Friday, May 31, 2013

The Gathering of Irish Learning Technologists at #EdTech13, Day 2

The second day of the EdTech 2013 Conference started out with a keynote presentation from Kyle Peck of Penn State University. I hadn't heard him speak before and he talked about "opening up education". He gave us some very interesting comments on badges, which he said "equals currency for future employers", and told us that we may end up giving "away learning experience and charging for assessment" with the advent of MOOCs and badges. He also made the prediction that, what he called "nomads", would be wandering the educational landscape for learning opportunities, and in the process become "knowmads".

My next three sessions were breakouts: I saw some brilliant work my Seán Ó Grádaigh from NUIG about using iBooks for teaching, and some honest and interesting feedback from Aidan O'Donovan of UCC about a project to add lecture capture tools to each classroom in UCC. This was a lesson in perseverance! The final breakout was a really interesting talk from Robert Griffin of IADT about open data - there's so much about open data that I did not know, but I am much better informed now.

There were two more keynote presentations - the first by Ross Mahon from Google, brought us through Google's thinking about enabling education. Ross summarized Google Apps for education and told us a bit about "Course Builder", though not quite fully ready will allow us to create courses in Google. This is intended to be a platform for MOOCs from Google. Eoin O'Dell from Trinity finished the day off nicely with a discussion on copyright. He brought us through copyright law, and managed to keep it very interesting with reference to St Columcille and bull's heads.

"#edtech13" report from TweetBinder.
I used Twitter a lot during the conference. I hadn't really planned to, but I found it a great way to take notes - I referred back to them by searching for the conference hashtag "#edtech13" for writing this and the previous post. According to TweetBinder, there were 1,029 tweets during the conference using the #edtech13 hashtag, with contributions from 189 Twitter users - that's more than were at the conference. With 51 tweets, I came out on top in the "Most Original Tweets Generated" category, while I was also the third "Most Active User" (data from TweetBinder, see screen shot to left for more). I probably would have tweeted a bit more, but my iPad was running very low on power preventing me from doing so. I like this type of "back chat" - in addition to a great way to take notes, it also lets you see what others were thinking during the presentations (including ones I missed).

This was a great EdTech conference, and many congrats to the organisers for putting on such a memorable event. Until next year!

Thursday, May 30, 2013

The Gathering of Irish Learning Technologists at #EdTech13, Day 1

University College Cork was the venue for this year's  two-day EdTech Conference hosted by the Irish Learning Technology Association. This is the annual meeting of folks involved in learning and teaching who are passionate about using technology of all sorts to enhance education.

The organizers of EdTech 2013 kindly fixed for fine weather and I had a glorious blue sky all the way from Dublin to Cork on my Harley-Davidson. I arrived late for the fist keynote by Catherine Cronin of NUI Galway, but I still heard her talk about open education and student voices (I also discovered later in the conference that Catherine is a 1959 baby-boomer like me!). Later, ILTA Chairman Paul Gormley gave us some interesting preliminary results from the 2013 Technology-Enhanced Learning Survey. One of the most interesting was the result that "44 students" out of 5,500 surveyed don't use Facebook.

Presenting at EdTech 2013 (and looking worried).
Photo courtesy of  Tomás Tyner of UCC.
I was presenting during the first of the breakout sessions - the title of my talk was "Anatomy of Two and a Half Million YouTube Learners: Who's Watching and What are they Learning". I got a good crowd who were interested in the learning analytics from my YouTube channel. With hindsight I tried to show too much in the 15 minutes available and I was very rushed. I judged that I could run through the analytics live from YouTube, but I would have been better off taking a small selection of data and presenting that instead of trying to squeeze in too much.

Next up was a talk about a blended learning pathway for the credit unions run by Bridget Carroll and Olive McCarthy of UCC. This was a real blend of everything - they even produced a manual that they use! The last talk in this session was by Enda Donnellan of Mater Dei Institute of Education. I had never met Enda, but feel as if I know as I follow him (@donenda) on Twitter - it was nice to meet face-to-face. He told us about a very successful tool, called METIS, for managing student teachers at Mater Dei. The nature of breakout sessions where there were four parallel talks is that you miss everything in the other sessions. There were talks on MOOCs, Moodle, Digital Literacies, and using tablet computers that I would have liked to have attended.

After lunch I attended two more very interesting talks. The first was from Dan Coakley and Martin Howley who gave us the story of using a building for learning, ie the new engineering block in NUIG. They found that Thermodynamics and Heating was the toughest module for engineering students, so they use a Predicted Mean Vote method among students to answer the question "How comfortable is a space?". This was followed by my colleague from NCI, Leo Casey, who entertained and informed us about the diffusion of innovations, and how this can help us understand how and why innovations in education are so important.

The afternoon keynote was presented by Sian Bayne of the University of Edinburgh - she gave us the low-down on MOOCs she and her colleagues developed via Coursera. 309,628 students registered for the  MOOC, a respectful 29% "completed". Great presentation which included some samples of videos created by students of the MOOC. The day ended with the Jennifer Burke Award for Innovation in Learning and Teaching. I was a finalist in this competition two years ago, so I know how nervous the finalists this year must have felt. 
In the evening we adjourned to the Shelbourne Bar in MacCurtain Street for a nice pint, followed by dinner in Greene's Restaurant across the road. Great as always to meet both the familiar faces and some new folks too. An excellent meal and excellent conversation to round off a great day of learning.

I stayed in Jury's Inn, very comfortable and convenient. Just a mention to say thanks for letting me park my bike safely in the small hotel car park.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

4th Year Project Showcase at the National College of Ireland (@NCIRL)

Today at the College we hosted a Showcase for the School of Computing 4th year students. For them it was their last event in the College as undergraduates. There were over 100 projects on show, and there were also over 30 representatives from industry - many who were looking to recruit. It was a very busy two hours where we heard keynote speaker Patrick McLaughlin of Oracle congratulate the students. He also told them it was a great time for IT students to be graduating, and also that they should continue to learn. He also mentioned that it was a good idea to move around different companies to get more experience!

We had some fantastic research projects, mobile apps, web sites, applications, and games on view. Our students can be very proud of their achievements - we are very proud of them at the College. While some have already secured employment, many are now setting out on the job hunting road - I wish them all the best of luck!

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

What would you give up to be 18 again?

Last week my youngest daughter Vicki had her Graduation from Loreto College Foxrock, along with about 90 of her 18-year old classmates. We were invited to the ceremony which was a Mass followed by speeches and a Reception. The girls sang beautifully and the two Head Girls spoke very eloquently and entertainingly. The school hall was full of very proud parents, including Roma and me.

Coincidentally I read an article on Linkedin by T. Boone Pickens entitled Class of 2013: Here's What I'd Give Up to be You. In the article Pickens recalls a speech he made at a graduation ceremony where he offered everything, including his "Gulfstream airplane" and his "68,000-acre ranch" just to be sitting where the graduates sat. But, there was a catch - he said "If you make the trade, you have to be 79 and I get to be 18 again". Of course he got no takers as all the students "decided that no amount of wealth could persuade them to change places with a man about to turn 80". This got me thinking what I would give up to be an 18 year old again. Of course I'd give up all material things (even my Harley-Davidson!), but not family - we can't turn the clock back.

It is a wonderful thought - being 18 again. In the video below dating from 1980, George Burns (then aged 84) sings "I Wish I Was 18 Again". Jeez - I'm turning into an old man nostalgic for my younger days!

Monday, May 27, 2013

Experimenting with backgrounds

For a change I'm trying out some new backgrounds on this blog. I like the new one you see here - it is called "hdoddema" and is taken from the Textures category of the templates available in Blogger and it is one of the few I like that are available. Most others are boring and many have the business part of the graphic in the middle where it cannot be seen 'cos this is where the blog posts go. I've also tried to upload some of my own photographs to use - but there is a file size limit of 300KB in Blogger. Ideas for the future are pictures of my Harley-Davidson, seascapes from my tour of Ireland last year, and maybe an axe.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

I miss blogging!

A break from blogging is probably good for everyone who blogs. It's nine days since I last posted and it is a few years now since I had such a long break. At the beginning of 2010 I started blogging on a much more regular basis going from an average of around 10 posts per month to closer to 20.

The past week is normally the busiest one of the year for me at NCI. Monday/Tuesday/Wednesday were taken up with project marking, while Thursday and Friday were taken up with teaching. Very full days that have left me very tired with little time for blogging. Project making is particularly hard as they are final year undergraduate projects worth a high proportion of marks - so much depends on the project for the students' final grade.

I've also got some feedback on my 100 Corners of Ireland book which now needs to be drastically reduced in size - or no one will publish it. So I've been trying to figure out what's best to do - hopefully I will be meeting a publisher in the few 2-3 weeks (finger's crossed!).

Image source: Illuminated Living.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

The "Pass By Compensation" rule

The University Observer reports today that UCD is to abolish the pass by compensation rule. This is the rule common in most colleges (including NCI) where you may pass if your grade is between 35% and 39%, and where you have enough marks in other subjects to "compensate" - it's a kind of "Get-out-of-jail-free" card. There's always a limit in the number of subjects you can PBC, and if you get less than 35% in any subject the PBC rule cannot be applied. Where UCD go, other Colleges will be certain to follow. 

Image Source:
As someone who has benefited in the past from the PBC rule, I'm not totally in favour of abolishing this option. In 1979 against all odds I somehow manage to pass my 1st year exams in Trinity. I had an F1 grade (35-39) in Chemistry and under the PBC rule I was allowed to progress to 2nd year. Of course I had no idea at the time what it was or how it applied, and to be frank I didn't really care as I was through to the next year. I was just relieved that I had escaped failing the year and having to drop out or repeat. 

The rule is always a source of confusion to students as I get queries on this after every set of exams. Due to rounding, a student with a low mark of 34.5% could pass the year under PBC, and many academics think that this should not be allowed. In my own experience, anyone receiving a mark in the PBC range has done a bad job in their assessments. My professional opinion on a paper with this grade is that it is a "fail". If it is only one subject, I am in favour of the PBC rule being retained, but I have on rare occasions seen students pass two or more modules by PBC.

The reality is that the PBC rule really only applies to a grade of 35%, 36%, or 37%. I know one College where 39% is automatically rounded up - I would never leave a student on this mark. In another College a grade of 38% is not automatically rounded up, but a rule applies where it is considered by the Exam Board. This is one of those areas where I wish there was consistency between all third-level colleges - the same rule should apply to all students.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

My Favourite Teachers - thank you Mrs Keating, Mr Hallahan, Mr Ó Riordáin, Mr Shanahan, Mr O'Loughlin, and Dr Jeal #thankateacher

Last week I wrote about Can Teachers Touch Students' Hearts? and listed some of the teachers who inspired me during my own education. Today I watched this short video about President Obama who talks about his fifth grade teacher Mrs Hefty who taught him that he "had something to say"...

...and I wondered what I would say about my teachers?

I attended two primary schools: Carnew National School in Co Wicklow, and Scoil na nÓg in Trabolgan, Co Cork. In Carnew my first teacher was Mary Keating. I don't remember very much about her Junior Infants class, but I do have one memory that I carry with me to this day. She was the first, and last, teacher to hit me in class. I don't remember her being cruel, but she did use a ruler as corporal punishment. When once I was slapped it was for not knowing the answer to a question. I figured out very quickly that if I learned my lessons, did my homework, and was able to answer questions - I would not be slapped! Perhaps this is one of the most important influences I have ever had during my school years. But my favourite teacher in Carnew was Seán Hallahan who was my teacher in 4th class (1969/1970). He was funny, passionate, caring, and tough. He had a brilliant way of making things simple and stating the obvious. He often asked "What is white wash?" to which his answer was always "a wash that's white" - I use this a lot in my own classes to this day. In Scoil na nÓg my teacher was Tomás Ó Riordáin - a tough, but fair teacher. I learned a lot from him, especially Irish and History. He was the only teacher I ever had that made Irish an interesting subject.

I also attended two secondary schools: Cistercian College Roscrea in Co Tipperary, and FCJ Bunclody in Co Wexford. In Roscrea, John Shanahan was my stand-out teacher. In teaching French, he spent almost the entire first year concentrating on the spoken, rather than written French word. He was also my introduction to technology in education - I posted about this last September. He was my French teacher for five years and I enjoyed his classes very much, though I now have very limited French due to lack of practice. In FCJ Bunclody, Tony O'Loughlin (no relation) was both my English and Geography teacher. He had much more of a focus on exams and getting the subjects done than my teachers in Roscrea had. He made you want to work hard, learn, and do well. It also helped that there were only a handful of lads in a mostly girls class, and I think he had a tougher focus on us.

In Trinity, I had many lecturers who I would rather forget. For example, one Physics lecturer used to come into class, and transcribe his notes onto an overhead projector for us to copy down. I don't think he ever looked up from the OHP, and certainly never engaged us. He was clearly bored with teaching, and he made no effort to hide it. But the standout lecturer for me in Trinity was Dr Frank Jeal. It was he who gave me an interest in Zoology (especially paleontology and marine biology). He regularly delivered lectures with no notes, and he had a knack of telling interesting stories about long dead dinosaurs. He was also very approachable and accessible, and to me, was one of the few Trinity lecturers that had an interest in what students had to say.

So to my favourite teachers - a big THANK YOU!

Sunday, May 12, 2013

The Lion King at The Bord Gáis Theatre - Brilliant!

Yesterday afternoon I saw the Lion King on stage for the first time. I had seen the movie when the girls were small and I'm sure that we still have the video somewhere. Lots of the songs are familiar to me, but despite this the stag show was breathtakingly refreshing and original. One of the best shows I have ever seen - no exaggeration! The singing and dancing were fantastic and I can't think of anything (other than noisy kids in the audience) to fault the show. Don't miss it!

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Can Teachers Touch Students' Hearts?

A YouTube video that made the news this week shows High School student, 18-year old Jeff Bliss from Duncanville in Texas, unloading on his teacher in a world history class. He castigates her for not making students "excited" about their class and that she should "touch his freaking heart". He lectures his teacher to "take this job serious" and clearly has a problem with her "packets" as a way of teaching. Of course, here we only get one side of the story, but this student makes some very valid points that all educators should sit up and take notice of. Check it out:

In a later interview, Jeff Bliss said he had no regrets about what he had said on the video. He said that teachers should "interact, get involved, discuss, talk, question" in class. Teaching is a tough job and it is not always an easy one to do. Most are passionate about their work, but just like everybody else, there are good days and bad days. I would even go so far as to say that it is almost impossible to make students excited about all subjects, all of the time. This inevitably means that students will not be excited some of the time. 

I think back to my own education and to the teachers who made me excited about learning: Seán Hallahan and Tomás Ó Riordáin in primary school, John Shanahan, Fr Patrick, and Tony O'Loughlin (no relation) in secondary school, and Dr Frank Jeal in Trinity. They all had one thing in common for me - passion about what they did. This passion translates across the classroom floor into enthusiasm and excitement for students. In the video above the teacher is sitting in a corner behind a desk - not good, she immediately placed a barrier between herself and her students (of course we don't know the full story yet, apparently the video was taken as Bliss was being thrown out of the class - we don't know what for either). However, even if a teacher is passionate about their subject, not all students are going to be excited at the same time. At the other extreme, we cannot make our content boring by disengaging with un-excited students. Where the balance is, that is the question!

Thursday, May 09, 2013

Two and a Half Million Learners - Thank You!

This morning when I checked in on-line I noted that my Learn with Dr Eugene O'Loughlin YouTube channel had passed the 2,500,000 viewers landmark. A huge THANK YOU to every single one of those folks who have checked out my videos. As I have written many times before on this blog - I am delighted and humbled that so many people are finding my modest efforts useful.

What started out as an experiment with an e-Learning class has turned into something that is starting to dominate my own learning and teaching experiences. Everyday I check the analytics for the channel to see who is learning what - it's addictive. I often look out for new ideas to create videos, and keep saying to myself "I must do more". I teach far more people via YouTube than I do in the classroom - at a wild guess I'd say at least 1,000 times more in the last 11 years since I left SmartForce (Skillsoft) and joined the National College of Ireland. Some of my own students use the channel, but 99% plus are from outside my classes. 

It's hard to write about this and not sound like I am slapping myself on the back and saying "Ah sure aren't you great!". But I've given up been falsely modest a long time ago. I am proud of each and every one of my students both inside and outside the classroom. After a lifetime in education I feel I might finally be getting something right. If I can help students in any way, however small - I will.

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

10 Essential Digital Skills for Graduates via @mashable

It's close to the end of Semester II and the time of year when final year students are approaching their last days as undergraduates. In addition to the uncertainty and adventure ahead, there is also some value in looking back and seeing what students have learned during their time in College and can these skills and knowledge help get a job. One thing that students should certainly have nowadays are some digital skills.

Matt Petronzio, writing for Mashable, says Don't Leave College Without These 10 Digital Skills. They are:

  1. Setting Up a Wi-Fi Network
  2. Backing Up to the Cloud
  3. Basic Photo Editing (Photoshop)
  4. Basic Video Editing (Final Cut Pro)
  5. Google Drive and Microsoft Office (Seriously)
  6. HTML and Basic Coding
  7. Setting Up a Website and Domain
  8. Converting File Formats
  9. Online Banking
  10. Branding Yourself

Source: Mashable

I certainly had none of these when graduating in 1983, but then that's no surprise as most had not been invented yet! One thing that strikes me about above is that these skills are now developing into everyday skills for people to be able to manage their digital lives, not just skills that you learn in College. I see teenagers in secondary school who are able to do much of above as technology gets smarter and easier to use. I should add that it is hard to expect students to know all these skills without Colleges providing the facilities to learn them. Should they be part of all courses? A Digital Skills module based on above ten points would be an ideal general module for all students to take - that way they will not leave College without these skills.

The good news from Petronzio is that these skills are "guaranteed to increase your overall digital know-how, and you can learn them all on your own". So if you are graduating soon, and do not have these skills - it's time to start learning.

Sunday, May 05, 2013

How To... Embed a YouTube Video into a PowerPoint 2013 Presentation (and dealing with the "version=3" problem)

Two of the most popular videos on the Learn with Dr Eugene O'Loughlin YouTube Channel are about embedding YouTube videos into PowerPoint 2003 and 2010. My most recent addition today is about doing the same for PowerPoint 2013. The procedure is straight-forward enough - all you have to do is find the embed code for the video you want from YouTube and use the tools in PowerPoint to insert the video.

Normally you do not need to do anything to the embed code, but recently, YouTube have added "version=3" for a new Player that causes problems in PowerPoint (no problems embedding anywhere else such as web pages). You now need to delete the references to "version=3" in order for it to work with the current version of PowerPoint. The image below shows the code with "version=3" highlighted - just delete this taking care not to remove any other symbols or characters beside it, and do the same for "version=3" in the third last line below. Some day Microsoft will provide an update to allow this to work, but for now it doesn't unless you take it out.

The video is made at home as the College has not yet updated to Office 365 - so the sound quality is not quite as good as it would be using better equipment in the office. I plan to redo more of the videos that have been successful for Office 2003 and 2010 tools, in the past this has been a good way to build viewing numbers. So here's my latest effort:

Friday, May 03, 2013

Adults Only in Our House!

Today I feel just a little bit older, the youngest of my three daughters Vicki, is 18 years of age. It's adults only from now on. Tomorrow Vicki is off to get an Age Card from the Garda station - just think she can now vote, buy Lotto tickets, buy alcohol, and ignore her old Dad if she chooses!

It was 1977 when I reached 18 years of age, and the world was a far different place. I too was about to sit my Leaving Certificate at a time when a "good Leaving" could get you a job. Very few people could have predicted things like the arrival of the World Wide Web, mobile phones, satellite TV, crisps in chocolate bars, computers in the home, peace in Northern Ireland, the end of apartheid - today, 36 years later. 

I wonder what the world will be like in 36 years time - Jaysus, I'll be nearly 90!

Happy Birthday Vicki!

Thursday, May 02, 2013

Ouch - Lectures "are doomed" according to @jimmy_wales

The BBC reported yesterday that Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales says that the "boring university lecture is going to be the first major casualty of the rise in online learning in higher education". As I am  lecturer I was of course interested and concerned when somebody of Wales' stature makes a statement like this. In the article, Wales tells us about learning more about learning calculus from betamax tapes than from his "very boring and bad teacher". A few weeks ago I wrote about "Boring" Classes - You Can't Polish a Turnip, when one of my own students had come to me after class to tell me that he found the class "boring". So are lectures, and by extension lecturers, "doomed"?

Jimmy Wales.
Image Source: Wikipedia (of course!).
Well - I have to agree with Wales on this point - we are doomed if we keep doing what we have been doing for the last few hundred years. He tells us that "you're still likely to be in a large lecture hall with a very boring professor, and everyone knows it's not working very well. It's not even the best use of that professor's time or the audience". The more I do this job, the more I agree with this sentiment. On Monday last, 8 (out of a class of 68) students attended the last class this semester for one of my modules. On the same day my YouTube channel had 7,806 learners. You can guess which was the more productive, and satisfying.

While all professors/lecturers are not "boring", some of course are. We risk voting ourselves out of a job if we don't adapt and use technology more - and I'm not talking about simply using email and putting class notes up on Moodle/Blackboard. College authorities and management are shamefully lacking in initiative as they struggle with tighter budgets and increased demands of students (Wales calls this "a certain inertia in the system"). USA colleges are leading the way in accepting MOOCs and making lectures and content freely available on-line. The signs are slowly showing in Ireland that MOOCs are getting some attention with Sligo IT, UCD, and DIT recently announcing MOOCs. Many lecturers see MOOCs as a threat (I do), but many will embrace this and other on-line technologies (I do too).

Last word to Wales on the model of using recorded lectures, and class time for discussion: "It seems much more effective and is the direction I think we're going to go".