Sunday, June 30, 2019

Springfield to St Louis, Route 66 - Day 3

Today was one of the shorter riding days on Route 66 - but it was a fantastic ride through mostly prairie fields. The land is very flat, and while the corn is still mostly green with a long way to go before harvest, I treated Roma to a rendition of “Oh What a Beautiful Morning” from the Oklahoma musical as we passed by endless fields of corn.

Our first stop was at a corn dog cafe - delicious, but very filling so soon after breakfast. In Carlinville we stopped for a breather and I got a nice shot in the centre of town with the US flag. Lunch was in Wezzies in Hamel - most of the group were happy with their meals, I’d certainly recommend this spot. At the rabbit ranch we did not see too many real rabbits (just one!), but there were lots of original Volkswagen Golfs (which were called Rabbits in the US) stuck in the ground and in various stages of disrepair.

A real highlight today was riding over and stopping on the Bridge of Chains which spans the Mississippi. This is a mighty river and the iron bridge is a beautiful reminder of times past, and of course Route 66 which was on this bridge. We had the bridge to ourselves as only pedestrians and cyclists are allowed - plus motorcycle groups who have permission in advance. A real treat and is what we came to America to see.

My final treat today was to go to an axe throwing indoor centre to try out a local sport where they throw axes at a wooden wall. One of my riding companions, Malcolm from England, tried it out (with some success) at the Top Notch Axe place across the road from our hotel. In an Ireland versus England game I let our nation down by losing out to Malcolm who showed that the English are better at throwing axes than the Irish. This was the best fun and I hope to try it again.

We have a very long day in the saddle tomorrow, and I hope to be able to post again before collapsing into bed. The heat is really difficult to bear - it’s OK on the open road, but when we have to stop or slow down, it can be unbearable. We all arrive at our evening hotels soaked in sweat, but a cold beer from our tour Guides makes it all go away.

Final point - I had two lovely pints of Guinness at the TigĂ­n Irish pub - who says that stout does not travel well! A great end to a great day. Some photos from the day....

I Love America!
Stopping at Hamel for lunch.
Route 66!
On the Bridge of Chains over the Mississippi River. 
In Springfield at Abraham Lincoln’s house.
Roma on the Old Paved Route 66.
Half buried Golfs at Rabbit Ranch.
Careful With That Axe!

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Chicago to Springfield, Route 66 - Day 2

At last we got on the road - not quite Route 66 as we first had to get out of Chicago. I am delighted with our bike, a Harley-Davidson Electra Glide. This is a great bike for passengers as it’s rear seat is like an arm chair. I like it too, and had great fun on it today. We stopped to visit many Route 66 sites such as Dicks On, Launching Pad, Dwight Petrol station, and the Pontiac museum. Lots of photo opportunities some of which I’ve added below. My GoPro is working great and taking good quality photos and videos. However, our Cardo rider/passenger communication system did not get off to a good start. My headset works OK, but Roma’s is not designed for a half helmet. Insulation tape to the rescue!

So - what is Route 66 like after first day? Really great! So far no regrets in taking on this long journey. Already we can tell that our group are a great bunch to travel with. Our patience was tested today with a half hour long delay coming to Springfield due to some maintenance on the motorway. But we covered the 200+ miles on motorway plus sections of the original Route 66 - there is not much of it left in this first section of our journey. We came close to two thunder storms, but managed to slip by without need to stop and put on wet gear. Our guides, Jan and Jennifer, are knowledgeable and professional - it already feels like we are the first ever group they ever took out, such is their enthusiasm to see that we have a good time.

This evening we arrived in Springfield - birth place of Abraham Lincoln. You can’t miss him - he is everywhere! I would dearly love to spend time here to study his legacy further, but perhaps another time. This is a bike trip, not a history journey!

Here are some photos from today... 

At the Pontiac Museum.

Launching Pad. 

Baby you can drive my car!

Anyone for a fill up?

Dicks On!

Who’s that with Eugene and Roma?

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Eugene & Roma Do Route 66 - Day 1

Wow - Day 1 of our trip has finally arrived. Is is a non-travel day, but it serves to meet and greet our group for the next 15 days, and go through an Induction Session at 16:00 in the afternoon. As we arrived on Tuesday, we had Wednesday and part of today to check out Chicago - where of course Route 66 starts (or ends).

We travelled downtown and had a great day checking out The Loop and all the tall buildings - plus having a beer or two. We took a water boat tour around the Chicago River which was very information and fun. We also attended a free outdoor concert in Millenium Park - lovely Strauss music. However, it started to rain after about 45 minutes and we had to seek shelter in a nearby restaurant. 

At our Induction meeting we met Jan and Jennifer who will be our guides, plus the 12 other members of our group. Everything was well explained to us - so far, it is very organized. We got new biker jackets too! We are the only Irish people in the group - others are from UK, Germany, Australia, New Zealand, and the United States. All seem our age or just a little younger, and all bar one are already Harley-Davidson riders. A very mixed and experienced group. So - a really good start, and I can’t wait to get on the bike tomorrow.

Some photos of the day - sorry, no bikes so far! 

Monday, June 24, 2019

Two Weeks of Learning

I think most of us will have some sort of Bucket List. I am certainly fulfilling many items at once when I ride Route 66 starting on Friday this week. Many people would regard riding Route 66 as the trip of a lifetime - while I hope that it is fantastic, I still hope that there might be other trips of a lifetime still to make! But as an educator I like to think about how and what we can learn from Bucket List experiences.

First of all - I certainly do not consider a Bucket List as a box ticking exercise. Route 66 is a 2,807 miles, my longest ever ride was from Dublin to Almancil in Portugal, which was 3,210 miles including return trip, in the summer of 2005. I rode almost non-stop and it took me four days (including the ferry from Rosslare to Roscoff in France). I did not learn too much about this trip because I stuck to motorways - it can get boring riding a bike from early morning to early evening stopping only at motorway service stations. While Route 66 is a bit shorter, it will take us 13 days to ride - so plenty of stops and sights to see, and a lot of opportunity to learn. Nowadays of course we have phones and cameras to record anything we want. This helps us to recall what we have done much better than before - it's almost like taking notes in class. I have been to the Grand Canyon in the year 2000, but only have a few photos taken with a film camera to remind me of what it was like. We will be stopping at the Grand Canyon on the Route 66 trip, and I hope to learn a lot more this time.

Posing at the Grand Canyon (2000)
I think one of the things I'm looking forward to most is learning about what Americans call the "Mother Road" or "Main Street of America". We will also be in a group of riders from all over the world - so lots of opportunity to learn from fellow motorcycle and travel enthusiasts. 

So - in addition Route 66 being both a "trip of a lifetime" and being on my "bucket list", it will also be two weeks of learning!

Friday, June 21, 2019

Route 66

This day next week Roma and I will be setting out on our long awaited trip across America on Route 66 from Chicago to Los Angeles. It is a two-week guided tour with EagleRider for all 2,807 miles (4,491.2 km to those folks in metric land). It will be 12 days of riding for an average of 233 miles per day with lots of stops. Here's the route map provided by EagleRider:

Image source: EagleRider.
From the EagleRider website:

Route 66 crosses three time zones and 8 States: Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California. Route 66 has been the path of migrants, dreamers, desperadoes and an entire generation of vacationers discovering the way west. The 1950's were the Route 66 glory days, when thousands of cars rode bumper to bumper behind each other to experience the Western frontier. Hotels, motels, gas stations, classic restaurants, and the "New" America sprang up everywhere. Much of Route 66's classic roads, restaurants, gas stations, and nostalgic landmarks are preserved just as they were in the 1950’s. The famous and nostalgic Route 66 is the road created in heaven for motorcycle touring. Simply stated, this is the guided tour of America!

Wow - that's a great appetiser for what many regard as a trip of a lifetime! To get in the mood, here's The Rolling Stones live in 1976 "Get Your Kicks On Route 66"!

Friday, June 14, 2019

How To... Create an Overlapping Histogram in Excel @YouTube

Histograms are useful tools to visualise the distribution of data. They are very often associated with bell-shaped curves to illustrate if data are normally distributed (or not). Excel has simple to use tools to draw a histogram based on a single variable - if you have two data sets, you can draw two histograms and compare. While this works in a lot of cases, sometimes it is useful to be able to draw a single diagram which contains two or more distributions, so that you can see where the distributions overlap.

To create overlapping histograms in Excel you need to know how to use Pivot Tables, but they are easy to use and allows us to draw overlapping histograms with ease. I have published a new video today showing how to to this step-by-step. Enjoy!

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

10 Video trends you should know about via @panopto

Recently at the EdTech 2019 Conference I got chatting to one of the Exhibitors (Panopto) about video in the classroom and how it is used as a learning resource to enhance the student learning experience. Panopto has commissioned an interesting survey (based on 500 students in 135 UK colleges, so good sample size) - details of the results can be found on Panopto's website here.

Amongst the interesting findings of this survey is that:
  • 90% of students agreed or strongly agreed that technology improves their ability to learn
  • 92% found recorded lectures useful
  • 78% were already using the likes of YouTube and Vimeo to teach themselves 
It's not really surprising that the figures above are so high. It might be a bit worrying for educators and College authorities that so much of their students' learning is taking place outside the classroom, but I would not agree with this. Most learning takes place outside the class anyway - in my time as a student in the late 1970s and early 1980s, when there was no learning technology, I spent more time in the Library than in class.

Breaking down the 78% figure above for students using video to teach themselves:
  • 52% use video to help with coursework/assignments
  • 28% to research the college application process
  • 23% use video to learn a new language
Interestingly, Panopto's survey found that 33% of students had been given "How To..." tutorial videos by their lecturers - doubling in one year. It's not clear if the videos were made by the lecturers themselves or by third parties. 

We are truly in the age of the flipped classroom and the trend of students seeking out educational resources for themselves will certainly continue. We as educators have a responsibility to provide appropriate guidance to third-party resources, and to get equipped to create our own video resources. More and more classes are being recorded (all NCI's on-line classes are recorded in Adobe Connect). While this will raise many issues for lecturers, it will overtake the classroom in the not too distant future.

Source: All figures quoted about are taken from Video Trends You Should Know About That Enhance The Student Learning Experience. A full copy of Panopto's Infographic summarising the results of their survey can be found here.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Copyright - Time to get it right

Wikimedia Commons.
Last week I posted about "Copyright and Third Party Data" - there is a heightened awareness about re-using data that is not your own and that is publicly available. I will strive to acknowledge all sources of data that I use in my classes and try as far as is possible to use only data that I have permission to do so.

The thought has also struck me that this rule should apply to all other third-party resources. For example, it has long been my habit to add images to my module resources such as PowerPoint slides. Usually I show the link where I "sourced" the image, though often I am simply referring to a page which in turn has not acknowledged the original source. Sometimes I use such images for explaining concepts, other times it is simply to fill up blank spaces on a slide or to make the slide look prettier (or at least - less dull). I also used many images that are not my own in this blog, for several years now I have always indicated the source - but this is not enough. It does result in me using images that I do not have permission to do so.

Google always warns us when we do an image search that "Images may be subject to copyright". Google also has a very useful page What is "Copyright"? - well worth reading for anyone not sure about copyright.

Hopefully my practice from now on is to only use images when it is clear that I have permission to do so. Wikimedia Commons is great for this as everything there is open source. There are many other sources of free images, but most seem to be copyrighted. It is a good idea to follow this practice. Not many students read this blog, but it would be hypocritical for me to flout copyright laws while at the same time preaching in class how important it is. 

Friday, June 07, 2019

Copyright and Third Party Data #analytics

Can you use material on the Internet for personal just because it is there? For example, if someone posts a data file on a web page (eg, on GitHub), is it OK for me to use it without asking permission? Can I use it to explain a data analysis concept in class? Can I share it with my students? Can I use it in an assignment, or an exam?

This past year I have used several data sets that I searched the World Wide Web for. I always acknowledge the source in my lecture notes when I can. One data set I used in a class last year was based on Body Dimensions (Heinz et al, 2003)*. Try an exact match search for the file name: "bdims.csv", and you will see several locations where this file can be downloaded. The Journal in which this data set was published does not hold copyright over the material published in the Journal, and warns researchers to get separate permission from the authors. So I emailed the lead author (Professor Grete Heinz) to seek permission to use her data set, and she kindly responded that I could. Should I have to do this for every data set that I use? Will I get a response from everyone?

Sometimes permission is granted on the web page where the data is made available. For example: Fingal County Council here in Dublin have an Open Data policy and advise users of the data of the following:

Citizens are free to access and use this data as they wish, free of charge, in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License external link (CC-BY).

Another great example is from our Central Statistics Office:

CSO Publications: Rights and Permissions

  • Statistics disseminated on this site are copyright of The Government of Ireland.
  • The statistics and other information provided on this site are accessible free of charge and licensed under Creative Commons Attribution (version 4.0 cc-by). Creative Commons logo
  • Reproduction is authorised subject to acknowledgement of the source

This heightened awareness is great, and many web sites now publish statements such as this so that users and researchers can be reassured that they are not stealing data. The vague area is when this is not specified even though it is intended. Nevertheless, I intend from now on that my students should acknowledge all sources of their data and where available cite permissions to use the data. This is good practice, though it does add an extra step for students to complete.

*Heinz G., Peterson, L. J., Johnson R. W., and Kerk, C. J. (2003). Exploring Relationships in Body Dimensions. Journal of Statistics Education 11(2).

Wednesday, June 05, 2019

Here Comes the Summer! #exams

It must be summer time - the Leaving and Junior Certificate exams start today. Despite the wet weather we have been having recently, the coverage of the start of the exams and the multitudes of advice being given - tells us all that summer is on the way. At the National College of Ireland exams were over a couple of weeks ago and should be most graded by now - again, a feeling of summer is in the air. Secondary school teachers are already off for the summer, with primary schools soon to follow. My summer holidays officially begin on 25th June, but for the next three weeks I am basically done for the 2018/2019 academic year.

June is a weird month for an academic - no classes and no exams to grade. Many of my third-level colleagues are writing papers and attending Conferences, but I am done with all that. Academic freedom is great - while there will be some work to do (we are reviewing some programmes), I hope to be able to do some planning for the next academic year. I will take the time to look back over some of my on-line class recordings - there's definite room for improvement here. I normally teach Project Management in the first semester - my module notes and resources definitely need updating. Throughout the academic year it almost always feels like there's a deadline every day - it's nice to get some quiet time during the year.

This past academic year was my 17th year in the College, and of course marks the completion of 34 semesters. I look forward to my 18th year which, though I'm not done yet, may very well be my last. I will reflect on the past year in a later post.

For all students starting the Junior and Leaving Cert exams today - good luck!