Tuesday, December 31, 2019

2019 is dead, long live 2020!

So - 2019 is almost over and 2020 is upon us. A new decade begins - this will be my eight decade, which makes me feel old despite only catching the last three months of the 1950s. A quick look back on the year of 2019:

Highlight of the Year
No contest here - this was the trip with Roma and a great bunch of bikers across the 2,848 miles of Route 66 from Chicago to Los Angeles in July. For 14 days we rode our Harley-Davidsons on Main Street America, and enjoyed every second of it. We got to see lots of iconic American sites - the highlights being: the Grand Canyon, Cadillac Range, a corner in Winslow, Arizona, Oatman, Joshua Tree and Petrified Forest parks, and much more. Definitely the trip of a lifetime, but I hope to get a few more of these in for what's left of my lifetime.

Educational Highlight of the Year
In January last I delivered my second module on-line. I really enjoyed this experience and felt comfortable in this environment. I will be doing so again this January (R Programming module) and I find that every time I do it, I get a bit better at teaching in the on-line environment. 

Entertainment Highlight of the Year
40 years after the movie was released, I finally got to see Grease. While I was familiar with a lot of the songs, many I heard for the first time. I did not know the story line - so it was a great evening's entertainment. Hopefully I can get to more shows in 2020.

Technical Highlight of the Year
No doubt about this - I got a Google Pixel 3a phone during the summer, and it is the best phone I ever had (after several iPhones). It just does everything, and of course is the perfect companion for anyone like me who uses a lot of Google's tools and features. Recommended.

YouTube Highlight of the Year
In mid October, my YouTube channel passed the 20,000,000 views landmark figure. Despite getting an official warning from Google/YouTube for violating their terms and conditions, it was still a good year. Views were down on 2018, but revenue and subscriber subscriptions were up. Lots of plans for this channel next year!

Turning 60
I don't feel like I am 60 years old, but on October 7th last - I did turn 60. If I get the "four score years and ten" life allowance, I have three of my four scores already used up. No regrets over the past 60 years, and I look forward to another score plus ten. It has, however, made me think about how to spend the rest of my days - the big plan is to retire in late 2020 and to enjoy myself travelling. There's a whole world out there to see, and I intend to see it. 

Roll on 2020!

Monday, December 30, 2019

YouTube Review of 2019

This past year has been a mixed year for my YouTube Channel. Views (3.1 million) are down considerably from last year's 3.5 million. However, earnings are up due to a splurge in advertising spending on YouTube during the last few months of the year. The number of views continues to follow a familiar weekly and seasonal pattern, with November and early December being the best time of the year:

Click/Tap to Enlarge.
The highest number of views on any one day was 13,915 on 10th December - this compares with the highest number of 15,252 views recorded on the same day in 2018. Right across the year, the number of views has been slightly under what they were the previous year. I have no explanation for this, but I did not publish that many videos in 2019 - I know that it is recommended to publish regularly to keep up viewing numbers, subscriptions, and revenue. The lowest number of views on any one day was 3,691 on 24th December. Curiously, on Christmas Day there were 3,983 views!

In 2019 I "gained" 10,242 subscribers, and "lost" 2,100 for a net gain of 8,142. This means that the channel has 44,646 subscribers in total - if current trends continue this should rise to over 50,000 during 2020, a nice landmark figure to look forward to. I wish I knew how to reach out to these subscribers to gather feedback to improve the channel.

I do have ambitious plans for more new educational videos during 2020. I am a firm believer that the learning-byte sized short "How To..." style video should be free for all to access. If you just at any one time need figure out how to do one thing, then there is no need to subscribe to or purchase a full course.

As always - I am both grateful and humbled that so many people find my short videos helpful and that I can reach out across the world to help them learn something useful.

Saturday, December 28, 2019

My Primary School #Carnew

Me. Carnew N.S. (1965).
Today, while on my way to see my Mum and Dad, I stopped off at Scoil Aodán Naofa (St Aidan's School) in Carnew, south Co Wicklow, where I went to primary school. To me it has always been simply "Carnew National School". I attended this school from 1964 to 1971 (aged 4 to 11).  As it was built in 1958 (the year before I was born), it was a relatively new school at the time. There were four classrooms (seen in first picture below), later extended to six with the addition of two prefab buildings at the back of this building. There are more buildings added since I was at school here.

I have only patchy memories of my time in this school. My first teacher was Mary Keating - a woman who took no nonsense and who ruled the classroom with a ruler. I can barely remember who else was in my class, I did bump into one (BB) last summer after a round of golf in nearby Coolattin - otherwise since 1971 I have rarely met my classmates. I can remember the names of only four teachers: Mary Keating (Junior Infants), Mr Hennessy (3rd class - I forget his first name), Seán Hallahan (4th class), and Frank Fitzgerald (5th class). I did not complete 6th class in Carnew and was sent instead to an Irish school in Trabolgan, Co Cork. I often wonder what would have become of me if I had stayed in Carnew, and not gone to Roscrea for secondary school. I still consider Carnew (Curnoo!) as my home town (even though I was a reared three miles outside the town), as this is where I went to school. Did I have a Curnoo accent (probably), rather than the posh South Dublin one I have now (according to my daughters)? 

There are now forbidding "Trespassers Will Be Prosecuted", "CCTV in Operation", and "Staff Only" signs at the school entrance - I would have loved to checked out the school and to see if the yard at the back is still there. Us country students used to have our lunch outside in shelters (the townies could go home for lunch), and the field beside the yard doubled as Croke Park/Lansdowne Road/Wembley. Alas - I has to look at Google Satellite Maps to see that all has changed since I left 48 years ago in 1971.

My entire life has been involved in education - Carnew National School is where it started.

Carnew National School - old buildings from 1958.
What was my first day at school like (in 1964)?

Friday, December 27, 2019

Decline in Number of Blog Posts

There are five days left in 2019, and I need four more blog posts to avoid falling under 100 annual posts for the first time since 2007. To date I have published 2,184 posts (including this one) - that's a lot of ranting, raving, and bullshitting! I do write about education, family, and in the past few years I have concentrated a bit more on data analytics and statistics. Overall - since a high of 262 posts in 2011 the number of posts has been declining on an annual basis. The exception is 2016 when I did an experiment to see if I could write a post every day. 

Number of Blog Posts by Year.

I don't have an explanation as to why I am writing less and less posts. Very few people read them, so it is very much a personal project to keep doing so. While I am an academic making a living as a lecturer, I am not engaged in research and writing academic papers. I should be, but I'm not. So blogging is my only publishing outlet. I like to comment on contemporary education topics and data related issues, but it is very much in the form of my thoughts on certain subjects. It is sometimes hard to think of something to write about, but I intend to keep going. Just three more posts in the next four days and I will hit the 100 target.

Monday, December 23, 2019

Time for holidays #HappyChristmas

Irish coffee glass.jpg
Image source: jules / stone soupCC BY 2.0Link
Today is the last day at work for most people, though many will have taken today off - especially those travelling. It is a quiet day in the College, and the roads were also very quiet coming into Dublin too. Despite this, it is one of my favourite days of the year. We have a tradition in the College to wind up the calendar year with Irish Coffees in the staff canteen - a great get-together with some festive cheer. 

The past semester seemed to have passed me by very quickly. I had the same modules as in the previous year and only minor updates were required to deliver them again - so not so much preparation for classes. I also managed to stay on top of continuous assessment grading - it's great to reach the end of the semester and not have this hanging over me. It was with a little tinge of sadness when I finished each module - I may not be teaching three of the four modules again. I will especially miss the Business Data Analysis module - I have come to love teaching statistics since I started doing so in September 2012.

January will be busy as I will have about 150 exams scripts and projects to grade. Once again I will not have any new modules, and will have just two Statistics classes and one programming class. The biggest thing that I will be participating in next year is the Programmatic Review of the Higher Diploma in Data Analytics. The documentation required for programmatic review is horrendous - I am not looking forward to this one bit. The length of time it takes is also huge. Even though this is just a one year programme, it takes a year to develop. The review will start in January 2020, and will be presented to a panel sometime in late 2020. Once confirmed (early 2021), we will then be able to deliver it for the first time in September 2021, with the first graduates receiving their Diplomas in November 2022. It seems such a long time away before the first students will graduate.

Merry Christmas Everyone!

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

"If you want to be a great data scientist, you have to know some basic statistics" via @DataScienceCtrl

An interesting set of blog posts that I've been reading recently is hosted on Data Science Central and is written by Stephanie Glen. Her recent post "Statistics for Data Science in One Picture" captures the essence of Statistics in an easy to understand graphic that should aid students in grasping this widely variable subject. I intend to refer to this graphic in my next set of Introduction to Statistics notes. Students reading this post should check out the Data Science Central blog.

Glen's post got me thinking about what Statistics are essential for a Data Scientist to know about. Her graphic below covers basic probability and statistics - but does not mention actual tests like ANOVA and Chi-Square, which are behind everything you see on this chart:

Image source: Data Science Central (by kind permission of Stephanie Glen).

When I finished my postgraduate studies (in 1987!) I can remember saying to myself thank goodness I will never have to perform multivariate analysis or an ANOVA again. Little did I know at the time that 25 years later I would be teaching two modules on Statistics, and that this subject would become a hugely enjoyable part of my academic life. Statistics is the Science of Data, and if we are to be analytical and accurate with our data analysis - the study of statistics must form part of our training.

I doubt that many data analytical reports being written today will contain the results of a t Test (for comparison of two normally distributed data sets) or a two-way ANOVA (Analysis of Variance between three or more samples). But there will be charts and data tables so that links, trends, patterns, and relationships can be identified and analysed. Dashboards can summarize huge amounts of data in a small space, but I've never seen one that displays a p value.

However, if you want to classify data, make predictions and recommendations through machine learning - then you have to start with Bayesian statistics as Glen suggests in her chart. If you want to decide whether to include or exclude outlying data - then you have to understand central tendency and probability distributions. If you want to search for clusters or groups of data - then you have to study methods such as PCA (Principal Component Analysis) and correlation. If you want to take the guesswork out of data analysis - then you have to perform statistical tests and understand p values.

In short, if you want to be a great data scientist - you have to study statistics!

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

On Being a 60 Year Old Data Scientist

A 60-year old Data Scientist.
I read with interest Stephanie Glen's Blog post on Data Science Central "On Being a 50 Year Old Data Scientist". She is 52, and asks the question: "Should the over 50 crowd put down their textbooks and pick up their gardening tools?". She reports from research that many scientists do their best work after the age of 43. There is no age limit to becoming a Data Scientist - I have had several students in their fifties in my Data Analytics classes. The oldest student I have had in my class was 70 years old.

I'm not sure if I can count myself as a Data Scientist - but I do anyway. Though my PhD (1987) was based on growth of marine shellfish - it was essentially a big data study in the early days of computing based on the thousands of measurements I took. This is my seventh year as a Lecturer in Data Analytics - during this time I have taught modules on Statistics, R Programming, and Data Visualization. I certainly don't feel I am too old to be a Data Scientist. But like Glen says in her article, there is a definite "reality check" - especially in the United States where education is so expensive (a Masters in Data Science could set you back up to $54,000). Trying to get on the promotion ladder could be difficult when starting so late in life. Glen's last question is: "Are you going to be able to recoup your investment in your remaining working life? You be the judge".

I judge that it is worthwhile! This evening I will be hosting an on-line Information Session and Sample Class for the Higher Diploma in Data Analytics, and I hope that there are people older than 43 attending the session. The class can be accessed here, more details (including registration) are available here. Aspiring students of all ages welcome.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Growth in Python Programming #DataAnalytics #RvPython

Recruiting company indeed published some interesting findings last month about trends in Tech Skills over the past five years. They compare the top 20 tech skills as a percentage of all Tech Jobs between 2014 and 2019 - here's a summary of their findings:

Image source: indeed.com.
The standout changes are the growth in Python (123%), Amazon Web Services - AWS (418%), Machine Learning (439%), Azure (1107%), and docker (4162%). No real surprises there, but what is a surprise to me is the absence of the R programming language from both the 2014 and 2019 lists. R is a popular programming language in the data analysis domain, and we use it a lot on the Higher Diploma in Data Analytics at NCI. It is the language I teach in the Programming for Big Data module, and I also use it in my statistics and data visualization classes. Most students on the course use R for projects and assignments. 

As the Higher Diploma programme is due for its five year programmatic review, we will need to have a debate of what the preferred language to use is. Based on the indeed data above, it would appear that Python should take preference over R. I am of the opinion that if you can learn one language, that other programming languages should be easier to adapt to - but why add an extra step if Python is the tool of choice for most jobs? Python is also regarded by many colleagues as easier to learn than R, but since I have never used it I can't really judge. More research will be needed to inform us better of what choice to make. Changing a language in a module has many knock-on consequences for course resources, exercises, labs, and assessments - as well as of course requiring Lecturers and Teaching Assistants to be skilled in Python.

Friday, December 06, 2019

Most Watched Videos in Ireland this Year

So - a vlogger by the name of James Charles, who until today I had never heard of, had the most watched video in Ireland this year (why do they publish a list like this when there is still 3.5 weeks left in 2019?). Also on the list are the excellent 2 Johnnies and Foil, Arms & Hog - hilarious stuff! The full top ten is available here. This got me thinking about what are the top ten videos viewed in Ireland from my own channel.

So far this year there have been 22,939 views of my videos (out of a worldwide total of 2,917,601 for 2019). Judging by the list, many of these views must be coming from students. The top 8 are all "By Hand" videos, essentially students are checking out my videos for exam preparation (which is what I intend in publishing them). For example - for the top viewed video in Ireland about how to perform an ANOVA test by hand, 172 out of 262 views were between the 6th and 10th of January. My exam took place on 10th January.

Here's my (modest) list of Top 10 viewed videos in Ireland this year - a very long way from James Charles (whose video has 48,078,143 worldwide views).

Click/Tap to enlarge.

Wednesday, December 04, 2019

12 Years on Facebook - Is It Worth It?

Image source: Wikipedia.
Yesterday I received a notification from Facebook that I had joined up 12 years ago - so on 3rd December, 2007 I signed up to the platform that now boasts 2.45 billion monthly active users (as of September 2019). At that time Facebook was only three years old and still relatively new. I even abandoned it for a while in 2009, but got sucked back in. So - is Facebook worth it?

I review my Facebook feed in the morning - it is part of my routine now where I check headlines and interesting articles in The Irish Independent and The Guardian over my tea and brown bread. Usually I have time to check Facebook as well, but rarely find much of valuable interest. Initially I enjoyed the activity of relatives and friends - seeing what they were doing and wishing Happy Birthday to people I would otherwise have no idea when their birthday was. Younger people no longer seem to participate - preferring Instagram instead. I used to enjoy seeing what my cousins/nieces/nephews got up to.  I am "friends" with some people I have not met in many years - some are very active (ie, daily), and while it can be interesting to see that so-and-so has checked in to Heathrow Airport, this is not of much value. I have also been "unfriended" by an old schoolmate - a weird feeling!

I do post to Facebook - this blog allows me to post anything I write, which keeps my activity up. I often check in and review places, plus post the occasional photo when at a match or something interesting. But I'm moving more towards using WhatsApp for this now - sharing with close family and friends in the privacy of WhatsApp seems more attractive than Facebook for much content. 

For 48 years of my life I managed without Facebook. It is a "time suck" - watching funny videos can suddenly turn into 15-20 minutes of re-living "Only Fools and Horses" or the "Mash Report" (one of my favourites). On balance I find that reminders of birthdays and seeing celebrations, like birthdays/weddings/parties, of other people is always interesting. Here's to the next 12 years!

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Graduation Day: Congratulations to all @NCIRL students! #NCIGrad2019

BA (Mod) - 1983.
Today is a day of celebration for hundreds of graduates of the National College of Ireland who will take part in Graduation ceremonies in the Convention Centre. It is a proud moment for all students and their families. The formalities of the occasion with gowns, hats, and Latin make for a serious, but celebratory day. I recall my own graduation at Trinity in 1983 with fond memories, even though I had no idea what lay ahead for me.

For the fifth year in a row I will not be there myself to congratulate students, unfortunately the ceremonies clash with classes - I must attend to the learning and teaching of next year's graduates. So - I would like to give a special shout out to all students from the following courses on which I have taught over the past few years:

  • Higher Diploma in Data Analytics
  • BSc in Technology Management
  • BSc in Computing (Data Analytics)
  • BSc in Business Information Systems

I hope that all the Statistics, Programming, Data Visualizations, and Project Management did not bore you too much and that you will find that knowledge gained in your time at NCI will be of use to you on your road ahead. I had the pleasure of meeting many past students yesterday while attending the Analytics Institute Summit (ironically for me it was in the Convention Centre where I can't be today!). All were successful in their careers, and were grateful and gracious about their time in NCI.

At NCI we Change Lives Through Education - today is the day where you see this in action.

Friday, November 22, 2019

Things I didn't know existed #socialblade #B-

I got a B- that I didn't know I had! A B- is not a bad grade, but what was it for? It turns out that a website called Social Blade tracks user statistics for YouTube (plus Instagram and Twitter). It claims to give a "deeper understanding of user growth and trends". I didn't know it, but it tracks my YouTube Channel (and presumably every other channel too). Much of the data it provides is already available in YouTube Analytics, which I had assumed was only available to me as a content creator - here's a summary of what anyone can see on Social Blade about my channel:

Image and Data Source: Social Blade.

Presumably the figures are worldwide-based - so I can see that my channel is the 13,766th ranked education channel in the world. My goodness - there are a lot of educational channels! Of more local interest, I see that my channel is ranked 405th of all channels in Ireland. Woo! I don't know what the rank is based on (presumably a combination of views/subscribers/earnings/influence). In case you are interested, Power Kids TV is the number one ranked channel in Ireland (it gets an A). 

Students often ask me where their grade for an exam/assignment ranks in their class. I often find that a student who gets a 75% grade, and discovers that it is the top mark in the class, is very happy. But they are not so happy if this grade is near the bottom of the class - even though it is the same grade. I am happy with a B- (often considered to be 80% - 82%). However, figures like this can be meaningless without context. For example, my channel is ranked 173,387th in the world. This seems like a very low ranking (it is!). But when you consider that there are 32.8 million YouTube Content Creators, who each have a channel, it's not so bad after all. Hooray for B-!

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Simple Charts Often Work Best #DataViz #Analytics #Statista

One of my favourite newsletters that I receive on a regular basis is the Statista Infographics Bulletin. It regularly shows us interesting data-based facts from around the world in a visual format which makes interpretation quick and easy. Here's a recent one about packaging consumption in Germany:

Infographic: Germany's Packaging Waste Mountain Is Growing | Statista You will find more infographics at Statista.

It is a simple bar chart showing four pieces of data per year for five years (not evenly spread). The stand out illustration is the increasing number amount of paper waste increasing every period, with a similar increase in plastics. Despite drives to reduce paper and plastic consumption and to increase recycling - the problem continues to grow. Environmentalists (which should be us all) will rightly be concerned about the trends shown in this chart - they are going in the wrong direction.

In Data Visualization there needs to be an immediate impact - the relationships and trends are indeed obvious straight away here. The colours have no meaning - in this chart they serve to simply separate the columns and provide consistency from year to year. Sometimes we overdo illustrations with complicated artistry and interactivity - simplicity is best!

Friday, November 15, 2019

No More Cheating!

So now it is against the law to cheat at third level!

Katherine Donnelly in the Irish Independent reports "Crackdown on third level essay writing services begins in wake of anti-cheating laws". There is an amendment to the existing law on the Qualifications and Quality Assurance (Education and Training) (Amendment) Act 2019. The new section (43A, page 19) states that there it is now an "offence to provide or advertise cheating services". The act is pretty clear in what it intends, for example (section 43A, 2(a) and 2(b):

(a) undertaking in whole or in part, in the enrolled learner’s stead, an assignment or any other work that an enrolled learner is required to undertake as part of a programme, without authorisation from the person making the requirement;

(b) sitting an examination that an enrolled learner is required to sit as part of a programme, in the enrolled learner’s stead, or providing another person to sit the examination in place of the enrolled learner, without authorisation from the person setting the examination;

In short, it is now an offence either to provide or advertise cheating services or to publish adverts promoting such services such as the likes of essay mills.

According to Donnelly, it is estimated that "there are five or six major providers, as well as smaller operators, in the Irish market, offering services for learners across the spectrum from post-Leaving Cert courses up to PhD level". They would not exist without people paying for their services - around €150 for a 2,500 word essay is the going rate so I am told. These services are easy to find* - here's one at https://www.irelandassignmenthelp.com/essay-writing-help/.

Image source: Screen grab from https://www.irelandassignmenthelp.com

So there you go - the Government has stepped in and we can now predict that cheating will stop and the essay mills will go away. Hooray - academic dishonesty is now a thing of the past! Students won't have to pay for essays any more as this new law will motivate them to write their own essays. We will have no need to use plagiarism detection systems such as Turnitin, or be suspicious of student submissions ever again. 

*Please note that I am not in any way endorsing this, or any other essay writing service. All views expressed here are my own, and not those of anyone else or any institution.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Being labelled... #okboomer #okpreboomer

War by the Pre-Boomers.
Image source: Wikipedia.
So - the Baby Boomers (those, including me, born between 1946 and 1964) are getting it in the neck about climate change and all sorts of other stuff. Some boomers are getting offended by this (not me!), and yet another generation war is underway - a new hashtag (#okboomer) is in use as a weapon.

First - what does the #okboomer hashtag mean? According to Wikipedia:

"OK Boomer" is a catchphrase and internet meme that gained popularity throughout 2019, used to dismiss or mock attitudes stereotypically attributed to the baby boomer generation. It is considered by some to be highly ageist.

The phrase "OK Boomer" is a retort used as a "simple summarisation of collective exhaustion" and "to shut down outdated opinions from boomers". The retort is used to dismiss or mock perceived narrow-minded, old-fashioned, judgemental, or condescending attitudes of older people, particularly baby boomers.

So do we boomers deserve any criticism for fecking up the planet and or are we a generation of oldies that just don't get it? Hasn't there always been a generation war? What will the young people in 50-60 years time think of today's Millennials and Centennials? 

If you think we boomers suck, then think again. The pre-boomer generation fought World War II in which an estimated 73,000,000 people died (figure from Wikipedia) - now that sucks! Their parents fought The Great War - over 30,000,000 dead. That sucks too - I wonder if the #okpreboomer hash tag might trend?

My message to today's young generation is to keep up the fight against climate change and poverty, and to fight for equality and fairness for all. It is not ageist to call us out when it is clear that we did not do right by the planet - use whatever hash tag you want to highlight your just causes. The Boomer generation are slowly retiring, and your turn to rule the world will come soon - I hope you don't let future generations down. World leaders like Leo Varadkar (40), Emmanuel Macron (41), and Justin Trudeau (47) are way younger than me (60) - the torch is slowly passing. We are still stuck with some oldies like Donald Trump (73), Angela Merkel (65), Vladimir Putin (67), and even Boris Johnson (55) - but they will all leave the world stage soon. 

I won't be around to see it, but I hope that you can handle the #okmillenial and #okcentennial hashtags when they come out in years to come!

Thursday, November 07, 2019

On-line Testing for Continuous Assessment

The biggest issue for me and many others about on-line education is assessment. The security and integrity of the assessment is paramount - this is easy to implement in an exam hall with Invigilators watching your every move, but not so on-line. Proctoring a test is not so easy - software is the only way to go? For end of semester/year exams, some institutions will insist on students attending the College to sit the exam in the traditional exam hall. Others will assess learning outcomes with assignments and projects, thus avoiding formal tests. 

Some companies, like ProctorU (not used in NCI), offer an "exam security" system to provide "Online proctoring to advance your learning and testing program. Validate knowledge. Reduce costs. Expand access.". Here's how it works:

It sounds so simple and easy to use - right? 

According to TestReach, there are several (12) "Benefits of Online Assessment" - these include:
  • Exam Candidates are used to Digital
  • Reduced Administrative Burden
  • It’s More Environmentally Friendly
  • Increased Security
  • Flexibility to Take Exams Anywhere
While I agree to a certain extent with the benefits listed, there are a few factors not taken (directly) into account. First - taking a test is stressful! Adding in extra security stuff adds to this stress. We are not yet in an age where everything is digital, most adult learners today have sat almost all of their tests to date at a desk and chair in an exam hall. Secondly, despite clear guidelines for technical requirements - not all students are prepared correctly for on-line tests. Macs are different than PCs, internal and external webcams are different, lots of different operating systems and browsers are used. Throw in varying RAM and broadband speeds, and you have extra levels of stress - particularly for students taking a test for the first time. Despite appearances, not all students "are used to Digital", and for me there has been no reduction in administrative burden. 

I am satisfied that end of semester/year exams can be managed securely - we have been doing this in NCI for a few years now. Continuous assessment is another matter - I need to be fully convinced that setting up a one-hour in-class test is secure. I now favour looking at alternative methods of continuous assessment such as weekly graded lab work, small carefully selected projects, presentations (on-line live, or a recorded video), use of personal GitHub sites for programming, and publication of assignments such as the creation of Dashboards on-line in the likes of Tableau Public. 

Monday, November 04, 2019

My Gay Byrne Story #RIPGaybo

Gay Byrne
Image source: Wikipedia.
Sad news today of the death of Irish TV and radio legend Gay Byrne. I'm sure that almost everyone in Ireland over 20 years of age is thinking of their favourites stories and memories of "Gaybo" today. Several years ago (2010) I published a "Personal History" article on the History Ireland website - it was called My Grandfather, Croke Park, Ice Cream, and Gay Byrne - Gaybo features near the end of the article.

Here is a copy of the story:

My Grandfather, Croke Park, Ice Cream, and Gay Byrne

When Croke Park was opened up to rugby and soccer in 2007 I thought of my grandfather, P.J. O’Loughlin, who died in 1965. Originally a Cork man from Newmarket, he moved to a farm in Tomacork near Carnew, Co. Wicklow around 1929. As well as being a farmer, he was a well known auctioneer in the South Wicklow and North Wexford area during the 1940s and 1950s. Being a Corkman he was naturally a hurler – a GAA man through and through. He won a Wicklow Junior Hurling title with Carnew Emmets in 1932, beating Glenealy by the unusual score of 3-0 to 2-2. He was also Vice-Chairman of the Wicklow GAA in 1932 and County Secretary from 1935 to 1940. My father commented recently that you could generate electricity from him spinning in his grave at the thoughts of the hallowed turf in Croke Park being invaded by so-called “foreign games”. Equally, he would not have comprehended the advent of the Internet. Recently, I was looking up the Leinster GAA web site on the Internet and quite by accident I came across a photograph of the victorious Wicklow football team who won the 1936 All-Ireland Junior Football Championship. Much to my surprise, there was my grandfather, in his capacity as County Secretary, posing with the team in his suit. None of us in our family recall seeing this photograph before. It was a strange feeling to discover this photograph on the Internet for the entire world to see, over 40 years after my grandfather’s death.

I have very few personal memories of my grandfather. He taught me how to tie my shoelaces – I still tie my laces in the way he showed me. I also remember the tricolour draped coffin at his funeral, and the shots over his grave – the first time I ever heard gunfire. He was also an FCA man.

However, my favourite memory is of the occasion that he brought me to Croke Park for my first All-Ireland Final in the early 1960s as a small boy. No doubt he wanted the GAA tradition to be kept in future generations of our family and he was starting me early. I was only 4 or 5 years old – the year was either 1963 or 1964, I don’t know which. I do know it must have been before the 19th of June 1965 when he died.

I recall practically nothing of the occasion which must have been a very exciting one for a small boy – no memories of the trip from Carnew in south County Wicklow to Croke Park, if I was lifted over the turnstiles as was then the fashion for small children, what the atmosphere at the match was like, or the trip home. I have no recollection either of what teams were playing that day, who won, or what the score was. Indeed, I don’t even recall if the game was football or hurling.

The only thing I remember about the occasion was that at the end of the game as the crowd filtered out, my Grandfather climbed over several rows of empty seats to an ice cream seller. He came back to me with a small tub of ice cream, which had no little wooden spoon to eat it with. When I announced that I could not eat the ice-cream for lack of a spoon, he quickly showed me how to use the lid as a scoop and I savoured the moment, and of course the ice cream. An unforgettable memory!

Years later (in 1998), I was listening to The Gay Byrne Show on RTÉ radio – Gay was hosting a discussion about the previous evening’s Paul McGrath Testimonial football match at Lansdowne Road. There was a lot of discussion and several complaints from callers about the cost of tickets and that many children had to have the full adult price paid for them.

One caller told us that he had brought his young son to the match for the price of an expensive full adult ticket. When Gay asked him why on earth he had done this, the caller responded that he wanted his son to be able to say that he had seen Paul McGrath and many other stars play, but most important of all was that he would be able to remember that he was there.

In words that turned back the clock and instantly transformed me back over the years to Croke Park and my Grandfather’s climb for ice cream, Gay responded to the caller by saying: “If you want him to remember that he was there, buy him an ice cream after the match”.

Sunday, November 03, 2019

Preston North End - Top of the League #pne

Something for Preston North End fans (like me) all over the world to cheer today - we are top of the league! A great away win over Charlton Athletic meant that PNE are on top of the Championship for the first time in many, many years. We don't get to celebrate too much, but this season's team under Alex Neil has been consistent in grinding out results. Incredibly, for a team that traditionally does not score a lot of goals, PNE are also top scorers with 28 goals in the Championship. The top of the Championship is very tight, with just three points separating the top six - but our moment of glory is ours to savour. 

Preston have always had a tradition of featuring Irish players - in the team today were Alan Browne and Seán Maguire. Long may they keep PNE at the top!


Friday, October 25, 2019

Half Way Through Semester I #Phew #ReadingWeek

It's late Friday afternoon of week 6 in our 12 week semester, and I have finished classes for the week. Next week we have a Reading Week, the break from classes is welcome - not just for me, but for our students too.

I have shared with many friends and colleagues that I plan to retire next year in September, this is the first time I have publicly stated this intention. I can't help feeling after each class that it is unlikely that I will have to teach that day's topics again - it's a weird feeling. My Project Management, and two Statistics classes fall into this category. While I will not miss the PM module much, I will definitely miss the Stats one as it is my favourite module of all. I intend to enjoy the remaining six weeks as much as I can - I hope my students do too.

A Reading Week (notice we don't call it "mid-term break"!) is a chance for students, and Faculty, to recharge their batteries. They can catch up on continuous assessment tasks, revise what has been covered in the previous 6 weeks, and of course enjoy a break from classes. This is especially true for part-time students - many of whom work through the day, and come to us for evening classes. It's not really a reading "week", as the October Bank Holiday falls during this week - essentially it is a 4-day week. I would like to see studies done on the benefits (if any) of having a Reading Week. Overall I think it is a good idea. The first main benefit is that it is a convenient way of dealing with a week that has a Bank Holiday in it - classes will not have to be rescheduled. But I'd like to see the academic benefits for both students and Faculty. Inserting a week into semester I means that the last week of the semester is very close to Christmas - an already frantic time of the year. Many modules will have project submissions at the end of the semester, and the extra week will most likely help many students get their projects done. It always feels to me that semester I ends, and suddenly within a week it is Christmas.

So - enjoy the Reading Week and make the best use possible of it to enhance your learning experience!

Friday, October 18, 2019

20,000,000 @YouTube Views #Grateful #Humbled

Today, the views count on my YouTube Channel hit a a new landmark figure - twenty million views (20,005,938 to be precise)! When I created this channel way back in 2006, and only got serious about it around 2009/2010, I never once dreamed that I would reach such a figure. I am so grateful to all my viewers, and I am humbled that so many find them useful.

Below is the lifetime chart based on daily figures for the 20.0M views:

Lie time count of YouTube views.

You can see that the views count follows a very seasonal pattern, and looks very predictable. In May 2015 (just to the right of centre above), disaster struck when I changed some of the metadata - I often wonder had I not done this would the trend have continued to increase at the rate it was. The current figures for 2019 are lagging behind the same period in 2018 by about 500 - 1,000 views a day. I don't know why this is, but at least it is following the same trend of increasing in September to November before falling again for Christmas and the new year. 

A HUGE THANK YOU to all learners who have made this landmark figure possible!

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Body Mass Index Calculations in R

One exercise I get students to do in one of my early R Programming classes is write code to calculate Body Mass Index (BMI), and then to use an if statement to determine what the value of the BMI indicates about your health. BMI is a gross estimate for the amount of fat in your body - the categories are as follows:
Image source: JoyDeepDev.

BMI is calculated as: BMI = Weight (kg) / Height (m) x Height (m). Before my recent (medically advised) diet, my weight was 104 kgs. My height is 1.82 metres - my BMI is therefore 31.4, which put me firmly into the "Obese" category. This is a term which I would not have referred to myself as although I am heavy - I didn't consider myself "obese". 

Here is the R code that I use in class:

# Short Exercise - calculate BMI
weight = as.numeric(readline(prompt="What is your weight (kilos): "))
height = as.numeric(readline(prompt="What is your height (metres): "))
# Calculate BMI
bmi = weight/(height * height)
print(paste("Your weight is", weight,"kg,", "your height is", height, "m,", "and your BMI is", bmi))

The good news for me is that above emphasis on BMI, and my doctor's advice, is that my recent diet has reduced my BMI to 29.9 - out of the "Obese" category, and into the "Overweight" category. To get to "Normal" I would have to lose another 18 kgs, that's 37 lbs or 3 stones!

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Baby Boomers not liking the Harley-Davidson Electric Bike, via @CarBuzzcom

So, someone in Harley-Davidson HQ decided that Harley should make an electric bike. They came up with the attractive looking LiveWire, and I'm sure that many environmentalists will welcome this development that perhaps will ultimately replace the loud petrol-guzzling 1600 cc engines that are standard on most Harley-Davidson motorcycles today. 

Harley-Davidson the company has not being doing well over the past 10 years - they have laid off staff and cut back on production to save on costs. With many automobile manufacturers switching to electric vehicles, it was only a matter of time before motorcycles followed suit. However, according to CarBuzz.com, since being introduced this year, the LiveWire is: "quickly showing itself to be a flop". The main problem is price - the LiveWire retails at $29,799 in the US, which would make it well over €35,000 here. Another problem is that Harley-Davidson's demographic is getting older - Baby Boomers (like me) are now in their 60s and 70s. They are less likely to change theirs HOGs for a battery on wheels. Also, we don't change our bikes very often - I am on only my second one since 2003. Harley need to attract younger buyers - but I feel that an expensive LiveWire (the same price as a Nissan Leaf car!) may not work well.

Image source: Harley-Davidson.com.
However, I also feel that this is a trend that is unstoppable. It's hard to justify a 1600 cc petrol powered bike, when car manufacturers are making better and cheaper cars. Harley are surely looking to the longer term with this bike - but their image of big bikes, with big loud engines, riding off into the sunset is still strong, and will take a hell of a lot of marketing to get us Baby Boomers to switch.

Or they could just wait until we all die!

Wednesday, October 02, 2019

Noticing getting older #ButNotDeadYet

Last week when I attended the Analytics Institute Inspire event, I was sitting in the back row with a good view of the 120 attendees. I couldn't help noticing that that I was one of the oldest people in the room! There were just two other grey haired men who looked to be about my age. It's harder to tell with women, but I'm certain there were none there older than me. While I am not finished yet, it is clear to me that data analytics is a younger person's game - I suspect that this might also be reflected in other IT disciplines.

One of the reasons why there are few older peoples in rooms like above is that it appears that we (the over 55's) are at twice the risk of dying in workplace! According to Anne-Marie Walsh, writing in Tuesday's Irish Independent, "One in five employees is aged over 55 and faces twice the risk of dying in workplace"! Quoting an ESRI report, Walsh tells us that employees "between 55 and 64 are almost two times more likely to experience a fatality than the under-55s and it gets worse with age". She goes on to write that those over 65 are "three-and-a-half times more likely to experience a fatality than workers under 55". Sounds like the workplace is not a safe place for us oldies! In fairness, Walsh does point out that some professions, like agriculture, are not as safe as others.

The Central Statistics Office's data from 2016 shows labour force participation rates by age group. Just over 60% of men in the 60-64 age group (which I am about to join soon) are at work - this is down from a high of over 90% for the 35-44 age group. There's nothing that I can do about my age (except as my Dad says: "Be proud of it!"), but it is chastening to see below that I am very much in the right tail of the Labour Force Participation Rate chart!

Data Source: Women and Men in Ireland 2016 (CSO)

Thursday, September 26, 2019

"Citizens of Data Science" via @schmarzo #analytics

Bill Schmarzo in the House of Lords.
This morning I attended the Analytics Institute's Inspire Event at the House of Lords in the Bank of Ireland. The main speaker was the entertaining Bill Schmarzo, Global CTO of Hitachi Vantara - known around the world as the "Dean of Big Data". While some of what he told us was similar to a talk he gave at last year's AI Conference, what I was most interested in was the language of data that he used.

Schmarzo first of all referred to Data Science as a "team sport". He wanted us to involve stakeholders, business decisions, and predictions before starting on the architecture and technology of a data solution - "lazy" organisations start at the end. His overall theme was to debunk the "Data is the New Oil" myth. He said "Big Data isn't about Big - it's about Small". He wants us to think about we "might be better predictors of performance" if we identify lots of variables and metrics in our data pursuits. He said that we were "Citizens of Data Science" who should be using Design Thinking to generate "trends, patterns, and relationships" in our data. He also warned us about "orphaned analytics" (data not being re-used), and "data silos" (where data is not shared). 

Data is an asset that can be that can be used over and over again - it is therefore not the "new oil", which can only be used once. His final message to us was the "Data is the New Sun"!

Overall, the Inspire Event was worthwhile going to - there were also fascinating insights from Peter Dunne and Colin Kane of Bank of Ireland about the bank's journey to being a data and analytics organization.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Comparing a Desktop Microphone and a Headset Microphone for use in On-line Classes

Recently, while playing back some of my recorded classes, I found the sounds coming from my keyboard very annoying - my guess is that it is annoying for my students too. The microphone that I use for my on-line classes is the excellent Samson Go Mic. For voice it is perfect. I position it in front of me on my desk and just in front of my screen. Unfortunately, my keyboard is just in front of the microphone - hence the annoying background keyboard noise.

One option to overcome this was to get a silent/quiet keyboard. However, I have been advised to use a headset instead as it has a directional microphone that is designed to optimize my voice, and not to pick up too much background noise. I have an excellent Creative Labs headset - so I decided to run a test to compare the desktop microphone with the headset to see which (if either) were better for reducing keyboard noise.

First - the Samson Go Mic...

Next, the Creative Labs head set...

Wow - a head set really makes a difference!

However - I find the sound quality for voice way better using the Go Mic, and I certainly don't want to be wearing a headset when I don't need the head phones during a 2 to 3 hour class. More experimentation necessary!

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Forgetting to record on-line class

For the first time in three semesters teaching on-line, I have forgotten to record an on-line class. I had some announcements to make at the beginning of class last evening which I deliberately excluded from a recording. But after 15 minutes of this I completely forgot to click the record button in Adobe Connect. It was only at the very end of the class when I went to switch off recording that I noticed it was never on. All this while I have a Post-It right under my webcam lens. D'oh!

I have a recording of this class from previous semesters. It is actually quite awkward to reuse this recording. While it is stored on my Moodle page, it is not available as an MP4. I cannot simply save the video to a file - I have to play the video in full, and it creates a recording while doing this. I can't edit anything while this is going on, so my class recording is quietly playing in the background as I write.

I may not be allowed use this recording as we have a rule that recordings cannot be shared - I'm checking on this today. But I'd like to pose a question: Is is appropriate/useful to provide a recording from one class to another? We use Adobe Connect for virtual classes, so students can see who else is logged on, and they can see all their questions and comments in the chat box. Viewing a video from another class will be different - for example, while content should be very much the same, I will certainly not say the same things, or answer the same questions, or even do things in the same order. The chat box will also be different. I accept that watching a video from another class is better than nothing for an on-line student who has missed a class - but you could then extend this to why not allow it to be shared to other classes? 

Some lecturers go ahead and share their classes on-line anyway. A good example of this is Professor Andy Field's series of lectures on statistics - anybody can watch them on YouTube for free. Some lecturers may reuse recordings and make them available to a class, but I re-record each time. This is the third time I have taught the Programming for Big Data module, and there will have been three separate sets of recordings made.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Decision on your Video Appeal

Dear Eugene O'Loughlin,

Thank you for submitting your video appeal to YouTube.

After further review of the content, we've determined that your video does violate our Community Guidelines and have upheld our original decision. We appreciate your understanding.

Yours sincerely,

– The YouTube Team

This was the message I got today after appealing the removal of my How To... Download and Insert a YouTube Video into PowerPoint video. So that's it - my video violated Community Guidelines. I have read read these, which are broken down into the following categories:
  • Nudity or sexual content
  • Harmful or dangerous content
  • Hateful content
  • Violent or graphic content
  • Harassment and cyber-bullying
  • Spam, misleading metadata and scams
  • Threats
  • Impersonation
  • Child safety
  • Additional policies
I can 100% state that the video was none of the first nine items above. But what is this "Additional policies" about? This is broken down into:
  • Vulgar language
  • Inactive accounts policy
  • Encouraging Terms of Service violations
  • Age requirements on Google products
Neither the first two, or the last one apply - but I feel now that the "Encouraging Terms of Service violations" one is the one that got me. Towards the end of the video, after I had downloaded a video and shown it working in PowerPoint I state "...another good thing about this [method] is ads will not be displayed as well...". 

This is what the policy states:

Encouraging Terms of Service violations

If you post content that encourages other users to violate our Terms of Service, the content may be removed, your account may be penalised and in some cases your account may be terminated.

It has to be this by process of elimination. Now I know!

Monday, September 16, 2019

Community Guidelines - Harmful or Dangerous Content

It is now three weeks since YouTube reported to me that one of my videos had violated their "Community Guidelines" as it was deemed to be "Harmful or Dangerous Content", and would be removed within 7 days. The video has now been removed, and I have a "Warning" on my channel. At the time I accepted this decision even though I had absolutely no idea why my educational video was taken down. I checked the video for "Harmful or Dangerous Content" and concluded that my explanation of how to use the Mozilla Firefox browser to download YouTube videos for use in PowerPoint was most definitely not "Harmful or Dangerous Content".

Here's YouTube's own video about what "Harmful or Dangerous Content" is:

Annoyingly, a search in YouTube for the Firefox Add-On (Easy YouTube Downloader), which I used in my video, shows that there are hundreds of videos showing how to use the same add-on, including this one which has been on YouTube for over 10 years. How come YouTube's algorithm does not pick them up and block them?

I appealed the decision, but presumably this has failed because the video was taken down and YouTube have not responded to my appeal. I have appealed again today.

YouTube's algorithm detected something in my video - I think I can be fairly certain that no person in a YouTube office looked at my video and decided it was "Harmful or Dangerous Content". It is possible that someone flagged my video as inappropriate, and YouTube took it down in response. One colleague told me that another possible reason for removing my video was that if I downloaded a video for use in PowerPoint, there would be no ads on it and therefore YouTube make no money. But why take down mine, and leave hundreds of others up?

I have remade the video, it needed to be updated anyway, and even though I have uploaded it to YouTube - it is not yet published. I'm not sure when I will publish it - perhaps when the Warning is removed from my channel. Should I have another violation, I will get a "Strike" - three "Strikes" and I'm out. 

Friday, September 13, 2019

Learning Outcomes vs Learning Objectives

Every module that I have taught over the past 17 years has a set of Learning Outcomes - usually about four or five. In essence, these outcomes are what students will have achieved upon completion of the module - assessment is based on these outcomes. When creating modules, one of the hard things to do is to actually write the learning outcomes. First - there is the level to consider, I usually use Bloom's Taxonomy for the appropriate verbs to use. There is a big difference in learning to "describe" something compared to "analysing" something. It is also hard to write a four or five statements that cover everything in the module - by their nature, sometimes module learning outcomes are high level compared to what is actually covered in part of a class.

From 1989 to 2002 I worked for an e-Learning company called CBT Systems, which became SmartForce, and which is now known as Skillsoft. It was all about producing e-Learning content - first on floppy diskettes, then on CD-ROM, and then on-line. All through this time the development of content was based on the following structure:
  • A curriculum with several courses - up to 10 in some cases
  • Each course had several lessons - usually three to five
  • Each lesson contained several Learning Objects - four to six would have been typical
So the building block for content development was to create Learning Objects, and then stitch them together into the above structure. Often we debated what the definition of a Learning Object was. I recall one occasion when one of the VPs (Bill B.) asked a bunch of us in a meeting "What is a Learning Object?" - we were not able to give him a satisfactory answer. In the end he told us that a Learning Object was "the content necessary to achieve a learning objective". From that day forth, content was created in building blocks of objects on the basis of achieving a single learning objective. If a learning object covered two or more objectives, it had to be split so that each part covered just a single objective. Very clear and easy to follow - at the beginning of each lesson, the learning objectives were outlined and then assessed at the end.

Learning Outcomes are not the same as Learning Objectives - the difference is that "outcomes" are at the macro level, and "objectives" are at the micro level. We clearly state the Learning Outcomes, but rarely state the Learning Objectives. Our timetables are rigidly based on hours - a one-hour class could have more than one objective. A typical module will have 36-48 hours per semester - so a lot of learning objectives will have to be covered. We kind of do this anyway - but perhaps not on the clear one objective per object that e-Learning allows us to do. 

In the era of bite-sized learning, do we need to begin to set a single learning objective for each bite? 

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Bite-sized Lessons - A Message for Third-Level?

An interesting ad popped on my Facebook feed this morning - it was from Babbel.com who were advertising bite-sized language lessons that last 10-15 minutes, with the tag line "you'll always find time for them". I like the sound of such short lessons, my own YouTube Channel contains short "How To..." videos of about 5-10 minutes length - this seems to work well for casual learners. I signed up for Babbel, but there is just one short free lesson - the rest are not free :-(

If you search for "Bite-sized Lessons" there are quite a lot. At the top of my search was Hub Spot who are enabling learners to "get bite-sized chunks of learning as you have your morning cup of coffee" - lessons are from just 4 to 20 minutes. 

MakeUseOf.com asks the question: "Have you ever taken a productive trip to the bathroom?" and tells us about Google's "testing on the toilet", which consists of topics such as testing for code.

Want to learn Irish? Duolingo offers learners to "Learn Irish in just 5 minutes a day"!

Learning in bite-sized chunks is nothing new - my view is that if someone wants to learn something fast, they will Google it and choose a quick way to learn. So content providers have recognised this and are even pitching "learning on the loo". With a vast quantity of educational material available for free on line, it is no wonder that the likes of YouTube and Wikipedia are becoming the first port of call when you want to learn something. Yet Universities and Colleges continue with timetables with classes that are one to four hours long. My shortest class this semester is two hours long, and my longest is four hours. Certainly not "bite-sized"!

Breaking a class up in to bite-sized chunks is awkward when the timetable is measured in hours. A solution of 15 minute bite-classes would be chaotically impractical. Instead of having a two-hour lecture followed by a two-hour tutorial (as in one of my classes), my practice is to break it up by trying to get students to engage in practical work as often as possible. For example, my on-line Programming class is basically just one big lab, with very little presentation/lecture involved.

At third level, we have vague broad Learning Outcomes at the module level. A 10-credit module might have as little as 3 or 4 learning outcomes for 12 weeks of classes. We usually don't go any deeper by outlining learning objectives (note different word) at the class level, and certainly there is very little (in my experience) use of learning objects at a bite-sized level.

More about Learning Outcomes vs Learning Objectives in my next post.