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:

Sunday, March 18, 2018

First day in Havana

Today was my first time in Havana and what a great experience it is. They say it is a step back in time and I guess this is partly right. The cars! The cars! The cars! We had a tour planned for the morning and the first part was in a open top 1948 American classic with a noisy Russian Volga engine. It rattled around the streets of Havana and we loved every minute of it. Our destination was Revolution Square a big wide expanse with a monument to Jose Marti, a pre-revolution Cuban hero. Our guide brought us around on foot through several squares and lots of narrow streets. I brought cigars in a government run shop that sold just rum and cigars. I’ll get rum another day.

News of snow at home has reached us, but it is 29C here - I went to a pool for the afternoon for some beer and the Irish Times crossword. WiFi is very limited (as are many things in Cuba) - only available in the hotel lobby. There are two worlds here - one populated by the Cuban people, and the other by tourists. Amidst the run down buildings there are beautiful hotels - it is easy to feel wealthy and privleged here. A few photos from the day taken with my Windows phone...

Friday, March 16, 2018

Baby Boomers and their Technology

A recent study of older Americans by the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) showed "that over 90% of adults over 50 own a computer or laptop, 70% have a smartphone, and over 40% own a tablet". In an article: Getting Connected: Older Americans Embrace Technology to Enhance Their Lives by G. Oscar Anderson, we are told that "older adults are using a variety of devices to stay informed, shop and connect with others" - the data are nicely summarized by Statista below:
Infographic: Baby Boomers Embrace Technology | Statista You will find more infographics at Statista

There are no real surprises in this, other than wondering what type of phones are the 22% of 50-59 year olds that don't have a smartphone are using. The Baby Boomer generation people (like me) born between 1945 and 1960, are now reaching retirement age. We grew up without WiFi, smartphones, computers, and Facebook. I guess like many Boomers, I wonder what our lives would have been like had we had the technology of today to grow up with. Many of us will feel that we will have missed out on the technology that the digital natives of today take for granted. 

Baby Boomers are not old (yet), and we love our technology. Our lives are different, and possibly better, because of technology. I think the above chart will look a lot different in another 10 years - there will definitely be more wearable technology as more and more devices for health services will be necessary for older people. Home Assistants will also be become as ubiquitous as the smartphone, with lots of services like health checks and security being standard on such assistants. 

Embracing technology? Bring it on!

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Teaching as a Career?

Image source: Clipartion.
It is reported by Kevin Doyle in the Irish Independent today: "Almost 400 new college spots created amid demand for teaching courses". This is an announcement to encourage more students to enrol in primary and second level teaching courses - particularly for STEM subjects. This is partly to address "severe shortages of teachers in some subjects", but also in response to the "number of students starting secondary schools is increasing". Good planning I think you'll agree, though the extra places will bring the "number of places to more than 1,000" - I hope this is enough!

Why does anyone want to be a teacher? For those intending to go into primary level, they mostly have to make the choice as an 18 year old in sixth class in school. For second level, you have to get a degree first and then go into teacher training. For third level, there is no training - but it will take at least 6 to 7 years to get a PhD before you can become a lecturer. In the past I have heard people say that teaching was a "vocation" - I don't know anybody who believes this. Some people will have always wanted to be a teacher, while others (like me) will end up doing it in a roundabout route. Like every profession - you have to want to do it.

My advice to students thinking of a career in education is that it is well worth the effort. The personal rewards are great - though you won't get rich. When you see a student graduating and you can say to yourself "I had a part to play in this" - there is a great deal of satisfaction. All of the time - you are helping others, at times you need to have a lot patience and passion to succeed. Yes - there are frustrations (mostly to do with administration work and student behaviour), but you will develop your own strategies for how you will best deal with any frustration. The positives greatly out way the negatives. I would also advise students not to go into teaching straight away after leaving school or college. Get out into the world so that you can share these real-life experiences later with your students. If you want to be a French teacher, go to live and work in France, West Africa, or Canada. If you want to be a science teacher, why not try to work in industry first? If you want to be a history or geography teacher - travel and experience the rich culture of other countries. All this need not cost a huge amount, but I think it preferable to going into teacher training first.

Teaching is a wonderful career - but is not for everyone. One of the most common reasons to become a teacher is to make a difference in the lives of as many students as you can - so says Michelle Manno in a teaching blog post: "Reasons for Becoming a Teacher". She also tells us that as a teacher "you are more than just an educator: you are a mentor, a confidant and a friend". Teaching is truly a means to Change Lives Through Education.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Is Third-Level Education worth it? Maybe not - says David McWilliams

Albert Einstein (c1947).
Image source: US Library of Congress.
It won't come as any surprise to readers of this blog that I would not be in full agreement with David McWilliams who wrote in Saturday's Irish Times that "Third-level education is yesterday’s idea". This "idea" is perhaps surprising coming from an Adjunct Professor in Trinity College, the article seems to be a bit of rant against "credentialism"  (and having to go to the bother of filling out CAO forms in his family). McWilliams does not propose abolishing Third-level education or anything like that. The gist of his article is that the "value of stock of knowledge is falling because anyone can access it online", and that "it matters less whether an institution blesses you or not". Perhaps McWilliams is simply following the advice of the great Albert Einstein: "Never memorize something that you can look up"?

I think McWilliams here is a little bit guilty of regducing third-level education to simply being an exercise in garnering a blessing from a university or college in the guise of a credential on a piece of parchment. Of course we all (including McWilliams) know that it is much more than that. But he may have some argument in questioning the need for credentials in the modern world. Technology it seems is making this "yesterday's idea".

Technology has changed everything - or has it? Was it not always thus? Josiah F. Bumstead, writing in the book "The Black Board in the Primary School: A Manual for Teachers" in 1841 recalls asking a Clergyman on a school committee if the school had a blackboard. "No" replied the clergyman, "it is of no use to get them. If we had blackboards, we have no teachers to use them to advantage". Bumstead was of course astonished at this (so he wrote the book) - 175 years later we should be equally astonished if our teachers and students could not use technology to advantage. What will the David McWilliams' of this world be writing about in another 175 years?

In the same newspaper, Irene Falvey writes that her "arts degree has served me very well". Her degree was part of her path to lots of reading, travel, working broad, and getting a job related to her degree. Now that's more like it!

Wednesday, March 07, 2018

"unfair"? Making up for lost class time

Image source: RSVPlive
This morning it is reported in the Irish Independent that the Irish National Teachers' Organisation (INTO) have said that it would be "very unfair" to shorten Easter holidays to make up for days lost due to bad weather. This might sound like a little bit of moaning to those in the private sector, but the statement comes just two weeks before the Easter holidays, and no doubt teachers as well as students and their parents will have plans in place for the two week break. I myself am taking a break during my own College's two week hiatus in Semester II as our reading week is followed immediately by an Easter break week. I agree it would be "very unfair" to ask me to make up for lost classes (I lost two days of classes) by rescheduling missed classes during the reading week and break (and thus forcing me to cancel an already paid for holiday). The snow and storm Emma was no one's fault, and due to the closeness of the Easter break we cannot blame the INTO for its stance. For once I am in agreement with a teaching union.

It's easy to forget that this country does not experience extreme weather events very often and that we are not really prepared very well for them. Imagine if countries like Finland, Canada, and Russia came to a halt every time a few inches of snow fell? What we do need is a plan for when things like this happen - this is proper Risk Management. We can't stop the snow falling, but we can plan for what happens when days are lost like in the past week. While the risk of schools and colleges closing due to bad weather is quite small in this country - storms Ophelia and Emma have meant that at least four days have been lost this academic year. I will make up much lost time by shortening breaks and making my classes last as close to the hour as possible. If needs be, I will schedule an online or recorded class. But this is me micro-managing my own classes - others will do things differently. For State run schools where thousands of students, parents, and teachers are affected, it should not be beyond the might of the Department of Education to plan for making up lost time in all schools. For example, there could be increased class times for a short period, extra after hours or holiday time classes for exam students, use of technology to deliver on-line, and of course - pay teachers the extra that is needed to make this work. 

While there will be little appetite amongst many for using holiday time for extra classes for exam students, let's not forget that thousands of them will flock to grind schools this Easter paying a lot of money for extra classes. My view is that it is the Dept of Education that should at least be controlling this, if not providing the extra classes via the school system itself. The Dept does provide "advice" and "options" - but nothing concrete. leaving it to schools themselves to figure out.

Thursday, March 01, 2018

Irish 101 complete!

FutureLearn, part of DCU, are in the process of creating basic Irish language courses aimed at people from other countries who want to learn a bit about Ireland as well as pick up the cúpla focal. Their first course: Irish 101: An Introduction to Irish Language and Culture, is now finished. I took this course out of curiosity as well as a personal journey to re-visit the Irish language. I even managed to complete it! I am now enrolled in Irish 102: An Introduction to Irish Language and Culture which starts on 26th March next. Both are short courses with a suggested four hours a week study.

The experience of learning Irish again was a mixed one for me. I'm not proud of the fact that I cannot hold even a modest conversation in Irish. From 1964 to 1977, I probably had Irish classes every school day. I even attended 6th class in an all Irish school in Trabolgan (Co Cork) from September 1971 to May 1972. I wasn't particularly good at speaking Irish, but I was awarded a Fáinne Nua at the end of this school year (I think every student got one!). I scored a D in honours Irish in the Intermediate (Junior) Certificate exam, while I got a C in ordinary level Irish in the Leaving Certificate. Since 1977 I have almost never had the need to have a conversation in Irish. Despite this, I was surprised at how familiar the Irish covered in the first course was to me. It has to be said that there was a lot of Dia dhiut and  Is maith liom in it - basic stuff. Quite a bit of grammar was covered (which I had totally forgotten), which was a bit boring. There was a good mix of animation, video, text, and quizzes - well done to the Future Learn e-Learning team for developing content that holds student interest well.

I'm looking forward to Irish 102 where among the topics we will be learning how to discuss the weather, and tell the time in Irish. Anyone interested in taking the course can enrol hereBígí linn – join us!

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Snow means no classes #sneachta

With the whole country shutting down and joking about bread for sale on Donedeal, it was inevitable that NCI would close too because of the bad weather. Many of our students travel long distances to College and it would have been unfair to expect them to attend lectures. Classes for Thursday and Friday are also cancelled. Interestingly, online classes are cancelled too.

Snowmen (snowpersons?) in Blackrock this morning.
The word "cancelled" is an interesting one. We are in week 6 of the 12 week semester, and cancelling one week's worth of classes will put a lot of pressure on lecturers to complete a 12-week curriculum in 11 weeks - or to be more accurate, 7 weeks of lectures in 6 weeks. I'd prefer if the word used was "postponed", but with hundreds of classes being cancelled over the next three days, it will be very difficult to reschedule everything college-wide.

I have two evening classes (Weds and Thurs) and I cannot afford to lose one class. If I cannot reschedule the classes, I have the option to cover the material on-line or in a recorded lecture. I could also make sure not to set any exam questions based on material due to be covered at the end of the module in case I don't get to it. Another alternative is to speed up, but much feedback from my students tells me that I go too fast already. I could also ensure that I stick to the curriculum and not get side-tracked as I often do. My classes always start on time, but I could shorten breaks and continue until last minute.

I hope all our students stay safe and warm, and that they wrap up well in front of the fire while studying!

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Wedding Bells for Eileen and Peter

I am just home after the wedding of my niece Eileen to Peter in Kilkenny - a great day was had by all. It was a great family occasion and we celebrated the happy couple's special day in style. I decided to take a lot of photos with my 10-year old Canon EOS 350D. When I got it I found it to be a fantastic camera, but it has been surpassed in quality by the iPhone. I had a lot of difficulty with focusing it, and ended up having to delete many out-of-focus shots. I did get some nice ones below to share.

I wish Eileen and Peter all the happiness that they deserve for the rest of their lives - best of luck to you both!

Mother and Grandfather of the Bride.

All Married Now!

The Happy Couple arrive at Lyrath Estate.

With Roma, Claire, and Vicki.

Chris and Kathleen.

With my little sister.

Brendan and his Grandfather admiring a 2012 Brenchley.

First minute of wedded bliss.


David and his Grandmother

With my two Bros.

The Boss enjoying a pint.

The Best Man Michael with a well earned pint.

The wedding party.

Mother and Bride.

My Mum and Dad.

Cousin Lauralea and Joe.

With Roma.

Kathleen and Chris.

The Bride and her Grandmother.

The Happy Couple.
Granddad dispensing advice to Claire.


Vicki and Claire with Grandparents.

The O'Loughlins.