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 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. 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.

Friday, September 06, 2019

Back to Football at the Aviva #COYBIG #euro2020

Not since March 26th, 2013, had I attended an Ireland soccer match in the Aviva Stadium in Dublin. By that time I had been a little fed up of very poor performances, crap football, and high ticket prices. On March 26th, 2013 Ireland and Austria shared a 2-2 draw with David Alaba scoring an injury time equaliser for the Austrians. It was also a very cold evening.

Switch forward six years to 5th September 2019 to see what I have missed, and to also learn a lesson in perseverance, commitment, and making the best of what you've got.

Not so cold in the Aviva last evening for a Euro 2020 Qualifier with Switzerland. The Swiss came with a great reputation due to recent form and high FIFA rankings - they were the favourites. In an even first half there were not that many chances and I thought Ireland were very comfortable defending against a more skillful side. As John Giles might have said, the Swiss were "no great shakes". In the second half, Switzerland upped the pace of the game and dominated for long periods. Still - I thought Ireland were comfortable with Coleman, Whelan, Duffy, and Randolph keeping us in the game - I also thought Hendrick was excellent throughout.

In a game where quality was rarely on show, a brilliant passage of play led to a goal from Fabian Schar scoring what looked like the winner on 74 minutes for the Swiss - the goal had been coming. The two guys in front of me got up and left - they were also 10 minutes late coming back after half-time, and were also late at the start of the match - tickets for our section were €45! Inexplicably, the Swiss dropped their pace and Ireland had a chance. A brilliant shot from Glen Whelan cracked off the crossbar, the Swiss cleared, but the ever willing James McClean reclaimed the ball, crossed into the box, and David McGoldrick nodded home. I had an excellent view of this being in line with the goal behind McClean. Relief, and a lucky escape with a draw.

So, my return to the Aviva was worth it to see Ireland's boys give everything against a better team - they never gave up and cannot be faulted for lack of commitment and effort. Ireland faces two away games out of the three that are left in our group - Georgia are up next (our best prospect of a win) followed by the Swiss. The last game in the group is home against Denmark - hopefully we'll still be in with a shout by then. Realistically, I feel the best we can hope for is to finish third and take our chances in the play-offs - Switzerland and Denmark should take the first two places in the group.

YouTube highlights from Sky Sports...

Wednesday, September 04, 2019

Sample/Taster Classes - Should We Do This?

Last evening I delivered the second of two Information Sessions to potential students interested in studying Data Analytics on-line at NCI. Part of the session was a sample class of about 45 minutes to let these students taste the experience of what an online class was like. In this session, which is carried out via the Adobe Connect Virtual Classroom, participants will get a chance to see what the virtual classroom looks and feels like - it is important not only that a course is right for a student, but also that a student is right for a course. I'm not the only person to deliver sample/taster classes, but is is relatively new to me - this is only the second year I have done them, and all have been on-line versions. But is a Sample/Taster class a true reflection of what the leaning experience is going to be like?

So my question today is: "Should Colleges deliver sample classes as a taster for what the learning experience is going to be like"?

Some of the things I did in my sample class:
  • The content for the class was taken from one of my statistics classes that I have been teaching for several years - very familiar material
  • Despite above - I rehearsed this class several times before delivery 
  • I made full use of the range of interactivity tools to engage participants
  • I got students to perform a simple experiment (tossing a coin) and I provided a link to Google Sheets where they could insert their results which were then shared and discussed with the class
  • I asked students to give a status (Agree/Disagree with a statement)
  • I used a poll as a leading question to a section on probability
  • I shared an Excel file so that students could try out what I was covering on screen for themselves
  • Throughout we used the Chat section for Questions and Answers
  • I used The Beatles and the chances of winning the Lottery as content - interesting examples that should prompt most students to pay attention
In short - I tried to have a full range of activities using interesting topics. I was acting as a salesman for the course!

I do point out in the session that students will have different lecturers in each module that they have, and that the experience will not be the same. None of my classes will be like above all the time! Just as students have different learning styles, teachers/lecturers also have different teaching styles. There is also a mix of teaching experience, in some cases they will have a lecturer teaching a module for the first time, while others (like me), will have been teaching the module for a long time. Use of tools in the Adobe Connect environment will be different - in short again, each class will be a different learning experience.

Some Colleges may be tempted to roll out the "A Team" for sample/taster classes (I do not flatter myself that I am part of the "A Team" in NCI!). Well rehearsed taster classes from an experienced lecturer with a specially chosen topic, and with lots of interactivity, may give a misleading experience. While I feel that we should still deliver sample/taster classes, it is something to be careful about.

It all reminds of an old Salesman Heaven and Hell joke...

The Salesman Heaven and Hell Joke (

When a young salesman met his untimely end, he was informed that he had a choice about where he would spend his eternity: Heaven or Hell. He was allowed to visit both places, and then make his decision afterwards.

"I'll see Heaven first," said the salesman, and an angel led through the gates on a private tour. Inside it was very peaceful and serene, and all the people there were playing harps and eating grapes. It looked very nice, but the salesman was not about to make a decision that could very well condemn him to a life of musical produce.

"Can I see Hell now?" he asked. The angel pointed him to the elevator, and he went down to the Basement where he was greeted by one of Satan's loyal followers. For the next half hour, the salesman was led through a tour of what appeared to be the best night clubs he'd ever seen. People were partying loudly, and having a, if you'll pardon the expression, Hell of a time.

When the tour ended, he was sent back up where the angel asked him if he had reached a final decision.

"Yes, I have," he replied. "As great as Heaven looks and all, I have to admit that Hell was more of my kind of place. I've decided to spend my eternity down there."

The salesman was sent to hell, where he was immediately thrown into a cave and was chained to a wall, and he was subjected to various tortures. "When I came down here for the tour," he yelled with anger and pain, "I was shown a whole bunch of bars and parties and other great stuff! What happened?!"

The devil replied, "Oh, that! That was just the Sales Demo."