Friday, October 31, 2014

Academics and Social Media - What's the Right Balance?

This week I came across an article written two years ago by Tanya Roscorla, "Why Educators Should Spend 15 Minutes a Day on Social Media", in which she gives the "why" and the "how" educators should make digital connections on-line. My first reaction was "only 15 minutes"? - It takes me about that length of time just to write this post!
Image Source: The American Ceramic Society.
Roscorla writes that some educators find that Twitter helps them stay on top of their game. Connecting on-line through Twitter, LinkedIn, and Google+ both to colleagues in the same institution, and academics elsewhere increases collaboration and sharing of ideas. Academics are, in my experience, bit more likely to share their work for free on-line. In fact, the last academic paper I read (this one by Zhang, Larkin, and Lucey, 2014) was shared by @brianmlucey on Twitter - otherwise I would not have seen or heard of it.

Quite a few years ago I made the decision to use YouTube, my blog, and Twitter for both personal and work reasons. While I am very careful what I write, I regard it as part of my job to make content available on-line and comment on educational matters. Some years ago a student made a complaint to me that I had not responded to an email, and that while the student was waiting for a response - I had posted to my blog. Understandable irritation in one sense if a student sees me blogging or tweeting while they are waiting for a grade or a response. Nevertheless, as Roscorla mentions in her article, educators must find the time (in sometimes very busy schedules), to spend at least 15 minutes a day on social media, and that they "have to decide that connecting online is important". When something is important, we have to find the time for it - finding the right balance is the difficult part.

Recently, an educational colleague from another institution said to me that I "was not busy enough" if I have time for the likes of YouTube, Twitter, and this Blog. In one sense, she was right - there is no mention of social media in my job description, and I am being paid as I spend time in this medium. For me though, it is part of what I do and part of what I am. While I spend a bit more than 15 minutes a day on Social Media - it is part of my job and is here to stay.

PS - this article took 22 minutes to write!

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Google Glass in Education? via @ValaAfshar #googleglass

I suppose that it was inevitable that the good folks at Google would take wearable technology to the next level and beyond. The exciting looking and sounding Google Glass looks set to become part of human life as Google comes up with more and more wonderful things that it can do. I've not yet seen one, nor have I spoken to anyone who has tried it out - I would just love to have one!

Vala Afshar is Chief Marketing Officer with the Extreme Networks company, and today I picked up a Slideshare presentation he made on 14 Google Glass Innovative uses in education - it makes for interesting thought (I'd like to see the actual presentation). Some of the ideas are simple, eg (from transcript): 

while others definitely could catch on:

When I got an iPad a few years ago I genuinely thought that I would make use of it in class, but now I don't even bother to bring it to College - too awkward. A Google Glass device could make interaction more seamless and easy. Check out Afshar's ideas in the slideshow below - I look forward to seeing more and more innovation in this space!

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Reading Week - Good or Bad?

This week it is the so-called mid-semester "Reading Week" in NCI. Many other Colleges also have a Reading Week, though I'm not sure that all do. It was introduced here a few years ago and usually takes place in week 7 or 8. It also coincides with the October Bank Holiday and St Patrick's Day in March - in reality the Reading Week is four instead of five days.

Image source: Youth Utility.
Is the Reading Week "nothing but a poorly disguised trip home for a visit to Mum’s tumble drier" as described by student Eleanor Doughty in The Independent article "Reading week: What is it good for?" published last year?

In my classes I of course advise my students to use the Reading Week to catch up on the first six weeks, work on assignments and projects due later in the semester, and to study. How much of this is done I don't know, but I do know that when I ask students when they come back how much work they've done, the answer is usually very little to none. 

Around this time last year I wrote a post about Semester Fatique, which was read by 755 people (much higher than the average most posts get). For me it is nice to get a break from classes, though I am still at work. For students it is good to get a break from classes as our semesters are very long - probably too long. The Reading Week does offer the opportunity to catch up and study, but even if it just provides a break so that students can return a little refreshed and ready for the rest of the semester, it is probably still a good thing to have in the Academic Calendar.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Linkedin "Jobs you may be interested in" - Still A Long Way To Go

I am a part-time Linkedin enthusiast. I keep my profile up-to-date and connect with lots of interesting people, and both my blog and Twitter feeds post automatically to my Linkedin account. I am often puzzled as to why some people I don't know would want to connect with me, and I am definitely puzzled when someone endorses me for something I have never done!

Thankfully I am not seeking work, but that doesn't stop Linkedin sending me links to jobs I "may be interested in". My occupation is a Lecturer in Computing, so I guess some (simple and crude) Linkedin algorithm is picking out the word "Lecturer" from my profile so that it can recommend other Lecturer positions to me regardless of discipline. 

Today Linkedin tells me that I might be interested in the job of "Lecturer in Anatomy" and other positions that I have no experience or qualifications for. I did not attend Med School, I have no medical qualifications (not even First Aid!), and I certainly have never had anything to do with the study of Anatomy.

So - while Linkedin may be useful in some circumstances for job-hunters, it certainly still has a long way to go before it can match a Linkedin Profile with a vacant position. Matching skills needs and competencies is still a difficult task, and Linkedin have a long way to go.

PS: I did not apply for this job! 

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Microsoft Ends Nokia Brand #nostalgia

Yesterday the Irish Independent reported "End of an era: Microsoft drops Nokia brand for Lumia" in favour of its own Lumia range of Windows smartphones. It is indeed the "end of an era" as for many of us a Nokia phone was a first mobile phone choice.

The Nokia 5110.
Image Source:
My first mobile phone was the Nokia 5110 like the one to the left - it was launched in 1998 on the Eircell network. Yes - for almost the first 40 years of my life I did not have a mobile phone! Harder even still to imagine is that Nokia was once a company that made toilet paper!

I used it for making/receiving calls, and playing "Snake". Text messaging was not yet that popular. It was a novelty that hardly ever rang when I got it as not everybody had a mobile phone. I rarely used it at work though it was handy for calling home when I travelled (except in USA where it didn't work). One of my toughest project management assignments was for a custom e-Learning project for Nokia - they certainly demanded a lot from me and my team.

Now that Microsoft are retiring this brand I'm sure there will be some nostalgia for the old handsets in the way that vinyl is making a comeback. Perhaps we will see this, and the many other early mobile phones in museums. Its already being called a "vintage phone" on eBay!

Friday, October 17, 2014

Grade Inflation at Third-Level #MyTwoCents

Why is it that if students work harder and get better grades that the media latch on to the "grade inflation" bandwagon? This week the Irish Times blasts that "DCU, UCC award more ‘firsts’ in new indicator of grade inflation" and that some students "have a much higher chance of graduating with a first class honours degree than other college-goers" and that new figures are a "fresh indicator" of “grade inflation”. There is no reason why the figures quoted, such as "between 2004 and 2013, an average of 71.7 per cent of students at TCD graduated with either a 1st or a 2.1" are much different in other third-level Colleges such as the ITs and NCI.

Normal Distribution.
Image Source: Wikipedia.
I would be interested to see what the overall distribution of grades by actual mark is. We don't mark to a bell curve - not allowed to. For example, a "First" is an average grade of 70% or over - if you get 71% or 99% it is still a First. Data like these are usually normally distributed, but the Irish Times omits reference to this or the variation. The Times does quote a source from Trinity that it attracted “exceptionally bright cohorts of students”. This is most likely as a consequence of rising CAO points at the entry level. If you have a course, such as Science in Trinity where points have been rising steadily for years, the calibre of students entering is getting stronger. See below a table of the points required for Science (I don't know what the grades are for this course) in Trinity since 2008 (source

2008415 points
2009440 points
2010 455 points
2011 470 points
2012 500 points
2013 505 points
2014 515 points

The number of points needed has increased by a whopping 100 in six years, but the degree course is most likely substantially the same. Is it any wonder students will do better? Should Colleges start to mark harder, set tougher tests, or not let the bell curve move in order to avoid accusations of grade inflation? 

Today's students are also a lot smarter when it comes to assessments and exams - they can cram a lot better than any student from the past, and with a lot more continuous assessment about - there are more opportunities for getting better grades. Many recruiters require at least a 2:1, so guess what? Students respond to these needs. Students don't get better results without working for them - if they get a First, then award a First!

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Visit to Titanic Experience in Belfast

This weekend I made a quick visit to Belfast and checked out the the Titanic Experience for the first time. The building is shaped like the bow of the Titanic and inside there is a lot of information about Belfast, Harland and Wolff, Shipbuilding, and of course the tragedy of the Titanic. A lot of Irish people died in the sinking of the unsinkable, including the ship's surgeon Dr William Francis Norman O'Loughlin - a native of Tralee in Co Kerry near where my O'Loughlin ancestors came from. He is listed among the dead on the memorial outside the building where the Titanic and its sister ship the Olympic were built. Even though he was born in Ireland and died before Independence, he is listed as being of "British" nationality in the Experience's computer list of the dead (many others were listed as "Irish" ).

The Experience was well worth the visit, though at £42.99 for three of us it was a bit expensive. There are a lot of audio-visual features and a great ride "inside" the ship to show how it was put together. There are no relics (that I could see) of the Titanic brought up from where the ship now lies - I suppose this is not surprising in the city where it was built. I was a bit surprised though that there was very little from the ship yard - some drawings, contracts, but not many rivets or parts of ships. There was some reconstruction of cabins which really helped you see how some people travelled in luxury. Lots of black and white photos were brilliant - really gave a sense of times past.

The tour took about 2 hours and is well worthwhile, despite the steep cost.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

The best way to travel the Wild Atlantic Way is on a motorcycle #FirstToDoIT #WildAtlanticWay Eh @ATTADoyle @attastowell?

It's been a while since I posted about the Wild Atlantic Way, I haven't been on parts of it since last August and I miss it. I have kept an eye on Twitter posts (I still keep a feed on Tweetdeck for the #WildAtlanticWay hashtag). Fáilte Ireland have reported a great year for Irish tourism in 2014 and I'm sure the Wild Atlantic Way has contributed hugely to this surge in visitors to this country. Media coverage has also been extensive (even I was interviewed about my book on The Pat Kenny Show on Newstalk and by Ryan Tubridy on 2FM during the summer) with lots of radio and TV coverage. Fáilte Ireland also had a lot of events and even sponsored Bikefest in Killarney this year.

Yesterday a tweet by the Google Travel Team (@GoogleTravel), in which they mentioned Chris Doyle (@ATTADoyle) and Shannon Stowell (@attastowell) of The Adventure Trade Association, was a nice reminder of my own ride around the Wild Atlantic Way. Chris and Shannon travelled by motorcycle for 10 days. While I was interested in the sights and stories of each location, they spent a lot of time rock climbing, diving, surfing, canoeing, and getting muddy. They also had one of those helmet camera thingies with which they got nice video shots of our coastline. It's clear they had a camera and support team to help them - I just had myself. Like me they spent 10 days on the 2,500 kilometre trip, and I'm sure they would agree with me that the best way to get around the Wild Atlantic Way is on a motorcycle. It's too long for cycling in one go, and in a car it is a lot harder to get though the many towns and villages (try Castlegregory on market day!). 

Here's a video reminder of the Wild Atlantic Way featuring Chris and Shannon that they made for the recent Adventure Travel World Summit in held in Killarney:

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Please take my short (5 mins) survey on audience retention in @YouTube learning videos

As part of a research paper on why learners who use YouTube videos for learning often never watch a video until the end (or near the end) I am conducting a short survey on audience retention. The average audience retention for my YouTube channel is 49%, which means that on average only half of each video is watched. What causes what Elliott Masie refers to as "Learning Interruptus" - with the results of the survey, combined with YouTube Analytics, I hope to provide some insight to attempt to answer this question.

The survey is embedded below, but if you encounter any problems using this page, go to for a direct link to the survey.

(Many thanks to those who have already completed the survey!).

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

It's Official - Submitting Assignments at the Last Minute Results in Lower Marks!

If you are a student who leaves everything to the last minute and submits essays and assignments just before the submission deadline, you might be losing marks for doing so. According the the Times Higher Education online magazine students’ "last-minute submissions score lower". Citing a study by the Warwick Business School, research found that "marks dropped the closer to the deadline the essays were handed in". Students in the study who submitted work 24 hours before the deadline scored an average of 64%, while those who handed work in with just a minute to go, scored 59% - the difference between a 2:1 and a 2:2! Interestingly, students who submitted work between two and 12 hours before the deadline scored only slightly lower (63%) than those who submitted the day before. Some blame the Colleges and Universities for not doing enough and who "are failing some students…on providing them with study skills to make the most of their undergraduate study".

So - the message is "Get your work done in plenty of time and don't leave it to the last minute!".
Image source: The Velveteen Viking.

In some of my classes I often refer to Creative Problem Solving techniques - specifically those listed in "101 Creative Problem Solving Techniques: The Handbook of New Ideas for Business" by James Higgins (2005). Techniques #36 is "Deadlines". The book tells us (p83) that "many creative individuals claim they work best under pressure". Therefore deadlines would appear to be effective? Not so fast! Other researchers (cited in above book) point out the greatest levels of creativity follow periods of relaxation, not time pressure.  

Monday, October 06, 2014

Book Review: "The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914" by Christopher Clark

How World War 1 was started has had a simple answer for over 100 years: A Serb kills an Austrian Prince, Austria declares war on Serbia, Russia (Serbia's ally) declares war on Austria, Germany (Austria's ally) declares war on Russia, Britain and France (Russia's ally) declare war on Germany. Four years later, millions are dead.

Image source: The Interpreter.
Christopher Clark has written a fascinating book about the lead up to WW1. Though at times, especially in the middle, it is a heavy read - nevertheless I really enjoyed reading this book (Kindle edition). Right from the start, Clark engages the reader in the politics, both imperialist and nationalist, of the time. Ireland gets a brief mention near the end, but this is not a book about Britain and Ireland's role in the wear. Rather, it concentrates a lot on the alliances - especially between Russia and France, that played a key role in the out-break of war. 

The title of the book is very appropriate - it is astonishing how brinkmanship, nationalism, imperialism, and eejitness combined to cause so many nations to go to war. No nation/empire comes out of this well - my own sense of blame after reading this book is that the Versailles Treaty should simply have been a parade of political and military idiots from all sides to appear in front of a firing squad. 

Saturday, October 04, 2014

Separated Families

Yesterday I met with my Mum's brother Brendan Byrne and his wife Judy who were visiting Dublin for just one day. They live in Toronto Canada and Brendan was back in Ireland for the first time in 16 years. Brendan grew up in Dublin (Temple Cottages), but left Ireland when he was only 7 years old. The Byrne family (my grandparents Paddy and Kathleen, my aunts Patsy (Cathy), Bernie, and Evelyn, and my uncles Brendan and Richard left Ireland in 1958. Raymond and Gertie (Trudy) Byrne emigrated to England. (Sadly Paddy, Kathleen, Patsy, Evelyn, Raymond, and Gertie have now all passed away). This left my Mum Phil as the last member of her family in Ireland - she married my Dad in 1958. So it is a joyous occasion when she can meet with any of her bothers and sisters. We met in Wynn's Hotel in Dublin for lunch, a chat, a pint, and some selfies!

I have been posting some photos on Facebook and am told by my cousin Lauralea that Wynn's Hotel is where my Grandfather Paddy Byrne proposed to my Grandmother Kathleen Cullen- probably in 1931 or 1932. A nice coincidence on a lovely family day.