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:

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Can you ever leave Carnew?

I grew up in Ballingate just three miles from Carnew in Co Wicklow, and attended the National School until I was almost 12 years of age when I was sent off to boarding school, followed by moving to College in Dublin in 1979 and living there since. Despite the 44 years that have passed since leaving National School I often answer "Carnew" when people ask me where I am from. I guess that comes from a sense of roots and that my Mum and Dad still live there. Two nights in a row out in Carnew is a rarity for me (one night in a row is rare too!). Last evening we had a great meal in Pooles Restaurant on the Mill Lane, but the evening before Dad and I attended the launch of Noelle Keogh's book: "Carnew: A Town of History & Heritage".

It was the first time I was ever in Kenny's Corner House at the "top of the town". The launch marked the start of Carnew Heritage Weekend. Just over two years ago I wrote about attending an exhibition in Coláiste Bríde in Carnew for the then Carnew Heritage Week events. Much of the fascinating facts and anecdotes about Carnew and its surrounding townlands was collated by Noelle Keogh, and her new book reflects the fruits of her efforts on behalf of Carnew Heritage Club. I spent most of yesterday reading the book and enjoying the stories of times past. The photos are a great reminder that Carnew has always had activities like slate quarrying that are now gone - but not forgotten. I particularly enjoyed the references to my grandfather PJ O'Loughlin for his auctioneering, GAA, ploughing, and dairy activities. I also enjoyed meeting people in Kenny's that I had not met for a very long time - I think my Carnew accent returned too for the evening!

You can take the man out of Carnew, but you can't take Carnew out of the man.

My Dad Joe with author Noelle Keogh.
Image source: The Enniscorthy Guardian.

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

The Savage Consequences of Repeating an Exam in an Award Year

Yesterday I wrote about my experiences in repeating exams in both my first and second years in Trinity back in 1979 and 1980 - a difficult time, but I also learned a massive amount from the experience. I went on to pass my third and fourth years, and to graduate with an honours degree. Luckily for me that things were not the other way around, ie passing the first two years and failing third and fourth year. Had I to repeat in fourth year I would not have been awarded an honours degree.

The current situation based on QQI policy* is that "Honours classification, or any classification higher than ‘Pass’, shall be made based on first attempt grades", and that "the existing approach to repeat for honours (it is not to be offered) shall be maintained". So, if you repeat even one subject you cannot get an honours award. If you have a high overall average mark in the 2:1 or 2:2, either before or after the repeats, you still will not get an honours award. Passing your exams at the second attempt, no matter how well you do or how much you learn, means no honours. Imagine a student who has performed very well in seven out of eight modules, but fails the eight - no honours is allowed. This has long been how the system works, and though I regard this as grossly unfair, I and my academic colleagues have to go along with the QQI policy. 

I regularly warn students in an award year that this is the rule. If they fail a module in semester I, the honours degree is gone because they have to repeat the module. So even before semester II starts, there is no chance of getting an honours degree (there are rules about extenuating circumstances). This can be a huge demotivating factor. Why put in a huge effort when a bare pass will get the same award as an average grade of 60%.

This rule is particularly cruel in one year programmes, such as a Higher Diploma. Quite often students who study on these programmes are back to education after several years, and are working full time. I know from first hand experience with students that not having a second chance at honours can be very demotivating - one student asked me recently "who will give me a job with just a pass?". 

I understand that this rule is under review by QQI, and that the Institute of Technology in Blanchardstown was involved in a pilot programme where (under strict conditions) students could apply to retain their honours despite repeating one subject. NUI Maynooth also have something similar. I would urge that the ITB experiment be seriously considered nationally.

Imagine this...

...the 2014 All-Ireland Senior Hurling Final between Kilkenny and Tipperary ended in a draw (3-22 to 1-28). A replay ended in a win for Kilkenny (2-17 to 2-14). But wait... Kilkenny did not win the title at the first attempt, they needed to repeat to win. What if that when they climbed the steps at Croke Park to receive their award that they were told "Sorry lads, you didn't win it at the first attempt, no Liam McCarthy Cup or All-Ireland medals for you - here's a ribbon and a nice mug"?

2014 All-Ireland Senior Hurling Champions?
Image source:

The views expressed here are entirely my own and I make no attempt to represent the views of the National College of Ireland or its staff.

Tuesday, September 08, 2015

Repeat Exams

In the Autumn of 1979 I repeated two first year subjects (Physics and Chemistry). I found both difficult throughout the year and had failed the summer exams quite badly. I was not optimistic when I walked into the Chemistry Building in Trinity where results were posted (no looking them up on-line in those days). Convinced that I had failed again, I was genuinely amazed that I scraped a pass by compensation and I was somehow into second year. Exactly a year later this time I walked with some confidence to the same Chemistry Building to check on the results of another two repeated subjects - to my horror I had failed the repeat exams.

This was a turning point in my life. I was 21 years old and I was a failure. I had spent two summers studying for repeats, while all my friends in College were either travelling or working abroad. My options were to repeat the year, or drop out of College.

With strong encouragement from my Dad to repeat the year, I went through the motions of applying to repeat. My tutor in Trinity informed me that I was "allowed" to repeat, but that it would be much better for everybody if I didn't because he told me I'd be wasting both my own and the College's time by doing so. I'd show him! I repeated the year (I was the only one in my class to do so) and worked a lot harder to comfortably pass all my exams in the summer sitting. For the first time in three years I did not have to study over the summer, and now I was going into third year. I was at last getting the hang of College. In the summer of 1983 I graduated with an honours BA (Mod) degree - it should have been a year earlier, but nevertheless I felt a great sense of achievement. I went on to graduate from Trinity with a PhD in 1988 - not a failure any more.

Today, results for repeat exams at NCI are published. Congratulations to those who have got through, for those who have to repeat the year, it's a tough road to travel, but you can do it.

Only those students who have repeated exams know how it feels. Only students who have repeated a year know what it feels like. Overcoming this and learning from it will be some of the toughest times in College and life that you will encounter. Learning from mistakes makes us all better and stronger. There is no shame in succeeding at the second or subsequent attempt.

Repeating exams in first and second year, while bad enough to go through, has little long term consequence. Repeating exams in an award year has dreadful consequences - more about this in a new post later this week.

Perhaps the worst part of repeating second year in 1980 was that Johnny Logan had just won the Eurovision Song Contest with "What's Another Year" - everybody I met that year thought it was a really funny joke to remind me of this. Anyway, here's a blast from the past...

Monday, September 07, 2015

"The pathway to prosperity is diverse, but for most young people, it likely runs through college" via @JoshZumbrun and @WSJecon

No major surprises in a report (Hey, Millennials, Want to Pay Off Student Loans? Consider These Careers) from Josh Zumbrun in the Wall Street Journal in relation to career paths for Millenials in America. Many of the top careers are based on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Maths) subject areas. If anything is surprising about the list of careers it is the diversity of careers. Zumbrun reckons that the number one position is reflective of America's aging population and the neeed for more senior healthcare. But look at what is at #2 and #3 - Actuaries and Statisticians respectively. No doubt this is as a result of more demand for evidence-based decision making using big data. Long may it continue. 

Image sourced from: Wall Street Journal.

I loved the quote at the end of Zumbrun's article: "The pathway to prosperity is diverse, but for most young people, it likely runs through college" - most of the jobs on the list above will require a College degree.

Sunday, September 06, 2015

Motorcyclist (55) killed in collision with van via @Independent_ie #ThinkBike #SlowDown

Earlier this week I wrote about motorcycle safety and the tragic death of a Mexican biker in the full glare of YouTube. I also mentioned a 55 year old Irish biker (Seán Coleman), who died in an accident in Cork, and how this sent a shiver through me as I too am 55. Tonight the Irish Independent reports the death of another 55 year old  biker - this time in County Mayo. Another shiver runs through me, I could be reading a headline about my own death. May God be good to Seán and the latest biker my own age to die on our roads. 

To all bikers - slow down and ride safely. To everyone else (including bikers)...
Image source: Cumbria Crack.

Saturday, September 05, 2015

Loving Croke Park and the GAA

September, football, sunshine, 82,000 people, Croke Park - it must be All-Ireland time again! Following last week's dramatic draw between Mayo and Dublin in the semi-final, Roma and I went to the replay today. Roma was hoping for a Mayo win, as usual I had divided loyalties, though I did get a reminder from my Mum this morning that I was born in Dublin. I wore my Wicklow jersey anyway (with Mayo and Dublin colours around my neck).

When Mayo went four points up in the second half I thought they might do it, but a purple patch of three goals for the Dubs saw them win easily in the end. The best team won, and for Mayo another year goes by until the next opportunity to banish "The Curse". Roma's cousins Finn and Eamonn Mongey were players on the last Mayo team to win the All-Ireland in 1951. Since then they travel in hope every year, but today they were second best to a rampant Dublin team. 

Another Kerry vs Dublin final beckons - the two best teams in the country look set to entertain us in two weeks time. Can't wait!".

The last Mayo Team to win the All-Ireland in 1951.
Image source: Film Ireland.

Thursday, September 03, 2015

27 Bikers Killed on Irish Roads in 2013 #SlowDown #ThinkBike

Following on from my post yesterday about the recording of the death of a Mexican motorcyclist with a helmetcam, I checked out the statistics on motorcycle deaths in Ireland, and had a stark reminder of how dangerous our roads are for folks on two wheels.

The Road Safety Authority publishes statistics on all sorts of things about Irish road activities, including deaths. In 2013 (the latest year that statistics are available as I write), 27 motorcyclists were killed in Ireland - this is 14.2% of the total number of people (190) killed on our roads in 2013. Motorcyclists account for only about 2% of road users. According to the RSA, motorcyclists are six times more likely to be killed on Irish roads than any other road user.

Image Source:
International Journal of Motorcycle Studies (2012).
Just yesterday evening on my way home from work on my bicycle at about 5.15pm a large SUV pulled out a line of stand-still traffic into the bus lane just past the Merrion Gates on the Merrion Road. It is illegal for motorists to use the bus lane at this time, it is legal for cyclists to use the bus lane at all times. Despite the fact that I was wearing a bright yellow high-visibility jacket, the driver did not see me - but I saw him and stopped in the nick-of-time to avoid a collision. The SUV roared up the bus lane and I did not see it again. Another cyclist asked me if I was OK. Had I been travelling on my motorcycle I would have been moving a lot faster and could have been involved in a more serious incident. This SUV driver is an accident driving around South Dublin waiting to happen. Such incidents reminds us of our mortality and how easy our lives can be taken away by carelessness (5 pedal cyclists were killed on Irish roads in 2013).

Motorcyclists of all ages dies on our roads, not just young hot-heads burning rubber in a speed fueled death wish. Just last December I felt a shiver when I saw a report in the Irish Times of the death of 55 year old biker Seán Coleman in Cork - the same age as me.

Here are the Top Ten Safety Tips for motorcyclist from the RSA:
  • Be vigilant. Look into the far, middle and near distance, and behind you, using your mirrors and checking over your shoulders, before changing position or turning.
  • Keep your distance. In wet or icy conditions, always leave a bigger gap.
  • Be seen. Make sure your position is correct. Use dipped headlights and wear high visibility clothing (such as a neon vest and ‘Sam Browne’ reflective belt).
  • Avoid surprising others. Never do anything on the road that could cause another road user to slow down, brake or swerve or that could startle pedestrians.
  • Think like other road users. Anticipate how they might react.
  • Read the road. Ride to current road, weather and traffic conditions.
  • Match your speed to the conditions. Never let others dictate your pace.
  • Never ride your bike after consuming alcohol or drugs.
  • Maintain your bike properly. Regularly check petrol, oil, water, damage, electrics and tyres.
  • Take lessons from an experienced instructor. See every ride as a chance to improve your skills.

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Another Motorcyclist Dies #SlowDown #ThinkBike

The Irish Independent today shows a chilling video detailing the death of a motorcyclist on a dual-carriageway/motorway in Mexico. The 45 second helmetcam video shows the motorcyclist appearing to ride too fast into a bend and hits the centre barrier - the helmetcam in on the helmet of another motorcyclist riding behind.. Horrifically he is thrown over the barrier onto the oncoming road where he is killed when run over by a car. From what I can see the motorcyclist is entirely responsible for his own death by riding too fast.

It is chilling to watch the death of anyone - it seems so much part of what we do today that a video like this gets posted on the Internet. No doubt it will force some motorcyclists to slow down, but it should shock everyone. 

About this time last year I wrote about the shocking video and death of David Holmes riding at 156 kph, when his family allowed the video from his own helmetcam to be posted on-line. None of us want to be a statistic or end up with 45 seconds of fame on YouTube where the world watches us die.

Fellow bikers - please slow down!

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

How To... Create a Basic Bar Chart in Tableau

My second Tableau video is about creating a simple Bar Chart. I don't expect that many people will use Tableau just to do this as most will already know how to do it in Excel, but it is a good way to check if you are on the right track in Tableau. It is also easy to switch to the many other chart types available. Once again I am using the data from the "Living in the EU" web page - I selected "Quality of Life" data showing the GDP by country.