Friday, November 27, 2015

How To... Perform a Chi-Square Test (By Hand)

Sometimes it is the easiest of tasks that takes the longest time. In my Statistics classes we cover the Chi-Square (Goodness of Fit) test to see if there is a significant difference between observed and expected values. It is one of the easiest statistics tests to do - all you need are two values and then be able to add, subtract, divide, and square a number. So when I decided to record this I though maybe one or two takes would see me through. 27 takes later I recorded the version below which is now on YouTube. Somehow I got tongue-twisted and made small errors, especially with the calculator. As with all of my short videos (this one in 7 mins 32 secs), if I make an error I simply discard and start again. So what should have taken less than half an hour probably took about four hours to do!

Thursday, November 26, 2015

NCI Open Day

Yesterday the College held an Open Day for Leaving Certificate students and it was my turn and pleasure to be present at the School of Computing stand. Apart from the fact that the age gap between the average 18 year old student and me is now up to 38 years, I very much enjoyed chatting to the young prospective students.

Image Source:
Almost every single student that came to chat with me at the stand enquiring about our degrees in Computing wanted to specialize in gaming. They showed great enthusiasm for gaming and were mostly already keen gamers (I was beside a virtual reality stand that was very popular). I pointed out to them all that they will be graduating in 2020 and that a lot can change between now and then. This got me thinking that it is very difficult to advise students about course choices for a career that will not start for another five years. All I can do is tell them what's hot right now (analytics and cloud computing), that they may be working for companies that don't exist yet, doing jobs that don't exist yet either, and using technologies that haven't been invented yet. Leaving Cert students are bombarded with options - let's all hope that they make the right choices for themselves and that their chosen course will lead to a fruitful experience in College and a career that will make them productive and happy.

Next Open Day: Saturday 23rd January, 2016 (10:00 - 13:00) - see for details.

Monday, November 23, 2015

How To... Perform a One-Way ANOVA Test (By Hand)

There are several methods to calculate the F statistic in a one-way Analysis of Variance (ANOVA) test - I learned the method in the video below from the good folks in the Mathematics Support Services at NCI. All the methods are based on calculating F by taking into account the differences within each sample and between each sample when you want to see if there are differences between three or more samples.

ANOVA involves a lot of calculations, especially in larger sample sizes - but the good news is that it is mostly just adding, multiplying, dividing, and squaring numbers. The video below took several takes to get right, and at 16 mins 27 secs is bar far my longest video on YouTube. I hope my viewers will not get bored before the end and drop off!

Friday, November 20, 2015

"Crowd Tickler" Dara Ó Briain at Vicar Street

A nice birthday present this year was two tickets to comedian Dara Ó Briain at the intimate location of Vicar Street - Roma and I went along last evening for a belly full of laughs and a fantastic stand-up comedy show. Jokes and funny stories were delivered in Ó Briain's casual and sarcastic style. We heard personal as well as general humour on differences between Irish and British people, how the Channel Tunnel was built, parenting children, psychology, Comic Relief, sincerity, and many more laugh-a-minute jokes. He is particularly good at inventing stories from material contributed by the front row audience - a guy called "Napoleon" came in for a lot of slagging.

The show started at 8.40 and ended at 11.10 - two and a half hours (with a 20 min break in the middle). Ó Briain talked non-stop and is definitely value for money - I'll be watching out more shows when next he is back in Ireland. 

Here's a flavour of his current show...

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

How To... Calculate Student's t statistic (Equal Variance) by Hand

Continuing my new series of Statistics calculations by hand, I have released a "How To..." video Student's t test for unpaired (independent) samples with equal variance. This is one of three options when conducting a t test to compare the means of two samples to see of there is a significant difference between the samples (or not). It is slightly awkward in that you first have to determine if the variances of the two samples are equal or unequal with an F test before you can use the formula for t. In addition, if the variance is equal (as in the video below), you must pool the variance. 

At 12 minutes and 6 seconds this is one of my longest videos, and it took a few takes to get it right. In my Statistics exams I set a problem similar to this, and it is a solution like this that I want students to provide in their answers.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Cappagh Hospital Trust via @cappaghhospital

Image Source:
In the late 1960s while trying to be Tarzan in the hay shed at home in Ballingate, I managed to break two of my fingers in my left hand swinging from a rope tied to a beam at the roof of the shed. I can still remember the pain and was brought first to Dr Doyle in Carnew who sent me to Temple Street Children's Hospital in Dublin. I remember two things in Temple Street: One was that X-rays of my broken fingers were displayed to medical students by the attending doctor - it was then decided to send me to Cappagh Hospital as I would need an operation. The other memory is about the witch, masquerading as a nurse, who tied my fingers in a splint. I was screaming in pain and she had no sympathy, telling me to shut up, and that big boys don't cry. I spent 10 days in Cappagh and my memory is of a ward full of boys, many with injuries like mine - but I also remember many with Polio. In contrast to Temple Street, the nursing staff were very gentle - and I certainly have fond memories of the care and education (we had classes) I received there.

On the radio this morning I heard former (and disgraced) British Cabinet Minister Jonathan Aiken on the Today with Seán O'Rourke Show, being interviewed about his time as a small boy in Cappagh when he was suffering from TB. The purpose of his interview was to publicize the Cappagh Hospital Foundation who are raising money for their Orthopedic Centre (you can donate here). Aiken also has fond memories of his care in Cappagh, in particular a nun called Sr Finbarr. I remember the nuns being good to us - I wonder if I had the same nun taking care of me?

I have never been back to Cappagh Hospital and it is easy for events from over 40 years ago to be forgotten. Since then (and before) thousands of Irish children have been taken care of in a safe and loving environment. Keep up the good work, and thanks for the memories Jonathan Aiken!

Monday, November 16, 2015

How To... Test for Equal and Unequal Variance (F Test) by Hand

I am finding my new videos showing statistics calculations by hand useful for my students - reaction so far has been positive. When comparing the means of two samples, we use a t-test to determine if there is a significant difference between the means. Students often find the decision as to which t-test formula to use a confusing one. First, they have to decide if the two samples are paired (dependent) or unpaired (independent). If  the samples are unpaired, you then have to determine if the variances of the two samples are equal or unequal. Quite often researchers assume that the variances are equal, but we need to conduct what is called an F test first to be sure. The F statistic is easy to calculate, it is simply the larger sample variance divided by the smaller sample variance. In the video below I show how this is done by hand (includes calculations of variance):

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Bourke Gathering Castlebar

Happy 90th Birthday Joe Bourke!
Yesterday evening I had the pleasure of joining the extended Bourke family in Breaffy House, Castlebar, to celebrate the 90th birthday of Roma's uncle - Joe Bourke. All descendants of Joe "The Boss" Bourke (the birthday boy's grandfather) were invited to meet up with long lost cousins. Roma's grandfather was Gussie Bourke - one of nine in his family, hence the large gathering of descendants. I'm told there were about 300 people of all ages. This of course included a lot of "non-Bourkes" like me, and I tended to mix a lot with my fellow out-laws for the evening.

Great to see Joe Bourke in great form at 90 years of age - as he said himself, red wine and cigarettes are keeping him going. There were lots of old photos on display, and there was plenty of "who's who" questions being asked. It was a long night  - the Bourkes and their wives/husbands/partners are great craic. Nice to have such a big family gathering that is not a wedding or a funeral.

Friday, November 13, 2015

NCI Graduation - A Special Day

Wednesday this week was my favourite day of the year, when about 800 students graduated from the National College of Ireland. I always feel a great sense of pride in the students who have reached this day - all can be rightly proud of themselves with their achievements, whether it is a short course for a Certificate or a Masters that they studied. It is especially nice for me to see students that I have taught along their way to picking up their scroll from the President of the College - I like to think that I had a small contribution to their success. It is a great day for students, though Faculty are not thanked at the ceremony - it is a great day for us too.

This year was my 12th NCI Graduation Ceremony. For the first time I did not take part in the Academic procession or sit at the podium in front of all. Instead it was a very special day for my family as my daughter Kate graduated with a Higher Diploma in Data Analytics. I played the role of a proud Dad for the day.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Lucky 13

In November 2002 I became a part-time lecturer in the Associate Faculty at the National College of Ireland. Just a month earlier I had taken voluntary redundancy from the e-Learning company SmartForce, and even though I had a very generous redundancy package in my pocket I was at a loss at the age of 43 as to what I would do after thirteen years working for the same company. A former colleague (DK) in SmartForce who had just begun a new job in NCI and contacted me to see if I was interested in some part-time work. I will be forever grateful for this contact - thank you DK! In just 5 months time I will have been working longer in NCI than in SmartForce.

In the dot com boom of the late 1990s and very early 2000s, I had never thought of leaving SmartForce. I had often regretted that I had not followed up on an academic career after graduating from Trinity with a PhD in 1988, but the money was good in SmartForce and I was very happy there. Things changed dramatically in the summer of 2002 when SmartForce was taken over by Skillsoft - in a short space of time I went from being a loyal company man to wanting to be the first out the door when redundancies were announced. 

National College of Ireland.
Image source:
My first class in NCI was a guest lecture to 4th year BSc in Computing students - the topic was Groupware (I used Lotus Notes), and I remember preparing for it for several days beforehand. At the same time the College had just started a Diploma in e-Learning, and the opportunity presented itself for some part-time work. Bingo - I had my first classes. When a vacancy arose for an Assistant Lecturer position in the summer of 2003 I was successful in landing a permanent role. At last I had fulfilled an ambition for an academic career.

Today I had had dozens of "Likes" on my Linkedin profile - many thanks to the students and colleagues (past and present) who have "liked" my work anniversary. I have loved (almost) every minute of working in NCI. Today is Graduation Day at the College, and it is a very special day personally and professionally. My daughter Kate graduates along with the many students who have been in my classes over the past four years.

It has been a incredibly lucky 13 years for me.

Friday, November 06, 2015

"an end to the college degree’s unprecedented run as the only credential that matters" via @skonnard

This week I had the pleasure of briefly meeting Aaron Skonnard, CEO of Pluralsight, at an event in the College. Pluralsight provides a vast library of on-line courses in areas ranging from personal development to programming. The College has signed up to Pluralsight and many of our IT students use this as an extra resource - especially for project work. 

Image source: LA Times.
Coincidentally I read a post in Techcrunch by Aaron this week entitled "Edtech’s Next Big Disruption Is The College Degree", in which he predicts that by the end of 2020 that "the traditional degree will have made room on its pedestal for a new array of modern credentials that are currently gaining mainstream traction as viable measures of learning, ability and accomplishment". He makes a strong argument that the centuries old traditions of going to college and graduating with a degree is now being challenged - "powerful forces are converging to challenge the assumption that a college degree is the only way". He points to "monumentals skills gaps" in the workplace and in graduates that a degree does not fill. Qualifications such as "badges, course certificates and dynamic assessments" are gaining more currency in the workplace where specific skill sets are required.

While I'm not in agreement that 2020 is a likely timeline for a "new credentialing movement to reach its tipping point", or that a KPI dashboard approach to "vet, assess and track the skills and abilities" of graduates - I do agree that technology will revolutionize the degree system. Richard Branson recently stated that "university course lengths should be halved" - perhaps technology and credentialing will achieve this?

Education pioneers such as Aaron Skonnard will succeed in turning our traditional systems up-side-down - it's inevitable. Remember the six most dangerous words in the English language? "We've always done it this way"!

Wednesday, November 04, 2015

Outrage at the Banks - What's New? #BOI via @independent_ie

The Irish Independent reports today that there is Outrage over new BoI restrictions on cash transactions - the Bank of Ireland is to restrict cash withdrawals and lodgements in its branches, and have told its customers that they cannot withdraw less than €700 at a cash desk. It is also moving to limit cash deposits and cheque lodgements made with the assistance of a staff member, to amounts over €3,000. 

Image Source: Shannonside News.
At first I viewed this as part of the inevitable influence of technology in banking, and for the most part I have supported this. It is very handy to lodge cheques using an in-branch machine with a card and PIN without having to fill out a form and queue for a cashier. Every bank branch has more machines, and less cashiers than before.

But... yesterday I had need to lodge a cheque in my Bank of Ireland branch on Georges' Street in Dún Laoghaire. I arrived just after opening and the bank was not too busy with customers. There are three lodgement machines in this branch, but one was already "Out of Service" - 33% of capacity unavailable. I had to queue behind other customers for the other two machines. I'm guessing it was about 10 minutes before I got my turn at the machine (at which I quickly managed to lodge my cheque with no problems I have to say). All this time there was nobody in the queue for the one cashier that was open! I never thought I'd see the day when I had to queue for machines and there would be no queue for the cashier. Banks don't care about us having to queue, as long as they can reduce the number of people that they employ - we will still have to wait.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Quiz in aid of Niall Mellon Educate

Last evening I had the pleasure of being Quiz Master at a fund-raiser hosted by the Killiney Lions Club in aid of Mellon Educate in the Rochestown Lodge Hotel. Rome will be part of the building blitz in Capetown next month to build a school.

Writing a quiz is hard work - I have now written several quizzes. Getting the balance between difficult questions and easy ones is hard. You don't want a quiz to be too hard so that people feel stupid for not knowing the answers, or too easy so that it is not challenging. I try to write a round of questions where some questions should be easy for everyone to get, and to also have one or two hard ones that the top teams will be the only ones to get. I also like to have questions that will generate discussion and even argument among team members. When I read out the answers I love to hear groans and people saying "I was right!".

Here are questions from tow of the rounds - the first set was a numbers round which had some teams in difficulty. See how many you get right:

  1. How many days is it until Christmas Day?
  2. Including Pluto, how many planets are there in the solar system?
  3. How many furlongs are there in a mile?
  4. How many points did Dublin score in this year’s men’s Senior All-Ireland football final against Kerry?
  5. What is the maximum number of CAO points that you can get in the Leaving Certificate?
  6. How many cities are there on the island of Ireland?
  7. How many sides are there in a heptagon?
  8. How many tablespoons are there in a cup?
  9. How many golf clubs are allowed in a bag during competitions?
  10. How many pockets are there on a casino roulette wheel?

The TV round was the easiest - six teams got 10/10, see how you do:

  1. Name one of the two current presenters on this year’s ITV show “The X Factor”.
  2. What was the surname of Del Boy and Rodney in “Only Fools and Horses”?
  3. Who played the part of Fr Dougal Maguire in the TV series “Fr Ted”?
  4. Who is the presenter of RTÉ’s “Kitchen Hero” programme?
  5. In what TV series would you find the characters of Daenerys Targaryen, Ned Stark, and Jaime Lannister?
  6. In what 2015 BBC drama series did Irish actor Aidan Turner play the lead role?
  7. Name the four Teletubbies.
  8. Earlier this year British actress Anne Kirkbride died: what character did she play in a well-known TV soap series?
  9. “Here we come/ Walking down the street/ We get the funniest looks from/ Everyone we meet...” Which 1960s TV series were these the opening lines of the theme tune?
  10. Which sit-com was set in the fictional seaside resort of Walmington-on-Sea?

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

How To Be Productive

I was never one for paying too much heed to advice from people who produce lists about how to be better at almost anything. Viktor Hanacek (writing for Medium) gives us a new list intended for marketers: "7 Things You Need To Stop Doing To Be More Productive, Backed By Science". When I saw the "backed by science" I decided to take a look - here are his "7 things":

  1. Stop working overtime and increase your productivity
  2. Don’t say “yes” too often
  3. Stop doing everything yourself and start letting people help you
  4. Stop being a perfectionist
  5. Stop doing repetitive tasks and start automating it
  6. Stop guessing and start backing up your decisions with data
  7. Stop working, and have do-nothing time

Some interesting stuff here. For point #1 above, the "science" shows that taking a nap can increase productivity - this is because 70% of people do not get enough sleep at night. There is some simple advice about using programming for repetitive tasks and to avoid procrastinating. I love the line in relation to #4 above: "They [perfectionists] procrastinate and wait for the perfect moment. In business, if it is the perfect moment, you are too late". In my early years in NCI we had to endure some professional development off-site days - mostly forgettable (and a very unproductive use of time). One thing I do remember is the acronym ABBA - a break between activities. This is emphasized in #7 above where Hanacek writes "It‘s important for us to take time for reflection. We often find the solutions when we’re not searching for them". Rushing from one thing to another is not good for us, and not good for productivity either.

The best thing I ever did (many years ago) to increase my own productivity was to get rid of games from my computer and my phone. It's amazing how many times I was tempted to play a game of Solitaire ("for a break") - no time wasted on this now. 

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

"Another Bloody Castle" #ABC

My toughest critic, when she finished reading Exploring Northern Ireland's Causeway and Mourne Coastal Routes, said "ABC: another bloody castle - castles here, castles there, castles every feckin' where - I'm fed up of castles". Indeed  - there are a lot of castles on the Irish coastline, that's where the people that built them decided to put them. Also - towards the end of the book there is not too much scenery (apart from the Mourne Mountains), and most of the interesting things to see are castles and old buildings. I must keep this criticism in mind when completing my trilogy of exploring our coast as I write Exploring Ireland's East and Southeast Coasts.

The critic who uttered the above words? My Mum!

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Cancer Awareness

This past week I had been nervously waiting for a screen colonoscopy on Friday morning. In a recent health check I mentioned to the doctor that my Dad was diagnosed with bowel cancer (which he has thankfully fully recovered). The doctor decided that due to my age (56) and family history that I should get my own bowel checked out - hence a visit to St Vincent's Hospital for a colonoscopy. Even though I had no symptoms warning of colon cancer, I still was fearful of what might be found - the very mention of the word "cancer" is terrifying.

People warned me that the cleansing of the bowel with Movi-Prep the day before would be worse than the actual treatment itself. Movi-Prep does exactly what it says on the tin - and the advice to stay close to a toilet is definitely to be heeded. In the hospital there was quite a bit of waiting, but the whole experience was straight-forward. Apart from a brief slight discomfort, I didn't feel a thing. Probably my dignity suffered most with a tube and camera up my ass with an audience looking on. I could see the whole thing on TV - interesting to say the least!

Afterwards the doctor came and told me that all was clear but that he had removed one polyp which he was sending off to see if it was cancerous - even saying that to me was scary. A polyp might turn into a cancer in time, and it was best to get it checked.

A lesson here is that we all need to take our health seriously. Like a lot of men I am not a regular visitor to the doctor and up to now have not really been worried about my health. There are many screens available to us and we should use them. Former Enterprise Ireland chairman Hugh Cooney has bravely spoken publicly about his cancer and how he ignored the warning signs until it was too late - his message to men: "don't be stupid, because we are too complacent about our health. My message is avoid cancer if you can, and how do you avoid it". The Irish Cancer Society have published the video below about early warning signs that should not be ignored:

Monday, October 12, 2015

Calculating Statistics By Hand - Variance and Standard Deviation

In the good old days, statistics had to be calculated by hand - even calculating an average figure may take a long time. Calculating something like variance or a t-statistic could take a lot of time and brain work. Calculators took some of the work out of this, and of course the likes of Excel and SPSS can now to the work in seconds. We (I) still teach statistics in the old way and insist that students learn how to do the various calculations with pen and paper, plus a calculator. My view, and the view of many of my colleagues, is that the ability to understand how statistics work is enhanced by being able to see how each calculation is done, and how the formulas for these calculations are made up.

One of the most important statistics to be able to calculate is Variance. It is used in descriptive statistics, and for me it is vital to be able to calculate it quickly. Learning to do it by hand will lead to greater understanding of how other statistics are calculated. Most importantly of all - hundreds of thousands of students all over the world have to be able to do it in exams without the help of a computer. I have made several videos that show how variance is calculated in Excel (eg, see How To... Display a Range of Descriptive Statistics in Excel 2010), but this is not the way students calculate statistics in an exam.

Aver Document Camera.
Image source: Tiger Direct.
Recording hand written calculations was tougher than I thought it would be. I tried, gave up, and tried again the Aver Classroom Technology Document Camera. There has been one in the College for a few years now, but I've never used it. One of my colleagues, Dr Keith Maycock, has used it for great effect in his YouTube Channel. It is a clumsy gadget to use. Videos are recorded onto a USB and a separate screen was necessary to see what I was doing. The audio was not consistent, and I also found the angle of my hand caused me to block a lot of what I was doing. In the end I created my first video on how to calculate variance by hand. A criticism I have received about my many statistics videos using Excel is that this is not how it is done in an exam. So I have decided to make a new series of videos showing how the various statistics such as variance, z, t, F, r, etc are calculated on pen and paper with just a calculator to help. Here's the first one:

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Using Google Docs in Class #FirstTime

Since Google brought out Google Docs several years ago I have made just a few half-hearted to use it in class. I have been a Microsoft user since the early 1990s and the "Old Dog" in me will not change over to Google Docs at this stage. However, some of the collaborative features of Google Docs offer many opportunities for use in class - many educators at all levels have been doing so for years.

Last evening in a Statistics class I introduced the topic of Probability. Usually I start this out in a simple experiment by asking the students to toss a coin 20 times and record the number of heads (H) and tails (T). In a second experiment I ask students to work in pairs and to toss two coins 10 times and record if the result is HH, TH, HT, or TT. In the past I would write down the results on a whiteboard, but in large classes I would only take a few results resulting in many students' experiment results not being recorded. I would then have the job of manually calculating the average scores from the whiteboard.

Using Google Docs I set up a spreadsheet in advance of class to record the results, and shared this through a link in Moodle. Each student was listed by name and number - so they could easily input the results for their own experiment onto the spreadsheet. I had also set up the formulas for calculating the class averages. While there was obviously some errors inputting results - this approach worked well by getting all students to participate, and saving me a lot of time and bother by preparing in advance.

Below is a selection of (anonymized) data from last nights class - now to think of other opportunities to do the same.

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Switching from @VodafoneIreland to @VirginMediaIE #NoBrainer

Yesterday, after many calls and long delays, I finally got to switch my mobile phone to the new Unlimited service offered by Virgin Media who recently took over UPC. As an existing UPC customer, they are offering three months free calls/text/data with a rolling contract at €25/month. Sounds good? Yeah!

Image Source: Wikipedia.
My existing 24-month contract with Vodafone expired this week, I was on their Red Essentials Pack (100 mins/free texts/1GB data). I had also purchased an iPhone 5 with this contract, so my monthly bills obviously included a charge for the phone (Virgin Media is SIM only). My average monthly bill this year was €52.11. Much of this was data that exceeded the 1GB monthly allowance. So I have unlocked my iPhone, and having looked around at what deals are available, I have made the decision to switch from Vodafone and cut my monthly bills in half with Virgin Media. No doubt this opening offer is a customer grab and may not be available for long, but with the next three months being free (instead of paying an average of €50/month to Vodafone) - I feel as though someone just gave me €150. I'll put this towards my next iPhone when my current one finally gives up the ghost.

Virgin Media promised to shake up the market, and with these offers they will surely do so. Judging by the length of time it took me to get through to not surprisingly tired operators yesterday - many customers will flock to Virgin as I have done. 

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

She's Leaving Home

My youngest daughter Vicki is departing this morning to Florida for a year as part of her undergraduate degree at the University of Ulster - the third of four years in her degree is a work placement and she is off to the Ibis Golf & Country Club in West Palm Beach. How exciting - I wish I had the opportunity to do this back in the academic year 1981-1982 when I completed my third year in Trinity College. About three years ago I wrote about my eldest daughter Claire leaving for the US. It doesn't get any easier seeing your family go, but the feeling of sadness I now have is tempered by the opportunity that the wonderful Land of Free has to offer our young people.

The photo below was taken yesterday before Vicki left. Look out America, there is another O'Loughlin coming!

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

EY Ireland reviews degree requirement via @SarahMcCabe1 and @IndoBusiness

The Sunday Independent reports that Ernst & Young (EY) is "reviewing whether its entry-level job candidates should be required to have a degree". This follows the decision by EY in the UK to "ditch the requirement for degrees at entry level from 2016 onwards". Uncited research is quoted by EY's UK talent manager that there is "no evidence to conclude that previous success in higher education correlated with future success in subsequent professional qualifications undertaken". I must search for this research as I'm sure it would make interesting reading for my colleagues and I in third-level education.

Many highly successful people such as Richard Branson, Bill Gates, and the late Steve Jobs did not complete degrees in College - and they were none the worse off for it. Millions of people (including me) who do hold degrees are not multi-millionaires nor household names. Go figure!

Of course, you cannot be absolute about whether having or not having a degree leads to success or not. There are so many variables leading to success: hard work, circumstance, luck, opportunity, failure, etc. I studied as a Marine Biologist and apart from a short stint as an Intern in NUI Galway in the summer of 1983, I have never succeeded to get a job as a Marine Biologist. What was my degree worth?

Taking a look at the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics figures for earnings and unemployment rates in 2014 (see graphic below) it would appear that people who hold a degree are likely to earn a lot more and be less likely to be unemployed than the national average. I know this is not the same comparison that EY have stated ("success in higher education" compared to "future success in subsequent professional qualifications") - but nevertheless it holds out the hope for graduates that they will be more successful with at least a Bachelor's degree in their hand. Will a 23 year-old graduate be better than a 23-year old non-graduate with work experience? The only real way for the likes of EY to find out is to try it - and from 2016 they will. I do hope they will publish results.

Image Source: US Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Taking blurred photos in the middle of the night #SuperBloodMoon

Photographed with my iPhone.
I got up at 1.30 this morning to see the Lunar Eclipse - they said it would be brilliant, and it was. I watched the moon fill in shadow and was transfixed by the orange glow when the moon was covered in the Earth's shadow. Fascinating - I stayed up until just after 3.00. However, my many photos taken with my Canon EOS 350D digital camera are not so fascinating. I tried several settings and my big zoom lens, auto and manual focus, flash and no flash - but nothing seemed to work. While this camera is several years old, I should be able to take good pictures, but never learned how. There are twelve different settings on the settings dial - but I only ever use one, Automatic. 

Myself and my daughter Kate wondered as we looked up what two people sitting doing the same thing 1,000 years ago would have thought? No Twitter or Facebook to let our ancestors know what was happening, or websites to tell us when it was happening and what the cloud cover would be like. No wonder they thought of it as portents of evil  - only God could do this - right?

I took about 80 photos, perhaps the one (above) that sums up my photography efforts was taken with my iPhone - here are the best two with the Canon:

Friday, September 25, 2015

Is Richard Branson right that "university course lengths should be halved"?

When Richard Branson says something - it is noticed. As one of the most successful entrepreneurs and businessmen in the world he has plenty to say, and people (including me) listen. On 8th September last, Branson blogged about "Why university course lengths should be halved". Branson did not go to college, but nevertheless I was curious about what he had to say.

Image Source: Wikipedia.
Richard Branson says that the "length of time it takes to complete a degree is far too long to be practical for the modern world" and that many students are "attending a course with no real life benefits". While I would emphatically disagree with his second point, I'm not so sure I would disagree too much about the first.  

I attended a four-year honours science degree in Trinity. The schedule was quite full and the weekly timetable was hectic. Some of the students I have today will have days in their timetables where they have no classes or at most - very few. Many regard such gaps in their timetable as a "day off" rather that a study day. Even though they are full time students, many will also have part-time jobs that are facilitated by gaps in the timetable. If I was pressed on shortening a four year degree in to three or even two years - I'd have to say that it could easily be done. In fact my own College is now offering a two year full time BA Hons in HRM Strategy and Practice - clearly there is a demand for this. But there is more to going to College than attending classes.

Would I shorten degree courses? First I've got to consider students when they come into College first. Most students on full time programmes come straight from school and are not ready for the "real world" just yet. Over their time in College, many do gather "real life benefits". Can the average student get the benefits of a degree in half the time? I'm not sure that such a drastic condensation of a course would work - fitting four years worth of classes into two would test the ability of even top students. Condensing four into three years - now that's worth considering. Some courses have work placements - NCI has an off-campus work placement module in the second semester of year 3, while I know other Colleges who have a full year "off" as work placement before graduating. An argument could be made to complete taught modules earlier and let the students out into the workplace earlier. 

Shortening courses will involve redesigning classes and study time - but Universities and Colleges are full of smart people who should have no trouble in coming up with a solution. Four years IS a long time to attend College - at the very least we should be able to come up with a package whereby students who want to (and are capable of) a fast-track through College can do so. 

Is Richard Branson right? Partly!

Thursday, September 24, 2015

How To... Create a Basic Dashboard in Tableau @YouTube @Tableau

My previous three Tableau videos showed how to build a basic Filled Map, Tree Map, and a Bar Chart. Tableau offers a great tool to easily create dashboards, and so in my latest video I combine the above three separate charts into one dashboard. This video is just about creating the very simplest of dashboards - see Tableau's website for great examples of more dashboards.

As in the other videos, the data used in this video is taken from "Living in the EU" - see

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

A New Mindset with Technology in the Classroom using @LumensLadibug @ICTEvangelist

Last evening I had my first Statistics class with a new group of Higher Diploma in Data Analytics students. The class was held in one of our labs which was not really designed for teaching. It is a long narrow lab with the lectern at one end - it is the only class I have to used a microphone in. We have in addition to a large screen at the front, two TV monitors near the back and a large screen at the side. While awkward for some students, most can easily see slides and activities I might be doing on screen. I tend to use a whiteboard a lot in classrooms (turning off the screen as I do so) which means that everybody in the class has to look to the top of the classroom to see what I am writing. A new rule for labs introduced this year is that students are not allowed to lay their monitors down flat on the desk - this means views of the whiteboard at the front of the class are restricted. What to do?

Image source: Lumens.
Enter Ladibug!

Apparently we have had this technology available to us for a few years (I must have missed the memo). Thanks to the very helpful efforts of our IT Dept I got a training session yesterday before class to set Ladibug up and use it as part of my class. The idea is a simple one and is basically similar to the old style Overhead Projectors except it is connected to the computer. The gadget (see photo left) is made by Lumens and I have used it to project onto the screens what I write on the lectern with pen and paper. It took a little bit of getting used to the focus, but otherwise, my first class with this gadget was a success. I'm looking forward to getting more skilled with it over the next few weeks, and I also hope that it works OK for the students.

Using technology in the classroom is nothing new. In 1855, the abolitionist Samuel Joseph May wrote about the introduction of the blackboard to classrooms, being at his time the most modern instructional technology: the winter of 1813 & ’14, during my first College vacations, I attended a mathematical school kept in Boston by the Rev. Francis Xavier Brosius. On entering his room, we were struck at the appearance of an ample Black Board suspended on the wall, with lumps of chalk on a ledge below, and cloths hanging at either side. I had never heard of such a thing before. There it was forty-two years ago that I first saw what now I trust is considered indispensable in every school the Black Board and there that I first witnessed the process of analytical and inductive teaching.

Today, Mark Anderson (@ICTEvangelist), writing in Education Evangelist graphically shows a Growth Mindset for Teachers when using Technology:

Image source: Education Evangelist.
I like Anderson's mindset that "Our kids and those we work with, have a right to access learning in all manner of different ways, including with technology" and that when "it comes to using technology, a significant number of teachers can have a bit of a mental block". The Growth Mindset for Teachers asks questions for educators ranging from "Will it [technology] impact learning" to "Have you tried Google". We still work in an arena where lecturers stand at the top of a class and students sit at a desk trying to absorb and understand what the lecturer is saying. While most are nowadays comfortable with the likes of PowerPoint and Moodle - many of us need to embrace more technologies to enhance our teaching practice and mindset. I have used YouTube a lot for my classes over the past few years, but I have not really developed beyond the short "How To..." style videos. Mark Anderson's diagram above is inspirational in that it tells us that it is OK to use the likes of Google, Twitter, and YouTube in our classes, and to go on and develop a new mindset embracing technology.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Back to College - End of 1st week #Phew

It's 5 o'clock on Friday at the end of our first week back in Semester 1 and I have finished classes for the week. This year I am teaching Statistics (to three groups), Project Management, and a new module on the Fundamentals of Business Analysis. Apart from tired feet and a slightly sore throat I'm glad to be back in the classroom for the first time since April last. Some students have been in my classes before, while others are new. Next week I will be starting an evening class on Statistics. For the next 13 weeks it will be teaching and assessment that takes up most of the day - much busier than the last few weeks have been. It's good to be back.

Image source: Meme Generator.
There is of course a lot of optimism at the start of a new academic year. Classes are full and exams seem a long way off. I remember the excitement as a student of meeting friends after the summer break, and the anticipation of new courses and new lecturers. There has been a great buzz about the College this week - I wish we could bottle it for the weeks ahead. In some of my classes this week I kept the content very introductory and not too difficult - the serious stuff starts next week. 

The semester at 13 weeks is very long and this will test the endurance of both academic staff and students. We do have a "Reading Week" in the middle of the semester which coincides with the October Holiday Weekend, but it is still a long haul. The middle of December seems so far away, but I know it will pass all too quickly. 

To new students - welcome to NCI. To returning students - welcome back! Together well get through the semester and hopefully learn a few things along the way.

Monday, September 14, 2015

How To... Create a Basic Tree Map in Tableau @YouTube @tableau

Continuing on my new series of YouTube videos for Tableau Software, my latest video shows how to create a basic Treemap. I have used the same "Living in the EU" data as for my previous Tableau videos. 

According to the Tableau website, "Treemaps let you display data in nested rectangles. You use dimensions to define the structure of the treemap, and measures to define the size or color of the individual rectangles. Treemaps are a relatively simple data visualization that can provide insight in a visually attractive format". A Treemap is a cool tool for displaying data in a presentation. Viewers can get a great sense of perspective and scale when comparing data values. Using basic data they are easy to create - check out video below:

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Can you ever leave Carnew?

I grew up in Ballingate just three miles from Carnew in Co Wicklow, and attended the National School until I was almost 12 years of age when I was sent off to boarding school, followed by moving to College in Dublin in 1979 and living there since. Despite the 44 years that have passed since leaving National School I often answer "Carnew" when people ask me where I am from. I guess that comes from a sense of roots and that my Mum and Dad still live there. Two nights in a row out in Carnew is a rarity for me (one night in a row is rare too!). Last evening we had a great meal in Pooles Restaurant on the Mill Lane, but the evening before Dad and I attended the launch of Noelle Keogh's book: "Carnew: A Town of History & Heritage".

It was the first time I was ever in Kenny's Corner House at the "top of the town". The launch marked the start of Carnew Heritage Weekend. Just over two years ago I wrote about attending an exhibition in Coláiste Bríde in Carnew for the then Carnew Heritage Week events. Much of the fascinating facts and anecdotes about Carnew and its surrounding townlands was collated by Noelle Keogh, and her new book reflects the fruits of her efforts on behalf of Carnew Heritage Club. I spent most of yesterday reading the book and enjoying the stories of times past. The photos are a great reminder that Carnew has always had activities like slate quarrying that are now gone - but not forgotten. I particularly enjoyed the references to my grandfather PJ O'Loughlin for his auctioneering, GAA, ploughing, and dairy activities. I also enjoyed meeting people in Kenny's that I had not met for a very long time - I think my Carnew accent returned too for the evening!

You can take the man out of Carnew, but you can't take Carnew out of the man.

My Dad Joe with author Noelle Keogh.
Image source: The Enniscorthy Guardian.

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

The Savage Consequences of Repeating an Exam in an Award Year

Yesterday I wrote about my experiences in repeating exams in both my first and second years in Trinity back in 1979 and 1980 - a difficult time, but I also learned a massive amount from the experience. I went on to pass my third and fourth years, and to graduate with an honours degree. Luckily for me that things were not the other way around, ie passing the first two years and failing third and fourth year. Had I to repeat in fourth year I would not have been awarded an honours degree.

The current situation based on QQI policy* is that "Honours classification, or any classification higher than ‘Pass’, shall be made based on first attempt grades", and that "the existing approach to repeat for honours (it is not to be offered) shall be maintained". So, if you repeat even one subject you cannot get an honours award. If you have a high overall average mark in the 2:1 or 2:2, either before or after the repeats, you still will not get an honours award. Passing your exams at the second attempt, no matter how well you do or how much you learn, means no honours. Imagine a student who has performed very well in seven out of eight modules, but fails the eight - no honours is allowed. This has long been how the system works, and though I regard this as grossly unfair, I and my academic colleagues have to go along with the QQI policy. 

I regularly warn students in an award year that this is the rule. If they fail a module in semester I, the honours degree is gone because they have to repeat the module. So even before semester II starts, there is no chance of getting an honours degree (there are rules about extenuating circumstances). This can be a huge demotivating factor. Why put in a huge effort when a bare pass will get the same award as an average grade of 60%.

This rule is particularly cruel in one year programmes, such as a Higher Diploma. Quite often students who study on these programmes are back to education after several years, and are working full time. I know from first hand experience with students that not having a second chance at honours can be very demotivating - one student asked me recently "who will give me a job with just a pass?". 

I understand that this rule is under review by QQI, and that the Institute of Technology in Blanchardstown was involved in a pilot programme where (under strict conditions) students could apply to retain their honours despite repeating one subject. NUI Maynooth also have something similar. I would urge that the ITB experiment be seriously considered nationally.

Imagine this...

...the 2014 All-Ireland Senior Hurling Final between Kilkenny and Tipperary ended in a draw (3-22 to 1-28). A replay ended in a win for Kilkenny (1-17 to 2-14). But wait... Kilkenny did not win the title at the first attempt, they needed to repeat to win. What if that when they climbed the steps at Croke Park to receive their award that they were told "Sorry lads, you didn't win it at the first attempt, no Liam McCarthy Cup or All-Ireland medals for you - here's a ribbon and a nice mug"?

2014 All-Ireland Senior Hurling Champions?
Image source:

The views expressed here are entirely my own and I make no attempt to represent the views of the National College of Ireland or its staff.

*QQI Assessment and Standards (Revised 2013), available at

Tuesday, September 08, 2015

Repeat Exams

In the Autumn of 1979 I repeated two first year subjects (Physics and Chemistry). I found both difficult throughout the year and had failed the summer exams quite badly. I was not optimistic when I walked into the Chemistry Building in Trinity where results were posted (no looking them up on-line in those days). Convinced that I had failed again, I was genuinely amazed that I scraped a pass by compensation and I was somehow into second year. Exactly a year later this time I walked with some confidence to the same Chemistry Building to check on the results of another two repeated subjects - to my horror I had failed the repeat exams.

This was a turning point in my life. I was 21 years old and I was a failure. I had spent two summers studying for repeats, while all my friends in College were either travelling or working abroad. My options were to repeat the year, or drop out of College.

With strong encouragement from my Dad to repeat the year, I went through the motions of applying to repeat. My tutor in Trinity informed me that I was "allowed" to repeat, but that it would be much better for everybody if I didn't because he told me I'd be wasting both my own and the College's time by doing so. I'd show him! I repeated the year (I was the only one in my class to do so) and worked a lot harder to comfortably pass all my exams in the summer sitting. For the first time in three years I did not have to study over the summer, and now I was going into third year. I was at last getting the hang of College. In the summer of 1983 I graduated with an honours BA (Mod) degree - it should have been a year earlier, but nevertheless I felt a great sense of achievement. I went on to graduate from Trinity with a PhD in 1988 - not a failure any more.

Today, results for repeat exams at NCI are published. Congratulations to those who have got through, for those who have to repeat the year, it's a tough road to travel, but you can do it.

Only those students who have repeated exams know how it feels. Only students who have repeated a year know what it feels like. Overcoming this and learning from it will be some of the toughest times in College and life that you will encounter. Learning from mistakes makes us all better and stronger. There is no shame in succeeding at the second or subsequent attempt.

Repeating exams in first and second year, while bad enough to go through, has little long term consequence. Repeating exams in an award year has dreadful consequences - more about this in a new post later this week.

Perhaps the worst part of repeating second year in 1980 was that Johnny Logan had just won the Eurovision Song Contest with "What's Another Year" - everybody I met that year thought it was a really funny joke to remind me of this. Anyway, here's a blast from the past...

Monday, September 07, 2015

"The pathway to prosperity is diverse, but for most young people, it likely runs through college" via @JoshZumbrun and @WSJecon

No major surprises in a report (Hey, Millennials, Want to Pay Off Student Loans? Consider These Careers) from Josh Zumbrun in the Wall Street Journal in relation to career paths for Millenials in America. Many of the top careers are based on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Maths) subject areas. If anything is surprising about the list of careers it is the diversity of careers. Zumbrun reckons that the number one position is reflective of America's aging population and the neeed for more senior healthcare. But look at what is at #2 and #3 - Actuaries and Statisticians respectively. No doubt this is as a result of more demand for evidence-based decision making using big data. Long may it continue. 

Image sourced from: Wall Street Journal.

I loved the quote at the end of Zumbrun's article: "The pathway to prosperity is diverse, but for most young people, it likely runs through college" - most of the jobs on the list above will require a College degree.

Sunday, September 06, 2015

Motorcyclist (55) killed in collision with van via @Independent_ie #ThinkBike #SlowDown

Earlier this week I wrote about motorcycle safety and the tragic death of a Mexican biker in the full glare of YouTube. I also mentioned a 55 year old Irish biker (Seán Coleman), who died in an accident in Cork, and how this sent a shiver through me as I too am 55. Tonight the Irish Independent reports the death of another 55 year old  biker - this time in County Mayo. Another shiver runs through me, I could be reading a headline about my own death. May God be good to Seán and the latest biker my own age to die on our roads. 

To all bikers - slow down and ride safely. To everyone else (including bikers)...
Image source: Cumbria Crack.

Saturday, September 05, 2015

Loving Croke Park and the GAA

September, football, sunshine, 82,000 people, Croke Park - it must be All-Ireland time again! Following last week's dramatic draw between Mayo and Dublin in the semi-final, Roma and I went to the replay today. Roma was hoping for a Mayo win, as usual I had divided loyalties, though I did get a reminder from my Mum this morning that I was born in Dublin. I wore my Wicklow jersey anyway (with Mayo and Dublin colours around my neck).

When Mayo went four points up in the second half I thought they might do it, but a purple patch of three goals for the Dubs saw them win easily in the end. The best team won, and for Mayo another year goes by until the next opportunity to banish "The Curse". Roma's cousins Finn and Eamonn Mongey were players on the last Mayo team to win the All-Ireland in 1951. Since then they travel in hope every year, but today they were second best to a rampant Dublin team. 

Another Kerry vs Dublin final beckons - the two best teams in the country look set to entertain us in two weeks time. Can't wait!".

The last Mayo Team to win the All-Ireland in 1951.
Image source: Film Ireland.

Thursday, September 03, 2015

27 Bikers Killed on Irish Roads in 2013 #SlowDown #ThinkBike

Following on from my post yesterday about the recording of the death of a Mexican motorcyclist with a helmetcam, I checked out the statistics on motorcycle deaths in Ireland, and had a stark reminder of how dangerous our roads are for folks on two wheels.

The Road Safety Authority publishes statistics on all sorts of things about Irish road activities, including deaths. In 2013 (the latest year that statistics are available as I write), 27 motorcyclists were killed in Ireland - this is 14.2% of the total number of people (190) killed on our roads in 2013. Motorcyclists account for only about 2% of road users. According to the RSA, motorcyclists are six times more likely to be killed on Irish roads than any other road user.

Image Source:
International Journal of Motorcycle Studies (2012).
Just yesterday evening on my way home from work on my bicycle at about 5.15pm a large SUV pulled out a line of stand-still traffic into the bus lane just past the Merrion Gates on the Merrion Road. It is illegal for motorists to use the bus lane at this time, it is legal for cyclists to use the bus lane at all times. Despite the fact that I was wearing a bright yellow high-visibility jacket, the driver did not see me - but I saw him and stopped in the nick-of-time to avoid a collision. The SUV roared up the bus lane and I did not see it again. Another cyclist asked me if I was OK. Had I been travelling on my motorcycle I would have been moving a lot faster and could have been involved in a more serious incident. This SUV driver is an accident driving around South Dublin waiting to happen. Such incidents reminds us of our mortality and how easy our lives can be taken away by carelessness (5 pedal cyclists were killed on Irish roads in 2013).

Motorcyclists of all ages dies on our roads, not just young hot-heads burning rubber in a speed fueled death wish. Just last December I felt a shiver when I saw a report in the Irish Times of the death of 55 year old biker Seán Coleman in Cork - the same age as me.

Here are the Top Ten Safety Tips for motorcyclist from the RSA:
  • Be vigilant. Look into the far, middle and near distance, and behind you, using your mirrors and checking over your shoulders, before changing position or turning.
  • Keep your distance. In wet or icy conditions, always leave a bigger gap.
  • Be seen. Make sure your position is correct. Use dipped headlights and wear high visibility clothing (such as a neon vest and ‘Sam Browne’ reflective belt).
  • Avoid surprising others. Never do anything on the road that could cause another road user to slow down, brake or swerve or that could startle pedestrians.
  • Think like other road users. Anticipate how they might react.
  • Read the road. Ride to current road, weather and traffic conditions.
  • Match your speed to the conditions. Never let others dictate your pace.
  • Never ride your bike after consuming alcohol or drugs.
  • Maintain your bike properly. Regularly check petrol, oil, water, damage, electrics and tyres.
  • Take lessons from an experienced instructor. See every ride as a chance to improve your skills.

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Another Motorcyclist Dies #SlowDown #ThinkBike

The Irish Independent today shows a chilling video detailing the death of a motorcyclist on a dual-carriageway/motorway in Mexico. The 45 second helmetcam video shows the motorcyclist appearing to ride too fast into a bend and hits the centre barrier - the helmetcam in on the helmet of another motorcyclist riding behind.. Horrifically he is thrown over the barrier onto the oncoming road where he is killed when run over by a car. From what I can see the motorcyclist is entirely responsible for his own death by riding too fast.

It is chilling to watch the death of anyone - it seems so much part of what we do today that a video like this gets posted on the Internet. No doubt it will force some motorcyclists to slow down, but it should shock everyone. 

About this time last year I wrote about the shocking video and death of David Holmes riding at 156 kph, when his family allowed the video from his own helmetcam to be posted on-line. None of us want to be a statistic or end up with 45 seconds of fame on YouTube where the world watches us die.

Fellow bikers - please slow down!

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

How To... Create a Basic Bar Chart in Tableau

My second Tableau video is about creating a simple Bar Chart. I don't expect that many people will use Tableau just to do this as most will already know how to do it in Excel, but it is a good way to check if you are on the right track in Tableau. It is also easy to switch to the many other chart types available. Once again I am using the data from the "Living in the EU" web page - I selected "Quality of Life" data showing the GDP by country. 

Monday, August 31, 2015

Do you really need a degree to enroll on a postgraduate course?

One of the (many) non-teaching duties I have to do is to review applications for courses - it is as a Course Director that I have to do this, not as a Lecturer. I am Course Director for an NFQ level 8 Higher Diploma. There are set criteria for applicants, this is regarded as a postgraduate course - so it is relatively easy for applicants with a degree to be accepted. But what about those without a degree?

First - let's take a look at the word "postgraduate". It means that you should first be a graduate before continuing on this path of study. Courses such as these are designed for students who have completed undergraduate degrees. A BA or BSc is the ticket you need to get into a postgraduate course. There is no doubt in my mind that studying for a degree prepares students for postgraduate work (and academics all over the world share this belief). Studying through 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th year builds students' learning abilities and critical skills such as higher-order thinking and problem solving. Also - there is no doubt that the ability to write good essays also develops over the four years of study. Learning outcomes at NFQ level 8 demand a significantly higher ability than lower levels. In all, a degree is an ideal requirement for postgraduate study. 

Nevertheless, many people who apply for postgraduate courses don't have a degree. Many universities will not accept non-degree holders. The message very often is - "Come back when you have a degree". Some Colleges, such as NCI, offer a path through what we call RPEL (Recognition of Prior Experiential Learning) to get into postgraduate study. The idea is that applicants may have lots of experience that will enable them to complete the postgraduate course. For example, suppose a computer programmer with 10 years experience in software development, and who has set up their own company, applies for an MSc in Technology. Arguably they are more qualified than a fresh BSc in Computing graduate who has never worked on real software development. Usually I would recommend to the Admission Office that in a case such as this that the applicant be admitted to at least a level 8 course. 

Basically - the idea of RPEL is that if you can demonstrate that you have done the equivalent of achieving the Learning Outcomes of a degree programme, then your experience qualifies you for the programme.

However, many cases are less clear than above and it becomes a little more difficult when applicants have experience that is short or not so relevant. I am then asked to judge whether they are capable of completing the postgraduate programme. This is not a pleasant task as often an applicant is highly committed and motivated to participate in a course that might change their lives. Some such applicants succeed very well, though many do find it tough and drop out. A one year Higher Diploma is a very attractive option for someone seeking a level 8 qualification compared to having to go through 3 or 4 years for a primary degree. Often my head says "No" and my heart says "Yes". I've no desire to put barriers to education in front of applicants, but I am mindful that it is a postgraduate course that I am dealing with.

NCI's mission statement is "To change lives through education". I reject very few applications.

I deal with level 8 applications only.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

My First "How To..." @YouTube Video using @tableau Software #FilledMap

Later in this upcoming semester I will be using Tableau Software for the first time in my Statistics classes. I normally run a lab session on visualizing data: first I used Excel, last year I added SPSS, and this year I will add Tableau to the lab. Tableau is free to students and academics for learning and teaching purposes, though a (free) license is needed to run the software. Many students have already been using Tableau in projects, and there certainly has been a demand for more experience in data visualization tools like this.

For the video below I used a simple data table from the "Living in the EU" web page - I selected "Quality of Life" data showing the GDP by country. While this is easy to chart in Excel using bar or pie charts, the idea is to see how this looks in filled map (a kind of heat map) using a map of the European Union. The video also shows how good Tableau is at recognising different data types. Hopefully I can create few more for my students to help them get through the lab.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Flipped Classroom - "professional suicide" for Lecturers (via @jhrees)

Writing in The Kernel on 23rd August last, Jonathan Rees asks many questions about one of the latest trends in third-level education - his article is entitled: The ‘flipped classroom’ is professional suicide*. Clearly no fan of this trend, Rees wonders about "pedagogical problems" such as how his students "would find time to do their assigned reading if they were watching class videos in their dorm rooms three times a week" and what would his other students "be doing while I [he] personally interacted with other students". Later in the articles he raises questions about "copyright issues" and "competition" with the Internet.

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons.
I find myself agreeing with Rees, though I have to say that I have not tried to formally adopt a flipped classroom methodology (is it a "methodology"?). While I do create and upload many videos to YouTube for my students, I still use class time for traditional lecture and tutorial work. Some of my colleagues use the flipped classroom with success and feedback from students seems to be good so far.

There is an interesting (unattributed) quote in Rees' article:

Why should you lecture, when you can get some hotshot from Harvard to do your job for you?

This is a hard one to agree or disagree with. As a learner I definitely would prefer an on-line lecture on a subject from a Professor at Harvard who has written books on the subject and has been teaching it at Harvard for many years, compared to an inexperienced part-time lecturer who has never taught the subject before. While lecturers, especially younger ones, must start somewhere (we all remember that first time we taught a module) the temptation to go for the Harvard professor as a learner is huge. When College management are deciding who teaches what, some subjects are inevitably given to new and inexperienced lecturers (who in time may become great teachers and experts in their field). When it comes to exams, the Harvard professor does not set these and there is the dilemma for students on which set of lecture notes/podcasts to study in preparation for exams (the good stuff from Harvard, or the class notes on which the exam will be based).

In 2010 I started (and completed) the free Harvard University course on "Justice" by Professor Michael Sandel. There were 12 lectures in this course and I enjoyed every single one of them. In short, this was the best on-line class I have ever "attended" - it would be hard to get a better set of lectures than this. So - what about this for a dilemma? What if your College had a module on "Justice" in one of its courses? As Professor Sandel himself might ask - what would the right thing to do be? Should Sandel (the best) be on the module timetable? Could/should he (or Harvard) be paid for this? If a new lecturer is assigned, should they create their own material or use Sandel's (I use his train wreck story from lecture #1 in my class)? Should Sandel's course be on the module Reading List (or video/podcast equivalent)?

Image source: Philip Holt.
As a leaner I know which I'd go for, but as a Lecturer the decision is more difficult. I don't want to be a turkey voting for Chistmas, and talk myself out of a job - but I do see more more flipping happening in the future. If a course has several flipped modules, it would be easy to trawl the finest Universities for on-line content and say to students - "Watch this video and we'll discuss it in the next tutorial". This would save a lot of money. The temptation for Colleges/Schools to do this will become more and more real. The availability of top class content combined with tight or decreasing budgets will (I believe) force Colleges to rethink how they allocate teaching duties. When you think about it - what is wrong with creating a full degree programme with modules taught by experts from Harvard, MIT, Oxbridge, or any of the top-class Colleges around the world? Expensive Lecturers would no longer be needed! Learners would get the best education available and Colleges would save a lot of money that could be put to other use (such as research).

I just hope this doesn't happen before I retire in 10 years time!

* The ‘flipped classroom’ is professional suicide
By Jonathan Rees on August 23rd, 2015