Thursday, December 31, 2015

2015 - The Rise and Fall of my @YouTube Channel

Since setting up my YouTube channel on April 7th 2006, I have watched the channel build up views over the years. I have not been slow to blog (boast) about hitting milestones such as another million views. In 2014 the almost doubling of views year-on-year stopped, but 2015 has seen a rather dramatic decline in the number of views compared to previous years. The chart below (from YouTube Analytics) illustrates the rise and fall in the number of views since 

The "Watch Time" (shown top left) of 45 years and 102 days dates only from September 1st 2012. Interestingly, the number of views on Christmas Day this year was 1,004, the lowest since 2011. I have no clear explanation as to why this decline happened - it started in May of this year. This coincided with some changes I made on the recommendation of my YouTube Partner Manager such as adding more tags, cleaning up the descriptions of each video, and adding thumbnails. I can't see how this alone would have caused a decline - these changes were intended to improve the chances of YouTube Search finding my videos. Changing metadata might have been responsible for some initial decline. I have also added videos regularly this year, though none of them have been a "hit". None of my last 18 videos (posted between June 17th and December 23rd this year) has passed the 1,000 views mark yet. 27 of my videos have over 100,000 views, but none of these were published in the past two years. So - I'm thinking that I have been living off my older videos for a long time, and maybe their shelf life is declining. One thing I do know is that there is a lot more competition out there on YouTube, and perhaps this decline was going to happen anyway.

One thing I can look forward to in about March next year is my first million views video - How To...Create a Basic Gantt Chart in Excel 2010 is at 980,890 views and should pass the magic million mark in about March or April. This video is responsible for about 10% of my overall views and has earned just over €6,000 since it was published on January 4th 2011. Its views pattern is almost identical to the channel views above - including a similar dramatic fall in views last May.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Family at Christmas

Thousands of miles can separate families from each other, but not their hearts. Us O'Loughlins have had some practice for the Christmas Days in 2012, 2013, and 2014 with Claire being away. This year for the first time two of my daughters were away - Vicki also spent Christmas in America. I miss both of them all the time, but Christmas Day is extra difficult to get through without their bubbly presence in our house. We are joining up as a family again in January and we will then have a few Christmas moments to share.

Claire and Vicki - Christmas Morning 2006.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Wedding Photo - 29 Years Later

In one of those "small world" stories I recently made contact with a photographer from Castlebar who was taking photos of the Bourke (my in-laws) Gathering Event last month. Her name is Joy Heverin, and the reason I contacted her was that the photographer on the day of my wedding to the lovely Roma Bourke (13th September, 1986) was named Paul Heverin. The only copies of photos from our wedding are in our album - none hang on the walls of our house. I contacted Joy to see if she was related to Paul - sure enough, they are husband and wife. The good news was - she still had the negatives from our wedding.

So - I was able to order a new copies of my favorite photo from the day, and scan it for an electronic copy. In the photo I am 26 years old, while Roma is 25 - I have aged a lot faster than Roma!

Photo from original by Joy Heverin Photography.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Book Review: "Clouds of Glory: The Life and Legend of Robert E. Lee" by Michael Korda

I have just finished reading a biography of American Confederate General Robert E. Lee. "Clouds of Glory: The Life and Legend of Robert E. Lee" was published last summer, and is written by Michael Korda. At 848 pages in paperback, it is a sizable book - I read it on my Kindle over a period of several weeks.

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Before reading this book I thought I knew a lot about Robert E Lee having read many books about the American Civil War. While the war takes up a substantial part of the book, it does also cover his early and middle life. After all - he was 56 when the war started and died just five years after it ended.

His family had close links with George Washington and he took part in many historical events before the Civil War such as the capture and hanging of John Brown, and fighting in the one-sided Mexican War. He was a (reluctant) slave-owner, but seems to have dedicated his life to the Army. Michael Korda writes a riveting account of Lee's life and it is hard not to admire Lee for his dedication, honesty, and devotion to God. At times the book borders on hero-worship by Korda, however Lee stands out as a true icon of American history. His life before the war is not dramatic - in fact he could be regarded as quite a boring person who spent too long in the army. It took him a long time to gain promotions and seems to have been happy enough to accept that everything that happened to him was "God's Will" to be done. 

As an educator myself I was very interested in his time as superintendent at West Point Military Academy (1852-1855), and as President of Washington College (1865-1870). He was a workaholic who had a passion for improving the lives of his students - especially in the difficult years for the South after the Civil War ended. His time at Washington College (now Washington and Lee University) is the shortest part in the book - it would have been interesting to hear more about his achievements at the college. He was lauded as a hero everywhere he went after the war, and died with (as Korda puts it) "stoic dignity that had always defined his character in life".

One thing readers should know about this book is that it relies quite a bit on existing knowledge of the Civil War, its battles, and locations. The maps of battle sites are poor (they are replicated from earlier biographies), - they do not work well on a Kindle. There are many difficult to follow long descriptions of battle actions that I had little or no idea what was going on (Gettysburg excepted). 

Overall - I found this book to be a terrific read (I gave it five stars on Amazon). Recommended!

Iconic Photo of Lee taken by Matthew Brady just days after the Civil War ended.
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Friday, December 18, 2015

"How Now Mrs Brown Cow" at the 3Arena

One of the funniest Irish people on the planet is Brendan O'Carroll, especially when he and his family treat us to the comedy of Agnes Brown and "her" boys. Yesterday evening I joined a big crowd at the 3Arena and we were was treated to an endless flows of gags, puns, slagging, innuendo, with some slapstick thrown in. There's no doubt that O'Carroll can entertain his audience, and I think it is safe to say that nobody left the show disappointed.

I did expect a show with new material - much of what was presented last evening had already been broadcast on the BBC. It was only when we got to the adoption story that I realized I had seen this before. I also thought when I bought the tickets that we would be closer to the stage, but the 3Arena is such a big venue. We were quite a bit away from the stage where much of the action was on a couch which meant the actors had their backs to us a lot. Two large TV screens either side of the stage certainly helped - especially for close-ups of Mrs Brown's wonderful facial expressions. A smaller more intimate venue would have been more enjoyable - I couldn't help feeling that I had spent my money to watch a big show on a TV rather than one stage. But these small things aside, I never laughed so much in one evening. Well done to Brendan and his team - looking forward already to the next Mrs Brown show!

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Thursday, December 17, 2015

How To... Calculate Pearson's Correlation Coefficient (r) by Hand

Throughout last semester I have been creating videos to show my students how to calculate the various test statistics that we learn about in the Business Data Analysis module. One of the more interesting statistical tests is to determine if there is a correlation between two sets of data - it's easier to understand than (say) an Analysis of Variance (ANOVA). Despite this, many students avoid this question in my exams as it is perceived to be more difficult than it is, and to take a long time.

The test statistic is Pearson's Correlation Coefficient (r). If you know and can read the formula, all it takes is to know the sequence and shortcuts to make a correct calculations. There is a lot of pressing buttons on a calculator, but practice can definitely make perfect here. Students can use this to learn the method, and they can quickly add the same data to an Excel spreadsheet and use the Data Analysis Toolpak to check their answer. Hopefully, this video will go a long way towards taking the fear out of this statistical test.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

YouTube Channels for Educators - More Good Stuff via @suebecks

In her recent article on Using YouTube in Learning and Teaching, Sue Beckingham gives us more useful tips and ideas for video - here is her list of educational channels for learners that she recommends:
Source:Using YouTube in Learning and Teaching (Beckingham, 2015)

Dare I add my own educational channel ( to this? It has been one of the biggest helps to my work in College over the past (almost) 10 years since I set it up on 7th April 2006.

It is an exciting time for technology in education. Though there are still doubters and educators afraid of change, I (and I'm sure most educators) am now inspired by students to use technology as much as I can. It is over 26 years ago since I created my first ever computer-based training lesson (April 1989) when I joined CBT Systems. Since then I have had a computer at my finger tips for all my learning and teaching activities. While there is a massive difference between the basic IBM PC that I used 26 years ago, and the Dell XPS laptop I am using now - it is how we use the technology that matters, not what it is.

If you are looking for inspiration about technology in education, look no further than the video below about Google Classroom available from the Google for Education link above:

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

10 Ways to use YouTube in your Teaching via @suebecks

I'm always glad to see educators recommending YouTube for Learning & Teaching. I have also found it to be a fantastic L&T tool and I often wonder how I would manage without it. Sue Beckingham is an Educational Developer and Senior Lecturer in Computing with a research interest in the use of social media in higher education - she is also the author of the Social Media for Learning web site. This week Sue gives some great tips for using YouTube with students:
  1. Ask your students to create ‘About Me’ videos and share with the class
  2. Create a playlist of videos you are going to use in lessons
  3. Encourage your students to subscribe to relevant subject related channels or playlists
  4. Showcase student work by creating a course channel
  5. Use TED talk videos (or other relevant videos) as a focus for discussion
  6. In place of a face to face presentation ask students to screencast their presentation with a voice over
  7. Create how to guides to introduce new concepts
  8. Produce video summaries of assessment briefs and the marking criteria
  9. Use video to give students feedback (this could be a screencast with voice over)
  10. Ask students to reflect on this feedback as a video and embed in their digital portfolio

Source: Using YouTube in Learning and Teaching (Beckingham, 2015)

There are some great ideas here - my favourite is #1. This would be a great way for students to get to know each other in 1st year. Also a good idea for using in porjects, eg an "About My Project" short video. I also like the idea of giving feedback by video, though I would be cautious about what might happen to the video if used inappropriately.

Video in Learning & Teaching is here to stay!

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Historic Cars - Another Blast From the Past from @Shell

Earlier this week I posted about receiving the "Man in Flight" coin series published by Shell from 1969. I have now got the 1970 "Historic Cars" series of 20 coins. These feature the 1886 Benz 3-Wheeler, the 1909 Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost, the 1930 Midget, the 1938 Volkswagen Beetle, the 1959 Morris Mini-Minor, and the 1970 Lamborghini Miura.

I remember collecting these very light aluminium coins very well. Of course, my Dad would pick them up for me every time he went to a petrol station. I still have 8 of these coins (yes - for nearly 45 years!) in one of my coin albums. When I saw the full set on eBay I couldn't resist - the full set, plus spares, cost £15.00. One thing I remember about this collection, as is common in many other similar collections, is that some coins were very common while others were scarse and harder to collect. The Citroen DS 19 (third from right on bottom row below) was one of the common ones if I remember correctly - we seemed to get this one a lot. 

Friday, December 11, 2015

Last Day of Semester #phew

It is officially the end of Semester 1 today - I have just finished my last class (I have a re-scheduled class next week due to a postponement earlier in the semester). For students and faculty alike, it is a day that took 13 long weeks to arrive since we started last September. This year I had two classes of 2nd years (for Project Management, and for Business Analysis), one group of 4th years (for Statistics), and one group of postgraduate students (also for Statistics). I have to say I really enjoyed the semester and working with great groups of students. 

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Continuous assessment contributes hugely to workload. My approach is to, where possible, run weekly tutorials and grade them. I have over 120 student doing this - so it can be difficult keeping up with marking this many tutorials every week. This semester I also created a new series of videos for my Statistics classes showing how to carry out stats tests by hand (the way students will have to do it in the exam).

At the end of the semester there is always a certain amount of panic by both faculty and students. For us we have to make sure all content has been covered - especially if exam questions are based on said content. Students are busy trying to get projects submitted on time and are beginning to worry about their exams in January. 

This day fortnight is Christmas Day and there are only eight more working days in this year. As I plan a short holiday in January I have to make sure that I have everything up to date before I go. I will also have a new module next semester for which I need to prepare, so some busy times ahead.

Best wishes to all NCI students, especially those in my own classes, in their preparation for exams.

Monday, December 07, 2015

Blast From the Past #Shell #ManInFlight #Nostalgia

Recently I purchased (for €4 via eBay - P&P cost more!) the full set of "Man in Flight" coins which were first issued by Shell in 1969. If I remember correctly, my Dad got these every time he filled up the car and I collected these as a 10 year old boy. Sadly, my copies of the coins are long since lost. This collection was a dream for every aspiring astronaut in the year (1969) that Neil Armstrong became the first man to walk on the moon. The collection commemorates the likes of Icarus & Daedalus, Leonardo da Vinci, the Wright Brothers, Charles Lindbergh, Yuri Gargarin, and of course the Apollo 11 crew of Armstrong, Aldrin, and Collins. The coins are very light - they are made of aluminium. The set I bought is not in great condition and has little value other than jogging the memory of a middle aged coin collector. 

Sunday, December 06, 2015

The National Craft Fair must have been the busiest place in Dublin this weekend. Lots of brilliant arts, crafts, and food on display. Lots of people there too - I guess going at 2.00pm on a Sunday afternoon was asking for it to be crowded. We bought some stuff for Christmas pressies, and judging by the number of bags being carried around - so did a lot of other people.

After a while it felt a bit like Groundhog Day - there were so many jewelry and ceramics stands in each aisle. There were artists from all over the country who hopefully had a good day and made some money now that the Recession is over and everyone in Ireland is rich again. There were so many beautiful ceramics that I would love to have, but there were far too many in the RDS to make a purchase simple. In the end we bought one pressie and I bought a ceramic fish!

In the Food Hall there was lots of oils, sweets, cheeses, and crisps (I loved the "Happy Crispmas" jumpers!). I had a taste of cider at the Armagh Cider Company stand, but was surprised to learn that I could not buy a bottle or two because the RDS forbids this since they want the punters to buy from their own many food and drinks stands. I also found the €10 entry fee a bit much - where else are you charged to go into a market. This time last year I went to the fantastic St George's Market in Belfast - no entry fee there even though many of the artists show their wares at both markets. With thousands of people attending the Fair, the RDS creams it from entry fees, from concession stands, and probably for charging each of the artists for their stands. Overall - an interesting day spent in the midst of a lot of talented artists!

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Brooklyn, the Movie

Last evening I went to see the new Irish movie - Brooklyn. It is based on Colm Tóibín's novel of the same name and tells the story of a young woman emigrating to America and returning home for a short time following the death of her sister. It is set in Enniscorthy, Co Wexford, in 1952. It struck me on hearing about the story that it could have been about my mother Phil who was just 18 in 1952. Later in the same decade all her family emigrated to Canada - thankfully she stayed behind.

The lead role is played by Saoirse Ronan in what the Berkshire Eagle said was a role "tailor-made" for her. I found the story line to be very slow - all I was interested in was whether she would go back to Brooklyn after being home or not. There's plenty of tears from Ronan - which she is good at doing if you like that sort of thing. Emory Cohen is excellent as her American boyfriend, but I thought that Domhnall Gleeson as her Irish equivalent was desperately wooden in his performance. The picture painted of 1950s Ireland is not a good one - I'm glad it was October 1959 when I was born so that I did not have to live through very much of this depressing decade.

Judge for yourself, but I was bored for most of this movie.

Friday, November 27, 2015

How To... Perform a Chi-Square Test (By Hand)

Sometimes it is the easiest of tasks that takes the longest time. In my Statistics classes we cover the Chi-Square (Goodness of Fit) test to see if there is a significant difference between observed and expected values. It is one of the easiest statistics tests to do - all you need are two values and then be able to add, subtract, divide, and square a number. So when I decided to record this I though maybe one or two takes would see me through. 27 takes later I recorded the version below which is now on YouTube. Somehow I got tongue-twisted and made small errors, especially with the calculator. As with all of my short videos (this one in 7 mins 32 secs), if I make an error I simply discard and start again. So what should have taken less than half an hour probably took about four hours to do!

Thursday, November 26, 2015

NCI Open Day

Yesterday the College held an Open Day for Leaving Certificate students and it was my turn and pleasure to be present at the School of Computing stand. Apart from the fact that the age gap between the average 18 year old student and me is now up to 38 years, I very much enjoyed chatting to the young prospective students.

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Almost every single student that came to chat with me at the stand enquiring about our degrees in Computing wanted to specialize in gaming. They showed great enthusiasm for gaming and were mostly already keen gamers (I was beside a virtual reality stand that was very popular). I pointed out to them all that they will be graduating in 2020 and that a lot can change between now and then. This got me thinking that it is very difficult to advise students about course choices for a career that will not start for another five years. All I can do is tell them what's hot right now (analytics and cloud computing), that they may be working for companies that don't exist yet, doing jobs that don't exist yet either, and using technologies that haven't been invented yet. Leaving Cert students are bombarded with options - let's all hope that they make the right choices for themselves and that their chosen course will lead to a fruitful experience in College and a career that will make them productive and happy.

Next Open Day: Saturday 23rd January, 2016 (10:00 - 13:00) - see for details.

Monday, November 23, 2015

How To... Perform a One-Way ANOVA Test (By Hand)

There are several methods to calculate the F statistic in a one-way Analysis of Variance (ANOVA) test - I learned the method in the video below from the good folks in the Mathematics Support Services at NCI. All the methods are based on calculating F by taking into account the differences within each sample and between each sample when you want to see if there are differences between three or more samples.

ANOVA involves a lot of calculations, especially in larger sample sizes - but the good news is that it is mostly just adding, multiplying, dividing, and squaring numbers. The video below took several takes to get right, and at 16 mins 27 secs is bar far my longest video on YouTube. I hope my viewers will not get bored before the end and drop off!

Friday, November 20, 2015

"Crowd Tickler" Dara Ó Briain at Vicar Street

A nice birthday present this year was two tickets to comedian Dara Ó Briain at the intimate location of Vicar Street - Roma and I went along last evening for a belly full of laughs and a fantastic stand-up comedy show. Jokes and funny stories were delivered in Ó Briain's casual and sarcastic style. We heard personal as well as general humour on differences between Irish and British people, how the Channel Tunnel was built, parenting children, psychology, Comic Relief, sincerity, and many more laugh-a-minute jokes. He is particularly good at inventing stories from material contributed by the front row audience - a guy called "Napoleon" came in for a lot of slagging.

The show started at 8.40 and ended at 11.10 - two and a half hours (with a 20 min break in the middle). Ó Briain talked non-stop and is definitely value for money - I'll be watching out more shows when next he is back in Ireland. 

Here's a flavour of his current show...

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

How To... Calculate Student's t statistic (Equal Variance) by Hand

Continuing my new series of Statistics calculations by hand, I have released a "How To..." video Student's t test for unpaired (independent) samples with equal variance. This is one of three options when conducting a t test to compare the means of two samples to see of there is a significant difference between the samples (or not). It is slightly awkward in that you first have to determine if the variances of the two samples are equal or unequal with an F test before you can use the formula for t. In addition, if the variance is equal (as in the video below), you must pool the variance. 

At 12 minutes and 6 seconds this is one of my longest videos, and it took a few takes to get it right. In my Statistics exams I set a problem similar to this, and it is a solution like this that I want students to provide in their answers.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Cappagh Hospital Trust via @cappaghhospital

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In the late 1960s while trying to be Tarzan in the hay shed at home in Ballingate, I managed to break two of my fingers in my left hand swinging from a rope tied to a beam at the roof of the shed. I can still remember the pain and was brought first to Dr Doyle in Carnew who sent me to Temple Street Children's Hospital in Dublin. I remember two things in Temple Street: One was that X-rays of my broken fingers were displayed to medical students by the attending doctor - it was then decided to send me to Cappagh Hospital as I would need an operation. The other memory is about the witch, masquerading as a nurse, who tied my fingers in a splint. I was screaming in pain and she had no sympathy, telling me to shut up, and that big boys don't cry. I spent 10 days in Cappagh and my memory is of a ward full of boys, many with injuries like mine - but I also remember many with Polio. In contrast to Temple Street, the nursing staff were very gentle - and I certainly have fond memories of the care and education (we had classes) I received there.

On the radio this morning I heard former (and disgraced) British Cabinet Minister Jonathan Aiken on the Today with Seán O'Rourke Show, being interviewed about his time as a small boy in Cappagh when he was suffering from TB. The purpose of his interview was to publicize the Cappagh Hospital Foundation who are raising money for their Orthopedic Centre (you can donate here). Aiken also has fond memories of his care in Cappagh, in particular a nun called Sr Finbarr. I remember the nuns being good to us - I wonder if I had the same nun taking care of me?

I have never been back to Cappagh Hospital and it is easy for events from over 40 years ago to be forgotten. Since then (and before) thousands of Irish children have been taken care of in a safe and loving environment. Keep up the good work, and thanks for the memories Jonathan Aiken!

Monday, November 16, 2015

How To... Test for Equal and Unequal Variance (F Test) by Hand

I am finding my new videos showing statistics calculations by hand useful for my students - reaction so far has been positive. When comparing the means of two samples, we use a t-test to determine if there is a significant difference between the means. Students often find the decision as to which t-test formula to use a confusing one. First, they have to decide if the two samples are paired (dependent) or unpaired (independent). If  the samples are unpaired, you then have to determine if the variances of the two samples are equal or unequal. Quite often researchers assume that the variances are equal, but we need to conduct what is called an F test first to be sure. The F statistic is easy to calculate, it is simply the larger sample variance divided by the smaller sample variance. In the video below I show how this is done by hand (includes calculations of variance):

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Bourke Gathering Castlebar

Happy 90th Birthday Joe Bourke!
Yesterday evening I had the pleasure of joining the extended Bourke family in Breaffy House, Castlebar, to celebrate the 90th birthday of Roma's uncle - Joe Bourke. All descendants of Joe "The Boss" Bourke (the birthday boy's grandfather) were invited to meet up with long lost cousins. Roma's grandfather was Gussie Bourke - one of nine in his family, hence the large gathering of descendants. I'm told there were about 300 people of all ages. This of course included a lot of "non-Bourkes" like me, and I tended to mix a lot with my fellow out-laws for the evening.

Great to see Joe Bourke in great form at 90 years of age - as he said himself, red wine and cigarettes are keeping him going. There were lots of old photos on display, and there was plenty of "who's who" questions being asked. It was a long night  - the Bourkes and their wives/husbands/partners are great craic. Nice to have such a big family gathering that is not a wedding or a funeral.

Friday, November 13, 2015

NCI Graduation - A Special Day

Wednesday this week was my favourite day of the year, when about 800 students graduated from the National College of Ireland. I always feel a great sense of pride in the students who have reached this day - all can be rightly proud of themselves with their achievements, whether it is a short course for a Certificate or a Masters that they studied. It is especially nice for me to see students that I have taught along their way to picking up their scroll from the President of the College - I like to think that I had a small contribution to their success. It is a great day for students, though Faculty are not thanked at the ceremony - it is a great day for us too.

This year was my 12th NCI Graduation Ceremony. For the first time I did not take part in the Academic procession or sit at the podium in front of all. Instead it was a very special day for my family as my daughter Kate graduated with a Higher Diploma in Data Analytics. I played the role of a proud Dad for the day.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Lucky 13

In November 2002 I became a part-time lecturer in the Associate Faculty at the National College of Ireland. Just a month earlier I had taken voluntary redundancy from the e-Learning company SmartForce, and even though I had a very generous redundancy package in my pocket I was at a loss at the age of 43 as to what I would do after thirteen years working for the same company. A former colleague (DK) in SmartForce who had just begun a new job in NCI and contacted me to see if I was interested in some part-time work. I will be forever grateful for this contact - thank you DK! In just 5 months time I will have been working longer in NCI than in SmartForce.

In the dot com boom of the late 1990s and very early 2000s, I had never thought of leaving SmartForce. I had often regretted that I had not followed up on an academic career after graduating from Trinity with a PhD in 1988, but the money was good in SmartForce and I was very happy there. Things changed dramatically in the summer of 2002 when SmartForce was taken over by Skillsoft - in a short space of time I went from being a loyal company man to wanting to be the first out the door when redundancies were announced. 

National College of Ireland.
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My first class in NCI was a guest lecture to 4th year BSc in Computing students - the topic was Groupware (I used Lotus Notes), and I remember preparing for it for several days beforehand. At the same time the College had just started a Diploma in e-Learning, and the opportunity presented itself for some part-time work. Bingo - I had my first classes. When a vacancy arose for an Assistant Lecturer position in the summer of 2003 I was successful in landing a permanent role. At last I had fulfilled an ambition for an academic career.

Today I had had dozens of "Likes" on my Linkedin profile - many thanks to the students and colleagues (past and present) who have "liked" my work anniversary. I have loved (almost) every minute of working in NCI. Today is Graduation Day at the College, and it is a very special day personally and professionally. My daughter Kate graduates along with the many students who have been in my classes over the past four years.

It has been a incredibly lucky 13 years for me.

Friday, November 06, 2015

"an end to the college degree’s unprecedented run as the only credential that matters" via @skonnard

This week I had the pleasure of briefly meeting Aaron Skonnard, CEO of Pluralsight, at an event in the College. Pluralsight provides a vast library of on-line courses in areas ranging from personal development to programming. The College has signed up to Pluralsight and many of our IT students use this as an extra resource - especially for project work. 

Image source: LA Times.
Coincidentally I read a post in Techcrunch by Aaron this week entitled "Edtech’s Next Big Disruption Is The College Degree", in which he predicts that by the end of 2020 that "the traditional degree will have made room on its pedestal for a new array of modern credentials that are currently gaining mainstream traction as viable measures of learning, ability and accomplishment". He makes a strong argument that the centuries old traditions of going to college and graduating with a degree is now being challenged - "powerful forces are converging to challenge the assumption that a college degree is the only way". He points to "monumentals skills gaps" in the workplace and in graduates that a degree does not fill. Qualifications such as "badges, course certificates and dynamic assessments" are gaining more currency in the workplace where specific skill sets are required.

While I'm not in agreement that 2020 is a likely timeline for a "new credentialing movement to reach its tipping point", or that a KPI dashboard approach to "vet, assess and track the skills and abilities" of graduates - I do agree that technology will revolutionize the degree system. Richard Branson recently stated that "university course lengths should be halved" - perhaps technology and credentialing will achieve this?

Education pioneers such as Aaron Skonnard will succeed in turning our traditional systems up-side-down - it's inevitable. Remember the six most dangerous words in the English language? "We've always done it this way"!

Wednesday, November 04, 2015

Outrage at the Banks - What's New? #BOI via @independent_ie

The Irish Independent reports today that there is Outrage over new BoI restrictions on cash transactions - the Bank of Ireland is to restrict cash withdrawals and lodgements in its branches, and have told its customers that they cannot withdraw less than €700 at a cash desk. It is also moving to limit cash deposits and cheque lodgements made with the assistance of a staff member, to amounts over €3,000. 

Image Source: Shannonside News.
At first I viewed this as part of the inevitable influence of technology in banking, and for the most part I have supported this. It is very handy to lodge cheques using an in-branch machine with a card and PIN without having to fill out a form and queue for a cashier. Every bank branch has more machines, and less cashiers than before.

But... yesterday I had need to lodge a cheque in my Bank of Ireland branch on Georges' Street in Dún Laoghaire. I arrived just after opening and the bank was not too busy with customers. There are three lodgement machines in this branch, but one was already "Out of Service" - 33% of capacity unavailable. I had to queue behind other customers for the other two machines. I'm guessing it was about 10 minutes before I got my turn at the machine (at which I quickly managed to lodge my cheque with no problems I have to say). All this time there was nobody in the queue for the one cashier that was open! I never thought I'd see the day when I had to queue for machines and there would be no queue for the cashier. Banks don't care about us having to queue, as long as they can reduce the number of people that they employ - we will still have to wait.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Quiz in aid of Niall Mellon Educate

Last evening I had the pleasure of being Quiz Master at a fund-raiser hosted by the Killiney Lions Club in aid of Mellon Educate in the Rochestown Lodge Hotel. Rome will be part of the building blitz in Capetown next month to build a school.

Writing a quiz is hard work - I have now written several quizzes. Getting the balance between difficult questions and easy ones is hard. You don't want a quiz to be too hard so that people feel stupid for not knowing the answers, or too easy so that it is not challenging. I try to write a round of questions where some questions should be easy for everyone to get, and to also have one or two hard ones that the top teams will be the only ones to get. I also like to have questions that will generate discussion and even argument among team members. When I read out the answers I love to hear groans and people saying "I was right!".

Here are questions from two of the rounds - the first set was a numbers round which had some teams in difficulty. See how many you get right:

  1. How many days is it until Christmas Day?
  2. Including Pluto, how many planets are there in the solar system?
  3. How many furlongs are there in a mile?
  4. How many points did Dublin score in this year’s men’s Senior All-Ireland football final against Kerry?
  5. What is the maximum number of CAO points that you can get in the Leaving Certificate?
  6. How many cities are there on the island of Ireland?
  7. How many sides are there in a heptagon?
  8. How many tablespoons are there in a cup?
  9. How many golf clubs are allowed in a bag during competitions?
  10. How many pockets are there on a casino roulette wheel?

The TV round was the easiest - six teams got 10/10, see how you do:

  1. Name one of the two current presenters on this year’s ITV show “The X Factor”.
  2. What was the surname of Del Boy and Rodney in “Only Fools and Horses”?
  3. Who played the part of Fr Dougal Maguire in the TV series “Fr Ted”?
  4. Who is the presenter of RTÉ’s “Kitchen Hero” programme?
  5. In what TV series would you find the characters of Daenerys Targaryen, Ned Stark, and Jaime Lannister?
  6. In what 2015 BBC drama series did Irish actor Aidan Turner play the lead role?
  7. Name the four Teletubbies.
  8. Earlier this year British actress Anne Kirkbride died: what character did she play in a well-known TV soap series?
  9. “Here we come/ Walking down the street/ We get the funniest looks from/ Everyone we meet...” Which 1960s TV series were these the opening lines of the theme tune?
  10. Which sit-com was set in the fictional seaside resort of Walmington-on-Sea?

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

How To Be Productive

I was never one for paying too much heed to advice from people who produce lists about how to be better at almost anything. Viktor Hanacek (writing for Medium) gives us a new list intended for marketers: "7 Things You Need To Stop Doing To Be More Productive, Backed By Science". When I saw the "backed by science" I decided to take a look - here are his "7 things":

  1. Stop working overtime and increase your productivity
  2. Don’t say “yes” too often
  3. Stop doing everything yourself and start letting people help you
  4. Stop being a perfectionist
  5. Stop doing repetitive tasks and start automating it
  6. Stop guessing and start backing up your decisions with data
  7. Stop working, and have do-nothing time

Some interesting stuff here. For point #1 above, the "science" shows that taking a nap can increase productivity - this is because 70% of people do not get enough sleep at night. There is some simple advice about using programming for repetitive tasks and to avoid procrastinating. I love the line in relation to #4 above: "They [perfectionists] procrastinate and wait for the perfect moment. In business, if it is the perfect moment, you are too late". In my early years in NCI we had to endure some professional development off-site days - mostly forgettable (and a very unproductive use of time). One thing I do remember is the acronym ABBA - a break between activities. This is emphasized in #7 above where Hanacek writes "It‘s important for us to take time for reflection. We often find the solutions when we’re not searching for them". Rushing from one thing to another is not good for us, and not good for productivity either.

The best thing I ever did (many years ago) to increase my own productivity was to get rid of games from my computer and my phone. It's amazing how many times I was tempted to play a game of Solitaire ("for a break") - no time wasted on this now. 

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

"Another Bloody Castle" #ABC

My toughest critic, when she finished reading Exploring Northern Ireland's Causeway and Mourne Coastal Routes, said "ABC: another bloody castle - castles here, castles there, castles every feckin' where - I'm fed up of castles". Indeed  - there are a lot of castles on the Irish coastline, that's where the people that built them decided to put them. Also - towards the end of the book there is not too much scenery (apart from the Mourne Mountains), and most of the interesting things to see are castles and old buildings. I must keep this criticism in mind when completing my trilogy of exploring our coast as I write Exploring Ireland's East and Southeast Coasts.

The critic who uttered the above words? My Mum!

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Cancer Awareness

This past week I had been nervously waiting for a screen colonoscopy on Friday morning. In a recent health check I mentioned to the doctor that my Dad was diagnosed with bowel cancer (which he has thankfully fully recovered). The doctor decided that due to my age (56) and family history that I should get my own bowel checked out - hence a visit to St Vincent's Hospital for a colonoscopy. Even though I had no symptoms warning of colon cancer, I still was fearful of what might be found - the very mention of the word "cancer" is terrifying.

People warned me that the cleansing of the bowel with Movi-Prep the day before would be worse than the actual treatment itself. Movi-Prep does exactly what it says on the tin - and the advice to stay close to a toilet is definitely to be heeded. In the hospital there was quite a bit of waiting, but the whole experience was straight-forward. Apart from a brief slight discomfort, I didn't feel a thing. Probably my dignity suffered most with a tube and camera up my ass with an audience looking on. I could see the whole thing on TV - interesting to say the least!

Afterwards the doctor came and told me that all was clear but that he had removed one polyp which he was sending off to see if it was cancerous - even saying that to me was scary. A polyp might turn into a cancer in time, and it was best to get it checked.

A lesson here is that we all need to take our health seriously. Like a lot of men I am not a regular visitor to the doctor and up to now have not really been worried about my health. There are many screens available to us and we should use them. Former Enterprise Ireland chairman Hugh Cooney has bravely spoken publicly about his cancer and how he ignored the warning signs until it was too late - his message to men: "don't be stupid, because we are too complacent about our health. My message is avoid cancer if you can, and how do you avoid it". The Irish Cancer Society have published the video below about early warning signs that should not be ignored:

Monday, October 12, 2015

Calculating Statistics By Hand - Variance and Standard Deviation

In the good old days, statistics had to be calculated by hand - even calculating an average figure may take a long time. Calculating something like variance or a t-statistic could take a lot of time and brain work. Calculators took some of the work out of this, and of course the likes of Excel and SPSS can now to the work in seconds. We (I) still teach statistics in the old way and insist that students learn how to do the various calculations with pen and paper, plus a calculator. My view, and the view of many of my colleagues, is that the ability to understand how statistics work is enhanced by being able to see how each calculation is done, and how the formulas for these calculations are made up.

One of the most important statistics to be able to calculate is Variance. It is used in descriptive statistics, and for me it is vital to be able to calculate it quickly. Learning to do it by hand will lead to greater understanding of how other statistics are calculated. Most importantly of all - hundreds of thousands of students all over the world have to be able to do it in exams without the help of a computer. I have made several videos that show how variance is calculated in Excel (eg, see How To... Display a Range of Descriptive Statistics in Excel 2010), but this is not the way students calculate statistics in an exam.

Aver Document Camera.
Image source: Tiger Direct.
Recording hand written calculations was tougher than I thought it would be. I tried, gave up, and tried again the Aver Classroom Technology Document Camera. There has been one in the College for a few years now, but I've never used it. One of my colleagues, Dr Keith Maycock, has used it for great effect in his YouTube Channel. It is a clumsy gadget to use. Videos are recorded onto a USB and a separate screen was necessary to see what I was doing. The audio was not consistent, and I also found the angle of my hand caused me to block a lot of what I was doing. In the end I created my first video on how to calculate variance by hand. A criticism I have received about my many statistics videos using Excel is that this is not how it is done in an exam. So I have decided to make a new series of videos showing how the various statistics such as variance, z, t, F, r, etc are calculated on pen and paper with just a calculator to help. Here's the first one:

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Using Google Docs in Class #FirstTime

Since Google brought out Google Docs several years ago I have made just a few half-hearted to use it in class. I have been a Microsoft user since the early 1990s and the "Old Dog" in me will not change over to Google Docs at this stage. However, some of the collaborative features of Google Docs offer many opportunities for use in class - many educators at all levels have been doing so for years.

Last evening in a Statistics class I introduced the topic of Probability. Usually I start this out in a simple experiment by asking the students to toss a coin 20 times and record the number of heads (H) and tails (T). In a second experiment I ask students to work in pairs and to toss two coins 10 times and record if the result is HH, TH, HT, or TT. In the past I would write down the results on a whiteboard, but in large classes I would only take a few results resulting in many students' experiment results not being recorded. I would then have the job of manually calculating the average scores from the whiteboard.

Using Google Docs I set up a spreadsheet in advance of class to record the results, and shared this through a link in Moodle. Each student was listed by name and number - so they could easily input the results for their own experiment onto the spreadsheet. I had also set up the formulas for calculating the class averages. While there was obviously some errors inputting results - this approach worked well by getting all students to participate, and saving me a lot of time and bother by preparing in advance.

Below is a selection of (anonymized) data from last nights class - now to think of other opportunities to do the same.

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Switching from @VodafoneIreland to @VirginMediaIE #NoBrainer

Yesterday, after many calls and long delays, I finally got to switch my mobile phone to the new Unlimited service offered by Virgin Media who recently took over UPC. As an existing UPC customer, they are offering three months free calls/text/data with a rolling contract at €25/month. Sounds good? Yeah!

Image Source: Wikipedia.
My existing 24-month contract with Vodafone expired this week, I was on their Red Essentials Pack (100 mins/free texts/1GB data). I had also purchased an iPhone 5 with this contract, so my monthly bills obviously included a charge for the phone (Virgin Media is SIM only). My average monthly bill this year was €52.11. Much of this was data that exceeded the 1GB monthly allowance. So I have unlocked my iPhone, and having looked around at what deals are available, I have made the decision to switch from Vodafone and cut my monthly bills in half with Virgin Media. No doubt this opening offer is a customer grab and may not be available for long, but with the next three months being free (instead of paying an average of €50/month to Vodafone) - I feel as though someone just gave me €150. I'll put this towards my next iPhone when my current one finally gives up the ghost.

Virgin Media promised to shake up the market, and with these offers they will surely do so. Judging by the length of time it took me to get through to not surprisingly tired operators yesterday - many customers will flock to Virgin as I have done. 

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

She's Leaving Home

My youngest daughter Vicki is departing this morning to Florida for a year as part of her undergraduate degree at the University of Ulster - the third of four years in her degree is a work placement and she is off to the Ibis Golf & Country Club in West Palm Beach. How exciting - I wish I had the opportunity to do this back in the academic year 1981-1982 when I completed my third year in Trinity College. About three years ago I wrote about my eldest daughter Claire leaving for the US. It doesn't get any easier seeing your family go, but the feeling of sadness I now have is tempered by the opportunity that the wonderful Land of Free has to offer our young people.

The photo below was taken yesterday before Vicki left. Look out America, there is another O'Loughlin coming!

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

EY Ireland reviews degree requirement via @SarahMcCabe1 and @IndoBusiness

The Sunday Independent reports that Ernst & Young (EY) is "reviewing whether its entry-level job candidates should be required to have a degree". This follows the decision by EY in the UK to "ditch the requirement for degrees at entry level from 2016 onwards". Uncited research is quoted by EY's UK talent manager that there is "no evidence to conclude that previous success in higher education correlated with future success in subsequent professional qualifications undertaken". I must search for this research as I'm sure it would make interesting reading for my colleagues and I in third-level education.

Many highly successful people such as Richard Branson, Bill Gates, and the late Steve Jobs did not complete degrees in College - and they were none the worse off for it. Millions of people (including me) who do hold degrees are not multi-millionaires nor household names. Go figure!

Of course, you cannot be absolute about whether having or not having a degree leads to success or not. There are so many variables leading to success: hard work, circumstance, luck, opportunity, failure, etc. I studied as a Marine Biologist and apart from a short stint as an Intern in NUI Galway in the summer of 1983, I have never succeeded to get a job as a Marine Biologist. What was my degree worth?

Taking a look at the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics figures for earnings and unemployment rates in 2014 (see graphic below) it would appear that people who hold a degree are likely to earn a lot more and be less likely to be unemployed than the national average. I know this is not the same comparison that EY have stated ("success in higher education" compared to "future success in subsequent professional qualifications") - but nevertheless it holds out the hope for graduates that they will be more successful with at least a Bachelor's degree in their hand. Will a 23 year-old graduate be better than a 23-year old non-graduate with work experience? The only real way for the likes of EY to find out is to try it - and from 2016 they will. I do hope they will publish results.

Image Source: US Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Taking blurred photos in the middle of the night #SuperBloodMoon

Photographed with my iPhone.
I got up at 1.30 this morning to see the Lunar Eclipse - they said it would be brilliant, and it was. I watched the moon fill in shadow and was transfixed by the orange glow when the moon was covered in the Earth's shadow. Fascinating - I stayed up until just after 3.00. However, my many photos taken with my Canon EOS 350D digital camera are not so fascinating. I tried several settings and my big zoom lens, auto and manual focus, flash and no flash - but nothing seemed to work. While this camera is several years old, I should be able to take good pictures, but never learned how. There are twelve different settings on the settings dial - but I only ever use one, Automatic. 

Myself and my daughter Kate wondered as we looked up what two people sitting doing the same thing 1,000 years ago would have thought? No Twitter or Facebook to let our ancestors know what was happening, or websites to tell us when it was happening and what the cloud cover would be like. No wonder they thought of it as portents of evil  - only God could do this - right?

I took about 80 photos, perhaps the one (above) that sums up my photography efforts was taken with my iPhone - here are the best two with the Canon:

Friday, September 25, 2015

Is Richard Branson right that "university course lengths should be halved"?

When Richard Branson says something - it is noticed. As one of the most successful entrepreneurs and businessmen in the world he has plenty to say, and people (including me) listen. On 8th September last, Branson blogged about "Why university course lengths should be halved". Branson did not go to college, but nevertheless I was curious about what he had to say.

Image Source: Wikipedia.
Richard Branson says that the "length of time it takes to complete a degree is far too long to be practical for the modern world" and that many students are "attending a course with no real life benefits". While I would emphatically disagree with his second point, I'm not so sure I would disagree too much about the first.  

I attended a four-year honours science degree in Trinity. The schedule was quite full and the weekly timetable was hectic. Some of the students I have today will have days in their timetables where they have no classes or at most - very few. Many regard such gaps in their timetable as a "day off" rather that a study day. Even though they are full time students, many will also have part-time jobs that are facilitated by gaps in the timetable. If I was pressed on shortening a four year degree in to three or even two years - I'd have to say that it could easily be done. In fact my own College is now offering a two year full time BA Hons in HRM Strategy and Practice - clearly there is a demand for this. But there is more to going to College than attending classes.

Would I shorten degree courses? First I've got to consider students when they come into College first. Most students on full time programmes come straight from school and are not ready for the "real world" just yet. Over their time in College, many do gather "real life benefits". Can the average student get the benefits of a degree in half the time? I'm not sure that such a drastic condensation of a course would work - fitting four years worth of classes into two would test the ability of even top students. Condensing four into three years - now that's worth considering. Some courses have work placements - NCI has an off-campus work placement module in the second semester of year 3, while I know other Colleges who have a full year "off" as work placement before graduating. An argument could be made to complete taught modules earlier and let the students out into the workplace earlier. 

Shortening courses will involve redesigning classes and study time - but Universities and Colleges are full of smart people who should have no trouble in coming up with a solution. Four years IS a long time to attend College - at the very least we should be able to come up with a package whereby students who want to (and are capable of) a fast-track through College can do so. 

Is Richard Branson right? Partly!

Thursday, September 24, 2015

How To... Create a Basic Dashboard in Tableau @YouTube @Tableau

My previous three Tableau videos showed how to build a basic Filled Map, Tree Map, and a Bar Chart. Tableau offers a great tool to easily create dashboards, and so in my latest video I combine the above three separate charts into one dashboard. This video is just about creating the very simplest of dashboards - see Tableau's website for great examples of more dashboards.

As in the other videos, the data used in this video is taken from "Living in the EU" - see

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

A New Mindset with Technology in the Classroom using @LumensLadibug @ICTEvangelist

Last evening I had my first Statistics class with a new group of Higher Diploma in Data Analytics students. The class was held in one of our labs which was not really designed for teaching. It is a long narrow lab with the lectern at one end - it is the only class I have to used a microphone in. We have in addition to a large screen at the front, two TV monitors near the back and a large screen at the side. While awkward for some students, most can easily see slides and activities I might be doing on screen. I tend to use a whiteboard a lot in classrooms (turning off the screen as I do so) which means that everybody in the class has to look to the top of the classroom to see what I am writing. A new rule for labs introduced this year is that students are not allowed to lay their monitors down flat on the desk - this means views of the whiteboard at the front of the class are restricted. What to do?

Image source: Lumens.
Enter Ladibug!

Apparently we have had this technology available to us for a few years (I must have missed the memo). Thanks to the very helpful efforts of our IT Dept I got a training session yesterday before class to set Ladibug up and use it as part of my class. The idea is a simple one and is basically similar to the old style Overhead Projectors except it is connected to the computer. The gadget (see photo left) is made by Lumens and I have used it to project onto the screens what I write on the lectern with pen and paper. It took a little bit of getting used to the focus, but otherwise, my first class with this gadget was a success. I'm looking forward to getting more skilled with it over the next few weeks, and I also hope that it works OK for the students.

Using technology in the classroom is nothing new. In 1855, the abolitionist Samuel Joseph May wrote about the introduction of the blackboard to classrooms, being at his time the most modern instructional technology: the winter of 1813 & ’14, during my first College vacations, I attended a mathematical school kept in Boston by the Rev. Francis Xavier Brosius. On entering his room, we were struck at the appearance of an ample Black Board suspended on the wall, with lumps of chalk on a ledge below, and cloths hanging at either side. I had never heard of such a thing before. There it was forty-two years ago that I first saw what now I trust is considered indispensable in every school the Black Board and there that I first witnessed the process of analytical and inductive teaching.

Today, Mark Anderson (@ICTEvangelist), writing in Education Evangelist graphically shows a Growth Mindset for Teachers when using Technology:

Image source: Education Evangelist.
I like Anderson's mindset that "Our kids and those we work with, have a right to access learning in all manner of different ways, including with technology" and that when "it comes to using technology, a significant number of teachers can have a bit of a mental block". The Growth Mindset for Teachers asks questions for educators ranging from "Will it [technology] impact learning" to "Have you tried Google". We still work in an arena where lecturers stand at the top of a class and students sit at a desk trying to absorb and understand what the lecturer is saying. While most are nowadays comfortable with the likes of PowerPoint and Moodle - many of us need to embrace more technologies to enhance our teaching practice and mindset. I have used YouTube a lot for my classes over the past few years, but I have not really developed beyond the short "How To..." style videos. Mark Anderson's diagram above is inspirational in that it tells us that it is OK to use the likes of Google, Twitter, and YouTube in our classes, and to go on and develop a new mindset embracing technology.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Back to College - End of 1st week #Phew

It's 5 o'clock on Friday at the end of our first week back in Semester 1 and I have finished classes for the week. This year I am teaching Statistics (to three groups), Project Management, and a new module on the Fundamentals of Business Analysis. Apart from tired feet and a slightly sore throat I'm glad to be back in the classroom for the first time since April last. Some students have been in my classes before, while others are new. Next week I will be starting an evening class on Statistics. For the next 13 weeks it will be teaching and assessment that takes up most of the day - much busier than the last few weeks have been. It's good to be back.

Image source: Meme Generator.
There is of course a lot of optimism at the start of a new academic year. Classes are full and exams seem a long way off. I remember the excitement as a student of meeting friends after the summer break, and the anticipation of new courses and new lecturers. There has been a great buzz about the College this week - I wish we could bottle it for the weeks ahead. In some of my classes this week I kept the content very introductory and not too difficult - the serious stuff starts next week. 

The semester at 13 weeks is very long and this will test the endurance of both academic staff and students. We do have a "Reading Week" in the middle of the semester which coincides with the October Holiday Weekend, but it is still a long haul. The middle of December seems so far away, but I know it will pass all too quickly. 

To new students - welcome to NCI. To returning students - welcome back! Together well get through the semester and hopefully learn a few things along the way.

Monday, September 14, 2015

How To... Create a Basic Tree Map in Tableau @YouTube @tableau

Continuing on my new series of YouTube videos for Tableau Software, my latest video shows how to create a basic Treemap. I have used the same "Living in the EU" data as for my previous Tableau videos. 

According to the Tableau website, "Treemaps let you display data in nested rectangles. You use dimensions to define the structure of the treemap, and measures to define the size or color of the individual rectangles. Treemaps are a relatively simple data visualization that can provide insight in a visually attractive format". A Treemap is a cool tool for displaying data in a presentation. Viewers can get a great sense of perspective and scale when comparing data values. Using basic data they are easy to create - check out video below: