able to deliver it for the first time in September 2021, with the first graduates receiving their Diplomas in November 2022. It seems such a long time away before the first students will graduate.

Merry Christmas Everyone!

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

"If you want to be a great data scientist, you have to know some basic statistics" via @DataScienceCtrl

An interesting set of blog posts that I've been reading recently is hosted on Data Science Central and is written by Stephanie Glen. Her recent post "Statistics for Data Science in One Picture" captures the essence of Statistics in an easy to understand graphic that should aid students in grasping this widely variable subject. I intend to refer to this graphic in my next set of Introduction to Statistics notes. Students reading this post should check out the Data Science Central blog.

Glen's post got me thinking about what Statistics are essential for a Data Scientist to know about. Her graphic below covers basic probability and statistics - but does not mention actual tests like ANOVA and Chi-Square, which are behind everything you see on this chart:

Image source: Data Science Central (by kind permission of Stephanie Glen).

When I finished my postgraduate studies (in 1987!) I can remember saying to myself thank goodness I will never have to perform multivariate analysis or an ANOVA again. Little did I know at the time that 25 years later I would be teaching two modules on Statistics, and that this subject would become a hugely enjoyable part of my academic life. Statistics is the Science of Data, and if we are to be analytical and accurate with our data analysis - the study of statistics must form part of our training.

I doubt that many data analytical reports being written today will contain the results of a t Test (for comparison of two normally distributed data sets) or a two-way ANOVA (Analysis of Variance between three or more samples). But there will be charts and data tables so that links, trends, patterns, and relationships can be identified and analysed. Dashboards can summarize huge amounts of data in a small space, but I've never seen one that displays a p value.

However, if you want to classify data, make predictions and recommendations through machine learning - then you have to start with Bayesian statistics as Glen suggests in her chart. If you want to decide whether to include or exclude outlying data - then you have to understand central tendency and probability distributions. If you want to search for clusters or groups of data - then you have to study methods such as PCA (Principal Component Analysis) and correlation. If you want to take the guesswork out of data analysis - then you have to perform statistical tests and understand p values.

In short, if you want to be a great data scientist - you have to study statistics!

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

On Being a 60 Year Old Data Scientist

A 60-year old Data Scientist.
I read with interest Stephanie Glen's Blog post on Data Science Central "On Being a 50 Year Old Data Scientist". She is 52, and asks the question: "Should the over 50 crowd put down their textbooks and pick up their gardening tools?". She reports from research that many scientists do their best work after the age of 43. There is no age limit to becoming a Data Scientist - I have had several students in their fifties in my Data Analytics classes. The oldest student I have had in my class was 70 years old.

I'm not sure if I can count myself as a Data Scientist - but I do anyway. Though my PhD (1987) was based on growth of marine shellfish - it was essentially a big data study in the early days of computing based on the thousands of measurements I took. This is my seventh year as a Lecturer in Data Analytics - during this time I have taught modules on Statistics, R Programming, and Data Visualization. I certainly don't feel I am too old to be a Data Scientist. But like Glen says in her article, there is a definite "reality check" - especially in the United States where education is so expensive (a Masters in Data Science could set you back up to $54,000). Trying to get on the promotion ladder could be difficult when starting so late in life. Glen's last question is: "Are you going to be able to recoup your investment in your remaining working life? You be the judge".

I judge that it is worthwhile! This evening I will be hosting an on-line Information Session and Sample Class for the Higher Diploma in Data Analytics, and I hope that there are people older than 43 attending the session. The class can be accessed here, more details (including registration) are available here. Aspiring students of all ages welcome.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Growth in Python Programming #DataAnalytics #RvPython

Recruiting company indeed published some interesting findings last month about trends in Tech Skills over the past five years. They compare the top 20 tech skills as a percentage of all Tech Jobs between 2014 and 2019 - here's a summary of their findings:

Image source:
The standout changes are the growth in Python (123%), Amazon Web Services - AWS (418%), Machine Learning (439%), Azure (1107%), and docker (4162%). No real surprises there, but what is a surprise to me is the absence of the R programming language from both the 2014 and 2019 lists. R is a popular programming language in the data analysis domain, and we use it a lot on the Higher Diploma in Data Analytics at NCI. It is the language I teach in the Programming for Big Data module, and I also use it in my statistics and data visualization classes. Most students on the course use R for projects and assignments. 

As the Higher Diploma programme is due for its five year programmatic review, we will need to have a debate of what the preferred language to use is. Based on the indeed data above, it would appear that Python should take preference over R. I am of the opinion that if you can learn one language, that other programming languages should be easier to adapt to - but why add an extra step if Python is the tool of choice for most jobs? Python is also regarded by many colleagues as easier to learn than R, but since I have never used it I can't really judge. More research will be needed to inform us better of what choice to make. Changing a language in a module has many knock-on consequences for course resources, exercises, labs, and assessments - as well as of course requiring Lecturers and Teaching Assistants to be skilled in Python.

Friday, December 06, 2019

Most Watched Videos in Ireland this Year

So - a vlogger by the name of James Charles, who until today I had never heard of, had the most watched video in Ireland this year (why do they publish a list like this when there is still 3.5 weeks left in 2019?). Also on the list are the excellent 2 Johnnies and Foil, Arms & Hog - hilarious stuff! The full top ten is available here. This got me thinking about what are the top ten videos viewed in Ireland from my own channel.

So far this year there have been 22,939 views of my videos (out of a worldwide total of 2,917,601 for 2019). Judging by the list, many of these views must be coming from students. The top 8 are all "By Hand" videos, essentially students are checking out my videos for exam preparation (which is what I intend in publishing them). For example - for the top viewed video in Ireland about how to perform an ANOVA test by hand, 172 out of 262 views were between the 6th and 10th of January. My exam took place on 10th January.

Here's my (modest) list of Top 10 viewed videos in Ireland this year - a very long way from James Charles (whose video has 48,078,143 worldwide views).

Click/Tap to enlarge.

Wednesday, December 04, 2019

12 Years on Facebook - Is It Worth It?

Image source: Wikipedia.
Yesterday I received a notification from Facebook that I had joined up 12 years ago - so on 3rd December, 2007 I signed up to the platform that now boasts 2.45 billion monthly active users (as of September 2019). At that time Facebook was only three years old and still relatively new. I even abandoned it for a while in 2009, but got sucked back in. So - is Facebook worth it?

I review my Facebook feed in the morning - it is part of my routine now where I check headlines and interesting articles in The Irish Independent and The Guardian over my tea and brown bread. Usually I have time to check Facebook as well, but rarely find much of valuable interest. Initially I enjoyed the activity of relatives and friends - seeing what they were doing and wishing Happy Birthday to people I would otherwise have no idea when their birthday was. Younger people no longer seem to participate - preferring Instagram instead. I used to enjoy seeing what my cousins/nieces/nephews got up to.  I am "friends" with some people I have not met in many years - some are very active (ie, daily), and while it can be interesting to see that so-and-so has checked in to Heathrow Airport, this is not of much value. I have also been "unfriended" by an old schoolmate - a weird feeling!

I do post to Facebook - this blog allows me to post anything I write, which keeps my activity up. I often check in and review places, plus post the occasional photo when at a match or something interesting. But I'm moving more towards using WhatsApp for this now - sharing with close family and friends in the privacy of WhatsApp seems more attractive than Facebook for much content. 

For 48 years of my life I managed without Facebook. It is a "time suck" - watching funny videos can suddenly turn into 15-20 minutes of re-living "Only Fools and Horses" or the "Mash Report" (one of my favourites). On balance I find that reminders of birthdays and seeing celebrations, like birthdays/weddings/parties, of other people is always interesting. Here's to the next 12 years!