Monday, January 31, 2011

Half-way Through Academic Year

It's lunch time and I am getting ready for my first class of the new Semester which started today. We have 14 weeks in Semester 2, so a long road of learning and teaching lies ahead. I have two new classes of 100+ students each - one first year class, and one second year class (whom I taught last year). I'm looking forward to teaching Managerial Foundations of Information Systems, and Software Project Management.

For the students - they too are half-way through their year. They are waiting anxiously for their Semester 1 exam results, and I'm sure they are both apprehensive and excited to be learning new subjects. I do earnestly hope that students will turn up for their classes - but it's hard to convince students that this is important. I was a student once myself and did not have an exemplary record of attendance (though I was reasonably good at going to my classes!).

Today and tomorrow I'll be introducing each module and getting a start on the content - the real work begins next week. I plan for the first time to try a motivational video during my introduction to encourage the students to do their best. It is taken from a film called "Facing the Giants (Trailer on YouTube)", and I am using it to ask students to try their very best in the module. See what you think...

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Film Review: The King's Speech

I went to the "pictures" last evening to see The King's Speech (preceded by an excellent €36 dinner - starters, main course, and carafe of wine for two in the 40 Foot). I had heard most of the build up and about the multiple award nominations for Golden Globes and Oscars - so I was expecting a good evening's entertainment.

I was not disappointed!

Colin Firth gives a magnificent performance as King George VI, with Geoffrey Rush and Helena Bonham-Carter also excellent in support. The king's speech impediment is dealt with very openly, but delicately - and as the central theme it makes for riveting viewing. Add to this the sub-plots of Edward and Mrs Simpson, and the impending war - there is something for everybody in this film. I'm told that Firth is hot favourite for the Oscar - I haven't seen any of the other performances so I can't tell if his was the best, but he will take some beating!

Go see it in the big screen if you can. There are a lot of close up shots of Firth and Rush that fill the screen - only the cinema can give you the right perspective on this.

5 stars.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Book Review: Patrick Pearse - The Making of a Revolutionary

Last November I attended the book launch of Dr Joost Augusteijn's new biography, Patrick Pearse: The Making of a Revolutionary, in the Pearse Museum in Rathfarnham (see book page on Amazon). It took me a while to get around to read it, but I have just completed it today and I have to say that it is a fantastic read and an absolute must for folks interested in Patrick Pearse.

Book cover from
Dr Augusteijn told us at the book launch that he had some new material (from the late Marcus Bourke) - so I relished the prospect of learning more about Pearse. The book is divided into several sections that describe in great detail the life of one of Ireland's most respected patriots - he writes about Pearse as a person, cultural nationalist, educationalist, politician, and revolutionary. Pearse as a politician and rebel is relatively well known to most Irish people, but the other parts of his life are not so well known. Each section makes for fascinating reading and Augusteijn shows a mastery of research to provide us with wonderful detail about Pearse's early life. Clearly, Pearse was greatly influenced by his family - Augusteijn makes this point several times and concludes that "crucial in his personal development has been his family surroundings", it was a huge part of what made him. Equally important is the conclusion that Pearse's "thinking can best be understood in the context of his time". This latter point is particularly crucial to debunking the myth of blood sacrifice.

Patrick Pearse's signature on Roma's grand-aunt
Eileen Ryan's St Ita's school report (1912).
The section on Pearse's time as an educator and teacher were especially interesting to me. I did not know that Pearse had traveled to Belgium and Wales to study bilingual language teaching. His ideas for Learning and Teaching on both St Enda's and St Ita's schools were way beyond the norm for the early 20th century - very progressive and student centered. 

Patrick Pearse was passionate about everything that he did - and this passion jumps out at you from every page of this meticulously researched book, there are hundreds of references at the end to prove this point. The book builds on our knowledge of earlier biographies of Pearse - in particular the one written by Ruth Dudley-Edwards (which I reviewed on Amazon here). The book is not written in a popular history style - there are far to many quotations and references for that. Nevertheless, readers (like me) of popular history books will still enjoy this as it is not heavy going, and is very much easy to read.

Given the times that are in it for Ireland today, and that I have heard and read several times in the media bland statements resurrecting the memory of Pearse describing our economic disaster: "Is this what the men of 1916 died for?", I will end with this Pearse quote (also cited in Augusteijn's book, p290):

The men who have led Ireland for twenty-five years have done evil, and they are bankrupt now even in words. They have nothing to propose to Ireland, no way of wisdom, no counsel of courage.
(From the "Ghosts" pamphlet, 25th December 1915. P.H. Pearse)

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Student Pays $14,300 Tuition in $1 Bills

Some students get up to brilliant antics! University of Colorado student Nic Ramos wanted to send "an eye-grabbing message about the rising cost of tuition" according to news story - Heavy Price: CU Student Pays $14K Tuition In $1 Bills. The cash weighed 33 lbs which took him a long time to gather from various banks. Here's a YouTube video featuring Ramos and his story:

This beats the more traditional demonstrating on the streets, which I did in the early 1980s behind Joe Duffy - "Freeze the Fees" we shouted outside the Dáil, but no one was listening. Expect to see more of this type of protest. Fees have risen dramatically in the UK, and sadly both our existing and future governments are broke, and may need to increase the cost of education to students (and their parents). The current Finance Bill seeks also to abolish tax relief on fees for part-time students - this has quietly been added to the Bill in the past few days, and may hurt Colleges with a lot of part-time students, such as NCI, severely. 

The cost of education rivals only the health and social welfare budgets here - Ireland spends vast quantities of euro on education. To cut this back makes no sense - but to save education means more severe cutbacks elsewhere. If fees are reintroduced - we need to ensure that it is more than a cost saving measure, and that a better education system is provided. Do less with more if we have to. I just hope that education is not used as a political football in the election, and that the new Minister for Education is not some jaded politician who got a lot of votes and brought in a running mate in the back of beyond.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Obama Talks To Students About His Mother's Advice

US President Barack Obama speaks to students about his Mother's advice to him when he was a student "with attitude" - a conversation about putting in some effort into studies that my parents have had with me, and I have had with my own kids. The key piece of advice was "You can't just sit around waiting for luck to see you through". If you are a student, take a look at the video (2 mins) below from ABCNews - you'll realize that your parents are not the only ones who offer this type of advice!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Some feedback on recent posts

There has been mixed feedback to some of my recent posts concerning the political situation in Ireland over the past few weeks. This has been a difficult time for everybody - I have never felt so much anger in the air, or on-line. It has also been a difficult time for Fianna Fáil supporters - much of what has happened grates with us too. I have declared openly that I have always voted Fianna Fáil, and am almost certain to do so again in the upcoming Election. Some people can't believe this! Other political parties can knock on my door to canvas my vote - I will listen. But if their opening line is "we are not Fianna Fáil", they will need to try harder.

"Larry" in a comment on the My vote won't be Green post takes me to task as follows when I attacked the Greens for double standards over cabinet appointments:

I think there is a constitutional argument here which you seem to be missing. Article 28: section 10. 
Ultimatly its about responding to the will of the people, and I know of very few people who had any feelings other than outrage at the proposed apointments.

My response was as follows:

Hi Larry - thanks for the comment, I too have met very few people who supported the proposed appointments. God knows that the Greens have had plenty of issues that they could have pulled out of the Government - but why choose this one when they did exactly the same themselves? (That's my point).

Thanks too for the point about the Constitution - I had to look up what Article 28/Section 10 was:

"The Taoiseach shall resign from office upon his ceasing to retain the support of a majority in Dáil Éireann unless on his advice the President dissolves Dáil Éireann and on the reassembly of Dáil Éireann after the dissolution the Taoiseach secures the support of a majority in Dáil Éireann"

I'm guessing this refers to when a Dáil vote goes against the Taoiseach. Brian Cowen probably never had the support of a majority of the Dáil (add his opponents in the Fianna Fáil party to the Opposition) at any time since he became Taoiseach.

"Richard" goes further (with his permission I reproduce his email):

Just found a link to your blog at mamapoulet...........
Interesting read, though I cannot agree with all you said. Your intention  to vote  for the "best of a bad lot of local candiates" is what  brought FF in again in 2007.
Do you really want a repetition of that fiasco? It's difficult for me to fathom your rationale  for voting for FF; I can only presume you inherited that habit and haven't yet got around to questiong  it. 

The Maman Poulet reference is to this link. My response was as follows:

First - many thanks for reading my blog post and going to the effort of writing to me. I hadn't ever heard of Maman Poulet before and did not know that a link was posted there to my blog. It does look like a very interesting site and I'll be sure to follow up - especially during the Election.

Secondly - a confession/declaration. I was a classmate of Brian Cowen in secondary school (you can see a picture if the two of us in our 6th year class photo here!) and have watched his rise to the top of Irish politics. 

I did vote for FF in 2007 - along with 858,564 other people (1st preferences), I wasn't the only one. When he was elected Taoiseach, Brian Cowen had approval ratings over 50%. If we knew then what we know now........

I didn't "inherit the habit" - you don't know me, and I'm certain you don't know my parents. I have the ability to make up my own mind. Long live democracy - I'm sure you'll agree with this. Many people still don't understand why people vote for Sinn Féin given their past. I have rural friends who can't understand why anyone would vote Green because of things like bans on stag hunting (I actually agreed with this ban). There are still Civil War divides where FG voters would never vote for FF (and vice versa) under any circumstances. Some people think voting for Independents is a wasted vote. The list goes on...

As I explained in my post - my "rationale" for voting FF is that I have long admired Mary Hanafin and see no candidates in the Dún Laoghaire constituency that inspire me to change (they have the opportunity to knock on my door to persuade me differently). Don't forget the old adage - "All politics is local"! I don't have the answer to over-coming this - I don't sense any appetite in any of the parties for a List system as used in other countries.

"Richard" very kindly responded to my response and was "envious" of the choice of candidates in the Dún Laoghaire constituency.

All comment is welcome on this blog - even if some of it is hard for me to read (I'm always nervous when someone criticizes me, or dislikes what I say/write). The wonder of blogging is that it is very personal - this is my blog and I can say what I want. But in doing that and publishing to the Web, I have to expect that not everybody will agree with my personal comments.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Post #501

Just noticed that my previous post today was the 500th post to this blog - here's to the next 500!

Long live blogging - as my blog header says:

Thinking and ranting out loud - thoughts and comment written whenever the mood takes me. Nothing is safe!

Colour Coded Election Poster Ties

On the 28th March, 2008, I posted a slightly tongue-in-check article to this Blog about the possibility of political parties using colour coded plastic ties for their election posters. Even today, many lamp posts are still adorned with white plastic ties from the last few elections. All political parties are guilty of this, I am puzzled as to why party election workers do not take them down when they are removing their posters - is it laziness? Or is it a more arrogant feeling that somebody else should clean up after them? The Irish Times had earlier published a letter from me to the Editor about this subject on 24th March 2008. 

Here's a copy of my letter to the Editor of The Irish Times again (click to enlarge).

The PDs are gone, so white is available again. I won't propose who should use yellow, or any other colour - suggestions welcome!

I met one ex-PD politician afterwards who had read my letter and thought it was a good idea. Alas - nobody in Government read the letter or they might have introduced some legislation under the Litter Pollution Act to deal with this. 

Sunday, January 23, 2011

My vote won't be Green

While I haven't made my mind up 100% about how I will vote in the upcoming General Election - I have made my first definite decision. I will definitely NOT be voting Green - not even a 7th, 8th, or umpteenth preference. I'm sick of their posturing and double standards. When they stick to green policies I am usually impressed by a some of what they say - well who wouldn't want to save the planet? But what they "lose patience" with in others, they tolerate themselves.

Thumbs down to the Greens.
Graphic linked to from
50 Home Business Clarity Questions
Less than a year ago - Trevor Sargent resigned as a Minister. The Green Party were able to replace him from within without any interference from other parties. But when a Fianna Fáil Minister resigns - "the party's patience had finally run out" and they pull out of government. Double standards.

In 2007, Trevor Sergent resigned as leader of the Green Party - but when Brian Cowen does the same when resigning as leader of Fianna Fáil, the Greens make this into a national crisis, and they pull out of government. Double standards.

Yes - I am being selective. Yes - the Greens are guilty of posturing. They now can campaign in the upcoming election as the party that pulled the plug on the most unpopular government ever. This won't save your seats, and if the election was held in the old days - you will have certainly lost your deposits.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Changing the colour of the paint

Clip Art from FotoSearch.
So - the inevitable has happened and we are about to have a General Election. In a day of shambles for the Government and my old classmate Brian Cowen, I can only think that the Election will at least clear the air (and a lot of Fianna Fáil seats). Many people will conveniently forget that they voted Fianna Fáil into government in the 2007 election and will use the ballot box on March 11th as a instrument of revenge against Cowen and everything Fianna Fáil.

If Brian Cowen combed his hair or scratched his arse, his enemies would say that he was putting Fianna Fáil first and the country second - the man can do no right. Only two and a half short years ago he could do no wrong.

Sadly, Brian Cowen's days as Taoiseach are nearly over - and I'm sure even he will be relieved at this. He is a very smart man, but will look back in years to come and will surely think that things could have been done differently (but perhaps not better). His autobiography will make for very interesting reading. I do know this - if Fianna Fáil had lost the last General Election we would all be calling on him now to save the country.

Be careful what you wish for. I listened to Joan Burton of Labour on the drive-time radio this evening and she was already making excuses for the next government when she said that tough times were ahead, that it would not be easy to "fix" the economy, and that we would experience a jobs deficit even if the new government puts the economy back on track. Enda Kenny as Taoiseach is hardly inspirational - but he will surely be in the Taoiseach's office after the next election. All he has to do is run on an ABC (Anyone But Cowen) ticket.

Photo from
Mary Hanafin's
Facebook Page.
I watched Pat Kenny's TV programme and debate on the Dún Laoghaire constituency last Monday evening - this is where I will be voting. Eamon Gilmore and Ivana Bacik will get no votes from me - all Labour have to offer is empty rhetoric based on "Fianna Fáil has mis-managed the economy". There is (as yet) no substance to anything they say that I have heard. Seán Barrett (son of a postman he told us - the Dún Laoghaire An Post vote is surely his?) is an honest man, but too old to make a difference. His job is to hold the Fine Gael seat - he will not be a Minister. His running mate, Mary Mitchell-O'Conner was obviously given a script before the debate as she trotted out the same old shite no matter what questions she was asked. Richard Boyd-Barret did nothing to dissuade me from the impression that he really belongs in the Monster Raving Loony Party. There's Ciarán Cuffe of the Greens - but I've never voted green and am not about to start now. This leaves independent Victor Boyhan (who I once voted for in a local election), and the two Fianna Fáil candidates - Mary Hanafin and Barry Andrews. 

I have alway voted Mary Hanafin #1, and will probably do so again. I look around the Dún Laoghaire constituency and see no one else that I want to vote for. We live in a democracy and I can vote for whoever I want - I know that some of my (few) readers will be incredulous at the thoughts of anybody voting for Fianna Fáil. 

Changing the colour of the paint leaves the same wall - just with a different colour. How long will it be before the Fine Gael/Labour government starts to fall in the polls, and that Enda Kenny becomes an unpopular Taoiseach? How long before the first scandal hits the new government? How long before the first series of savage cuts to health, education, and social welfare will be implemented by the new government? How long before a new Fine Gael Minister orders a new Merc, or a Labour Minister tries to explain that shutting hospital wards is a good thing and is necessary for the good of the country?

All that's going to change is the names of the Ministers driving around in Mercs.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Rise of “Big Data” and Data Scientists

Last evening I "attended" my first ever on-line class in a virtual classroom (via Elluminate). I have been working in the education field since 1989 and I am surprised with myself that I had not done this before. I have checked out samples and some archived material, but never the real deal - a live session.

George Siemens.
Photo from
The course I am taking part in is an "Introduction to Learning and Knowledge Analytics". This course is a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) which is being delivered by the Technology Enhanced Knowledge Research Institute, Athabasca University. The excellent George Siemens is the main Facilitator behind the course. Last evening's on-line session had about 60 people from all over the world, and it was fun to see people's comments and questions from places like Brazil, UK, and Canada. I had to join in this session from home as it was being run at 8.00pm Irish time. 

Ryan S.J.D. Baker.
Photo from
Last evening's speaker was Ryan Baker, who is Assistant Professor of Psychology and the Learning Sciences in the Department of Social Science and Policy Studies at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts. One of Ryan's current areas of research is in the field of Educational Data Mining which  is "concerned with developing methods for exploring the unique types of data that come from educational settings, and using those methods to better understand students, and the settings which they learn in" (from The class asks the questions: How does big data impact education? What roles do data scientists and practitioners play in corporates, K-12 schools, and higher education? The part of Ryan's talk that I had most interest in was when he was discussing gaming and the measure of and the reasons why students go "off-task". I have to be honest and say that I found a lot of the talk tough going - it was delivered at a break-neck speed (90+ slides in one hour!). I had missed the first week's class and had not read the recommended readings in advance of the class. I also found myself going "off-task" several times to check email and Twitter (to follow the Brian Cowen confidence vote on-line!). It is also distracting (but interesting) to follow the on-screen chat with other "classmates". Multi-tasking is not my thing - I can just about manage one thing at a time. I also get easily distracted when presenters mostly read from the text heavy slides on screen (as Ryan did).

Overall this was a worth-while virtual class to attend. It is a six week course and there are four weeks left - and it is free. You can see the syllabus here, and to sign up you need to join the course Google Group here.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Plagiarism, Spam, and Essay Writing Services

My post yesterday, What punishment for plagiarism?, has already attracted its first spam comment from the so-called "UK Essay Writing Services". 

Graphic from Practicalseo.
Since I started to use the anti-spam measures (such as Moderation) that Blogger provides for comments, the number of comments on my blog has been greatly reduced, but occasionally spam such as the latest comment gets through. I will not publish this comment, though if you Google "UK Essay Writing Service" you will see for yourself what is available.

For £119.50 you can get a ten page "top-class essay exactly based on your specifications and requirements" which is "100% customised and non-plagiarised". The service assures you that this essay will attract a "Guaranteed 2:1 Standard". For £30 extra they will even guarantee you a First! Easy? Of course there are many other "services" available on-line that write essays for students, and some students think that we Lecturers don't know about them. 

My message? If you are thinking of using one of these "services" - don't do it!

First, you have to provide some detail to the "service" about what you essay needs to be about - why not put this effort into your own work. If a service offers (as my spammer does) "high quality writing and meticulous referencing (both in-text referencing and bibliography)" - beware. This may be of a much higher standard that any other essay that you have submitted and that will arouse suspicion. Will you be able to get your hands on all the bibliography cited in "your essay"? Will you read any of the papers and work of others? Will you be able to answer any questions from your Lecturer about your essay? We do have the right to ask you to attend a viva where you might be asked to discuss the topic and defend your citations. Can you be sure that "your essay" will really beat anti-plagiarism software like Turnitin?

All a service like this proves is that you've got money and can afford to cheat better than someone else who goes to Wikipedia for their "essay". You might think you are clever, but this is not something that you can put on your CV, and you can't cheat your way through the rest of your life. In the future, would you hire someone  who cheated on their essay in College?

As this post also mentions the word "plagiarism", it will almost certainly attract more spam which I will not publish either.

Monday, January 17, 2011

What punishment for plagiarism?

Many people, including me, at third-level education find that Plagiarism is a plague that defies all efforts to stamp it out. Plagiarism, according to, is defined as:

Image from
"Five Tips for Avoiding Plagiarism"
"the unauthorized use or close imitation of the language and thoughts of another author and the representation of them as one's own original work"

Basically - it is a fancy word for "cheating". Every single student knows that copying and pasting material from the Internet into an essay/assignment/project is not the right thing to do. They know what they are doing, and they know that they are taking a chance. Now - for me it is this "chance" factor that is the most important thing. As log as there is a "chance" of being caught, there is of course a "chance" of not being caught - and many are prepared to take a gamble. Unfortunately I have detected plagiarism in many essays, assignments, and projects over the years. I have mostly used Google as my detective - simply type in a fews words from a suspicious passage, and Google will find it. Nowadays we have tools such as Turnitin which makes being a plagiarism detective a lot easier. Despite the presence of this tool - a few students continue to take a chance. Whether it is a deliberate gamble, laziness, panic (approaching a submission deadline), an effort to beat-the-system, or an effort to put one over on a Lecturer - the few will continue to plagiarize other people's work.

But... how do we deal with minor incidences of plagiarism. An incorrect citation, poor scholarship, an accidental omission of a few references - these do not constitute a deliberate attempt to cheat. The first question I ask myself when reading a suspicious passage - "is this a deliberate attempt to cheat"? I am also mindful that first year (or younger) students may not have a full understanding of what plagiarism is. You tell them that it is OK to copy material from the web or other resources as long as they cite the source (and use italics, etc). Some interpret this as simply "it's OK to copy material from the web" - it can be a confusing message. For students reading this blog post, here are five tips for avoiding plagiarism from a Path to Information Literacy Online Tutorial (PILOT) online course from the Los Rios Community College in Sacramento:
  1. First, use your own ideas. It should be your paper and your ideas that should be the focus.
  2. Use the ideas of others sparingly--only to support or reinforce your own argument.
  3. When taking notes, include complete citation information for each item you use.
  4. Use quotation marks when directly stating another person's words.
  5. A good strategy is to take 30 minutes and write a short draft of your paper without using any notes. It will help you think through what you want to say and help prevent your being too dependent upon your sources.
The whole course is worth viewing. The National College of Ireland has also got an excellent on-line resource - A Guide to Avoiding Plagiarism produced by the Norma Smurfit Library.

Todd Pettigrew writing on the 13th December 2010 in the On Campus on-line magazine asks the question: "What punishment for plagiarism?". For a first offence, Pettigrew suggests that "a plagiarized assignment should receive a grade of zero, recognizing that the student has violated a basic principle of academic discourse" and that such "cases of plagiarism must be reported to the administration" to be tracked. For a second offence, he suggests that a "student should get a zero in the course in question" - this is on the basis that a second offence is "worthy of a harsher punishment than the first because the offender should have known better and should have reformed after the first time". A third offence should "result in some kind of suspension or expulsion". This more severe penalty would serve as a "deterrent to students who might adopt cheating as a general strategy, would assure the wider community that the university values academic integrity, and would remove chronic offenders (who take up valuable time from teachers and staff) from the system". While these measures are harsh - I agree with Pettigrew that "most students would see such a regime as fair and reasonable". 

Most colleges will have some form of policy and procedures for dealing with plagiarism - if they don't, they should. Faculty and college administration also have a major responsibility to ensure that all students are not just aware that a policy exists, but that they understand what it is and what the consequences are. Pettigrew has a message for faculty: "I have heard more than one faculty member say, “I didn’t become a professor to be the plagiarism police.” Well, actually, you did".

Sunday, January 16, 2011

O'Loughlin Family Get Together

This weekend was a nice excuse for the O'Loughlin family of Ballingate to get together for dinner - my brother Brian was home from England for the weekend. It is not very often my Mum, Dad, sister Kathleen, brothers Joe and Brian, plus myself are all under the same roof. We had a great evening with lots of chat and catching up. For family who read this blog, here are a few photos (click to enlarge) from the evening:

Joe and Eugene.
Joe O'Loughlin Snr.
Joe, Eugene, Kathleen, and Brian.
Joe, Miriam, Brian, Nicky, Eugene,
Kathleen, Joe, and Phil.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

The "Think Tank" Blog by Mr. Binjour

The "Next Blog" link on the Blogger top strip is an interesting and wonderful door into the world of blogging - you never know what you will find. I sometimes click on the link for the hell of it to see what other people are blogging about, and maybe get some ideas for my own blog.

Graphic by Eugene
(with a little help from
 Google images).
Today I found The Think Tank blog by Mr. Binjour from Dorchester in Massachusetts. His posts are few, but I found the post on Reflections on 1st Term Exhibitions Projects very interesting. In this post he asks his students "Time to reflect! Were you graded fairly today? Would you have given yourself a different grade in one or more categories?". This is a great idea - it gives students an opportunity to give their own honest thoughts and feedback to the teacher on the grades they received, and it is also an opportunity for the teacher to collate feedback from the class.

17 comments are posted in response to this post - presumably all by Mr Binjour's students. They are mostly positive, with students agreeing that they had been graded fairly, with many students feeling that the grade reflected the amount of work put into the class project. There is also the fact that the students can compare their work with the grading rubric provided. You can see in the comments that it is possible to remain anonymous, though only 1/17 chose to do so.

Lessons from this to us educators? First, provide a grading rubric that students can compare their work to - we (teachers/lecturers) are not always open and up-front about this. Secondly, provide a mechanism for students to comment on their grade. In our College (and I'm sure in most others), lecturers will give feedback to the class on overall performance, and will then ask that if any students who wants individual feedback to catch them after class or call to their office - this can be a bit intimidating (especially to younger students). A blog may not be the best mechanism (though according to Will Richardson, blogs are now in widespread use by teachers), but it does provide a free and easy way to set up an outlet for feedback. Today's students may be more prepared to make a comment on-line rather call to an office.

For any students reading this blog (and I know that some do!) - I'd be interested in your views. You can comment anonymously if you wish - all comments will be published unedited.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

DUP to block bilingual signs plan in North

I read with interest in Tuesday January 11th's Irish Times that the DUP (are) to block bilingual signs plan. Northern Ireland Assembly Minister, Sinn Féin's Conor Murphy, proposes a "public consultation on allowing council welcome signs in towns or villages, plus signs at schools or tourist sites, to be in English as well as either Irish or Ulster-Scots". What's the harm in that I hear you say? Now I am not a Unionist by any stretch of the imagination (I'm not a republican either) - but I find that I am in partial agreement with the DUP on this. One of the pleasures in driving through Northern Ireland, England, and on the Continent, is that road signs are easier to read than the bi-lingual ones we have here. Bigger letters, and no confusion over names. The DUP are principally opposing this on waste rounds and also that local councils have the authority to do this anyway - there are more important things to be dealing with right now. The Alliance Party think the signage idea could be divisive, with "tribal demarcations in areas" and that signs would be an "institutionalised mark of tribalism”.

I have written on this blog before about when I agreed with Dr. Ed Walsh who proposed that the "€1.2bn a year spent on teaching the Irish language in schools should be halved". Should precious resources be devoted to Irish signage - you guessed it, my answer would be "No". 

Why do I say this? Well you will end up with ludicrous signs like the one below on the Stillorgan Road near Foxrock church from Google Street View. You will notice that the sign cleverly places a "fada" over the "u" in the Irish version of the name for Dún Laoghaire. But wait - there is no English version in use (for those of you who are not familiar with Irish - "Dún Laoghaire" translates into "Leary's Fort"). In fact the town was formerly called "Kingstown" in English.

View Larger Map

So what's the point in having a bi-lingual sign? Bullshit procedures, EU regulations, council bye-laws, are to blame in the South - and some "jobs-worth" cannot see the silliness of the above sign. The DUP might be right on this - imagine someone on Craigavon Borough Council trying to come up with a translation for Craigavon - "Fáilte go Craigavon". In Belfast, how long would a sign stating "Welcome to Shankill/Fáilte go Seanchill" last?

Conor Murphy - have you nothing better to do?

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Great Thinkers of 1931 Predict What 2011 Will Bring

Here's an interesting article Were they right? Great Thinkers of 1931 Predict What 2011 Will Bring from In the article, Tim Mack (President of the World Future Society), looks back on the predictions from American "geniuses" from 1931. 

Among the 1931 predictions that (sort of) came true were: 
  • increase in average life expectancy from 59 to 70 years of age (it's actually nearly 78 in USA)
  • a change from 35% of American homes being heated by wood fires to people living in "an electrically heated, air-conditioned home" 
  • the magic of remote control would be "commonplace"
  • the lives of women will be more like those of men, with more time spent outside the home (in 1931 less than 25% of women were in the workforce, now it is 60%)
One of the predictions that did not come true - homes would have an attached "aircar hanger" in 2011! Here's the ABCnews video on this (there's an ad at the beginning):

So - what about 80 years from now in 2091? Will we be able to say "Beam me up Scotty" like in Star Trek? What will the iPhone v123 look like? Will people laugh at the idea of only having 1,000 TV stations? Will the recession in Ireland be over? Will Eugene still be blogging? How many users will Facebook have? Probably only those under the age of 40 right now will live long enough to find out - Tim Mack predicts that people will live longer, up to 120 years. Most babies born around now in "developed countries" can expect to be alive in 2091.

In our family we will be celebrating my Dad's 80th birthday on 31st March next. It will be interesting to get his reflections on the past 80 years since he was born in 1931, as well as his thoughts on the next 80. I'll be sure to blog about this.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Is Sarah Palin To Blame For AZ Shooting?

Saturday's tragedy in Tucson Arizona (a place I visited in the 1990s) when a lone gunman, Jared Loughner, shot dead six people and wounded several others including Congress member Gabrielle Giffords, has ignited debate about American gun laws and Sarah Palin's "part" in the whole episode.

Photo from
Ever since she first burst on to the scene when selected by John McCain as Republican candidate for Vice-President - I have had a very low opinion of her abilities as a Leader. Certainly I think she is not presidential material, and I worry for the future of the United States, and indeed the World, if this person ever becomes President. She has tweeted "Don't Retreat, RELOAD" - and basks in the right-wing conservatism of the so called Tea Party. Now - in no way do I think she is involved in the Tucson shootings, I am certain that as a public representative that she abhors such lunatic action. However, people do look up to her, and her use of cross-hairs in her "Sarahpac" campaign bolsters her image of a tough gun-toting gal that some people want to see in the White House. The Obama 2012 Campaign has just one message for her - To Sarah Palin: Please Run in 2012!

Mark Zuckerberg has said that the question "Is Sarah Palin To Blame For AZ Shooting" is the "Top Question On Facebook Today (Sunday)" - I'm not surprised. Her enemies, and there are many, will see this as an opportunity to get at her - just look at some of the (very) offensive comments in the link above. The rhetoric before and after such events really tests the idea of free speech in America. I believe in "free speech" - even if that means saying things that others don't want to hear, or hearing what others have to say that you don't want to hear. Incitement to hatred is not "free speech" - people need to be careful about what they say or do - hiding behind a "free speech" screen is cowardice.

But - is she to blame? No.

Saturday, January 08, 2011

Phil Brown is new Manager of Preston North End

Photo from Lancashire Evening Post.
Phil Brown, former manager of Hull City, has been appointed manager of Preston North End. The Lancashire Evening Post reports that the "New Preston manager has Premier League ambitions" - brave talk for a manager of a team cut adrift in the Championship in January. Right now PNE fans will settle for fourth from bottom to avoid relegation! PNE have lost three games in a row since our last win against Ipswich Town (who have also endured the managerial merry-go-round with the sacking of Roy Keane today).

Phil Brown has got to be better that Darren Ferguson. He has a lot of experience in the Championship which counts much more that his (almost) two years as manager of Hull City in the Premiership. No doubt he is glad to be back in management, and is raring to go.

Photo from 101 Great Goals.
But...if he saves PNE from relegation it will rank alongside Lazarus's resurrection as a miracle. PNE have no money, are seriously in debt, lack confidence, are on a losing streak, and more importantly - don't have the players to get us out of the relegation fight. Staying up is a tall order - Brown is quoted today on PNE.COM as saying "We have got 22 games to go and we will probably have to win over half of those games to stay in this Championship". While I do hope that he can help Preston stay in the Championship (PNE have made the play-offs four time since promotion in 2000) - I feel it may be even beyond the powers of Phil Brown to save us. Brown is of course famous for many things including his half time team talk to the Hull City team when they were 4-0 down to Man City. We needs his balls now!

Friday, January 07, 2011

One has flown the nest

Today was a very important day in my life as a Dad - one of my daughters (Kate - 19) has moved out of our family home to an apartment. I guess I always knew that this day was coming, but it is nevertheless a hard milestone for a father to see his daughter move out - she is the first to do so in our family. I am unsure of my emotions - part of me is proud of her that she wants to have her own life and live independently from home, but part of me still wants my "little girl" to be with us at home. 

Photo by Bonnie Cullen.
When I went to College (Trinity) in October 1978 (same age as Kate), I was obliged to live away from home as my home town Carnew is about 80km from Trinity. My first accommodation was in digs with a family where the man of the house regularly regaled me about his gay exploits and tried to seduce me on a few occasions. Not shocking today, but very much so to a completely innocent lad like me back in 1978 (I resisted his overtures!). I was terrified of living away from home and this didn't help. Thankfully my second and subsequent years in College were spent in a variety of digs, apartments, and Rooms in Trinity. Much more independence - and (I should say) much more growing up, when I learned to fend for myself and made a lot of good friends. It was an important and character forming part of my life.

I envy Kate starting out like this - I know she will thrive on the independence and freedom that living away from home provides. I wish I was 30 years younger and starting out again on this road. 

I tweeted today about this when I was having my morning cup of tea: "First of my family leaves the nest today as 19 year old daughter moves out - not sure if I'm happy or sad".

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Incompetent academics to face strict penalties

John Walshe writes in today's Irish Independent that Incompetent academics (are) to face strict penalties. According to Walshe, "ACADEMICS face stiff penalties if they fail to get a satisfactory rating under a proposed controversial performance appraisal system". He further reports that "Under the confidential plans, staff who get a poor rating will not be able to go for promotion, take sabbatical leave, undertake private consultancy work or receive annual salary increments".

KPI framework from
An Introduction to Business Systems Analysis
(O'Loughlin, 2010)
Now I don't support "incompetent academics" anymore than the next person - but what is an "incompetent academic"? This can be difficult to measure - I once gave out a strong bollicking to a certain section of a class over their constant chatter in one of my lectures. Once I was finished, in walked one of the College admins to distribute an evaluation survey about the module I was teaching - what timing! Needless to say my ratings were poorer than usual. Is this an effective way to measure "performance"? There are lots of things that could be used to measure performance: pass rates, publications, research projects, student ratings, use of technology, student engagement, attrition rates, and lots of other measures. In my book (An Introduction to Business Systems Analysis) I proposed a new framework for key performance indices (KPIs) to help measure performance - very few of these KPIs are used in academia. In my 8 years as a lecturer in NCI I have NEVER been observed or appraised in class by a peer - let alone a manager! How do they know whether I am competent or incompetent? Indeed - how do I know?

What about the environment we work in? According to the Bullying of Academics in Higher Education Blog - there are ten signs to what incompetent academic (leaders) will do:
  1. Delegate work rather than balance work loads
  2. Reduce all answers to Yes or No rather than explaining their reasoning
  3. Not separate personal life from professional life
  4. Manage crisis
  5. Create an environment where mistakes are unacceptable
  6. Humiliate or reprimand an employee within a group
  7. Not stand behind subordinates when they fail
  8. Encourage hard workers not smart workers
  9. Judge people on hours not performance
  10. Act differently in front of their leaders
(Note: in no way am I suggesting that I am bullied in my work place.)

Cartoon copied from the
Bullying of Academics blog.
I think many academics will recognize some of the above points. I'm not passing blame on to management - but incompetency goes both ways.

Predictively there is union opposition to the proposed "system" - Paddy Healy, former president of the TUI, describe the plan as an "attack" on academic freedom, permanency and tenure, and (wait for it) Irish democracy! Academics do enjoy a lot of "academic freedom" (at least most that I know do) - but we also need to live in the real world and recognize that in straightened times some "freedoms" may need to be let go, and that no job is permanent or secure. I'll leave the bullshit about "Irish democracy" being attacked by this for your own reflection.

The Hunt Report (due soon) will have a lot of suggestions and I'm sure many things that will be like a red rag to a bull to most academics. Some sections have been leaked, but I will withhold any more comment until the final report is released. Should make for some interesting reading!

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Christy Moore at the Grand Canal Theatre

I went to see Christy Moore and Declan Synnott in the Grand Canal Theatre last evening - I'm guessing I'm one of the few Irish people who has not seen Christy in concert ever! Well I've put that right now - Christy was magnificent in delivering many familiar songs from all sections of his career.
Photo from

He sang about (read it fast to sound like Christy): shovels, Anne Lovett, the Spanish Civil War, Nazis, Joxer, Magdalene Laundries, injustice, Lisdoonvarna, Frank Ryan, encores, London, building sites, banks, the craic, Rose of Tralee, strong whiskey, Veronica Guerin, and lots more. Christy is best at ballads - The Voyage, Ride On, and Ordinary Man stand out for me. Christy is also very funny and managed to update some of his songs with references to Seán Fitzpatrick, Michael Fingleton, and Michael Flatley!

Christy was accompanied by the excellent Wexford guitarist Declan Synnott. Curiously Declan had four guitars, but only used three, while Christy had a bodhrán beside him that he never used. Synnott is a super guitarist and his accompaniment to Christy worked very well. Christy was beatin' the livin' daylights out of his two acoustic guitars - so much so that each was handed to an assistant after every song, no doubt to be re-tuned.

All in all a very enjoyable evening.

Sunday, January 02, 2011

I'd Rather be Playing Golf

Graphic from pdxGraphics.
I have decided not to renew my golf club membership for 2011 - I have been a member of Coolattin GC since 1997, but I can no longer justify the (modest) annual membership fee of €600. My main playing partner is my brother Joe - he too is closing his membership, and this is also a major factor in my decision. We have decided to go the green fee route. Neither of us played much in 2010 - it certainly would have been cheaper to have paid green fees every time we played rather than be members of a club. For 2011 this is what we propose to do - pay green fees where ever we want to play (including in Collattin). Of course we will loose our handicaps, but I'm not sure this will make much difference to the amount of golf we play.

I guess golf clubs are feeling the economic pinch just the same as everyone else, and I regret that my decision to leave Coolattin GC might cause some difficulty for the club which has a fantastic golf course that I really like. I'm certain that casual golfers, as I am, all over the country are doing the same. Golf clubs may need to get creative about how they want to survive. Ireland is known as a country with some of the world's top golf courses - but even these are under financial pressure. We may see clubs closing, or doing desperate deals to keep going. 

I do hope to keep playing golf - even though I am hopeless (I'm happy if I break 100 in a round!), I really enjoy the game. So whenever I think "I'd rather be playing golf", I will do something about it.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

Happy New Year!

Graphic from psdGraphics.
Two Thousand and Eleven - Happy New Year to all who pass by this Blog. I wish you and yours the best for 2011 where ever you are. 

Many thanks to all my readers who stopped by on 2010, especially to the many who took the time to write comments - I hope that continue to write items of interest in 2011, and I welcome all comments. I do publish all (except those which are clearly spam) - even those by readers who have taken exception to some of my musings and rantings.

Some things I hope that happen in 2011:
  • I hang on to my job
  • Celebrate landmark birthdays: My Dad Joe (80 on March 31st), Roma (50 on August 30th), and my sister Kayo (50 on November 1st) 
  • 25 years of wedded bliss to the lovely Roma (September 13th)
  • Our new government is not any worse than the old one
  • The doom and gloom around Ireland dissipates - if even only for a little
  • I ride my Harley-Davidson to the south east of Spain (and back) in the summer
  • Preston North End stay in the Championship
  • My YouTube channel reaches half a million views by December 31st
  • I keep on blogging!