Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Book Review - Enigma: A New Life of Charles Stewart Parnell

Paul Bew has written a very enjoyable biography of C.S. Parnell. I had not read any books about Parnell before, but of course knew a lot about him from learning about Irish history. This is an easy to read book and provides a lot of insight into his short life (he died aged just 45 in 1891). His most effective period was from 1882-1890 - a testament to his lasting legacy and contribution to Irish history that he achieved so much in so short a time.

Image link to Amazon.co.uk.
Parnell was a man of mixed abilities and character - take this extract from page 115 "his personal traits and idiosyncrasies became more noticeable: the legendary frigidity of demeanour, the impenetrable reserve, the lofty detachment, the strange sphinx-like silences, the inexplicable absences, the hint of steel - all these being to some extent offset by an engaging charm enlivened with occasional flashes of warmth and even whimsy, and his behaviour as a whole being marked by a general air of eccentricity".

The affair with Kitty O'Shea is not sensationalized. Such an affair would not cause the split and his downfall these days, but it was unfortunate that he is remembered as much for this affair as he is for his politics. 

At the end of the book there is a reprint of the essay "A Counterfactual Chief? If Parnell had lived till 1918", written in 2010 by Patrick Maume. To me this adds nothing to reading about the life of Parnell. Speculating what would have happened if he had lived longer is just that - speculation. Even Bew himself states in a note at the end "Perhaps all this speculation is beside the point". He is right.

Apart from the reprinted essay at the end, this is a very good book on an icon of Irish history and is certainly recommended by me.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Christmas 2011

It's St Stephen's Day - and Christmas 2011 is over. I love Christmas Day! We had a very early start (0700) to open pressies. Santa brought me an Amazon Kindle! I also have Walter Isaacson's book on Steve Jobs in paperback - lots of interesting reading ahead.

With my new Kindle (and new jumper!)
showing page 244 of my own book.
An Introduction to Business Systems Analysis.
So far I love the Kindle - it's the 3G/WiFi/Keyboard version that I have. I find it very easy to use, and crucially - very easy to read from. I downloaded some free books at first - Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austen), The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, and the Bible. I also copied over some free eBooks that I have gathered over the years, eg "Knowing Knowledge" by George Siemens. Plus I have also copied over a few PDF files that I have had for some time (which I have not paid for). My intention is not to read these again, but I really like the idea that I have a searchable copy of these texts at all times.

My first purchase from Amazon was Dava Sobel's Galileo's Daughter - which I plan to read while travelling to Spain tomorrow for a few days. This will be the first time that I will not bring any paper books or newspapers with me when travelling - I want to see how I get on with the Kindle. 

As a piece of technology the Kindle is so far for me a wonderful gadget. Amazon pay for the 3G connection, so you don't need a sim card to use it. With WiFi - the connection is really quick, my purchase of the Dava Sobel book above was downloaded to the Kindle automatically in seconds! It holds up to 3,500 books - so I expect to keep adding to this over the next few years. Imagine having your own library in your pocket? I will no doubt blog about this in the near future - but I'm certain that the Kindle, and other such devices, have the potential to revolutionalize knowledge by having access to libraries of books and documents at our finger tips. This could also be the beginning of the end for book stores who are likely to go in the same direction towards extinction as is happening to travel agents and record shops.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Students are way ahead of us?

While at the ICEP Conference last week, Professor Sally Brown played us a YouTube video when she proposed that students are way ahead of us teachers/lecturers. It was in the context of a discussion on the use of technology in education. Though not exclusively about technology, she did point out that students can be way ahead of their teachers in many ways - the following ad for New Zealand's lotto nicely confirms this point. Enjoy!

Friday, December 23, 2011

YouTube for Teachers

YouTube for Teachers was officially launched last week. This is an effort by YouTube to "to help teachers use educational YouTube videos to educate, engage and inspire their students". Many schools block the main YouTube website, but youtube.com/teachers is a sub-domain that can be set by network administrators to be viewable by students. I had expected that ads and comments be removed, but that does not seem to be the case.

Image link to the
Khan Academy.
There are some excellent Maths videos from the Khan Academy - every Maths teacher in the world should use these both to learn how to use the material to teach the material themselves, and of course to recommend to students that they use them for learning and revision. As I write this post, a staggering 92,138,529 lessons have been delivered by the Khan Academy. Want to learn about simple equations in algebra? Check out this video which not only shows you how, but is explained and illustrated very well. This is a great resource for teachers because they can use the same examples and perhaps improve their own teaching. 

I sense that this could be a breakthrough in the teaching and learning of Maths. We constantly hear about poor maths standards in school leavers, while industry is crying out for graduates with better maths skills (see Skills shortages can be addressed in the Irish Times). We also hear that not all maths teachers have a qualification in maths - in fact according to this recent Press Release from Minister Seán Sherlock which quotes a survey that "shows that out of a total of 3,311 teachers teaching maths in 422 schools, 2,198 teachers (66.4%) are fully qualified to do so". My point is that some of the best teachers in the world are putting excellent maths video on YouTube - so why not use this fantastic resource in the classroom? Teachers should have nothing to fear - I don't see the day that a class will consist entirely of watching videos. Students will always need the guiding hand of a good teacher. By embracing YouTube for Teachers, I am convinced that maths standards will improve greatly.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

How To... Draw a Basic Scatter Diagram in Excel 2010

One of the shortest videos I have created for the Learn with Dr Eugene O'Loughlin channel is about creating a scatter diagram in Excel 2010 (see below). Creating a scatter diagram is really easy to do, and it is a useful diagram if you want a simple visual look at a comparison of two variables. In this video I use data comparing on-line course ratings against age. This is based in part on an example from the book Managing Information Technology Projects (Schwalbe, 2011), which I use in my Project Management classes.

For my PhD thesis (1988), I produced many scatter diagrams for data analysis such as multi-variate analysis. Unlike Excel 2010 where a diagram can be created with a few clicks from a mouse, back in 1988 I had to write a FORTRAN programme to read the data file. I then had to send the result for batch processing overnight, and pick up a printout of the diagram the next day. Practically stone age stuff!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

ICEP 2011

The International Conference on Engaging Pedagogy (ICEP 2011) was held in NCI yesterday and I was able to attend most of the proceedings. The conference "is an annual event that brings together researchers and practitioners in the field of third-level teaching in order to discuss means and methods of improving student engagement (from ICEP About page)".

The opening address "Effecting Change to improve the Learning Experience", was delivered by Professor Sally Brown. She gave us both an entertaining and informative talk - she even started at the end! She displayed her Conclusion slide first and then went back to the beginning. While she was stating the obvious that if we keep on doing the same thing every day that nothing will get better, she still held the audience's attention with her wit and  informed experiences. She advised us to consider changing the way we assess students, use technology, engage with students, and to embrace change. 

I missed the first break-out session (which I was supposed to chair), due to attending some presentations by some 4th year students. But I was back for the afternoon breakout session - I attended the following three presentations:
  • The Use of Mind Maps as an Assessment Tool by Robbie O’Connor (Tallaght IT)
  • Motivating Student Learning by Mark Dowling (Griffith College)
  • Embedding Universal Design in the Curriculum by Margaret Kinsella (Blanchardstown IT)
Robbie O'Connor was excellent and showed us how he uses mind maps in assessing student work on an environmental engineering course. Mark Dowling was candid about how some strategies for engaging students did not work very well. While Margaret Kinsella both entertained and informed when talking about designing educational material to suit everyone - including disabled people.

The final part of the conference was an "Armchair Session" (sadly, with no armchairs!), which was led by Professor Phil Race. The theme was "Capturing the Voice of Irish Educators" where he set us various tasks to ask questions about the things that challenged us as educators - his slides from his presentation (which includes our feedback) are available here. Our discussions varied from "what can we do when we get silence after asking a question?" to "how can we overcome a reliance on the likes of Wikipedia?".

Overall - a very interesting conference and it was also great to meet both old and new faces too.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

End of Another Semester

Today marked the end of Semester I for me in NCI.  I had no classes today but spent the day attending mid-year project presentations from our final year students. This was a hectic, but enjoyable day. Students were required to present on the progress of their final year project. Lots of interesting material which I enjoyed listening too. Now the hard part - marking the presentatons!

Semester I is over! Image from the
In the Direction of our Dreams Blog.

At the start of each semester, I always look down the line to the next 14 weeks thinking that it is sooooooo long! However, time flies - essays and projects have to be marked, and classes have to be delivered. I have enjoyed this semester more than most. I had first year, third year, and fourth year modules - plus an executive education module to deliver. My subjects were:
  • Introduction to Business
  • Project Management
  • Business Process Engineering
  • Business Systems Analysis
Before the Christmas break (we get Christmas Eve to the 2nd January off) - I have a lot of continuous assessment to mark. Exams take place in January.

I know some students check out this blog occasionally - so I'd like to congratulate all students on their work in semester I.

Semester II awaits!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Christmas Carol Service in Blackrock

This evening I was part of the St John the Baptist Church choir that sang at the parish Christmas Carol Service. Also participating was a traditional Irish music group and a children's choir from the local school. The service was held in the parish church and a reasonable crowd showed up for the evenings prayers and entertainment. Does this count as a  gig?

We had three carols to sing on our own - "Coventry Carol", "O Little One Sweet", and "Still, Still, Still". We also joined in on other carols like "Joy to the World" and " O Come All Ye Fatihful". I have to say that I am enjoying the singing in the choir - there were three men (incuding myself) and ten women singing. We certainly belted out the carols!

I still find the parts (bass in my case) hard to get right. Even though I practice a bit on the piano at home, I do get many notes wrong. So I sing out loud the bits I know, and sing low for the bits I don't know so well. If all else fails I sing along with the melody!

We have Christmas masses coming up - so that will be a mix of traditional hymns and Christmas carols. I'm doing the vigil mass on Christmas Eve, and the main 12.00 mass on Christmas Day. I'll be so holy that God has to let me into Heaven!

I have been a member of the choir for just three months and they are a great bunch to sing with - we even went for a drink after the service to Tonic in Blackrock. I have a long way to go before I get all the hynns and carols right - I mustn't have been listening at mass over all the years, everthing seems that I have never heard them before. I'll keep this up for a while - something to do on a Monday evening (choir practice), and the auld religion bit won't do me any harm either.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

The 10 Worst Songs of the 1970s Pictures - Rolling Stone

Following on from yesterdays's post about the top 10 photos of 2011, I naturally decided to beat that post with a look at a reader's poll in Rolling Stone magazine - The 10 Worst Songs of the 1970s. Since all my teenage years were spent in the 1970s, I actually remember most of these rubbish songs as I listened to David Hamilton on BBC Radio 1 almost every day. For children of that fabulous decade - the 1970s, here's the top 10 worst songs:

  1. Rick Dees - 'Disco Duck'
  2. Starland Vocal Band - 'Afternoon Delight'
  3. Paul Anka - '(You're) Having My Baby'
  4. Debby Boone - 'You Light Up My Life'
  5. The Captain and Tennille - 'Muskrat Love'
  6. Rupert Holmes - 'Escape (The Pina Colada Song)'
  7. Terry Jacks - 'Seasons In The Sun'
  8. Bo Donaldson and the Heywoods - 'Billy Don't Be A Hero'
  9. Morris Albert - 'Feelings'
  10. Minnie Riperton - 'Loving You'

I don't remember "Disco Duck" which was a one-hit-wonder for a Memphis DJ - perhaps it was only a minor hit on this side of the Atlantic. The Captain and Tennille's  "Muskrat Love" is the other one I don't recall. "Billy Don't Be A Hero" was a hit for Paper Lace over here. So - if I had to pick a favourite from this list, it would have to be The Pina Colada song by a mile. Here it is for for all you 1970s lovers (with Rupert Holmes looking very like Kenny Everett!):

Saturday, December 10, 2011

The National Geographic Magazine's Top 10 Photos of 2011

I am a big fan of the National Geographic and have been reading and learning from it since the 1960's. As a boy I used to put their maps on my bedroom wall and pour over them, as well as reading articles on everything scientific and geographical over the years. I also love the photographs - you can pick up any National Geographic magazine and wonder at the quality and brilliance of some of the photos.

Photo by Joel Sartore - "Rift in Paradise".
Image link to Top 10 Photographs of 2011
on National Geographic.
The National Geographic magazine's top 10 photos are now available on-line. As usual there are some stunning photos shown - my favourite is the one with the lion in the tree. I wish I could take photos like this - I'm sure hours of practice and patience went into setting up this shot. Also certain in the digital age that perhaps several photos were taken of which this one was selected - perhaps it was even uploaded to the Internet on the spot. Imagine that in the recent past that the photographer would have had to go back to a studio to develop the film and wait to see the end result!

It's a great credit to the National Geographic that they are still in existence and continue to be popular despite the digital age when anybody can shoot almost professional photos with basic digital cameras. Many of their photos are available as free wallpapers for your desktop, and are certainly worth browsing. A fantastic learning resource.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Students use smartphones to study more, and more efficiently

StudyBlue is a website that is designed to help students study better, principally by allowing students to make on-line flashcards with photos and audio for mobile devices. According to StudyBlue author Scott D, "It turns out that students who make flashcards on smartphones or study their flashcards on mobile devices are getting a ton of benefits from their mobile study sessions by taking advantage of the opportunity to study everywhere they go". 

Image link to StudyBlue.com
(click link for better view).
According to StudyBlue, students with smartphones are:
  • twice as likely to study between 6 and 8.00 am
  • almost three times as likely to track their progress
  • study 40 more minutes each week by studying everywhere they go

StudyBlue have prepared an Infographic to illustrate their findings which are based on a study of nearly one million users from the Autumn 2011 semester - so it is bang up-to-date. I also like the bit at the bottom of the infographic that shows the percentage of students who "often" use their smartphones before going to sleep (46%), waiting in a queue (55%), and commuting (74%).

StudyBlue also has a section for Teachers. I have registered as a user and will investigate using this for a class in the future. So far it seems easy to use and already has features that should be in VLEs like Moodle.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

How To... Use the COUNTIF statement in Excel 2010

My YouTube Partner Channel is now renamed Learn with Dr Eugene O'Loughlin. YouTube have changed the layouts, and I have edited my channel to suit. Gone is the (very basic) banner graphic which I drew myself from the top - I may replace this with something better in the future. For YouTube Partners there are some good Analytics (formerly called "Insight") - while they don't really tell me much more than what I was able to determine before - they are certainly more user-friendly to use. The number of views today stands at 660,015. Last week the channel had 17,971 views, and the number of subscribers continues to grow (now at 699). I'm hoping that YouTube's new structure for education channels will help drive more traffic to the channel. 

My lastest video added this week is about how to use a COUNTIF function in Excel. This is a function that I actually use myself quite a bit, it is easy to learn about, and is very useful. At 3 minutes 41 seconds it is also one of my shortest videos. This one was recorded using Camstudio's free screencasting tool. Have a look and see what you think:

Monday, December 05, 2011

"Software is like magic: all you need is ability"

Last week I commented about an anonymous Irish Times article "Kids use PCs at home yet write by hand at school. It's antediluvian" in which I agreed that there is not enough technology education in our schools. This debate gains further ground from John Naughton writing in today's Guardian newspaper "Programming should take pride of place in our schools". Naughton writes that if "we don't change the way ICT is thought about and taught, we're shutting the door on our children's futures". Here-here!

Image link to The Guardian.
For anyone passionate about technology and education - Naughton's article is a "must-read". While the article is about UK schools, it can easily be translated for schools all over the world. Naughton sees learning the likes of Microsoft Office as merely "office skills" - and that what's missing is "any appreciation of the real significance of introducing children to programming". In the UK and Ireland, our schools and colleges are constantly criticized for not producing graduates with the skills needed by industry. Despite this, talented young people like Shawn Fanning (Napster) and Mark Zuckerburg (Facebook) innovated with little more than a laptop and programming ability. We should teach at least some basic programming in our schools. Not just as an option in Transition Year - but as a full subject for Junior and Leaving Certificates. It would be better and more useful than some of our exiting subjects. I left secondary school in 1978, and since the mid 1980s I have used computers almost every day. Not once since 1978 have I had a conversation in Irish longer than a cúpla focal.

Naughton's final paragraph is telling:

That's why software is like magic: all you need is ability. And some children, for reasons that are totally and wonderfully mysterious, have an extraordinary aptitude for programming – just as some have a musical, mathematical or artistic gift. If the government excludes computer science from the national curriculum then it will be effectively slamming the door to the future.

Technology as a main subject for secondary school students WILL HAPPEN - it's just a matter of when.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

New Restaurant - Le Plancha in Blackrock

We decided to try the recently opened new restaurant in Blackrock - Le Plancha. It is located beside the Wishing Well Pub and replaces Papa's Mediterranean Restaurant which finally closed after a few years of being open and shut intermittently. Le Plancha "is a modern Irish restaurant with a style of cuisine using influences from the Iberian Peninsula & France". Certainly different from a lot of the run-of-mill restaurants we now have in Ireland.

Photo from LePlancha.ie.
The menu is short, but excellent. Fish, beef, duck, and chicken - but with delicious sounding sauces and vegetable mixes. For a starter I had a smoked duck salad - very tasty. After this I went for baked halibut with a wonderful mix of mushrooms, peas, and pickled onions on an olive oil mash. I was not disappointed - this was really good. I even had a desert of chocolate brownie with smashing Bailey's ice-cream. All-in-all - an excellent meal which I felt was good value at €78 for the two of us (including drinks).

Despite the Recession - businesses are still opening up. Just take a look at bizstartup.ie to see that many entrepreneurs are still dipping their toes into new business ventures. It must take a lot of guts to start a new business these days - especially in the restaurant business. We met the owner, the lovely Eimear, who looked after us well. We had a chat about Facebook and Twitter and their roles in promoting businesses - hopefully I convinced her of the benefits that social networking tools can have for her in her new venture. Good luck to Eimear and all at Le Plancha, and many thanks for a lovely evening out.

Le Plancha is not on Twitter yet, but they can be found on Facebook.

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Ballingate House Upper

Out of the blue I recently received an email from CM who was researching his family, and who had discovered one of my very early posts on this blog: Ballingate House Upper - Where I Grew Up. This house stood on the spot where my Mum and Dad's house now stands. CM Googled "Ballingate" and found my Blog post - it turns out that CM's Grandfather was born in this house.

Photo used with permission (courtesy of CM).
CM sent me an old photograph of the house - I had never seen any pictures of it before. My Grand Uncle Pat Hurley bought the house (and surrounding farm) for £1,200 in 1942. Ballingate House Upper was demolished in two parts. According to my Dad, during World War II (possibly 1944) the roof was removed to avoid paying rates, and an auction was held to sell all the slates and timber from the house. This auction realized more than the £1,200 it cost to buy the farm - a nice piece of business despite the fact that a fine house was ruined. Dad bought the farm from Uncle Pat in 1959 - by then the house was a ruin and it was demolished to make way for our family house in 1960. The rubble from the house was piled beside the avenue leading to our farm for many years.

Image link to BuildingsOfIreland.ie.

I visited Mum and Dad today and showed them the photo above - it did not take Dad long to figure out what building was in the photo. While he remembers the house well, not everything was as he thought. Ballingate House Upper is shown in the mid 19th century ordnance survey map to the left. The house is the square shape at the north east end of the buildings shown - we had some good fun today walking around the existing house and the remaining buildings trying to figure out the aspect of the house in the photo. We are certain that the photo was taken from a south-west angle.

Once again the power of the Internet is making the world smaller. A simple blog post has prompted CM (who lives in France) to check out his family history and an old photo can now be shared for all to see. I know CM now plans to visit Ballingate before Christmas.

Friday, December 02, 2011

The only Irish channel on YouTube's Directory for Lifelong Learning!

YouTube is getting its act together as far as Education Channels are concerned (must be the Google influence?). In the past few days I have been getting YouTube Partner updates telling me about new features and more Insight into who is viewing my Learn with YouTube channel.

Click image to enlarge.
YouTube have set up a Lifelong Learning section in the Education category. There are 103 channels listed today at EDU › Channels Directory for Lifelong Learning, and guess what? My channel is one of the 103! YouTube have changed the name from Learn with YouTube to Learn with Dr Eugene O'Loughlin, so I have some work to do to in changing my Channel header and title. So far, this is the only channel listed from Ireland. I'm sure more will be added to this directory over time, but it's cool to be one of the first 100.

My channel is at #72 for "Most Viewed" - a long way behind #1 which is the National Geographic Channel which has over 10 million views. I am also near the bottom at #99 for number of subscribers, also a long way behind the National Geographic which has over half a million subscribers. Given that these are figures for the whole world (not just Ireland) I am giving myself a small pat on the back today!

Thursday, December 01, 2011

"Kids use PCs at home yet write by hand at school. It's antediluvian"

Last Tuesday's Irish Times features an article on Kids use PCs at home yet write by hand at school. It's antediluvian. It is a column "designed to give a voice to those within the education system who wish to speak out anonymously". I don't know who wrote the article, but he/she certainly speaks for a lot of parents and for those in education.

Image link to Edutopia.org.
In the article a parent writes about their son who spends a lot of time on his computer at home, and very little time on a computer at school where most work is still done by hand. The argument is that this is no preparation for working life and that this is "so absurd when you consider what most people’s working lives are like nowadays: everything is based around a computer. Everything we write is typed into one program or another". 

Parents are hearing all the time that there are jobs in IT - indeed yesterday I was at a stand in NCI's Open Day at which this years school 6th years attended, and I told any prospective student who asked about computing that there are jobs in IT. Some were wondering how much knowledge of computers did they need to do a Computer Science course.

So are students prepared for College/work? Almost all students who come to the College now are digitally literate. This means that they can use a computer to do based things like send/receive email, look up stuff on the web, and create a Facebook page. They do not yet know about programming, computer architecture, electronics, operating systems, and software engineering. Many schools have ECDL programmes as part of Transition Year - but by the time students have finished the leaving certificate two years later they will have forgotten most of what they have learned (especially if they don't use any of what they have learned). ECDL and Facebook is not enough for the real world.

So I agree with the anonymous Irish Times writer that technology should be a more important part of education. The trouble is that it costs a lot of money - not everybody can afford a laptop, and the Department of Education certainly can't afford it. To spend more would mean sacrificing something else. Dare I say that the money spent on educating students to learn Irish (which many cannot speak after 14 years in our education system) would be better spent on technology?