Sunday, March 31, 2013

Happy 82nd Birthday Dad!

March 31st means only one thing in our family - my Dad's birthday. He was born on this day in 1931, and this year his birthday fell on Easter Sunday, so it was time for a family get-together to help him celebrate. We had a great day and sang "Happy Birthday" with gusto. Dad certainly enjoyed the occasion and looked great for 82 years young.

Happy Birthday Dad from all your family!

Friday, March 29, 2013

Good Friday - a day off or a religious day?

Today is Good Friday and I am at home this morning because the College is closed and there are no classes or work today. Many other businesses are closed as has been the practice on Good Friday's for centuries. Luckily for us it is not counted out of our holidays even though it is not a Bank Holiday. It is a religious day that the custom is that it is also a company holiday. Added to Easter Monday, this makes for a nice long weekend (personally I would rather have the days off in the summer).

Image source: Calvarya.Org.
Days "off" for religious occasions are now a bit dated to my mind. Later this afternoon I will be joining my fellow choir members for Good Friday Prayers in a church that will be no more than one-quarter full. The vast majority of people who have today "off" will not set foot in a Church. Should the day be given "off" for those not attending church? Should you get a card stamped by the priest to prove you were at Prayers so that you can claim the day "off"? If you are not a Christian, should you get the day "off"? What about other religious days like Christmas?

As religion is paying less and less of a role in people's lives, perhaps it is time to declare days like Good Friday as official Bank Holidays and call it what it now is - a day off. WWJD?

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Flipping Classes and Flipping Academics

No - I'm not cursing or cooking! The concept of flipping classes has been around for sometime - at its simplest it is about doing homework/exercises in class, and taking the class at home (perhaps via a video). Sounds good to me and could make better use of class time. But I don't do it, and at the moment don't plan to do so. It could work very well for me in Project Management classes - this subject can be a bit boring (see my previous post about this - You can't polish a turnip). I already have some short videos that are available to students to prepare for tutorials - however I have noticed that quite a lot do not view the videos beforehand, preferring instead to view them in class, which of course defeats the intended purpose of the videos in the first place.

Claire Shaw, writing in The Guardian, in an article The flipped academic: turning higher education on its head, asks the questions "Can we also flip academics – or even academia itself?". She discusses how teachers and lecturers can "add value" to their classes in an age when it's "very hard to find a topic taught in universities for which there isn't also a free lecture available from someone world class". So this challenges us to think about how best to use class time, especially if a student can access top class content on-line.

Here are some useful items to remember from high-school teacher John Sowash that he wish he knew about flipping classes before he stared:

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Khan Academy Video Content in Class - Official!

In the state of Idaho in the USA, a new initiative seeks to revolutionize learning by partnering with the Khan Academy to improve Mathematics skills in schools. The J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation is funding the project to the tune of $1.5 million, the Northwest Nazarene University’s College of Education in Nampa, Idaho, will manage and facilitate the project. It is expected that more than "10,000 students in nearly four dozen schools across Idaho will log into newly created Khan Academy accounts during the 2013-14 school year as part of an initiative that aims to infuse technology into instruction and supplement teachers' curricula" (see EdWeek). The project is also aimed at teachers to equip them with videos, exercises, incentives and a data dashboard to monitor student progress - there is funding too for technology from the Foundation.

What a simple and great idea! If you have not already checked out the Khan Academy, I recommend that all students and educators should do so. I don't use the videos in class, but I have recommended individual videos in my Statistics classes, and I have use them in preparation for class. Salman Khan is an excellent teacher and is very skilled at doing so on-line. I see myself using it, and many other on-line educational resources such as YouTube EDU and iTunesU, a lot more. If there are excellent educational resources out there - let's embrace and use them. I don't think we have anything to fear from them.

Watch and listen to some Idaho teachers enthuse about the Khan Academy and what it means for them:

Monday, March 25, 2013

Learn with Dr Eugene O'Loughlin in action (via @risketto) @YouTube

It's nice to know that other people are making use my YouTube Channel - I get some great (and some not-so-great) comments on the channel. One of my favourite comments, including a photo, comes via Twitter from @risketto (Angelica Risquez):

@eoloughlin using your great presentation on project network diagrams at GAC Academic Forum workshop at UL ;-)

Learning about Project Network Diagrams.
Image source: Photo by Angelica Risquez (via Twicsy).
That's my video playing on an iPad, with an attentive audience! It looks like the group had a task to complete involving using a Project Network Diagram. I hope they found the video useful. 

This is why I do this.

The daily view figures passed 7,000 for the first time last Tuesday (19th), and did so again on Wednesday. Viewing figures continue to grow slowly, even though I haven't added any new videos for quite a few weeks now. Video is gaining a significant place in education, a topic I'll write about some more this week.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

UPC Broadband - First Impressions @UPCIreland

It's exactly a week since the UPC engineers switched our broadband connection from Eircom to UPC and my first impressions are largely very positive. The 100 Mbps package does exactly what it says on the tin. I am getting 100 Mbps plus over an Ethernet cable from the router to my desktop PC in my home office. And it is consistent - I have run several speed tests over the past week and it comes up over 100 Mbps every time. Very happy with this - it is 25 times faster than our old Eircom connection, and it is cheaper too. This is a really fast connection - it is really noticeable when working with large files in Google Drive and SkyDrive.

UPC Broadband - Rápido!
Image source:
However, WiFi within the house was poor. The UPC engineers told me to expect a 30% fall off to about 65 Mbps, but it never came close to this in any part of the house. It was as low as 4 Mbps upstairs, and my iPad could not pick up a signal in my bedroom. I tweeted about this to @UPCIreland who arranged for a Tech Support call. We checked and changed some settings, but to no noticeable effect.

This morning I moved the router to the centre of the house. This meant extra coaxial and Ethernet cabling. Despite never having worked with Ethernet cabling before, I was pleasantly surprised that everything worked. The WiFi is a lot stronger in the house, ranging from 20-40 Mbps - even upstairs. There are extra Ethernet slots on the router, so I'll probably hook these up so that my daughters get the best speed possible upstairs for their laptops.

The verdict? Very happy with UPC so far!

Friday, March 22, 2013

MOOC2Degree - another changing face of education

Nathan Ingraham, writing in The Verge, tells us that Forty public universities will offer free online courses with full credit starting this spring as part of an initiative called MOOC2Degree. As anybody working in education will know, MOOCs have gained huge publicity and traction of the past year or two, but have always lacked formal accreditation - a huge disadvantage compared to traditional degree courses.

Image source: Online Learning Insights.
These MOOC2Degree programmes will be "free online courses with full credit". If this works as a process, and I predict it will, free on-line education will finally pose a serious challenge to third-level Colleges, and perhaps 1st and 2nd levels in the near future.

Getting a degree on-line for free, from some of the top universities in the world will soon be possible. The cost of a laptop and a good Internet connection will always be way cheaper than tuition fees or going to College. The MOOC2Degree folks claim to be working with 40 public university partners in the USA. It's still in the early stages of development, but already looks very good to me. We educators will all be affected by this as courses will have to be restructured and developed for on-line delivery. There of course will be follow-on effects for College administrators and IT Depts - in short, the Learning Technology revolution that we have all been waiting for might actually be about to arrive?

Check out the following video from the and see for yourself what it is all about:

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Compulsory Attendance at Lectures?

The Guardian Education blog, in a post by Joshua Feldman, this week poses the question Should university lectures be compulsory? Feldman writes that allowing "students to skip class undermines the sense of academic community that is so important to universities – especially in fields where there is an emphasis on sharing ideas". He also argues that missing classes undermines students' "own studies because it allows them to miss class if they haven't done the work, are too hungover, or simply can't be bothered. Although there are times when students productively miss class — to work on an assignment, for example — there are many when they do so against their better judgement". He finally concludes that "enforcing compulsory attendance is the only solution".

An almost empty lecture hall.
Image source: The Squint.
I have never been in favour of making attendance at lectures/labs/tutorials compulsory at third-level. In some of my classes which are marked - needless to say, attendance at these classes is only compulsory for students who want to get a grade (absence = 0%). I strongly feel that students are responsible for their own education, and if they choose to not attend a class, then that is their decision. I regularly teach to classes with attendance less than 50%, it even drops to 20% or less on occasion. Rarely do I see a full class, so I know that many students from my classes are elsewhere when I deliver a lecture.

I am perfectly aware of the many reasons why students do not attend class - I was a student once myself. It is also possible that a student might learn more from half an hour in the Library than attend one of my two-hour classes. Students learn in different ways. The main thing that worries me is that I know from anecdotal evidence that many students choose to skip my classes because they do not think the subject is important, and that it is easy and not requiring much effort or study. It also gets up my goat when students complain about their lecturers or that they did not know that something was coming up because they missed the announcement in class. Frequently I am quite harsh with students in a tutorial when they tell me that they do not know what's going on and I ask them "Were you at the lecture?" - and their answer is "no". 

In my recent posts I have criticized public bashing of our graduates, and in the matter of attendance - they may have a point. However, by staying away from class does not mean that students are always in bed sleeping off a hangover. It is a life lesson that if you skip a class that you are taking a risk of missing something important or learning something new. Failure/pass rates do not match absence/attendance rates. While of course there are students who are simply not bothered to show up at class, much of what students do is calculated. I don't think any of us can look back at our college days and say that we attended all classes. By missing some we did not become lessor people or less valuable to employers.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Wrong Again - "No-show students missing a life lesson" (via @IrishTimes)

The "To Be Honest" (TBH) column in the Irish Times from the 5th March last blasts that our "third-level system is a bubble that is divorced from reality" and that students seem "to have no interest in what industrial leaders want from them". This moan is in response to a low turnout to an event organised by a "professional institution that works to further the sharing of engineering knowledge". Furthermore, the article goes on to bitch and moan that "third-level institutions do not seem to be too bothered about trying to give our graduates the type of insight needed to get gainful employment". Strong stuff indeed, and followed by what Louse Phelan of PayPal thundered last week about our graduates having a "sense of entitlement", it has so far been a month when our third-level sector is taking a battering.

Employers view of our graduates.
Image Source:
In my response to Louise Phelan: Why PayPal boss is wrong about our graduates, I pointed out that students of very mixed variety and ability arrive through our doors in first year and leave four years later a much different person than when they arrived. The TBH column moans further that the "private sector finance third-level education in Ireland" - of course this is only partially true as both public and private sectors fund education through taxes with a large dollop of help from the good people of Germany and the UK.

I'd first question how attractive the event organised by the TBH writer was to students in the first place. 70 registered and only 10 "bothered" to show up - this can't all be due to lack of interest by the students. Promoting events to third-level students is a very competitive space where there are lots of other attractions. So please, don't think that just because you organise an event that students will be packing your talks so that your ego does not get hurt. It is a tough task to get people to any type of event - try the following three tips: Promotion, Promotion, and Promotion.

To Be Honest, I am feed up of people bashing the third-level system and moaning that our graduates are not fit for purpose. The Sunday Times University Guide (2013) reports that the National College of Ireland with a rate of 96% is "best for employment" of all our Colleges (read more about this here). If our graduates are so bad, why are they being hired? We must be doing something right?

Finally, I'd really like to know what kind of activity did the Louise Phelans and the TBHs of this world do while they were at College. Were they model students? How easy/hard was it for them to find a job when they graduated? Did they go to all the employer events? Did they study all the skills necessary to succeed in the workplace? Were they 100% productive in their first day on the job?

"Let the person among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone" (John 8:7).

Monday, March 18, 2013

Meet the Web's New Celebrities: Teachers (via WSJ)

The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) earlier this month produced a video report - Meet the Web's New Celebrities: Teachers by Kelly Grant in which she reports that "the new web celebrities aren't pop stars or funny cats, they're teachers". Teachers and professors can "reach a huge student and fan base by moonlighting on-line". All you have to do is check out YouTube EDU to see how Google has a huge number of partners (including yours truly) doing exactly this - there are perhaps thousands more teachers/educators who are not YouTube Partners doing the same thing.

The WSJ report tells us that what is happening is that on-line education is "validating and creating a market for good teaching" and talks about teachers creating brands and earning extra money, including one teacher mentioned who earned $250,000 last year on via Udemy - Wow! Also there seems to be a opportunity for University professors who don't make much extra money to benefit by being invited to seminars and to speaker circuits. Check out the WSJ video for yourself and see what you think:

In my own modest way I have been doing this for almost 7 years now. Apart from once being reported on Silicon Republic in 2011 as a "YouTube Hit" for reaching 500,000 viewers, I have yet to reach celebrity or rock star status. What I think I am, and thousands of others are too, is a "micro-celebrity" - Clive Thompson (writing in Wired back in 2007) describes this as a "phenomenon of being extremely well known not to millions but to a small group". In the world of the Internet this is the most that many of us can aspire to. Many on-line educators have financial support behind them through sponsorship or from their Colleges. Most of us simply create videos that our own students need and make them available to others for free. The Internet is the great modern day judge - if the videos are good, people will watch and learn. If they are not good, they will not watch and will go to learn somewhere else.

Still - I'd fancy the idea of being an education celebrity - maybe as former Rolling Stone Bill Wyman might say: "(Si Si) Je suis un Rock Star"!

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Finally - Hello UPC, Goodbye Eircom!

Great excitement in our house this morning with the arrival of UPC engineers to install fibre-optic broadband. They were very efficient and were in and out of the house in less than an hour. They connected the fibre cable to a co-axial cable which runs through the wall of our house - this is connected to a new modem in our office at the front of the house. As you can see in table below there is a stark difference between what Eircom were able to offer and what we now have from UPC.

Before (Eircom)
After (UPC)


...they don't tell you when you order broadband that you can lose up to third of the speed over WiFi. I checked the speed on a laptop right beside the modem and sure enough it measured 74 Mbps - still impressive, but quite a drop over a few inches. The modem is at the front of our house, but 15 metres away at the back of the house the download speed drops to 34 Mbps. But much worse than this is the drop to 2.9 Mbps upstairs. I was not expecting this! So I'll be onto to UPC Tech Support for some advice on what to do, though I expect that this will mean extra cabling to move the modem closer to the centre of the house.

This also marks the end of our time as customers of Eircom. According to the UPC engineers today they have a full schedule and are very busy doing exactly what they did in our house - moving customers from Eircom to UPC. In the meantime, Eircom are sitting on their arses letting this happen - good luck with that business plan guys.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Why PayPal boss is wrong about our graduates

Peter Flanagan of The Irish Independent reported last Tuesday that the "PayPal boss says graduates are not hungry enough to succeed". Louise Phelan is quoted as saying that "A number of graduates don't seem to understand how to carry themselves in a workplace, but more importantly don't show an interest in learning how to do it", that they have a "sense of entitlement", and that there "is a sense that because they have a degree, then we should be grateful to have them". Strong stuff indeed from Phelan! She does point out that PayPal have some "superb graduates" working for them (I know this - some of them are graduates of NCI) - so at least it is not all doom-and-gloom?

Image source: ClipartPal.
Universities, Institutes of Technology, and other third-level Colleges such as NCI do have a duty to turn out the best graduates that we can. Our courses are aimed at providing the best education within our means - NCI's own mission statement is "To change lives through education", and I and my colleagues do our best to live up to this mission. 

One of the proudest moments for us all in the education system is Graduation Day. For me this is when I see young men and women graduating with pride three or four years after entering the College as boys and girls. The transformation is obvious to us all as these graduates embark on the next stage of their lives.

Here's my point why Louise Phelan is wrong...

We take in students of mixed ability, with different levels of intelligence and achievement to date, from different backgrounds, with different learning styles, with different levels of commitment and engagement in learning, some are juggling family life and part-time jobs with their study, some can barely afford to go to College and are living on the poverty line, some struggle with difficult content - and all this is done in cash-strapped Colleges. We have a very diverse student body in all senses walking in our door on the first day and leaving on the last day every year - and long may this continue I say.

So how do we turn this diverse student body into the perfect high quality graduates that Louise Phelan wants? The answer is that we can't! I'd love it if everybody got a First and that each graduate had a queue of potential employers lining up outside the door on Graduation Day - but I don't think is either possible or desirable. It is Louise Phelan that has the "sense of entitlement" to think that our third-level sector should be turning out perfect graduates every time.

For bosses to think that any College can take a person for three or four years (less than a sixth of the average 22 year old graduate's life) and make them perfect for their needs is living in fantasy land. Every organization is different (we teach this in our Organizational Behaviour modules), it is up to them to take our graduates and bring them to the next level. All we can do is help each student prepare themselves for the workplace as best we can in the short time that we have them. We are not factories turning out drones that don't have "their feet up on their desk" or "looking like they were out all night" all the time.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Habemus Papam Francescum!

I like the new Pope - Francis I. Like millions of Catholics (and non-Catholics) across the world I was glued to the News yesterday evening when the "white smoke" appeared over the Sistine Chapel. The drama of the time from the white smoke to the new Pope appearing at the window of St Peter's Basilica is hard to beat.

Today I hear that the former Cardinal Bergoglio is a humble man with modest tastes - he even took the bus after being appointed Pope instead of a limo. Perhaps this level of humility and common-touch is just what the Church needs. It would be good also if he did away with things like kissing rings and bowing before him. He has a lot of work to do to restore the Church (if this can even be done) to some respectability.

The crowd in St Peter's Square really looked like they were enjoying themselves and there seemed to be a great deal of excitement and anticipation. It was hard to believe that I was there only last Friday and missed all the excitement - I'd love to have been there.

The new Pope and I have something in common - the name Francis , which is my second name and his new Pope handle. I was given this name after my Grand Uncle Monsignor Charles Francis Hurley who I have previously written about here.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Weekend in Rome - Day #3

Sunday in Rome, only one thing to do in the morning and that is attend Mass. Our hotel (The Artimide on Via Nazionale) is close to the Santa Maria Maggiore church and off we went in search of some spirituality in the home of the Catholic Church. Mass had already started when we got there, this was just as well because everything was in Italian. This basilica is beautifully decorated in Byzantine style according to the guide books. It was quite busy and there were several priests on the altar backed up by a brilliant male voice choir who sang beautifully.

After Mass we wandered down towards the Colosseum again for another look - still awesome! This time we walked all around the site from the outside and made our way down to the nearby Circo Massimo which is now little more than a park, it was once a chariot racing and sports arena during the Roman Empire period (think of the Ben Hur movie). We continued past the Circo Massimo and checked out a local food market where there was delicious looking fresh food on display - a pity we were heading home later in the day.

We stopped at the In Roma café for a beer across from which is the site of the Tarpeian Rock (behind me in photo below) where the Romans executed criminals and traitors by throwing them off the rock. Rome was indeed a bloodthirsty place 2,000 years ago.

For a short while we separated - Roma did some shopping while I toured around a few more sites. At the Piazza del Quirinalle the President of Italy's palace is located. This was once the home of Popes and Italian kings. There were a lot of policemen and armed guards patrolling outside the building - this was a feature of a lot of Italian places where there seemed to be a lot of police. In one location I spotted eight policemen standing around together having a chat.

Back together we finished off our stay in Rome with one last delicious pizza near our hotel. We very much enjoyed our stay in Rome and vowed to return some day for a longer stay. It was a pity that we were not in Rome during the election of the new Pope, I'm sure St Peter's Square would have been quite the place to be for the "Habemus Papam" moment.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Weekend in Rome - Day #2

Today was a fine day weather-wise and we decided to check out the main ancient Roman sites at the Colosseum and the Forum. Our feet were tired from yesterday, but there is so much to see in Rome that we didn't mind.

First stop of the day was to the Collosseum - an almost 2,000 year old monument to the skills of the ancient Romans that mesmerized us both. As I walked up Via Dei Fori Imperiali I wondered what the Gladiators and other "those who are about to die" folks must have thought of it. It must have been terrifying. After yesterday's experience with the "Skip the line" touts we opted to join the queue and wait our turn. The queue did not seem very long, but it took 30 minutes to get to the top. It was €12 each with no audio guides available.

Even though the inside is a ruin, it is magnificent to behold. I enjoyed every second looking around the different levels and viewing the exhibits on the upper level. The place is steeped in history, some of it of the most savage kind. It was capable of seating over 50,000 spectators and it must have been a great atmosphere when lions were tearing the condemned apart or when the gladiators stuck swords and spears into one another.

After the Colosseum we visited the Roman Forum. This is less spectacular as it is basically pile of rubble with a few standing columns to keep some interest. We walked about and wondered what it must have been like in the days of toga wearing Roman Senators when they held court here. I'd liked to have spent a bit more time here, but we decided to head off for some lunch. 

The Victor Emmanuel monument is a spectacularly lavish memorial to the first king of Italy. It is so big you can see it from many streets around this part of Rome. It took over 50 years to complete. I first thought of how pompous it was to have built this for a king, but it is also in honour of the young unified Kingdom of Italy. You can go right to the top (final elevator costs €7 but is worth it) and get brilliant views all over Rome.

After this we made for the Spanish Steps and the Trevi Fountain - two of Rome's most famous locations. At the Steps there was a huge crowd just chilling in the afternoon sun. There's not really that much to see except a lot of steps. We climbed them all and had a welcome beer at the top. The Trevi Fountain is much more interesting, and a lot more crowded. Despite being difficult to get past the crowds, we managed to get to the edge for some photo opportunities. This place must be mad in the summer?

In the evening us two exhausted tourists with sore feet relaxed at the Ristorante "LA TAVERNETTA" di Pepi Claudio where I had a most delicious pasta in a very friendly and pleasant atmosphere. The staff could not have been nicer to us - highly recommended.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Weekend in Rome - Day #1

As a Christmas present to ourselves last year Roma and I decided to spend a weekend in Rome where neither of us had even been before. We arrived late on Thursday evening and immediately went out for pizza - when in Rome...!

Our first full day was very wet - rain almost all day. We headed to the Vatican (photo to left is on the Victor Emmanuel II bridge over the Tiber) and took one of the tours (€25/head) from the numerous touts that greet you at the entrance to St Peter's Square - the queues were very long. I have to say that our guide was very good, knowledgeable, and entertaining. St Peter's Basilica is everything you expect it to be - very big and awesome. Bodies of Popes, wonderful frescos and mosaics everywhere. It was packed with people of all nationalities, and perhaps different faiths. The highlight for me was the magnificent Pieta by Michaelangelo.

It was raining quite hard when we came out (see photo in front of Basilica), so we decided to take in the Vatican museums while we were there. Once again we were hooked by a tout - this time our experience was not so good. We were kept for nearly an hour before the tour started ("Just a few more minutes....") as the touts argued over/discussed us. Clearly they wanted some more tourists in our group and we stupidly waited. There was no queue to the museum and at €40/head we very much overpaid. Our guide this time did not have great English and she certainly wasn't nearly as good as our previous guide. The museums are definitely worth seeing, but avoid the touts and enjoy it on your own. The highlight should have been the Sistine Chapel, but it was closed for the Conclave to elect the new Pope.

On our way back towards our hotel we stopped for a very expensive coffee and a glass of wine at the Piazza Navona. It too was very busy, but it was nice to be sitting outside and watching people go by. Close to this is the Pantheon - a magnificent Roman building with a hole in the roof.

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

"Boring" Classes - You Can't Polish a Turnip

I student recently came to me during a break in one of my Project Management classes to tell me that he found the subject "boring". At least the student was honest - his body language throughout class suggested that he would rather be anywhere else than at my lecture. The topic was time management and we had just completed a class discussion on estimation the duration of a task (during which almost all the class engaged). The exercise I use is common to both my Project Management and Business Systems Analysis classes and I usually find that it works very well. My satisfaction was quickly deflated with the "boring" comment.

Can you polish this?
Image source: Best In Season.
I responded to the student that "You Can't Polish a Turnip" - an expression I heard many years ago. Even I who have been teaching it for many years know that Project Management is not an exciting subject. It is worth five credits on the way to achieving a degree, it is a mandatory subject, and arguably it is a very important subject to prepare students for the "real world". My module is based on the PMBOK methodology, so there's not much I can do about the content.

I have often heard colleagues in my own and other Colleges say that lecturers are "not entertainers", that it is not our job to make courses "interesting", and that we have a job to do to cover a syllabus. We know that not everybody in any of our classes is excited by the thoughts of coming to our lectures.

So the challenge to us educators is - how do we cater for the student who is finding the subject "boring"? Should we attempt humour? Should we sing and dance? Should we find ways to make even the driest topic the most exciting thing possible? Should we be aiming for smiling student faces when they leave the classroom? Should it be compulsory for us to achieve a 100% rating on student satisfaction surveys?

On the other hand we do have a responsibility to avoid being boring if possible. I have been at many dreadful lectures where the "lecturer" simply read from slides and did not engage the students. I try not to read from slides as much as possible (this is based on the fact that students can do this themselves) - my slides are (I hope) an anchor for class discussion. There are many different learning styles in my classroom, so while some students will be interested in a class discussion - others just want to sit back and listen without being asked to get involved. While my colleagues and I try to vary our teaching styles to cater for different learning styles, we can't please all of the students all of the time.

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Road trip, and learning from others

Yesterday I had the pleasure of taking part on a Review Panel at another College in Cork. This involved an early start on a cold morning. I had planned to take the train, but idiotically set the alarm for the wrong time and had no choice but to ride down to Cork dressed like the Michelin Man with several layers of clothing to keep out the cold. For the main part this worked, though my feet did suffer a bit from the cold (reminder to self - buy woolly socks to wear on the bike).

Riding to Cork is a very pleasant experience on the M50,  M7, and M8 motorways. Lots of room to speed up and I made good time getting to Cork from Dublin in 2.5 hours. The problem with this route is the lack of service stations. My bike has a petrol tank capacity of 18 litres, this was enough yesterday for 157 miles before switching to the 10% reserve tank. The only service station is at Junction 14 Mayfield, but this is very close to Dublin. Tourists must be very annoyed at this. The distance I had to travel was 168 miles. Before arriving at my destination I had to search for petrol and inevitably I got lost in South Cork and arrived late for my meeting. Coming home I made it as far as Goffs near Naas before stopping for petrol again. Another Service Station on the M8 is badly needed.

I enjoy learning how other Colleges do things like develop new programmes. The programme team works hard to ensure that a balanced course is developed that is attractive to both students and employers. Documentation, process, procedure, and of course the skills of the development team are all different from College to College. Being on a Review Panel you get a unique insight into the thought processes behind each new programme. Hopefully I can put this to good use the next time I am on the other side of the table in front of a Review Panel.

Sunday, March 03, 2013

Dublin 2-14 Mayo 0-16

Last evening Roma and I went to Croke Park to see the Dubs take on Mayo in the Allianz League. As Roma is a Mayo native there were no prizes for guessing who she was there to cheer on. We had been at the All-Ireland semi-final between these two sides last September when Mayo came out on top by three points.

Both sides served up a great football match, with Dublin deservedly coming out on top. For the Dubs, Alan Brogan who scored 1-10, was the star of the show - he also missed a penalty. Mayo were very good in patches, leading twice - but were in the end outclassed. Dublin were reduced to 14 men when Ger Brennan was rightly red carded for a stupid kick at a Mayo player on the ground. At this stage Mayo were leading, but the Dubs stormed back to win comfortably in the end. Even though the crowd was a healthy 21,156, Croke Park still looks very empty as it holds four times this number.

On our way home we stopped for a pizza at That's Amore in Monkstown. This is a relatively new place that I had not been to before. It is very small with seats for only about 20 people. The pizza is delicious and the service excellent. Recommended for both hungry football fans and everyone else!

Friday, March 01, 2013

New term (to me) "Grade grubbing"

I read with interest an article in yesterday's Times Higher Education where Chris Parr wrote the piece "Please Professor, I want some more". The term "grade grubbing" is used and I had not heard it used before. However, the practice of students coming to me questioning/complaining about their grade is very familiar to me - now it has a name.

Not a real student.
Image source:
It is common that a student will be disappointed with a grade whether it is for a short assessment, a project, or a long exam. Many feel that they put in a huge effort and have performed well in an exam only to get a moderate grade of (say) 50%. I'm always mindful that any grade I award is my professional opinion of what the student's work is worth - others may have a different opinion and may even award a different (higher or lower) mark. That's why we have second marking and external examiners. Despite this, sometimes a student will approach me for feedback on their work. Like all colleges, NCI has strict rules on following procedures for requesting feedback. Most of the time, students want to know how and why they lost marks, and I have to say - most of the time upon reflection, students accept the grade I have awarded. To date, I have never changed a grade - but am open to it is a student can demonstrate that their work is worth more marks.

One piece of advice I was given when I first came to NCI after I said to a colleague that I had "failed" some students in an exam - he said to me "you don't fail the students, they fail themselves". It is a nervous time when marking papers. A poor or failed result may have drastic consequences for a student when they go to the job market. I feel a certain empathy with students who fail because I myself only passed 1st year by compensation (in the repeats) and failed 2nd year which I then had to repeat the year. I can blame absolutely no one but myself for this poor performance, but I managed to overcome and learn from it.

WikiHow gives some sensible advice to students: How to Get a Professor to Change Your Grade. It may not work, but it should get students thinking about what they should do before going down the road of trying to get a grade changed.