Thursday, February 28, 2019

Hands Off Our Houses Mr Daly!

Minister Jim Daly.
Image source:
Much ado lately about old people being part of the housing crisis as they dare to live in their own large houses while homeless families live in hotels and emergency accommodation. While these families certainly have my sympathy, I object to the idea that I am part of the problem. Yes - I do live in a four-bedroom house and am currently only using one of those rooms. We raised our family in this house and paid for it over many years with money earned after tax had already been deducted.

Minister for Older People, Jim Daly, is examining ways for older people to "right-size to appropriately sized units" according to a report by Lorraine Courtney in last Thursday's Irish Independent: In this bad game of Monopoly, the young find they can't even pass Go. She quotes from an unpublished Housing Options for our Ageing Population policy statement which proposes new ways of dealing with the current crisis in housing.

Just what is a "right-sized unit"? Should I move from a 4 bedroom house to a 3 bedroom one, or 2, or 1, or a bedsit? Why not pack off all the over 55s into a gulag somewhere on their way to a nursing home in later life? I am sorry to inform the minister that the house I live in is the right size for me, and he can fuck off if he thinks that he can get inside my conscience and force me to give up my home. Am I being selfish?

Ireland's population is growing at about 60,000 per year. We have a thing about high rise buildings and not allowing them - the social disaster of the Ballymun Tower blocks in Dublin will stay in the mind for a long time. But other cities, such as Vancouver, can manage high rise and accommodate thousands of people in a small area - I was really struck by the number of tower apartment blocks in Vancouver city centre when visiting last year. I'm sure there are plenty of problems with these blocks, but if carefully planned I'm sure they would work here too.

The Minister is looking at easy targets such as the over 55s - but has he forgotten that we are the people who vote the most? Hands off our houses!

City of Vancouver.
Image source: The Georgia Straight.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

"Get on with it!" #SnailTortoise

Image source: Celebrating the Ordinary.
Recently, I received a comment from a viewer on one of my YouTube video tutorials to "Come to the point". While comments on my channel are largely very positive, I do get occasional comments that I am going either too slow or too fast. Some also find my Irish accent hard to follow.

So - what is the right pace to deliver content at? It's obvious to all educators that students learn at different paces. Some get the point straight away, while others may leave at the end of class not understanding a thing. I often pause and check how students are getting on in my class - especially practical classes. When I walk around the class I always find that some students get the work done very quickly, while others may not have even started or have got stuck. This makes it difficult to pace a class - we can't go at a speed suitable to the fastest learner - equally it is is very difficult to go at the speed of the slowest learner.  In addition to this there are a lot of distractions in class - almost all my students have computers on during class, and it is obvious to me that some are checking email/messages (and even watching football!). 

It can be a bit frustrating to explain things again and again, but that's part of my job and I do it. I can also see and feel some frustration on the part of students who need to wait while others catch up. In my videos there is the option to fast-forward or rewind (an obvious thing for the author of the comment above to consider). I also have my on-line classes automatically recorded, but I've no sense yet if students find them useful. It is probably one of the biggest advantages that video has over the classroom - I'm certain that there are times in class when my students would like to hit Rewind/Pause/Fast Forward. Maybe even some would like to switch me off!

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Feedback as part of Learning #FeedBack, #FeedUp, #FeedForward

I am not often asked by students to give feedback on an exam paper - just a handful over the past few years. Almost always in my experience, when a student requests a feedback session they want to know "where did I lose marks". Students also may feel that they should have got a higher mark - and want to question their grade. My feedback experience with students is largely positive - most are satisfied with their grade once we go through their answers and marks awarded.

While reading the Science of Learning by the Deans for Impact earlier this week I noted that they place a huge emphasis on the benefits of feedback. For the cognitive principle "effective feedback is often essential to acquiring new knowledge and skills" - their advice relating to the practical implication for the classroom is:

Good feedback is: 

  • Specific and clear
  • Focused on the task rather than the student
  • Explanatory and focused on improvement rather than merely verifying performance

Sound advice indeed - I have found that most of my feedback sessions are focused on performance in an exam rather than on improvement. 

John Hattie and Helen Timperley of the University of Auckland (2007) proposed a model of feedback to enhance learning:

Source: Columbia University.
This model encourages "Feed Up" and "Feed Forward" as well as "Feed Back" - the purpose of which is to "reduce discrepancies between current understanding/performance and a desired goal". The model is very much forward looking and is much more than "where did I lose marks". In a way it is a pity that an individual feedback session is not done automatically for all students. We do it for continuous assessment - my practice is to give general feedback in class and offer students the opportunity to request further feedback if they want to (but only a handful do). But most students will want to move on after end of semester exams. Almost always it is about a month between sitting an exam and getting results - feedback will lose its value after such a long time. There are also practical implications restricting individual feedback for all - think of how long it would take to do for a class of 50 students!

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

YouTube Channel Coming of Age #18000000

My YouTube channel has grown up this week as it passed the 18 million views mark (18,008,943 today to be precise). Once again I am both delighted and humbled that so many people take the time to view my videos. The channel is still growing as shown in the Lifetime chart below:

Click/Tap image to enlarge.

The channel is firmly on the road to recovery after the disaster of May 2015 (when I changed metadata). I fully expect it to pass 20,000,000 views well before the end of the year. The United States still dominates the percentage of views (34%) but this is declining steadily when compared to other countries (India now ranked second with 11% of overall views). Ireland accounts for just 1.2% of overall views. The top 11 countries for percentage views are as follows:

Onward and upwards!

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Fluency in the science of learning

In a job advertisement I saw on LinkedIn today (no - I'm not looking for a different job!) for a Learning and Leadership Development Manager in Accenture, I came across the following requirement:

You Might Also Have: 
  • Fluency in the science of learning
In what was an interesting job advert - this stuck out, and I wondered what it meant. I Googled this exact sentence, but just got lots of websites advertising the same job. It seems to me to be a new expression written by the clever folks at Accenture - and I love it!

The Science of Learning can be described in many ways. In an interesting short paper by the Deans of Impact in 2015*, a summary of the "existing research from cognitive science related to how students learn, and connect this research to its practical implications for teaching and learning" is provided. They write that the Science of Learning is based on six questions:

  1. How do students understand new ideas?
  2. How do students learn and retain new information?
  3. How do students solve problems?
  4. How does learning transfer to new situations in or outside of the classroom?
  5. What motivates students to learn?
  6. What are common misconceptions about how students think and learn?

For each question, the answers are divided into Cognitive Principles, and Practical Implications for the Classroom. For example, in question 1 for the cognitive principle...

  • Students learn new ideas by reference to ideas they already know

... one of the practical implications is advice to provide...

  • A well-sequenced curriculum is important to ensure that students have the prior knowledge they need to master new ideas

For anyone involved in Learning and Teaching, "fluency" in the above six questions focused on students, plus their answers, is a must. The Deans for Impact paper shows educators that there is more to the Science of Learning than just turning up in class and hoping for the best.

*Deans for Impact (2015). The Science of Learning. Austin, TX: Deans for Impact. 

Friday, February 15, 2019

STEM with Arts #STEAM

Image source: Urban Gateways.
An interesting thought in the Guardian, 'Universities stamp out creativity': are graduates ready for work?, from Julie Ward, Labour MEP for north-west England. She stresses the importance of including arts in the emphasis on science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) as key subjects, so that "Stem becomes Steam". She quite rightly (IMHO) points out that parents who advised their children that "taking arts subjects would harm their job prospects were making a mistake". So would it be a good idea to take Arts subjects in a technology degree?

Steve Jobs famously took up calligraphy before dropping out of Reed College in Portland, Oregon  - the story goes that became fascinated by school’s handmade signs, and carried this forward into designing fonts for the Mac. What Arts module(s) would enhance a technology degree? I would favour a plan where one (or more) modules in 1st or 2nd year could be any Elective Arts subject. For example - how about a module on "Text Analysis and Sight-Reading" in Trinity's Diploma in Acting and Theatre, or the "Nature of Morality" in the BA in Philosophy? If a College does not offer Arts programmes, why not let students attend such a module in another University/College/Online, and get the necessary credits, plus the "A" in "STEAM"? A whole new world could be opened up for students in technology degrees who even in first year are pigeon-holed into a path that involves programming, databases, web development, cloud computing, data analytics, etc. Why not add classic Greek as a language?

Creativity and curiosity will be important skills in the workplace of the future, and it must be cultivated more amongst students. Without it employers are increasingly finding themselves in a bind as they require qualifications, but also want graduates to be good at problem-solving - they will demand creativity. Perhaps putting the "A" into STEM will achieve this?

Thursday, February 14, 2019

New Data from the Higher Education Authority #NonCompletion #Analytics

The HEA have produced a major study on An Analysis of Completion in Irish Higher Education: 2007/08 Entrants, which makes for interesting reading. As with many HEA reports there is a lot of detail and mountains of data (this report is 220 pages long!). It does not include the National College of Ireland nor the likes of the Dublin Business School which is a big pity and a major omission in my view. 

Out of this report, Katherine Donnelly of the Irish Independent headlines her report today with "Tech courses are toughest to finish in college". While this may be true, the report digs a lot deeper than a one-liner in the paper. The report divides up the HEA sector into three categories: Colleges (not including NCI), Institutes of Technology, and Universities. Data on levels 6 and 7 for Colleges and Universities is not included - presumably because they don't offer courses under level 8 (honours degree level). 

Non-completion (a fancy word for dropout) rates in Colleges are at 6%, in ITs it is 34%, and in Universities it is 17%. The overall non-completion rate at level 8 is 18% (34,059 students in total) - this is a lot lower than the headline figures being given on radio news this morning.  The lowest non-completion rate is 3% in St. Patrick’s College, Drumcondra (606 students) - while the highest is 39% at IT Tallaght (605 students), clearly an unusual statistic for institutions with an almost identical number of students - see chart below:

Source: HEA.

Perhaps of more interest to me was the headline figure of 46% non-completion rate in the Computing area. Schools of Computing across the land cannot hide from these figures - here's the HEA's chart for all institutions and also for all levels:

Source: HEA.
Technical courses are indeed challenging, and the HEA point to the Mathematics component of Computing courses as a possible reason for non-completion. The image of working in IT of creating best-selling games, killer apps, and making a lot of money with the potential of becoming a multi-millionaire is a strong one, but this is not going to happen until you learn some Maths and Programming. The HEA report also suggests a strong link between CAO points and non-completion rates - perhaps we are letting some students on low points onto courses they are not yet able for.

I do see lower numbers of students finishing courses than the number at the start in my own classes - it is inevitable. Choosing the right course is a two-way thing: we have to make sure that the course is right for a student, but we also have to make sure that the student is right for the course. I really don't see how an 18 year-old school leaver can be certain of what their future is going to bring - in 1977 when I was 18, I certainly didn't. Most Colleges have tried lots of things to engage first year students in an effort to keep them on board and reduce non-completion. Based ion the HEA figures we all have to try harder!

Monday, February 11, 2019

There's still life in "An Introduction to Business Systems Analysis" book!

Last December I re-released my textbook "An Introduction to Business Systems Analysis" as a print-to-order edition via Amazon's Kindle Direct Publishing following the decision of my publisher, The Liffey Press, not to print any more copies. I got all the originals files back from the publisher and reworked them for sale as paperback only on Amazon. Sadly the format would not work in Kindle format, but every time Amazon gets an order, a fresh copy is printed and sent out to the purchaser. The book is an expensive £15.00 + £4.00 postage (€21.92), and I get about £4 per book as a royalty. I did not expect it to sell at all - ego was more of a motivation for keeping it on Amazon than money. 

Much to my surprise, the book has sold 20 copies in two months since its re-release. The module that the book is based on, "Business Systems Analysis" (part of the Certificate in Business Analysis at NCI), still has this book on the reading list - so I'm guessing that at least some students may have purchased it. However, more than half the sales are from the United States, so there is still life in the old dog yet!

Below are sales figures from Amazon - not much, but a book every few days will keep it going with some small royalties to add up for a nice dinner out later in the year!

Tuesday, February 05, 2019

Silence from a class... it almost never means “Yes!”

Image source: 8 seconds.
I got some giggles in class recently when I used my usual tactic when I ask "does anyone have any questions?" after covering a topic by waiting longer than normal for responses. When I explain that I wait at least 8-10 seconds before continuing, I mostly get nods of approval as students see the value in giving extra time to compose questions.

According to Roger Johnson from the University of Minnesota back in 1977, we should wait "at least 8 seconds after asking for questions from a group of learners - before you say anything else as an instructor!” His reason for this is that it turns out when the average instructor asks, “Are there any questions?”, they wait about 3 seconds. According to Johnson, it takes an audience (in my case a class) "a few more seconds to process your request, formulate questions in their minds, scan the room for other people’s responses and decide to actually ask".  He then advises us to count to 8 before continuing and that we will see an "amazing difference". It might not work for every instructor/lecturer, but I feel it works for me and is appreciated in class - it works and I get more questions. I'm careful not to wait too long because more than 10 seconds can lead to an awkward prolonged silence and it may appear that an instructor is dragging things out.

A student commenting on this topic told me when asked "Do you understand this", that any silence from a class more often than not means "confusion"and "hesitation". It almost never means “Yes!”.

So my advice to all educators echoes that of Johnson - wait at least 8 seconds for responses. It's only five seconds more than the standard 3 seconds, and does not take any effort.

Monday, February 04, 2019

Hope Management

The Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) outlines 10 Knowledge areas that tell us how project management could be conducted. In my IT Project Management class we cover all ten areas, but with most emphasis on Scope/Time/Cost/Quality as it is just a five credit module. As you can see from the diagram below, "Hope Management" is not one of the 10 areas:

Source: Introduction it IT Project Management (Schwalbe, 2018)

Too often, Project Managers and other managers engaged in project management activity, hope that things will work out. The old adage: "Fail to Plan, Plan to Fail" has always been true when it comes to managing projects of any type. When team members are involved in projects that are badly planned - motivation takes a knock, and quality falls. Even a short project needs a plan! If you need something done quickly, don't give it to a busy person. Allocate the appropriate time and resources, learn from mistakes, and quit hoping that things will work out.

In a Blog post from 2012, the Value Transformation web site pleads with Project Managers to "move away from project management activities based upon hope", to stop "making up, dates and duration with little knowledge and hoping things will work out". Worse again is repeating the mistakes of the past and doing exactly the same thing again! There's nothing more that can demotivate team members than poor project management practices. Students interested in a career in Project Management should take note (as should all Project Managers).