Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Big Data, but little Insight? via EY #123

Following on from yesterday's post about predictions for Big Data, I read an article today from EY: "How can we use big data to improve patient outcomes?" - there is still the need for human insight into the data as computers can only do so much. EY tell us that we "need to move beyond the big data hype to big data results". Wise words indeed!

Image source: Action for Better Healthcare.
Big data has truly changed the way many businesses work - including healthcare companies. But big data is not "smart enough to derive true insight on their own". Medical analytics is a growing field - who knows, there may even be a cure for cancer discovered by a data scientist rather that a drug developer. Citing the Google Flu Trends work (that failed), EY warn that "correlation-based approach led to analytical insights that were too simplistic". Humans with genuine expertise in each medical field are required to make sense of data - the message is to bring data scientists and medical experts together to gain true insights into what the data may or may not reveal. A valuable tool is "sanity-checking machine findings" - only humans can do this. 

Last evening I led an Information Evening about the Higher Diploma in Data Analytics at the National College of Ireland - there were over 100 people there hoping to find out more about our course as they contemplate a new direction in their career. I sensed a great enthusiasm among the group driven by hope for a leg up the Data Analytics ladder, as well as a real desire to use data to make a difference. These students will do well to remember that while they are studying data analytics over the next 10 months or so, there is no magic bullet written in R code that will cure cancer or whatever, without human insight.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Predictions for Big Data via @BernardMarr #124

Image source:
In just three weeks over 200 students will commence studies in Data Analytics at the National College of Ireland. Once again I will be lecturing in Statistics on the Higher Diploma in Data Analytics - a module I very much look forward to. It should be another great year for our students with great success in securing employment.

Some of the things that our students will be thinking about while studying data analytics is what the future holds in this space. Bernard Marr, writing in Linkedin, gives us a great insight into "Big Data: 17 Predictions Everyone Should Read". I will not mention all 17 predictions here, but I was most interested in the following from a learning and teaching point of view:

  7. Big data will face huge challenges around privacy
  8. More companies will appoint a chief data officer (CDO)
10. Big data staffing shortages will expand
11. But the big data talent crunch may ease as companies employ new tactics
15. All companies are data businesses now

Privacy is certainly a concern as businesses wonder what to do with the vast amounts of data that they collect. With the advent of more data regulation, companies will have to employ specialist CDOs to oversee their data policies. Good news for aspiring students, and Colleges who provide courses, is that Marr predicts great demand for data workers. Many companies are responding to the shortage of data staff by training their own people - this is turn might create more entry level positions for graduates.

I love point #15 where Marr tells us that all "companies are data businesses now". Many companies, particularly small ones, may not be aware of this nor may they need to employ a data scientist. But if you have any customer data, buy/sell products, produce audited accounts, conform to any professional standards, have a social media presence for your business, use credit/debit card transactions - then you are a data business.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Summer of 1982 #125

While searching for (of all things) a Mayo flag in our house yesterday I came across the photo below taken in Achill Island Co Mayo, that I hadn't seen for some time. I posted it to family and friends on Facebook and got a great reaction, so I've decided to make it part of my Year of Blogging! This is a very young Eugene and Roma in the summer of 1982 - probably during the August Bank Holiday Weekend, I was 22, Roma 20. In the background is Roma's Dad Billy's Renault 4 car that we used to travel around Achill. Around my neck is a St Anthony's medal that Roma gave me the previous year for my 21st birthday. Also, I loved that red t-shirt - though I don't think it would fit me today! I also note a stubby bottle of stout in front of me - in those days when I had very little money, stout lasted a long time. Roma was having milk!

During July and August of 1982, "Fame" by Irene Cara was the number one hit all over the world. Below is the badly pixelated version of the scene from the movie where Bruno's Dad play this song in the street. Memories!

Sunday, August 28, 2016

What a cracker! Dublin 0-22, Kerry 2-14 #GAA #ILoveFootball #126

There's nothing better than two brilliant teams slugging it out in Croke Park on a summer's day. Kerry and Dublin footballers served up a brilliantly exciting game that went right to the wire. Dublin won by two points scored in injury time, though I felt a draw would have be a fairer result.

In the first 20 minutes the game was so one-sided in Dublin's favour that it was a little bit boring. Then the game exploded into action as Kerry scored two goals and held an unlikely lead: 2-8 to 0-9 at half time. But in only scoring six points in the second half to Dublin's thirteen points, Kerry just could not hang on for a famous victory. I remember thinking about half way through that if Dublin win this they will have come through one hell of a battle. They will be strong favourites in the final against Mayo, but there is hope for Mayo in that Kerry did not concede any goals which might show the way in how to beat the Dubs.

In the unlikely event that I will score some tickets for the final, that's it for me and Croke Park for the summer. This year I have been to the League final (Dublin v Kerry), the Leinster final (Dublin v Westmeath), the double header quarter finals  Kerry v Clare, and Galway v Tipperary, the semi-final between Mayo and Tipperary, and now today the semi-final between Dublin and Kerry. I have spent a small fortune (just over €400!) watching GAA this year (mostly with the wonderful Kate) and loved every minute of it. Unfortunately, a ticket to the final is way out of my grasp and I'll have to watch on TV.


Saturday, August 27, 2016

Amy Schumer at the 3Arena #127

Amy Schumer by Mario Santor.jpg
Image source: Wikimedia Commons.
What did I make of stand-up comedian Amy Schumer who hit Dublin last night? I went along for a great laugh with Roma, Claire, and Kate to hear one of the hottest comediennes in the world right now. This was the first performance of a very long tour which mixes some new and old material. It was quite a short show (just over an hour) but there was a brilliant warm-up act before hand to get us in the mood.

Amy Schumer is very crude, but I'm not a prude, who objects to a few rude jokes. She talked a lot in the beginning about her vagina and I kind of hoped she would move on. She is very funny on any topic: sex, dicks, gun control, politics, race - you name it, she has a go at them all. Her storytelling is great and she keep the crowd in the palm of her hand throughout the show. I feel her target audience is a little bit younger than me, and that you need to keep up with celebrity news - she mentioned several celebrities by name who I had no idea who they were. While there were lots of guys there, the audience was dominated by women - my girls absolutely loved the show. Overall - a very entertaining evening even if I found it hard to keep up at times.

On a separate note: they seemed to be much stricter than usual about mobile phones at this show - there were "No Phones" signs everywhere including on our seats, but this message was widely ignored. The stewards seemed keen at first to enforce the rule before the show started, one even leaned on me to tell the guy next to me to turn his off. Their flashlights were just as annoying as phones. Amy asked at the beginning of her performance for phones not to be used and that she would tell us later when it was OK to use them (she didn't).

Friday, August 26, 2016

"Sales of ebooks are not rising fast enough to match the decline of printed textbooks" via @cg_williams #128

Following yesterday's post about "Can Books Survive the Digital World", I was chatting to a College Librarian about eBooks for one of my modules. I was surprised to find that access to one of the books was very restricted - it is available to only one student at a time for only two hours. Not much use when I have two classes with over 60 students needing this book.

Image source: Bookmasters.
I dug a little deeper into why this is and came across a report by Christopher Williams in The Telegraph from last December: "Pearson woes deepen over UK ebook price row". Publishers like Pearson have been experiencing loads of financial problems due to decline in sales of paper versions of their books. So naturally they have turned to eBooks for response - but according to Williams this is not happening fast enough. Pearson have increased prices for eBooks, in some cases 100 fold. Hence the difficulties for library budgets all over the third-level sector, which means that for some books with lower usage - it does not make sense to pay an expensive fee. According to Williams, some UK Universities are even boycotting Pearson in this row. 

In the end it is students who lose out. Unfortunately, books cost money, and Pearson is not a charity. Fortunately, in my case, there are plenty of paper copies of older editions in the College Library for my students - so I'm good to go for another year. But the 2012 text I use is probably already near or out-of-date, what will happen if I want to update for a 2017 version?

The printed textbook is not quite dead yet - its epitaph is not ready to be written. But we are not yet in a modern environment where students can access their reading lists online or though a reader on their laptop and tablet computers. 

In the near future, authors of textbooks might need to reconsider by what means they sell and distribute their books. According to The Spectrum, "Publishing textbooks can mean big money for professors" - so while that lasts, paper versions of books though publishers will continue. However, I do see that some day soon, authors will self-publish their books online direct to students for a reduced fee. There's a business opportunity for someone to set this up!

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Can books survive the digital world? #129

Gutenberg's Printing Press.
Image source: Clip Art Etc.
In around 1440 the German Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press and a whole new era of availability of books was introduced. His first book was the bible and suddenly an easier method of reading became common. There was still a long time before ordinary people could buy and read books, but civilization had changed for the better forever. Despite burnings and censorship, the book has survived for hundreds of years to this day.

Recently, while showing a friend who had an iPad that you did not need a Kindle to read eBooks - I noted that I had over 130 books available on my Kindle reader. This would take up an entire shelf in my bookcase in my house where I keep paper books accumulated over many years. I rarely buy paper versions of books any more - for two reasons: First - cost, ebooks are cheaper. Secondly - convenience. I can read a book review in the paper or hear an author plugging their book on the radio, and buy it straight away. I don't feel the longing for paper that many people who shun eReaders claim that they would never not buy paper.

One area where eBooks could have greatest benefit is in education. In one of my modules I recommend a statistics book by McClave and Sincich (2012), which is available as an eBook in the NCI Library via Dawson Era. However, due to publisher restrictions, it is only available to one student at a time for 2 hours - very restrictive. I'm informed that to make it available with no limits to my students would be prohibitive from a cost point of view. My students will have to continue to use one of the 32 paper copies of this book in the library holdings. Evidence from my own students is that not many buy the course texts and rely on the Library for paper copies. Clearly publishers see little profit in making eBooks available against selling a declining amount of paper copies. All evaluation copies of textbooks that I get are still paper versions - I would think that it would be easier and cheaper to make an eBook available to Lecturers.

For the moment books will survive the digital world - money controls everything.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Where Are Europe's Unemployed Graduates? via @StatistaCharts #130

As many young people are contemplating starting out on three or four years in College, I'm sure many are wondering what their prospects for employment will be when they graduate. 

Based on figures from Eurostat, the wonderful folks at Statista have produced an infographic showing how each country in Europe ranks for employment rates among graduates. Malta (96.9% employed) comes out on top, while Greece ranks lowest (49.9% employed). Not surprisingly, richer countries like Germany, Sweden and the UK have very high rates of graduate employment, while those who have struggling economies like Spain, Italy, and Cyprus have relatively poor rates.

Ireland ranks 16th highest for employment rates with 83.4% of graduates having found employment. This implies that the unemployment rate among Irish graduates runs at 16.6%, precisely double the overall national average of about 8.3% (source: Irish Independent). This does not look good and should cause a stir among Irish third level Colleges. While the Irish unemployment rate has been steadily declining for the past few years it is still relatively high, especially among graduates. While those starting out College now should have a better chance of work, if this trend continues, it will still be tough for some to find employment when they graduate.

Today's Irish Times reports that emigration is "still high with 31,800 Irish leaving in 12 months to April" 2016. How many of these are highly educated graduates?

Infographic: Where Are Europe's Unemployed Graduates?  | Statista
You will find more statistics at Statista.

Note (from Eurostat):
It should be noted that the indicator 'employment rate of recent graduates' presented in this article concerns recent graduates (in other words, those who have graduated within the last one to three years) meeting two criteria, namely:

  • being in employment, and;
  • not in any further (formal or non-formal) education or training (during the four weeks preceding the survey).

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

A Sporting View of Teaching! via @ComedyCentral #131

Imagine if Educators were the subjects of TV programmes? What if Sports Commentators analysed teachers in the same way as football players were scrutinized? Suppose teachers could be transferred like a player, or their stats were made available for all to see? How would performance be measured? Key and Peele of the Comedy Channel take an amusing look at what this would be like in TV land:

On a serious note - this does beg the question of how teachers/lecturers are evaluated. If a student fails a subject is it the teacher's fault? Should a Lecturer take the credit if a student scores a First? If it was a results based business, what would happen to overall standards? Enjoy the video!

Monday, August 22, 2016

Futures Being Defined Right Now #CAO #132

All over Ireland there are young (mainly) men and women looking up the CAO system on-line to see if they have an offer of a College place. Most of course are hoping for their 1st choice, many will be happy with 2nd or lower. Whatever offer they receive, I hope it is the right one for them. Lots of students drop out of College in the first year, for a variety of reasons. One being that they realise that the course they are on is not for them - perhaps they made the wrong choice when filling out their CAO application form. I wish all who are accepting a place in College today the very best of luck in their chosen College - their time there will definitely be some of the best days of their lives.

38 years ago I looked at the offer that I had received - it was my fourth choice, Science at Trinity. My first and second choice was Pharmacy in UCD and Trinity respectively - I did not know at the time that UCD did not run Pharmacy courses and that both courses were one and the same thing. I only had 17 points which was not near enough for pharmacy - anyway, I would have been a shit pharmacist! My third choice was Science in UCD - I would have needed 18 points to secure this place. Therefore I ended up in Trinity which had been put down as an afterthought on my CAO form - UCD was my real goal. 

In 1978 there was no Internet to look up offers - everything was done by post. I was so impatient to see my offer that I did not wait for the postman to deliver the daily post (usually in the afternoon in Ballingate), so I drove into Carnew in the morning in my Dad's white Renault 4 van and picked up my letter in the post office. I nervously opened it in the privacy of the van and felt a little bewildered and disappointed to see that I had been offered my 4th choice. However, I raced home to tell my Mum and Dad the news - I was going to College! Over the next few days plans started to begin my road to College. I had no idea what I was letting myself in for - but it was a defining moment in my life. What direction my life would have turned if I had not received that offer - I do not know. Neither do all those looking up their offers today - but it could be that their futures are being defined right now.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Hallowed Ground at Croke Park: Mayo 2-13 Tipperary 0-14 #133

Today's All-Ireland Semi-Final saw an unusual match-up between Mayo and this year's championship surprise packet - Tipperary. I had been at Tipp's previous brilliant win over Galway and I was looking forward to a feast of football. Sadly, my daughter Kate and I did not get this in a sometimes scrappy and niggly match. The game was won and lost near the end of the first half when Mayo scored 1-7 lead by the brilliant Andy Moran. Tipp had no answer. But to their credit they made a game of it in the second half when Mayo were really poor. A fluke of a goal by Conor O'Shea settled the match. Tipp can hold their heads high in that the predicted cricket score did not materialize.

I'm going to the Kerry - Dublin semi-final next week hoping for a better match. On today's performance neither Dublin or Kerry should have too much trouble in extending Mayo's 65 year wait for an All-Ireland title to 66 years. Tipp put it up to Mayo with direct running and a brave gutsy performance. The better team won - only just.

I love going to "Croker" - enjoying the game with Kate was my highlight of the weekend. Later we had a beer in Yamamori on Ormonde Quay where we were joined by Roma and Claire. A lovely end to an enjoyable day at the hallowed grounds of Croke Park.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Hallowed Ground at Arbour Hill #134

During the week I made the long walk during lunch hour to Arbour Hill Cemetery where 14 of the executed leaders of the 1916 Rising are buried - I had never been there before and I felt I should not let the centenary of the Rising pass without paying a visit to this hallowed ground of Irish history. 

The 14 leaders were executed in Kilmainham Gaol and then their bodies were transported to Arbour Hill, where they were buried in quicklime. The graves are located in the centre of a terrace made of Wicklow granite in what was once an old prison yard. They were buried here by the British in quicklime to prevent the bodies being dug up at a later date and the location becoming a shrine of rebellion. The grave site is surrounded by a limestone edging on which their names are inscribed in Irish and English.

The 1916 Proclamation is carved in stone in both Irish and English on a curved wall at the back of the grave site. This was created by sculptor Michael Biggs - it took him four years to do the work which was completed in 1964. A gold coloured cross marks the centre of the wall. It is sad (for me) that if this garden/memorial was being created today it probably not have a cross, or at least there would be much debate about a symbol like this being used. Our tricolour (rightly) flies above the graves. This is a peaceful place that 100 years after a hole was dug in the ground still breeds pride in Irish people. Close by there is a plaque with the names of other people who were killed in the 1916 Rising.

While Ireland would certainly have gained independence later in the 20th century, we still owe a great debt to the 14 rebels buried at Arbour Hill. I hope it continues to be a shrine to Irish freedom for hundreds more years to come.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Should Educators Use Social Media to Check on Students? #No #135

It is so easy to check up on anyone on the World Wide Web - if we are not there yet we must be close to a time when it will be impossible to Google someone's name and get zero results. When I Google my own name (enclosed in inverted commas for exact matches) there are 82,600 results:

Of course not all these are linked to me - the 27th item is an Obituary for Eugene O'Loughlin! (This was an 83-year old priest with whom I shared a common name who died in South Buffalo on 18th April 2004).

The point about above is that I'm certain I can access information about any student online should I choose to do so. The question now is - should I? Before anyone gets in a knot about this, I don't check students on-line. When they graduate I connect to many of them on LinkedIn where I can enjoy seeing them getting jobs and seeing notices of awards and promotions. But while they are at College, in my view their social media details should be off limits. Apart from privacy issues, it is just not cool to do this. As a warning, check out this social media horror story on The Daily Dot as a reminder that teachers should not stalk their students. 

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Sharing Social Media #136

Do you share your Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, or any social media accounts with your students? Perhaps some, but not others? LinkedIn is the one that I will accept invitations to connect - especially when I see that someone who has studied in the National College of Ireland wants to connect (though I have questioned the value of LinkedIn this week).

Image source: Getting Smart.
But what about Facebook and Twitter? A couple of years ago I decided to experiment with Twitter in some of my classes. I wanted us to use Twitter to share ideas and news stories relevant to our module and get some discussion going. The class was small, so this experiment was bound to fail since a critical mass of students was not present to make it work. Perhaps I wanted to be "cool", but the experiment was doomed to failure. Also - after a while I noticed that students were tweeting personal stuff (interesting!). 

Several educators advocate using social media in the classroom. Adam Renfro, writing about 8 Social Media Strategies for Your Classroom suggests social media is "more relevant, connected, and meaningful to your students", and he has some ideas for how to use Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter (among others) in class.

Facebook for me is strictly personal. I know several teachers who decide not to have a Facebook page so that they are not being stalked by students. There is a border between an educator's personal space and their teaching space. But if you want to be "out there" on social media platforms, then it is up to yourself how to police and control your connections. I have yet to see a College with a real policy for staff in relation to social media (nor do I want to see this - academic freedom and all of that). We have to be careful in how we handle this open platform, my sense is that we have not yet reached the maturity stage with social media in education.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Facebook in the Classroom? #137

My theme for blog posts this week has been Social Media - today I am posting about Facebook in my classes.

Image source: ACE Online Schools Blog.
I don't need a mirror at the back of my classroom to know that some students are checking Facebook (and other stuff) during class. I'm not a mind reader either, nor can I see the reflection of the Facebook screen in students' eyes. So - while I have no proof that they are on Facebook, I just know that they are.

What Facebook is being used for in class is a mighty question. Too often I see students in rows behind glancing at what a student in front is doing. While this could be a video of a cat walking a tightrope, it might also be something meaningful and creative - perhaps even relevant to class. Many College Clubs and Societies use Facebook, and the College itself even has a Facebook page. Many classes set up a class Facebook page, and it is even useful for some project groups. I have actually seen students using Facebook to communicate in class while working together for tutorials. A student might also be keeping in touch with a sick parent or child, or responding to an urgent message from family or friends. A student may also have a friend in a distressed or suicidal state who just needs to stay in touch. Maybe they are just bored with my class and are taking a short unscheduled break.

So there could be many legitimate reasons for students to access Facebook during class. I have no problem with any of the above. 

I often tell students that I don't object to what they are doing. However, I do object if this causes collateral effect on other students. This is a real problem for me, and it is not confined to younger students. Time and time again I see students' eyes being drawn to what other students have on their screens - it's human nature to be curious. I stop short of banning it totally - I just warn students not to disturb others. Facebook and its ilk are parts of our lives now, and the classroom is no different. Some educators try to overcome the problem by incorporating it into the class - I don't personally see the need for this. So rather than confronting the problem I do now tolerate Facebook in my class.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Decline in my personal Twitter use #138

Yesterday I wondered if Linkedin had any value to me and concluded that I was unsure. Today I question whether it is worth having Twitter - I joined Twitter on 1st May 2009 (I was user #36,973,895) and was initially a keen user. However, over the past two years I have been less and less active. Most of my tweets now are simply my blog posts being automatically tweeted when I publish them. The chart below (from Twitonomy) shows my declining number of tweets - now usually no more than one or two a day:

I used to regularly check Twitter and see what others that I followed were tweeting about. I found it a fantastic learning tool and a great way to keep up with educational developments. People share some great ideas and I found myself fascinated by some of the links and shares provided. I also loved using Twitter for backchat at meetings and conferences. However, I found all this very time consuming, and I have nearly dropped off the Twitter scene. In my early days on Twitter I tried to use it in the classroom, but this was a complete failure. I have recently used it a bit to plug my book using the #WildAtalanticWay hashtag, but I have also virtually stopped reading tweets of others. I still haven't looked up the Rio Olympics hashtag! I should also mention that my commitment to write one blog post a day for 2016 means I have less time for other activities. 

Twitter as a company has some serious problems with declining engagement being widely reported. According to CNN Money, "Twitter still isn't close to making money", that it has "lost $2 billion since in 2011", and that there is a "big question mark" over the company. I just don't think Twitter is cool anymore!

Monday, August 15, 2016

What does your Top Ten "Most-viewed Connections" on Linkedin look like? #139

My Top Ten (IDs hidden).
Click to enlarge.

I am unsure of the value of Linkedin. It seems to be aimed primarily at people who are looking for new jobs (I am not, DG) and I despair when I get an endorsement for something I can't actually do or have no experience in from a person who barely knows me. It has its good points - curiosity makes me check out what my connections are doing and who they are working for. I also follow some really useful people and organizations and do learn quite a bit from them.

I am in the habit of checking out who has viewed my profile on Linkedin and how I rank for profile views. There are two options: one allows me to see how I rank in the National College of Ireland for views (10 to 15 views a day usually gets me into the top 15). Most of the people above me I can recognise as they are a mix of full and part-time colleagues.

Looking at how I rank for profile views among my connections (I am #143 out of 1,248) makes for interesting reading, and further proof to me that Linkedin offers very little to me. Of the Top Ten Most Viewed Profiles in my connections I have (to my knowledge) never met any of them. Furthermore, I do not know who they are and in many cases I have not heard of the organizations they work for. How I ended up connected to them I do not remember. Is it useful to know who gets the most profile views? Perhaps for job-seekers it is good to be connected to as wide a range of networks as possible. But this means that we end up connected to people we don't know, but consider somehow useful to be connected to. I once met a person who actually boasted that she had over 2,000 connections on Linkedin! Does it matter? 

I'm still unsure of the value of Linkedin.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Death on the Road #RideSafe #140


Riding a motorcycle has a great feel of closeness with the road and the landscape either side of the road - and I love it. Everyone who rides craves being out on the road feeling the wind, but is also very aware how exposed they are in the event of an accident. Road death statistics for motorcyclists from the Road Safety Authority show that we represent less than 2% of licensed vehicles but account for 10% of road deaths. Motorcyclists are six times more likely to be killed on Irish roads than any other road user. So the message is very much to ride safely on our roads. Many deaths and serious injuries are the result of collisions with cars, but sometimes death results from motorcycles colliding with one another. 

The video below was released by the family of 22-year old Lewis Clark from the Isle of Man in an effort to improve road safety. He and another motorcyclist died instantly in a fireball that was captured by a video camera on the helmet of a rider from behind. It is horrific to watch, and must have been heart-breaking for the families of the two motorcyclists to watch. If it saves even one life of a motorcyclist (that could be my life) then some service will have been done by Beverly Clark, Lewis' Mum.

I'm writing this post in the few minutes before I make a 440 kilometre round trip to Sligo on my motorbike. Hopefully it will be an incident free journey, but today I'll be thinking of Lewis Clark and his family.

Ride safe everyone, and for those not on a motorcycle - Think Bike!

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Liam Tuohy RIP #141

Sad news today of the passing of Irish soccer legend Liam Tuohy - he was 83. I remember him as manager of the Irish senior football team, but he also coached other Irish teams. He played for Newcastle United in England, but his most famous time was as Player-manager of Shamrock Rovers whom he lead to an incredible six FAI Cups in a row (1964-1969).

Image source: Irish Independent.
The reason that I am writing a post about Liam is that I was nearly responsible for ending his life 36 years ago. He is the only person I ever ran into on my motorbike! It was 1980 (possibly 1981), when I was riding my Honda CD175 north up Camden Street in the direction of George's Street. I remember that the traffic was stopped as I passed everyone out on the outside - there was no traffic coming in the opposite direction so I was a couple of feet on the "wrong" side of the road. Liam was jaywalking through the stopped traffic looking left to see if there were any cars coming down the road when he walked right out in front of me without looking right in my direction. He would not have heard me coming as the CD175 was a very quiet bike. Luckily I wasn't going very fast and while I hit him he was not knocked down. Despite being shaken by the incident (I was a bit shaken too - I had nearly killed a celebrity!) he was able to lecture me about crossing the solid white line in the middle of the road. He seemed OK and I continued on, worrying if he would report me to the Gardaí - he didn't.

Rest in peace Liam, you will be missed by all soccer fans in Ireland.

Friday, August 12, 2016

A place in the Classroom for "Trigger Warnings"? via @DavQuinn #142

Is there the beginnings of a backlash against political correctness? In a piece in the Irish Independent today by David Walsh he asks if the "PC brigade is now the biggest threat to free and open debate". In a wide ranging article he gives plenty of examples of what is political correctness gone mad. Walsh sees both side of the argument: "To the extent that political correctness aims to prevent genuine racism, genuine misogyny and so on, we can all support it" and "But when it tries to shut down debate about the right-to-life, the nature of marriage, immigration etc, it becomes an extremely serious threat to free and open debate and therefore to free and open societies". I can see his point.

One of the interesting examples Walsh discusses is the use of "Trigger Warnings", an example he uses caught my eye: they are "provided by lecturers to students as they introduce a subject the students might find offensive", and I wondered have I ever done this in my classes - or if I need to. A trigger warning is defined by as "a stated warning that the content of a text, video, etc., may upset or offend some people, especially those who have previously experienced a related trauma".

Image source: Family Inequality.
In any one of my classes I have no idea if any of my students are LGBT, have been raped, suffer from a mental condition, have been bullied, have a disability (though sometimes I will be notified of learning disability if a student chooses to register this with the College), what religion (if any) they are, their race, their age, if they attempted suicide or have lost a close friend/relative to suicide, if they have a phobia, what their political affiliation is, if they are vegetarian, or if they have used drugs. Nor do they know any of this about me. The world can be a difficult place for anyone who is discriminated against because of anything above - of course it is completely unacceptable to offend anyone because of what they believe or have experienced. But the world is also a minefield where you can easily offend someone accidentally or without thinking beforehand. 

Are "Trigger Warnings" a get-out-of-jail card? Much of this is at the request of students themselves. The Atlantic in an article entitled "The Coddling of the American Mind" tells us about an example where "some students have called for warnings that.... F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby portrays misogyny and physical abuse, so that students who have been previously victimized by racism or domestic violence can choose to avoid these works, which they believe might “trigger” a recurrence of past trauma". Fair enough I suppose, but where do we draw the line?

In my statistics class I use data on rat experiments - could this offend Animal Rights activists? I use breast cancer data - could this traumatise women in my class who have had breast cancer? I use data on death rates in Australia - someone who has been recently bereaved may get upset at this. I use data on hospital wait times - this could trigger bad memories for anyone who has had to endure our Accident and Emergency system in Ireland. I use data on wine - a recovering alcoholic might not like this. Should I apologise in advance for all this in my first class of the semester? I think I will this year and perhaps use it as an opportunity for Data Analytics students to become aware of triggers in their work. 

The 3rd President of the United States, Thomas Jefferson, once wrote that "This institution will be based on the illimitable freedom of the human mind. For here we are not afraid to follow truth wherever it may lead, nor to tolerate any error so long as reason is left free to combat it", when founding the University of Virginia in 1819. Wise words indeed.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

How important is it to get spelling and grammar right? #143

Yesterday I wrote a post based on being careful about writing and to follow Bruce Kasanoff's advice about never sharing a first draft. One of the (many) things we should check for when we write ANYTHING is spelling and grammar. As an academic I read hundreds of essays/assignments/lab reports/projects/dissertations every year - at the end of each I have to assign a grade and provide feedback. I'm certain that "Please proofread your work before submitting" is one of the most common pieces of feedback that I give. It is sometimes alarming that students fail to spot obvious typos - even if there is one of those red squiggly lines underneath indicating a spelling error, they are simply ignored.

Image source: Pinterest.
For me the crime here is not that someone can't spell or does not have a command of basic grammar - no one is perfect and it easy to make a mistake. It is that students (or indeed colleagues at times!) don't bother to check or even run a spellchecker on their document. My attitude quite often if I see a blatant typo in the first few lines is "What else is wrong with this submission?". In my subjects, no marks are deducted for spelling and grammar errors - I am a Lecturer in Computing, not English Literature. I also acknowledge that many of my students come from backgrounds where English is not their first language.

But you can at least make an effort to improve the quality of writing and at least check spelling with a computer. I have heard that some companies when checking CVs for job applications immediately discard a CV when they spot a typo. You also can translate a word from your native language to English with the correct spelling easily with Google. There's really no excuse not to make the effort.

Grammar on the other hand is much harder to get right. Microsoft Word regularly puts green lines under my text to tell me that my English is not structured properly or violates a grammer rule. I have much more tolerance for poor grammar than poor spelling. One of my pet hates is when people misuse apostrophes - especially in Irish surnames. If you can't take the few microseconds of time it takes to check for an apostrophe in someone's name - the message is that you don't care enough to get a person's name right.

The effort you make to improve the quality of your writing, whether it is your CV, an essay, a blog post, or an email - says something about you. No one (apart from English Professors and Editors) expects perfect English all the time. Bruce Kasanoff says that "the right words have near-magical powers" - no doubt the magic wears off if the words are typos.

I've proofread this post several times to check for spelling and grammar errors. but did you spot my deliberate typo?

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Brilliant advice from @BruceKasanoff: "Never Share Your First Draft (of Anything!)" #144

I think we all have at some stage written something we wished we didn't write, or worse - publish or send on to others. Have you ever sent an email and wished that you could pull it back? Have you ever got into difficulty or into an embarrassing situation as a result of something you have written? Have you ever had to apologise to anyone for something you wrote in an email? If your answer is "yes" to above (as my answers are), then Bruce Kasanoff has some excellent advice for us. 

First - check out this graphic from Kasanoff:

Image source:

Especially important above is the "Check for civility". Accuracy can be corrected in a later email, but it is more difficult to correct a lack of civility. If you are like me and often tone down the anger in an email by rewriting, then this is good practice - but do you (I) do it all the time?

One good tip, again from Kasanoff, is to Never Share Your First Draft (of Anything!). He tells us that "the right words have near-magical powers". He boils it down to two things:

  1. Patience: Can you wait a few more hours, days or even weeks to get your work just right?
  2. Pride: Is it worth extra time and effort to lift your work to a higher level of excellence?

So - we should take the time to go back over anything we have written - whether it is a short email, or an important report. The extra effort will be worth it and we will reduce the risk of offending anyone with rude or uncivil words, and reduce the risk of producing sloppy or bad reports. So if it takes a second, third, or several drafts to get it right - do it.

Kasanoff concludes with "The truth is, very few among us are geniuses. We can't do brilliant work in the blink of an eye. We have to work extremely hard to produce an outcome that makes us proud. So, if you are a genius, keep using your first draft. Otherwise, don't even think of using it".

Sound advice!

Tuesday, August 09, 2016

12 Questions To Help Students See Themselves As Thinkers via @terryheick #145

Why should students (or anyone) learn? 

This questions is posed by Terry Heick at teachthought. First - I love his definition of 21st century learning: "intimate, self-directed learning experiences that serve authentic physical and digital communities, ultimately leading to personal and social change". In this definition he tells us that learning is not just about personal change and improvement, it is about social change too. To help us understand what learning is about in the context of thinking, Heick gives us 12 questions to get students thinking about their learning and why they should learn in the first place:
  1. What do I know?
  2. What am I curious about?
  3. What questions and answers have those before me created?
  4. What do those around me need from me?
  5. What do I need from them?
  6. What is worth understanding?
  7. What is the difference between awareness, knowledge, and understanding?
  8. What are the limits of knowledge?
  9. How does uncertainty affect me as a thinker?
  10. What does one “do” with knowledge?
  11. What does my community–however I define it–require from me, and I from it?
  12. Why learn?

Source: Heick (2016)

Sometimes when I am asked for advice about what course a prospective student should do, I often respond with just two questions: What do you like?, and What are you good at? These are encapsulated above in more probing questions. The questions above also ask about how a person can learn in the workplace, or in the classroom if applied to students. They might be too hard for a prospective student to answer, but those currently studying at third-level should take a good look at themselves and ask themselves the above questions. The last question (Why learn?) should answer itself if you can answer the previous 11 questions. All educators should read Heick's article - it could lead to what Heick writes: "this kind of thinking just might lead to the innovative, 'different' thinking by a new kind of learner who just has to solve a problem, correct a conflict, or create art ".

Monday, August 08, 2016

"Buy-one-get-one-free degrees" says @Independent_ie #Brexit #SillySeason #146

What's this? 

The Irish Independent today reports that "Free Premier League champions tickets and high-tech gadgets like iPads are just some of the perks up for grabs for students" who enrol in University. The University of Sheffield is even offering top A-level students a free master’s programme worth up to £10,000 if they enrol as an undergrad first (hence the "buy-one-get-one-free" headline). Brexit is being blamed, as well as declining student numbers. Universities are struggling to fill places therefore meaning budgets are under threat. The Guardian takes the piss out of this referring to this as "bogof degrees".

Although I'm certain that there are terms and conditions to the University of Sheffield offer, this is a worrying trend. Luring students with free post-graduate courses is silly. It's difficult enough for an 18/19 year old to make up his/her mind and choose an undergraduate programme to enrol in, never mind picking out a postgrad programme for four years later. My strong suggestion to all students thinking of postgrad study is that they should consider doing it in a different College than their undergrad degree. I also think that students should go out and work/travel for a year or two before considering a masters. The decision on what masters to study will therefore be a late one.

I remember in the toilets in Trinity that someone had written "UCD degrees - please take one" over the toilet paper dispenser. Of course this was hilarious in a toilet humour sort of way (I'm certain the UCD toilets had a similar joke on Trinity), but this image comes to mind when Universities and College stoop to desperate measures to get students in the front door.

Image source: Wikipedia.

Sunday, August 07, 2016

Back on the #WildAtlanticWay #147

Today I visited Achill Island in Co Mayo and had the chance to re-visit part of the Wild Atlantic Way. We had the perfect day for it. No - not sunshine and warm weather, instead we had wind and rain. We drove along the Atlantic Drive on Achill, and visited two Discovery Points: Cuan na hAisléime, and Keem Bay. The waves were crashing upon the rocks, and even in the normally calmer Keem Bay, the sea was wild. Fáilte Ireland have now placed (gallows-like ) signs at each Discovery Point, so I had to pose at the two in Achill today. I wonder how many people have photos/selfies at each of the 160 discovery points along the way?

Wild Atlantic Way Discovery Point
Cuan na hAisléime
Wild Atlantic Way Discovery Point
Keem Bay

Selfie at a wilder than normal Keem Bay.

Saturday, August 06, 2016

Westport #148

I'm in Westport today for a short visit - it is now one of the most popular and busy points on the Wild Atlantic Way. We looked around a few shops, but all I was interested in was having a pint in one of my favourite pubs - Matt Molloy's on Bridge Street. It's a dark pub but has a great pint. Would loved to have spent the afternoon there nursing a few more pints. 

Westport is crippled with a traffic proven, it took ages to drive through. We went down to the quays, it too was crowded with cars. Was sad to see The Asgard pub and restaurant closed - I enjoyed many a fine meal and a few pints there over the years. Some of the food for my wedding came from The Asgard - happy memories.

Friday, August 05, 2016

Harley-Davidson Road King - It's Wow! @DublinHarleyD #149

Yesterday I traded in my Harley-Davidson Heritage Softail for a Road King. This bike has a much bigger feel to it and certainly handles differently to my old bike. I have to gently break it in for the first few hundred miles.  It's black and sleek looking - so far I love it!

I took it for a spin up the M50 and got caught in a shower - dirty chrome already! Later I took it down the M11 when the sun was shining, much better fun. It has a 1690 cc engine with lots of power. I like the riding position, though I will probably quickly get a back rest as I had one on the previous bike. The sound from the exhaust pipes is very muffled. Previously I had Screaming Eagle exhaust pipes which were quite loud. As you can see in the photo below the Road King ones are quite long and big - I'm sure expensive to replace. These will do me for the time being anyway. There is cruise control and ABS brakes which I didn't have before.

A quick few words about the Dublin Harley-Davidson Dealership: very friendly, helpful, professional, and (I think anyway) good value. Absolutely no complaints and a pleasure to do business with. A big "shout out" to Derek who sold me the bike (that's him with me in the photo above) - you have a happy customer.

Ride safely!

Thursday, August 04, 2016

Parting with my Companion of Thirteen and a Half Years #HarleyDavidson #Softail #150

Today was my last day with my 2003 Centenary Edition Harley-Davidson Heritage Softail Classic. I am very sad to see it go as I feel it was part of me for the past 13.5 years. In 59,776 miles (95,640 kms), I have ridden this bike as far as Faro in Portugal, been through Spain twice, holidayed in France, crossed Britain, went to work almost every day on it, and of course travelled right around the coast roads of Ireland including all of the Wild Atlantic Way, the Causeway Coastal Route, and the Mourne Coastal Route. It has appeared on two book covers, plus it features a lot in photos throughout my books. 

Despite my strong attachment to this bike, it is expensive to repair. There are a few items that need to be done to it to keep it going. The engine is in perfect condition, but brakes, brake disks, and tyres are due to be replaced soon. Rust is also a problem - not yet serious, but needs to be tackled. Rather than spend more money on it I have decided to trade it in for a Road King  and continue riding on a newer bike.

One of my favourite photos of my bike is the one below taken on the Atlantic Drive in Achill Island, Co Mayo. The saddle bags and windscreen were taken off for this trip on our Summer Holidays in 2007 - it was at its shiniest best in those days. So long my good companion.

Wednesday, August 03, 2016

"Exploring Ireland's Wild Atlantic Way" - Out Now on Kindle #WildAtlanticWay #151

Finally - I have released my Wild Atlantic Way book on Kindle - it is available here. In the end it took just one-day to convert the print version of the file into a Kindle ready version. The process is very straight-forward and I got great guidance from Aaron Shepard's book "From Word to Kindle" on how to mange images and the conversion to HTML for upload. I decided on a $4.99 price tag to see if there are any takers, though I will probably reduce this after the summer holidays are over. It is also available for free to those who buy the print version of the book.

It is a bit late in the summer to release this book, but during the holidays I did not have access to a good laptop to do the work. I use Corel Paint Shop Pro X7 to work with the images, and fast broadband was also a great help.

Part three of my trilogy of riding around Ireland's coast: "Exploring Ireland's East and Southeast Coasts" is next, this is a project I will be working on over the winter with a view to publishing early next year using both Createspace and Kindle Direct Publishing.

Tuesday, August 02, 2016

Last Day of Holidays #152

Image source: Language and the City.
Suddenly the summer break is over, I am back to work tomorrow. One of the things academics are blessed with is quite long summer holidays. This is of course because we work a lot harder than everybody else and we deserve longer holidays than administration and support staff in the College. Not!

I have had a really good break and feel ready to go back to work, even though I don't anticipate a busy August ahead. Thankfully I have very few students doing repeat exams, so grading will be quick. I do however have a lot of Data Analytics projects to grade before the end of the month - very interesting stuff to look forward to.

During the summer I wondered if I could keep up the daily blog posts, but I managed to do this. In Wexford I had to "suffer" poor broadband speeds, but managed to juggle Vodafone (good) and Virgin (shite) networks. After today there are just 151 posts left to do and I am beginning to get confidence that I can go the distance. Hopefully it will be back to educational matters over the next few weeks.

Monday, August 01, 2016

Family #153

There is nothing better than a family get-together on a Bank Holiday weekend. Today I was joined with my Mum and Dad, my sister Kathleen, and my two brothers Joe and Brian. We also had my daughter Claire, my niece Jessica, my nephews Joe and Dan, Chris, and the fantastic Roma who prepared a wonderful lunch. Despite the rainy day we had a lovely lunch and great craic.

This is my family - love you all!