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

Image source: Screen grab from

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!